90% of people that come in the gym don’t need a specialized program. They need fitness. There is no magic formula or complex algorithm that is the key is success, in fact it is quite simple: practice full body high powered functional movements, push yourself to your mental and physical limits, and change up the duration, loading, and tasks your perform. This will give you big results in many different areas, setting a strong base of general physical preparedness. And it is likely that for most these results will continue to improve for a very long time, before they plateau as long as the consistency and intensity are there. But lets say that you reach that plateau and find that while many areas of your fitness are strong, you have identified some weak spots that are not congruent to your other capacities. It is possible to work on those weaknesses while maintaining your overall fitness within your program. Here are some ways to fix that chink in your armor.
Add extra work in this area in the warm-up or cool down of your workout. For example if you struggle with pull-ups you could warm up with some kipping pull-up skill, or you could cash out of your workout with a finisher of 2 sets of max strict pull-ups 3 times a week. If you struggle with the Olympic lift you could work on positions and skill with a barbell in the warm up or add some short extra lifting work after the workouts 3 times a week.
You could program the capacity you lack more frequently in your workouts. 3 days a week could be a workout focusing on this area. For instance if you need your strength, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays could be just dedicated strength days with your other two training days focusing on overall fitness, not just strength.
Whatever it is you choose to specialize in remember, the goal isn’t to be a specialist. Specialists are not fit. It is easy to fall in love with one area and loose site of the overall picture. After a period of time evaluate whether what your have chosen to focus on is better, and when it is time to become a generalist again…because generalists are freaking FIT!
Three factors that are in your control can have the most significant impact on the longevity and quality of your life, outside of genetics.
Choosing to be active and train possibly the biggest factor. Building capacity in your younger years can create a buffer and slow down the inevitable decline that comes later in life. It can also help you avoid many diseases that can cut life short. Diabetes, heart disease, and cancers are the three biggest killers in westernized civilizations, all of which can have their risk factors reduced through exercise. People who are active are generally happier, suffering less from depression, sleep, and digestive issues.
How you eat also has a significant impact on your health. Food fuels all of life’s activities and can cure, reduce, or help people completely prevent diseases. Food quality and quantity are the two most significant factors when eating. Whether you are concerned with maximizing your performance or just living a happy and healthy life, food is a widely under looked and under utilized piece of the puzzle. The same way you might approach your training and tracking performance in the gym, tracking nutrition is paramount for success.
Sleep is a widely under looked factor for health and performance. Sleep helps the body recover, reduces stress, and is important for hormonal recovery. Overtraining, work stress, and nutrition all can adversely affect the length and quality of sleep. We recommend 8-10 hours of sleep a night to keep you happy healthy and performing well. Looking at the sleep environment, and understand what you need to go into a steep REM state can help improve the quality of sleep. Creating a sleep log, just like a workout or nutrition log, can help you create a roadmap to success. So spend the extra bucks on that expensive mattress because over the long term it is totally WORTH IT!
The Olympic lifts are some of the most fun, challenging and rewarding movements one can do in the gym. The lifts are a beautiful and violent chorus of movement. The snatch (bringing the bar from the ground to overhead in a single movement) and the clean and jerk (bringing the bar from the ground to the shoulder and then overhead) require athlete to move weights fast under high loads. The moves develop tremendous flexibility, coordination, speed and balance as well as strength and power. That is why there is so much “bang for your buck” in training them. Practicing the Olympic lift will no doubt make you fitter and more athletic so everyone should be practicing them. Having said that, the complexity of these lifts, make them a love of passion and frustration. Much like a golf swing, when you hit that perfect shot, hitting that perfect snatch where the lift just feels right is an addictive experience. These are cerebral lifts that require concentration and focus. Most people struggle with the positioning and speed of these lifts before strength becomes a limiting factor, making knowledge and practice a vital piece in development.
The first pull of the Olympic lifts is probably the biggest issue for most novice and intermediate lifters. This is the initial pull off the floor to the middle of the thigh, before athletes aggressively open their hips to elevate the bar. In essence, the first pull is meant to set you up for success. When done properly, it will maximize your strongest position and keep the bar in an ideal spot for top leverage. It is a positioning pull, meaning that the emphasis is not on speed, but maintaining the proper position. Here are some mechanics of the first pull, that are different to the traditional deadlift.
Start with the feet hip width apart and the bar over the last laces of the shoe (right before your toes start). This is a bit farther forward than the traditional deadlift. With the hands outside the shoulders grab the bar with a hook grip (fingers wrapped over the thumb). Lower the hips until the shins touch the bar, this may be a bit lower than your deadlift setup. The weight in your feet should be distributed 60:40 between that heel and the ball of your foot.
The First Pull:
Keeping the back tight. Stand up while PUSHING THE KNEES BACK and KEEPING THE CHEST RISING. Go slowly and allow the bar path to drift back towards the heel. This is the major difference between an Olympic lifting pull and a deadlift. The bar path is not completely straight. This allows the bar to land in the proper position at the hip to maximize leverage when aggressively opening the hips. When done properly that bar should actually make contact with the hip or upper thigh.
Athletes have a tendency to rush the first pull or just pull it straight up like a deadlift. This will compromise the explosiveness and speed of the lift in the next phase. You may see a pull that look all like one speed without the rapid explosiveness we are looking for in the middle. Consider this video showing the bar path of Olympic Lifting champion Xiaojun Lu. Watch the height of his hips as he starts to pull and how he pushes his knees back creating a bar path that drifts from the front of his foot back towards the heel.
The Olympic lift are a ton of fun to tinker around with. Most people are limited not by strength but by skill, making technique practice vital. Sometimes a new tip or cue can totally change the game and lead to a new PR!
There is no substitution for the effectiveness of functional movements. Squatting, pulling, and pressing have proven to produce systemic results that are unparalleled. However, there are some accessory exercises, that when applied as a garnish to your program, can improve both the strength and awareness of the body to perform functional movements better. These exercises can serve to fortify and isolate specific areas and functions of the body that are known to be integral joints, highly stressed and susceptible to injury or break down.
Every high-powered movement you perform utilizes the core as a transmission. By isolating some of the muscles and function of the core and hip, athletes can build proper awareness of how to most effectively use them. This also can help create muscular balance on the front and back of the body. Here are 3 essential core accessory exercises, as well as progressions and variations on them.
This exercise builds strength of the lower back and hips as well as hamstring flexibility. It is also a great way to teach athletes how to keep the back straight and tight while flexing at the hip. In essence, athlete can learn how to properly use their back sides. Also try these variations:
Straight leg good morning
Good morning with bands
Good morning with chains on the bar
GHD Sit up
The GHD sit up is a unique and potent exercise that can develop tremendous strength, range of motion, and power through the front side of the abdominals, the flexors of the hips and obliques. In particular, it has tremendous application to gymnastics movements that involve total body flexion and extension such as kipping. Here are some variations on the GHD sit up:
GHD Sit up to parallel
GHD sit up with a med ball
The back extension isolates the vertebral muscles of the spine, specifically the erectors of the lower back and thoracic muscles of the upper back. In the movement, the athlete rounds the back and then work back up to extension of the spine. This is a great way to teach athletes how to re-claim a proper position as well as a tremendous strength builder of the back muscles. Here are some variations of the back extension:
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!
Bench Press 6×2 to a 2 rep Max
Narrow Grip Bench 3×8 reps
Arnold Press 3×12 reps
Skull Crushers on the rings 3×10
DB Chest fly + DB Press 2×10 reps
Banded resisted tricep press downs 3×30 reps
Snatch Grip High Pull 5×5
Weighted pull up 6×2
Bent Over Row 3×8 reps
Hammer Curls 3×10
Dumbbell hang Clean 50 reps at 55/35lbs for time
Barbell in rack inverted row 2x failure
Pin Press 6×2
Strict Press 5×5
Weighted Dips 3×10
Band resisted Push Ups 2x failure
Dumbbell pull -overs 2×20
Chinese Row 5×5
Single Arm Row 3×10
3 rounds for time of : 5 chin-ups, 5 wide grip pull-ups, 5 behind the neck pull ups
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Begin with an empty barbell and perform 3 squats. Go down slow and tight, drive up fast
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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…
Bringing blood, nutrients, and synovial fluid to the spine to assist in healing discs and tissues
Building musculature (hypertrophy) around the muscles that surround and support the spine
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
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
GHD face down superman hold 3x 30 seconds
4 x 1 minute each of: plank and side plank
4x 25 reps deadlifts @65 lbs
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.
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.
To be fierce is to be both strong & powerful but also fiercely confident in your appearance and your capacity to do anything you set your mind to! If you don’t feel this way now, you will! That’s our promise.