Do you DU?

Hello folks,

Today I’d like to talk to you about double unders.  I hate them.  I’m not good at them.  And as punishment for not being good at them, they cause me to whip myself.  But as they seem to be a staple of many a WOD, I am trying to get better at them.

Double-Under-Whip

My goal to get better was to 100 double unders Monday through Friday after work.  That hasn’t worked out well.  There was a trip to NC in there, and then I got sick, and also it reminded me of why I go to 5 am classes: I can find excuses not to workout in the afternoon.  There are always tasks to be done and errands to run.  At 5 am, there’s only the siren song of sleep, which while seductive, is overcome by the anger I would feel at wasting a paid-for class.

Anyway, back to double unders.  I find that I can do A (as in singular) double under without too much of a problem.  It’s the linking where I lose it.  I think my problem (other than lack of skill) is that as I try to increase my hand speed to get the two passes, I also start to jump faster, giving me less time to do the double under.  So what I’m doing is working on doing single-double-single.  It keeps my jump speed down, while still working on linked (more-or-less) double unders.  I’m hoping that eventually I’ll be able to drop the singles but keep the jump cadence.

Here are my times thus far:
Day 1 – 07:10
Day 2 – 05:21
Day 3 – 05:46

Even though it looks like regression, I think that Day 3 was better than Day 2.  It seemed more consistent.  And I think that will end up being more helpful in my goal of continuous double unders.  If any of you readers have any advice, please pass it on, because I’ll need all the help I can get.

Owowowowow – Injuries Are No Fun

Straight out of the gate, this is not a post about how Crossfit is the enemy of healthy bodies and joints.  If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know I’m a big fan of Crossfit.  That being said, it is not a training method without the risk of some pretty serious injuries.

I’ve been pretty active my whole life.  Not that active does not equal being in good shape.  But I grew up playing sports, and when I got to college, I did make an effort to go to the gym and run.  I’d put the motivation back then at 30% for better health, 20% to impress the ladies, and 50% guilt if I didn’t do it.  And I think that recipe for motivation stayed with me until 2009 when I hurt myself in a serious way.  

I was at the gym, doing squats (most likely with horrific form) and when I got to the bottom of the squat, by back exploded in pain.  I tried to walk it off, stretch it out, but no good.  I thought I had a back spasm, which I had experienced in the past.  Probably just take it easy for a couple weeks, and I’d be ok.  Nope!

After I gingerly walked home and showered, I sat on the couch to plan my next move.  My girlfriend (now wife) came out and when I went to get up, I was pretty sure a ninja had stabbed me in the back.  For those of you who have not experienced nerve impingement pain, I’m not sure I can adequately describe the sensation.  Maybe sort of like the getting a shot, except that needle is six inches wide, rusty, and on fire.  I literally collapsed to my knees, and for the rest of the day, transitioning from sitting to standing would require using my hands to climb up a wall while tears of pain would run down my face.  I consider my threshold for pain to be pretty high, but I couldn’t handle this.  

Turns out I had herniated two disks in my lower back (L4/L5, L5/S1 for all you medical geeks out there), and would require surgery to repair it.  Back surgery sucks.  Six weeks of being unable to lift more than ten pounds.  Next time you go grocery shopping, try loading and unloading your car ten pounds at a time.  It’ll take you halfway to forever.

Then came the physical therapy.  After so many weeks of essentially doing nothing, it was relief to start doing SOMETHING!  I did the prescribed therapy for about 10 weeks, and then I was “cleared” to go back to my normal life, as long as I didn’t go crazy.  But now every time I went to the gym, I was terrified that I might hurt myself again.  I didn’t do back squats for years.  And worse, I convinced myself that this was a good idea, that I was protecting myself.  In retrospect, it was a very poor decision.  I suffered from various lower back pain for the next few years (exacerbated by my cubicle zombie style job), and it wasn’t until 2011 that I started to get better.

I started meeting with a trainer, and he started working in heavy lifting with squats and deadlift.  I voiced my concerns, but he convinced me to give it a try.  And it made a world of difference in my back!  The pain level went down (although it has never fully disappeared) and it made me a believer in lifting not only for strength, but for health.  I’ve been told that the insane strength exhibited by NFL running backs is less about helping them gain yards then it is about keeping their bodies in one piece as they are pummeled by very large men moving very quickly.  One might look at Adrian Peterson for a prime example.  Going from a season ending knee injury to missing the single season rushing record by 8 yards in a little over a year?  Insane.  Also, he’s just a freak of nature in terms of raw athletic ability.

I still worry about my back when I lift.  And there are WODs where by back kills me afterwords (usually from lots of deadlifts and/or cleans).  But I consider that to be mostly my fault.  I get caught up in the competition, and I trade technique for speed.  Don’t trade technique for speed.  Or weight.  Or cupcakes.  It’s not worth it.  Believe me, I know.  Sidelined for a week or two because it hurts to bend over and tie my shoes.  Yeah, totally a fair trade for one more round on that AMRAP.

So this post has kind of meandered from where I thought it would go, but I’ll try to sum it up here.  Take care of your body.  Ask questions about lifts.  Make sure you have your form perfect (or at least as perfect as you can manage) before you up the weight or speed.  Swallow your stupid pride and do less than Rx until you know you can do it safely.  Coaches really don’t want you to hurt yourself.  And the other people in the gym don’t want to see it happen because they are either nice people, or they’re overly competitive assholes who would rather see the annotation that you used a lighter than Rx weight anyway.  And if you have time to work out, you have time to stretch.  Budget in an extra 5-10 minutes after your workout to stretch.  I’m paying dearly for YEARS of ignoring my flexibility, and it is a slow path back to where I want to be.

Strong is Sexy

I’ll admit, I like pump up music/videos.  Something that makes you want to get up and hit it.  Hard.  Here’s my current favorite:

I’ve been watching this a lot.  Seeing the power, skill and determination these athletes are demonstrating helps me suck it up a bit at 4:30 am when I’m rolling out of bed to go to the gym.  It doesn’t make it entirely ok to be up at that ungodly hour, let’s not be crazy, but it helps light a fire under my butt.

And watching this, I’m reminded that strong is sexy.  About 53 seconds in, you see a group of athletes heading to an event.  Those legs, those shoulders, but more than that, the SWAGGER.  These women know that they are badass.  I’m quite certain that any of them would easily kick my ass at any WOD.  And perhaps this frames me as a very shallow person, but I love seeing women with a bit of muscle.  I think it makes them look strong, confident and (to me anyway) more interesting.  These are people with passion, and who like being active.  Add to that the fact that they can help me move a couch up a flight of stairs, and you’ve got quite the appealing package.

Unconventional WODs – Because who wants to sleep in on the weekend?

So the past week has been one of those where while I wasn’t super busy at work, the week WOULD. NOT. END.  And that’s even with taking Monday off to work on the sprinkler system (the system was set up to do a particularly good job of watering the gravel, so that had to be addressed),

Anyway, I was really looking forward to the weekend.  Some time to relax and unwind.  Even have a dinner party to go to with all the other people who suffered through the paleo challenge.  However, so that we don’t feel completely guilty when we chow down on all the non-healthy goodness, there was an unofficial WOD at the park today.

MemorialParkHouston

Ladies and gentlemen, meet “Gill”:

“Gill”

  • 2 person partner workout
  • Dumbbell Run, 1 mile
  • 100 Burpees
  • Dumbbell Run, 1 mile
  • 100 Push-ups/100 Jumping Squats
  • Dumbbell Run, 1.25 miles
  • 150 Dumbbell Snatches
  • 50 AbMat Sit-ups/50 Cross Overs/50 Leg Throwdowns

Switch off carrying dumbbell, all exercises with exception of abs to be split between partners, each partner to do all ab exercises (ALL 150 reps)

Our coach Emily came up with this one, and she also assigned the weights.  Usually I really like Emily: she’s very knowledgeable, makes sure you get your form right so you don’t hurt yourself, and is impossibly cheerful when we show up bleary-eyed for the 5 am WOD during the week; but who gives you a 50 lb dumbbell to run with for over 3 miles?  We’ve done some WODs with 400 m carries of 50 lb dumbbells, but this is thirteen times as far!(Actually, 50 lbs was probably appropriate, but it’s just in my nature to complain about workouts like this one, Emily’s still ok in my book).

For those of you who have never run with weights: it’s terrible.  Even if it’s not a particularly large weight, the awkward, unbalanced nature of it makes running so much harder.  Weighted vests would be your best option, followed perhaps by a pack, but handling a 50 lb mass of metal as you trundle along is tough.  Big shout out to Dan who suffered through it with me.  We managed to maintain a jog up to the second station, but after that, we had to start throwing in some walking.  I say that without shame.  IT.  WAS.  HEAVY!  Trading off, I tried to do my shift about 1/2 run, 1/2 walk.  The most comfortable position ended up having the weight behind my neck resting on both shoulders and using my arms to keep it from bouncing around too much.  Of course, this makes your arms very tired.  And I’m still pretty sure I’m going to have massive bruises all over my shoulders tomorrow.

Totally worth it.  And we managed to tie for second place on the run!

I know that I always feel better if I do something active on the weekend; probably just as much to assuage my guilt as to keep my body loose.  But it was also just fun to get outside with friends on a beautiful morning.  There’s something to be said for this kind of qasi-masochism.  Although CrossFit does a good job of keeping the workouts fresh, sometimes it’s nice to just throw it all to the side and do something completely out there.  We’ll see if I still feel the way tomorrow morning!

Have Crossfit, Will Travel

Good morning everybody.  Again, a long hiatus from blogging, but I’m back!  I can’t believe my last post was back around Thanksgiving.  There’s been a lot going on since then.  My wife and I bought a new house (which we love), and work has been going absolutely bonkers, sending me to Mobile, AL for around 4 weeks, which brings me to the subject of todays post.

One thing I’ve discovered about Crossfit is that it’s quite easy to keep your workout routine going when you travel.  Not as easy as running, where all you need to do is remember your shoes, but from my limited travels since I started doing Crossfit regularly, most gyms are pretty happy to have you drop in.

In both Denver and Mobile, I was able to contact a local gym, and drop in for workout with nothing more than a class fee and signed waiver.  Now of course, you can use the gym provided by most hotels, but those vary wildly in quality, and I’ve never seen serious free weights available (probably a liability thing).

Crossfit Mobile has a really nice facility, and the coaches were very welcoming.  And as strange as it may sound, there was something about doing the warmups and WODs that was comfortable.  Like I wasn’t away from home.  Don’t get me wrong, burpees are still no fun, and squat-snatches should be abolished by law, but there was something about the loud music and clashing of barbels that made me feel like I was back at my home gym, Village Crossfit.

My wife has descibed that for her, it’s comforting to know that as a Catholic, she can go to mass pretty much anywhere in the US, and the format will be close to the same, as will some of the prayers and music.  And she has mentioned that she really likes this, as wherever she goes, there’s her faith to bring her back to something familiar.  Now, I’m not trying to suggest I’ve adopted Crossfit as a religion (although there are often invocations of a higher being, such as “Please God, no more double unders”), but I think I may understand a bit of what she was saying.  The workouts might not be comfortable, but it helps bring you back when you’re away from home.

CrossFit – The Kool-Aid Is Good

Greeting all!

I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to get around to doing a post about CrossFit.  I’ve been going to Village CrossFit here in Houston since March, and I’ve really enjoyed it.  Then again, given my glacial pace of posting, I suppose it’s not too surprising.  But anyway, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

I was first introduced to CrossFit by my flying instructor several years ago.  When I looked it up, I have to say, I wasn’t impressed.  The workouts looked so short.  I was used to going to the gym for 45 minutes to an hour, and here you were looking at 10, 12, and 15 minute workouts.  So I didn’t give it much thought for a while.

Fast forward to last year.  I went to a free class at CrossFit Hoboken, and I thought I was going to die.  I hadn’t had my body feel that wrung out in years, and the actual workout lasted all of 16 minutes.  Unfortunately, with my work schedule, it wasn’t possible for me to attend on a regular basis.  But I would still occasionally look on the main CrossFit website for inspiration when I felt my workouts were getting stale.

After moving to Houston, I did a quick search for CrossFit gyms, and wouldn’t you know it, there were about 5 gyms within 5 miles.  And there are a whole lot more scattered around Houston.  All of the gyms offered the opportunity to come in for a free class, which I really appreciated.  While all of them seemed nice, Village CrossFit made the strongest impression.  Mostly I spend the day after the free class limping around feeling like I had literally been beaten.
finished-a-crossfit-wo-baby

Seriously.  But apparently I’m one of those stupid people who just heads right back to the abuse (see my posts regarding the CO Tough Mudder and the NJ Tough Mudder).  Oh, and for added stupidity, I attend the 5:00 class.  As in 0500.  As in o-my-god it’s early.

I go the god-awful early class primarily because if I went to an afternoon class, I’d probably end up canceling for both legitimate (had to stay late at work) and non-legitimate (I want to go home and eat cheesy poofs) reasons.  Also, you have to cancel at least 3 hours in advance, so unless I want to get up at 2 am to cancel the class, I gotta go, or I’m out the money.

And speaking of money, I will say this: CrossFit is expensive, but for me, it’s worth it.  I like how I don’t have to think about the workout.  I show up, and someone tells me exactly what I’m going to do.  I also like the small class set up.  Competition fuels performance.  For example, last week, the coach yelled “Don’t let her beat you out the door” while we were doing some SDHPs, so I really poured it on to finish my set before heading out for the 400 m run.  50 feet later I almost collapsed.  I had nothing left in the tank.  I don’t think I can really push myself like that without some help.

Anyway, if you’ve considered trying CrossFit, go for it.  Most places will let you try out a class or two for free, and once you go for a couple of weeks, I’d give better than 50/50 odds you’ll get hooked.  Unless your workout has burpees.  I hate those so much.

Catch you next time.

Training With a Purpose: Ski Season is Upon Us!

Hi folks,

I think I may have touched on this idea before in a previous post, but I am a big believer in having something to train for.  Generalized goals like “get in shape” or “lose weight” have admirable objectives, but without more concrete milestones, I think it’s too easy to either a) fall into a training rut, or b) stop training alltogether.  If you’ve got a race or some other activity to train for, you can see how sweating today is going to help you tomorrow.

Right now, I’m sort of without a goal.  The Tough Mudder has come and gone, and the next one on my radar is a ways out (Las Vegas 2013 perhaps?).  A friend has talked to me about doing a trail race sometime this winter, and I may actually do that, but to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of running in the dark and cold, which is what my post-work/commute schedule leaves me with currently.  So I’ve decided to focus on my favorite past time: skiing.

I love skiing.  Probably more than any other activity.  Growing up in Colorado completely spoiled me in terms of snow, terrain and availability, but I’ve tried to keep up with it out here.  My take on East-coast resorts will have to wait for a later post, but there’s potential for a pretty serious ski trip in a couple months, so that’s what I’m prepping for.

Skiing is actually a pretty good sport to train for.  It works a lot of different areas of the body, and works on both strength and cardio.  Admittedly, it’s light on the upper body, but I think you can work some of that into workouts.  Now me, I’m a telemark skier.  If you don’t know what that is, go hit up YouTube, because directing you there is a lot easier than trying to explain it.  But basically, every time I make a turn, I do a lunge.  You can imagine that when you get into the moguls up around 12,500 feet in Breckenridge, it’s a pretty good workout.

So obviously the legs are a primary focus of any ski-centric training, but I think it’s more useful to do more functional lifts than just load up the leg-press sled with half the weights in the gym.  Because you’re never static while you ski, you need to activate your stabilization muscles and work on your balance.  Remember that when you’re selecting your weight.

Here’s one workout I did recently.  It comes courtosy of “Outside” magazine.  It’s a CrossFit-inspired workout nicknamed the “Slump Killer”.  You do the following exercises back-to-back as fast as you can:

  • 5 Handstand Push-ups
  • 10 Dead Lifts
  • 15 Toes to Bar
  • 20 Box Jumps
  • 25 Kettlebell Swings
  • 30 Wall Balls
  • 25 Kettlebell Swings
  • 20 Box Jumps
  • 15 Toes to Bar
  • 10 Dead Lifts
  • 5 Handstand Push-ups

I can’t do a headstand pushup.  And even if I could, I’d look like a lunatic doing them at the gym, so I substituted pullups.  Also, I didn’t have a place to do the wall balls, so I did squat presses with a 45 lb plate.  The above workout took me 12:37.  I think I probably could have increased the weight on the deadlift (I was only pulling 185 lbs, and you should be aiming for your body weight), but still, this left me gasping.  I guess you could do muliples of this, but make sure you are keeping your form.  Deadlifts and box jumps provide a lot of opportunity to hurt yourself.  The toes-to-bar move is my new nemisis.  I think it’s a great exercise to work on abs, grip strength and shoulders, but I’m truly terrible at it.  Something to work on.

Some other exercises I’ve incorporated into my workouts are:

  • overhead squat
  • overhead lunge
  • unbalanced overhead lunge (choose two dumbells with a 10-20 lb difference in weight)
  • single leg squats
  • cleans (this one needs a LOT of work)

Yes, it’s very heavy on the legs, but I’ve tried to choose exercises that also require a lot of core strength and balance.  And of course you can add a BOSU ball to any of these to make them harder.  Throw in some cardio (and some yoga probably wouldn’t hurt), and hopefully when you hit the slopes, you’ll be ripping fresh powder instead of nursing sore muscles.  Of course, based on personal experience, if you’re not sore after a day of skiing, you didn’t go hard enough.

I’d love to hear any advice/opinions on training for skiing from you readers, so feel free to comment.  In the meantime, pray for snow.