Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Random Training Thoughts #4

I love training. There, it's out in the open. A lot of people have this hang-up that real men don't train, that somehow if you're really good at something you just are good at it naturally, and that training is, well, weak. This viewpoint is usually held by people who also believe that the olympics are full of talented amateurs, that pro cyclists don't dope and that anybody can be a champion in any sport. To quote my favorite musician of the 90s, Ice T, shit ain't like that. If you want to approach your sports like most of us approach badminton at a family picnic then no training is necessary. Drink some beers, be happy if you finally beat your sister, and it's all good. For everything else there is training, and I like it. I feel so much better now having shared that.

Early this morning I was doing a sport that required shorts bursts of concentration followed by 200M runs to examine the results. I ran the 200M both directions, and felt great. Low heart rate, strong, easy. I know this feeling; I usually get it when I'm doing a lot of hard mountain running, something I have NOT been doing lately. I'm going to attribute this directly to Crossfit. You don't run much in Crossfit, but you do go at a workout with intensity, that chuck-a-lung intensity that normally only comes when you're chasing or being chased. In fact, I can't remember the last time running felt so easy. Uphill and down. I don't think I would do very well in a long mountain race right now, but I'm surprised with how my 1500M or so of running felt today. I've had a lot of situations in the last month where I've thought, "Hey, I do this in my workouts a lot, no problem." Based on the fast results, wide range of applicable fitness and general, "I feel good doing this" I'm going to say that I think Crossfit is the best possible "generalist" workout I've ever done. I'd put money on Crossfit's athletes in almost any non-skill situation. Pick that really heavy box of books up and run it up four flights of stairs. No problem. Pick your motorcyle up after you drop it. No problem. Wrestle your topper on and off your truck. No problem. Boulder V5. Problem. Boulder hop a creek. Problem. The last two are learned skills based on practice and specific strength, and nothing but doing the activity is going to give you that. But I sure do like how my body feels and performs (that being a relative word--I'm at a family badminton game level in most things Crossfit) these days. I first started doing Crossfit specific workouts in Brazil a few years ago with a friend who was into it, and loved it. It's been in and out of my life since then, but it's just a good thing, especially for those of us who still want to be athletes as we age. I have no fucking intention of giving up being an athlete anytime soon, I expect Crossfit will help meet that on-going goal.

"Functional" gym workouts. These are relatively new; I first started seeing people doing bicep curls and lateral raises on beach balls maybe ten years ago. Now there's a whole whack of ball-based moves. I keep looking at people doing this stuff and thinking, "Ah, when was the last time I did anything in sport where I was rolling around on a ball as I did it?" It's like learning to make love by masturbating on a beach ball or something. Yes, it's maybe better than sitting on a bench to do bicep curls, but why not just DO whatever motion it is you're trying to insert a beach ball between you and the movement? I don't doubt you can get a good muscular burn (Ah, I'll admit it, I've done my time on a beach ball) with a ball, but attempting to simulate a more "life like" movement pattern by using ball just doesn't make sense. Do the movement, a ball just gets in the way. Pullups, presses, squats, running, situps, lunges. No ball required to make any of these more "life like," they are moves you do in REAL LIVE LIFE! Amazing.

Traditional 3x3 (or 5x5 or whatever) sets of a lot of different exercises that, cumulatively, equal whatever motion it is you want to be stronger at. This is the muscle head way forward, or some variation of it. It demonstrably builds muscle. It does not demonstrably build useful strength. Most exercises are very specific; this can be useful if you're seeking that specific strength (lock offs for mixed climbing, but even those are likely better trained using bands and other techniques to reduce the load). I have had luck rehabbing some injuries using very specific shoulder exercises to isolate damaged or weak areas; I'm not sure how these injuries would have responded to other forms of rehab as I don't have a "control," but they did seem to work. I don't think I'm going to be doing a lot of traditional weight room time ever again unless it's for specific injuries.

Endurance: I used to race Cross-Country skiing (without much distinction but slightly better than family badminton level) and have done a lot of really long days in the mountains. Based on a few endurance athletes experiences with Crossfit I'm likely to continue with relatively high volume low-intensity work for these cycles of my life. There was a University of Utah ski team member who posted up my last post on this subject; I'd really welcome his take on the combination of Crossfit and XC racing--being on the U ski team means you're very, very good. I'm doing a lot of reading on training for 24-hour endurance stuff at the moment as that's what my next three goals revolve around. We'll see what develops with that... I also suspect that the thousands of hours elite XC skiers spend sliding over the snow is also about building an absolutely massive internal matrix of "moves," just as a climber does. The ability to ride a flat ski on hard, soft, inconsistent or just plain old icy snow is critical, as is the timing of every input in so many conditions and situations. Same with cycling, especially at elite levels--Lance didn't just win because he was damn strong (ignoring all allegations and denials for the moment), he also won because he could read the situation and stay safe in the peloton... The hours of endurance training aren't just about developing wattage.

Sport-specific training. Unless your sport is simply too dangerous or possibly inaccessible to practice and train hard at then I believe this should be the vast majority of your "training" time. Only when there is excess time would I add in other stuff. For any sport at all. If you do ten sports reasonably often or don't know what life is going to through at you then Crossfit is likely the best solution. If you don't have a primary sport you're attempting to reach a higher level in then some sort of general life-training such as Crossfit is likely the answer. But if you're trying to be good at one single sport then train intelligently with the moves and specific requirements of that sport.

I used to really covet a gym with a full rack of barbells, a nice lat pulldown machine, a bunch of those Nautilus machines and a bunch of other stuff. My ideal training environment is a lot simpler now. More on that next time, I'm outta here for a few days, thanks for reading this. These posts aren't magazine articles, they're how I try to figure things out. Write it down, see if it makes sense to me and you, the reader who just slogged through this epic, try it out, see if works, revise as necessary.... Nothing is constant, no achievement or system permanent.






9 comments:

Tim said...

Hi I have been Reading your post for a while and have always enjoyed the carefree manner and honest approach. Can I just enquire about any kind of deal with cross fit? It's just the last one felt more like an advert than a random thought. I don't want this to come accross as a bad thing as everyone has bills to pay and if it's as good as you say it is( after Reading all posts you say it's that good I'll belive you) I'm there, I'd just like all the facts.
Regards
Tim

Will Gadd said...

Hi Tim, thanks. I have no deal at all with Crossfit. One of the things I like about Crossfit is that it's free--read the Workout Of the Day on the site, go at it.

Crossfit isn't perfect. There are some weird things about the program, but overall I think it's a great program for most anyone if the participant is honest with themselves about their abilities and goals. It would be really easy for a person to damage themselves beyond repair with Crossfit--I know a few people who have. The only thing more dangerous than Crossfit to the untrained male is Yoga.

Aimee said...

While I haven't tried it myself, Crossfit has an offshoot endurance program. Most days you are supposed to do the workout of the day on the main site, followed by the workout applicable to your sport posted on www.crossfitendurance.com.

Interesting.....

Ian said...

Hey Will! thanks for the shout out! pretty cool.

Man, i've been contemplating all these same things you have been, and agree with a lot of what your saying. I have felt that I have reached a bit of a plateau with my skiing as far as results are concerned...just cant bump up to the top 10-15 of the results page last few years and have tried to tweak and experiment a lot.

CrossFit and exercises posted on www.mtnathlete.com/ have fired me up a lot. It was pretty interesting...After reading the latest of your thread about training... I got into a discussion with my brother and some other norwegians/euros on the ski team I live with about their training philosophies, etc as they all come from different backgrounds.

They arent as multi-sport as I am...I try to go climb, backcountry ski, kayak, mtn bike as much as the coach allows (without kicking me off the team), while they stick to rollerskiing, road biking, running etc. boring shit...

The Norwegian is HIGHLY against any sort of "football player" type lifting...bench, deadlift, squat, etc. He thinks it will bulk him up and doesnt think anyone whose anyone in scando-land does that...ever....(i politely disagreed)

My brother, is somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, is very suspect of mixing strength training like crossfit in, more into the traditional stuff, but could see some use of XFit in the spring time...

I believe XFit, if modified a bit (like everything), is an awwwesome, innovative approach to really boost overall strength, stamina, and muscle recruitment to those areas you call on when doing sport specific movements. I read that interview you linked by the innovator of XFit and he had a good point (the way I understood it)...We athletes spend so much time focusing on sport specific stuff outside the gym (in my case, rollerskiing, running, plyos, etc) that its a good thing while in the gym to take a step back and build the bottom of the strength "pyramid" so you are GENERALLY super strong and fit. Then leave the other 30-45% to sport specifics...??

just my take for now...constantly evolving..

love it. keep er goin..

PJG said...

"If you want to approach your sports like most of us approach badminton at a family picnic then no training is necessary."

Hey now! We trained our asses off for that badminton tourney we had in North Carolina...

Will Gadd said...

Ian, Aimee, thx. Good food for thought. One of the interesting concepts in Xfit is the "one size fits all" approach of the workouts, both for the main page and endurance pages. I need to look into the endurance concept also. For me, I'm really not sure I could bring any intensity at all to an aerobic workout after Xfit. Will look into it.

Ian, my wife was on the U ski team back in the day with the Norwegos, it really effected her view of aerobic training as well.

PJG--it was the horseshoes that made me sore...

Anonymous said...

An alternative take on Crossfit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/23/magazine/23wwln-medium-t.html?_r=1&ref=magazine

Anonymous, so that I don't get attacked by the Followers of Coach. :)

Will Gadd said...

Anon--I don' think that article is so bad--in fact, I'll bet it drove more people to Crossfit than anything ever written. Pretty funny, thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

You have been assimilated. The minions--nay, disciples--of Coach have a new Brother. Funny, indeed.