Fitness
Feb 12th, 2011

Laura Phelps-Sweatt

Schedule Update: The Strength Saturday class has been rescheduled to this Sunday evening from 4 to 6 PM. Strength Saturday classes will resume as normal next weekend.

Laura Phelps-Sweatt bench pressing 300 pounds for a triple

For those that follow powerlifting, Laura Phelps-Sweatt is something of a living legend. Training both at her own gym and with Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell in Ohio, she is among the strongest women in the world. How strong? In the 181 pound weight class, she squatted 745 pounds, bench pressed 510 pounds, and deadlifted  529 pounds (according to the Southern Powerlifting Federation Website). You read those numbers correctly. A woman weighing less than 181 pounds squatted 745 pounds. She can also walk around her gym on her hands and sometimes competes in the 165 pound weight class. Amazing does not begin to describe Phelps-Sweatt.

Competitive powerlifting has two big factions in it – those who compete "equipped" and those that do not, often called "raw" lifters. Equipped competitors use tightly fitting suits, wraps, and shirts that store elastic energy in the in the joints that provide assistance to the lifter when handling heavy weights. Arguments over what is better, equipped or raw, are the fodder for endless arguments on the Internet. I will not go further into the subject, but it is important to realize that people who know how to properly use suits and wraps lift more than they would without the equipment. Phelps-Sweatt normally competes in the equipped divisions.

While some would suggest that the usage of suits somehow makes Phelps-Sweatt’s accomplishments less impressive, they need only watch a few videos of what she can do on her YouTube channel for that idea to be dispelled. With or without equipment this woman moves weights that routinely put men to shame. She literally works out with the men at Westside Barbell. If you happen to have a CrossFit Journal subscription, they produced a video article showing Phelps-Sweatt performing speed squats with a few of the other Westside lifters. Humbling doesn’t begin to describe it.

Phelps-Sweatt is not a lightweight. While I don’t know her exact height, I would be very surprised if she was much taller than 5′ 3", yet she weighs between 165 and 181 pounds and is quite lean. Muscular bodyweight is useful bodyweight. This is not to suggest that every woman should be shooting to weigh 180 pounds, but a few extra pounds of muscle is something to be welcomed, not feared.

When the bar feels heavy, I remind myself that Laura warms up with a lot more weight than I am using for my work sets. That often provides some extra motivation. Here’s to a strong February.

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Jan 29th, 2011

Power Rack

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The Rogue R-4

Right around the New Year, CrossFit Oakland received a shipment of matte black steel that weighed a few hundred pounds. After a short time, said steel was assembled and bolted to the floor on the side of the Sayoc Room to serve as a proper squat rack for the gym. The squat rack was a gift from David Sally, Mike Minium, and me to CrossFit Oakland. We wanted to provide an area where people could work on strength without getting in the way of the normally scheduled CrossFit classes.

In addition to making some room on the main gym floor, the rack provides a few niceties not previously available. The assembly provides extra stability when handling heavier weights and has a built-in set of safety chains to allow for a graceful exit from a failed squat. The chains also provide the ability for trainees to work on rack pulls, or barbell shrugs, should they desire to do so. The rack has precision-cut holes along the main uprights to allow for fine height adjustments of the j-hooks that hold the bar. Those looking to work on bench presses need only grab one of the flat benches from out on the floor and bring it into the rack to have a marvelously solid station from which to work. Holes are also drilled along the bottom and top beams to allow for band pegs. Devotees of Westside Barbell training methods will appreciate that capability. Lastly, the cross members at the top of the rack can be used as pullup bars, including the larger-than-normal diameter pullup bar in the back. Of course, we have lots and lots of pullup bars at CFO thanks to Daniel Hester’s amazing fabrication skills, so this is just icing on the cake.

The rack is open to all CFO members that want to use it. It is not really intended to be a go-to choice for regular CrossFit workouts, but for those trainees that want to train their lifts, it is patiently waiting in the next room. Enjoy the rack and take good care of it. We are excited that it is here.

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Jan 22nd, 2011

Persistence

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Sectionals are coming. Persistence yields results.

Last week we discussed coming back after a training layoff and this week we’ll provide some inspiration to avoid layoffs. As has often been mentioned, progress comes quickly in the beginning of any effective exercise program.  Once those gains have been realized, it becomes more difficult to improve. When this occurs, frustration and stagnation are often the result.

There are two big variables to manipulate when training. They are stress and recovery. Effective training involves stressing the body sufficiently to disrupt homeostasis. The body then repairs itself and becomes slightly stronger than before. This was discussed in greater detail back in June. If progress ceases to occur, it is important to look into recovery. Are food and rest sufficient to build back up after training? If so, are training stresses being properly applied? Is the trainee beating themselves into submission day after day? Is the trainee not working out enough?

Of great importance is simply showing up. Training variables can be manipulated, but sweat equity is incredibly important. Not every workout will result in a new PR. Sometimes regressions will occur. I have more workouts than I would like to admit where I do not meet my goals for the day. Each workout, however, is not particularly important on its own. Instead, it is the sum of weeks and months of hard work that yields progress. If the dedication needed to stick to a plan are lacking, then worrying about the details of programming is time that is wasted.

Take any physical parameter that is desired (strength, endurance, power, etc…) and it becomes apparent that these qualities are the result of slow, patient, difficult exertion. The highly quotable Jim Wendler had this to say about the accomplishments of the powerlifters as Westside Barbell, a well-known gym in Ohio of which he was also a part, "If you want to look at the success of Westside, don’t look at the program. Look at the attitude and the expectations of the lifters."  Not every workout will feel good and not every workout will be satisfying. Despite that, consistently chipping away at weakness will yield results. Once consistency is established, then the other variables can be considered again.

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Jan 15th, 2011

Coming Back from a Layoff in Training

Tami Deadlifting at CrossFit Pleasanton

Want to be strong like Tami? Patience is the key.

Despite our best efforts, sometimes breaks in training will occur. Coming back from these breaks needs to be handled conservatively to ensure a successful return to demanding physical activity. Getting injured or becoming catastrophically sore serve as further impediments to doing what needs to be done – training regularly with purpose and drive.

There are sometimes good reasons to take planned, generally brief, rests from strenuous activity. We are not concerned with such episodes here as such breaks are generally last less than a week and allow for more or less uninterrupted training and progress. The question of how to come back from multiple weeks, or months of inactivity is our focus. On these intermediate time scales, strength and endurance are lost and the muscles become detrained. The nervous system adaptations that resulted from the previous training efforts, however, ebb more slowly. When a layoff occurs, the nervous system retains the ability to fire the muscles with greater force and frequency than what the muscles can handle. If a trainee returns to a hard workout after a layoff, massive soreness is often the result.

Here are some ideas to allow for a swift and productive return to training:

On the first workout back, go very easy. Scale weights and repetitions to the point that your pride is insulted. That will be the correct starting point. Some soreness will still result and that is fine. The object is to avoid crippling soreness that serves to discourage another return to the gym. Also, going very easy at first allows momentum to build for rapid improvement. Scale difficulty upwards within reason thereafter.

Avoid training seven days in a row when the previous three months involved nothing more strenuous than a brisk walk. People do this. A lot. Once again, soreness and potential injury await when such a path is followed. Strength and conditioning are built gradually through smart programming and proper recovery. Work out, rest, and then workout again. Patience is important.

Dan John, who recently moved to The Bay Area, has often noted that there is nothing more conducive to making progress in the gym than sleep and food. Trainees do not become stronger or faster from exercise. They reap these adaptations by recovering from exercise. Upon a return to the gym, remember to match food and rest to increased demands of training.

Welcome back.

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Jan 8th, 2011

Great-Grandmother Strength

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There are numerous reasons for not working out. For those that need some encouragement, I would like to introduce you to Ms. Winifred Pristell. Ms. Pristell is the world record holder for the bench press and deadlift in the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters (WABDL), one of several powerlifting federations. She is also 72 years old and suffers from arthritis. I got a chance to talk to talk to Ms. Pristell in mid-December, a few days before her birthday. Her nickname is "Heavy Metal" and she lifts more than some men half her age can manage. If inspiration for getting strong is in short supply, keep reading.

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Dec 4th, 2010

Eating to Grow – Part Three

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If you haven’t read parts one and two on this subject already, I encourage you to do so before embarking upon this article. We have two topics to discuss. We’ll start by looking at the necessary motivations for putting on muscular bodyweight and then we’ll move on to some general eating guidelines to complement training to get stronger.

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Nov 27th, 2010

Eating to Grow – Part Deux

MJJ Shoulder Press

MJJ in the midst of a 5-repetition set of 200 pound shoulder presses

In the previous article I advanced the argument that putting on bodyweight, particularly muscular bodyweight, can provide for athletic performance improvement. We laid some groundwork and discussed basic physiology in that article. Today we’ll expand on those ideas and discuss some other points of interest.

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Nov 20th, 2010

Eating to Grow – Part One

Chris Riley 315 Pound Bench Press

Chris Riley from Wichita Falls Athletic Club bench pressing 315 pounds

When most people discuss diet there is one goal that tops the list and that is weight loss. Today we are going to touch on the rather taboo subject of weight gain. Specifically, we’ll explore some ideas regarding muscular bodyweight. America is a terribly overweight society and the idea that people should willingly increase their bodyweight is a seemingly ridiculous notion. Given the right set of circumstances, however, upping the weight on the scale could be a wise choice. Why would anyone embark upon such a fool’s errand? The most obvious reason is strength. Read on and this will make more sense.

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Nov 6th, 2010

The Front Squat

Vencelas Dabaya front squatting 200 kg for five repetitions while making it look easy

After discussing the high bar back squat, we’ll move on to the front squat this week. The front squat is the movement used to stand up after receiving a clean in Olympic weightlifting and derivatives of this lift are found throughout CrossFit workouts. The widely feared and despised thruster is a hybrid between a front squat and a push press while wall ball shots also share some of the same movement cues. Without further ado, let’s dive into some of the details.

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