I've written before about the idea of working towards a deeper understanding of yourself through introspection and such. And often I write about this with the goal of understanding what I, or we, are meant to do so that we can lead a happy, healthy life. The better an understanding of ourselves, the better our lives will be. Being in the fitness industry I get the opportunity to meet and talk to so many different people. Doing this allows me to connect with so many personalities, and hear how people chose to act in their lives based on how they've learned to think about themselves and other things. Now I know I am still "young", and I by no means have the world and people figured out. But I do know that I have learned a good bit about how to approach my own life and how I interact with others. And interestingly enough, it's pretty damn obvious.
I would venture a guess that every person who reads my blog has heard all those cliche lines about life. You know, finding the important things, its about love not money, treat others how you want to be treated, be true to yourself, and on and on and on. These concepts are used so commonly that they become the cliche. Have you ever tried to actually live your life like that? It's like eating healthy. Everyone with half a brain knows exactly what it means to eat healthily. But for some reason we all choose to ignore the obvious, come up with wild justifications for why we don't eat healthy, then bitch and moan when we feel like crap. You know exactly how to live a good, happy life, you choose to NOT do the things that would make your life easier and better, and then you complain all the time about how hard your life is. I do this all the time!
For the love of God, stop! Here's how I get myself back on track when I feel like I'm slipping in to self-pity and a crappy life. I ask:
What do you do? (Business/Career-Life) Well, I am a coach first and foremost. That is what is most important to me. I am lucky enough to run my coaching out of two gyms and I have a responsibility to run those gyms to the best of my ability, branding the name and personality I have created with the integrity that I have chosen to have. To assist in the continued growth of the brand, I am an athlete, adventurer, and writer. That is it.
I could write for days about all the little ins and outs of what makes me ME, but then I would get away from the core. And it is what is at the core that will always quickly bring me right back to feeling good about my life. I am not here to obsess over other companies and people and pick them apart and complain about how stupid they are (something I distract myself with when I'm slipping out of my good spot). I am not a big business owner, I am not a therapist, I am not a world-renown athlete, I am not a parent. I am not a LOT of things I sometimes distract myself with in my head. The second I lose track of what it is that I am, and the order of importance that I know works for me on who I am, then I lose track of my ability to be happy.
I have excitedly chosen a role for myself in this world. I know that role will change all the time, and I will add things to it, and take things away from it, and hell, maybe someday my role will completely and totally change. But right now, every time I start to slip out of it, even a little, I take a moment to remind myself exactly what my roll in this world is. Keep it simple and basic, then do whatever I can every day to DO THAT.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
The pull up is one of those exercises that is both gratifying and impressive. The ability to move your entire body through space with nothing but your own strength is a pretty impressive feat and something that I think all people in the gym either want to do or get better at. It shows impressive (re: ideal) upper body strength along with control of using all the muscles in the upper body in the right sequence (this means using main movers to move, and stabilizers to stabilize).
I generally like to have a goal in my gym be that all men can get between 5-10, and all women can get between 3-6 (for anyone who might be confused, I am talking about STRICT pull ups here). Those numbers show a generally good balance of strength for the average person (I have goals for lower body strength and other upper body exercises as well to show complete balance). As my clients and athletes approach the pull up we always assess their ability to move safely and properly, recruit muscles in the proper sequence, and build up accessory exercises if there are excess imbalances. Here are five good, solid things to focus on when training for your first pull up, or building on the number you already have:
1. Strengthen Your Grip
This is probably the most under-trained aspect of most pulling exercises, but the entire base of the pull starts in being able to hold onto the bar (or whatever you're pulling up on) comfortably. It is common amongst good coaches to know that building grip strength increases a persons ability to properly utilize all the muscles in the arms, shoulders and torso for a stronger pull. I have had many clients who have the strength in their upper body to get a few pull ups, but their grip is so weak they can not even hold onto the bar. Go get yourself some grippers (check THESE out for some serious grip building) or incorporate farmers walks on the regular (hold onto progressively heavier dumbbells and walk).
2. Understand Scapular Control
Most people pull with their biceps; this is a weaker action as you end up neglecting the larger, stronger muscles in your back that are designed for pulling. Setting your shoulders and even incorporating a slight scapular retraction (bringing your shoulder blades together) allows for more activation of all those big ol' muscles back there and consequently, a stronger pull. Grow these by using bands to pull, then assisted pulling, inverted rows, TRX and such. All of these modifications allow you to take less weight into the pull so you can focus on the proper function of those bigger muscles.
3. Learn How To Stabilize Your Shoulders
One of the most common things I see the second someone hangs on a bar is their shoulders slide right up to their ears. In line with point number 2, this one is about allowing the stabilizers in your shoulder do their job so that the big muscles on your shoulders and back can focus only on the pulling. If your shoulders are not stabilized, the big muscles have to focus on stabilizing your shoulders and can not focus on doing the pull up. Light cable and DB exercises are great for this, as well as performing a plank on your hands, or other isometric holds where your shoulders are unitized. The main focus should always be keeping your shoulders in the correct position while performing the lighter and isometric exercises.
4. Modify The Pull Up
Unlike utilizing other styles of pulling exercises to get your muscles stronger, this one is all about performing "replica pull ups". You do this by using bands or a low bar (with your feet on the ground or box) to decrease the amount of weight you are pulling. And as you progress, utilizing negatives and other modified time and rep schemes of the pull up to get your muscles properly trained. The idea, as always, is to modify as little as possible while making sure your shoulders do not come out of their stabilized position, and that your muscles are all able to function properly. Using a too thin band and doing pull ups with your shoulders in your ears will not help you all that much.
5. Don't Kip
Unless you are a competitive CrossFitter, kipping pull ups serve absolutely no purpose in strength training. I know way too many people who can perform kipping pull ups but can not perform a single strict one. This is just depressing! If you want to utilize hip drive to produce power into your extremities, learn to throw a med ball, learn to Olympic lift, learn to jump, etc. The kip forces your shoulders out of their stabilized position, then relies on the hips to move you, rather than your upper body. While it is one of the most efficient ways to do pull ups really fast, it is one of the least efficient ways to build pulling strength.
So, if your goal is to be able to perform a real pull up, learn to build strength and stability properly and I bet you'll be surprised at how quickly you can get that chin over the bar in complete control!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
This past weekend I headed out to sunny Lodi, CA with most of Team Courage for a competition. While I was excited to get a throwdown in, I was mostly going there to get a good look at the Team and also be able to go over details with Mike Morales as he prepares for Regionals in a few weeks. I was coaching Mike, Justin, Andras, and Ryan, and helping/supporting Melissa, Dallas and Britney; it was an awesome group to be around! I have a lot to say about the day, so let's start with the basics and move along.
This was one of the most well-organized events I've ever been to. Everything was perfectly timed, the judges and volunteers were on point and energetic all day, the sponsors were filled to the brim and supplied a ton of support. There was great space for all competitors and spectators and there was a really good energy throughout the entire day. And that is saying a lot seeing how it was incredibly hot and there were easily around 200 people there in total. The workouts were pretty cool individually and supplied a good enough challenge all around, they were less of a test of general fitness, and more of a "who can survive the longest" type challenge. While I don't mind this sort of programming in the grand scheme of things, I really wish CrossFit gyms would take a little more time and effort focusing on TESTING athletes rather than coming up with "cool" workouts and kicking everyone's ass as much as possible. I don't mind getting incredibly sore after a tough competition, in fact, I think that should happen. What I do mind is overloading one aspect of the body (like 80+% front loaded, leg-dominated movements like this event and most that I've been to). In my opinion, if you overload one aspect of the body, you are clearly not testing the athletes and their general fitness, you are just beating up on them.
A point that should be made here is that we all received a comment from the organizers claiming that there was no prescribed/scaled devisions. So because of this we should expect to see NO high-skill movements in the first 3 workouts (examples given were muscles ups, pistols, and handstand push ups). Well, the third workout had both pistols AND handstand push ups. For the purposes of the event, seems kind of strange they would program movements after specifically saying they would not. Anyway...
400 m run w/ 15# plate
45 KB swings 53#
400 m run w/ 25$ plate
35 wall balls
400 m run w/ 35# plate
25 pull ups
400 m run w/ 45# plate
15 box jumps 30"
This was, well, brutal! Especially for an opening workout. My goal was to pace the runs easy and go for broke on the exercises. I thought I paced it really well, decidedly winning my heat. Unfortunately I must of been moving VERY slowly on my running because in the end I finished up in 23rd place overall with a time of 15:59. This crushed me, emotionally, physically, psychologically, everything. I felt like I was done after this and all I wanted to do was stop competing and just coach my athletes. But, I couldn't do that of course. Just had to fuel up, rest up, and get prepped for workout 2.
Bear Complex ladder (scored as: deadlift/clean/front squat/press/back squat/press - one point per movement for the first two bars, two points per for bar 4 and 5, I think four points per for bars6 and 7, five points (maybe?) for the 7th and 8th bars, and seven points per for the final bar. 9 bars in total starting at 95# and finishing at 245#)
The strategy was to accumulate reps/points through the bars leading up to the one that will be the biggest challenge for you. Don't waste reps as accumulating points was the goal. But pacing it so that you didn't burn yourself out. Dallas paced slow and was able to get 3 full complexes at 245, enough for the most at that bar. But he paced too much and accumulated too few points to finish 1st. I picked a good pace and never got over-tired. I got 2 full complexes at 245, plus a dealdift and with all the reps accumulated was able to pull off a 2nd place finish on that one. 23rd to 2nd. Dropped me to 10th overall.
4 min AMRAP of
10 overhead squats 115#
30 double unders
no rest to: 4 min AMRAP of:
4 pistol squats
8 front squats
4 handstand push ups
You're seeing the pattern of movements here, no? Anyway, the strategy here was to go balls to the wall for the first AMRAP as 1 round of the second one was only half the reps of 1 round of the first. The event was scored as total reps performed, so it was clear that getting as many double unders in there was the best way to score high. With whatever energy I had left I went ALL OUT. I just shut the brain off and kept moving as fast as my body would let me. This strategy seemed to do the trick as I was able to win this workout by something like 12 reps over the 2nd place finisher. All I needed was a good enough placement to get me into the top 8 to move to the final workout, and that performance got me to 5th place. Both good and bad I figured. Good because I was giving myself a shot at the podium. Bad because I was so beyond tired that I was very, very seriously considering dropping out for the purposes of staying somewhat healthy (something happened to my throat after that one and I couldn't swallow and was having trouble breathing).
Now this is where things got messy.
100 m stone carry 145#
25 m stone carry
20 axil bar hang clean and press 95#
20 m stone carry
10 x fill a wheelbarrow with 3 5# sandbags and dump it out
25 m stone carry
2 lengths sledge hammer "banger"
25 m stone carry
Somewhere in my brain I was excited for this, but my fatigue wasn't allowing it to come out in my normal energy towards workouts. I love stones, hammers, sandbags, all that, so I knew if I could actuality survive, maybe I'd have a shot at this one. We went in 3 heats of 3. The first heat went with Mike in it, and he was on a roll. He got through one length of the "banger" and was heading back when the 2nd place dude got to it. This guy proceeded to hit the banger once, then push it the entire rest of the way down its track. He then repeats this on the second length and ends up beating Mike by about 8 or so seconds. While there was no real standard set to this specific exercise, the entire female group went through it HITTING the thing like we all assumed you should. The guy who decided to push it, turns out he works for the company that MADE the damn things. Instead of being a stand-up guy and letting the event organizers know about this, he keeps it quiet and "cheats" his way to a good score. Controversy ensues. Now the event coordinator and judges gather around to figure out what to do for the remaining heats. They approach us in the second heat and lay out the standards: you are allowed to follow through on your strikes but NOT allowed to deliberately PUSH the banger down the track at all. They go over this multiple times with my heat, and the final heat.
I hit the workout with whatever I had left, and hit the banger exactly like they all very clearly and specifically TOLD us how to. The standard was set, I chose to follow that standard (maybe I'm the idiot here?). After I crumbled to the floor across the finish line, I was able to watch as the guy behind me CLEARLY and deliberately walked the banger down the track enough to finish both lengths in half the hits I took. Not cool. Not cool enough to make me go talk to the event coordinator (something I am generally not inclined to do as I know how mistakes can happen at events and generally just let things slide). There was a cordial back and forth between us and it ended with him sort of laying blame on HICFIT (the company that made the equipment). He acknowledged the mistake but seemed to miss the fact that even after they set a specific standard, people neglected to follow it and they did nothing about that. But it gets worse.
The final heat saw two athletes, from CrossFit Lodi (local affiliate to the event) literally WALK the banger down the track. To put this in perspective: I got each length in about 10 hits (that's about 20 hits total), and I would say I'm pretty good at that exercise with the baseball background and tons of sledge work over the years. These guys in the final heat got both lengths in 4-6 hits TOTAL! I was not a very happy camper. I ran to the event coordinator who was standing directly in from of these guys, literally cheering them on as they blatantly disregarded the rules and standards for the workout. I argued to no avail that this was completely ridiculous that this was happening. He agreed with me (?) yet did nothing. I suggested the obvious: make them return to the banger and do it correctly (like, exactly what any event does when someone performs something incorrectly). He said there was nothing he could do, and then in the same sentence said he'd take care of it and work it out (again, ?).
In the end, those two guys got 1st and 2nd in the event AND the competition. The guy who helped to make the equipment came in 4th behind me in the event. To be completely honest, I don't really care about my overall placement, I was happy that I got out of the damn day alive, and was even more happy to be able to see all my athletes and friends work their butts off. What I am not cool with is the obvious disregard for standards and following through. I don't care about missed reps here and there, people should expect that sort of thing nowadays in local throwdowns. But this is clearly a different situation. Literally doing workouts/movements WRONG is something I won't put up with. I know my protest doesn't really mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but if these guys have any integrity at all, they will VERY STRONGLY reconsider how they approach this sort of thing in the future.
What it does for me is continue to enforce how I run events, how I compete and train, and how I coach my athletes to compete and train. I won't put up with anyone who knows something has been missed and doesn't speak up. I won't put up with people, coaches, and event staff who have no integrity, and either don't put forth a solid standard, or even worse, don't follow through and hold to the standards they put forth.
I hope that athletes, coaches and people looking to put on events in the future read this and take the time and effort to take their own training and such a little more seriously. I hope that other athletes don't get screwed because of this sort of thing. I hope that everyone involved at "Vindication In the Valley" can read this and take the criticism in stride and actually make a change so this sort of thing never happens again. It's unfortunate they didn't take it upon themselves to do ANYTHING about it at the time. And I hope the athletes who chose to throw integrity in the dump and take advantage of that situation either make some personal changes and/or never compete again for the sake of all us who take pride in doing things right.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Get Discounts Below!