An Update and the 2015 Crossfit Open

FitnessPlateauSo it’s been awhile since I last posted.  The objective behind this little project was to keep a steady blog going that would detail my training happenings from a mediocre/everyday athlete to elite Crossfitter.  The last time I posted was during the 2014 Crossfit Open Season.  Time goes by quickly and much has happened since.

Honestly, my goal for the training wasn’t specific.  It was specific in certain numbers for lifts and benchmark WODs for Fran, Grace, etc, but not specific in what level I wanted to reach.  It was along the lines of, “Well I want to see how good I can get.”  But how “good” you can get is vague and rather half-ass.  I entered the 2014 Hyperfit training with pretty much one foot in the door.  Being non-committed and without a gameplan to reaching a certain level, I didn’t force myself to focus on what I needed to improve and what mechanism (which forms of training) I needed to partake in to make those improvements.

If you want to be a games level athlete, you need to commit at least 15 hours of training per week, which doesn’t count all the effort spent for diet/recovery.  I define a games level athlete as someone who has at least Team Regionals aspirations.  Mentally/physically I didn’t make that commitment, as a result who knows what my fitness peak could have been.

With that being said, I wasn’t a total disincentivized Planet Fitness member.  I trained 4-5 times a week, doing the GPP WOD usually followed by the olympic lifting programming. Weekends I would sprinkle in the additional accessory/conditioning/lifting/gymnastic WODs.  A dabble here and dabble was the approach, concerning extra games training.

Now with the start of 2015, I have to reset my goals, or more like reset my expectations. Yeah, it would be great to have my shirt off on ESPN with thousands of screaming kool-aid fans at my back, but that’s just not going to happen.  And if that was my dream, then I should have at least taken action to chase those pipe dreams.  This is rather cliche’d but there are many who say they want something, but don’t put in the actual effort to give themselves that .00001% shot.

After 3 years of training, I would say it’s 99.9999% physically impossible to be a games level athlete.  If I’m not on the cusp of qualifying right now, then I’ll never be.  An athlete shows the most potential during that first year, when he/she hasn’t yet explored that fitness max.  Once that theoretical max (plateau) has been hit, the strength/conditioning gains become smaller and smaller.  My PRs aren’t going to be in the 10 lbs week to week, they become 10 lbs every 6 mos, if not longer.  A potential games level athlete quickly starts hitting those competitive lifting numbers within the first year then fine tunes the skills/conditioning to compete.

In addition, the athletes are getting younger, while the qualifications to the games is more rigorous.  Last year, we were lucky to sneak into the top 30 in the Central East Region . This year, we’ll have to get top 20.  When I went to watch our team compete in Cincinnati, the weights and skill work required (handstand walk, strict HSPUs) just didn’t seem realistic for me.  That games level is becoming increasingly harder and harder to obtain.

Enough with the negativity.  So back to what my goals/expectations are for the coming year.  First, I need to be physically healthy.  I need to get to a level of training pain-free. It’s unfortunate the goal used to be, “I want to snatch over 185 lbs”, to now, “well I just want to overhead squat without wincing.”  I have to accept the fact I’m not 19 any more and that I can skip a WOD in order to recover.  For the past 2 months, I haven’t been training the way I want to be.   But training the way I want to be is likely what got me injured in the first place.  If there is a positive, I’ve had to re-evaluate my training and pinpoint the cause of my injury.  Do I have a mobility issue?  Is my form wrong?  Am I overtraining?  Injuries are setbacks, but also opportunities to wipe the slate clean – in a way reformat your fitness.

Hopefully, this rehab will allow me to compete and Rx the Open.  In +30 days, I don’t have enough time to build up exceptional motor capacity.  A more realistic goal would be to get some DUs in, string some Chest-to-Bar pull-ups, or actually complete that muscle up during the WOD.  Now, it’s all about the small wins and I’m perfectly content with that.    

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What will 14.2 be?

Before I get into tonight’s announcement of 14.2, let me remind you my prediction for 14.1 was that they likely won’t have double unders in the first WOD, so keep that in mind as I pull other predictions out of my ass.

14.1 went down pretty terribly and miserably.  I was really hoping to Magoo my way into double unders, but let’s be frank – hard work pays off and there was no hard work put into double unders during my training cycle.  Just unfortunate out of all the elements in Crossfit, DUs are my weakest skill.  So I got another year to learn them for the next Open (unless Castro decides to be twisted and put in a 10 min AMRAP of DUs).

That debacle aside, I feel 14.2 will involve box jumps (and likely some other barbell movement).  Every year there has been a WOD in which the round ends with a 15 rep box jump cycle that tests your metabolic conditioning. 11.2, 12.3 and 13.2 Open WODs had box jumps.  Box jumps actually are one of my strengths (no barbell and no requirement of upperbodyweight strength).  I honestly don’t think you save time rebounding on them vs. just doing step-ups, but it sure looks cool (while your calves pay for it the next day).  So tonight, Camille and Talayna, get ready for some box jumps!

2014 Crossfit Open

Hail Caesar, those who are about to die salute you

Hail Caesar, those who are about to die salute you

So tonight will be the first announcement of 14.1.  The whole training cycle I’ve been doing over the past 5 months has been geared to this.  Oddly enough, I don’t really feel prepared, but then again I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% prepared.  Judging from my performance in the testing and re-testing of the 2011 and 2013 WODs I just don’t think it’ll be enough for me to contribute a score for team Hyperfit.  And frankly if I did, then we would likely kiss our Regional hopes good-bye.

But back to 14.1.  There is much speculation and anticipation over what Dave Castro will announce over this pre-show/gala/hoopla they now have going on.  It’s like a goddamn Academy Awards show before each WOD announcement and then the Crossfit superstars come rolling out like gladiators, and everyone is cheering and screaming like it’s spring break, but I digress.

What should we expect from the Open?  The first WOD will likely be something more “mainstream”.  If the pattern holds correct, it will be a burpee component with some sort of 6 inch mandatory jump.  Just from various hints, I think they will introduce pull-ups or toes-to-bar off the bat, which could weed out more people than expected.

Other common elements we should definitely expect are double unders (hopefully not tomorrow or I’m starting off the Open in the shitter), box jumps, and wall balls.  The weights for olympic lifts will generally be lightweight, something like 75 lbs snatch for guys/55 lbs for girls, while the cleans cutoff will likely be 135 lbs for guys/95 for girls.

What you won’t likely see is rowing, handstand push ups, GHD sit-ups, pistols, handstand walks, or may be even kettlebells.  It’s surprising kettlebells haven’t been placed in one of the Opens.  Perhaps not all boxes or everyday people have access to ergs, kettlebells, and a sit-up machine.

What will separate you is of course the muscle-ups and strength in the olympic lifts.  There will probably be a snatch or clean type ladder, in which the average joes can participate at the first level of weights but then hit a momentous roadblock that exceeds their personal PR.  If you can snatch over 135 and clean/jerk over 185, I would say you’re in pretty good shape.  Regardless, these advanced movements will likely be set at the end of an AMRAP, in which the difficulty of the movement advances into the later stages of the round.  12.4/13.3 and 11.4 are good examples.  You start with a basic movement then graduate up into say a muscle-up.

What is also likely is some variation of Fran.  Previous years, we’ve gotten some Fran ladder with a chest-to-bar pull-up twist.  Last year was a creative weeder type WOD in which you had to hit a time checkpoint (reminded me a racing video game in which you had to finish before a certain time to get more time awarded).  I wouldn’t be surprised if they just repeated this WOD for this year.  It is likely that they will repeat one of the previous year’s WODs as a sort of re-test for the athletes.

Overall, as our coach has said if you are able to Rx the Open you are likely in the top 1% of the general population in terms of fitness.  Most people don’t sign-up because they have a defeatist attitude: Oh I’m not good enough, Oh I can’t do a pull-up, etc.  Just sign-up.  Yeah, I’d rather give $20 to an African child than Dave Castro and Glassman, but registering you’ll realize when doing the WOD this may actually mean something.  It may not mean making it for Team, Regionals, or the Games, but registering and knowing you will have to post your performance onto the leaderboard actually means something.  You will likely see yourself be pushed and attempt something you’d never thought of trying.  Perhaps, you’ll get a PR in a snatch, or get your first toes-to-bar, or even your first double under. The whole point is that you’ve expanded your limits and the mere attempt of striking down that fear is well worth it.

January Games Camp

Imagine you’re at the driving range, working on your golf swing.  You’re just an average day chopper, hoping for the off-chance you’ll catch one flush at the 150 yard marker.  Someone comes up next to you, lays down a basket of balls.  You look up…it’s Tiger Woods.

A scenario like this is close to impossible.  But in Crossfit, the possibility of encountering the world’s best is high.  If you travel around to enough gyms, there is a chance you may literally be doing the same workout as a Games level athlete.  Whenever I golf, there’s no freaking chance I’ll ever be in the same pairing as a top professional golfer (unless I decide to buy my way into a pro-am).  The Crossfit community is different and inclusive.  If I wanted to work out with Rich Froning, I could probably drop-in at his box at Crossfit Mayhem.  There’s even a chance he’ll be coaching the class.  This could be slightly stalkerish, but still highly possible.  Do you think I can walk into Tiger’s country club and get some putting tips for a $20 drop-in fee?

I premise this scenario because at Hyperfit, I’ve been accustomed to seeing many Games level athletes drop-by.  Some come in for special extra training, most come in for the Weekend Games Training Camp.  Our gym regularly holds a Weekend Camp of all the Crossfit training your heart desires.  The athletes range from the average joe looking to get better to Regional-level athletes hoping to make the Games to the mutants looking to get on the podium.  Just think to your youth days of basketball or soccer camp, where all day you just runs drills, practice, and scrimmage; now substitute that with nonstop drilling of Crossfit movements for about 9 hours a day.  The program is geared in preparation for the Games competition, the skills covered but not limited to are:

  • Weightlifting Skills – all the olift movements such as cleaning and jerking, snatching, and jerking off the blocks, it’s not necessarily about setting 1-rep maxes but refining technique.  The lifts are also taught from different starting positions to break down the movement and to generate a more consistent lift.
  • Kettlebell Conditioning – movements such as Russian swings using a banded distraction (dynamic method) for increased hip explosion or learning difficult KB movements like the Turkish get-up
  • MoFo Conditioning – a brutal combination of a lower body movement combined with an upper body movement at an X% of your max EMOTM (ie. deadlift/thruster), this type of conditioning imposes strength with a metcon twist
  • Gymnastics Skill 
  • Competition Preparation (Mental and nutrition) – how to mentally prepare for that battle in the pain cave, the games athletes have an unbelievable motor due to their ability to tolerate pain
  • Mobility and Movement – body maintenance and addressing range of motion issues
  • Prison Rules – like in prison you just need to survive, in this WOD you just HOPE to survive.  A short, yet brutal workout which tests muscle endurance and speed requiring 2-3 reps of a certain movement every 15 seconds for 16 intervals at a “light” weight.  It becomes 4 minutes of suck.  This method trains you how to string barbell movements unbroken.  In order to succeed at the Games, you need to learn how to touch and go complicated movements.
  • Dynamic Lifting – a method explained well by WestSide Barbell, in which you’re using a band for resistance to increase speed and explosion at a submaximal load, really forcing you to develop acceleration out of the hole
  • Strongman – these movements don’t require a lot of technique such as throwing Atlas stones, carrying a Yoke, or just pushing around heavy shit.  It becomes a great way to develop conditioning with a low chance of injury due to the simplicity of the movement.

GamesCamp13.5

An itinerary like this should whet any Crossfit aficionado’s appetite.  Additionally, we got the privilege to mix in with the Camp athletes in our regular WOD schedule.  This whole week we’ve been re-testing the 2013 Open WODs, so on Saturday we all geared up for 13.5 (if you recall a Fran type WOD with a time checkpoint).  Since the class was probably 60+, we had to go into 3 different heats.  To avoid stacking the groups (you didn’t want all the mutants in 3 different heats for time purposes), I ended up being in a group with at least one mutant with the mutant obviously going last for drama purposes.  The joes were counting the mutants’ reps, and the mutants were cheering on the joes.  The best part is everyone surrounding and cheering the last person standing, as she went into her 3rd round of thrusters/chest to bars.  With the sport growing exponentially, there may be a day Games athletes are treated as mainstream sport stars, but the community will always be inclusive enough to have us working out side-by-side with them.

Why are you doing this?

On the whiteboard the other day, I saw a message:

“Anyone interested in extra games training, please email me.”

It peaked my interest.  My mind started to make excuses – well you aren’t good enough, you don’t have time….you don’t want to hurt myself.  A year and half into training, I experienced some solid gains, but I was beginning to stagnate.  Every athlete eventually hits some plateau; each workout increasingly produces diminishing returns that your body can only handle.  I wasn’t making any more rapid gains, sometimes I even saw reversals with random -itises.  I expected this, but I wanted my consistency to pay some dividends.  Gettin’ greedy, or never settling.  I had major weaknesses to remedy and just mod-ing them in the WOD wasn’t going to make me better.  I had to devote time outside of class in order to implement these newfound skills during gametime.  WODs are usually constructed to achieve maximum output for time.  It is not ideal to tinker around with my handstand position and establish motor patterns for kipping HSPUs during Diane.

I knew the commitment would be huge.  Our coach holds us to a high standard, so signing up and half-assing the training would not sit well with him.  But I had a desire to get better; I wanted to realize my full athletic potential.  I had to take the plunge.

The goal of the Games training was to qualify the Hyperfit Team to the Central East Regionals.  In 2011, they won it and went to the Games.  Last year, we weren’t close, even losing out to smaller gyms in the area.  Being in Ann Arbor, the student environment is tougher, as the members are not static and don’t allow time for long-term development. However, our coach recognized the gym had some solid raw talent and made it a goal to give us the best opportunity to qualify for Regionals.

The biggest challenge is to remain consistent to the programming, and it isn’t just the typical 1 strength movement then WOD for time/reps.  It isn’t about skipping and cherry picking the additional WODs.  The training requires ~15 hours/a week over 5 days/2 days of active rest.  The volume is ruthless.  It is essentially a part-time job.  In those 15 hours a week, I could be spending time with friends, catching up on my DVR, or finding a new hobby, which all circles back to, why?

Why not.  If you truly have a passion for something, you will naturally find a way to reach your utmost potential in that craft.  Furthermore, the methodology of Crossfit easily promotes that constant pursuit of improvement.  The concept of measurable, observable, and repeatable results provides instantaneous positive feedback.  When you’re practicing something like the guitar, you don’t necessarily have the hard data to measure progress.  In Crossfit, the training cycle evolves into you experiment with your fitness, you witness your improvements, you become further motivated, you train harder.

Around a year into training, one of my coaches told me, “If you keep this up, in 4 years you can become a Games athlete.”  I thought, what the hell, 4 years?  What am I training for, the Olympics?  Is it remotely possible, someone with no elite athletic background can become a Games level athlete?   I wasn’t sure if this was a compliment.  I then realized, well at least I have a chance.  Some members, you give them infinite years, they may never make it.  The slow passage of time doesn’t mix well with the expectations of immediate gratification. It’s a long, steady process.  I’m looking forward to it.

OhWell