Yes. I said it, Ironman Triathlons are easy. I’ve always said on race day, from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to bed, you will have done something extraordinary and you’ll remember for the rest of your life. It’s one day. Anyone can push themselves through one day of shit that will last a lifetime.
The training however is not easy. For months, maybe even years, you will have signed up for a race, on a particular day, and you have to be ready for it. I don’t even think the physical aspect of training is that difficult. If I told you to run for one minute today, could you? Sure you could. Then, tomorrow we can increase it by 10 seconds. You could do that too. If we continued adding 10 seconds a day, you would be able run for two hours straight in a little under two years. It’s the basic principle of progressive overload. Will it take two years to progressively overload to complete an Ironman? It depends on where your fitness currently is, but most likely it’ll be quicker than that.
The mental aspect of your training is what’s going to separate you from finishing or not finishing on race day. A million things can happen even before the start line. Did you arrive the day before and feel too rushed? Been there. Did you leave one tiny bike part while packing your bike and have to scramble to a bike shop to get a new one? Done that. Did you start cramping and need to quickly figure out what you can do to fix it? Yup, that’s happen to me too. If you have trained at least adequately, the body will be more than ready on race day. The mind is going to be the greatest predictor of finish time.
This training of the mind doesn’t happen on race day either. It occurs during the months or years while you are training for this race. It comes during those early morning sessions when you would rather be in bed. Those bike rides when you get two flats on and have to walk miles to a gas station for a patch. It also happens during those long runs on those days you just don’t have it in you. Those are all examples of some of your best training days. It’s those days that will be more beneficial in the long run than any days where you set a PR in training. Overcoming obstacles leads to success during adversity. You’ll have plenty of hardship to deal with as you swim, bike and run 140.6 miles
Your mind is the most powerful tool in your bag if you train it to be. It takes training just as the body does. Staying positive, using mental imagery, and other sports psychology tools are vital when trying to exercise for essentially an entire day. Thing is, it’s do able. Don’t let the little things get you down, but instead find ways to overcome them. Push through those sessions, it’ll make you stronger in the end. Problems are just opportunities to find new answers. Don’t ever let mediocrity be acceptable.
It’s pretty simple, but we often get this wrong. Skill work is designed to be light and instill perfect movement patterns. Strength work is to increase load and get stronger. MetCons, or metabolic conditioning, are intended to move quickly, get the heart rate high, and kick some ass. Unfortunately, all too often in the world of CrossFit, we get that wrong. Daily, we prescribe MetCons during our WOD that typically last for 5-20 minutes. This short period of time is a vital part of your workout. However, we get hung up on doing a certain prescribed load or movement that does not allow for us to be intense during our MetCon.
Let’s look at our three main goals of MetCons:
None of the above happens when intensity is not achieved. When you are gassed, trying to complete a movement you need more practice in, or lifting a load too heavy to cycle for a number of reps, you are massively missing out and doing your workout a disservice. In every workout we should be both practicing and training. MetCons have no place for practice. You should be sufficient in the movement and/or load during your conditioning portion of the workout. A good rule of thumb is load being about 50-60% of your 1 RM. Yes, there are exceptions to this rule. But, for the most part, it’s a pretty good rule to live by.
Let’s look at an example:
Fran (21-15-9 reps for time of thrusters/pull-ups) is a 4-7 minute workout for most mortals. If you are going RX and it takes you 15 minutes, you are not getting the most out of your workout. I have never done Fran slower than 5 minutes. That’s because it took me a couple of years to RX Fran. Instead of taking 15 minutes to finish, I scaled the load to a barbell. Each time I repeated the workout, I went heavier until I reached the RX load of 95. I knew my intensity with the workout wasn’t going to be there until my 1 rep max was around 185. The same would go if you can’t string together a solid set of pull-ups. Scale the pull-ups until you can hit sets of at least 3.
In addition, the lasting benefits of intense MetCons are endless. The most important for many of us is burning fat. It’s a fact that high intensity interval training burning tons of fat for up to 24 hours after a workout. But, if we aren’t being intense with out MetCons, you are getting any of that benefits. This is not to say you should also go super light or pick out movements that are easy – no way! You should still be challenging yourself through load and movement, but just sticking to exercises that allow for intensity to be achieved.
In short, your metabolic conditioning should be an intense period of time, not a time to try to lift heavy or practice a new movement. A good rule of thumb is going to be 50-60% 1 rep max for loaded exercises and being about to do at least 3 reps unbroken of a gymnastics movement. This general suggestion will ensure that intensity can be achieved throughout the workout. Once the WOD is completed, then you can feel free to put in the extra work at movements to get better at them!
How do I tell people what they should eat?
Well, first off I always recommend them logging a couple days of food. From there, we can make recommendations on food intake, calories, and macro nutrients.
But, regardless of where those are set, there is a key to making healthy eating a lifestyle change – balance.
Balance gives us the ability to still indulge in the things we love. Whether it is dessert, lasagna, cheeseburgers, or alcohol, we all have that something that doesn’t align with our healthy lifestyle.
That’s why I recommend the 80/20 approach. I don’t know who was the first to come up with this, but it definitely wasn’t me. The 80/20 life that I recommend says that 80% of your diet should be real, good food. I go by the rule that if it roamed on the earth or grew in the earth, it’s probably pretty good; meats, nuts, seeds, fruit, and veggies. It’s just real food.
That other 20% can be whatever you want. These are your indulgences – cake, ice cream, other sugary treats, and alcohol. Some take the 80/20 on a daily approach and eat great all day long then get their splurge at night. Others can eat great all week long and use the weekends as their time to partake in not so healthy choices. You choose what’s best for you.
Your health is your responsibility. No one else can be accountable for what you put into your body. I am not here to tell you to never eat (insert bad food option) or drink (insert sugary or alcoholic drink) again. In fact, I am telling you the opposite. You should partake in those things you love, but make it in moderation and make sure the vast majority of the time it's good stuff. This is not a short term solution, but something I want you to take for life.
Three things need to happen to make a lifestyle change. You need to eat real stuff 80% of the time, don’t eat in excess, and do intentional activity almost every day.
The last one tends to scare people when I first tell them they need to do something almost active every day. Then I explain it and it doesn’t seem like such a feat.
The 3 key words in my statement are intentional, activity, and almost.
Intentional – I want you to mean to do this activity. Walking your dog around the block doesn’t count if you already do it. Walking your dog an extra loop now counts as your intentional activity. Elevator broken at work and forces you to use the stairs? Doesn’t count. Choosing to walk up the stairs does however.
Activity – this can be almost anything. I want you to do something that makes you move, burn some calories, and gets you closer to your goals. Activities can range from a CrossFit class to recreational soccer game to yoga. This activity doesn’t even have to be a class. It can be a short workout at home that only lasts 10 minutes. Or could even be a long walk around the neighborhood with your family. It doesn’t need to be a massive calorie burning ordeal. It just needs to be something.
Almost – what happens when your schedule just doesn’t allow for any kind of workout? Or you just really want to sleep in on a Sunday instead of getting up for a run? That’s okay! You’ve done something every other day of the week so you are good! Sometimes life gets in the way or our bodies just really need a rest. Take the day off because you are good, you’ve done plenty the last week already.
Don’t overthink this rule. Just do some sort of intentional activity everyday and you will be on the road to health, fitness, living longer, and living better.
I am a huge advocate of logging your food. It takes so much of the guessing game out of eating and allows you to hit proper calories and macros accurately. I recommend everyone walking through the doors of our facility or during our first consultation phone call to log at least 3 days of food.
These first three days I want them to eat normal. If we can’t see what hasn’t been working for you, it could be harder to determine what is best for you. After these first few days, we will then set you up with calories per day and macro nutrient distributions based on your current weight, activity levels, and goals. Then, I will have you log 3 more days for us.
For some, that’s all they need. From those three days, they can essentially eat the same stuff and be on the way to their goals. Could they lose quicker? Maybe. Could they perform their workouts better? Likely. But, it is working for them and I am fine with that. Progress and sustainability are at the top of my priority list, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is also the perfect strategy for body maintenance. If someone stops logging, I encourage them to log a day or two every couple of months to ensure things are still going in the right direction.
For the rest of us, logging long term may be necessary. This is often the case for fat loss clients and muscle gain clients. These goals require pretty specific calorie and macro goals, in which your body may not be regulating properly when it tells you it’s hungry or full. Sometimes you need more, sometimes you need less, and especially in the beginning of any dietary change, our bodies are not necessarily in line with our satiety levels. I still prescribe individuals to log normal food intake for a few days. Then, we will give them their calories and macros and constantly check up on them to measure progress and reanalyze intake levels.
Does logging every day seem too much? No worries, because I actually recommend skipping a day each week. This will allow for them to have freedom with their food and not deprive themselves of what they really want. Issues come with deprivation. Don't go overboard on this day every week. Trying to keep in mind moderation with all things is key. But, this day off from logging will lead to a better, long term, lifestyle change.
With so many food options, diets, and trends out there, it is often overwhelming. Eating real food, in correct quantities is always going to be the best approach. Logging your food to ensure your calories and macros are where they need to be takes away a lot of the guessing. Remember, this isn't a diet for the short term, it's a solution for life. If you need help, let us know, we are there for you in this process of making a lifestyle change.
Next week is the culmination of our 12-week strength program that we have been working tirelessly on. Now, it’s time to reap the benefits and see how much stronger we have become! But, how do we determine where we are currently at and what we should be shooting for? The more 1 rep max attempts we have during testing, the more tired we get and the higher risk of injury as our form deteriorates. So, we should have a goal number in mind rather than hitting multiple heavy attempts that are relatively close numbers.
During our testing days, we will give you percentages of your goal to go after. Most of the reps should be relatively easy. We want you to warm up the movement, but not stress the muscles too much until the final testing sets.
Create your 100% (1 RM) goal according to the options below:
Option 1: Use if you have not hit close to your previous 1 RMs or your 5 RM, 3RM, and 1 RM have stayed the same lately.
If your strength hasn’t been progressing much, chances are your 1 RM is close to what it was in the past. Let’s set your goals for the day off of your previous max. The last two sets of your testing will be 1 rep at 100% and 1 rep at +2-4%. If you hit your 100%, nice work, you just hit your old 1 RM! Then, if you (and your coach) thought your form was great and you have more in you, bump it up a little to around 105% of that number. Hit it and you have a new PR. If you don’t, no worries, you are still a strong MF! To improve next time around, come to class more, improve your nutrition/recovery, or stick to the weightlifting percentages given in class better in the future.
Option 2: If you are new, don’t have a 1 RM, and/or have not been in the gym much lately.
Your test day is going to be a guessing game, and that’s okay. Your coach can help decide along the way how much you should be lifting based off of your RPE, or Rate of Perceived Exertion, and your technique on that particular lift. Your coach will guide you through the set and determine where you should be for your 1 RM test day. Remember, even if you have lifted X-lbs in the past, if you haven’t been regular at the gym, that may not be your current 1 RM. Technique is key, especially when lifting maximal loads.
Option 3: Use if during the program you have been smashing your lifts, hit new 5 RM or 3 RMs, or already hit a new 1 RM.
The Russians are incredible weight lifters. Some amazing Russian coach along the way came up with a chart that estimates our 1 RMs from our multiple repetition maxes. We can use the chart below and/or some math to determine what our realistic 1 rep max goal should be. Based on our best 5RM, 3 RM, or any other data you have accumulated over the last 11 weeks, we can use those numbers to estimate our new 1 RM. This is your 100% goal for the test. As stated above, your final two sets will be 100% and +2-4%. If you hit the 100%, that’s a new PR! Then, if you feel you can hit a heavier lift, wait a few minutes and try for another. If you are satisfied with your performance and think bad form or failure will occur, do not make that last attempt.
Side note: for some of you with high loads, if you want another attempt, but 2-4% is too aggressive, back it down a bit. For example, if I hit a 405 deadlift my 104% is 420. If 405 is my new PR and it achieved, but rough, I would think about only adding 5-10 lbs versus 15. If that 405 felt easy, maybe 420 is doable. Make the choice based on your RPE, Rate of Perceived Exertion.
Now to the math. Before the workout, look at your recent numbers for that particular lift. Pick the top lift you hit recently. It may be a 2RM, 3RM, or 5 RM. It might even be an 8 RM you hit it during the 5+ day. Use the chart below to determine your new, estimated 1 RM. If your numbers happen to be on the chart, use that. If they don’t, here is an example on how to find your estimated 1 RM.
75 for 7 reps:
7 reps is estimated at 82.5% of your 1 RM
75/.825 = 90
Your 100% and goal for the day is going to be 90 lbs.
345 for 5 reps:
5 reps is estimated at 87.5% of your 1 RM
345/.875 = 395
Your 100% and goal for the day is going to be 395 lbs
Remember, when it doubt, ask your coach. They can guide you through this whole process. Be safe and go out there and get stronger people! Ensure you have good technique, core engagement, and you listen to your body.
There are no quick fixes, diets, or workout trends when it comes to health and fitness. You need to commit to three things to get fit and healthy: don’t overeat, eat and drink real shit 80% of the time, and do something almost every day of the week.
Commitment Number 1: Don’t Over Consume Calories
The body’s use of fuel on a macro level is actually pretty simple: calories in versus calories out. Consume too many calories and you will gain weight. Consume a deficit of calories and you will lose weight. Equal the amount you burn off and weight will remain steady. We can complicate this slightly because not eating enough leads to issues as well with hormone imbalances and poor metabolism often not allowing people to lose weight. If you are trying to lose weight, you want to be at a deficit, but maintaining a slight decrease below what your body needs on a daily basis will provide the best, long term results. Don’t overcomplicate this: consume what your body needs and not more.
Commitment Number 2: Consume real things 80% of the time, splurge 20% of the time
The vast majority of the time, you should be consuming real shit: veggies, nuts, seeds, fruits, and meat. Are you vegan or vegetarian? You should do the exact same thing minus the meat and animal products. 80% of the time you should be having real stuff, that came from the ground or roamed on the ground. What do you do with the other 20%? Whatever you want. Junk food, pizza, alcohol, deserts, etc. all fall into this category. Don’t forget about Commitment Number 1 though, and still keep these things to moderation and within your caloric needs.
Commitment Number 3: Do something almost every day.
This one tends to scare people when I first tell them, but yes, you should be doing some sort of activity almost every day. My definition of activity is pretty lax though. Activity to me is anything active that is out of your normal life. Obviously, a CrossFit class, Personal Training session, or cycling class is activity and that would be yours for the day. Yoga sessions, pilaites, etc. are also included. But, I also count a long walk on the beach, hike with the family, or even a short ab session in between commercials while watch TV at home. A 5-minute hotel workout on vacation is activity as is a second lap around the block while walking your dog if you typically only do one. Intentional activity for your health is what we are looking for here.
Now why “almost every day”? I say almost everyday because some days get away from us. Some days we have to travel all day, work non-stop, or just simply feel like being lazy. If we do activity almost every day, we will tend to have this intentional movement 7 days a week some weeks, 6 days a week others, and rarely 5 days a week. That is a perfect schedule to become fitter and healthier.
Health doesn’t have to be that complex. It’s not about the best diet, the best workout, or the best trainer. It’s about committing to 3 simple things: eat good stuff, not too much of it, and do something active almost every day.
CrossFit began in the early 2000's as a free exercise program dedicated to constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. The Workout of the Day (WOD) published daily on CrossFit.com created a cult like following with garage CrossFitters, active duty military personnel, and globo gym goes who were quickly on their way to getting kicked out for grunting. CrossFit soon moved to a warehouse space nearest you and provided a fun, energetic, and every changing workout to bring your fitness to the next level. Bicep curls were out and cleans became standard practice for the former athlete and soccer mom alike. This is CrossFit at it's finest as a fitness program.
In 2007 at his parents ranch in California, Dave Castro brought a few of his friends out to compete in the first ever CrossFit Games. He deemed the winners of this multi day event to be the Fittest on Earth. As the friendly meeting of exercisers grew, so did its audience and level of athleticism. In direct proportion with audience and TV coverage, these athletes became modern day gladiators lifting heavier and heavier weights, running longer, and walking on their hands better than many Americans on their feet. This is CrossFit at it's finest as a sport.
Both sides of CrossFit have positives that they bring to the fitness community, but the main issue I see arise is when we combine too much of the two. CrossFit as a fitness program should epitomize health at its forefront and competition extremely secondary. Exercise technique is always held as the top priority and load and intensity only increased when form has been achieved. Injury should not be occurring, or a rare occurrence based on a mistake of the athlete or coaches. This fitness program is perfect for everyone with its wide range of scalability in every workout preparing us for anything life throws at us from sitting up from a low chair to rock climbing on the weekends. All of these athletes can still compete, but once a week competing against friends or themselves is plenty. The remainder of their time in the gym should be spent practicing and training.
Now entering the realm of CrossFit as a Sport, competition is at the top of these athletes goals. Although technique is also a priority, these athletes need to be near the top of every fitness related task from gymnastics, to strength, to endurance. Practice and training should be the vast majority of how workouts are conducted. Competition should be saved for a few times a year, namely local competitions, the open, and potentially onto regionals or the games. Just as an NFL player only competes 16 times a year, the remainder of his day revolves around practice, training sessions, and recovery. Additionally, just like any professional athletes, these CrossFit athletes will get injured. At the rate they train and push themselves, it is inevitable. We now look to how we recovery from injuries and do our best to prevent them in the future.
Why is this important to distinguish CrossFit as a fitness program and CrossFit as a sport? Because too often in our gyms these lines are crossed. The vast majority of people walking into our gyms want to be better humans. They want to loose weight, be healthy, move well, learn a few cool moves (handstands are the best party tricks), and maybe light a fire they once had as a high school athlete. These people are here for a fitness program, not to be CrossFit athletes. They are here for 60 minutes, 3-6 times a week, and will never spend enough time recovering, on accessory work, or perfecting their macros to be as safe and effective of an athlete as possible. When a soccer mom hit a PR back squat, then wants to go light in the MetCon, that's okay! When accountant Joe feels a little something in his shoulder during cleans, he should stop or modify the movement. We want to push these individuals to elite fitness, but not push them to injury.
CrossFit athletes however need to do certain things that aren't the safest. They need to push through a certain degree of pain. They need to do kipping handstand pushups that push stress on the cervical spine. They need to do things that will help them win. This is a select few of us, and CrossFitters need to make the distinction between them. Some want to win their heat at Regionals and others just want to live a better life. Make sure your training and coaching aligns with those goals.
We all walk into the gym on a daily basis with different goals. Ultimately, we all tend to want to get fitter, but individually we may differ in other regards. Maybe we want to get our heart rate up to make up for the cheesecake we ate over the weekend. Maybe we want to post the best time on the leader board for the WOD. Maybe we had 4 too many beers while at the beach. Or maybe we just want to catch up with our gym friends and happen to workout by default. Rarely however, does someone walk into the gym and think, "I want to focus on keeping my shoulder blades together and maintain good spinal alignment while deadlifting today." To avoid injury, increase our performance, and have more efficient and effective workouts, we all need to remember the three primary aspects of our workouts: practice, training, and competition.
On a weekly basis, we all should be working in each of those categories. But, especially in our world of CrossFit, where lifting the heaviest, working the fastest, and doing the most reps is king, we tend to neglect how much time we should be doing each of these. In Ben Bergeron's Podcast, "How to Train with Intention," he hits the nail on the head. As CrossFitters, we tend to spend very little time practicing, a lot of time training, and way too much time competing. He defines each of the following below:
Practice - low loads, low heart rates, with the goal of improving movements
Training - heavy loads, high heart rates, with the goal of improving your engine or strength
Competition - max loads, max heart rates, with the goal of beating someone else.
Essentially, we should be practicing about 45% of the time, training about 45% of the time, and only competing about 10% of the time. In short, on a daily basis, you should be practicing about half the workout and training for the other half. Then, once a week, you can crush that workout and compete to your highest level.
Most of us walk into the gym ready to train, often with competition in mind. The leaderboard is both a blessing and a curse. It can be a fun way to compete against your fellow athletes and also extremely supportive when Jane Doe finishes Fran for the first time RX. Fist bumps and comments flood her SugarWOD with amazing support.
However, the downfall comes when someone looks at the scores on a daily basis with the sole intention of winning. I am one of the most competitive people in the gym, but have recently begun to realize, I am just doing it too much. My lifts were hitting a plateau and I was just not improving at the rate I expected. I was spending was too much time competing and never really practicing. I was also trying to win every MetCon, even if form was sacrificed a bit. Keeping this trend is a great way to compete yourself out of shape, or in many cases, into injury.
Given our typical workouts at Aspire Sports Lab, we should be practicing for the first portion of the workout. During warm-up, we should be striving towards perfect form, asking questions, and keeping the load light. As we warm-up our lifts in a strength workout, this should all be practice.
For example, today's Back Squat looked like this:
Back Squat for load: #1: 5 reps @ 45% #2: 5 reps @ 45% #3: 3 reps @ 50% #4: 2 reps @ 60% #5: 5 reps @ 70% #6: 3 reps @ 80% #7: 1+ rep @ 90% (all loads based on 1 RM)
The goal of rounds 1-4 is practice. Work on technique while slowly increasing load. One aspect of the movement should be focused on to correct. As we get into sets 5,6 and 7, now we are training. Although technique is still vital, here we are free to push our body to heavy loads, thus increasing our strength. This translates to 4 sets of practice and only 3 sets of training. Technique is drastically improved through practice, not competition.
Now, our metabolic conditioning portion of the workout (on most days of the week) should be all training. We do want to push our body to intensity, as long as proper technique is maintained. We are not looking for short cuts just to beat Sally on the leaderboard. If you can do it with great form, go for it. But, we should have thought and precision behind all of our movements. Today is for training. Tomorrow may be to compete, but that's not today's goal.
In all, if we truly want to progress as athletes and do it safely, we need to remember where we should spend most of our time. Although we may be tempted to come into the gym and begin training immediately then compete, we are only setting ourselves up for plateaus, injuries, and frustration. Practice everyday. Train everyday. And compete once a week at most!
Watch Ben Bergeron's podcast here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOobQ4TDVmw
As I have said before, all of us have different goals. One of us may want to compete at the sport of CrossFit, another to look good at the beach, and others be able to play sports with their kids (or all the above!). However, one thing we all should have in common is wanting to get stronger. Lifting heavy prevents muscle degeneration, increase anabolic hormones that burn fat and increase muscle, helps us burn a ton of calories, and makes carrying the cooler to the beach a hell of a lot easier. Gaining strength, contrary to popular belief, does not make the muscles larger (muscle hypertrophy), rather increases the strength of the contractile proteins, actin and myosin, within the muscle fiber.
Our current 12 week program is based heavily on the power lifting program by Jim Wendler that he named the 5/3/1. It utilizes our 1 rep max (RM) to create a percentage based linear program that emphasizes starting light, progressing slowly, and breaking personal records (PRs). I have adapted the essentials of this great power lifting program to fit into our strength goals as CrossFitters: get stronger while still increasing our overall fitness across broad domains.
In our 12 week program, every 4 weeks we repeat a similar rep scheme and percentages of our 1 RM. Out of the 7 sets we are focusing on, the first 4 sets are performed at low load with the focus on technique. As we build, we warm up into our final 3 working sets. The last set, set 7, will be completed until failure, with a goal of hitting a new multi rep PR. This way we are essentially testing each week, trying to hit new PRs and pushing our bodies to the limit. Side note, the limit is our body’s limitations through the movement with perfect form. If technique is not achieved, load and repetitions should not be increased.
Week 1 works around working sets of 5 reps, Week 2 features working sets of 3 reps, and Week 3 features the programs namesake, 5/3/1+ reps. Week 4 is a deload week designed to give our body a rest and let our strength recover. The goal of this week is to go light and pick one thing to improve. Film yourself or have a friend film you. Check out your form and work on that one goal for the day in that particular lift. Trying to set PRs everyday will quickly lead to plateaus at best and injuries at worst. After 4 weeks, we repeat this process with slightly more loads each week.
Is this the only way to get stronger? NO WAY! There are tons of amazing programs that strength coaches utilize to get their athletes to peak performance. What they do all have in common however is emphasizing great technique, increasing loads as time progresses, adding in accessory work to strengthen secondary movers and retesting performance over time. We will use a variety of these techniques at Aspire Sports Lab with one goal always in mind: make you a better, more well-rounded, athlete.
Sean Spire is the Head Coach of ASL. He was a competitive swimmer who discovered CrossFit and Ironman Triathlons. He has his BS in Exercise Science from Florida State University.