Archive for September, 2013

Getting Better Every Day

Posted: September 23, 2013 in Uncategorized


Let’s face it, as athletes we all strive to get better.  Whether it’s getting your first pull up, mastering double-unders or surviving “Murph”, everyone has (or should have) a set of goals to achieve.  It is what keeps us coming back day after day to grind through another workout.  There are few better feelings in life than the rush you get when you achieve a physical goal.  Maybe it’s because you know how many hours of hard work you put into it or maybe it’s the fact that a PR can make you forget even the worst days.  Whatever it is, it feels damn good.

Conversely, the opposite can happen when we have a bad day at the box.  The feeling of failure can be very strong, especially if an athlete has been making steady progress.  Sometimes this can have an even larger impact on our psyche than when we achieve a goal.  Many times I have seen athletes get down on themselves, become demotivated and even take time off from working out.  I have been there myself.  In fact, I am there currently.


Instant Gratification

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


This one goes out to all of you I talk to who are pissed because you don’t hit a PR every time you walk into the gym.:


I was talking with Dan before the “Chief Umberger” 1 year anniversary workout and I mentioned to him how there was so much mystique around the workout because it wasn’t posted on the website.  Dan said it is probably why so many of us showed up; we didn’t know what forms of pain were planned for us when we arrived.  He even mentioned that he was considering not posting the WOD until nighttime so people wouldn’t avoid coming based on the exercises listed.  I hope I convinced him otherwise but this definitely got me thinking.  How many of us avoid certain WODs because we are bad at a certain skill or exercise?  Furthermore, how many of us avoid certain life situations because they challenge us above and beyond our comfort level?

As humans, we are wired to behave in certain ways.  Evolution has conditioned our minds to instinctively take the path of least resistance and avoid those things that are more difficult.  When faced with an uncomfortable situation, we have a “fight or flight” response to which most of us are hardwired to the “flight” side.  Only through a conscience effort do we face these situations head-on and find the strength to plow through. The same goes for your body and this is why you will lose muscle if you stop working out.  Your body no longer has the stressors (i.e. CrossFit) to justify keeping the muscle so you begin to catabolize it.  This allows for greater efficiency because there is less muscle, which requires less calories and oxygen to fuel it.  Your body only works as hard as you push it and will always try to find the easiest, most energy-sparing way to function.

But what happens when we make that decision to shelf the “flight” response and go into “fight” mode?  More often than not, we accomplish things that we never thought we could.  You essentially do a complete reversal, going from fear and trepidation to that feeling of invincibility where nothing or no one can stop you.  In our sport, it is referred to as the “CrossFit high”.  I have even seen some of you post about it on Facebook (sorry Rich, I know you hate even the mention of CrossFit-related Facebook posts).

We all have those exercises or skills we aren’t proficient in.  Mine include running, wall ball and handstand push-ups.  In full disclosure, I used to avoid WODs that included these and only did ones that included skills I was strong at.  Maybe it was for an ego stroke (as I put up some pretty good times) or maybe it was because I was a pussy.  Either way, avoiding my weaknesses and giving in to that “flight” response definitely hurt me more than it helped.

It wasn’t until the opportunity to compete in the Mid Atlantic Hopper Affiliate Challenge did I make a real effort to change.  With the prospect of each WOD being randomly comprised of exercises that are pulled from a Bingo hopper, I realized that I better get good at everything or get embarrassed.  And getting embarrassed is not an option.  To be honest, this is the best thing that has ever happened to my training.

Once I started focusing on my weaknesses, they rapidly improved.  I dropped my mile time by over a minute.  What used to be my 5-rep max overhead squat quickly became my 20-rep max.  In WODs where I used to break handstand push-ups into small sets I could finish them all unbroken.  I even noticed that improving on these skills benefitted me in a way I never anticipated.  Because my weak links became stronger and more efficient, I was stronger throughout the entire WOD because I was expending less oxygen to accomplish the same amount of work.  Exercise transitions got easier and rest times decreased, effectively bringing my overall WOD times down.  For someone who has always been terrible at endurance-based workouts his whole life, this was that “high” that I needed.

This is not just my experience, it has been happening to others at 717 as well.  Just yesterday I watched Jamie Chrispen dominate the WOD in the 5:30 AM class.  Her overhead squats looked smooth and controlled, making the transition to burpee box jumps that much easier.  After she finished, we were talking about the WOD and she told me how a month ago, her one rep max on the overhead squat was 60 lbs.  Since she began focusing on improving this skill, her max has almost doubled and the WOD Rx weight of 55 lbs. that would have been very difficult in the past was no longer intimidating.

The great part is, this “fight” mentality doesn’t have to just be limited to CrossFit.  Been wanting to ask that girl or guy out on a date?  Fight past your fear of rejection (or getting pummeled by their significant other) and do it.  Sick of your unfulfilling job?  Break out of your comfort zone and take a chance on a new opportunity.  Stuck in a nowhere relationship?  Drop the dead weight and take a chance on a fresh start.  All of these are common scenarios where humans normally take that path of least resistance and often times end up living with the regret of never making the leap.

So take time to do some self-reflection.  Are you avoiding those situations that make you uncomfortable, either inside or outside of the Box?  If so, I challenge you to make an effort fight the flight response and take them head on.  And next time an exercise you hate shows up in a WOD, get to the Box and bust your ass to improve it.  Once you break through these comfort zones, I bet you will be surprised at what you can achieve.


Being relatively new to the sport of weightlifting, I am always looking to learn more about technique and the different styles of successful lifters.  This normally means watching endless hours of YouTube videos of my favorite lifters and studying how they move.  One of my favorite YouTube channels for this is The Attitude Nation, which used to chronicle the training of 2011 National Champion Jon North (AKA “The Champ”) and now tracks the progress of his own weightlifting team.  Upon hearing that CrossFit Hail Fire in Orwigsburg, PA would be hosting an Attitude Nation Weightlifting Seminar, I jumped at the opportunity.

A little more about Jon North. He and his wife Jess own The Attitude Nation which was born out of Jon’s incredible passion and excitement for weightlifting.  As he says on his podcast, the AN is for those who “do what they want” and those that raise a middle finger (or two) to society when they try to tell you how to live your life.  Jon is a former national champion in the 94 kg weight class and has represented the US in many international competitions.  He brings an excitement to the sport that is, in my opinion, unmatched.  Coach Dan got me into weightlifting but watching old Cal Strength and MDUSA videos of Jon and Donny Shankle made me want to compete.  Recently, Jon retired from the sport and now coaches a team of weightlifters full time at his gym in NC.  Am I a Jon North fan? Yes. But I will write this review objectively so you know exactly what to expect if you were to take this seminar.  I feel that’s only fair.

To start the day, Jon began by telling his story.  Fueled by an iced black coffee (AKA “Miss Brown Eyes”) he energetically told the group about how he got into weightlifting and why it means so much to him as well as what we were going to learn during the seminar.  Most importantly, Jon stressed that there is no wrong way to lift weights within the rules.  What he would be teaching us is his way; a technique he has developed over the years by pulling from many different coaching influences.  We could then use the “AN Catapult” exclusively or use pieces of it like he has to create our own style of lifting.  This to me was a very important point because all too often, I come across athletes who think there is only one right way to lift.  I personally have tried three different styles of snatching in the past 8 months and have finally settled on one I feel comfortable with.  Everyone is different and Jon understands this.

While speaking, the one thing I noticed from the get-go is Jon’s passion for all things weightlifting.  His excitement for the seminar was genuine and I could tell he wanted this to be a worthwhile experience for all of us.  Along with Jon was his wife, Jessica North who is also a nationally-ranked weightlifter.  Throughout the day, Jon would be describing the movements and the physics behind them while Jess got the enviable duty of demonstrating.  Unbeknownst to her, she also provided some particularly funny moments with her reactions to Jon’s self-described ADD tangents. Especially when Jon said that anyone who took his Level 2 seminar could stay at his house.

With the intro complete we moved on to the snatch portion of the seminar.  Since the snatch is such a technical lift, Jon and Jess broke it down into many small pieces.  I won’t detail each step here because that is what you take the seminar for.  After each technical instruction and subsequent demonstration, the group grabbed a bar and drilled the movement.  The entire time, Jon and Jess walked the room and made sure that every athlete was doing it correctly before moving on to the next step.