Sunday, November 20, 2011

Keep my mind limber

"Of course! My thinking about this case had become so uptight."

Here's some light reading: the 3 P's

And here's some heavy shit: the Fallacy of Technique

I earnestly and respectfully suggest that if you teach one of the disciplines we are always talking about here (BJJ, Judo, MMA, Weightlifting, Crossfit) that you give the two articles above an open-minded read.

If you have followed my blog for 2-3 years, you probably know that I have been preaching a similar idea: Has to be real
Rhadi Ferguson: The technical Myth

So, Matt Thornton, Cane Prevost, Rhadi Ferguson and I are all saying closely aligned things, and I think the most important thing to take away from this is that it's probably about 90 to 180 degrees out of step with the way Judo and BJJ are taught. In a previous post I commented on how most 'drills' in martial arts classes are ill-suited to the ability they intend to improve. Well, I think Cane's posts above really put a great framework around 'ne waza' to help folks look at their training another way.

I think I am a pretty intelligent guy, but my go to 'conflict deference' technique at most of the BJJ schools I frequent is to show up late so I don't have to 'learn techniques', and if that's not possible or practical then I feign the mental incapacity to possibly learn new techniques because they are too hard or too technical or something. This might sound totally ass backwards, but the truth is, as a super duper 10 stripe white belt, I don't need to know how to set up a heel hook from deep half. In fact, with my Judo background, I received my first real introduction to plain old half guard posture/pressure just a few months ago.

So, that's what's wrong. I don't really belong to one school; I have a standing invitation to train at a few whenever I want, which is a WONDERFUL BLESSING. This means that one night a week, I train at one place. Another 2-3 nights I train at another. And then once a week I take privates from a black belt. So, attending classes, about 3 times a week, what I observe is a constant stream of random, overly technical shit that is highly specific. Seriously. ALL THE TIME I see BJJ instructors do 20 minutes of exhausting warm ups (post for another time) and then the first thing they say is something like "So,OK. When you are doing de la Riva and the guy pops off your heel in the hip, this is what I want you to do."

Seriously? Who the fuck is this instructor talking to? Odds are, there's 1-2 blue belts that are working there way through that type of guard game, but even they are only going to get so much out of it... I mean if you read what Cane and Rhadi are saying it should be clear that you don't need ANOTHER technique. What you need to ask is 'why does my opponent always succeed in popping my heel off their hip?'. Everyone skips right to technique or 'possibilities' as Cane would put it without discussing what is going on at the posture or pressure levels. In all likelihood, some live drills that helped ALL the students to understand what the posture issues are for the top and bottom guy would probably clear up the problem well. The reason you are losing one aspect of your posture is probably because you aren't applying enough pressure. The reason you are having to counter your loss of de la Riva is because your de la Riva is weak, not because you need to know more techniques!

In all likelihood, less techniques and more purposeful practice will probably go a very long way. In Chinese martial arts there is a saying, "I don't fear the fighter who has practiced 1000 techniques, I fear the fighter that has practiced one technique 1000 times".

One thing that I like about Judo is that some of the underlying culture of the art helps to reinforce my way of thinking somewhat. There are between 40 and 60 something techniques in judo officially, depending on who you ask. It's assumed that you can reproduce most of them by the time you get to black belt, and it's frequently argued that you need maybe 1000-1500 hours on the mat to make that happen (5 hours a week for 4 years should do it). Given this assumption, most new judoka will learn 20-30 of the techniques in their first 6 months of judo, and the remainder will show themselves eventually. However, in many Judo clubs, there's not much discussion outside of possibly a dozen throws that represent probably 90% of all scoring techniques in the IJF. Thusly, white belts and black belts BOTH assume that when they go to judo practice that night, they will practice seoi nage and harai goshi and o uchi gari for instance. And even though every white belt knows o uchi gari, rarely will a black belt complain about practicing o uchi gari again.
In spite of all this, I see Judo teachers say to a room full of yellow belts "This one is for you more advanced guys" every time I see them teach. Who is this guy talking to?

My case in a way is a 'Galapagos' case study. I began judo in 2005, and I trained my ass off as best I could for two years, barring a few injuries and what not. I'd say I wracked up about 70-80 weeks of 6-10 hours per week type training in 50/50 stand up and ne waza. Then I moved to Richmond Va, where my options for Judo training were severely limited. I would say at this point that my reception of outside instruction all but stopped entirely. Especially as pertains to stand up. On the ground, I have had no formal instruction for quite some time outside of occasional interludes of intense private instruction, which have been major breakthrough points for me, but have been tailored to my own game and my own way of learning (I force my instructors to teach me as little as possible in one session). I say 'galapagos' to refer to Darwin's discovery of isolated species of birds that had widely diverse characteristics. So, in a way, I learned Judo ground work up to about the Gokyu or Yonkyu level as far as techniques are concerned. Then I mostly stopped adding techniques to this except where some private BJJ instruction intervened. My understanding of posture and pressure in the basics that Judo and BJJ share have grown nicely over the last 5 years. I think I perform at a BJJ blue belt level when it comes to kesa gatame, side control and reverse kesa. However, I perform at a very low beginner level in butterfly guard, half guard etc. If someone starts butt scooting, I am pretty bad at dealing with it. No one has ever explained to me the strengths and weaknesses of this posture, or what objectives I should have in acting against it. It's only been in the last few months that an instructor has begun to spell some of this stuff out for me, and it's been in a private training instruction setting where I bring it up.

So that is what is wrong. If I were waiting, I can't tell you how long I might continue to wait to simply get lucky and have an instructor go over the vary basics of the positions that I am unfamiliar with. The irony however is I have observed instructors berate their students for not executing X or Y action that the instructor has never really taught.

I sense that grappling instructors feel as though they are under considerable pressure to teach fancy shit and teach new shit as frequently as possible. This could be for a number of reasons. I do say that I see most instructors pride themselves on how they 'teach technique', but I can't help but think that this simply perpetuates the 'encyclopedic technique collection' approach to grappling, which in my mind is just shit. I mean I am a rank amateur, but I have had plenty of experiences where I was doing the one or two things that I was good at (the positions that I have a firm grasp of posture, pressure) and submissions I have never done before simply revealed themselves to me because I was in total control.

The best things about these arts are that at the end of the day, most of what the best guys in the world are doing is the shit you learn before your first rank test. True in Judo, true in BJJ. Hell, it's true in Crossfit; you are going to learn to squat and do pull ups early on, and frankly, if you want to be a bad ass, just keep practicing those. Do them well, do them heavy, and you can do whatever you want. If you can escape from most pins, sweep to a dominant position, and put pressure on someone until they do retarded shit to escape, than submitting them will likely take care of itself mostly. I think it's more important to understand how a sliding collar choke actually works than it is to learn a bazillion variations of it. You can make up your own crazy variations on the fly if you get the principles. But if you are just mimicking or replaying techniques from the library then you are probably screwed when some little thing is different from the script.

We should talk some other time about how coaching (objectives, goal setting) and teaching (3 P's) interact to facilitate learning, retention and performance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

You don't go out looking for a job dressed like that? On a weekday?

Or... "What's so wrong with a Hard Routine?"

Let me preface this by saying, if you want the short version of this rant, it's "Why are you here?". As a coach, and a business owner, I've worked hard to figure out what I am presenting to you, the consumer, and why. I know why I am here. As a general approach to problem solving, I feel that if you don't identify objectives, then frankly your chances of 'success' are pretty dismal. I mean, what is success if you have no definition? Sometimes that can work. Sometimes, "I'll know it when I see it" can be an appropriate approach to long term life goals. But generally speaking it's a miserable way to go about training.

So, what do I provide? I provide technical expertise. Sure. But more importantly, I provide an environment. A culture. An attitude. A mindset. I coach athletes. In Crossfit generally, the term 'athlete' is thrown about pretty liberally. I use 'athlete' to describe a type of person, and it only has a little bit to do with performance. Being an athlete is about 'Gameness'. Athletes by my definition are committed to improvement, and willing to do what it takes to achieve progress and to bring a competitive best effort to as many events as possible. They want to win, whatever that may mean to them, and they try to hard to win. They act accordingly.

So, why are you here? Presumably, it's to get the things you want. Presumably you know what that is. Not being an expert, I don't expect you to say: "I want to increase my Sinclair total and lower my LDL to under 120 mg/DL". However, I DO expect you to tell me that your doctor told you that your cholesterol was getting too high and you want to be stronger. Those are measurements of health and fitness, and that's my business. I can tell you right up front whether or not that is a service we provide and what's realistic to expect.

I also understand that you are here for an experience; I acknowledge that my gym, and Crossfit generally, is engaged in the 'experience economy'. Like those who spend their excess income on cooking classes, vacations, Yoga and psychotherapy, Crossfitters are buying life experiences just like other american consumers. If you're looking for a building with weights in it, there's a globo gym within 3 miles of your house. That's not what I am selling. I am selling coaching and an athletic environment. I am selling the experience of the hard routine, and I am not going to settle for selling a shitty one at that. The experience that we offer is that of empowering yourself by submitting to a hard routine. One that challenges you more days than not. One that requires commitment, one that will not give freely what is not earned. To be honest, in our daily lives in America, most of us take a lot for granted. We have a lot, and much of it we didn't have to work terribly hard for. Crossfit is a treasure because it is a meritocracy: you know exactly what you are or are not capable of and much of it has to do with how hard you work for how long. Outside the gym, everyone gets a participation award. No one is a loser. At Crossfit you are usually a loser most days. This is the way it should be. Until you can earnestly say that you are more fit than 99% of people out there, you don't need someone telling you you are.

This is what I mean when I ask, "why are you here?". I offer coaching and access to the experience of the hard routine. This may not be what you want, but it's likely what you need. If you acknowledge that you are here to buy this experience, then you will likely do well. Eventually. If you are here to use my weights, you likely won't be renewing your membership, and frankly, that's OK with me. As a coach, I try to understand what you have and what you don't have. I try to help you gain what you need, not what you want (See Joshu below). In my mind, this is what a coach is, and what an athlete needs. It's true: I don't offer many pats on the back, many at-a-boys etc. "This is what you did right, this is what needs improvement. This is how we will do better next time." This is the process every day.

The first time I heard the expression "Hard Routine" it was from Pavel. I can't remember exactly what he was talking about, but generally it was the idea that the most radically transformative programs (whether mentally or physically) were the most grueling, demanding and austere. He seemed to embrace the necessity of this from time to time. I have seen since that it's a common expression amongst special forces to describe the discipline with which they conduct themselves professionally. This is of particular note, because it says almost explicitly that these guys see the professionalism and discipline that most soldiers display and they scoff at their slack asses. Given that Pavel was supposedly a trainer for the Spetsnaz I guess it's a pretty universal premise. It seemed perfectly natural to me after having spent a half year on a mountain with the shaolin monks. There I observed the differences in progress and performance between the students that devoted themselves to 'the system' and those who just got by.

I suppose my experience in routines 'hard' as such has shaped my coaching style somewhat. I have to admit, as a personal trainer in the average gym, my approach was different before leaving for China than what it is today (after a few years of trying to train 10-20 people a day and having seen various elite athletics teams train). It's something of a joke amongst friends, acquaintances and clients that I can be anywhere from:

not nurturing

a dick

That always makes me chuckle. For a couple of reasons. I guess it depends on your definition of nurturing. I tend to think of nurturing as 'facilitating growth', not making you feel better. I love my clients and I work my ass off to come up with the best system for them. For 10+ years, I have wanted very badly to be as strong as I can be for my size and to learn martial arts. The lengths to which I have gone to get stronger have included intense training programs that involved lifting twice a day or more, working through or until injuries, being treated like shit by coaches and athletes stronger than me so that I could stay under their guidance or environment long enough to learn from them and more. I have blown thousands of dollars on DVDs, workshops, certifications and classes and coaching sessions. I have traveled all over the country. I have spent hundreds of hours in college weight rooms and have gone 10's of thousands of dollar in debt to get a college degree. ALL OF IT FOR MIXED RESULTS. Sometimes experiences were worth it, sometimes they weren't. But I typically paid out the ass in some way or the other for both.

That's what I did for strength. Multiply all that again for martial arts. I have changed my work schedule, quit jobs, saved up $1,000's to leave for China for half a year, gone to any number of tournements and schools, bought DVDs, went to camps and seminars and so on just like above, and just like above, I took the good with the bad, and just like above, there was at least as much bad as good, and I just HAD TO SWALLOW IT ALL. It was far from perfect, but I had to accept that and make the best of it. If you haven't had the pleasure of learning something complex, difficult and dangerous from an asian, you should really try it. Then come back and tell me I'm a dick.

What I do as a coach and a business person is I try to distill this process down to convey the best things I learned, while helping my clients avoid a lot of the bullshit and unnecessary pitfalls that befell me. And there's a lot of bullshit out there. In light of all this, I have to admit that there are times that I envy my clients. I wish I were them. I wish I was the one in class, getting coaching, and training with others and being taught what's important and what's a waste of time directly, instead of having to learn the hard way. Sometimes I get feedback that I am not flexible enough or that our policies at the gym are hard to comply with. I have a hard time hearing that something we do is not accessible, because I have seen the alternative: Most gurus out there are more charlatan than expert, and what they offer is often more expensive and less valuable than what we are laying out. I know because I had to 'wander through the woods' stumbling past many of them. Let me be clear: every learning experience I have had has offered me less substance for more cost than what I offer today in my coaching/teaching. That is my mission statement; that is where I am coming from. I know that eventually our business will succeed because we offer a better value than anyone else out there.

The only compromises I ever make in our coaching and training system have everything to do with market realities. In essence, my gym would be better, but that would scare off too many potential clients. I have changed the way we structure beginners' classes, how we bring people in for trials, how we handle payments and other issues to make it easier and more convenient to start training with us. Honestly, much of it is irrelevant. Even if ALL my prices are listed on my webpage, the number one question I get on the phone is "How much does it cost?" I can't tell you the temptations that run through my head, the possible sarcastic responses that leap immediately to the frontal cortex. Is it unreasonable for me to doubt the prospects of a potential student who won't make the effort to navigate an additional page in to our website to try and answer some of his own questions?

When I was 21 years old I began bartending under two GREAT mentors: Johnny Dollar and JD Doyle. These professionals had been working in hospitality for longer than I had been alive, and they were experienced enough to have a system. I was lucky. JD was known around Atlanta as being something of a 'populist' wine expert: a genius at making great wines accessible to consumers of moderate means instead of only the rich elite snobby types. As an Irish guy from south Boston with a mouth like a sailor and the look of a Popeye with no hair, he would never be mistaken for a snob. But he understood wine and he made a profound observation about it that I think can be generalized to other subjects. I paraphrase:

"All the best wines come from shitty soil; the vines have to struggle to bear fruit to make truly exceptional wine."

I was trolling through the Judoforum a few weeks back, and someone started a thread about little things that made big differences in people's practice. Ie, knowing what you know now, what would judoka tell beginners were the easiest ways to make the biggest improvements in their judo. I'd say the two most popular answers were:
1. Show up
2. Don't be late

Last quote, then I am done;

A monk told Joshu, "I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me."

Joshu asked, "Have you eaten your rice porridge?

The monk replied, "I have eaten."

Joshu said, "Then you had better wash your bowl."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New Shit Has Come to Light

In the discipline of motor behavior, learning or control (what have you), academics subdivide motor activities in to a number of categories. Some of the most fundamental are as follows:

Open vs Closed
Within this paradigm, movements fall in along a continuum from open at one end to closed on the other. A movement that is 'closed' or occurs within a closed environment is one in which there are a limited number of external variables, and the movement is relatively predictable, as is the environment in which it occurs. Think bowling. The ball, the floor, the lane, they are always the same, and hence you can be fairly certain of what to expect when you attempt to perform. The only thing that really changes is internally within the performer, sometimes they have a good shot, sometimes a bad shot.
A movement that is open or more aptly a performance environment that is open is one in which there are many variables outside the control of the performer, and as such they must react correctly to changing stimuli, often on short notice to make adjustments to their regular techniques that fit the changing environment or movements made by their opposition.

Discrete, Serial or Continuous
Researchers and academics also break movements down based upon their beginning and end points within the context.
Discrete movements are essentially singular and irreducible, and begin and end with one motion.
Serial movements are comprised of several connected movements that progress towards a final goal.
Continuous movements are cyclical and ongoing in nature, with no clear beginning or end point.

Example: Crossfit.
In Crossfit, the pull up happens in a closed environment. The rules are always the same, the environment relatively stable and you choose when the rep begins and ends.
How you do the movement determines what type of skill it is:
Deadhangs are like discrete movements; up, down, done.
Swinging Kip Pull Ups are serial, in that you arch, hollow, kip with the hips, pull to the bar, push off the bar, and swing back in to your next rep.
Butterfly Kips are continuous: you're elliptical path is smooth, and an outside observer can not distinguish the beginning from the end and the only real constraints are when you choose to start and stop.

Example: Grappling.
In Judo or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, there are a lot of drills and training methods that are used 'just because'. Often, the purported reason for doing a drill is to get better at a particular type of technique in randori, rolling or competition.
For example, many BJJ and Judo schools teach the armbar, one from the guard and one from mount. They often teach a drill to help get better at the armbar, to make it more 'automatic'. While it's true that a great number of repetitions of a movement will enhance the automaticity with which it's performed, only within the context within which its practiced. Hence, in order to transfer, the domains and movement types MUST match. Therefore, if a skill is open and serial, but your drill is closed and discrete, the transference will be minimal at best. In fact, there's a strong chance that there will be some interference or negative consequences to your mismatch of training and application. So that we're all on the same page, here's a video to make it clear:

As you can see in the video above, there are different ways to look at and drill the armbar in practice situations, but in the context of application, the armbar is OPEN and SERIAL. In order for Marissa to set up an armbar she has to either force her opponent to react or she must respond to the actions of her opponent. Keith may try to pass, may lose his balance, may commit his arms to certain grips. Marissa must sense these changes in the environment and adjust accordingly, and the matter of executing the arm lock itself never magically appears, it's also after a set up: securing the arm, controlling the upper body, aligning the legs then locking the elbow.

So, what's my point?

My point is this: We all want our practice to make us better at the tasks we want to do. In sport those tasks are almost always of a competitive and open variety. In one way, martial arts that include sparring are already a step ahead, as non-cooperative sparring accounts for much of this training need. Non-cooperative sparring is always open by nature.

But what about the other hour of class, the one you spend drilling? Are hundreds of uchikomis and 20 minutes of drills like the continuous armbar making you a better fighter?

The answer is a complex one. The short answer is yes, a little. The long answer is something more like: While repetitive closed drills of a discrete or continuous nature likely won't make you WORSE as a fighter, they are liking doing very little to make you better.

Most martial arts are taught in a format like this:
1. Let me show you this move
2. You try it out, slow and without resistance
3. You spar, and hope you think to do that move during sparring
4. Some weeks later you are expected to do it well in repetitive drilling
(5. One day you will do it naturally during sparring)

Depending on who your teacher is or where you train, each of these segments may take up varying proportions of your time. They all play necessary roles within the framework of going from not knowing them at all to correct placement of automatic movements. In the beginning, you absolutely have to have the movements shown to you. After this, you will go through a period where simply remember the order of the steps is the main focus of your practice. Once you no longer struggle to simply remember the movement, then you want to get better at it: do it faster, more precisely, with more force or better timing. Once you 'know' the movement, then you have to apply the movement within the environment of sparring. That's where things start getting tricky. That's also when the motor learning side of things goes from the purely mechanical to the cognitive: you have to sense changes, perceive what they mean, interpret the relevant information to you, choose a response and then execute that response.

Most martial arts instructors do a good job of showing you techniques. They themselves are technical masters of these movements, and can demonstrate to you how to do them correctly in great detail. Many students are adept at mimicking these movements within the context of drilling. They can replicate the motions well after a short period of practice like this. The hard part comes when it's time to show you how, when and where to apply those techniques. How do you know when it's time to try and stick your foot in the hip, turn and go for it?

One answer is to incorporate drills that require decisions. For instance, perhaps you can still drill the armbar from the closed guard, but your partner can attempt two different passes. Each will require a different correct response to set up an armbar as an answer to their attempt to pass.

As simple as this drill is, it's still infinitely better (1 vs 0) than the continuous armbar drill showed at the end of the first section of the video, at least in terms of perception, decision making and reaction time. This is a good time to introduce the concept of degrees of freedom: the number of possible outcomes or choices. In reality, BJJ contains hundreds of degrees of freedom and as such is probably one of the most cognitively rich sports out there. In terms of drilling, simply going from only one possible answer (closed) to two or more (open) instantly enhances the experience of the trainee. Due to the open nature of the sport, an athlete with poor movements but sound cognitive skills will likely fair better in sparring and competition. Obviously combining both would make for a superior athlete.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lies My Weightlifting Coach told me

Or the less controversial subtitle:

Or the least controversial truth: Different generalizations can be made about different populations.

SO. The traditional wisdom in weightlifting is that one's clean and snatch can be predicted via their back squat. IE, the higher the squat, the higher the total. Obviously, any coach would concede that their are technical elements that contribute to success or failure, particularly stability, depth and speed in the front and overhead squat as well as speed in the third pull.

What exercises are best to supplement the traditional lifts, on an individual or case by case basis is an appropriate argument to have specifically. But to suggest anything other than back squats as the king of exercises generally would be tantamount to heresy. Or so the traditional wisdom goes. It wasn't whether or not back squats were great, it was always whether or not you also needed front squats, or overhead squats, or pulls or power variations for instance.

Various systems of training have argued the relative contribution of the back squat rather than it's necessity. In the Sportivny press, Charniga argues that (due to the high competitive success of athletes who do a greater volume of the full lifts and lesser volumes of back squats) "There does not appear to be any scientific support in the literature for the notion that a "squat routine" (a specific loading in squats for the purpose of achieving higher results in this exercise) would be integral part of the training of weightlifters (2001)". His stance that excessive squatting (12-21% of volume being typical, 15% common amongst successful lifters) will be detrimental to performance sticks out, particularly in america where the back squat is a favorite amongst not only weightlifters, but also powerlifters and other strength athletes.

Ivanov has argued that 127% of your Clean and Jerk would be sufficient leg strength, where as Roman suggested that athletes would be able to Clean and Jerk about that ratio, and Snatch about 80% of their C&J. Basically, most experienced coaches are relating the competitive lifts as some percentage of the back squat. In a recent comment I observed from Glen Pendlay online, he argued that some athletes are C&J'ing weights as high as 100% of back squat, and this was due to (in my understanding of his comments) to the specificity of their training, as well as their technical superiority as compared to novices. I am not sure what to make of this assertion exactly, as many of the citations above were made by russians in laboratory like settings measuring world and olympic champions. This leads me to conclude that most likely where some discrepancies derive from is not content, but rather in labeling and/or measuring.

Furthermore, Pendlay's statements bring to light the role of EXPERIENCE, which is really what I wanted to talk about. The argument that the more experienced the lifter, the more individual strengths and weaknesses matter, and the more specialized training methods are required is to me as simple as stating that training must go from more general to more specific or from easier to harder. DUH.

I have observed in my own students, that over time they go through phases were different things matter, but to be honest NONE of them can be considered advanced, elite, or to have achieved technical mastery or their potential yet. These phases are as follows:
  1. The bent over RDL-High Pull Reverse Curl Tall clean phase
  2. The football power reverse curl
  3. the mature pull to power clean
  4. the "shit, I needed to squat lower" phase
It's not until they reach stage four (6-24 months after initiating training for most) that they begin to understand why I have been harping on the front squat and their elbows for the last two years.

for fuck's sake

It's at this stage, that more than the back squat, the ability to do the front squat (in the clean) or the overhead squat (in the snatch) in excess of what they were doing in their power variations determines their advancement as a lifter. Those athletes who can front squat more than the power clean keep pushing their PRs up, and it's the same with the OHS and snatch.

Thusly, for beginners, I have always felt that the most relevant lift to predict weightlifting performance was not the squat, but rather the deadlift. Until they get to the stage where they are squatting truly under the bar and under parallel to catch and are no longer power cleaning/snatching, the deadlift represents the raw capacity to elevate the bar from the floor.

Important caveat; I understand that a clean pull is not a deadlift. And I can verbalize all the reasons why. But without significant training time, this does not change the behaviors or outcomes of my beginning crossfitters. They bend down, and they pull the bar up, hard and fast. They catch it high. That's just the way it is, and it stays that way for a few weeks or a few months.

So, when we are talking about novice competitive lifters, who have their own weightlifting shoes, and they snatch over bodyweight and they back squat like they front and overhead, then yes, I agree, 80% and 60% of back squat is a good standard for them. Those numbers just so happen to correspond to the typical ratio novice weightlifters tend to experience between the squats too. Coincidence?

And finally, when it comes to Crossfitters, beginning weightlifters who are not specialists, who enjoy the lifts about as much as they enjoy skin the cats and 2000m rows, well, if you want those guys to clean and snatch more, BRING UP THEIR DEADLIFT. If you want them to continue to make progress past the 1-2 year mark, you better make sure that they are concurrently improving their skills in the front squat and overhead squat. But don't fool yourself: Until they get much better, the deadlift is the best way to get them to lift more in their muscle cleans and power snatches.

And here's the proof: Taken from my record board, I have run SPSS on about 25 of my clients who have 1RM data for at least most of the following lifts:
Front Squat
Overhead Squat

In a regression analysis incorporating the deadlift, front squat and back squat it was determined that you could predict about 94% of the variation amongst clean performance with these three lifts.

In the regression, deadlifts were significant at p=.038, whereas squats (front and back) where not at p=.39 and p=.37 respectively. The correlation between deadlift and clean amongst this group was r=.961. As you can see from this analysis, deadlifting was much more predictive of current outcomes than squatting was. This is not to say that it's time to turn the weightlifting world upside down, and that Chigishev needs to bring his DL up to 600kgs if he wants to take Rezazedah in the snatch.

What it does mean, is that if it's your first year of Crossfitting, and your DL is still not that great, you can do squat snatches from the high hang with an empty bar til yer blue in the face, but the guy that's hitting his 5x5s in the deadlift is going to crush you at most met cons. When I am not working from my laptop and I have more sophisticated screen shot takers and editing stuff, I will put up the outputs from SPSS so you can see the data directly, and I will also publish the same analysis of the snatch.

The gist of it is this: give or take a few (like 5) per cent, your deadlift predicts your clean and snatch like this:

Clean= 52% of DL

Snatch=38% of DL

So, wanna do Isabel as Rx'ed? Get your DL over at least 355lbs (opening up that 135lb power snatch). Wanna do Isabel fast? Make sure that Rx'ed is less than 70% of your max, or in DL terms, make sure you can DL 507lbs.

For the first year or two, it really is that simple. I highly recommend Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline to help you bring up your DL fast, if you can't train in person with me.

(I am an expert)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"How you gonna keep em down on the Farm once they've seen Carl Hungus?"

So, thus begins my series of observations and lamentations on coaching, teaching and learning.

For the summer, I have a new student: a temporary client, on loan to me from another affiliate where this student normally lives most of the year (her college town). If I recall correctly, she has been Crossfitting for approximately one year.

First off, she seems like a great client/trainee: she has a positive attitude, she shows up ready to work. At first glance, she is young (still college aged), cute and not out of shape. Please understand that this HELPS the atmosphere around the gym to have people of all shapes and sizes, but it's human nature that most people would rather be around people like her, than angry old fat men.

Here's the rub; she's already been tainted by another system. Let me explain.

Today is Thursday, and Monday and Wednesday were her first nights. So I am writing this the following morning, and these are simply my first impressions, but to be fair, there is nothing unique about this particular client or this situation. Because she's new to our gym and we haven't had time to have her 'test out' I placed her in the lower of our two levels of classes (for now, as was explained when she enrolled). The workout on Monday was Power to the People deadlifts, then 2 sets of presses, and then some midline stabilization conditioning. Last night was 5x5 in the front squat. I was not her coach during Monday night, but I was for Wednesday night. It was a full class, and due to some recent classes the other five students who are ALL rank amateurs, had 1, 3 or 5 reps maxes for their front squat. I asked if our new girl did too (she's been training for a year). She said she didn't know exactly off the top of her head, so I asked for a ball park. Unwilling to estimate, she volunteered to go to her car and get her training log (SWEET!). When she returned, the most recent record she could locate for doing 'strength work' on the front squat was a workout from several months back where she performed 20, 15, and 10 repetitions with a 45lb barbell. That was it. That was what she had: a 10 rep max, performed presumably 2-5 minutes after a 20 reps max.

Not to be discouraged, I offered, "You can lift with X, and just start really low weight and go up as fast as you feel comfortable/can maintain technique". Which is what she did. I believe she started somewhere around 42lbs (10kg bar+training wheels). It was ok, but could be better. Elbows were low, thoracic curve was very flexed, depth was basically parallel (we encourage a lot more on the front and overhead), knees tracked a little medially, but nothing as egregious as most first timers, and still essentially safe. Keep in mind however, this is a 20ish year old college girl with Crossfit experience; 125lbs BW. She worked her way up to about 67lbs I think, before really losing form and doing one final set a little lighter.

I have high standards for both technical prowess and relative strength; I think both are key to great Crossfitting and great health and movement generally. Needless to say I was a little disappointed in the skill set and base level that was being brought in, but excited by the challenge of helping this client improve the basics, and return to her home affiliate a better athlete.

She approached me after all the other students had left. She was concerned. Not about her lack of strength or technique (she was outlifted by every single one of my students, who again are all mostly beginners) but rather that she was (in my words here) bored. At her gym, they often do some strength work first (like 3 sets of 10-20 apparently) and THEN do a real WOD. She was worried that she would fall out of shape over the summer should she continue to train like this.

Do any of you (those reading this blog) teach anything? I know some of you do, whether it's elementary school, weightlifting or BJJ. So, I pose to you this question: How would you feel, and what would you do to help the student understand, if they came to you and told you that you're training was going to make them worse? Particularly if they were coming in with orthapaedic injuries and low performance (possibly related to their previous training regime)?

The truth is, she's wearing a knee brace due to a very old ACL surgery that has started to 'act up again'. She's kyphotic and hasn't kept to prescribed treatment plan to help her correct it. And she struggles to move 50%BW in the front squat for five reps (as a 'healthy' young woman). Meanwhile she doesn't want to negatively impact her fitness by spending 1-2 workouts a week working on quality of movement and strength.

When I told her how important I felt relative strength was, and how I believed it would help any athlete do more work in less time in a met con type work out, she seemed skeptical, or maybe even disappointed. I felt as though she was trying to tell me that without ending up on the floor in a pile of sweat, sexy metcon style, she wasn't really training. And as I stated earlier, her sentiments are not unique.

Sometimes I feel like Crossfit is ruining Crossfit. I also think that americans are unique snow-flakes, and hence they cannot mold themselves to 'the program'. They cannot subvert their individuality in submission to a complete program that will change their lives, because they know better, have other ideas, or just don't want to do the work.

Especially the 'boring' work.

After ten years of experimenting, after 140 credit hours, a bachelors degree (and well on my way to a masters), many of the most prestigious certifications in my field, and hundreds of hours of mentorship under other great coaches... I HAVE A SYSTEM. Presumably that's why you showed up, and presumably that's why you're paying me. Follow the system, do the work. Get what you NEED.

Maybe that's my problem; I deliver what people need, not what they want.

I is back

Now let's see if I remember how to use this thing.

So, in September, around the time of my last post, I began grad school.

In November we moved Crossfit Full Circle to a new location, and we have subsequently doubled our membership.

It's been a busy time.