Assistance Work

Look at you: member of the honor roll, assistant to the assistant manager of the movie theater. I’m tellin’ ya, Rat, if this girl can’t smell your qualifications, then who needs her, right?

(Justin is on a 2-day road trip. Sorry for the mid-morning post).

A couple months ago, Brent wrote how I recommended Kroc Rows to Brent to help his grip work. That recommendation was based on his training and his goals at the time. When he posted up, the comments came alive with questions about Kroc Rows.

Last Friday I wrote about curls. So before everybody runs over Skinny Guy to go do some Preacher Curls, we should talk about assistance exercises.

First off, this is ASSISTANCE. Don’t overthink this stuff. The point of assistance work is to compliment your overall program. You can use it for strengthening a portion of the movement of a major lift (rack pulls), strengthening one or more muscles to support a compound lift (good mornings to squats), reinforcing a major lift by adding volume (and hypertrophy) with a similar movement (bar dips for bench press), balancing symmetry via hypertrophy (shrugs), strengthening the muscle and connective tissue around a single joint (curls), etc. Yes, there is some overlap here.

Generally, you want to do one or two movements of assistance work for each lift (I like one). And you’ll typically do 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps (20 if it’s bodyweight stuff). Remember, volume is your friend here. Do not go to failure, and do not let this become so taxing that you have to miss a day. Beyond this, don’t give any more thought to set and rep ranges.

The Kurgan made good use of unilateral work after doing his basic lifts.

Don’t ever confuse assistance exercises for the main lifts. A semi-good (Mike Tyson word) program of foundational lifts trumps the best assistance program. Focus on what’s important. If you are still on linear progression, don’t bother with assistance work (unless you’re doing it to build a miniscule of amount of weight room GPP, e.g. supersetting chins with GHRs or hanging leg raises).

For you recovering CrossFitters, assistance work is where you get your variety. A well-thought out program is NOT constantly varied (note the distinction). But I’ll make this deal with you: do your pressing like a normal person (with some progression in mind), and you can trick up your assistance to your heart’s content. Ideally, you would keep an assistance movement in the rotation for a 4-6 weeks, but I’ll take what I can get from you guys. You can get creative with this in terms of conditioning, and I will cover this later. But, and this is a big but, never ever ever never do something stupid like the workout that had high rep good mornings. You will be banned from this site for life and hopefully murdered by Sleestaks.

Good use of assistance exercises will bring balance to your program and your body. Use them appropriately and reap the benefits.

Where is your pullup god on PR Friday?

The following post is by Gant.
When you have to load four Atlas Stones on a trailer, the heaviest weighing over 400 pounds, your pullup God will not be able to save you.
-Dave Van Skike

There have been a lot of positive steps in the exercise industry in the last few years. While corporate “health centers” and machines still dominate the fitness landscape, a growing percentage of people are getting theirs from the iron. Gyms are starting to look less like dance clubs and more like a place you can get some work done. Many people have been turned on to this kind of training because of CrossFit, RossTraining, Mountain Athlete, or some other iteration of full-body functional training.

Unfortunately in the quest to become functional/tactical/elite/hardstyle, we have tossed out quite a few babies with the bathwater. People are pressing overhead again, which is great. But the bench press has been scorned and, apparently from the bench numbers in last month’s challenge, largely forgotten.

The case against the bench press is usually made by some domestique-looking guy who tries to convince you that doing 92 snatch burpees with an empty bar is better than pressing your body weight overhead. The problem is that some of you people have listened.

But nothing has been vilified like the barbell curl. Somewhere we have been told that all isolation training is bad, that we don’t need to curl because we can get all the arm strength and size we need from swinging madly about on a pullup bar. If your training goals culminate in posting more shirtless pictures of yourself on Facebook, you probably don’t need curls. But if you participate in a sport, especially one of the strength sports, you might consider throwing in a couple sets of a week.

Why are they helpful? For the same reason any isolation work is helpful. Because you are limiting the number of joints involved in the exercise, you will be using lighter weights (and typically higher reps). This lets you focus on strengthening the connective tissue, which does not adapt to heavy loads as quickly as muscles. This comes in handy when lifting odd objects, fighting an arm bar (or an armed bear), or throwing a lead weight as far as you can. I have heard people use them for everything from stabilizing the rack position in a snatch to tossing small trees.

I couldn’t care less about my arm size, but I’m damn concerned about my tendons. I didn’t do curls for years for the same reasons you guys don’t do them. A few months ago, I added a few sets of drag curls or hammer curls in a few months ago (once every week or so). You feel like a douchebag at first, but then you start kissing your guns at the top of each rep and “checking the time” and it’s all good.

The best quote on curls came from one of CrossFit’s videos with Louie Simmons. They were doing a CrossFit powerlifting cert at Westside. As someone was trying to put PVC into a monolift, a CrossFitting male asked one of the Westsiders why he did curls. The guy shrugged his shoulders and, with big arms folded, replied, “The strongest guys in the world do curls. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.”


Training Opportunity: I am discussing topics like this (training myths) at a seminar in Brogue PA on July 17-18. I will also cover analyzing and programming for physical atrributes of single/multi-sport and GPP. Also presenting are Jack Reape (writer for T-nation, champion powerlifter) on powerlifting and programming for strength and sport, Matt Foreman (Olympic lifter, football and track coach, writer for Performance Menu) on Olympic lifting for strength development, and Jay Ashman (strongman, soon to be of Gorilla Pit, has published on EliteFTS) on strongman training and training and periodizing for team sports and GPP. It’s great for beginners or experienced trainees and athletes. If you want to get stronger and perform better, you don’t want to miss it.

Go here for more information.

You Are Not a Beautiful and Unique Snowflake

Superlatives have been bandied about way too much these last few years. We used to reserve terms like “great,” “best,” and “elite” for truly rare, truly spectacular moments or performances. Now, everything is great. Or it’s the Best. Post. Ever. And elite…hell, we all know what happened with that one.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. You are not elite. That’s fine. I’m not either. We do the best with what we have. But there are a few among us who have the genetics, mental focus, ambition, support, and luck to make it to the top.

I would like you to meet a friend and teammate of mine who may one day join the elites. His name is Devin. He has already won nine junior national championships in judo (there are three each year). He is 6’2” tall and weighs 210 pounds. He is twelve years old.

I am not one to pimp child athletes. Kids are usually too young and too immature to handle the scrutiny they get. I make an exception in this case because Devin is well-adjusted, has good family support, lives in Wichita Falls (where there aren’t many distractions), and plays judo (a sport nobody really gives a damn about).

The physical gifts are obvious. And because he is so big, he has been able to train with adult players the last few years. As a result, he has acquired some “game” from each weight class he passed through on the way up. He is a 200-pounder that throws stuff normally seen on the 66kg mat.

Mental focus and ambition go hand in hand. Judo is about mat hours and competition. The training is fun because we have a good club. State and regional tournaments are fun because we take a good size group. That’s easy. It gets harder at the national level, where it’s just the kid, the parents, and the coach. At the international level, it’s the kid and whatever coach is assigned to that squad (not always your personal coach). Beyond that, it’s spending every weekend on the road, sleeping in cars or hotels, and fighting in every gym in North America.

A typical match for Devin against an older opponent

There is a social cost to be paid as one advances in an individual sport such as this. Luckily Devin trains with several older junior athletes who are already on that path. He also got to spend some time with Ronda Rousey (2-time Olympian, Bronze in Bejing ’08, Silver in Worlds ’07), who talked a bit about her life as an elite judoka. He has time to be a kid now, but that free time will quickly vanish as he continues to pursue an Olympic dream.

Support is key to succeeding in judo or any other sport. He has great family support (meaning parents, not judo parents). He has a good local club. And he has friends when he wants to cut loose.

And then there is luck. In our club, there is a core group of adult players who have been competing, training, and teaching with each other for several years. These guys have all been able to train with and teach Devin SAFELY. As fortune would have it, we are all in different weight classes. So Devin has basically spent 6-9 months learning the habits and techniques particular to each weight class. As I mentioned, as he moves through weight classes, he retains some of the “game” from each. This kinda sucks for me, since I’m just now getting him. It’s like fighting Duncan McLeod.

Devin throwing me with his favorite technique, harai goshi

The coach is the most crucial piece here. Roy Hash has been Devin’s coach since he started judo five years ago. He makes the decisions of how to push, when to push, when to let Devin fight up a weight or age class, when to fight in senior tournaments, and when to put the brakes on. It is a delicate balancing act that can make or break a player.

So, with all the pieces in place, how does he train? He spends two (sometimes three) days a week in class with the Texoma Judo Jujitsu Club. He spends another evening a week training with a club in Dallas that has several older nationally ranked junior players (this was Roy’s recommendation, which is rare in the coaching world). He supplements with the occasional camp, including a recent one he was invited to at the Olympic Training Center.

He trains two days at the gym (he recently started linear progression with Justin and is currently squatting 205x5x3, benching 130x5x3, and deadlifting 205x5x1). He also does 2-3 sessions a week of running and cardio with his mother. This will change some as he hits puberty (kids are not suited for anaerobic training) and when his matches start lasting more than a few seconds.

I spend one day a week with him working on throwing combinations and groundwork. By the time he is fourteen, I will no longer be able to handle him. And I’m ok with that.

Demonstrating a few throws

The bottom line is that, to be elite, you have to have the right gifts and be in the right circumstances. Devin is a good kid with immense physical gifts, talent, and interest in judo. He has a good group of coaches, parents, training partners, and friends around him. If everything stays on course, he could make a run for the rings in next decade or so.

But right now, he is twelve. The best anyone can do for him (or any other kid) is to encourage him and cultivate whatever talent he has. Me? I’ll be slamming him into the mat for the next year or so…just in case.

May Challenge Results

Results are in. The top 5s are:

Women [135# squat/95# bench/135# deadlift]
Kate W. (126 total reps)
Jenny L. (124)
Mary P. (98)
Robbie (96)
Amanda C. (90)

Tanks [315# squat, bench, deadlift]
Shon P. (76)
vandy676 (54)
powerlifter54 (50)
Gant (44)
Captain Ronn (36)

Open [225# squat, bench, deadlift]
Levi (98)
Quadzilla (93)
Buddy Holly (75)
elijah (70)
Drew0786 (69)

I took results from everywhere I could find them. Most were in the Challenge thread, but there were a few strays, including a couple friends that posted on my Facebook page.

I have attached a spreadsheet with the results of the May Challenge. The first page is the absolute rankings in each division. The next two pages are ranked by weight class (I used PL classes just because).

The results are interesting. The women up at CrossFit Works killed this thing, which is to be expected given their high rep, high volume training with the weights used here. I don’t know Levi’s or Quadzilla’s training background, but they outpaced the open division by 20 reps. Hopefully they’ll chime in here. As for the tanks, powerlifter54 is a very accomplished powerlifter (and a great source of lifting knowledge) who did this during a light week in preparation for a Navy fitness test. I don’t know anything about vandy676 other than he is a large man. Shon P. (I estimated his weight) is a friend of mine who I asked to do this. He ran away with the tank division. I’ll profile him next week, but I’ll leave it to you to guess his training background in the comments.

Thanks again to everyone who participated. Enjoy your June and look for more silliness in July.

PS If anyone can tell me how to attach an spreadsheet to WordPress, I’d be glad to do it.

TSC Results and May Challenge: Total 225

I got to the gym late today, so I didn’t realize Justin was out. Sorry.

Thanks to all who participated in the TSC. Thanks to Antigen for compiling results.

It was a good first outing. I’m pleased to report that all the guys pulled at least three wheels and most weighed in >200 (JasonR didn’t but kicked almost everyone’s ass anyway).

A special shout-out to the three ladies who competed. They deadlifted 225, 275, and 305, with Heidi adding 13 pullups and 100 snatches. Solid, solid performance.

This month is going to be the Total 225 Challenge. The format is simple:
* Squat 225 for max reps
* Bench 225 for max reps
* Deadlift 225 for max reps

Squats are full depth (crease of hip below top of knee). Bench presses must touch the chest then be locked out at the top. DLs should be done with iron if possible. You can touch and go, but NO BOUNCING (that’s you, crossfitters). DL stops when you let go of the bar or take more than 3 seconds between attempts. No straps.

This can be scaled if necessary. Women can do, I don’t know, 135? (Somebody suggest something here).

Males-in-training can do 185. But really, you need to get at least one damn rep with 2 plates per. It is your destiny.

Here is your inspiration: