Two Great Resources For Learning How To Lift

When you first start CrossFit your coaches are sage-like possessors of wisdom unfathomable. They guide you, teaching you how to control your body so that your heels stay on the ground when you squat, developing your body’s ability to hinge at the hip and keep the spine secure with the infamous “core” muscles, and inundating you with arbitrarily named exercises that are supposed to help you get more fit. 

After a while, you decide that these strangely named exercises are fun and challenging. You want to get better at your snatch and clean and jerk. Unfortunately, your coaches seem to be bothered when you call them at 1130 at night demanding they explain to you intricacies of these movements, so that you can be better prepared for tomorrow’s workout.

No need to panic. Your coaches need sleep, and if you’re up at 1130 the night before working out, so do you. There are some great resources available to you where you can see quality demos of Olympic Weightlifting movements and the accessory work that is commonly paired with this type of training.

The number one resource for all things Olympic weightlifting is Catalyst Athletics. From having the most extensive exercise library I am aware of, to free training programs, to articles that are both informative and engaging, this site simply can not be beat.  All of the information here can be trusted to be accurate and the exercise demos are performed correctly as well.

Another great resource for some really great technique in action is the @hookgrip instagram account. He travels to weightlifting events around the world capturing the absolute best lifters in the world. His videos contain a bit of commentary as well, so you can become familiar with the elite athletes in the sport and become a bit of a fan in the process.

These two should be more than sufficient for anyone new to the sport. Where you want to stay away from is YouTube. Many people have developed the ability to speak clearly and confidently and present poor information in a way that sounds great. With more experience you will learn to discern the difference between those who know what they are talking about, and those who do not. 

Getting started and learning is a fun process. And you only get to be a true beginner once. Make sure to start that process on the right foot by getting quality coaching in your home gym and accessing the best sources available in your free time. Learning the right way initially will keep the progress rolling and eliminate the need for correcting pesky bad habits years down the road.

The Two Phases of the Olympic Lifts: A Beginner's Guide

Weightlifting is an amazing sport that has spawned the development of incredibly intricate technique and training methodology in order to produce continued world class performance by some of the greatest athletes on the planet. We use the training methods for weightlifting in CrossFit because they produce fantastic results for fitness as well. Weightlifting helps us to build strength through complete ranges of motion, develop coordination, increase flexibility (and challenges us to work a little extra on our flexibility outside of the gym). Along with these physical benefits, the challenge of learning the lifts makes them extremely rewarding and fun as well.

Having spent some time around the competitive lifters at Catalyst Athletics I picked up a ton of great information I like to share with my athletes. No one person is going to respond to a single set of cues to become a champion, but finding the right starting point to explain the lifts without over complicating things can really help to facilitate faster learning of these technical lifts from the beginning stages.

When you lift you have to initiate a first pull from the floor, stay over the bar until you finish your explosive drive upward in the second pull, have an accurate and aggressive third pull that leads to a balanced receipt of the bar in the overhead position with the feet landing milliseconds earlier, all the while keeping the body tight enough to support the load yet relaxed enough to move freely and with coordination. What’s more is these movements need to happen naturally and fluidly. Thinking about all these little pieces will create a train wreck for advanced athletes, over complicating things for a beginner will only create confusion and inhibit progress. 

From my experience both coaching and participating in group classes, athletes end up receiving a much abbreviated explanation of all these components in a period of minutes. If you’ve ever been in this overwhelming situation, you know that nothing gets retained and you are then forced to do your best to get the bar above your head any way you can. Down the line, this leads to extremely hard to break bad habits. 

Bad habits and imperfect technique may not sound like a big deal since most people do CrossFit simply to have fun and stay healthy. Trouble is, because it is fun, people stick with CrossFit for months and years. Eventually, when deciding to get better at lifting, you will have a million bad habits to break and work through. A greater understanding of the two basic phases that take place during the classic lifts is really easy to teach and can go a long way into getting folks moving in the right direction. 

Phase one is when the bar moves upwards. This phase is performed with the strength of the legs. The arms simply hold the bar in place, and perform zero work in the capacity of raising the bar away from the ground. Quality coaching plus effort from the athlete is of course required, but from this standpoint both coach and athlete can be on the same page and work to progress from a shared starting point. 

Phase two is moving the body down and around the bar. This happens after phase one and is the cause of the abrupt change of direction necessary to perform the lifts successfully at heavier and heavier loads. The arms are the driver of this phase, pulling hard in an effort to move the body underneath the bar, rather than raise it up. 

A general understanding of the goal of the snatch and clean and jerk can go a long way in helping to understand what is supposed to happen. Once you have this basic understanding additionals cues and components can be layered with an understanding that the overall goal remains the same. Up with the legs, down with the arms.

If you go back up to the photo of Lu Xiaojun at the top you can see in the first 8 frames is all phase 1 and then the next 3 frames constitute phase 2. Phase 2 is clearly fast. The rest is just stabilizing the bar and standing up.

Gaining Skills and Making Progress

With the Open wrapping up everyone is excited about their fitness in a way many never have been before. Skills like muscle ups and handstand pushups are in the spotlight at the moment and folks are primed to get their first reps and make some new PR’s. It’s important at times like this to understand how skills develop and that there are correct ways to go about developing your physical abilities.

The first thing to remember is that capacity matters. If you are not strong enough to lift a weight, or if your lungs are not powerful enough to sustain intensity, you are going to need to fix these issues to achieve your goals. Many individuals had trouble with the thrusters of 16.5 simply because 95 lbs is over half of their best front squat. With this basic example it is easy to see that building your squat strength could significantly improve your capacity to handle this specific test.

Another good example is the kipping muscle up. While there were no muscle ups on rings this year, it is still a popular time to start looking up those two circles and imagining what the view is like from on top of them. The fastest way up on top is to kip and that’s what most folks set out to do, huck themselves upwards with all their effort  and hope for the best. The problem is most people don’t have the strength to even do a solid ring dip with full range of motion.

While the thrusters may have simply sucked for those who had to persevere through a challenging and relatively tough weight for them, the muscle up becomes incredibly dangerous at high speed without the required strength. Lifting a bunch of weights and practicing support positions on rings for several months is the best approach for developing the capacity to do a muscle up. Grow strong and things requiring strength work better. Simple.

Once you have the capacity to perform any skill you still have to learn to do the skill correctly. Fortunately, the two can be developed together. Pairing upper body strength development with ground based muscle up transition work will develop the motor patterning necessary and, as the strength reaches the required level, the only thing left is the application.

While the muscle up is flashy and has become a common benchmark for one’s efficacy as a fitness athlete, it is relatively easy compared to other exercises common to CrossFit. Learning Olympic weightlifting is an extremely intricate and time consuming process. From the basics of doing a consistent solid squat in training to nailing the classic lifts at heavy percentages, this is a process that can not be rushed. Spending hours, months, and years working the variations of snatch and clean and jerk along with supplementary exercises is how lifting is improved. Attempts can be made to rush or circumvent this process and achieve some level of success, but they will always pale in comparison to those who dedicate themselves to following a consistent program and putting in the hard work.

This year many individuals will build the ability to do amazing things. Many more can achieve those same skills and much more if they can commit to developing their capacity and honing their technique. Commit to working on the basics and developing sound strength and movement patterns and you will continue to grow towards your true potential.

Training vs. Testing

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CrossFit is a wonderful thing. It has brought a love of fitness to the general public as never seen before. Just a few years ago running and aerobics were considered fitness in and of themselves. Now we are finding there are countless ways to achieve fitness. The credit goes to CrossFit for creating the awareness around weightlifting, adult gymnastics, strongman and other lesser known fitness and sporting activities that can be great additions to a well-rounded exercise regimen.

With this inherited awareness of new fitness modalities comes a great responsibility to the coaches who are as excited as the athletes about these new and engaging elements in our programs. It is important for us to remember that while CrossFit is new and exciting, the strength and conditioning methods employed for the training are not. Mixing together haphazard circuits in the name of intensity is a one way path to injury and stagnation.

In order to increase fitness across this broad spectrum that CrossFit has defined for us, we must be practical and take into consideration certain truths of training that can at times be bent, but may never be broken. One such truth is that a structure will only ever be as stable as it’s base. 

Driving people into a high-intensity randomized program without the prerequisite strength and mobility to properly support these activities doesn’t build anything. It works for 3-6 months because beginners make progress no matter what they do. Plus, as beginners, most individuals are too weak and deconditioned to hurt themselves or push too hard even in the face of aggressive programming.

The traditional CrossFit “WOD” is a test of fitness. Popular workouts like “Fran” and “Diane” are beautiful and ground-breaking tests of fitness. They challenge the body’s energy systems and coordination in ways that have never been formally challenged before. The interesting thing about these tests is that while they require basic skills to be able to perform them, paired together they are devastating, but without the required skill and strength they are simply unachievable. And when scaled, completely lose the intended intensity of the original workout. 

Here’s the point of all this. If you can only deadlift 200 lbs and can’t do a handstand pushup, doing “Diane” over and over again with a 95# deadlift and scaling handstand pushups with your feet on a box will never get you to the prescribed weights and movement standards. Never. It will however lead to repetitive use injuries and poor form in the attempt to get more out of your limited bank of strength and skill in order to scribble your name a little higher towards the top of a whiteboard. 

If you want to be remain borderline injured and have trouble tying your own shoes in the morning and picking up your child when you get home at night, have at it. It is super fun and challenging. There is nothing like the feeling of going hard and surviving a workout that seemed impossible before starting and made you think you could seriously die during it. It is addicting and has contributed to the large amount of type A personalities that flock to boxes worldwide to get their fix and burn off the stress of the day.

If you’re like me and find these workouts fantastic, but hate being hurt, and at the same time want to improve in all facets of fitness, there is a better way. We can train. It isn’t always sexy and at times can get a bit repetitive. It requires assessments and tests and formulation of a structured plan to eliminate imbalances, cultivate strengths, and develop skills. Sometimes you may even take a rest day.

We must check our egos, we must maintain consistent schedules, we must trust our coaches plans and stick with them through from beginning to end. This is how improvements are made, both in fitness and all other walks of life as well. 



5 Key Components of Post-Workout Nutrition

5 Key Components of Post-Workout Nutrition

Figuring out what to eat after you workout can be overwhelming - How much do I eat?  When should I eat?  What if I’m too busy to plan ahead?  Keep it simple and sane with the following 5 key components…

1.    Meal Composition

  • To refuel and recover, you need easily digestible sources of protein and carbohydrates

    • Trying to lean out?  Focus primarily on protein after your workout

    • Doing multiple workouts a day, just finished a really high intensity workout, and/or trying to build muscle?  Focus on including protein and carbohydrates after your workout

  • But where’s the fat?  Fats are a very important part of your daily nutrition, but they digest slowly (which is why they help keep you full and satisfied).  Fat’s slow digesting quality makes it something you want to limit in the meals after you workout so that your body can get the protein and carbohydrates it needs.  Plan ahead to get your fats into your other meals during the day!

2.    Meal Timing

  • When it comes to post-workout nutrition, sooner is better.  After a high intensity workout, your muscles been damaged and used glycogen (how carbohydrates are stored in your muscles). To repair and replenish, they need protein and glucose as fast as possible.  Try to eat something within 20 minutes of working out, then have the next meal in your day (breakfast, lunch, or dinner - depending when you workout) within 2 hours of finishing your exercise, focusing again on protein and carbohydrates.

3.    Meal Size

  • Your body can only process certain amounts of protein and carbohydrates at a time, which is why you want to give it small, easily digestible portions after you workout (this is why you probably don’t feel ready to eat a giant steak and a bowl of beans in the 20 minutes after you finish a high intensity workout)

  • Specific nutritional requirements post-workout depend on just about everything: your size, goals, and how hard you worked out.  Try to include 15 - 35 grams of protein and about 30 - 100 grams of carbohydrates.

4.    Meal Choices

Your carbohydrate sources should be high in glucose.  If you’re looking at nutritional information, a good tip is look for something with carbohydrates but low sugars, or think of carbohydrate sources that don’t taste sweet.

Mix and match from the suggestions below:

Fast Digesting Carbohydrate Sources

  • Sweet potato

  • White potato

  • Plantain

  • Cooked white rice

  • Bread

  • Bagel

  • Oats

Protein Sources

  • High quality whey protein powder

  • Chicken breast

  • Fish

  • Bison

  • Lean ground beef

  • Low fat greek yogurt

  • Low fat cottage cheese

5.    Implementation

To put this all in practice, keep an open mind and try to plan ahead.

  • Try some of the principles outlined above and tweak them based on how your body responds.  Don’t like dairy?  Don’t choose dairy as a protein source.  Can’t handle gluten?  Choose gluten free carb sources.  Almost threw up after your last post-workout meal?  Try eating a little less next time and/or waiting a couple of extra minutes.  Adjust and personalize as needed, and remember that the foods in #4 are just suggestions.

  • Try to plan ahead so you don’t find yourself going hungry (hangry?) after a workout.  Batch prepare carb sources for the week and keep a tub of protein and a shaker cup in the car.