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Ok broseph or brosephina, it’s time to get those spaghetti strings you call arms into gear. Many of us are looking to put on upper body size and strength. Going to the gym and wandering around aimlessly produces no results. You need a good plan. The fastest way to put on good muscle in to lift heavy with a variation of exercises that hit all muscle groups in a variety of movement patterns. This Upper body strength and size progression starts with a major lift at a maximal load to develop pure strength and then introduces volume for hypertrophy and gained muscle size. The exercises target different movement patterns for pushing and pulling. There is some isolation work as well to help target mechanical weaknesses of some of the smaller muscle groups and contribute to the larger movements. Try this program for 5 weeks and expect rapid progress and increased upper body size.  Then change the exercises to avoid plateaus. This is a 4-day program with 1 rest day between sessions. The program can be completed with minimal equipment, just a barbell, bench, and dumbbell and rings. Enjoy!

Day 1

  1. Bench Press 6×2 to a 2 rep Max
  2. Narrow Grip Bench 3×8 reps
  3. Arnold Press  3×12 reps
  4. Skull Crushers on the rings  3×10
  5. DB Chest fly + DB Press 2×10 reps
  6. Banded resisted tricep press downs 3×30 reps

Day 2

  1. Snatch Grip High Pull 5×5
  2. Weighted pull up 6×2
  3. Bent Over Row 3×8 reps
  4. Hammer Curls 3×10
  5. Dumbbell hang Clean 50 reps at 55/35lbs for time
  6. Barbell in rack inverted row 2x failure

Day 3

  1. Pin Press 6×2
  2. Strict Press 5×5
  3. Weighted Dips 3×10
  4. Band resisted Push Ups 2x failure
  5. Dumbbell pull -overs 2×20

Day 4

  1. Chinese Row 5×5
  2. Single Arm Row 3×10
  3. 3 rounds for time of : 5 chin-ups,  5 wide grip pull-ups, 5 behind the neck pull ups
  4. 3×10 barbell curl
  5. 3×15 dumbell incline curls
  6. Ring Row 2x failure
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Squatting heavy can be one of the most taxing activities on the body. There are few other movements that can load and demand as much coordinative ability as a heavy squat. They are hard and they work! Preparing the body for such a stress is very important for performance and longevity. Getting muscles hot, taking the joints through a range of motion, and activating muscles and the central nervous system   can get you squatting well and fast. Here is a 15 minute warm-up complex to get you to peak performance under the bar.

General Warm-up, Part 1

(Heating up the muscles)

Before you ever start squatting, it is important to get the muscle and tendons hot and malleable. You can do this by elevating the heart rate will any general movement.

  1. Start on a bike for 3 minutes. Slowly ramp up the speed so that your heart rate is getting high by the time you finish. You want to pump some blood in your legs and heat up the tissues. You could also do 3 minutes of jumping jacks, or a 500 meter row.

General Warmup, Part 2

(Take the joints through a range of motion)

Taking the joints through a range of motion prepares the muscle for the movement demands of stretching and shortening. Here the focus is on the hips and hamstrings. Try to stretch beyond the range of motion required in a squat.

  1. Lie on the ground with a stretch band around your foot. Stretch and relax the hamstrings by pulling your leg up. Use the band to assist you with some extra range of motion at the top. Perform 15 each leg, 1 second up. 1 second at the top, 1 second down.
  2. Open up the hips by performing 20 mountain climbers with the feet reaching outside the hands. Do 5 at a time fast, then take a second to push the hips towards the floor.
  3. Perform 20 jumping squats developing a full range of the squat as well as getting the muscle to work with elasticity.

Specific Warmup, Part 1:

(Muscle activation)

There are specific muscles you want to stimulate to get the correct pattern of movement happening. Here we focus on the core and hips that will initiate the squat.

  1. Lie on the ground face up and perform 20 hip bridges. With your feet flat on the floor drive your hips up into a bridge and squeeze your glutes for one second at the top. This will activate your back side and the erectors of the lower back.
  2. Perform 20 slow air squats with a light band around the knees. Concentrate on driving the knees out against the band to activate the muscle around the hips and the hamstrings. Focus on strong technique.

Specific warm-up Part 2

(Central Nervous System Activation)

Getting the central nervous system ramped up and firing hard allows for peak performance. This maximizes the ability for the brain to communicate with the body. The greater the weight, and the faster the movement, the higher the demand on the CNS. Ramp up in a few sets and allow enough time once you get to your working sets (2-3 minutes) for the central nervous system to recover.

  1. Begin with an empty barbell and perform 3 squats. Go down slow and tight, drive up fast
  2. Take 5 sets to work up to a starting weight. Only perform 3-5 reps. Make big jumps in weight (50-90lbs) each set. Remember to brace your belly tight and drive up fast, moving the bar with speed.
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Virtually any method of strength training will get results for the novice, detrained or untrained lifter. A program with any significant level of intensity and functional movements; whether it be lifting soup cans, P-90-X, INSANITY, CrossFit, or Westside Barbell’s conjugate method, will enhance the strength of an individual in just a few weeks.

For this reason it can be very deceiving or misleading to interpret the results shown by the exposure to training programs on novice athletes as a qualification of a programs effectiveness. We see this all the time with the latest fitness fads on TV in the form of the Shaker Weight, Tony Little’s Gazelle training, The Perfect Pushup and Zumba, etc…. Something is always better than nothing, but what does this usually breed?…Relatively inexperienced athletes moving with less than desirable technique, who achieve initial success and then plateau or recede due to injury, poor movement patterns, or lack of appropriate progression. So how do you set a foundation for continued success? What should you be looking for as an athlete that is new to strength training?


Take the Time to Set a Good Foundation of the Basics

New athletes should take the time to restore the range and correct pattern of basic movements. Anyone can slap weight on a barbell. It takes skill and dedication to move with virtuosity. Setting this foundation will raise your ceiling in the long run…increasing athletic potential, decreasing the risk of injury and ensuring a more fruitful and productive athletic life. Here are some basic concepts of movement….

1) Develop Proper Core Strength

Core strength is the ability to support and maintain a neutral position of the spine as you move about the hips, knees, and shoulders. This position evenly loads the discs of the spine…reducing shear and creating a safe and effective transmission of forces. Practice holding the spine long and still whenever lifting weight.

2) Work on Tapping into your power center

Athletes need to access the biggest most powerful muscle groups in the body…the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors on the back side of the body. This area is from the knees to the upper back. The “Power Center” is where massive force can be produced and translated through the hips. You can recruit into this musculature by initiating movement with the hips first, balancing weight in the heels, and arching to back to load the backside up while maintaining a strong position for the lower back.

3) Practice Moving in Proximal to Distal Patterns

High levels of power are generated from the center out. This happens in a wave of contractions the start at the core and end at the extremities. You want to let the force of your hips carry over to your arms by not violating this natural chain of movement. Error can be seem in movements such as prematurely bending the arms in the Olympic lifts or pressing early in movements such as the push press.

4) Restore Your Body’s Full Range of Motion

Athletes should be moving through their anatomical full range of motion. Partial range of motion results in partial strength and partial flexibility. To ensure good muscular balance and enhance muscular recruitment require full range exercises. This should be the first plan of attack…DO NOT WAIT!! You won’t learn to go full range once you develop a 400lb quarter squat.

Anyone can use intensity to get in shape. It is the knowledge of your movement and mastering an appropriate prescription that preserves good technique that will ensure the continued athletic development. Use these principals to differentiate yourself and your training from others.

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One of the biggest links missing in CrossFit programs across the world is a lack of coaching and a misunderstanding of how and when to apply intensity. We measure our fitness and results. Those results are driven by intensity. Expressing intensity is dependent upon mastering and refining technique.  You learn, refine and master mechanics of functional movement, then you go as hard as you can until those mechanics start to fail. Refine and push, rinse and repeat. These are the two most important factors in progress. This is the path to virtuosity.

Affiliates are messing this up in their programming by adopting the idea that more is better. If one CrossFit workout gets you fit, then two will get you twice as fit? There is a programming epidemic in affiliates. Coaches are getting lazy, and instead of filling the class up with coaching, skill progressions and development, they are just filling it up with a laundry list of stuff. This most commonly happens by over programming, putting too much stuff in each day and not focusing on excellence in the basics, and intensity in the workouts. Gyms will often program two portions in a workout such as strength and then a conditioning section. To athletes, it may look like they are getting more, but here is a case to support that they are actually getting less: less technique, less intensity, less progress, less coaching and less commitment to virtuosity.

Here is an actual example of todays program from a very popular affiliate in New York City:

Workout

Strength:

Every Minute, on the Minute (EMOM)

  • 0-4 Power Snatch 2 reps
  • 4-8 Power Clean 2 reps
  • 8-12 Push Jerk 2 reps
  • 12-16 Power Clean and Jerk 2 reps

MetCon:

5 Rounds for time of:

  • 50 Double Unders
  • 5 Deadlifts 315/225
  • 10 Strict Handstand Push Ups

Let break this class down time wise and identify where the potential hurdles are in this style of programming:

  • General warm up: 5 min
  • Strength Workout: 16 min
  • Conditioning Workout: 12-15 min
  • Time to lead up in weights, set-up logistics , allow for transition: 12 min
  • Put equipment away, collect scores, cool down: 5 minutes
  • Total: 53 minutes
  • Time left to teach mechanics and skills, scaling and progressions for 6 movements (HSPU, Double Under, Power Snatch, Power Clean, Push Jerk): 7 Minutes

Here are the top three biggest arguments against this style of programming:

#1) There is no time in the hour to do any meaningful coaching and skill development.

As you look at the breakdown, you can see that the class only allows for 7 minutes to teach and refine 6 movements, 5 of which are highly technical. In reality this probably looks like less than 1 minute to cover each movement. Where can you put in a handstand push-ups progression or cover scaling options? Where can you work on double under technique and do some practice? Where can you work on positions and patterns in the snatch and clean and jerk with a PVC pipe? The coach would inevitably just become a time keeper or a crowd herder without the ability to do any meaningful coaching and development with athletes.

#2) Intensity Gets Sacrificed, Results Get Sacrificed

With this habitual style of programming, there is not enough time to get to enough of a stimulus out of each element and/or one element gets sacrificed for the other. To get results you must push intensity. Measurable, observable and repeatable means PR’s guide the effectiveness of the program. Increased work, decreased times, increased weight means you are getting fitter. Would you be able to build up and PR your snatch in 4 minutes? Would you be able to go as fast as you could in a conditioning workout after lifting for 16 straight minutes prior? Athletes typically bias one section of the workout ie. The lifters go for it in the EMOM and then go through the motions in the conditioning, or the people who love met-cons save it for the conditioning workout.

#3) This is Not Variance, Athletes will Break Down and Get Injured

If you are always doing a 15 minute lifting session followed by a shorter conditioning portion, the program is not varied, it is routine, and there is a blueprint for failure based on the missing elements. Where do athletes get to go longer for 30 or 40 minute efforts? Where is the gymnastics or long monostructural practice? As coach Glassman said…“Routine is the enemy, our specialty is not specializing”

Variance allows for a wide breath of different stressors. Repetitive programs can lead to breakdown. CrossFit recommends doing a dedicated heavy day every 3 day cycle. This allows for tissues and joints to recover from high load for health and intensity the next time you lift. You may have noticed there are very few 30 and 40 year old Olympic lifters, that is because they breakdown from the repetitive stress of lifting daily. If the goal is fitness over a lifetime, variance allows athletes to recover from a broad series of stressors to keep training and progressing.

Closing thoughts:

When it come to programming, more is not better, better is better. Better is defined by results, PR’s, skill acquisitions. “Don’t be impressed by volume, be impressed by intensity.” –Glassman

For 99% of people who do CrossFit, a single dose of constantly varied, functional movements executed at a high intensity has the ability to provide astonishing results for  long term fitness, longevity, quality of life and avoiding chronic diseases. Virtuosity in CrossFit does not just apply to moving, it applies to coaching, programming, and the continued example of self development. It is the pursuit of excellence.

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Millions of people suffer from lower back pain. It can be a debilitating, chronic and disheartening ailment that affects mood, fitness, sex life and overall happiness. Lower back pain can be a mysterious and elusive problem. Generally the problem stems from injuries or ware to or around the vertebral disc columns of the spine. This can include herniated, bulging or cracked discs, spinal stenosis and arthritis, or injuries to the facet joints and ligaments that surround the spine. MRI image work can often uncover underlying causes of back pain, but often times there will be individuals with little of no spinal problems that are in pain, while people with clear spinal irregularities may be pain free? So there is not always a one to one relationship between MRI results and pain. The one overlying theme is that people with strong backs, ones with highly developed musculature around the core and spine, generally suffer less from chronic back pain than people with less developed musculature around the spine. Allowing muscles that surround and support the spine to bear the brunt of the load, limiting the shear and compressive forces on discs may be the key to stopping and avoiding back pain over the long term.

For all the movement the human body can perform, the deadlift serves the greatest efficacy in developing the strength of the back. Not to mention, the tremendous daily utility in being able to have strong capacity in being able to pick things up off the ground. Yet for some crazy reason, this movement to has to ability to save the life of the back, is one that doctors commonly instruct patients with lower back pain to avoid? If it hurts, don’t do it! But where does that leave people over the long term?… Probably, in a situation where the problem only gets worse and unable to rise to the demands of sport and life.

A movement as functional as the deadlift is rehabilitative in nature. People with hurt backs need a return to pain free functionality as a starting point.

This does not mean doing 1 Rep max deadlifts off the bat. It may begin with training basic strength and awareness around the spine, building to the full movement with pain free range of motion and then progressive loading to build strength and musculature. Practicing high rep low weight deadlifts off the bat can speed up the healing process of the back. This training provides 3 major values…

  1. Bringing blood, nutrients, and synovial fluid to the spine to assist in healing discs and tissues
  2. Building musculature (hypertrophy) around the muscles that surround and support the spine
  3. Building strength and awareness of proper positions that will be needed outside the gym

Here is a protocol for athletes rehabbing that back with the deadlift…

Phase 1 (Acute):

  • -3×30 second hip bridge hold
  • -3 x 30 second plank hold
  • 4 x 25 reps PVC deadlifts to the knee

Phase 2:

  • 3×15 active hip bridges (diving hips up off the ground)
  • 3×1 minute plank hold
  • 4x 25 reps of barbell deadlift to below the knee

Phase 3:

  • GHD face down superman hold 3x 30 seconds
  • 4 x 1 minute each of: plank and side plank
  • 4x 25 reps deadlifts @65 lbs

Phase 4:

  • 3x 10 reps GHD Hip Extensions
  • 4×1 minute single leg plank and single leg side planks
  • 4×25 reps 95lb deadlift

Keep in mind this protocol is meant to just get athletes out of “trouble”. One athletes can perform 4×25 reps of a 95lb deadlifts pain free they are mostly “out of the woods” and ready to pursue a more broad training program the should still center around building pain free capacity in the deadlift.

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The squat is the king of all exercises.  There is no movement more essential or foundational than the squat. It is the basic ability to raise and lower your center of mass and express strength and balance through a range of motion.  You will always need to squat. If you are sit down, you must perform a squat. If you go to the bathroom, you must squat. Loosing the ability to do this movement is loosing the ability to live independently i.e.“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Practicing and developing capacity in the squat is rehabilitative by nature. If you cannot squat well, you are only working at a fraction of your athletic capacity. Long story short…this is a movement we will want to do, and do well our entire lives. 

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How Intense is Too Intense?

As a community we love and enjoy and celebrate the results of intensity. Whatever it is you may be chasing with your fitness: getting stronger, running faster, looking good naked, getting off your medication, having more energy or going to the CrossFit Games; intensity is your quickest way to acquiring those results. There is a paradigm shift happening in the fitness industry as the previous model of coming into a fitness facility and sitting on a silly machine using less functional movements, or wiggling on an elliptical has been proven in efficient and often ineffective. But people working out with increased intensity correlate to a higher risk of injury. Any drug that is potent requires a calculated and responsible dose.  Going heavier or faster usually leads to a degradation of safe and efficient technique at some point. So where is the line where the “juice is worth the squeeze” so to speak.  Here are some basic rules of appropriate intensity.

Lay Down a Strong Foundation of Good Movement FIRST!

Spend a good deal of time teaching and refining proper technique, without intensity first. Spend time in the bottom of the air squat, with a pvc pipe or training bar teaching and coaching proper positions. Believe it or not this is very challenging for the athlete neurologically. Practice develops flexibility, timing and awareness of where you are in space. If you put a priority on excellent movement, your athletes will adopt the same values and pride in doing things right, not to mention that you won’t have to police movement standards as much…those reps will count!

Make Sure That Athletes Can Repeat Solid Movement Without Coaching

Doing things right once is good, but as soon as the coach leaves we often see athletes return back to bad habits. People should not move well only when you fix them, but you should be able to glance back across the room and see that those mechanics are still there. Spend some time with the eagle eye, checking back in and being relentless with your demanding cues until it is just muscle memory for the athlete.

Start to Add Load or Speed Until Mechanics Start to Slightly Break Down

Once you have put the work in to drill in those neurological pathways of how to move properly on their own, start to add some intensity to workouts by adding load or speed. When that beautiful squat snatch starts to turn into a rounded back muscle power snatch press out that you cannot recognize as an actual movement, drop the load or decrease the cycling speed and come back to planet earth. You want athletes to find the point where that breakdown happens, slow them down or decrease the weight and then coach them. After that you can push that intensity back up and hopefully that breakdown starts to happen later. Constantly bad movement, gone uncorrected is coaching negligence.

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Tier system programming is based on the premise that a training program can be “Written for the best, and scaled for the rest.” In order to capture an effective program that drives results for all, as well as provide achievable options to “meet athletes where they are at”, tier systems can provide a responsible framework for grandmas to elite athletes to get the most from a program.  Avoiding certain skills, capacities and movements, creates an exact blueprint for a program’s failure.

If increasing fitness in a comprehensive manner is the goal, than the skills, moves, or capacities that people are most intimidated and challenged by are also the areas that they stand to gain the most in terms of their fitness. Therefore a true fitness program should include all elements presented in an achievable yet challenging format that drives skill development and progression. People love getting their first muscle up, kipping pull-up, or handstand push up. It is these results; doing something that you truly did not believe that you could do, that make the CrossFit program an effective, enduring, and powerful life experience for people.

Program Examples:

Workout: “Cindy”

20 Minute AMRAP

  • 5 Pull ups
  • 10 Push Ups
  • 15 Air Squats

Tier 1: As Rx’d

Tier 2: 20 Minute AMRAP

  • 5 Banded Pull ups
  • 10 Push-ups from the knees
  • 15 Air squats

Tier 3: 20 minute AMRAP

  • 5 Jumping Pull ups
  • 10 45-degree push-ups
  • 15 Air Squats

Workout: “Diane”

21,15, 9 Reps of

  • Deadlift (225/185)
  • Handstand Push ups

Tier 1: As Rx’d

Tier 2:

  • Deadlift (135/95)
  • Pike Push ups

Tier 3:

  • Deadlift (95/65)
  • Seated Dumbbell Presses

Another important part of this process is skill work, which creates solidarity in the group because it can be done as a whole class and serve to develop technique as well as come up with scaling options. This is done in conjunction with the warm up and is critical for refining technique of advanced athletes while driving progression for novice and intermediate athletes. This should be “fun” composed of drills stemming from very basic foundations to advanced progression. Here, no one is left out and the coach can address athletes individually to get them familiar with the next step.

Example of Skill work for “Diane”

Option 1:

  • Tripod headstand
  • Tripod headstand to extended legs
  • Tripod headstand to kipping handstand or a plank

Option 2:

  • Wall walk as high as athletes are comfortable going
  • Inverted handstand hold on a wall or pike pushup hold
  • Handstand negative to an ab-mat
  • Full handstand push up

Deadlift PVC Skill work

  • Empty Barbell
  • 5 minutes to work up to a weight you can perform for 15 unbroken reps

In both these options all athletes can get exposure being upside down with an option for infinitely more challenging scales down the spectrum. The bottom line is that if athletes are not practicing the skill in some way, or challenging themselves wherever they may be at, progress will cease and they will never acquire the skill.

Most CrossFit workouts are 15 minutes or less, which leaves coaches upwards of 45 minutes to develop these skills on a daily basis. Very few gyms have athletes walk in the door with muscle ups or the ability to do workouts at Rx’d weight. Strong programs have most athletes acquiring all skills at the 1-3 year mark with the process outlined above.

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How do Energy Systems Work?

The body has multiple metabolic pathways or energy systems that it uses to create a molecule called ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). This is a molecule that allows muscles to contract and do work. Depending on the level of power output and duration of work, your body will be deriving the majority of energy from one primary metabolic engine.

Although there may be many more, generally speaking exercise physiologists refer to three major energy systems: The phosphogen system (short durations of maximal power), the glycolytic or lactate system (moderate duration at medium power), and the oxidative (long duration at low power).

Systems can be divide into two categories: 1) Aerobic (requiring oxygen) and 2) Anaerobic (not requiring oxygen). Aerobic work is great for enhancing cardio respiratory endurance, reducing body fat, and becoming more efficient at utilizing oxygen. Anaerobic work is great for increased strength, stamina, power, and muscle mass. A rounded athlete has good capacity in all of these pathways.

Why The Rower?

The rower is the ultimate piece of fitness equipment for metabolic conditioning. It is a gross full body movement pattern that is most often seen in sport and life. The rowing stoke uses the biggest most powerful muscles of the legs, backside and hips to hand off to the upper body in a pull. The same sequence is seen in many other high power movements like the Olympic lifts and kettlebell swings, reinforcing a transferable skill. The large range of motion of this pull jacks up the power making it a potent and taxing movement. In addition to that, athletes are able to maximize training volume on the rower because there is an unloaded eccentric (negative) portion of the movement. The muscles encounter resistance as they contract, not as they lengthen, limiting muscular breakdown and soreness.

A controlled environment like a rowing machine is a great apparatus to target specific energy systems with accuracy. Using data like a 500 meter split time, calories, watts or strokes per minute, one can calculate power with precision. Marking these factors against time, you can also control duration of effort. It is not surprising to hear that CrossFit Games Champions like Rich Froning, Miko Salo, Sam Briggs and Camille Leblanc Bazinet are rumored to do dedicated rowing workouts daily. Here are some workouts on the rower to target specific capacities:

1) Anaerobic Power

  • 5 pulls on the rower for max wattage x 20 rounds rest 90 seconds between efforts
  • 10 x 20 seconds for lowest 500-meter split time

2) Anaerobic Endurance

  • 45 seconds on 45 seconds rest for max distance x 10 rounds
  • 10 x 250 meter row, rest 1 minute for fastest total time
  • 4x 500-meter row rest 3 minutes holding fastest sustainable split

3) Lactate Threshold Training

  • 3×1000 meter row rest 3 minutes for fastest sustainable time
  • 2000 meter trial

4) Aerobic Endurance

  • 7x 1000 meter at 90% of 2k PR, rest 1 minute between sets
  • 5k row trial
  • 10k row trial

Alternate these workouts 2-3 times per week as a compliment to your training to enhance your body’s metabolic capacity and efficiency. All it takes is a rower and a target time and pace.

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