Deadlift Progress

I met Philip Wilkerson III a few years ago when I first did a seminar at CrossFit Anandale. In the summer of 2011, his deadlift max was 375 while weighing a self proclaimed “210 pounds and in terrible shape”. Phil was working through a wrist injury a bit after and it slowed down his progress quite a bit. Long story short, after working with Jeremy Wolfe at CF Anandale and programming with Chris Riley, Phil has made some excellent progress, especially with deadlifting.

Phil weighed in at 179 for this meet and pulled the 578 above. You’ll notice he leaned back at the top of the rep — this is something he’s never done before because he was excited. Leaning back at the deadlift lockout typically unlocks the knees, and in USAPL they look at knee extension in order to white light a lift. Despite not being credited with the lift, the bar speed was awesome considering this was the heaviest weight he’s ever pulled. I was really impressed with this lift, especially because Phil has progressed so well with consistent strength training. Not to mention he has a lean, jacked 180 pounds instead of a “fat 210″. Nice work, Phil.

The Lean Back

Phil doesn’t have a habit of this, but I see it ALL of the time in CrossFit. Leaning back is a horrible, god forsaken thing to do. It looks like shit because it’s shitty. First, it hyper extends the spine and/or posteriorily rotates the pelvis under a load. I can’t think of a better way to have a disc injury than to do this. If you want your intervertebral discs squirting out the front of your body, then this is how you’d accomplish it. Second, since the movement usually pushes the hips forward slightly, the knees will unlock in order to keep a center of mass over the mid-foot, resulting in a lack of knee extension (which is the issue we see above). Third, it’s just wrong. You aren’t any more “locked out” for a deadlift by leaning back. By standing straight up with your hip straight, you are effectively fully extending the hip. Finally, you lose out on intra-abdominal and thoracic pressure by allowing laxity in your spine, and this isn’t good for the moment you’re lifting, and it’s not good for proper trunk development over time.

Instead, merely stand up with the weight and lift the chest slightly. Lifting the chest is actually a USAPL requirement as it will ensure thoracic extension; leaving the upper back rounded is not fully locking the lift out since it could result holding the bar several inches lower than had you actually extended the upper back.

If you’re confused about the position, then stand up, contract your lower abs, and completely contract your glutes with your chest up. Now put a bar in your hand and that’s all you need to do.

The “tut-tut-tut”

In Phil’s video, you see a bit of shakiness, or as I call it, the “tut-tut-tut” as he’s locking the lift out. His hamstrings are not accustomed to maintaining such tension while they extend the hips, so the result is a shaky lockout. This is both a strength and a neuromuscular efficiency issue, and we typically rectify it with rack pulls from right below the patella with vertical shins. I talk about them in the Texas Method books, but they are the first thing we do to address lockout issues in the deadlift. I also like RDL’s, but there is no substitute for forcing the hamstrings to maintain tension and contract to extend the hips.

I talk more about the “tut-tutting” in Rack Pull Tidbits and Q&A – 14.

Nice job, Phil. Keep training hard. I don’t think he’ll mess up another deadlift lockout for the rest of his powerlifting career. You can follow Phil on Instagram and Twitter.

18 July 2014 — PR Friday

I'm gonna keep posting this until someone acknowledges it.

I’m gonna keep posting this until someone acknowledges it.

PR Friday means you post your training updates and PR’s to the comments. Don’t forget to Prepare for the Heat and Stop Flopping After A WOD.

Weekly Q&A gives you a chance to ask anyone from the 70′s Big Crew a question, and we’ll actively ignore you. Just kidding, we’ll answer. Next year. Here’s an example:

Jack on Facebook asks: Any reason most of the guys in the 70s big crew wear VS weightlifting shoes (higher heel than the average WL shoe)? I know Rip recommends 0.75″ but I have femurs on the longer side, bad ankles, and >0.75″ feels much better for me.

I reply:  I haven’t seen Rip’s recent recommendations, but he used to recommend the .5″ heel (that was what his shoe was). In any case, some of us wear VS Athletics because that was one of the few types of weightlifting shoes around in 2008/2009, they give 70′s Big folk a discount, and we are cheap. I think AC just changed brands, so the only people I know of still wearing them are my wife and I.

Weekly Topic

This is video of a 5′ 100 pound girl completing the regional final Ninja Warrior course is one of the most impressive athletic feats I’ve seen in a while. Kudos to Spencer Hall of EDSBS for linking to the SB Nation article.

What are some other impressive athletic feats you’ve seen lately? Post to comments, Fan Page, or Twitter.

Prepare for the Heat

On the first day of NFL training camp in 2001, Korey Stringer — a 335 lb right tackle for the Minnesota Vikings — left practice with heat casualty symptoms. The next day he collapsed on the field and was taken to a hospital where his core temperature was 108.8 degrees Fahrenheit. He was dead 12 hours later.

It’s easy for hot and humid weather to sneak up on an athlete, especially when they are trying to be tough and “gut it out” through a workout. While the worst case scenario is death, it’s more likely that training in the heat and humidity will decrease training performance. We can recover from one sub-par training session, but habitually having a decreased performance throughout the summer due to the heat is unacceptable.

Some of you may train or play outside during the summer, and some of you stay in the gym. Despite staying inside in the air conditioning, some gyms will still have a higher average temperature in the summer, and you’ll still be exposed to the elements during the rest of your day. Either way, understanding how your body responds to heat stress will help you prepare to train effectively.

This guy is turning up the heat.

This guy is turning up the heat.

How Heat Effects the Body

There are four ways the body dissipates heat: radiation, evaporation, conduction, and convection. When the air temperature rises, the only method that retains effectiveness is evaporation via sweat, and that’s assuming the humidity is low enough to allow evaporation to occur. When the god forsaken humidity is high, evaporation is less effective regardless of temperature, so the body will continue to sweat if the other methods are not effectively cooling. A combination of increased core temperature and increased sweating is the primary reason performance decreases in warm environments.

When the core temperature rises, the body undergoes changes in order to reduce the temperature. This normally happens during exercise; in fact, the muscles’ energy systems are more efficient with slight increases in temperature, but significant increases above 104 degrees Fahrenheit can be detrimental. Blood vessels will dilate to move as much blood to the surface of the skin to allow heat to radiate or conduct out. Since blood is being diverted to the skin, cardiac output increases (via increasing heart rate and contractility) to simultaneously pump blood to the skin and muscles, and the trade off is a decreased blood flow to the organs. Sweat glands excrete fluid that comes from blood plasma and contains electrolytes.

Sweating is of particular concern for us as mild dehydration can noticeably reduce performance. It’s not difficult to lose more than 1 liter of sweat in an hour per square meter of body surface. For a 165 lb child-like male adult, that could be 1.5 to 2.0 L of sweat or 2.5 to 3.2% of body weight in an hour. Technically that’s enough to put them in mild to medium levels of shock. Losing these levels of fluids means the entire body doesn’t work as efficiently at that moment and through the recovery process…and we aren’t even considering the stress from the training itself.

Some of you may be reading this thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me, I’m just a lifter.” Well, the more you sweat, the higher your core temperature, and the more disruption to your homeostasis, the less effective your actual set is. More importantly you can’t rest as well between sets and subsequently between workouts. If you sweat your ass off because it’s 80 degrees in the gym instead of 70, you now have the additional systemic stress of losing fluid volume, and this can add up over time to effect your overall progress.

Adding more systemic stress to an already stressful training program means you aren’t recovering and making as much progress as you could be. If you’re gonna spend five, ten, or fifteen hours in the gym a week, then you should be doing everything outside of the gym to make sure you aren’t wasting your time. Preparing for the heat and staying hydrated is vital to not waste your god damn time.

How to Prepare

The best way to prepare for the heat is to acclimate to the environment. Doing some relatively lower intensity activity (i.e. not as hard as what you normally do) in the environment you’re adapting to for one or two weeks will acclimate you. We’re already in the middle of the summer, so it’s likely you went through this process by default. For example, if you train in your garage, you would have steadily experienced the slowly rising temperatures from winter time. The result is that the body is able to maintain a lower core temperature and keep a lower heart rate, but sweating rates will increase for adapted trainees.

I point this out because when your body is more efficient, you sweat more. Yet this also means you’ll need a higher awareness of hydration to prevent the issues associated with dehydration. Other than acclimating to the heat and humidity, the best way to prepare to is to consistently hydrate and eat well.

By the time you are thirsty, the dehydration process has already occurred. Studies show that when people merely drink when they are thirsty, it takes 24 to 48 hours to fully rehydrate. And that’s assuming they aren’t exposed to heat, humidity, or exercise again in that time frame. For a 200 pound man who isn’t training or exposed to the elements, he’ll need to drink almost 2 liters of water (and I already accounted for 30% of water that comes from food). If you’re training hard, especially in the heat and humidity, you’ll need even more.

Hydration is not merely a day-to-day concept; it’s a persistent continuum. If you were slightly dehydrated yesterday, and you don’t hydrate today, it compounds on itself. I know someone who was working outside in the heat all week, trained in the gym each day, and then they lost consciousness during a Friday dinner due to chronic dehydration.

Electrolyte levels in blood are relevant to hydration, but if you are consistently eating quality meals, this shouldn’t be a problem unless you are strenuously training for a long time in the heat. If you were doing that, you could use some rehydration products with water (they typically include sodium, chloride, potassium, and a little bit of glucose). Typically commercial drinks like Gatorade or Powerade aren’t ideal because they have so much glucose that it increases the osmolarity in your small intestine which actually draws fluid out of the interstitial space into the intestines, further dehydrating you, but that’s a digression, sir.

I typically recommend solely drinking water throughout the day (after coffee, of course). Yes, you can get water from drinking shit like soda, but unnecessary sugar, phosphorous, or chemicals are not what you drink if you actually care about things like performance, building muscle, or decreasing body fat.

Worst Case Scenario

Some of you will find yourself in the heat for work (fire fighters, soldiers, cops, etc.), play (hiking, water sports, motor sports), or training, so it’ll be good to review heat injuries. Keep in mind that if you have not gone through an acclimation process, then you are more susceptible to these conditions. Furthermore, anyone is susceptible to them if they do too much, too long, on too hot a day.

Heat Cramps – These aren’t very serious, yet they are an indication you are not hydrated well and likely have low sodium. It’s a misconception that potassium and bananas will prevent these. Cease activity if you can and hydrate with salt accordingly.

Heat Exhaustion – This isn’t just feeling tired in the heat, this is the beginning of a downward spiral of the body shutting down. It occurs when the thermoregulatory and cardiovascular system can’t keep up with the demands of the increased temperature and cardiac output shift. If you feel dizzy, extreme fatigue, headache, nausea/vomiting, or you lose consciousness, then cease the activity and hydrate as discussed above. IV fluids would be ideal, and so would external cooling. Get into a cool environment with a fan, get someone to spritz water on you, and get some ice or cool packs under your arms and in your groin for a few minutes.

Heat Stroke – This is life-threatening. If this is happening to you, you won’t really be able to help yourself, so teach others what to look for. The same symptoms from heat exhaustion will occur, but the two that should jump out are the cessation of sweating and altered mental status (i.e. disorientation). All of those cooling measures above should happen immediately. This is what people die from on a regular basis, and it isn’t when the temperature is 95 degrees with 90% humidity; most heat casualties occur when it’s a balmy 85 degrees because people don’t expect it.

Wrap Up

While this article doesn’t have helicopter penises and “fuck yous” to hipsters, my aim is to a) prevent any unnecessary heat injuries, b) emphasize the importance of hydration all the time, but especially in the summer months, and c) give you something easy to do to efficiently train and recover to get stronger, faster, and conditioned. If you’re outside every day, then you need to drink much more water than you think you need to. Even if your job and gym are inside, you’ll still be exposed to the heat throughout the day, so take care of hydration now before it becomes a problem.


Understanding Fascia

PR Friday — Post your training updates, PR’s, and questions to the comments and the 70′s Big crew will respond. 

I love anatomy and physiology, especially musculoskeletal anatomy. I don’t claim to know everything, but I’m pretty decent at taking the scientific stuff and breaking it down into usable, practical chunks to apply into training. I’ve gotten to study anatomy on a variety of cadavers and animals, and it’s just…fascinating.

There are times when I see or learn something, whether it be anatomy or medical related, and a feeling washes over me in an awesome wave. I mean that literally; I get goose bumps and tingly because I’m having a god damn nerd jizz. And recently I had a nerd jizz that you need to hear about.

Fascia is traditionally known as a sheath of fibrous connective tissue that surrounds organs, muscles, and connective tissue to provide stability, transmit force, or compartmentalizing groups of structures. When you see the white stuff in meat, it’s likely fascia, though it’s so much more than that. Some new work suggests that fascia includes most of the soft tissue in the body, but by studying biomechanics it’s easy to see how fascia is interrelated with muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones with respect to force transmission and movement.

lat-TGFor example, the latissimus dorsi, or “the lats”, are a primary shoulder extensor and internal rotator. Notice how in this picture from Trail Guide to the Body, 2nd Ed that the origin of the muscle is essentially along the entire thorocolumbar aponeurosis. Thorocolumbar just means “relating to the thoracic or lumbar spine” and “aponeurosis” is just a term for a flat broad connective tissue. Most texts identify it as a tendon, yet it’s just a big sheath of connective tissue that, in this case, is integrated with that lower portion of the lat. We could even say it’s an fascial integration that connecting to bone. By observing this picture, you could see how the lat could have an effect on spinal function, or how tightness in the lat could effect the lower back, hip, and/or shoulder. (Note: For more on the lats, read The Lats While Benching)

This applies all over the body. Fascia is woven around and between all muscles creating a network of tension to not only maintain the muscles’ position under the skin, but to facilitate function. This is why when you sit on your butt, knees extended, and your feet in front of you, then you crunch forward and pull your chin to your chest, you’ll feel a stretch along the entire back side of your body, possibly down to your feet. Fascia is not isolated to the forearm or leg; think of it as a sheath of connective tissue around muscles, then compartments of muscles, then body parts, then areas of the body, and the body itself (Note: Here’s an example of muscle compartments). If you think of the body like this, then it may help you when you’re trying to do soft tissue work or limber up before training.

In the last fifteen years the fitness industry has warmed to the idea that soft tissue work, called “self myofascial release” in some circles, is beneficial for mobility, prehab, and performance. The world of strength and conditioning has always known this, but it has become more mainstream and has blossomed into the concept of “mobility” in CrossFit or the fact that you can buy a (shitty) foam roller at any Wal-Mart. Yet there’s an idea that things like foam is enough to have an effect on fascia, and it couldn’t be more wrong.

And here is where the nerd jizz comes.

Recently I saw living human anatomy down to the bone. I saw a person move their leg, and I watched the muscle itself contract and elongate right before my eyes. On a human. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen, but we’re here to talk about fascia.

The fascia that makes up the border of a compartment is tougher than what you could possibly imagine. What I imagined as the IT band — a thick fibrous duct-tape-like tissue — was the compartment fascia. I’ve seen IT bands and fascia on cadavers, but this was the real deal; it was thicker than I thought it would be, and it literally seemed impervious to a lousy foam roller.

As I felt this fascia between my fingers, I realized that our understanding of this whole mobility and soft tissue thing is fair at best. Foam doesn’t do shit. Rolling a lacrosse ball for a few reps doesn’t do shit. This is tissue that doesn’t get massaged out in a few minutes. This is a structure that can’t be addressed in a given session or even a week. This tissue is so tough it needs long term care, especially if it’s messed up.

I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of people and have felt their scar tissue, bound up fascia, and injuries. Nothing prepared me for how the compartmental fascia would feel. No picture, no mobility expert, no cadaver, or no animal could possibly provide what I learned in half a minute of palpating this fascia. Yes, I’m a fucking weirdo, but hopefully you can benefit from it.

If dysfunction is present in the fascia, muscles, and tendons, then it needs aggressive treatment. Not a single beat down session as this would accomplish nothing on rugged fascia, but sessions throughout the day, every day. Luckily, this is how I prescribed long-term, nagging mobility problems – perform soft tissue work and stretches at least five sessions a day, every day until further notice.

Yes folks, fascia is tougher than social studies, but what’s even tougher is choosing the right strength training, soft tissue, and stretching exercises to address dysfunction, but that, my friends, is another post. Until then, start respecting the integrity of your fascia and really get into it when treating it.




Stop Flopping After A WOD

CrossFit workouts are hard. If you’re really working, you’ll be at your physiological limit. You’ll have a deficit of oxygen, a surplus of carbon dioxide, and your respiratory drive will be amped up to try and suck in as much air as possible. Your muscles will fill with acid as metabolic energy systems red-line to produce energy. Every system in your body is straining to hold it together, to not shit yourself and perform.

When you finally finish, it feels so nice to simply lie down on the ground and rapidly suck air like a fish out of water. Besides, that’s what all the cool people in CrossFit do.

I used to do it too. I was wrong.

I used to do it too. I was wrong. (circa 2008)

Let’s ignore the fact that lying down is symbolic of giving up. Let’s ignore the fact that flopping on the ground and showing your belly is an act of submission. Let’s also ignore how there’s zero practicality in it since you would never do this in an emergency situation, a fight, or a combat scenario. Let’s just focus on it’s physiological shittiness.

By the way, yes, I’m saying if you flop after a workout or WOD that you’re symbolizing giving up, submitting, and not training yourself to recover on the move.

What’s Going On During Peak Work Output

Let’s review “conditioning”. It’s a term I use to imply “WOD”, “met-con”, “energy system development”, and other fancy terms. In FIT we even say “high intensity endurance training” since that’s what is (we’re consistent with endurance research terminology). Conditioning the body occurs in two ways: physically and metabolically. In my chapter in FIT, I talk about how conditioning the structures for various movements is important, and then I explain conditioning the energy systems. It’s a multi-purpose term, but all of its definitions are important in programming training. Here we are talking about high intensity conditioning workouts.

Generally speaking if you impart an efficient sub-lethal stress on the body and allow proper recovery, the result is an increase in performance (AKA super compensation). We use conditioning to improve work output performance.

The paradigm Dr. Kilgore and I developed for conditioning is the high intensity forces a deficit in substrates, and that deficit is the stress that the body isn’t used to that forces the adaptation. Substrates are converted into energy. If you make the body use up a lot of those substrates, it has trouble converting them to energy. The body says, “Holy crap, I need to be able to handle this better in the future,” so it adapts and improves performance.

But this high intensity has side effects, and I briefly alluded to them in the first paragraph. Let’s focus on the lactic acid build up as a result of pushing muscles to their limit. Generally speaking, the pH of blood is relatively neutral, yet having a lot of acid get into the blood stream will lower the pH and make it more acidic.

What’s The Result

Changing the pH of the blood is something the body isn’t used to, and buffering the pH back to normal levels is part of the body’s adaptation. This is just one small element to a complicated metabolic system, but I’m focusing on it for the sake of discussion.

Let’s say you’re doing a lot of stuff with your legs. You’ve been doing thrusters, sprinting, and box jumps. Your legs feel feel useless, like you physically cannot move them on your next sprint round. It’s because they are engorged with acid and blood as a result of the physiological changes. They are likely in a deficit of oxygen and maybe glucose (both are substrates). Their entire physiologic environment is disrupted to a point where they cannot function properly.

Now, you may notice that after a short recovery, about three minutes, they will feel good enough to exert again. But sometimes you’ll finish a workout and you just feel completely fucked up. I remember feeling this way the first time I did “Fran” and “Cindy” or most summer football workouts.

The reason you feel so shitty after an intense workout is they have a local effect on muscles and structures, but also a systemic effect. The systemic effect is why these workouts are effective at increasing fitness, but it’s also why so many people get injured or burned out because they do too much and the system can’t recover.

To Flop Or Not

Think about the two minutes after finishing one of these hellacious workouts. The body constantly aims for homeostasis, but instead it’s experiencing a hurricane. CO2 levels are high, O2 levels are low, acid is rampant, blood vessels are dilating, the heart is wildly pumping, breathing muscles are on overdrive, the alveoli of the lungs are stressed due to the rapid breathing — the whole fucking body is going crazy.

And then the brain decides to just lie down. It’s cool bros, we just need to have ourselves a sit down. 

Everyone reading this is aware their legs are on the bottom of their body and that their heart is near the top. You intuitively know gravity pulls straight down into the earth. This poses a problem for venous return to the heart, so natural selection developed  one-way valves in the veins to prevent a back-flow of blood. Also, when skeletal muscles contract, they squeeze the veins to help push blood up and back to the heart (since the pressure from the heart is too weak to do it alone).

Imagine those legs are full of acid and CO2 and lack oxygen. If the body listens to the brain and lies down, the muscles aren’t helping to pump the acidic blood. No flow means no O2/CO2 exchange and no acid buffering.

This means that for the entirety of lying down, your legs are not dealing with the chemical environment that caused them to not work properly. This means that you’re exposing them to this chemical environment longer than they need to. This means that you’re potentially causing more and/or unnecessary damage to this area. This means that you could be delaying your recovery and limiting your performance increase.

The amount of detriment is arbitrary; there’s not a practical way to quantify the debilitating effect of lying down. The point is that by putting your body flat on the ground and remaining still only means your body isn’t recovering as well as it could. And if you give enough of a shit to do this to yourself in the first place, then why not do everything you can to recover well? There’s a reason track coaches include a cool downs in their programming; it helps take bad stuff out and the circulation brings good stuff in.

Instead, Do This

Stay on your feet and walk around. Yeah, I know it sucks, but the pain fades away. Put your hands over your head or grab onto something, and go through the “frantic catching of the breath” process, but start walking around as soon as you can. I’m not in the “Tommy Tough Guy says, ‘Don’t be a pussy,’” clan, but you shouldn’t train yourself to be one. Lying down is defeat, it’s submission. It also says, “I’m not ready for what’s next.” So stay on your feet and keep moving. You’ll recover faster and you won’t look like a diva who feels sorry for himself.