Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Swim and Tire Drags in the Sand

Workout of the Day

WOD 1 – in the morning…

Sledge Hammer variations—15 minutes

Single arm vertical, double arm vertical, alternating arm vertical, horizontal swings, diagonal swings

WOD 2 – in the afternoon…

Strict Press

2 x 5 @ 75%, 2 x 4 @ 80%, 2 x 3 @ 85%, 2 x 2 @ 90%, 2 x 1 @ 95%

100 hollow rocks for time

Every broken set do 10 ring dips

WOD 3 – in the evening…

3 rounds for time:

200 yard swim

100 yard tire drag (95#)

Today wound up being a pretty low volume day. The sledge variations were fun and required a lot of hand/eye coordination that doesn’t get trained very often. I especially liked the single arm variation (done with a sideways stance). It almost felt like I was swinging a medieval ball and chain. I used an 8# sledge for the single arm and alternating arm so that I could swing the sledge faster and generate a little more force as opposed to the 16# guy. That one you really just have to let it do the work.

In the afternoon I took on an ambitious strength sequence that turned out to be more than I could handle. The sets of 5, 4, and 3 went fine, but by the 2’s I was too worn out to complete the reps. I rested plenty, just didn’t have enough strength to finish it out. The evening session was a lot better. Getting out to the lake and doing some swimming is really therapeutic for me. So much so that I didn’t even mind the 100 yard tire drags through the sand in between :-) Well, maybe a little. The funny thing about swimming is that it makes every other exercise paired with it feel easier because of the breathing. No matter what you come out of the lake trying to catch your breath, and, no matter what, the next exercise is easier to do so because your face isn’t stuck in the water. Don’t get me wrong…the tire drags sucked in the sand. Felt like I was pulling 200# instead of 95#. But at least I could breath. The whole thing took me 16:39 to complete.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Long Absence

CrossFit Max Effort

Workout of the Day

5 rounds for time:

1 deadlift @ 405#

1 rope climb @ 20 ft

2 turkish getups @ 32 kg (1 each side)

So I've been on a bit of a hiatus since Iceland, for which I apologize. But I have been working on a recap of the trip that will hopefully be finished early this week. In the meantime, I've started training again.

Today’s WOD was meant to be heavy, and it was. I stopped in to Zach Forrest’s gym in Las Vegas (CrossFit Max Effort) for their open gym and found everything anyone could ever want. The ceilings are 30 feet tall for starters, and the gym itself is connected to a minor league baseball stadium. How badass is that? Brick walls and bright green industrial I-beams decorate a place loaded with equipment and space. My WOD took place beneath one of the 30 ft ropes they had hanging from the ceiling, against the back wall out of the way. The deadlifts got progressively heavier as might be expected, with the last one breaking all rules for neutral spine and lordotic stability. The rope climbs were fast and easy every time, but the Turkish getups absorbed quite a bit of time. I really liked the combination of strength, speed, and control this WOD required. My final time was 5:59.

Looking forward to a bit of normality over the next few weeks since I won't be traveling so much. Hope to catch up on some posting in that time as well :-)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Anywherefit Iceland: Midterm Report

So we are in Akureyri, up along the northern coast of Iceland. It is the 5th day of this adventure, but so much has already happened that it feels like a month. We’ve lightly toured Reykyavik, stopping to do burpees and muscle ups on the walls surrounding Iceland’s parliament building garden. We’ve run/hiked 25 km from the Valley of the Gods to the southern coast, crossing canyons, active volcanos, and more waterfalls than I can remember. We’ve soaked in natural hot springs, safari’d across the highlands, done barbell complexes on the barren wasteland, and buddy carried each other to the top of the largest volcanic crater in Europe. Amidst this beauty we’ve taken time to train skills like handstands, pistol squats, and Turkish getups. It’s almost shocking to think we have as much time in front of us as we do behind.

The crew I am travelling with is motley to be sure, but the mix has given each of us something to share. The histories and cultures of the U.S., Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, England, Wales, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Ukraine are all represented. This has made for a multi-faced interpretation of a joint experience, an interpretation that has benefited all.

The group has so far gelled around what we have in common (a love for action, fitness, and travel), and ripened through those things that we do not. Each individual’s motivations and expectations have brought a different personality to the trip, which has, in my opinion, molded this experience and this group into an impressive whole. It’s fun to see people go from perfect strangers at the bus stop Friday afternoon to best of friends around beers and cards on Monday night.

Although our days thus far have been impressive, we have hit snags as well. Two blown tires on our bus and a fractured wheel bearing on our trailer have raised logistical hurdles that our staff has handled brilliantly. In truth, I think the problems we faced early on actually contributed to the cohesion of the group. So maybe they were a blessing in disguise. Maybe ;-)

We’ve eaten well, worked hard, and been blessed with a wonderful variety of weather that has suited each occasion. Our accommodations have been outstanding. I feel guilty expressing so much excitement and positivity about the first half of the trip because I know there are those of you out there who were meant to come. But alas, it can’t be helped. This place is awesome! I don’t know when I’ll have access to the internet again, but it most likely won’t be until this weekend. Keep training hard and stay tuned for more.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Anywherefit Iceland about to kick off...

We're on the eve of the biggest fitness adventure of the year and I wanted to take advantage of the internet while I had the chance. Preparations are made and everything is falling into place perfectly. As you can see by the pictures of all the food, this is going to be a serious nutrition fest...
Tomorrow we are meeting the other 29 people joining the trip at the central bus station before heading downtown for lunch and travel decompression (ice cold beer :-) The newly crowned fittest woman in the world, Annie Thorisdottir, will be joining us for the afternoon as well. Hopefully the weather holds up all week so there aren't any hitches with the planned events. Any time we have access to internet I'll send an update so those of you weren't able to join can live vicariously through those that were. All for now!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Back Outside

Workout of the Day
100 wall balls (20#)
20 boulder muscle ups (9ft ledge)
100 kettlbell swings (24 kg)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fitness is…


The “real world” gets a lot of airtime around the water cooler or in father/son lecture time, but what is it really? Forget the physicist’s conversation of matter and non-matter and the philosopher’s conversation about being and non-being. For most of us, the real world means some version of responsibility that requires us to put up with things we otherwise wouldn’t. An aggravating boss, screaming children, a nagging mother in law. Some days it’s mortgage payments, insurance payments, and alimony. Others it’s retirement questions, college questions, precarious job security, and the dwindling chances for upward mobility.

What it always is, is a migraine cocktail. It’s inputs and stressors we don’t choose or want but are forced to accept, address, and deal with. And we do. Not always gracefully, but we do. We hem and haw, bitch and complain, but eventually and consistently we stay the real world with our stubborn insistence to survive.

We’re constantly reminded about the existence of the real world because there’s nothing people love to complain about more. “My boss is this…” “My boss is that…” We are always going “back to the reality” or telling others to “enjoy your freedom while it lasts…” It’s as if we want others to know how hard we have it so they can acknowledge our struggle and pay homage. On it’s face, it might seem odd that people brag about their misery, but it actually makes perfect sense. The process of obligation and endurance gives us a sense of worth, a daily reminder that accomplishment is possible. Sure it was tough dealing with all the shit you had to deal with, but you did it anyways and here you are. We secretly adore our responsibilities because they are proof of our ability to overcome. Listen closer to people’s complaints and you’ll hear this plainly. The comments will all be laced with traces of pride and condescension toward those who don’t shoulder similar burdens. And this is okay. Those who walk abreast with the expectations of the real world have proven their worth and earned the right to condescend.

But pride in survival is tired and fleeting. The barriers you broke through yesterday are rebuilt anew today and again tomorrow. Even though we secretly love that for which we complain most, we grow weary just the same. Every one of us needs an escape.

Training is exactly this.

First, where the “real world” is obligatory, fitness is volitional. There’s no social requirement to be healthy—only the resolution of the individual to improve. This means that every time you walk into the gym, run up a hill, or pick up a bar it’s because you want to, not because you have to. No deadlines you have to meet or bosses you have to please, just your own decision to train or not train. Asserting this level of control in one’s life is empowering and addicting. Even though training is often just as habitual and routine as a 9 to 5 job, the fact that you choose to do it distinguishes it from the mental aches and pains of a daily grind. This inherent difference creates a void into which we can always retreat if the pressures of the real world become too great.

Second, the physical improvements we make through training are progressive and purposeful. Each day in the gym brings with it a task built on the last, marching us forward toward tangible goals. Unlike the obstacles we overcome at work or at home, something that is accomplished in the gym does not need to be re-accomplished the following day. Once you’ve done a muscle up, you’ve done it. Once you’ve deadlifted 500 lb, you’ve lifted it. Nothing anybody says or does can un-do those achievements. They are etched in your annals forever. This is important because it keeps us in a mindset of continual success. Regardless of the failures and stress we have outside the gym, training always gives us a way to achieve. There aren’t many situations like this out there.

Finally, training is selfish (in a good way). It’s one of the few things you do in your day that is wholly about you. One of my students told me last year that he didn’t start working out until his divorce. The process of separation and its cold legality had left him disoriented, ripped apart, and lost. He described floating through his day without direction or motivation, losing his identity bit by bit. Then, on a friend’s suggestion, he joined a gym and started training. Nothing serious, just an hour a day to “get his mind off things.” It turned out that it didn’t so much get his mind off everything else as it got his mind back on himself. Exercise gave him a way to concentrate his energy on self-improvement rather than self-immolation. That hour a day quickly turned into 2 or 3 and, slowly but surely, this individual started to regain some of the independence and confidence he had lost.

This is an important point. Where the real world inevitably divides our focus and energy into a thousand different strands, training fixes it back on the one thing that’s necessary to all the rest: us. During that hour you’re allowed to forget your job, car, and kids. You’re allowed to turn your cell phone off and fill your ears with clanking bars and industrial fans. During that hour you can be competitive and strong without worrying who you might offend because you’re no longer a parent, an employee, a sibling, or a breadwinner. You’re an athlete. You’re there to get better. This simplicity is the ultimate reprieve from a world bent on being complicated and difficult.

For many, training grows into their lives as much for the reasons outlined above as it does for the physical results it brings. We spend so much time and energy meeting our obligations to family, friends, and coworkers that we forget what it’s like to be in a place where none of that matters. It gets hard to let go. So, essentially, the gym becomes a refuge. Here we have control over our decisions, we make progress every day, and we do it for ourselves. It’s a one-hour vacation from “real” that we need to take and appreciate. Which is why I can never understand why people are afraid of it. Don’t dread this hour, take pleasure in it! This is your time. Re-imagine what you’re doing and why, then re-experience it for what it truly is. And the next time you find yourself in that “real world” conversation, it might be a bit more palatable.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

2011 CrossFit Games Retrospective

The Experience:

To anyone following these Games who has been around CrossFit for more than a year, the upscaling of this event was probably obvious. But, just in case you haven’t had the privilege of watching things grow year after year, here is a bit of perspective… in 2009, just 2 years ago, athletes did an open regional qualifier consisting of between 50 and 200 participants. If you made the cut, you showed up to the Castro Ranch in Aromas, CA a few months later the day before competition began. We brought tents and coolers, were given neon wristbands, and our athlete numbers were written on our shoulders and calves in sharpies. There were a handful of guys with cameras doing random interviews, mostly with the individuals who had competed the year before and were predicted to win. The Grand Prize was $5,000 cash.

To connect that experience with the one just completed is like untying a brain knot. Throwing your hat in the ring this year meant participation and completion of a grueling 6-week online open competition. If your aggregate score was top 60, then you competed against the best of the best for 3 consecutive days to see who really deserved to represent your region in the finals. This is as stressful if not more stressful than the actual Games. Coming through Northern California meant I had to compete against 4 Games finalists for 3 spots…the kind of ridiculous depth you don’t want to see when the margins of victory are sure to be small.

Fast forward to the finals and you have 3 days of registration, orientation, media exposure, and preparation before you even set foot on the proving grounds. Getting sized up by tailors, shoe-smiths, and pundits; trading anxious conversation with the other athletes about the potential events and different strategies to running on sand; struggling to relax your mind enough to get the sleep you need every night. The build up to the action this year was something I personally have never remotely been a part of before. And something that I utterly enjoyed.

I’ll admit that part of me longs for the simplicity and austerity of Aromas. Charging through dusty hills amidst makeshift grandstands and caution tape certainly appeals to the organic character at CrossFit’s core. But the level to which the Games rose this year was something beyond personal preference or style. It’s bigger than what you’d “prefer” to see. It is a legitimate, professional sport. I was treated like a truly professional athlete. The media coverage was polished and thorough, and couldn’t have been so without the infrastructure in place at the Home Depot Center. I think this year will go down as the moment most of us acknowledge that CrossFit is in fact divided in two parts: fitness and sport. There is the community at large, working day by day to improve their quality of life, seeking to move with strength and grace through the tasks they consistently face. And there is the sport, attracting hyper-driven competitors who will train above and beyond what is required for the chance to be a part of the process I described above. While this division has been roughly delineated already, I believe the exposure and success of this year’s Games will etch it in for good.

The Events:

Without overstating the obvious, the events this year were incredible. In 2009 the programming was debilitating. A monstrous hill run followed by max deadlifts, a weighted uphill sprint that left people incapacitated for 20 minutes, hammering blunted stakes into hardpacked sand followed by high volume squat snatches and wall balls. And that was all on day one. We still had max effort snatches, parralette handstand pushups, and a grueling 20+ minute chipper to go. The fittest on earth were lined up at the massage tent trying merely to finish, let alone win.

Last year the programming adjusted, swinging towards skill rather than workload. Handstand pushups on rings, pistol squats, and “Amanda” were the talk afterwards. The strength event was a shoulder to overhead tacked on to the back end of a triple Helen, favoring the conditioned and the bold but not necessarily the strong. There were more events than ever before, but all were blended tests—mixing skill and work capacity, endurance and strength. There were no pure WODs that rewarded excellence in any one area.This time around HQ got the mixture just right. Athletes were tested on an array of skills during WOD 2 while they were fresh, leaving no question as to whether fatigue would play a role in our ability to complete the task. We were tested on pure strength during WOD 5, given 4 minutes to do a max chin up and a max snatch before picking up close to 300# and carrying it as far as possible. The first event of the competition certainly tested our endurance, not to mention the ability to swim, and the last tested our ability to recover in quick fashion before fighting to finish. There were rope climbs, prowler pushes, sled pulls, and sand runs. There were rowers, Watt bikes, and monkey bars. There was even a more traditional test of athleticism in the softball toss. This years games literally had everything: Short duration, long duration, and everything in between. Gymnastics, strength, and conditioning. Traditional movements and extremely creative new ones.

The proof that this test of tests was balanced can be found in the top 10 finishers and their body types. Looking down the line you had Chris Spealer, Pat Barber, and Josh Bridges, 3 guys looking up at 5’7” with exceptional gymnastic skills and conditioning but also impressive strength. You also had Spencer Hendel, Jason Khalipa, and Matt Chan, 3 guys easily over 210 lb and extremely powerful. You also had Rich Froning, Zach Forrest, and Dan Bailey, athletes of medium height but with muscular thickness that screams CrossFit. Finally you had the leaner guys like myself, Graham Holmberg, and Ben Smith, rarely the strongest or the most skilled but always good enough to stay in the hunt. This was as balanced a top group as one could ask for and I think that speaks volumes about the programming.

The People:

As has been much expounded upon, the community CrossFit has produced is without equal. The intent and earnest with which spectators followed the weekend’s events from around the world was staggering. I can’t wait to hear the web numbers when they come in. The athletes remained humble and supportive even in the most competitive of situations. Before the swim WOD people were sharing strategies for footwear in the sand, gloves on the pullup rack, and pacing in the water. There were full blown softball practice sessions on the track during our briefing on Thursday with the ex-baseball players assisting those who had less experience. The leadership and sponsors of the event were undeniably awesome. It was clear that the interest from all parties was in the growth and success of the sport, not in the commercialization of a product as many had feared. Not that I ever doubted the integrity of the people I have met and grown to respect in this community, but being a part of an event this big with this many variables and still seeing the same dedication and commitment was reassuring just the same. Crossfit will never dilute into a fad or some second rate perversion of athletics because the people it is built on, the community of affiliates and athletes it produces, and the sponsors now opening its doors to the mainstream are all on the same page. Everyone is intoxicated by its energy and potential, and no one is willing to accept anything less than first rate representation.

I am extremely blessed and proud to be part of this process and hope it continues to reach more and more people out there looking for change. After this past weekend I don’t see any reason why it won’t.