Maximizing Your Amplify Experience

Part 3: “Going Strong”
The Smart Approach to Strength Work

We got you started with preparation tips from Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, so now it’s go time.

Let’s look at how to approach any barbell lift (or even gymnastics skill focus).

First, understand there are quite a few styles of strength programs out there, with various macro- and micro-cycles to their name. Many have worth in any given fitness regimen, depending on desired goals and as long as the athlete is dedicated in following the progression.

In the CrossFit world, we want to build strength and skill while maintaining cardiorespiratory conditioning, so we put to use a generalized preparation program. Ultimately, let the coaches balance consistency and variance while you put in the work.

You’ve got your eyes on the prize, which is of course gains in muscular strength and endurance, so here are a few pointers that should allow you to ring that bell as you test your strength.

BEGINNERS:
Hurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up! Test your strength!
Make sure to simultaneously develop range of motion as you develop strength. Take the muscles through proper ROM so that each joint gains stability at beginning and end range. Connective tissues like tendons and ligaments need to become resilient while the muscle fibers grow in number and size, so it should all go without saying: strength takes time. You’re in this for lifelong fitness. Keep that in mind.

1.) Mechanics
Watch videos, pay attention to demos, and listen to cues. Be vocal with questions for clarification. Coaches will focus on the basics of the movement, then a few specific points during the exercise, then back to the large movement pattern. (Globally, then locally, then globally again.) Keep the form early for gains in the long run.

Mechanics Example: heels down, knees out, chest up during Back Squats.

2.) Consistency
Find and focus on the cues that seem to help– without overthinking the lift or skill. Move with solid mechanics every time, not just once in a while.

Consistency Example: stay smooth through the shoulder joints on kipping Pull-ups or Toes to Bar. Work strict pulls with sound form, then kip through the midline, not just legs, so multiple reps are clean.

3.) Intensity
If, and only if, a barbell lift or gymnastics skill is consistent in mechanics should we look to increase intensity. Be willing to reel yourself in during heavy 1rep tests or during a MetCon if your movement pattern is ever lost.

Intensity Example: are elbows dropping and lower back losing stability on high rep Cleans? Quite possibly an ego check is in order. No shame here; there’s no crowd of onlookers egging you on to swing the heavy mallet. Either slow down, drop the weight, or both.

VETERANS:
Big gun, coming through! No Rube here. Roll up the sleeves and give ‘er a whirl!
Don’t neglect the above. Check form first, then ramp up and attack the rep sequence of the day. And have fun! This is a great time to socialize between lifts. Give some kudos to the new kids on the block– they look to you for social cues. Plus, seeing others move, efficiently or not, can help with your own body awareness.

1.) Keep the Rep Scheme
Sometimes, the programmed sequence doesn’t seem like enough. Do not unnecessarily max out on a lift. Let the progression work for you. The No pain, no gain philosophy is short-sighted. Be smarter than that, and reap the benefits when it’s time. Likewise, try to hold on during the tough days. Those are on purpose, so only give in to keep safe or prevent from overtraining.

Strength Example: Snatch work calls for 5 sets of 3 at 65%, touch-and-go. You feel good and increase the weight, but have to drop in between reps. You missed the concept of barbell cycling here, and the purposeful lighter load to achieve the desired stimulus. Can’t complete more Snatch reps in a different part of the workout or on a different day that week? You missed the target completely. No prize for you.

2.) Know Your Body
Are you the type that needs a solid warm-up on the barbell before getting into the working sets of the day? Or do you tend to fatigue early and need to make bigger jumps in weight? We understand our tendencies better with experience, so let’s use that knowledge to get the most out of the strength session.

Strength Example: Deadlift options. 1) extended warm-up at #135/95 for 5 reps, then 5 more at #185/125, then 5 more at #225/155. Or, 2) quicker jumps with 5 reps at #135/95, 3 at #225/155, heavier singles up from there.

3.) Be Ready to Fail
How can you know what’s possible if you don’t test your physical threshold? Failure means we’ve tested the upper limits of our capabilities. The overload principle causes breakdown of the muscle by placing it under load, and the body rebuilds to resist future stress. We just want to safely find that failing point, and correctly do so periodically in programming, so we can approach our threshold again– whether it be in power lifts, Olympic lifts, or gymnastics movements like pull-ups and handstand push-ups. So, embrace the failure in order to succeed. Then ring that PR bell loud and clear and claim your oversized stuffed animal. Don’t worry– you’re strong enough to carry it.

Strength/Skill Examples: Strict Pull-ups to failure. Testing a 1rep Front Squat. Working on extra dips and transitions on the rings to finally achieve a Muscle-up.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Giving Up
Information on how to correctly fail by dumping a barbell.

Dedication
Hard work is never easy. Work, build gains, and work again. Check tips on how.

Movements
Click each link for pics, video, and other details.

 

This is part three of a six-part series entitled Maximizing Your Amplify Experience. Stay tuned for more.

– Scott, 7.14.2017

Maximizing Your Amplify Experience

Part 2: “You Are Here”
Upon Arriving at Amplify

You made it. You prepared with tips from Part 1 of this series, you’re off the couch, and you finally have pants on. Plus, there’s that unique mix of dread and excitement setting in for another Amplify workout.

Wait, you arrived more than a minute before class starts, right?

As coaches, we’ll get you warmed up– but keep in mind it’s a generalized warm-up before any specific workout preparation for the hour. This usually involves large muscle group movements followed by some quick drills, but you can get moving even before that. Yes, you’re in the gym, but now the work begins. If showing up is half the battle, there’s still more distance to cover.

Let’s map out some items for you to do in the minutes before class.

BEGINNERS:
To gain your whereabouts you need a zenith, since it’s easy to lose your bearings once inside the Amplify doors. Generally, there is a lot going on; often times several classes are occurring, the music is bumping, and of course there’s that whole sweating and grunting and dropping weights thing. So, let’s get you pointed in the right direction.

1.) Timeliness
Early on, we know you look to the coaches to tell you pretty much everything to do. But, surprise! You actually know your body better than anyone. Yes, even those of you with awful, *ahem*, developing body awareness. So, do you need more than 5-10 minutes preparation? Get here earlier, and follow #2 and #3.

2.) Blood Flow
Foam roll with a purpose. Rolling out increases circulation, breaks down soft tissue adhesion, and provides myofascial release. If you haven’t been shown how yet, grab a coach! A good start is to hit back and lats, quads and hammies, and calves/achilles. You can also warm up with simple PVC pipe movements or our crossover symmetry bands. Those are the elastic bands over in the corner, hanging from the wall. We have diagram details of exercises to do as movement prep there. We even have mobility posters on the wall. Still feeling lost? Don’t be stubborn– ask for directions!

3.) Socialize
Connect with our community. You won’t be disappointed. Drop any stress of the day and build your social health while developing your physical well-being. Not a social butterfly? No problem. Buddy up with just one or two other newbies you recognize. There is power in numbers, after all, and sharing accountability with another newcomer can set a grid of consistency on your fitness journey.

VETERANS:
As experienced athletes, your internal GPS is now preset– you have specific places you like to go upon arriving at Amplify. Your meridian, if you will. This is fine. Here are some reminders in case you’ve found yourself zoning out or losing sight of your surroundings.

1.) Know the Workout
Some check the WOD the night before, others like to find out upon arrival. Both for mental reasons; we get it. Either way, by the time your class starts you’ll benefit from knowing what movements are coming your way. It will help with warm-up and also any gear you may need (shoes, jumprope, wrist wraps, etc). Come with any questions to help clarify the expectations for you and other members.

2.) Movement Prep
Are you guilty of camping out on a foam roller? Don’t just sit and take in the scenery– get yourself moving so you’re not cold or stiff heading into the first portion of class. This might also be a good time to get extra weakness work in. Mobility/PVC drills? Kipping? Handstands? Even an easy barbell lift to activate the CNS might be worth your while. It’s your gym. Put it to use.

3.) Be a Leader
Give encouragement to the previous class as they finish their workout. Introduce yourself to any members you haven’t met. Build our community. Remember being a newcomer? Help guide our Intros or Elements participants. Develop comfort within our doors; everyone benefits. It isn’t just the coaching staff who open Amplify as a second home. You are here. Help make the most of it!

RECOMMENDED READING:
Warm-ups
Workout preparation and awaking the CNS. What works?

Range of Motion
Need work on mobility? Cutting your ROM in a workout? Check out these tips and videos.

Attitude
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t– you might be wrong? Check out how.

 

This is part two of a six-part series entitled Maximizing Your Amplify Experience. Stay tuned for more.

– Scott, 6.30.2017

Maximizing Your Amplify Experience

Part 1: “Cleared for Arrival”
Before Entering Amplify

Prior to setting foot in the gym, some items need to be in place to ensure success with any fitness program. For us at Amplify, we pride ourselves in understanding that the development of the whole person is the ultimate goal; we always want to consider the entire spectrum of health and wellness: a balance of physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being.

This means we should first acknowledge time outside of the gym in order to help facilitate personal progress in your fitness journey and in life.

To start, here are some “to-do’s” before coming to class.

BEGINNERS:
First off, welcome! You’ve taken control of your fitness journey, and in looking for a safe and reliable place to land, you decided on us.

Some newbies come to us with absolutely no fitness background. Others are athletes looking for the next step in life or have been in and out of other programs before settling on Amplify. No matter what, no matter how intimidating it may feel, and no matter how much turbulence life has had before now, we are here to make that transition as smooth as possible. We’re glad you landed on Amplify.

1.) See the big picture.
Strength and conditioning takes time. Fitness is both a journey and a destination, although in this analogy we never really “get there,” we just arrive at layovers– short-term benchmarks where we refuel and reenergize to keep working our way towards the next goal. Keep in mind, it doesn’t all have to happen in one workout. Set a one month goal. Set a summer goal. If you want, set lots, aim high. But see them through. How? Write them down. Tell other people. Amplify coaches are here to help, so ask questions!

2.) Plan ahead.
We already set the daily workout, so that’s easy. But by planning your set days each week, checking the workout and any related videos ahead of time, and coming in with a plan of action, this not only shows true commitment but it’s also mentally easier once you set foot in the gym. And no extra baggage! Work around your career and social calendar, just for an hour. Allow yourself that. Let the only weight on your shoulders be that of the barbell, and the only stress be that of the MetCon.

3.) Hold yourself accountable.
While it’s okay to miss workout days, it’s not okay for it to become a habit. You didn’t register as an Amp member to stay home. We host nutrition challenges, so become involved! Use Wodify or a personal journal as a workout log to see your progress. Need more help? Find a copilot. Connect with a buddy in the same class hour as you and create weekly check-ins.

VETERANS:
Thanks for continuing to fly the friendly skies with Amplify. You are the heart and soul here, so your preparation is not to be neglected. Even after months or years at the gym, we could all use refocus and reminders.

1.) Don’t become complacent.
No recycled air here. If you haven’t felt stagnant, good on you. However, if you think your fitness journey is now an overcrowded flight circling the runway, then we need to find new motivation. How? See #2 and #3.

2.) Revisit goals.
It is just as important to examine your own goals as it is for a beginner. Life changes, and so should your outlook on approaching your fitness regimen with fun and fury. You know how exciting it is to have small victories or PR after years of hard work, but also remember to smile at life’s setbacks. That’s just headwind, after all, so set a new standard and attack. Change your altitude to improve your attitude.

3.) Maintain priorities.
Family and friends matter. Put those life essentials on level with your personal health. Along with social health development should be your physical well-being, and vice versa. After all, you can’t be there for loved ones if you literally can’t be there because of a lack of wellness. There’s always a big picture involved; invest in yourself in order to invest in others. Adjust for heavy winds, and keep navigating.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Goal Setting
Simple tips on how to plan your summer workouts and reap the benefits come fall.

The Fitness Equation
Things can look so simple on paper: fuel, work, rest, repeat. So where do we go wrong? Check out the basic recipe for success in physical fitness.

Cherry Picking
Why shy away from the very workouts you need? See recommendations on how to avoid laziness.

 

This is part one of a six-part series entitled Maximizing Your Amplify Experience. Stay tuned for more.

– Scott, 6.16.2017

Words of the Week

Poker Hand

Body Types

We come in all shapes and sizes, us humans. Do a little people watching and that’s pretty obvious. And life is a bit like a poker game in that you can’t control your starting hand. Like it or not, you have to play the cards you’re dealt.

Could you toss your cards to the side? Sure. Lots do, don’t they? They throw them right into the muck. It’s only one game though, this life. No re-upping. And if you’re reading along right now chances are good that you’ve decided folding your hand isn’t an option. You refuse to be the first one to bust.

Yet the issue is still the same as the start– even a peek at someone else’s cards isn’t going to change your own.

Basic human science explains we are all born with genetics which includes a predetermined body type set by our DNA. To a large extent, your make and mold is the result of centuries of ancestry. But your potential, your future within yourself, that, fellow card sharks, is up to you.

Let’s ante up and look deeper into this notion.

Card Sharks

The stress of physical work, particularly the central nervous system response to heavy lifting or quick, explosive movements, creates a positive surge in human growth hormones.  Namely androgen. Others as well, but it’s androgen that gets the focus when looking directly at muscle growth. Two of those androgen amino acids specifically responsible for the anabolic effect of muscle protein synthesis are the well-known testosterone and estrogen.  [1] [2] [3]

We all have these hormones running through our bodies. Both men and women. Women release testosterone just like men do; men release estrogen like women do. It’s just in different amounts. That’s what separates the genders.  [1] [2]

Thanks to the pituitary gland during puberty and the endocrine system throughout life our gender-specific responses to age and daily living cause the excretion and regulation of our body hormones.

In layman’s terms? Your brain and your body combine to make you you.

pituitary_gland It’s this percentage of varying hormone chemicals that creates your starting hand. That and your ancestral DNA.  From there the game is on– it is our job to make the most of ourselves. The goal is to hit a lucky streak in life, isn’t it?  But if you know poker, then you know it’s not just a game of luck. Depending on the style of game you can change your strategy, play off of percentages, turn over new cards, or even read opponents and embedded risk. But in the end it’s the strength of your final hand that’s the real measure.  In other words, overall health and well-being, if you’re following along here.

To continue the analogy, some people realize they scrapped their hand way too soon when they could’ve simply pursued a different angle. Like, say, being active and monitoring nutrition.

In the game of life, our fitness is what we make of it.  But there are rules. There are limits.

Our body types run the gamut of different styles, but the three main somatotypes have historically been referred to as ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.

bodytypes

• An ectomorph is typically skinny and lean, usually taller with long limbs and thin muscles. Ectomorphs find it hard to gain weight with their generally fast metabolism burning up calories. [1]

• A mesomorph is naturally athletic in build with larger muscles. Mesomorphs find it relatively easy to gain and lose weight. Although they gain body fat more easily than ectomorphs, they are genetically strong and inherently build muscle quicker than any other body type. [1]

• An endomorph is usually solid and generally bigger but is sometimes labeled “soft.” Endomorphs gain fat very easily but do carry some inherent strength. Endomorphs are often shorter in stature but can have strong and muscular limbs, legs in particular. [1]

Within these very generalized physical categories can exist other partial somatotypes combining the larger headings. For instance, an ecto/meso or a meso/endo body type.

body types real imagebody types real image women

While this terminology isn’t super important, it does help set up the understanding of one’s body.  And it exposes the asinine statement of, “I want to look like him/her!”

Sorry, folks. In examining physical fitness, you will always remain you. Just a new and improved version of you.  With nourishment, work, and recovery people will look like the fittest rendition of themselves.

For both men and women, if the real goal in your fitness journey is to look like a completely different person then that isn’t actually possible. Yes, of course, we can build muscle fibers, both fast and slow twitch, which also means we develop both the number of muscle cells as well as the size of pre-existing muscle cells. We can gain speed as well as endurance.  Conversely, we are able to drop excess body fat and change body composition into a healthier us, if needed and desired. But we will only do all of this according to the potential and limitations we were born with.

This is known as a person’s genetic predisposition.

Similar to the above, other unhealthy statements we sometimes hear in the gym are “I don’t want to do too much cardio and become a stick,” or “I don’t want to lift heavy because I don’t want to get bulky.”  Or worse, from some young ladies out there, “I don’t want to look like a man.”  Nails on the chalkboard.

Great news, if that’s your worry: you won’t. You can’t.

It doesn’t mean a person can’t get stronger, faster, and in some ways, larger in size… even more “toned” or “cut” as body fat falls. What it does mean is that we can only do all of this according to 1) our gender, and 2) what our genes will allow.

body series

Again, it’s simple, in a way: you can’t turn into a different person. No one will change their body type without artificial means.

If you truly want to look like someone else, get plastic surgery. Plenty in the world do this; no judgement passed. Hormone therapy is part of gender modification.  All well and good if that’s a person’s goals. But again, it’s artificial. Just like it would be to look for complete body modifying fitness gains.  This includes illegal growth hormones, anabolic steroid use, and to an extent, blood doping. [1]

The only way to do something to your body beyond what is genetically possible is artificially.

What we really need to be examining, then, is eustress and the endocrine response. The real statement should be, “I want to be the fittest, fastest, strongest ME.”

This, this, is a quality statement. This is a healthy path to fitness. This, my friends of all shapes and sizes, is absolutely possible.

Instead of comparing your physique to others, the healthier mental exercise is to compare your body to your previous self. And frankly, many people out there put a lot of worry into aesthetics anyway, versus result-driven data like work completion (rounds, reps, weight, etc.) or overall positive feelings and self-affirming emotions.

So as you examine your true goals in and outside of the gym, take this to heart.  It isn’t a deterrent from seeking what it is you want from your body.  Hell no. No, this is the opposite. What you want, athletically, can actually be obtained as you realize what genetics you’ve been given from your ancestors.  What hand you’ve been dealt in this life. If you are gunning for strength, that’s doable. Definitely. If your weakness is conditioning, then cardiorespiratory endurance can improve. Unquestionably. If your coordination, your agility, your overall athleticism is lacking, it can all come to fruition as you develop within your life journey.

body type funny cartoon

So go out and get it. Go “all in” if you must. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t.  But remember you are your own person and will remain just that. Be smart enough that if anyone tries to sell you otherwise, you can see through their bluff. Don’t put effort into trying to be a different person, in a different body. Work to be the best in your own skin, and love the life you have.

Good luck, all. The cards are on the table, the stakes have been raised; it’s your move. Don’t fold now.

– Scott, 7.14.2014

joker

Warm-ups

wallpaper-Fairy-Tale-Lake

Warm-ups

Come with me, if you will, to a land of make believe.

A place of fairy tale wonder, full of people who never have the need to warm-up their bodies before physical exercise. Playfully leaping around in lush valleys of barbells and chalk… giggling through treelimb pull-ups and snatching gigantic flower stems… climbing vines and swinging kettleberries. In this pleasantville of sparkle-eyed, chiseled bodies, not a soul lacks range of motion. Not a soul has tight muscles. And not one fitness nymph gets a “no rep.” Ever.

Sound ridiculous? That’s because this place doesn’t exist. Remember? It’s make believe.

For the world of reality that lays before us muscle mortals, warm-ups are useful and necessary– even for those seemingly perfect professional exercisers. But maybe not in the way you think. So what is truly necessary for workout preparation?

Physical Warm-up
Common sense tells more and more people to give their bodies 1) a generalized warm-up before physical activity, and 2) an exercise specific lead up to any workout or sport.

Just stretching a bit beforehand doesn’t do the trick. In fact, stretching in general has received critique in recent years anyway. See a few viewpoints here: NBC via the CDC, HuffPost, Mobility WOD, Mark Sisson, T-Nation.

A muscular and connective tissue warm-up is often best when suited towards the individual. At the gym, we use a group warm-up as a one-size-fits-all preparation. It works, but is mostly beneficial to give members an idea of what movements to use if ever prompted to take time on their own for warm-ups. The more knowledge you gain about yourself, the better you can prep for a workout or competition.

General theory is the shorter the workout, the longer the warm-up. Meaning, higher intensity work requires a longer warm-up, whereas a shorter prep might be just fine for longer exertion. Also, extra mobility work should take place outside of the warm-up and is potentially best post-workout or at least when blood flow has increased. Past that, get to know your body so you can gear preparation correctly. And be adamant and committed to doing things right so a good warm-up ensures you are set up for success in the gym. Does a varied warm-up work? Or do you like the same, scripted preparation to feel ready to go each day?

But what’s often missing is something else entirely. Sit back and listen close…

onceuponatimemachine_-_wraparoundsm

CNS Warm-up
Once upon a time there was a misunderstood body system called the central nervous system. The CNS, for short. Around before you were born, the CNS is as complex as all the solar systems in all the galaxies in the universe. If we could go back in time, we’d see this system actually start to develop before your first heartbeat.

Potentially overlooked in the gym, the CNS controls a person’s motor functions and all voluntary muscle action. Nothing “goes” unless the nerves send a signal. So we could think of a CNS warm-up as a start up to the body’s computer– the brain to muscle group connection needs booting up to be online.

Would you jump in a car that sat in the garage all day and pop it in drive, immediately slamming the gas pedal to the floor? No way. Well, at least not if it’s your car and you want it to last. So why would you get under the barbell without preparation and expect maximum performance out of your body? It’s a more complex machine than a car’s engine. And you definitely want yourself to last.

In basic terms for physical movement, you can’t expect to perform at your best when the nerve pathways that fire to make you move aren’t greased.

brain-exercising

Approaching Warm-ups
If the workout facing you has heavy lifting, in the vein of a 1repmax, then you’ll need to put some intensity ahead of the stress that will follow. A person can go in “cold” and still have success in a lift or a workout, but think of when you’ve had your PR lifts– it’s after a few quality ramp up sets, guaranteed. Otherwise you haven’t maximized your potential. This is why we often use plyometrics or other explosive movements to ignite your CNS. Speed and power are critical– more muscle fibers need to be recruited for the more weight you lift.

Once you have performed a general dynamic warm-up, a number of exercises can be used to light up your CNS before your heavy training. These exercises are not performed in a manner to fatigue the muscles, remember. They are meant to prime the pump… which is an amazingly accurate pun if I do say so myself. Before squatting, go through a few box jumps, split jumps, or kettlebell swings– all excellent options. Prior to deadlifting or Oly lifting, clean or snatch from various positions at the hang to initiate lat/trap/shoulder involvement and improve hip mobility. (Reference from Chad Smith.)

A warm-up for a higher rep workout, something with gymnastic elements for instance, would still include dynamic activities that require quick and strong muscular contraction. Once the body’s core temperature has been elevated, these movements would serve to fire up the CNS and prepare it for the upcoming volume. Particularly if fast movements will be required in a WOD. Think kipping pull-ups, air squats, push-ups, etc.

We’ll often do running drills pre-workout, even if there isn’t any running in the WOD. Calling on the CNS to rev up by messing with coordination a little creates those routes necessary from synapses in the brain and all along the spinal cord. Other simple items to include could be contract/relax exercises for mobility prep and core awakening exercises such as toes to bar, hollow rocks, and isometric squat holds. (Reference from Allen Besselink.)

For more details, check this excellent post by Darrell Morgan.

 

So there’s the quick run-down to the warm-up. Think about what you are working towards, and what would be beneficial to include in your preparation to maximize your power output. Then see if the warm-up helped, and live happily ever after.

Better than a fairy tale ending, this is a smart and realistic approach to warming up for success in the gym.

– Scott, 8.25.2013

the-end-3