Since I was clean and pressing last week, I figured I’d turn it into a Chalk Talk that revisits the “Clean Your Press” post from three years ago. It also forces me to do a video in one take since I’m actually lifting in the beginning (it’s just 90k for a double).
Power cleaning the press can accomplish several things like: give you extra clean practice, work more musculature, get more of a systemic stress, and look a lot cooler than everyone else in the gym picking their press out of the rack.
I prefer to clean presses. The main thing most people need to work on is catching the bar in the press position instead of a clean position, which is preferable to catching the bar in a front rack and repositioning for the press. You’ll need to have good practice with the grip, hand position on the bar, and elbow position, and you can read/watch more about that in “3 Press Fixes“.
This article is written by my good friend Shaun Trainor, owner and operator of Project Warrior in Fairy Meadow, New South Wales, Australia. Shaun spent 12 years in the Australian military with the last half of it in 2nd Commando Regiment, a special operations unit.
The subject of Justin’s recent post (Category Programming) on training around an erratic schedule is one that is near and dear to my heart. One of the things that used to frustrate me when I was trying to design a training program was that almost everything out there has a weekly structure. Obviously that makes sense for the majority of people, because they have a Monday-to-Friday job, but it makes it difficult for those of us who work in the military, law enforcement, or emergency services.
I spent 12 years in the Australian military; the last 6 in SOF. Obviously this was a job that required a high level of physical preparedness, but it was also a job that at times made it extremely difficult to train effectively. On any given day I was doing anything from hanging around the office, drinking coffee, to climbing a caving ladder up the side of a ship with 90lbs of gear strapped to me.
Say I’m running a basic Texas Method and Friday is my squat intensity day. But what happens if I spent Thurday night in an exercise that involved clearing a 30 story office building until 4AM? How do you think my squats are going to go?
The obvious answer is that I take the session off, or just go really light, and it’s no big deal. Everybody has life interfere with their training. However not everybody works an unpredictable schedule that may involve intense physical demands for a week or two on end. There is only so much that this can happen before the whole effect of the program starts to be destroyed.
Military personnel – especially those deployed in combat roles – as well as Police, Fire & Rescue, and paramedics can all been dicked around so much as to make a weekly program almost unworkable. This was certainly my experience.
After spending quite some time struggling to implement a normal strength training program as an operator, I then tried a template solution. I determined what sessions I wanted to do in a standard week, and then shuffled them around week to week to fit what was going on. For example, you might decide that you were going to squat twice, deadlift once, press once and bench once. You can then decide what you’re going to do each day, depending on what’s going on with work/life.
This worked a little better than trying to stick to a weekly program, but I didn’t love it. Depending on how busy my week was, I’d often get behind my allocated sessions. If the disruption last more than a few days – as it often would – then the template didn’t work very well.
After that I tried a much more basic approach. I realised that any sort of weekly program wasn’t going to work for me when my job was busy, or when I was deployed. There’s too many variables when you’re overseas, and you often don’t know about a mission until a day before. Detailed planning in these sort of situations doesn’t work very well.
I tried a much more basic solution: a Rotation System.
Each training session, I would hit one of the lifts. The next session, whenever that was, I would move on to the next lift in the order. The order is designed so that you can still hit the sessions back to back if you’re lucky enough to get three days in a row to train.
No matter how much (or little) you’re getting to train, your work is balanced between the main lifts.
Sporting the Project Warrior gym shirt
The rep scheme for the day is down to you, but considering this is a very basic program I usually run a 3×5 or 5×5. There isn’t a great need for complex rep schemes because this isn’t a long-term solution; it’s just something that’s designed to keep you ticking when work is sucking donkey dick. If you want some higher intensity you could work up to a heavy triple then drop down and hit a 3×5.
Depending on how physically demanding your last few days have been, you can either add in some assistance work or simply leave it there. If you’re beat up and tired, then at least you got some squats in. If it’s been an easy day or two, then you might throw in 1-2 accessory exercises. Keep the total number of sets at six or under for your accessories. The whole reason you’re doing this type of skeleton program is because training isn’t your main focus at the moment. If you’re overseas or on shift for Law Enforcement, then you don’t want to cripple yourself with assistance exercises because you don’t know what the coming days will bring.
Conditioning is going to be driven by context. Some people will be able to let this slide for a few weeks without much hassle, others will need to keep up regular conditioning as well as their lifting. I fall more into the former catagory, but if you are in the latter then at least keep it either very short or very long. Either do something like a single Tabata or a few Prowler sprints, or go for a long, easy run. Don’t get sucked into doing the 10-30min ‘mess you up’ CrossFit type workouts.
I’m sure there are people who are already agitated about the lack of bench in the rotation. If you want to keep benching during this, you have two options. You can alternate press days with bench days, so that every second time you get to a press day you bench press instead. That’s what I personally did. The other option is to include it after you press. If you take this option then I wouldn’t press more than a 3×5.
Whether or not you deadlift is going to depend on your specific situation. If you’re overseas and you might have jobs coming up, or if you’re wearing armour all day – on a CQB course, for example – then you probably don’t want to pull heavy. A couple of times I went out on missions with sore legs. It sucked a little bit, but it wasn’t terrible. I only did it once with bad DOMS in my lower back, and it was not a fun night. Trying to clear compounds in Helmand with my back blowing up wasn’t a good idea. However if you don’t need the same level of readiness at a moment’s notice, then there isn’t a problem deadlifting as usual.
If you don’t want to do heavy deads then you’ll need some other sort of posterior-chain exercise. RDLs and good mornings are an obvious choice. While power cleans aren’t a bad option you’ll probably need to still do RDLs as well.
Speed and banded deadlifts work well to keep your numbers up without having to pull heavy weights. If you’re going to do speed deads, avoid the temptation to start putting more and more weight on the bar until suddenly it’s a heavy triple.
I spent another six months in Afghanistan last year, and on Justin’s advice the majority of my deadlift days consisted of RDL 5×6, followed by 3×15 banded good mornings. It let me bring up my posterior-chain without the sort of fatigue that deadlifts can bring. When I got back to Australia my deadlift bounced back to where it was before pretty easily.
Is a rotation system the perfect training program? Absolutely not. It’s designed to be used when work or life prevents you from using something better. It was my answer to the unpredictable and arduous nature of my profession. It should keep you ticking over, and split your work between the main lifts in a simple to program fashion.
Since my last trip I’ve retired from active duty and opened my own S&C facility (Project Warrior). I use a variation of this with any of our new lifters that we get who can’t, for whatever reason, commit to a weekly program.
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.
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.
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.
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. (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 FITwe 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.
Strength and conditioning is a “now” kind of thing. What goals do you have rightnow?What do you want to achieve soon? What can you do today to work towards your goals? Sure, we do things with foresight in mind like mobility or sleeping well, but we hardly consider the big picture: life.
And the outlook is dim. Our future, if we are so lucky to get there, will involve slowing down, getting weaker, and pooping our pants. Two of those things are very unpleasant.
Well my friends, training is the way to stave off the inevitable shit show that is aging. Strength training will keep the structures from falling apart, conditioning will help keep the cardiovascular and respiratory functional, and mobility work will keep everything pliable, safe, and prevent injury. This comprehensive training approach will help maintain neuromuscular efficiency, or how well your nervous system innervates muscles. Being efficient would be a symphony of fluid, beautiful movement, and being inefficient would look like a spasmodic Frankenstein ejaculation.
The Olympic lifts can augment training programs for older gents.
Have you seen an old person lately? I’m talking about a person that makes you think, “That guy is old as fuck.” How does that guy move? He’s probably hunched over, using a cane, and shuffling along slower than Mike Tyson’s intellect. He’s not efficient. He doesn’t have kinesthetic sense (the ability to control one’s body through space). That’s what happens, and it’ll happen to all of us, so we need to hang onto what physical ability we do have for as long as we can.
Losing neuromuscular efficiency and kinesthetic sense is a big deal to the elderly. It’s the difference between falling down a flight of stairs or visiting family. We know that intelligent training will keep us spry, but I also think regularly performing the Olympic lifts in a comprehensive training program will help maintain kinesthetic sense more so than not doing them. Here’s why.
1. Olympic lifting provides a different structural stress than the regular strength lifts.
How often do you guys do anything other than stand on your two feet and squat, press, or pull a weight? Some of you do a bit of conditioning, fewer of you compete in a non-lifting sport, and I’d bet that hardly any of you do any agility work. Olympic lifting is essentially jumping around with a barbell (ignoring discrepancies in coaching styles). The ankles, knees, hips, torso, shoulders, elbows, and wrists will experience and transmit force in a different way than slower strength lifts. This will keep you prepared for non-lifting activity (like going up for a rebound), but it will keep your joints adapted to explosive forces as you age.
I know some guys that can barely get into a squat position in their house, much less with a barbell on their back. Having a shitty end range of motion in your 20s and 30s means that you’ll at least have that deficiency going into old age. By working on the Olympic lifts regularly now, it’ll encourage or force non-mobile people to fix their shit so they can hit a decent front squat rack or overhead squat. Well executed weightlifting will help maintain joint and muscle ROM.
3. The explosive nature of Olympic lifting maintains or improves neuromuscular efficiency and coordination.
Lifting weights fast recruits more motor units compared to lifting slow. More motor unit recruitment practice increases the neuromuscular efficiency overall, which essentially helps you stay “coordinated” as you get older. This is the most important reason that the Olympic lifts should used with aging trainees. Combine the “lifting fast” with the complicated movement patterns inherent in Olympic lifting, and it definitely helps total body coordination. For example, when starting a clean, the hips are flexed or closed. As the trainee jumps, their hips extend or open. Lastly, the hips flex or close again as the trainee receives the weight in the squat position. It’s a complicated movement that requires coordination.
Some coaches would argue that the “pounding” nature of the snatch or clean would be injurious to an older trainee, I would argue that even doing the lifts with light weight, and therefore avoiding the pounding, would be enough to result in maintaining coordination and efficiency. Note the two keys here: 1) large amounts of weight aren’t necessary in geriatric populations and 2) including the Olympic lifts, even with light weight, will help maintain coordination with each passing decade.
Keeping or adding the Olympic lifts in a program of someone approaching their 50s or 60s does have a few considerations. First, if the lifts hurt them, then they obviously shouldn’t do them. Second, they shouldn’t belligerently perform the lifts if their mobility or technique are very poor. And lastly, variations can be used. Would it be nice if a 60 year old guy could stroke a light snatch with perfect positioning? Yeah, but instead, you might need to emulate the close-open-close hip movement with another implement or exercise if he can’t use a barbell or has crappy mobility. Power variations can be used if deep squat positions are unrealistic.
At the end of the day, if an aging trainee is exercising, they will have better longevity and quality of life over non-exercising populations. If the aging trainee actually performs a comprehensive training program that includes strength training, conditioning, and mobility work, then they’ll be way ahead of the curve. I’m just suggesting that the inclusion of the Olympic lifts will augment their efforts in having a happy, healthy life into old age. But I’m also suggesting that if some of you youngsters currently can’t do the Olympic lifts, then start working on ways to include them. If your mobility sucks, then fix it! If you snatch like a dope, stop smoking it and work on your technique. Or you can just wait until we are all 50 years old and hormone therapy is regularly used; we’ll probably live to be 150 years old regardless if you start snatching now.