Sunday, January 31, 2010

Go Running

Workout of the Day:

30 minutes low intensity running

After watching Federer dominate and win yet another major tennis title this morning, I headed to the track behind my house to run out some of the soreness still lingering in my calves from the Eiffle Tower episode. The weather was beautiful in Paris today and it felt great to just run. I’m planning on training hard tomorrow and Tuesday, then resting until the competition in Copenhagen on Saturday. Can’t believe it’s already here. Really looking forward to seeing everyone there again, but unsettled by the news that there will be 5 events on that one day. As I'm sure each will be very challenging, Superbowl Sunday could see me spending a lot of time in an ice bath.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Workout of the Day:
In the morning… 3 rounds for time: 20 foot rope climb 5 x 60 kg stone thruster 200 meter thick grip farmers walk (25 kg)
Rest 10 minutes
KB swing progression ladder: Climb 2 swings per minute until you cannot finish the prescribed number of swings in the minute
In the afternoon… 5 rounds for time: 50 meter swim 20 pushups 20 air squats Big day today. For the morning session I headed down to the West end of the Seine River that winds its way through Paris. The area is used for docking ships from the looks of things. It’s industrial, empty, and spacious. It also is littered with potential tools for lifting, climbing, etc. I hauled my rope down there this morning and tied it to the top of a staircase leading up to an office building. Along the way I found a pile of old cement parking medians of different sizes. After trying to lift a few of the bigger ones, I settled on one that I’m guessing weighed about 60 kg. Doing thrusters with this thing was VERY difficult. Balance, core strength in the descent; all the things you’d expect to be taxed were taxed. I also found a few stray fence post anchors with handles and “25 kg” printed on the side. Then I knew this really was my lucky day. I paced off 100 meters down the alley and used the pair of anchors for farmers walks. The grips were very thick so this was a challenge. My arms were spent after the first round. The 3 rounds took me 12:51 to finish, with most of the time a result of battling with that damn cement stone. I was only getting 1 at a time during the 2nd and 3rd rounds.
For the KB swings, I used one of the anchors and just rotated it so that it would fit between my legs at the bottom of the swing. I almost made it to 10 full minutes on these, falling just 4 repetitions short. The grip was limiting, as well as my shoulders, ass, and breath. The combination of these two WODs was fantastic.
This afternoon I headed back to the water re-dedicated and determined to master the pool. The swimming actually felt great, and I was happy with how hard I pushed myself. Was certainly the only one in there getting in and out of the water to do extra stuff on the pool deck. It was the pushups that proved the weakest link. (Obviously the sprints in the pool had a lot to do with this). I finished 5 rounds in 11:40 and don’t think I could’ve gone much faster. I’m sure I was saving some gas in the early rounds on the swim, but by the end my chest was heaving. Really liked this sequence and recommend it for a change up from just swimming laps.
Heading to an Australian pub at 9am tomorrow to watch the finals in Melbourne and sample the Parisian bloody mary. Go Federer!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Run the Mountain

Workout of the Day:

Run the Mountain

Today’s mountain was the Eiffel Tower (at least the portion they allow you to climb on foot). Niels joined me at the colossal monument at 9am as we prepared to do battle with two things undeniably French: the Tower, and bureaucracy. Only 2 of the pillars were open, and only one for the stairs. Yet the dude working the gate didn’t seem to know this fact, because he kept sending us to other windows to try and acquire tickets. Idiot. Finally a woman who had her shit together came around and we were able to get started.

I was carrying my backpack because my Thursday class was set to start at 11:00 and I wouldn’t have time to go home in between. This probably only added 5 kg, so not a huge deal. What was a huge deal, was the number of steps, and their vertical clearance. Compared to the 281 steps we climbed in Montematre a few weeks ago, the Eiffel Tower was sporting giant strider stairs. 600 of them. Every step was uniform and every step was around 15 inches of clearance. The net effect of this was that my legs wore out almost immediately skipping steps. Going in, I had aspirations of being able to run all the way to the top without having to walk. HA. Hilarious in retrospect. I didn’t even make it to the first deck without breaking stride (approximately half way between the ground and second deck).

The other issue is that these are tight stairwells with little to no break between flights. This means the lactic acid continues to build with no time for your muscles to relax. If someone can make it to the second viewing deck without having to walk, their work capacity would have to be INSANE. Naturally, this is what I will try to accomplish before leaving Paris. It costs 4.50 to get through the gate, so I won’t be doing this every weekend, but it’s a fun challenge every now and again.

Rather than walking all the way to the bottom immediately after getting to the top, Niels and I hung around, enjoyed the view, and eventually ran the top half of the climb again. This ostensibly brought our total stairs climbed to around 900. I included a short video of the mornings activities below.

5 x 500's

Workout of the Day:

5 x 5 Back Squat

5 x 6 Unilateral elevated DB row (5 second eccentric)

5 x 3 Close grip handstand pushup

5 x 500 meter row w/ 1 minute rest

Tonight’s workout started out shaky, just because back squatting in my current gym isn’t really possible with any remotely heavy weight. However, we do have a calf raise machine that could conceivably double as a hack squat. In the absence of any better option, this is the route I took.

Not surprisingly, the arc of motion dictated by the machine wasn’t optimal and the resistance did not feel consistent throughout the range of motion. However, if I’m looking for a silver lining, the portion of the range that was most difficult (heaviest) was the precise range where I would normally fail during squatting movements. So, at least I was getting work where I am weakest. (The weights here mean nothing to me since I have nothing to compare them with. I just kept adding til I failed to get 5)

The unilateral DB rows were fun. I stood on the edge of neighboring benches so that the dumbbell could pass between them and allow me to reach further down. The weight was not heavy enough at 32.5 kg, however, so I again employed a 5 count eccentric to add a stability component. By the last set, I couldn’t complete the 6th repetition without skipping the eccentric.

What began as a standard elevated set of handstand pushups on bumper plates morphed into a close grip version using just one bumper for the hands. This locked in the distance and made things VERY difficult. If you’re looking for a way to strengthen your pressing, this may be the answer. A lot more emphasis on the triceps muscles and anterior parts of the shoulder, exactly the regions that are most responsible for the initial to middle portion of the overhead press. Kind of stumbled into this variation trying to find a comfortable hand position for Niels, and it was fortuitous to say the least.

Finally, the 5 x 500 m row, as promised. This was rough. Especially after the heavy workload that preceded it, getting through this was a chore. However, I gotta say that I met my expectations and then some. My stated goal for this WOD was to average under 1:40.0 per 500 meters for 5 sets, but I didn’t expect to accomplish that on the first go. My times were as follows:

1:39.3, 1:38.9, 1:39.5, 1:41.7, 1:40.4, averaging out to 1:39.8. Very excited by this, and hoping to improve further. Maybe the next mark will be every effort under 1:39.0.

Running a new mountain tomorrow bright and early. Should be a great view from the top.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fitness is...

A Global Positioning System.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

This weekend I was visited by Jason Mulligan, an individual I had not previously met or had any real correspondence with. He was in Berlin 2 weeks ago visiting with Florian, Alex, and the rest of the gang I met in October and he mentioned he was heading to Paris. Naturally, they told him to look me up; and the rest, as they say... well, you know the rest.

Jay is a U.S. Army captain who has been stationed in Germany for 4 years after graduating West Point and serving in Iraq as a tank commander. In addition to this impressive resume, Jay played college baseball, boasts a mean Long Island accent when appropriate, and LOVES CrossFit. Think we hit things off immediately?

While he was in Paris, we talked nutrition, training, and college sports; we trained under the Arc de Triomphe and the Rue D’Arcole Bridge; and we shared the growing impact CrossFit has had on our respective families. It was fun to see how quickly we gelled around fitness, but equally cool to notice how many common interests we shared that were not fitness specific. I told stories from high school, college, and since. He talked about his time in Iraq and the relationships he cultivated behind enemy lines. We sampled Parisian nightlife, rummaged through second hand stores in the Jewish Quarter, and semi-crashed a French dinner party. It’s not hard to imagine the damage we could do if we ever found ourselves living in the same city.

The point is, here’s a guy whose interests, personality, and general outlook mesh very strongly with my own, but we could very easily gone our whole lives without meeting. There are quite a few birds of a feather not flocking together in the world, plenty of lives running parallel yet never intersecting. I’ve heard it said that in an age of unparalleled communicative technology and interconnective capacity, humans are still, today, lonelier than ever before. This is obviously not due to limited resources… Email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Blogspot, Skype: these tools constitute a superhighway of interactive potential. The issue is orientation. Without a compass, a system of roads this complex could literally lead anywhere. More often, they lead nowhere.

In this case, as in many, fitness was a homing beacon. Blink.

The emotions, insecurities, successes, failures, and truths that drive one of us to train, usually drive all of us to train. There’s an irresistible magnetism in it that may be my favorite aspect of training, and of CrossFit specifically. The qualities of group cohesion that develop between friends, family, strangers, even amongst people who have never met, or will never meet, are truly astonishing. In their individual pursuits of personal goals, people develop the strength and confidence to share their experiences with the broader group, to encourage those fighting the same battles and overcoming the same obstacles that they have fought and overcome. I’ve written more extensively about the reasons for this cohesion before, so I won’t re-argue why this type of exercise builds bonds as strongly as it does. But I will re-iterate that these bonds are REAL and that the people building them are looking for more.

And why not? With the highway already laid and our collective consciousness continuing to converge, I fully expect to meet more people like Jason going forward. I relish the opportunity. CrossFit has grown into a global community, literally unbounded, and if my experiences thus far in Europe are any indication, there are plenty of blinking lights left to be discovered.

I will admit that, chances are, I won’t gel with everyone as easily as I did with Jay this past weekend. And sharing a single passion is certainly no guarantee of an instant and lasting friendship. But it’s a place to start. And if my alternative is to navigate the road using only the stars on a cloudy night, I’ll take that compass every time.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Strict Strength

Workout of the Day:

15 minutes of EDD's

5 x 6 Incline DB bench press (5 second eccentric)

5 x 5 Strict C2B pullup with strict toe to bar

3 x 500 meter row with 1 minute rest

I was feeling a little fatigued today from the cumulative effect of the weekend. Am still a little sore in my hamstrings from last week, and my upper back and rib cage is tight from the fireman squats. That turned out to be a really great exercise for different reasons than I expected. Ordinarily, feeling like I do I would take a day off. But since my gym is only open Mondays and Wednesdays, this didn’t seem prudent. Turned out not to be so bad.

I felt strong on the inclines, pressing the 32.5 kg DBs for 5 sets of 6 slow eccentrics without much trouble. The chest to bar pullups with toe to bar leg raises in between were a good challenge. The first set was no problem, the second a little tougher, and the last three were fights to get 5. This requires a lot of grip stability and coordination not to let your body swing during the toe to bar. Once you start swinging it’s hard to stop.

The row sprints were going well, but I started to feel my right hamstring twinge a bit on the second one so I left the last one on the shelf. My goal was to keep all 3 under 1:40, hopefully building to the point where I can do 5 under that time. After resting tomorrow I think I will give this another go Wednesday night.

Under the Bridge

Workout of the Day:

15 minute AMRAP

3 muscle ups

6 fireman squats

9 handstand pushups

200 meter stair loop

Jason and I woke up pretty groggy this morning. We sampled the Paris night life until 6 am this morning at this incredible bohemian bar/dance club near the Republique metro stop (see picture). It was a blast, but we were feeling it this morning.

For the workout, we headed back toward Notre Dame Cathedral and set up shop under the pedestrian bridge connecting central Paris to the old city island. Being a Sunday afternoon, we had plenty of observers, inquirers, photographers, and participants. We even got a driveby from the Paris river police. Apparently we were making too much of a scene (Or they didn’t like some American monkeys hanging rings from the support structures of their historic bridge).

The workout itself was tough. There was a lot of upper body fatigue after the first 5 minutes, with the handstand pushups taking the most out of us. The fireman squats were really cool. A lot more core and upper back than I expected. Going from those straight to handstands, I could really feel the impact on my diaphragm and internal support muscles. I finished 6 full rounds plus 1 muscle up. Jason got 5 plus 3 muscle ups, 6 squats, and 7 handstand pushups. This was a great routine in an unreal location. Probably the most fun so far.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Arc de Triomphe

Workout of the Day:

In the Morning

1 hour low intensity jog

In the Afternoon

5 Rounds of:

20 Split burpees

50 Double Unders

I met with Jason Mulligan from the U.S military out at the Arc de Triomphe today for the second half of todays workout, and we had a blast. Between the random passers by and the Range Rover that stopped for a solid 10 minutes, we had quite the fan base. The workout was harder than expected. The split burpees caught up to both of us rather quickly in the cold weather, and the double unders were a matter of just plugging away. I finished in 9:04, Jason in 16:09. It was a great routine in a great setting, followed by a great night out on the town. The video is below.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Out of my Element

white tiger swimming.jpg

Workout of the Day:

500 meter swim for time

I decided that I needed a middle distance swimming standard by which to measure my progress in the pool, something akin to a 2 km row or a 5 km run. If I'm honest, 1000 meters would probably be more accurate if I were a good swimmer, but 500 meters (20 lengths of the pool) felt appropriate, so I settled on that distance and gave it a go this morning. Pathetic is the best word to describe how I felt about my effort. Even though I kept a slow pace from the start, I was sucking gas and losing form by the 100 meter mark. The reality that we are not a naturally amphibious species was hammered home very quickly. It took me 9:41 to finish this “test.” I had to stop for breathers plenty of times. The good news is that 5 minutes later, I didn’t feel overly exhausted. Hopefully this is just one of those things that my lungs will adapt to through repetition.

In other news, I got a new set of gymnastic rings! My new friend Bjorn was down from Sweden visiting his girlfriend in Paris, and he agreed to bring a set for me. Awesome! I’m really excited to have these because they are portable, versatile, and a lot of fun to incorporate. Looking forward to some muscle-ups tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rest Day

I read a lot; and because my area of study is history, much of this reading focuses on authors and issues long since past their time. However, I often come across literature that appears timeless in its style, relevance, and multi-dimensional applicability to the present. Even when the subject of their texts has a focus far from physical conditioning, many of these authors strike personal chords and raise interesting questions that I inevitably relate to training.

So, since rest days are for recovery and regeneration, I've decided to begin using them as a forum to raise such issues and cite the outwardly "unrelated" historical passage that brought them to my attention. Hopefully people will contribute their insights on the topic, if they have them, and how it relates to their training.

Issue: Setting goals vs Achieving them

Historical Quote to Ponder:

“What is the price-current of an honest man and a patriot to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and God-speed, to the right, as it goes by them. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man. But it is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it.”

—Henry David Thoreau, 1849

    Thoreau, Henry David - 486px-Henry_David_Thoreau.jpg - Henry David Thoreau

Tabata This

Workout of the Day:

15 minutes of EDD’s

6 x 4 box jump for height

Tabata this:

Back Extensions

DB Push Press (22 kg/48 lb ea)

Side to side leg lifts with pressed barbell (40 kg)

Chest to bar pullups

The soreness that had begun to creep into my legs yesterday worsened considerably today. My hamstrings, glutes, and quads were all tender to the touch. Getting up after my 2 hour lecture this morning was like unfolding myself from within a suitcase. There is now little doubt left: single leg DB deadlifts are a must-have addition to your lifting regimen. I’d love to hear some feedback on this if anybody tries them out.

The EDD’s are going great, not much to update there. The back bends using the wall are getting stronger and my balance with the handstands gets better every day.

For the box jumps, Niels and I wound up stacking every bumper plate we could find in the Cite gym. In addition to being a little tipsy, this drew some priceless stares from the other patrons. The height is hard to estimate, but it reached about to my bellybutton. I don’t think this was a maximum height, probably could have gone about 4 inches higher. I’m going to have to find a different method of creating ledges without boxes.

And the tabata… Well, this sequence proved more of a muscle endurance test than a cardio vascular one. With the exception of the leg lifts (the weak programming link in this chain), I felt acute muscle failure in every exercise. The back extensions especially hit the spot. By the half way point I was starting to really feel fatigue all the way along my erector spinae. By the 7th and 8th sets I had to split the 20 seconds into 3 parts. The push press’s started strong and finished pretty soft. The weight began to overwhelm me by the 4th set, but I never strategized around it, so that was good. I repeatedly went to failure, took a few breaths and did a couple more before time expired. The chest to bar pullups were definitely my weakest point, as could be expected. I still have a hard time finding a rhythm with this exercise when tired, and wound up doing them one at a time. This actually worked pretty well. I didn’t get too tired in my grip or lungs and was able to do about 6 per set every time. My totals for all exercises are below.

Back Extensions: 79

Push Press: 75

Side to side leg lifts: 70

C2B pullups: 50

Total: 274

Less than three weeks until the Copenhagen Challenge, and I'm feeling pretty good about things. Looking forward to seeing those friends again and testing myself against whatever they come up with.

Tomorrow is for resting and exploring some more of this city. Paris, light the way.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Notre Dame

Workout of the Day:

Cascading AMRAP @ Notre Dame

5 minutes downstairs bear crawl

4 minutes walking lunges

3 minutes air squats

2 minutes Rocky situps

1 minute pushups

I was hoping for a nice sunrise this morning at Notre Dame, but Mother Nature wasn’t having any of it. The day dawned to gray skies and a chilly wind. Didzis, my friend and classmate who has been starting to train with me as well, agreed to get up early and come film the workout. Really appreciated this.

The routine was hardest at the front. 5 minutes of crawling downstairs and running back up isn’t a ridiculous task, but it’s on the edge. I used a staircase adjacent to Notre Dame, consisting of 25 steps leading down to the Seine River, and was able to get up and down 8 times in the allotted time-- 200 stairs of crawling. Immediately I transitioned to the walking lunges and felt right away that my hamstrings were fatigued from last night’s single leg deadlifts (I’ve gotten more sore as the day has worn on… entire posterior chain is feeling it). I walked for 4 minutes straight, my legs getting heavier by the step, and finished with 135 total. The air squats started fine, but by the end of the first minute it felt like all the blood in my body was in my legs. I had to split a few times and wound up totaling 119 at the end of 3 minutes. Didzis then set the camera on the ledge of the stairs and held my legs as I bent back over the river for the situps (reminded me of Rocky IV in the barn). These felt similar to GHD’s, just without the ground below. I kept my eyes closed and tried not to think about the icy water below, finishing 47 in 2 minutes. The last minute was pushups, which have started to get better lately. I was pretty tired by this point and my chest was sore from the weighted dips last night, but I still managed to get 45 before time expired.

In all, I totaled 546 repetitions in the 15-minute span and felt pretty good afterwards. This WOD wasn't too taxing on the lungs beyond the first element, and most of the challenge was in muscular endurance. Overall I'm satisfied.

As I said, my legs have gotten increasingly tight as the day has worn on, so I’m glad we did this workout in the morning before the soreness had time to set in. Been resting all day, hoping that will be enough to be ready for tomorrow.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Go swimming

Workout of the Day:

In the morning

250 m constant motion/anystroke

Rest as needed

4 x 50 m sprints w/:45 seconds rest

Rest as needed

250 m constant motion/anystroke

In the evening


5 x 5 weighted dips (4,0,1 tempo), rest as needed

5 x 3-5 single leg DB deadlift, rest as needed

On the minute elevated HSPU progression ladder

4 x max time extended arm planks, 30 seconds rest

0800 and the first time back in the pool since last summer. As is inevitable, the body rejects that which it does not know. The warmup 250 was a struggle, both trying to maintain a smooth, clean stroke, and trying to avoid pre-mature muscular/cardio-vascular fatigue. It never fails to amaze me how different the fitness requirements are between disciplines.

Once I finished the 250 meters, I took about 3 minutes to relax and prepare for the sprints. Ideally, I’d like to get to the point where I can do 10 of these at :45 second rest intervals before hitting the wall. Today, 4 was enough. My times for each sprint were not exact, and I chose not to flip turn, but they looked something like this. :35, :37, :37, :40. Not bad with a push start, I thought. I could feel my stroke crumbling the last 15 meters or so on the last one especially. Also, I was HEAVING for air. My heart rate must’ve been around 200 BPM. If you haven’t done it, know that sprinting in the pool is much more taxing than sprinting on the track.

The last 250 meters were considerably slower than the first, as was expected, but they felt nice. Walking home felt amazing as well. I felt warm and light all over, and couldn’t wait to eat. It took less than 30 minutes door to door, but this morning’s routine had me as motivated for the next few months as has anything I’ve done so far in Paris.

This evening I did some WORK. Starting with the dips, I used the heaviest dumbbell at my disposal (33 kg) to do 5 sets of weighted dips. The tempo sequence I mentioned above means that 4 seconds were spent on the down portion, 0 at the bottom, and 1 second on the way back up. The weight turned out to be about right, because by the 4th and 5th sets I was really fighting to finish.

For the single leg deadlifts, I retrieved my dumbell’s partner and proceeded to an area in the middle of the floor where I had some space. T-O-U-G-H. First of all, just getting to the bottom is a bitch. Then digging your way back up without using the other leg takes some serious strength. Finally, balancing during the course of the movement is hugely challenging, especially at the bottom. All in all this was surprisingly hard and shockingly effective. I only got through 4 sets because my hamstrings were so toasted. My repetitions for those sets (each leg) were: 4, 3, 3, 3. I suspect doing a few weeks of these will have a big impact on my deadlift strength when I return to a barbell.

The HSPU ladder was a welcome reprieve for my quivering lower body, but short lived. I used 4” bumper plates to elevate my hands, then started with 1 repetition in the first minute and added a repetition per minute until I couldn’t finish the prescribed number in the prescribed minute. I made it through 5 full rounds, plus 3. This was not what I was hoping for. I had some issues with the wall (kept having to avoid a raised molding running horizontal across the wall), and my recovery just wasn’t good enough. I'm hoping the effects of the morning swim and the heavy dips had something to do with this.

The extended planks were a great finisher. Using a yoga mat for my hands, I started in a pushup position and slowly allowed my hands and feet to slide apart, trying to control the motion as slowly as possible. The first set I was able to touch down softly. The second I dropped from a few inches up. The third and fourth were worse, and I collapsed from probably six inches or so. Still, I felt the effect.

I feel like I really got it done today, nothing left on the board. Tomorrow morning I’m heading to Notre Dame to see some history and sample some of old Paris. Sans baggette of course.

Friday, January 15, 2010

ERG it

Workout of the Day:

Row 5k for time

3 x 5 unilateral DB thrusters

3 x 10 strict toes to bar

I’m still very sore today, but this workout went surprisingly well. This is only the 2nd time I’ve attempted a 5k row, the first being back on September 19th at L.K.V. Back then I notched a 19:17, and remember feeling pretty miserable in my back and hamstrings. Today I rowed an 18:48 and had gas in the tank. Out of the gates I pulled smooth at around 1:50, letting my pace drop to around 1:55 by the 1000 m mark. Holding it here was no problem. Actually, I felt really in tune with the ERG today, feeling when my stroke got crooked and being able to correct it. With 1000 m to go I took it back to around 1:50 and for the last 500 m I was pulling at around a 1:45. My core and legs felt much better than the last time I did this, and mentally it was far less grueling. Shit, a 30 second improvement? I’ll take it any day.

The heaviest dumbbells available at the Cite gym measure 32.5 kg, which, it turns out, is about my 5-rep limit for thrusters. Actually, that weight is my limit on the left side, but probably not the right. It was interesting to feel the difference in stability from my left arm to my right during the down portion of the squat. I’m definitely more comfortable with the weight in my right hand. The toes to bar were hard again, just like before. Doing them strict really lights up my stomach, hips, and quads. The third set I had to split after 6 reps because I just couldn’t finish the crunch to the top. If you haven’t tried these, find a bar that’s almost flush to the wall, or have someone stand between your back and the wall to make up the difference. Whole new ballgame.

Resting tomorrow, then hitting the pool Sunday. Interesting rules here in France… Speedos and caps required. Eeker.

Fitness is...

Building and Testing.

If you only do one, you will negate the impact of the other.

Typically people find they prefer one type of training to the other. Someone will either love testing themselves and continuously be inventing new types of tests to know their ceiling in strength, endurance, or speed; or they will love the process of building their capabilities in one, or all, realms and constantly be reinforcing the ground floor.

I tend to fall into the first category. I chronically create programs that test my body’s top end performance (i.e. 1RMs, max work capacity/time [chippers, AMRAPs]). While these types of programs do invariably build on each other and have the capacity to increase maximum strength and efficient muscle recovery, they are not the most effective way to do so and will eventually hit a plateau. Predominantly, max effort testing is most beneficial in training your central nervous system to accept heavy stress and to efficiently respond by maximal activation of its moto-neurons. In my experience, it does not “build” muscle strength; it will not “build” muscle recovery, at least not in the body’s most efficient possible manner. “Building” in these areas is more effectively managed through 3-5 repetition strength work and high intensity interval routines (Tabatas, time progression ladders). People who constantly test themselves at maximum levels are essentially like architects adding floors to a skyscraper without reinforcing the foundation. The physical dimensions of their base will always limit the height to which they can rise.

Without pursuing the engineering metaphor too far, the second group is like the architect who constructs an indestructible base but gets squeamish and leaves the upper floors on the drawing board. If one always trains in the 5-rep range, his nervous system will not know how to cope with the type of stress that accompanies a very heavy weight. If a person only does Tabata intervals, his body won’t know how to cope with a situation where the intervals come irregularly or, worse, where there is no interval.

In addition, this type of training can limit an individual psychologically. How many times have you seen someone on the bench press rip out 3 repetitions at a certain weight, then fail to get 1 at plus 10 lbs? All the mathematical tables in the world can calculate that, based on your 3-rep attempt, you should be able to make the lift with ease. But, in reality, you still have to press the weight, and it's crushing you mentally.

This issue crystallized for me recently, as I continued to reflect on the back squat PR I notched a few weeks ago. My squat had been about the same every time I tested it for the past couple of years, but that’s all I had been doing: testing it. If I squatted during a workout, it would either be air squats, a light load incorporated into metabolic conditioning, or max effort testing. That's it. Upon reflection of why a 420 lb lift was suddenly easily within my grasp at the same bodyweight, I first thought that maybe some mystical combination of improved core stability and my new diet had produced a radical realignment of my molecules (These factors surely had some impact, but I hesitate to offer an exaggerated estimate). Then it dawned on me that during my Olympic lifting sessions with Hank at L.K.V. we had been consistently supplementing our Clean and Jerk/Snatch work with 3-5 repetition front and back squats. I had completely forgotten about this 800 lb gorilla in my programming room, mentally lumping it in with “Olympic work.” In about 3 months, I had increased my 1RM back squat by 20 lbs, conservatively, and the biggest reason for it was my unconscious re-dedication to a “building” paradigm.

In further proof of the reciprocal effects of combining these training styles, Hank saw similar results from the opposite side. Until he and I started training together, he shied away from testing his max lifts, instead preferring to stay in the more technical 3-rep range on snatch and C&J. As a result of the more frequent “testing” we did at my urging, he had lifted his heaviest weights in 10 years by the time I left Leiden.

What does this mean, and what do I expect going forward? Broadly, it means I intend to more diligently incorporate "building" into my training sessions starting immediately. Specifically, it means I am going to adjust rep ranges and add supplemental strength exercises to the end of sessions (like the good mornings earlier this week), and to replace a few of my test-heavy metcons with more structured high intensity intervals. This is not something that I’ve completely neglected to this point, so I’m not expecting ridiculous PR’s across the board like the squat. I've done interval training, and I do lift in near maximal rep ranges; just not often enough to make much of a dent. What I do expect is more weakness-targeted training sessions and, as a result, significant increases in strength and recovery in those areas.

I’m still going to test myself a lot. That, with my natural proclivities, is inevitable. But by fusing supplemental exercises and building programs within, and in addition to the testing style workouts, I fully expect my ceiling to rise beyond what it has ever been. I'd encourage anyone else to evaluate their testing/building ratio and try to bring it into better balance as well. You might get surprised.

Run the mountain

Workout of the Day:

Sacre Coeur stair sprints x 4… rest as needed.

I was feeling pretty sore this morning in my chest and biceps, confirming the effectiveness of yesterday’s dual session. It was a perfect time to run some vertical grade.

Today’s mountain was the stairs at Montmatre leading up to the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris’s 9th district. 281 of them to be exact. Niels has been talking this spot up from our first conversations about the master program moving to Paris, and for good reason. It’s very beautiful, very accessible, and a long way up. My first sprint took me exactly 1:00 to reach the top. My second set took a few seconds longer (minus a clog up behind some tourists). The third trip really taxed me, and by the final few steps I was barely getting my knees high enough to skip steps. The fourth set was my slowest at 1:12. At this point I was practically cramping in my ass and hamstrings, so I knew the job was done. I didn’t ease up at all on any of these sets, though my legs were getting heavier quicker and quicker as the rounds progressed. Niels finished his rounds in good form as well, and is looking stronger by the day. Afterwards, we walked through the church, took a few pictures out front and headed back across town for breakfast. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of mornings here in the future.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Workout of the Day:

In the morning…

Trans-Continental Workout #5:

50 pushups, 50 air squats, 25 burpees

400 m run

40 pushups, 40 air squats, 20 burpees

400 m run

30 pushups, 30 air squats, 15 burpees

400 m run

20 pushups, 20 airs squats, 10 burpees

400 m run

10 pushups, 10 air squats, 5 burpees

In the evening…

5 x 5 weighted pullup, 90 seconds rest

4 x max kipping pullup, rest as needed

3 x 10 good morning

3 x max time L-sit

I was very motivated this morning to push my limit with the 5th installment of the trans-continental challenge with my friend Josh Courage in DC. It’s easy during longer routines to slip into a zone just on the edge of discomfort where you’re still working hard, but not truly testing your capacity. This is where I feel I’ve been operating a lot lately and I don’t think it’s good enough. So this morning I committed to going as hard as I could, regardless of the time implications for completion (many times this isn’t a great move strategically, but it is the best way to improve). It was dark and snowy, so I didn’t get any video footage. But the workout was tough and rewarding. With the exception of maybe the 3rd round of burpees, I don’t think I could’ve pushed myself any more. I RAN the 400 m every time, and it was in snow and slightly uphill one direction. My buddy and classmate Niels was out there with me so that helped quite a bit. My final time was 18:57.

This evening I headed to the Cite Universitaire center for “Musculation” (the gym I described in earlier posts). The heavy pulls felt great- I was able to pull all 5 sets of 5 with a 25 kg dumbbell between my feet (no belts…shocker). The max repetition sets were a little less successful, mostly because the bars they sport are all smooth aluminum, so any trace of sweat makes them extremely slippery. I’m going to have to get some chalk or some gloves for the future. My totals were 25, 20, 19, and 15. My arms and grip felt fine, my fingers were just starting to slip sooner each set. Oh well. The good mornings lit up my hamstrings pretty good, surprisingly, and the L-sits felt great. I was able to hold for more than 30 seconds all three sets. The inclusion of these last two exercises I will explain a little more in the next few days, but the gist is that I’m re-evaluating some of my programming and looking to include more supplemental lifts.

Tomorrow morning Niels and I are heading to Monte Matre to run the stairs. Supposed to be beautiful, can’t wait.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day 4 in Zermatt

Rest Day

Tate and I got up early to take advantage of the continental breakfast at our Cervinia hotel and get to the lifts when they opened at 8:30. We wanted to give ourselves a chance to make it over top and into Switzerland before I got charged for another day of use on my skis and boots. Being the first ones on the mountain has its advantages and disadvantages… On the plus side, the snow is fresh and un-mogulled. On the minus side, it’s cold and icy in the spots where the sun has yet to reach. Our route down to Zermatt required us to navigate a few pretty serious runs in the shade, including 2 narrow-width black diamond stretches along the cliff. While we made it down unscathed, I did take an enormous header along the way that is worth mentioning.

I was feeling good and carrying a lot of speed through much of the early legs in an effort to beat the rental shop. This caught up with me when we came to the bottom of a hill where two runs split from each other, one continuing straight and the other inclining slightly to the left (where we needed to be). I tried to cut into the hill and make the left fork, but I had waaaay too much speed for the turn that needed to happen. Instead, my trajectory ended up carrying me between the two forks, where I buried my downhill ski into the dividing snow bank and launched myself at least 30 feet in the air into the powder. When I got up my visor was around my neck filled with snow, my right ski was in the snow bank where it impacted, my left glove and pole were 15 feet up the hill to my left, and my face guard was stuffed into my jacket. I am honestly jealous of those lucky few on the chair lifts this morning who witnessed this spectacle.

The rest of the day was spent packing and travelling back to Paris. It was another incredible weekend that tested me physically and reinforced the need and importance of fitness in my mind. Even on holiday, it pays to have done the work.

Day 3 in Zermatt

Workout of the Day:

In the morning…

Ski Lodge Chipper

10 wall muscle ups

30 OH ski squats

30 ski burpees

50 meter snow bear crawl

50 meter reverse snow bear crawl

100 meter ski run

In the afternoon…

Ski moguls and get trapped in Italy

No soreness this morning, shockingly. Apparently all of my whining and concern over yesterday’s rough runs was unwarranted. So, Tate and I grabbed a quick bite to eat then headed out back behind our hotel to get the blood moving before another day on the slopes. Due to limited space, we did the workout separately while the other filmed and timed.

The biggest factor in this workout was the altitude (Zermatt is about 6000 feet above sea level). The muscle ups were challenging because we chose a spot were the wall met a ledge, making foot placement awkward but not impossible. The OH squats were no problem because the skis probably only weighed about 10 lbs. That extra weight made a huge difference on the burpees though. First, just holding onto the skis for the duration was tough. Then, having to lift them overhead while jumping was no fun. I recommend trying this with some other reasonably light object so you can feel the difference. It’s significant. At this point my breath had left me, and it was time for the bear crawls. The path we carved through the drift was narrow and not too well packed, so hand placement was hit and miss. One step would be solid earth, the next would be a 20 inch air pocket (read: face plant). By the 50 meter mark my wind was completely gone, and the reverse portion posed the same problems as the forward version, just with a slight incline. This took forever. I think 4 minutes of my total time were spent fighting this element. When I made it to the end I put the skis over my shoulders and ran with what I had left in the tank, finishing in 11:10. Tate, going first, experienced the same issues as I did for the most part, and finished in 11:53. He, however, lost his ham and eggs just after finishing the ski run. I think the extra 12 minutes of digestion time did me a few favors in that respect.

After about 20 minutes back in the room, we grabbed our gear and headed up to the Matterhorn glacier for another day of fun. Thankfully, the sun came out so we could see the contours of the runs. It is impossible to describe the beauty this place offers from up on top. I’ve included a few pictures to try and capture it, but they don’t do it justice. The sheer size of the runs is unbelievable. We rode one combination of runs continuously for 1950 vertical meters. That’s over a mile of drop and god know how many actual miles of ground covered in a single shot. My legs were screaming all day, just like yesterday, but the bright sun and gorgeous scenery made it feel more bearable.

It was, in part, because of these surroundings that Tate and I got ourselves into a bit of a predicament by the end of the day. After splitting with my grandfather after lunch, we headed down the Italian side of the mountain to ski there, and wound up missing the last lift back over the top. They closed at 3 pm and were not impressed with our pleas for one more chair. So, we had to find a hotel room in Cervinia for the night, or take a 500 euro taxi around the mountain back to Zermatt. The option we chose should be obvious.

Below is a video from the mornings workout.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Zermatt Day 2

Workout of the Day

Ski forever…

Oh my aching legs. Today was humbling to say the least. Initially, just staying on my feet was enough of a challenge, so the fact that I was wasn’t falling every third turn was a victory in itself. But then, as my confidence grew and my cousin’s patience for my slow pace inevitably waned, we started hitting the hills pretty aggressively. This meant steep, icy snow, zero visibility (snowing all day), and lots of gravity pulling us downwards. The end result? My quads were practically cramping by midday. To be fair, this was as much fun as I have had in a while, but I was fighting the mountain. Even as my technique improved and I started to remember how to efficiently do this, I was still wearing out my legs. It was a little discouraging to discover that all the lower body strength and conditioning work I do does nothing to prepare my body to slide down a hill on sticks. I’m actually dreading tomorrow morning’s soreness.

All this aside, 7 plus hours of hard downhill skiing is a workout by anyone’s standards, and I will sleep well. Tomorrow we’re heading to the Matterhorn to ski the glacier and dip into Italy for a bit. There’s a rumor circulating my hotel room that an old stone church is sitting up on top of the mountain, just waiting to be explored. Here’s hoping I have the strength to stand…

Zermatt Day 1

Workout of the Day:

Elevated Deadlift 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1

Isometric deadlift 1, 1, 1

6 sets max repetition varied grip strict pullups

I arrived in Zermatt around 4:30 pm Friday afternoon and was greeted by my cousin Tate and Grandpa at the station. What a place. Ski villages are always beautiful, but this place sets a new standard in my book. The last leg of the train ride wound up a few thousand feet through narrow canyons and gorges, so the sights were incredible. Then I arrive in the village and the Matterhorn is looming directly in front of me. Unreal.

We had dinner reservations at 7, so Tate and I snuck down to the hotel gym to do a little heavy lifting. The facility was limited, but we found enough weights lying around to piece together a pretty decent deadlift routine. The plates were smaller than usual, so the bar position was that of standing on a bumper. Also, the bar felt a little light, so the weights are based on a 15 kg bar weight (estimated). My 3rd single was at 185 kg, and it felt strong. I was about to go to 195, but thought better of it considering the full day of skiing ahead of me. Tate concurred and likewise kept his weights sub-maximal. We then did 3 x 6 second isometric pulls with 225 kg, working on perfect form at the bottom. Really liked this. Isometrics are something I never do, but have read about the benefits for years. I could feel all the right muscles working, and when you know you’re not going to lift the bar anyways, the form tends to stay tighter.

After the deads, we did 6 sets of pullups using a free hanging climbing apparatus. It had all sorts of different grip positions for rock climbers to build finger, forearm, and grip strength, so we had a good time getting creative.

With an early morning on the slopes coming (my first time in a decade), we knew not to get too carried away. All in all, though, it was a good start.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Workout of the Day:

5 x 1 Turkish Getups

21, 15, 9

Air squat

Kipless toe to bar

Handstand Pushup

I have sorted the gym situation finally, and it is a tad complicated. For 40 euros I have obtained a pass that allows me to use the weightroom here at Cite Universitaire on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6-8. But this privilege does not include the use of barbells with loaded weights (only certain instructors are allowed to oversee such scary and dangerous activities). To lift heavy weights, I must get a medical certification of health and join instructed sessions. These are organized through the University, however, and are free of charge. The short story is that I should be able to lift whatever I want once I get my medical clearance and I learn which times of the day are governed by “professional” coaches. GEEEEZ…

Anyways, I did this workout because it did not require anything involving barbells. It went well. The gym does have a cool, old school stretching wall ladder that forces one to do toes to bar without a swing. MUCH harder. I finished the routine in 11:05. No videos, but I’m heading to a ski resort in Switzerland tomorrow and am planning a few things on the mountain.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hello Paris

Workout of the Day:

20 minute AMRAP

1 half gasser (55 yds and back)

10 x 7 stair jumps

20 inverted rows

10 pushups

For my first workout in Paris, I was joined by two members of my masters program: Niels, who has witnessed but not participated until now, and Didzis, our representative from Latvia. Exploring the neighborhood around our residence, we found a stadium complex that looks to house a few professional Parisian teams. On the back lot there was a track and field open to the public, but not very crowded due to sub-freezing temperatures.

It was fun having some company to train with, especially with the weather as cold as it was. We did the half gassers across the width of the field, and used the abnormally large stone bleachers for the stair jumps (around 20” I’d say). These wound up being the most difficult portion in my opinion. 70 jumps per set is a lot of jumping, and doing them repeatedly really sucked my air out. We used a long stretch of railing for the inverted rows, wrapping our feet around one end and hanging from our hands so that our bodies were always completely off the ground. Using the bar as a center point for the body, I pulled my chest to it each time, alternating which side my head finished on. These grew tiresome and freezing for the hands. The pushups were almost a non-issue… should’ve made it 20 in retrospect.

Anyways, I finished 5 rounds plus one half gasser, giving me totals of 660 yards, 350 jumps, 100 rows, and 50 pushups. My partners faired well also. I don’t know what their exact totals were, but they finished feeling tired and accomplished from the looks of it. For each, it was their first time doing a CrossFit style routine, so I hope they liked it enough to keep joining me this term.

Tomorrow I begin my search for a gym. May need some luck…

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Goodbye Leiden

Workout of the Day:

In the morning...

3 k trail run for time

In the afternoon…

Bent Row 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6 superset w/ 10 x 10 kg weighted situps (rest as needed)

Strict DB press from knees 5, 5, 4, 4, 2 (rest as needed)

Willemijn drove us out to the Noordwijk dunes this morning just before daybreak where a short trail connects that town to Katwijk, 3 km away. The trail runs through the dunes, right along the coast, as is breathtaking. Actually, I’m a little upset that I didn’t run this until my last day in Holland, but better than never at all. There were lots of dips and climbs, but none too extreme. I’d estimate the biggest elevation change at around 50 feet. I finished in 11:17, clocking about a 6:20/mi pace. I felt fine afterwards—really starting to feel better on runs again. Rather than going back through the dunes we jogged back along the water where we witnessed something really special and unexpected. Just off the water there was a man with a training wand and a lead, guiding a beautiful horse in trotting circles around him. The beach was completely empty except for this man and the animal. I didn’t have my camera with me at this point, but I’m not sure a photograph could have captured it too well anyways.

After returning home for a few hours, I decided to sneak over to L.K.V. for one last session and say goodbye to the owner. I did all 8 working sets of bent rows with 70 kg, trying to maintain a low body position and strict back angle. These felt great. I kept a narrow grip to simulate the hand position of a deadlift and concentrated on pinching my shoulder blades for the duration of the movement.

The DB presses felt good as well. I kept my hand position narrow and did not rotate the weights at the top, simulating a handstand push up on a set of parralletes. My top set was at 32 kg for 2. I had hoped to get 3 at this weight, but I think the fatigue of the earlier sets had caught up with me. The place was about to close and I wasn’t giving myself quite enough rest between.

Anyways, it was officially my last day at the gym, so I took a picture with the owner and said my goodbyes to the friends I had made. Hopefully I can find a place of similar quality in Paris.