Fitness
Nov 6th, 2012

Rippetoe Invitational Meet Results

WichitaFalls.jpg

Rippetoe Invitational Competitors

This weekend, a group of five CrossFit Oaklanders climbed on a plane to fly to Dallas and then drove to a town near the Texas/Oklahoma border to lift some weights. Kelly, Dan, Greg, Michael, and I signed up to compete in the Rippetoe Invitational Meet that was held on November 3rd in Wichita Falls, TX at the Wichita Falls Athletic Club (WFAC). WFAC is owned by strength coach and author of Staring Strength, Mark Rippetoe. Back when Rippetoe was associated with CrossFit, he developed the now-widely-used CrossFit Total to measure the strength of trainees. A CrossFit Total is roughly the equivalent of a powerlifting meet with the exception that the bench press has been replaced by the shoulder press, referred to only as "the press" for the rest of this article. Rippetoe adapted his original Total and expanded it into a set of rules for the meet. All of the lifters were allowed three attempts to establish a one-repetition maximum in the squat, press, and deadlift, in that order. Once everyone completed all of their squat attempts, we moved on to the press, and so forth. Eighteen lifters participated, of which just under 30% came from our gym. Northern California was well represented at the meet.

In many powerlifing meets, lifters are arranged into groups called flights that roughly correlate to weight classes. A flight will often have between 10 and 15 people in it so that you have reasonable rest times between each attempt. Everyone performs their first attempts and then the same order is repeated twice more. This meet was run more like an Olympic weightlifting meet where the bar never got lighter. This meant that the lifting order was set solely by attempt selection. Instead of having 10 or 15 minutes between each attempt, you might be following yourself if the next lifter was lifting more than you. Getting two minutes of rest between attempts changes how you approach the meet and how you call for attempts.

All of the competitors from our gym are long-time participants in my Strength Saturday classes. Kelly came up with the idea to compete in the Rippetoe meet and the others liked it and signed on. It is hard to believe that so many people were willing to go to Texas to lift. I consider myself fortunate to coach such a dedicated group.  Everyone lifted very well and several PRs were hit along the way. Of special note was Kelly’s performance. She overcame a potentially career-ending back injury last year and returned not only to lifting, but to competing as well. Without further ado, here is what everyone lifted in order of squat, press, and deadlift with all weights in pounds.

Dan: 410, 209.4, 470
Greg: 270, 110.2, 375
Michael: 255, 130, 345
Kelly: 225, 88.2, 260
Tom: 385, 169.8, 480

Greg earned second place in his weight class, Michael got third, Kelly got second, and I got first. There were no subcategories for age. The meet was a unique and rewarding experience and the trip was fun from beginning to end. Competition is a wonderful thing, as is spending time with your friends.

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Oct 20th, 2012

Lessons from the Captain

Kirk Karwoski

Kirk Karwoski at the 2012 Starting Strength Coaches Association Conference

I was lucky enough to spend some time with Kirk Karwoski about two weeks ago at Starting Strength Coaches Association Conference in Wichita Falls, TX. For those who are not familiar with Kirk, I did a write up about him at the end of 2011. Karwoski, or Captain Kirk as he was often known, is one of the great powerlifters of all time and is often called the greatest squatter in the history of the sport. His world record 1,003 pound squat in the 125 kg weight class that was set in 1995 still stands today. He won 6 International Powerlifting Championships in a row from 1991 through 1996 and was a dominant figure during his professional career.  It is not very often that you get to be around someone who was the best in the world at something and it was cool to hear Karwoski’s insights into training.

From early on, Kirk was an unusually strong guy. If I remember correctly, he was bench pressing 225 pounds as a freshman in high school and one of the first times he tried, he squatted 300 pounds. By age 20, he squatted 760 pounds in competition. The man certainly had the genetics to be an amazing strength athlete. However, what stood out was how seriously he took his training. Karwoski worked more diligently and with greater intensity than almost any of his competition. When he was in the gym, he did very little talking. Instead, he was focused solely on lifting. If you sat on the bench between sets on a bench press day, that was a problem. Chairs were for sitting. The bench was for working.

Karwoski and his coach planned his workouts many weeks in advance. He would decide upon what he wanted to do and he would rarely miss repetitions in training. Not only did he put his time in under the bar, he was unusually dedicated to his diet. When trainees are trying to put on weight, it is not uncommon for them to drink a gallon of whole milk a day. This is considered to be a somewhat controversial practice by some. At certain points early in his career, Karwoski would drink as much as four gallons of whole milk a day. That was in addition to the food he was eating. Of course, when you are squatting almost 1,000 pounds in training, you probably need a lot of food to recover from that workload.

Despite the fact that he is the equivalent of royalty in powerlifting circles, Karwoski is an approachable guy who is happy to share his experiences. He is passionate about the sport and has a wealth of funny stories. He provided a welcome reminder that getting stronger is a function of dedication and hard work.

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Sep 8th, 2012

Tracy Zimmer’s Incredible Squats

I felt pretty good about my squats this evening until I watched this.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize Ms. Tracy Zimmer from an article I posted about 10 months ago. In case you were wondering if she is still really damn strong, she is. Zimmer works with James Steel and is one of the Assistant Trainers at the University of Pennsylvania. Tipping the scales at just 152 pounds, Tracy squats 325 pounds for an easy set of 15. Yep. 325×15.

I would like to call the reader’s attention to a few things in the video. The first is the speed of the bar throughout the set. She is moving that heavy weight very quickly on almost every rep. Zimmer is doing a high bar squat which calls for an upright back angle. She maintains that back angle very well, even as she fatigues. Further, she buries each repetition. Every one of those squats is below parallel. Lastly, it is 325 pounds for 15 reps – well over twice Tracy’s bodyweight. That’s really impressive.

Apparently, Zimmer occasionally listens to Slayer while squatting. Not only is she frighteningly strong, she has excellent taste in music. If she likes dinosaurs, too, then I think I might need to move back to Pennsylvania. All kidding aside, enjoy the video. It’s okay if you cry a little. I did.

Good Luck to Our Competitors

Greg, Mune, and Lydia are all competing this weekend. Mune and Lydia are competing in a triathalon, which I believe is the Pacific Grove Triathlon down in Monterrey. If not, someone will correct me. Greg will be traveling to Grass Valley in the hopes of setting some more California State Records for the US Powerlifting Association. Stay tight, Harper. Good luck to all of you.

Strength Saturday

I have three openings for the Saturday lifting class this weekend (September 8). The time is from 4:00 until 6:30, or so. We sometimes go  a little longer. The cost is $25. Squats, presses, and deadlifts are on the menu. If you would like to attend, please send me an email at cfo.saturday@gmail.com. There will be no class next weekend, September 15.

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Sep 1st, 2012

To Ice or Not to Ice

Handstand Walk

This picture has nothing to do with anything that follows.

Earlier this month, Kelly Starrett posted a blog entry and accompanying video entitled People, We’ve Got to Stop Icing. We Were Wrong, Sooo Wrong. suggesting that the use of ice to combat pain and inflammation after an injury would best be avoided. A brief sentence in the same entry suggested that the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is contraindicated in many circumstances as well.

Jonathan Sullivan, MD, an emergency room physician who also wrote Barbell Training is Big Medicine took issue with Starrett’s entry and penned a rather extensive rebuttal that is chock full of references. It is an engaging and lengthy read that looks at the mechanisms behind injury and inflammation and the state of the literature regarding icing and NSAIDs. Here’s a little sample:

Inflammation is the body’s natural-and therefore correct-response to injury. Your body knows what it’s doing, and interfering with the inflammatory response is therefore ill-considered.

This is the easiest argument to dispense with, because it’s just silly-not to mention selectively applied. For example, in the video it is made clear that ice and NSAIDs are bad because they interfere with inflammation, but compression, which suppresses post-inflammatory edema, is not. In any event, this argument proceeds from the assumption that pristine natural processes are always optimal to the realization of human ends, which is clearly not the case; and that the human body is a "perfect machine," which is just so much bullshit.

Here’s a reality check: Mother Nature doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your program, your WOD time, your 1RM bench press, or even your survival as an individual. She designed you to make new primate gene replicators, and then croak. Let’s not even talk about the design of the low back, the exquisite suicidal sensitivity of neural and cardiac tissue to brief ischemia, or the deplorable shortcomings of cartilage. Inflammation is not an ideal adaptation just because it’s the "natural" response to insult. Pain, scarring, functional impairment, tissue loss and cancer are also natural responses to insult-and all can result from inflammation. On the logic of the AAI (Anti-anti-inflamation) crowd, analgesia, wound repair by primary intention, tissue debridement, abscess drainage and tissue salvage are also bad ideas. If that’s what you really think, it’s unlikely we’re going to have a meeting of the minds. God help you if you ever get anaphylaxis or appendicitis.

I love well-placed profanity sprinkled amidst good scientific writing. Add in suggestions for the real purpose of reproduction a la Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene and my smile grows wider, indeed. Sullivan’s article is entitled Stopping the Spread of Misinflammation and it is well worth the time you would spend reading it. Few things are ever as straightforward as they may seem and this article is an excellent reminder of that. Enjoy.

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Aug 25th, 2012

How to Hold on to a Bar

Double Overhand Grip

The double overhand grip

When pulling a weight off of the floor, there are a few options with respect to gripping the bar. What a trainee uses will be dependent upon the size of their hand, grip strength, and tolerance for discomfort. The first and most obvious way to hold the bar is using the double overhand style. Both of the palms face the lifter’s legs and the thumbs are wrapped around the bar on top of the fingers. Holding the bar like this evenly distributes the load across both shoulders, allows the bar to move in a nice straight line off the floor, and provides plenty of grip work during the lift. If you can use this grip for all of your deadlift attempts, by all means do so.

For many trainees, however, the grip will begin to give way using the double overhand style as the weight gets heavier. Once the bar starts slipping out of the hand, the deadlift comes to a screeching halt. No amount of cursing or prayer will rectify the situation until the grip is changed to something more secure. Once the double overhand fails, the following options are available: the hook grip, the reverse grip, or straps.

The Hook Grip

The Hook Grip

The hook grip looks identical to the double overhand grip when viewed from the front.  When viewed from the rear, you can see that you grab on to the thumb with the first two fingers. This relaxes the hand somewhat and allows for a strong, secure hold on the bar. Since you are both mashing your thumb into the bar while simultaneously pulling on the thumb with the tip of your middle finger while using a hook grip, it can also be very uncomfortable. This discomfort becomes much less troublesome as the hands adapt to the stress. The hook grip shares the same benefits to the shoulders and bar path as the double overhand grip. It is the preferred grip for the Olympic lifts and is my personal favorite for the deadlift.

Hand Size Comparison

Longer fingers and bigger hands are an advantage when pulling a barbell off the floor

If a trainee has small hands, the hook grip may not be of great use during limit deadlift attempts, unfortunately. Longer fingers are required to get a good purchase on the thumb. For trainees with shorter digits, the reverse grip may provide a stronger hold than the hook.

Hook Grip Compare

Note that the trainee on the right is able to grab a lot more of her thumb
while using the hook grip. Longer fingers strike again. Sorry, Kelly.

The reverse grip involves supinating (turning) one of the hands so that one palm faces in front of the lifter, while one is left facing the legs. This grip also allows for heavier weights to be handled without fear of the bar slipping out of the hand on the way up. It is probably the most popular choice for deadlifts. The supinated grip asymmetrically loads the shoulders and the supine hand tends to slightly push the bar away from the lifter as the pull comes off the floor. It can, in rare cases, irritate or injure the biceps tendon of the supine hand, although such injuries are normally reserved for fairly advanced powerlifters who are handling large poundages.

Reverse Grip

The mighty reverse grip

Because of the uneven loading of the hands and shoulders using the reverse grip, it is a good idea to switch the supine hand regularly to evenly stress both sides. This can be done from workout to workout, or if the trainee prefers, can be switched between repetitions. The reverse grip and the hook grip can be combined, although this is not used as commonly, probably because it is somewhat difficult to supinate the hand and hold on to the thumb at the same time.

Lastly, if none of the options above work, the trainee can use purpose-built straps to aid with grip. How and when to use straps is beyond the scope of this article, but they are useful tools on many occasions. Most competitions do not allow the use of straps, so this should be kept in mind when employing them.

Big hands and longer fingers are a distinct advantage on pulls. My apologies to those with shorter fingers. Life isn’t always fair and this is one of those times. Here are my recommendations for deadlifts:

  1. Use chalk. It helps to dry the hands and keeps the bar from slipping.
  2. Use the double overhand whenever possible. Use it on warmup sets until you cannot do so any longer.
  3. When the double overhand fails, move to the hook grip.
  4. If you cannot hold on using the hook grip, go to the reverse grip.
  5. If none of that worked, use straps.

There is more to say on this topic, but that will suffice for now. If you haven’t tried the hook grip on the deadlift, consider it. You may prefer it, despite the discomfort.

Special thanks to the CrossFit Oakland Hand Modeling Corps for their assistance with this article. Your checks are in the mail.

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Aug 4th, 2012

Upcoming Events and Saturday Class Scheduling

Deadlift

Today’s post isn’t so much about training as it is upcoming events. However, before I get into details, I just want to say that Michael Phelps is awesome and I love the Olympics.

Firstly, I will be holding a Starting Strength Training Camp at CrossFit Oakland on Sunday, 26 August from 1:00 PM until 5:30 PM, although we often go a little beyond that. We will be going over the deadlift and the power clean. Additional details and sign ups can be found at the Aasgaard Company Store. The cost is $140. The camp is limited to 8 participants to allow for plenty of coaching.

Secondly, the Occupy Strength Competition will be held next Saturday at CrossFit One World. To accommodate that, I am going to move the normally scheduled Strength Saturday class to Sunday, August 12. We have a number of CFO members competing there, so come on down and cheer them on.

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Jul 28th, 2012

An Ode to Pressing

Press

Julie at the top of a press

Mark Rippetoe recently wrote an article for T-Nation entitled Get Your Press Up. It is an amusing and profane piece encouraging trainees to focus on an oft-neglected lift. His audience is specifically young men who are focused on the bench press as an upper body strength building exercise, but the points made are relevant well beyond that demographic. Here’s an excerpt:

I made the error of training the bench press for 15 years without heavy pressing, and it got me two shoulder surgeries (the press keeps your anterior and posterior shoulder strength in balance, the bench doesn’t) and the realization one day that I couldn’t correctly press 35% of my bench. Which is bullshit.

The press is a difficult movement for many people, myself included. The muscles involved in pressing are smaller and more susceptible to fatigue than those used in the squat and deadlift. Progress often comes slowly in the lift and with smaller weight increments than we might want. Microplates (plates less than 2.5 pounds a piece) come in very handy when seeking to maintain incremental increases in weight.  Despite these difficulties, a strong press is of great benefit to CrossFit and overall strength training. Enjoy the article and good luck setting new PRs on the press.

Also, best of luck to Joey, Leka, Steve D, Lance, and our fearless leader, Mike Minium as they compete in Hercules tomorrow. I happen to think Hercules might be the best town to host a strength-related competition I have ever heard of.

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Jul 21st, 2012

Today is a Good Day to Train

Greg Squat

Greg’s first attempt on the squat.

I’ve been meaning to write an article about Greg for some time. He’s a worthy subject and his story helps illustrate a larger point. Greg began to train with barbells over two years ago and as his strength gains accumulated, he decided the time had come to enter a competition. In April, Greg, along with Zeke, entered in a powerlifting meet in the South Bay at Wild Iron Gym. Yes, I know it is now July, but I studied geology. What are months in the face of eons? You’ll never see such a short delay in the rock record.

Back to Greg. In the meet, he competed in the 90 kg (198 lb) weight class and made the following lifts:

Squat – 110 kg (242.5 lb)
Bench – 70 kg (154 lb)
Deadlift – 152.5 kg (336 lb)
Total – 332.5 kg (733 lb)

With those results, Greg set the California State Records for masters athletes in the US Powerlifting Association for all three lifts and for his powerlifting total (the sum of the lifts). In his early 60s, he falls outside the usual strength training demographic , let alone the normal group that competes in powerlifting. While the records are certainly cool, it has been more rewarding to watch Greg refine his technique and gain the strength to move some very impressive weights. Not surprisingly, his increased strength has led to an increased quality of life. How many men in their early 60s walk up to well over 300 pounds and decide to pick it up off the ground? Greg does so almost every Saturday afternoon.

Excuses abound, but inspiration is readily available. What is the secret to getting stronger? You show up. You lift hard. You sweat. You then come back and lift a little heavier. It never gets easier. As we age, the siren call of the couch grows louder. It is the rare individual that rejects that call and takes their wellbeing seriously enough to preserve it. As Dr. Jonathan Sullivan noted, Barbells are Big Medicine. Tired of feeling badly? Tired of getting weaker? We are capable of great things, provided we are willing to work for them. Just ask Greg.

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Jul 7th, 2012

Showing Up

Candace Hand Stand Push Up

Candace at last year’s 2011 NorCal Regional Competition

Hunter S. Thompson, an interesting character if ever there were one, has this famous quote attributed to him, "Half of life is just showing up." That quote is so common now to become a cliché, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Thompson, therefore it stays. That it is overused does not make it less true. Progress in the gym is additive. The work that was done yesterday provides the foundation for work done tomorrow.

I mentioned in various postings on this site that strength is built slowly. It also tends to erode more slowly when a layoff occurs than something like cardiovascular fitness. However, when you stop training, you start to get weaker. Getting weaker is the opposite of progress and we want to avoid it whenever possible.  Thus we return to the point. If you want to improve, you must first show up. Again and again. Whether you feel like it, or not.

Here’s a dirty little secret about strength training: almost any reasonably laid out program will make you stronger, especially over the short term. "Reasonably laid out" of course means that you are squatting below parallel on a regular basis and otherwise performing multi-joint barbell exercises. There are no magic programs to increase a trainee’s squat strength that do not involve hard work and persistence. Some programs might be more effective than others and some programs might be dependent upon the level of advancement of the athlete doing them. Whatever the case, the most perfectly conceived program will fall flat when a trainee misses workouts on a regular basis.

When a trainee starts missing several workouts, then they aren’t really training anymore. Training suggests that a goal is in mind. Work is being consistently done for a reason. Working out without a goal is just exercising. That’s not to say that exercising is a bad thing. Moving is better than not moving. However, we can do better. Training leads to progress. Progress results in increased capacity and provides motivation. None of this is possible without first showing up, even when it is easier to stay home. Train hard.

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Jun 16th, 2012

Accessory Work

Low Bar Squat

One of the best assistance exercises yet developed.

Often when a trainee experiences a problem with one of the big lifts such as a squat or a deadlift, one of the first questions that gets asked is, "What other exercises should I do to make (insert muscle group here) stronger?" This is a very natural reaction and assistance exercises certainly have their place. However, in many cases, a simpler solution exists. If progress in the squat is lacking, then the answer is probably to squat more instead of doing something else.

Strength is not built overnight, but, instead, is the result of hard work and consistency. Lifts like the squat and deadlift are multi-joint exercises that employ most of the musculature of the body and are renowned for their difficulty. Because of the muscle mass used, the technique required, and the will that must be summoned to complete these lifts successfully, it is not always clear what the weak link is when a lift is missed.  At limit weights, something is going to give and you are not going to be able to employ technique alone to pick 600 pounds up from the floor. Until a trainee is already fairly strong, it may not really matter what muscle group, or groups, are impeding progress on a lift. The body responds well to being trained as a system instead of a collection of discrete parts. Instead of looking to greater complexity or more exercises, it will often be a better use of everyone’s time to work on the movement in question with renewed focus.

There is probably no movement in the training arsenal capable of building total body strength like the squat. If the squat is a weak point, then choosing a weight that can be handled for three sets of five is a very good place to start. After the training session, the lifter should go home, eat some good food (probably a lot of good food), sleep, and then add a little weight to the bar and squat three sets of five again the next time they train. The process of lifting, recovering, and then lifting a little heavier is a proven method for getting stronger. Note that there is nothing complicated here. The repetition scheme is held constant. No additional exercises are added to bring up weak points. Instead, the only variable adjusted is the weight. Simplicity is good. Training should be as simple possible to drive the progress that is desired.

For many trainees, a simple approach such as the one above is all that is needed for a good long time. As strength levels increase and as familiarity with the lifts increase, additional complexity and exercises will become useful. However, the basic lifts remain the primary drivers of progress throughout a training career. If the goal is to squat more weight, then more time needs to be spent squatting. Any weaknesses that impede progress will be addressed by doing the exercise correctly and loading it in a way that encourages success.

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