Another week, another bunch of training. After last week's CrossFit Sectionals NorCal Training Log 2010 #1, this one was a bit better. Mainly because I got over my cold. However, some stuff was really tough. [caption id="attachment_728" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="SF Bay Swim 2010-01-16"][/caption] Here's what I did: Monday 2010-01-11 WOD: 30 muscle-ups for time. I could only manage to do eight - which was a disappointment since I could do 30 back in September. I really feel like my upper body strength has taken a hit over the past 2 months. So that sucked. After a rest, we did a 5x5 Back Squat, where I was a bit happier; 165 - 185 - 205 - 225 - 245, good, deep ROM throughout. Being a bit miffed by poor muscle-up performance, I finished off with a bunch of slow, deep ring dips. Hoping that some weighted pull-ups and dips will bring back muscle-ups soon. Tuesday 2010-01-12 WOD: Run a 5k. This was fine, raining a bit and our route through SF's Pacific Heights is very hilly. My time was respectable enough, 26:40. After that I took a rest and worked a 5x3 Power Clean. My max power clean previously was 195lbs, and I was disappointed to only be able to hit 3x175lbs this time. I was having odd sharp pains and spasms in my elbows and shoulders after each rep which I think were from the muscle ups on Monday. So I decided to leave it at that, which was a good idea I figure. Wednesday 2010-01-13 WOD: 3 rounds for time of: 50 double unders, 50 push-ups. My time was 6:46 which wasn't too bad. The push-ups were really what slowed me down. I feel like I used to be a lot faster at push-ups. I guess I just need to do like a 100 every morning when I get up. After a rest, I did a Power Snatch to 5xOver Head Squat progression. I found that my elbows and shoulders were still sore from the muscle-ups and so I had to take some breaks in between each set for the spasms to die down. I made it up to 125lbs Power Snatch followed by 5xOHS, which was respectable enough. Thursday 2010-01-14 Rest day Friday 2010-01-15 WOD: Fairly long lifting session, 5x5 in Back Squat, Shoulder Press and Deadlift. Squat was reasonable I hit 260lbs x 5. Shoulder Press was a bit disappointing, I could only manage 4 reps at 125lbs, where as 2 months ago I was comfortably enough pressing 135lbs for 5 reps. So that sucked. For the Deadlift I started at 275lbs and hit 335lbs for 3 reps, but the bar just wasn't coming up after that, possibly because I ripped a callous at 325lbs which was pretty distracting. Overall not a bad session but definitely not at my strongest at this point. Saturday 2010-01-16 WOD: Swimming in SF bay! Thats where the photo above is from. This was pretty awesome - I actually ended up doing something like a mini-triathlon since I cycled 8 miles (to and from gym) ran 1.5 miles (from gym to bay) and swam for 10 minutes. Felt great, bloody cold though, looking forward to more swimming there in the future. 52F water is great substitute for an ice bath! Sunday 2010-01-17 WOD: 5x5 dead hang pull-ups / weighted pull-ups @ 1 pood. 5x5 Ring dips. Like I said above I think my upper body strength needs some work so I thought this would be a good one. Definitely didn't feel as strong with this resistance as I have in the past, so I think I'll need to do this kind of WOD a fair bit more over the next few weeks. Monday 2010-01-18 Rest day.

Niall O'Higgins is an author and software developer. He wrote the O'Reilly book MongoDB and Python. He also develops Strider Open Source Continuous Deployment and offers full-stack consulting services at FrozenRidge.co.

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CrossFit and How I Got My First Muscle Up

October 11, 2009 at 02:43 PM | categories: Health, CrossFit | View Comments |

Back in Febuary 2009, I got my set of gymnastics rings from Ringtraining.com [affiliate link]. That was at the time when I started thinking that I would like to be able to do a muscle-up. Some of you may remember my post on Greg Glassman's journal article:

"The muscle-up is astonishingly difficult to perform, unrivaled in building upper body strength, a critical survival skill, and most amazingly of all, virtually unknown. This movement gets you from under things to on them. Though containing a pull-up and a dip, its potency is due to neither. The heart of the muscle-up is the transition from pull-up to dip - the agonizing moment when you don’t know if you’re above or below."
[caption id="attachment_607" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Me at the transition point of a muscle up"]Me at the transition point of a muscle up[/caption] My own muscle-up story Anyway, as you can see from the above picture, after about six months of trying, I'm now able to do a muscle-up. It was an interesting experience - I had tried a few times over the months to do them, without success. I could only manage a jumping muscle-up which really doesn't count. But the other day, the `30 muscle-ups for time' WOD came up and I thought - ok, time to practice muscle-ups again - maybe I can get one today! Turned out I got not just one, but managed to do all 30! It took me a long time, but hey I did it. The fascinating part for me is that I hadn't been trying especially hard to get it. It had been at least 6 weeks since I'd last even attempted the movement, and all of a sudden I could do it. I certainly wasn't practicing it every day. This is a bit similar to how I got my first kipping pull-up. I was struggling with the movement for some time, then took a complete break from CrossFit and any kind of pull-up for a period of three weeks (I was on vacation in Ireland with family). When I got back to training, suddenly I was able to kip! What I think made the difference for me 1) Full ROM strength Obviously, you need to have a strong pull-up and a strong dip to be able to complete the muscle-up. When working ring dips, especially with intensity, it can be difficult to achieve full range of motion. I see lots of my peers not going deeply enough and of course I've been guilty of this at times myself. However, with the muscle-up, strength through the full range of motion is critical. You are going from a very deep dip, and you need to be strong there. The same thing applies to the pull-up, but I think in general people are getting decent ROM with their pull-ups. In addition to full ROM, I was working a bunch of weighted pull-ups and dips over the months. I found a 5x5 of dips/pull-ups with weight starting at a 1 pood kettlebell to be beneficial. Beast Skills mentions going up to 100 lbs - while I'm sure thats going to give you awesome strength, that kind of weight definitely wasn't required for me. 2) Shoulder flexibility While the muscle-up needs a lot of strength, it also requires quite some shoulder flexibility. Shoulder flexibility has been an issue of mine for some time, especially with overhead lifts, but even in the power clean and front rack positions. It was literally quite painful for me to perform a power clean and the front rack used to be impossible. Previously, every time I attempted the muscle-up, my shoulders would be pretty sore. On the Beast Skills Muscle Up tutorial page there is a note to the effect that the muscle-up is very demanding on shoulder flexibility:
"Shoulder issues can definitely arise from the muscle-up due to the hyper-extension of the shoulder at the top of the movement. If you have problems doing dips in general, but especially low dips, then watch yourself carefully. You may have to forego the skill entirely."
However, I went to see Kelly Starrett for physical therapy a few times, and this was an enormous help. I believe that the same improvements in flexibility which now enable me to comfortably execute power cleans, hold the front rack, and work overhead presses - also gave me enough room to perform the muscle-up. 3) Technique Finally, the muscle-up is a highly technical movement. I guess it comes more naturally to some people than others. I certainly didn't find it easy. Although the cues are easy to remember - keep your elbows tight, push through the 'window' - it does NOT feel easy when you attempt. No doubt its different for everybody, but the most important things for me were to figure out how to grip the rings relatively comfortably, and then to keep your hands pretty close. Unfortunately theres no really easy way to learn other than trying. Like I said, my own experience was that I didn't do any practice for weeks then all of a sudden I could do it. Anyway, I'm very proud to join the ranks of the CrossFit KMSF muscle-up club and I hope this info is of use to someone! Train hard, be patient, and you'll get it.

Niall O'Higgins is an author and software developer. He wrote the O'Reilly book MongoDB and Python. He also develops Strider Open Source Continuous Deployment and offers full-stack consulting services at FrozenRidge.co.

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Which lifts give you the most bang for buck?

July 14, 2009 at 06:30 PM | categories: Health, CrossFit | View Comments |

One of my weaknesses in CrossFit has been in the strength department. Of course, the only way to improve is to practice. I'm pretty happy now with the basic Power lifts - having gone from a beginner's deadlift of about 140lbs in December 2008 to lifting 370lbs (at 165lbs body weight) in June 2009! With a better level of all-around strength and flexibility, I'm now focusing on the more challenging technical lifts - like cleans, front squats, overhead squats, snatches and jerks. crossfit-girl-front-squat Part of this focus has been trying to learn as much as possible about training for this kind of stuff. As part of my learning process, I came across Dan John's excellent free book "From the Ground Up" [pdf]. He talks about a lot of different things, from nutrition to the psychology of an athlete, to lots of discussion about lifting specifically. One of the more interesting pieces I found is a quick list of the lifts which he thinks give the most "bang for buck". Here it is:

1 Clean and Press...if all you did was Clean and Press, you could be awesome 2 Front Squat...flexible, solid and strong 3 Power Snatch and Overhead Squat Combo...Tony Nielson, a young man I coached for a few years, was the smallest football player on the field, yet I watched him run for 200+ yards in several games. His reason: this combo. Easy to learn, difficult to master, excellent long term benefits. 4 Dragging a sled, pushing a car or hill sprints...shoot me, but I believe these are superior to squats for most athletes. 5 Power Clean...'nuff said 6 Farmer Walk...a year ago, I would have laughed at these...now, I don't laugh 7 One arm lift of some kind...they work, they are simple to learn, they work

Niall O'Higgins is an author and software developer. He wrote the O'Reilly book MongoDB and Python. He also develops Strider Open Source Continuous Deployment and offers full-stack consulting services at FrozenRidge.co.

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Natural vs Artificial flavours

May 13, 2009 at 09:38 PM | categories: Food, Health | View Comments |

I've always been under the impression that there was an important distinction between the "natural flavours" and "artificial flavours" listed on food ingredients. After having read this food science article (adapted from Fast Food Nation) Why McDonald's Fries Taste So Good, I realise the difference is essentially meaningless:

Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods. Amyl acetate, for example, provides the dominant note of banana flavor. When it is distilled from bananas with a solvent, amyl acetate is a natural flavor. When it is produced by mixing vinegar with amyl alcohol and adding sulfuric acid as a catalyst, amyl acetate is an artificial flavor. Either way it smells and tastes the same.
Natural flavours no healthier than artificial I had for some reason assumed that natural flavours were probably not quite as bad for you as artificial flavours, however this is not necessarily the case:
A natural flavor is not necessarily more healthful or purer than an artificial one. When almond flavor -- benzaldehyde -- is derived from natural sources, such as peach and apricot pits, it contains traces of hydrogen cyanide, a deadly poison. Benzaldehyde derived by mixing oil of clove and amyl acetate does not contain any cyanide. Nevertheless, it is legally considered an artificial flavor and sells at a much lower price. Natural and artificial flavors are now manufactured at the same chemical plants, places that few people would associate with Mother Nature.
So, basically "natural flavours" and "artificial flavours" are the same thing, and are best avoided if possible.

Niall O'Higgins is an author and software developer. He wrote the O'Reilly book MongoDB and Python. He also develops Strider Open Source Continuous Deployment and offers full-stack consulting services at FrozenRidge.co.

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Training the Push Jerk

May 07, 2009 at 09:29 PM | categories: Health, CrossFit | View Comments |

I saw a lot of this lift at the CrossFit NorCal Qualifier over the weekend. One of the workouts was:

For time: Row 500m 30 Burpees 10 Shoulder-to-Overhead (Men: 165#, Women: 95#) It's up to you to decide on the technique to employ for the shoulder-to-overhead movement (shoulder press, push press, push jerk, etc.). Efficient technique will be rewarded.
Of course, the push jerk is one of the most efficient ways to get a weight overhead - because you use the hips and legs to drive the weight up, instead of just the shoulders. According to the CrossFit Journal, an athlete skilled in the push jerk can lift 70% more than they can press. That is a dramatic increase. While I've worked the press a bit, especially with kettle bells, I have minimal experience with the push jerk. Yesterday's push jerk WOD, then, was welcome practice! One of the sticking points for me is shoulder flexibility - I find it very hard to keep my arms locked out overhead with the weight centered over my spine. I need to work on both the flexibility - with more shoulder dislocates - and on the movement itself. Since I don't have a rack, I of course need to clean the weight up off the floor before I can jerk it. I found this excellent video on both power clean and then push jerk technique:

Niall O'Higgins is an author and software developer. He wrote the O'Reilly book MongoDB and Python. He also develops Strider Open Source Continuous Deployment and offers full-stack consulting services at FrozenRidge.co.

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