It's been a while since I've written about my own programming and how it's going, so I thought I'd share. It's been going well. I've steered away from the classic CrossFit plan and more towards a straight up strength and weightlifting focus, it's been fun to say the least! While I do enjoy getting my butt kicked in the gym with a brutal metcon here and there, I do very much enjoy the day to day demands of a very serious strength training program. I am watching my numbers creep up slowly but surely, and when I keep my food in check, my mood, energy, and weight all keep getting better and better.
The best part about the program as of late is that i have a group of people to workout with. Team Courage has been a slowly building project at the gym and as of now we have five really serious members, and another 3 who are a tad less involved. The energy around this group looking through the programming and hitting the gym hard has been one of the best aspects of my training I've ever had. Couple that with the feeling of pride I have every day when I walk into y own gym with the big orange wall and my logo on it, I just feel good about where everything is going.
So, the program itself is using three major sources as its motivation: the strength program I wrote two years ago that saw 100% success rate in all athletes who've gone through the whole thing, a very, very base level conceptual feel for the Bulgarian Method of training, and some aspects to how a few of the Catalyst Athletics weightlifting programs have been designed. I can comfortably say that this program is about 98% mine (most/all good programs use tons of research and ideas taken from other programs already in existence) and to be honest, I have an idea of what will come out of it at the end, but I am really curious to see just how big some of our gains will be.
We are pulling heavy weights from the blocks each day (working 80% and up on all sets) and then our strength work is seeing about 8+ programed sets each day. It's pretty brutal having to work up to 100+% of your 5RM or 3RM and then head back down to 85% and work back up again. The combination of load and volume is something that has taken a little to adapt to. But, I feel like I'm adapting pretty well and I am feeling stronger each day. My drill work with the Olympic lifts is now consistently only 10-15# below my best ever lift. While this is depressing that my 1RM sucks, it's promising that I am getting more efficient and consistent at heavy loads. Here's what a typical week looks like:
Monday: snatch, squat, snatch strength accessory
Tuesday: snatch, clean and jerk (light, drill)
Wednesday: clean and jerk, bench, front squat, c+j accessory
Thursday: snatch, deadlift, strength accessory
Saturday: snatch, clean and jerk, squat
It's been intense, but real fun. I am hoping to get to my first ever Weightlifting meet this coming weekend, but it's way down in San Diego and I am not sure I can get there. We'll see. Either way, it'd be SO much fun to actually compete at this stuff. I am setting up goals slowly but surely.
My food has gotten under control and I am down to around 235# consistently. I think that I'd feel my best around 225-230 and I'll probably be there next week and will plan to stay there for the next few training cycles. I have a lot going on, and all going in the right direction, so that's cool in my head.
Have a good deal of business and personal stuff going on that could be a lot better, and I will be filling everyone in on the details about all that pretty soon. TONS of growth for the company coming up but I want to keep some of it under wraps until things are 100% confirmed. I will also fill people in with some of the crummy stuff that has led to all this good stuff as well. Should be an exciting few months for sure. I do like writing about my workouts and programs, so I'll be sure to make a point to continue doing that as the summer progresses.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
_ This post is inspired by a few recent incidences where coaches have said some pretty ignorant things about CrossFit, and what I do. I completely understand the misunderstanding that so many people have with CrossFit because there is so much crap information out there. But one must only take a second or two to realize that no matter what you are practicing, it could be wonderfully beneficial, or horrendously detrimental depending on the coach and how things are programmed. CrossFit is a very generally defined strength and conditioning program at heart. And that is what I do. I train people to become the most athletic person they can possibly be, using the theory that training every aspect of athleticism in a hyper-controlled manner will do just that. It is difficult to argue the fact that if one is at his/her best athletically, they will be able to adapt to the demands of their sport better than one who is not in “complete” shape. And because this is the goal of my training, I do not practice what uneducated people believe Crossfit to be: a random collection of exercises thrown at you in a violently intense circuit with the goal of moving heavier and heavier weights as fast as possible. Perhaps I don't actually practice "CrossFit"; but again, it's a vague enough definition, and I enjoy being a part of the growing community, so i will continue to claim to be a part of it.
So, to the coaches and people who refuse to take the time to understand what it is that I am actually doing. I will offer a two-fold post. One point is to explain how what YOU are doing is might not the best for an athlete’s optimal performance and slow gains (kind of a dick thing to do on my part, I know, but every now and then it is deserved). The second point is what it is that I do. After that, if you still insist that I randomly create workouts that are goofy and crazy, and just meant to get people running around, I can do nothing but feel bad for your ignorance.
I’ll start by asking a few questions. How much do you make your athletes run, and how often do you have your athletes max? I have found it to be very, very common for coaches and trainers to use maxing out on lifts (establishing the max amount of weight a person can perform for 1 rep) as their go-to test for where people stand. They then use this number as a base, run the athletes through their program before re-testing to make sure their maxes are higher. Well, it shouldn’t really even be a discussion about how wrong this approach is. It makes me cringe to think about 40 young athletes, or 1 beginner client walking into the gym and building up a to a bar with as heavy a weight as possible for one rep.
“But Courage, how am I supposed to get a baseline” you might ask? Simple, have each person perform an air squat or two. If they can’t perform this basic movement through an adequate range of motion while keeping a stable midline and engaging the proper muscles in the proper sequence, they shouldn’t be loading ANY weight to their body! Your program should begin with basic fundamentals of each movement, mobility, and proprioception training, and incrementally heavier loads to prep their nervous systems for growth. If one person proves to have trouble squatting under control, keep them away from the barbell until they prove they can handle it (and this goes for all other lifts as well).
I could go on for days there, but I’ll leave it at that. Now, on to the running question: I get running, especially for high school athletes and teams. But from my perspective it is a tool to build teamwork and enforce discipline, NOT to “get them in better shape”. The thousands upon thousand of studies and articles out there proving that short interval sprints and exercise are the most effective for anaerobic capacity training should end any argument about longer distance running for athletes (unless you are a long distance runner). But again, for teamwork and discipline purposes, I get it, and I support it (as long as it’s done intelligently). Unintelligent programming of high volume sprints and/or long distance running is just asking for injuries and even worse, negating all the hard work and effort the athletes have put into their other training. And this goes double for doing this stuff pre-practice or pre-gym session. If you want an athlete to get better at shooting a basketball, hitting a baseball, running a very specific route, or l lifting a flawlessly performed clean, you better make sure they get the majority of their reps in as fresh as possible. If they are always practicing under high levels of cardiovascular and/or muscular fatigue, you force them to perform movements sub maximally, forming injury-building habits and sub-maximal performance.
When you are halfway through your season, or a client has been training with you for a few months and all of a sudden minor to major injuries start popping up, it should be pretty clear where they are coming from: the coaches programming. The more difficult thing to process is crummy performance, or, plateau-ing. It’s when a baseball player all of a sudden doesn’t have that fire under them each play, or swing; or that person in the gym has low energy and can’t seem to make any gains at all. This is when a good coach takes a step back, looks over the progression of training this person or people have been through (if it’s not written down somewhere you might as well write yourself off as a good coach now, keep everything charted!) and make an adjustment ASAP.
So, “mister perfect” you might say, how would you do it? Well, first off, I am far from perfect, and that is step one: be humble. You are not the best coach in the world; you do not have it all figured out. If your methods do not change over the years it means you are not learning anything from anyone or anything, and the same issues will continue to occur. If you are not adapting and growing as a coach, your athletes will never be able to grow to their potential. Simply put, if you are not constantly evolving, you're not a good coach.
If you have a good year, or you have a good client, here and there, and it is common thing the majority of the time, generally it is because you had a more talented person/group of people who were able to overcome your flaws as a coach with raw ability. What I mean is that if you tend to have a decent percentage of clients that just don;t seem to get any better; or, a few years at a time on a regular basis of a crappy team, with a good team on some other years, you are clearly not a good coach/trainer. If what worked one year does not work the next, adapt, change and continue to grow.
You must spend so much of your time reading studies and articles, and talking to other coaches and athletes about their thoughts and ideas. Try new things, keep notes, and always be open and available to discuss and question anything. One of my three rules to all athletes/clients is ask questions. They, and of course, I, should know why I am having them do all the things I program. I want my athletes to question what I am doing because then they can learn more. The more they learn, the more they understand about what they are doing, and the better they become and faster they progress.
Know exactly what is you are doing. Have a program. I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to a coach or trainer and learn that they have an idea of what they are having their athletes do, but there is zero progression (and yet I have some of these people think that I program complete randomness…hm…). As stated before, if you want your athlete to perform at maximal potential, you will give him/her a program that allows for proper sequential growth. This means that you assess their ability to move, correct flaws, correct imbalances, prep for volume and load, then progressively increase volume and loads through balanced exercises and rep schemes. Attention will always be towards loading the muscles in the proper sequence, performing each exercise as properly as possible before overly loading it, and understanding the program well enough to avoid over-training individual muscles, joints, and the body as a whole. There is no need to go into more detail than this. If you are a good coach, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about and you are probably doing this. If you are an athlete/client, you should be asking your coach if this is what they do, and paying attention to what you are doing and how you are feeling (you should be feeling better and better by the way, and if you are not, you should be able to ask your coach why and be able to easily talk with them about it).
Finally: food. If you are not paying attention to what your athletes/clients are consuming, you are not doing them any good what so ever. As a coach, it is your responsibility to pay attention to the health and well being of your athletes because you are their leader. If you are open and honest with them, they will learn how to take care of themselves pretty quickly, making your job that much easier. But, you cannot expect someone who pays you to help them get better at sports, fitness, and/or life to figure it all out on their own. Simply put, do your job right.
It breaks my heart the amount of coaches/trainers out there that just have no clue what they are doing. It actually scares me because the people who choose to turn to a professional to help them out have no reason to know if that person is total BS or not. Yes, each individual should take at least some responsibility and understand the basics. But, if a person chooses to be a coach, or a trainer, or anyone that puts themselves in some sort of “leader” roll, they better respect that roll enough to know exactly what they are doing. Hopefully what they are doing is good.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
If you head out and grab the November issue of Men’s Health, you’ll find an incredibly good article about CrossFit tucked into the middle of the thick magazine. I was initially amped up about this piece because I bought the magazine to entertain me during my plane ride out to California. Much to my delight, I opened the pages to see a picture of my good friend and old training partner Blair Morrison! Pretty cool.
Well, as I write this I am actually on the plane (will probably finish n my old Starbucks in San Mateo seeing how we are only 20 minutes out!) and I am so eager to keep my eye on shit-show that will be CrossFitters complaining about how stupid the article was. Interestingly enough, my initial reaction was similar. How dare this guy rip on the fitness methodology and now sport that I believe in so much? How dare he go so far as to even use the nutritional upper-lord Robb Wolf as a resource to strike up more controversy about the program? Well, once I put my angry kettlebell down, cleaned up the chalk, and put my short back on I realized something: this was one of the best articles on CrossFit I have read in a long time. I say thins because the truth was written.
My frustration with the piece was similar to that of one written by a Washington Post Express journalist who decided to try out the whole minimalist shoe craze. He bought a pair of Five-Fingers and went out on a 5 mile run. He then promptly ripped the craze a new one because he couldn’t walk for a week! Well, any somewhat smart human would understand that he was an idiot. If you spend your whole life running in moon-boots and then one day go barefoot, you can’t expect run for hours and be cured of all your problems. That would be like an obese person deciding to eat healthy, doing so for one day then saying it doesn’t work and is stupid because he didn’t lose 100 pounds! The writer of the CrossFit piece became so turned off by CrossFit that after one final humiliating day where he finished dead last in a workout surrounded by women, he walked out, never to return.
Well, my immediate reaction was: out of the now 3000+ affiliates around the world, perhaps you just went to a crappy one? Perhaps if you went to an affiliate who’s coaches understood that learning the kip as part of foundations is probably going to lead to a lot of injury. Or where they don’t program 4 days of weighted, heavy loaded snatch work in one week. Or, where they don’t ask you to deadlift 225# in a 15 minute AMRAP on your first day! Unless you’re “drunk on the kool aid” you’re probably going to burn out at some point pretty quickly at a place that pays no attention to your needs. I mean, all of the problems this guy had at his “box” pissed me off because I would never let those happen at mine. So, I found his article stupid.
Then I realized something. His article was clearly NOT stupid. I mean seriously, I have been to some 50 CrossFit affiliates and I would say that well over 30 of those could easily be placed in the category of CrossFit that the author was writing about. If you went and talked to the coaches you’d hear them talk the same way founder Greg Glassman talks about the program, that it’s about become generally physically prepared, that it’s about becoming overall athletic, and not specializing, and that their program is the best thing you could do for your body. Most coaches (and depressingly, nowhere near all of them) could even go into the science behind why CrossFit style of training is so beneficial. They talk about the need for good form over good times, about how they teach a full understanding of the basic movements. They talk about avoiding injury and how their program is scalable and modifiable. Then you walk into their gym and see 15 people thrashing around trying to complete “Fran” as fast as humanly possible. Backs are rounding, heels are off the floor, hands have a death grip on the bar, people who cannot perform 2 consecutive pull ups are swinging around the pull up bars, screaming as they push out one more rep. And those coaches who talk so wonderfully about their program, about how focused they are in avoiding injury and taking care of each and every one of their athletes? They are standing their screaming at everyone to get back on the bar, fight through, keep going, don’t stop, go faster and on and on! All of a sudden everything they just talked about is thrown out the window and the truth comes out as to how this place is run.
Damn, I guess this guy was right! I guess when we step out of the crazy cult following CrossFit has become and look at the whole thing objectively, you find something pretty damn scary. Step back in and do a little searching and you find some really freaking great places that take the time and energy to do things right. But with 3000+ affiliates around the world, how many of those do you really think do it right? Judging by the poor quality of gyms, trainers and coaches out there in general, we can probably assume that not too many of them are all that great. So what does that mean for you? Well, this is where you, as the consumer must take on a bit of responsibility and take the time to make sure you’re finding the right fit. And of you find that fit, I can pretty much guarantee that your life will change for the better! If you don’t take that time, if you just expect things to work out for you the first time you walk into any CrossFit gym, well, as sucky as the truth is that you’re probably going to be let down, just the writer was.
Oh, and a HUGE point that should not be taken lightly: just because a head coach knows how to talk about CrossFit, does not mean he/she knows how to teach it. Think of it this way: if some guy is really good at pithing his amazing new smoothie, how healthy and good tasting it is, would you just go ahead and buy ten boxes of it right then and there? If you would, your kind of an idiot. No, you’d probably want to see an official ingredients list, and taste the damn thing, right? Same goes for finding your perfect gym. If a coach tells you that he/she has the best training program, yet tons of the athletes there are getting hurt, are out of shape, complain, or just don’t; represent what the coach is pitching, well, maybe it’s not the best place for you! But don’t write off CrossFit gyms in general because of that; just write off that one! What I really need to write actually is a note to all CrossFit coaches to stop putting out crappy programming and so on and do better! And well, I have that post started already. But please, please, please, as a consumer, as athletes or soon-to-be-athletes who want a better lifestyle and are looking to CrossFit to be that change, take it upon yourself to find the perfect fit. Find a gym that programs intelligently, supports each and every member equally and passionately, supports an honest, healthy lifestyle, and doesn’t just talk about it. If you take the time, you should be able to catch on to this within one or two classes. And if the gym won’t let you try their space out for a few classes before committing to some crazy membership scheme, well, go find another place!
Remember, finding the right gym for you is just as important as eating the proper foods, working at a good job, finding a great partner and so on. It should be a complete part of your entire lifestyle, one that YOU want a part of. So be patient, be demanding and be open. And to all those would be CrossFit bashers out there, if you want a better view of CrossFit, give me a call, if you can’t come to my gym, I have a pretty good list of gyms you could go to to have a great experience!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Well wait a sec, just so you don’t go mouthing off to me that this post is meant for those people who are actually hurt. But then again, on this pre-post tangent, I would be willing to put a good deal of money on the fact that most of you out there have some form of injury going on right now; whether you know it or not. Most major injuries (strained, pulled, torn muscles, busted joints, messed up ligaments and/or tendons, etc.) are after-effects of micro-tears or minor imbalances. What this means is that injuries and other problems going on in your body, most of them you are probably not even aware of, could very well lead to a major injury not too far down the road.
Okay, sweet, now that I have scared the living hell out of everyone and made the claim that we are all mortally injured it's time to move on to the real point of this post! While this is for people with very noticeable injuries, I think that pretty much everyone could benefit from the perspective. And while some readers of my blog are not CrossFitters, the basic concepts can still be understood. So, weather you kip or not with your pull ups, you all should take the time to really think about weather or not your programming is helping or hurting you.
So, CrossFit. Even though I promote a pretty different-from-normal approach to CrossFit than almost any affiliate I have been to, hearing the word CrossFit still conjures up a pretty specific thing. I think barbell lifts, box jumps, wall balls, pull ups, burpees and short sprints and/or double unders. I am extremely aware of the fact that there is so much more to CrossFit than just that, but in all honesty, that short list there (and the endless combination of workouts with those types of exercises) can easily be considered “Classic CrossFit”.
Now that that point is made, let’s go ahead and look at a case study (names and some details may be altered/invented a bit :-):
Adam is in his late thirties, he played a little baseball and football in high school, intramural sports and semi-professional beer pong in college. After graduation he went off to work a 9-5 where happy hours and business dinners were a somewhat regular occurrence each and every week. He would hit the gym 2-4 times per week, no real workout program but he’d bang out a handful of sets of bench, lat pull downs, bi's and tri's and such for an hour or so before jumping on the treadmill for about 20 minutes. Then one day Adam finds a CrossFit gym. He comes in for the free Saturday workout and is sold on the spot; so, he signs up for foundations. Four months later, Adam is down to about 12% body fat (down from the 18% he was at a couple years after college), eating clean most of the time, getting to CrossFit class about 3-4 days a week on a regular schedule and has just signed up for his first competitive event post-college, a brutal Tough Mudder! A week later Adam’s shoulder starts to really hurt. His left knee is bothering him more and more, and his wrists get these random sharp pains that wake him up in the middle of the night.
If this sounds familiar in any way at all, you are probably in the majority of CrossFitters out there. Because of this, it has come to my attention that there is a common belief out there that this is “just the way it is” with CrossFit, and having these “mild” injuries just sort of comes with the territory.
Wrong. Being on a fitness program to become healthier should do the following:
1. Reduce body fat
2. Increase lean muscle mass
3. Decrease stress
4. Increase REM sleep
5. Increase metabolism
6. Balance the body’s inner workings (Gastrointestinal, Nervous, and Muscular systems, etc.)
7. Rehabilitate and avoid injury
8. Increase energy
You get the picture here. I could throw out another 30 things on that list but the main one I’m trying to get at is number 7. If you can see your abs, have tons of energy, and are sleeping better, but your shoulder hurts like hell and you sometimes can’t walk because your knee hurts; well shoot man, something is WRONG. I totally understand how this sort of thing gets overlooked, or is even seen as a non-issue because of all the positive things going on (numbers 1-6 and 8). But, imagine how awesome you’d feel if you had all the positive side effects of CrossFit, and NONE of the negative ones?
Well, it’s an easy fix. Take a look at your programming. A little example of a typical CrossFitters week (4 x per week attendance):
- Warm up with 3 rounds of 10 air squats, lunges and a few other body weight movements
- 4 sets of front squats
- Short MetCon with squat cleans and toes to bar
-Warm up with KB swings, KB high pulls and KB cleans
- L-sit practice
- Long MetCon with wall balls, burpees and double unders
- Warm up with light-weight barbell bear complex (power clean, thruster, back thruster)
- 6 sets of power snatches
- Short MetCon with heavy overhead squats and running
- Warm up with rowing and light KB swings
- 4 sets of deadlifts
- mid-length “chipper” MetCon with power cleans, broad jumps, overhead lunges, sandbag throws, tire flips and hammer strikes
Let’s break this down: First off, I am sure to most this seems like a pretty harmless, typical looking week of CrossFit. In some people eyes this may even look like a damn fun week! Our buddy Adam gets all sorts of fired up for weeks like this because barbell work is something he loves to do! He sees this week and he sees a crap-load of fun. In my eyes, I see a disaster. Not just for poor old Adam, but for everyone. Before I go into why, and before you jump to the conclusion that I’m just a defeatist or something, do me a favor. Look back over the four workouts and the progression (don’t even worry about associating this week with Adam) and let me know by posting to comments why you either like it or don’t like it.
Adam’s shoulders are going to be shot after this week. I would assume the local masseuse and physical therapist will be happy to see his worried face yet again, but I’d bet he would LOVE to not have to take the entire next week off because of shooting pains down his right arm. You see, the Average Joe out there (taking from Adam's training background before CrossFit) has spent 30+ years creating massive imbalances in his/her body. Over-developed pec muscles is the most common imbalance in men, while shortened hamstrings, leading to tightness in the lower back (thank you sitting in chairs most of your life!) are common in both men AND women. Weak hip flexors and unstable knee joints are common in both but more common in women thanks to the natural alignment of their hips and legs; decreased range of motion (ROM) in the shoulders is just about one of the most common imbalances I see in all people. Take these limitations and then jump yourself into a week of weighted, dynamic, high-repetition exercise and you are basically asking for injury.
Monday’s workout has relatively insane volume on the hip flexors. Add heavy weight to the front squats and I’d be surprised if even the fittest of the fit walk away without major soreness. Tuesday through Friday show little rest for those poor legs, while the shoulders take more abuse then I would like to think about. Rep after rep of weighted movement, joints grinding and being forced into momentum-based ranges of motion they have a hard time getting into naturally. Ouch. Forget Adam here people, anyone following this style of programing day in and day WILL get injured. I would put money on it!
So how do you avoid bad programming, over training, injury? Well, this is where things get really tricky, you can't really. I'm sad to say that the awesomely impressive growth of Crossfit brings with it only a few negatives in my eyes; and the inability to avoid these things is easily the greatest one. I cannot expect all people to educate themselves with proper programming and exercise progressions. I cannot expect people to search for the perfect coach; because, well, how the hell is one supposed to know what’s perfect? With 2800+ CrossFit affiliates out there, I would put all the money I won from people betting me they wouldn’t get injured (and then losing miserably) on the fact that well over 2000 of them have crap for programming. I have read endless posts about athletes complaining about injuries and not knowing why. I have read endless posts on coaches bitching about how their athletes keep getting hurt! No, no, no! This just breaks my heart; and can NOT go on!
Take a second to look past all the great things that have happened to you thanks to CrossFit. DO NOT SETTLE FOR BEING INJURED!
Do this starting next class and for the next 8 classes: Take a notebook or some paper and write down the following two movements:
Now, after each class I want you to write down how many times you performed one of those movements and classify your count into two categories: weighted and unweighted. For example, you warm up with three rounds of 10 squats and lunges; you performed 60 total unweighted repetitions of hip/knee flexion. Then you do 4 sets of 6 heavy front squats; that’s 24 total weighted repetitions of hip/knee flexion. Or, 4 sets of 8 push ups and pull ups are 64 reps of unweighted shoulder flexion. This is followed by 6 sets of 3 power snatches for 18 reps of weighted shoulder flexion.
Do this for 8 training days (make sure to note how many days rest you get between those 8 training days) then count how many total weighted and unweighted reps you performed combined. Let me say this: if it’s over 500, you’re putting yourself at a MAJOR risk. Oh, and I mean 500 weighted and unweighted combined for each movement here. I would seriously be interested in seeing your results with this by the way, so please feel free to post them up or email them to me.
To wrap all this up for today; I have no intention of discouraging people from getting after it in all its CrossFit glory. I personally love the sometimes-insane demands of CrossFit as a sport, training method and community, and enjoy all it has to offer. All I am trying to get across here is that the rapid expansion of the community dilutes the intelligent programming that exists. And without demanding all athletes become fitness experts themselves, all I can do is ask that you NOT settle for being injury prone. Remember, the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. If you keep on following the same programming that is bothering your body, you are going to continue to get injured. And coaches: if your athletes are continuously getting injured, it is NOT because of their lack of focus, it is because of your crappy programming!
There are tons of awesome trainers and coaches out there. I recommend shopping around. Talk to their athletes. Ask them about injuries. If most of the people you talk to seem healthy (and I mean healthy in the sense that they fall into ALL the categories numbered above, not just some), and if your coach/trainer can answer all your questions well, well maybe you found the right place!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Today I was brought back to a topic I have had discussions over for a while now. Brendon (owner and head coach at CrossFit San Mateo) and I were talking programming and the topic of shoulder volume came up. It's a pretty interesting adventure to search through affiliates workouts and see how coaches approach all these intricacies of programming. Let me give you a couple scenarios and we'll talk through them.
Looking at both of these very quickly there's not that much to worry about to be honest. Pretty clear there is a bit of a strength bias, but besides that, typical CrossFit-style programming. Take these relatively different programs and keep a similar progression each week and there you have it folks, classic, common CrossFit.
Well, for those of you who think this is a fine collection of workouts, or for those of you who don't care (yea I realize this is a geek out post, but trust me, the more you understand about programming, the easier it will be to get damn fit!), this is NOT good programming. To be honest, I don't even have to separate the two examples there, they both fail for the same reason. They involve way too much dynamic volume on the shoulders. Break it down and look at it. Example one has high load and dynamic motion with the cleans, then high volume on the same joint thanks to rowing, thrusters and pull ups. Next sessions includes an indirect demand and load on the shoulders with the deadlifts, then even more dynamic volume with burpees and ball slams. And finally, no rest for the crazy fatigued shoulders at this point (although you may not actually FEEL all that fatigued) with more load on presses and yet more volume with muscle ups, wall balls and swings. Yeah, holy shoulders!
Take anther look at workout number two and all of a sudden you'll see the same pattern. Now that your attention has been grabbed, go ahead and search around the around 2500 affiliates out there and just look back at a lot of their programming; you are likely to see a good deal of this. And not to glorify my own programming (although I do spend a CRAP-LOAD of time and take a bit of pride in it), look back through it and you may catch me doing the same thing.
This is CrossFit folks. Real quick, check out the exercises below, and if you are a CrossFitter, let me know if they sound VERY familiar.
Handstand push ups
Presses (strict, push, jerk)
Sumo deadlift high pulls
Variations and modifications of all these
Well, I'm sure all these play a pretty dominant roll in most CrossFit programs, and they all have one thing in common: dynamic shoulder motion. Add one more aspect to the mix: it is very safe to assume that you'll see most of these exercises programmed in the 8 rep range and up (sometimes in the 30, 40 and 50 rep range!). Talk about volume people! To put things in perspective, world class performance specialist Eric Cressey hesitates to prescribe an athlete too much more than 80 reps of shoulder volume PER WEEK. A typical CrossFitter will see anywhere between 100 and 500 reps of shoulder motion each week and that would probably be a very conservative number. Now I don't claim to be a shoulder expert like Cressey (although I am confident in my knowledge of the shoulder and what it can and can't take), but even an athlete who has been trained to have perfectly balanced strength and stability throughout their entire body will inevitably end up with some form of shoulder injury with that kind of volume. The shoulder is made up of great deal of muscles, and most of them pretty small, just imagine what a workout like Angie (100 reps each of pull ups, push ups, sit ups and squats) is actually doing to that poor joint!
Right, so now that I have potentially scared the crap out of some of you, don't go omitting all shoulder work from your program. It's just a matter of being a little smarter, taking the time to actually visualize what you are asking yourself to do each day. This is more than just what you do in the gym, it should also include any other activity you are doing. If you're a climber, or a baseball player, or a swimmer (to name a few) and you just had a crazy intense day with your sport, a workout like Fran (21-15-9 of thrusters and pull ups) is probably not the best thing for you to do. Always be sure to factor in your lifestyle when programming your gym work.
That's step one. The next step would be to chill out with the kipping pull ups. Yeah, yeah, I know all you CrossFitters just dropped your bison jerky to the floor in shock with that comment, but it's true. The kip (and the butterfly kip even more so) is a skill. Besides the fact that it completely and totally crushes the crap out of your shoulder girdle (yep, "crushing the crap out of" is an official medical term...), it's just so much cooler to be able to string together 15+ strict pull ups then to do so while flailing your body around. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of kipping, I love it in fact. But that does not mean I am going to be ignorant enough to think that it is ideal for me to be doing hundreds and hundreds of them without screwing up my shoulders at some point. Learn to control your body through space, strict pull ups are easily the greatest test of body control and strength. Kip more sparingly and only when necessary. On a similar note, besides when doing the annual "Fight Gone Bad" event, try to avoid Sumo Deadlift High Pulls as a regular exercise in any program. Read this article from Whole9 for more on that.
I could write about this for hours but I'll just leave you all with one more step: do not program more than three days in a row of high volume shoulder training. And if you choose to do so, be sure to give them a good three days rest after you crush them. It's easy to spot, just take a week of training (this will look either just like the examples above, or more) and visualize each exercise in each session. Literally count the reps you will be performing on any given joint. And if you find yourself in the hundreds, well, tone it back a smidgen.
CrossFit rocks people! But just like anything in the world, if you do it wrong, your going to screw yourself up. It may not be in the near future, but it's bound to happen. Programming is a very, very serious aspect of good coaching. Of the very few issues I have with CrossFit as a whole, one of them is that too many unqualified people are allowed the power to design programs. Because of this, it should be the duty of not only coaches, but all CrossFtters, to learn more about this stuff and become smarter athletes. Deadlifting 500 and getting a sub-3 Fran is great; but, how great is it really if you end up with a torn labrum and the inability to function comfortably at an old age?
There are a ton of resources out there to learn about all this, and there are more than plenty of awesome coaches out there who truly understand this. If you're a CrossFitter, serious or no, take the time to try to understand what good and bad programming is and make your gym choice accordingly. For more information, here's a bit of advice: go to google, type in "shoulder injury and CrossFit", read away!
Here's to a life of healthy and injury free CrossFitting folks! Email, or post to comments if you have any questions! Oh, and if you feel the need to spread the word on healthy training, forward this post around for goodness sake!
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