Wed, 27 August 2014
Wed, 20 August 2014
This week on the Barbell Shrugged podcast we welcome Dr. Steven Platek, Neuroscience Professor, Crossfitter and gym owner, contributor to Power Athlete Radio, and current member of the NPGL’s Miami Surge. Yeah, he’s a busy guy.
Those are impressive credentials, but I actually didn’t know any of it at the start of our interview. I just knew that Steven was a really sharp guy, and yes, he was strong as hell. Earlier that day at the Las Vegas NPGL Combine he absolutely destroyed the deadlift ladder, lifting close to 4,500 pounds in total in less than 60 seconds, and finishing with a lift of 585 pounds. Not bad for a Master’s level Crossfitter, right? Really, it’s amazing. It was no surprise that Miami took him when they had the chance.
There’s a clear niche for Master’s level competitors within this new sport of Grid. No, Steven and most Master’s level athletes simply cannot get away with the super-high training volume that some of his teammates and competitors require in order to make progress. A huge priority has to be placed on recovery, any older competitor who wants to stay in the game and remain strong has to accept that. However, Steven’s vast experience translates to a very high level of skill, especially in strength movements like the deadlift. Other teams in the NPGL should take note, you should have a Master beast on your bench just in case things get really heavy.
Loads of people struggle to make progress in the gym, especially as they age and become more experienced. They have a plan, they work as hard as they can, but at times nothing improves. It’s frustrating, but the answer might be as simple as training less and spending more time on recovery. Just like Steven, back off and consider leveraging your valuable experience instead. Train smarter and more optimally, and you’ll get a superior result. The same thing goes for the manner and mindset with which you lift the barbell. Many lifters assume that you have to be very intense to be very strong. I myself assumed that Steven’s coach had to have been screaming and pushing him from the sidelines during that aforementioned 585 pound deadlift, but actually the opposite was true. His coach’s function was actually to keep Steve more calm and focused as the barbell got heavier and heavier, maintaining an optimal balance between arousal and performance. As Steve explained, this was a classic real world example of theYerkes-Dodson law, which basically states that arousal is a great thing for performance, until there’s too much of it.
If you are an athlete that’s interested in performing optimally, you need to know just how much arousal is necessary for you. Will a little do, or are you a 7-cup of coffee type of person? The very best athletes know just how far to push it, and just how to modulate their sympathetic nervous system response to stress. The result is more fight than flight, you could say. If you find yourself getting far too excited and anxious ahead of training or competition, take note. You are more than likely out of balance. If you can do a better job of controlling that sympathetic response - if you can settle your mind a bit - you’ll perform much better.
If you find that you’re still a little sleepy and groggy after a few cups of coffee, well, maybe you’re Jon North! That guy really loves his stimulants. He also believes 100% in himself, and what he’s capable of lifting, and his purpose. As Steven will also tell you, the mind is unfathomably mysterious and powerful. Your very first step towards success, regardless of what you're training and living for, is to believe in what you’re doing. Call it the placebo effect, call it magic, it doesn’t matter at all. If you can believe 100% in what you’re doing then magical things will happen. Thanks for the reminder, Steve.
Wed, 13 August 2014
Several months back the entire Barbell Shrugged crew called into the 50th episode of Power Athlete Radio. We had a blast chatting and bullshitting with the entire Crossfit Football crew, so I knew this interview with John Welbourn was going to be great. But I’ll be honest. I did forget just how big he is.
At 6 ft 5 in and 310 lbs, this man is not your average Crossfit Coach. John reminds me of Tony Robbins’ larger, more athletic, Warrior/Mercenary brother. To borrow a phrase from the fantastic movie Shallow Hal, shaking that mitt of a hand really was like grabbing a bunch of bananas.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing people in the sport of fitness. Athlete’s are getting fitter by the day, while also getting strong enough to compete nationally as competitive lifters. That’s extraordinary. But that said, the world of the NFL is a few level’s up, to say the least. Just check out this video of John and his former colleagues warming up before a “WOD.” Your Fran time is awesome, dude, but I don’t think it’s going to be much help if you find yourself on the other side of the line from one of these real-life juggernauts.
John was an incredible Football player, but he’s an even more impressive competitor. Did you know that he competed in the 2008 Crossfit Games? It’s True! You can see an old video on John WODing right here. That’s a super-duper impressive feat for a guy that large. “Why didn’t he lose some weight so that he could be more competitive,” you might ask. The answer is that he wasn’t done playing professional football yet! That’s right. He went off to training camp just a few weeks after the Games, which for lack of a better phrase, really takes balls.
I really enjoyed talking with John. It brought back so many memories of my own career, which had many up’s and down’s, but was an amazing time in my life. Just in case you were wondering, no, I was no John Welbourn. Not even close. But I did alright, and I did it with a bitchin’ haircut. But I also wanted to thank him for showcasing the most important strength lesson in his Crossfit Football programming. That’s this, listen closely - If you want to get really strong and maximize your result, you have to train appropriately.
I know, I know, the strongest people you can name train Westside, Smolov, Sheiko, whatever, so why not you? Why not do as the strong do? Well, because you have only been training a few years, not a decade or two. You don’t have the skill, the foundation, the muscle mass, or the recovery potential to take on such programming, so the only thing you’re going to get is frustrated, tired and hurt. The key to long lasting and enduring strength is to progress up to the intermediate and advanced levels ONLY WHEN IT IS REQUIRED! To be more specific, you should do the simplest possible thing until it stops working for you. Only then should you make things fancier and more complicated.
That fundamental approach is baked right into John’s programming. If you are in need of some strength and power, but you also don’t want to give up an inch of your overall athleticism, you really can’t beat Crossfit Football. Give it a try, just be honest with yourself. Are you an Amateur, Collegiate, or Professional level athlete? You’ll truly know by the results you get. Be honest.
For more information on Crossfit Football, make sure to check out their website for ton’s of cool training information and a full list of upcoming seminars. You can also follow all the latest from the Crossfit Football team on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Wed, 6 August 2014
This week on Barbell Shrugged we are busting training myths with our old college buddy Dr. Andy Galpin, Professor and Researcher at California State University, Fullerton.
This is Andy’s third appearance on the show. We first got together to chat about muscle physiology way back on episode 19. Most recently, he helped us break down the science of mixed martial arts with the one and only Bas Rutten on episode 91 (this is also the show where Mike get’s kicked in the balls by Bas, a classic moment indeed). Those were both awesome shows, but this latest discussion was probably our best so far. Maybe we have the combination of Glenlivet and the bright California sunshine to thank for that.
After a bit of catching up we got right into some training myths, starting with a common misconception in the fighting community. These athletes are a lot like Crossfitters, in that they are very driven. They train very hard, and they generally do everything they can to improve performance. Effort isn’t the problem. The real issue is that they don’t really plan for a rest properly, and they don’t understand fatigue and cumulative stress. For them, more is just better. There is one speed - Train as hard as possible no matter what, “or else you’re a pussy!”
Of course this isn’t true at all. Andy’s currently working closely with MMA athletes to educate, as well as help them to train more effectively and recover more quickly so that they can maximize fight performance and reduce their risk of injury.
A fairly simple scientific tool that Andy has utilized with these fighters is the force plate. In a highly objective way, Andy can point out the data when an athlete produces force at a less than optimal rate. In other words, he can show the athlete exactly when they are moving, “slower than a middle school girl.” Sure, many of these folks are really strong. They are tough, bulletproof with big lungs, but they are slow and it’s killing their performance. If you only did one thing in the gym, you would try and get faster. Speed kills, in just about every sport.
All lifters and competitive fitness athletes should take note of Andy’s advice for fixing this problem. “If you’re getting tired during your speed work, then you’re doing it wrong.” Cut the reps and start performing every repetition with the explicit goal of moving absolutely as fast as you can. In many cases this coaching point was good for a 20% improvement in force production, which amounts to a significantly more damaging strike. Write this little pearl down, friends. Before you do anything else, consider doing less, going faster, and training more often.
Sure, “More is better” and “tired is good” are common misconceptions amongst fighters, but the actual myth busting on this show didn’t really start until we began out chat about nutritional supplements. On the top of that list, as always, is Creatine. Despite huge volumes of research supporting its use, many people still have the wrong idea about it, which is frustrating. First thing’s first, you can think of creatine as if it were the fifth macronutrient right next to carbohydrate, fat, protein and alcohol. Having an abundance of this energy substrate in the muscle does significantly improve performance, there is no doubt about it. Creatine also manages to do that without any known side effects, including the classic fretting over water retention (Myth!).
The simple truth is that you will be a more powerful athlete, for longer, if you take creatine. Also, this is currently one of the most heavily researched supplements for improving overall mental acuity and long term mental health. Just consider the work being done on Parkinson’s disease, which is extraordinary. If you aren’t taking it, you probably should be. Once you start, you probably should;t stop, as cycling on and off is completely unnecessary. Remember, it’s better to think of creatine as a nutrient, not a drug. Nutrients aren’t the sorts of things you cycle off of.
Another classic training myth is the function of lactic acid in muscular fatigue. Andy brought us up to speed with the truth. As it turns out, this particular myth is rooted in a 120 year old hunting journal, where elevated lactate levels were observed in killed, bagged deer stags. The easy observation to make was that these increased levels had to be associated with fatigue. That sounds reasonable, but as Andy will tell you, it’s complete fiction. The truth is that lactate is possibly the single most-preferred fuel source in the human body. It also actively works to hydrate tissue and reduce acidity by capturing and shuttling hydrogen ions down the metabolic pipeline. That’s a very big deal.
No, lactic acid is not your problem. That much Andy is sure of. Now, when it comes to explaining what does actually cause fatigue? Science has some ideas, but the truth is that we still don’t know. I guess Andy still has some work to do to keep him busy around the laboratory.
One of the final, big myths we take on in this episode is all about muscle mass and endurance. You’ve no doubt heard those old time, unfounded concerns that athletes who strength train will only end up muscle bound and immobile. We know that this is silly and untrue. Some of the fittest, most mobile human being's alive train with really heavy barbells, just about all of the time, and they are huge! You just have to make room in your training regimen for some structured mobility work, the fix is that simple. Work at it and you’ll improve. Ignore it and you’ll get worse. Who knew? The same thing can be said of muscular endurance. Metabolism occurs in the muscle tissue, so having more of it can only improve one’s endurance potential. In that light, the classic fighting myth that being too muscled only makes you get tired more quickly…Yep, complete bullshit. That is, unless the athlete in question never works on their endurance. Remember, you get back what you put out.
For more from Dr. Galpin make sure to follow him on Instagram and Twitter. You can also check out his faculty page here if you want to learn more about Andy’s research and academic work. Andy, we’ve got to make this at least a once a year kind of thing, buddy. It was great to see you again.
Sun, 3 August 2014
This week on Barbell Shrugged we have the pleasure of welcoming the big man, Aja Barto back to the show. In case you missed it, make sure to go back and check out his last appearance on Episode 76. It’s always a great conversation.
We caught up with Aja at the 2014 USA Weightlifting Nationals in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our chat came before his turn on the platform, but I knew he was going to put up some large numbers. Just look at his recent training. At 6 foot 5 inches and 220 pounds of bodyweight, Aja has put up a 250 pound strict press, a 520 pound back squat, a400 pound squat jerk, just for starters. That’s very impressive. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he later snatched 310 pounds and clean and jerked 352 at the meet. Hey, not too shabby for a Crossfitter, right?
It actually might be more accurate to call Aja a Weightlifter, at least for the time being. He made news earlier this year when he decided to sit out the 2014 Crossfit season in favor of pursuing Weightlifting full-time. His reasoning was simple, “I just decided I wanted to see what I could do if I completely dedicated myself to it, without having the interference of burpees and box jumps.”
Interference might actually be too strong of a word. The truth is that Aja has made a really strong run in competitive fitness for several years in a row now, ascending from Crossfit rookie to three-time Games athlete in relatively short order. But despite that success, he ran into the same problem that just about every other athlete comes across eventually - Progress started getting really tough. The easiest gains were long gone.
As Aja saw it he had two choices. First, he could spend another year beating himself up with tough METCONS in hopes of moving up a spot or two at the Games, but he’s the first to admit that it probably wouldn’t have made that much of a difference. The alternative was to switch gears. Instead of another year of the same old thing, Aja decided to commit himself to getting really strong, to refining his technique, to seeing just what he’s capable of on the platform. It’s a wise move. He’s definitely stronger, and will probably end up being much fitter in the long-run, should he return to competitive WODs.
Between you and I, I do hope he does make a return. He’s just too much of a beast not to. But the return might come in some other sport all-together. Sure, he could do proper Crossfit again, but I was thinking he should try something a little different this time. Something a little more powerful, shorter in duration, and befitting a behemoth of his size. Yeah, I was thinking he should actually give the NPGL a try. I guess we’ll see, right?
For more from Aja, make sure to check out Behemoth Crossfit. You can also follow the man and his monster lifts on Instagram, Twitter, and YoutTube. Aja, it was great to see you dude. Take your time with the Weightlifting. I don’t think we’ve seen your strongest work yet.