James can be reached at TwinFreaks CrossFit, where he is an owner and trainer. James coaches barbell lifting classes and CrossFit classes. Contact him by email at james@twinfreakscrossfit.com or by phone at 720-204-2631.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Progress is Like a Mustache

Apologies to the readers; I have to prioritize the BJJ blog, and I am really enjoying that one since it forces me to think about my game and how to improve it. Things I used to get bummed about and forget in two weeks, I now write down and analyze. I think I might make progress again.

On the CF/PL front, I'm between cycles, and I've been doing everything intuitively, or more precisely, fucking off. If I want to do something, I do it, if I don't want to do something, I don't do it.

Last week I wanted to see where my bench is, and I worked up to a paused 250 single with a narrow grip. This is a sort of neo-PR as it's the most I've done since I stopped benching years ago. Even better though, it's an all-time narrow grip PR. Previously my best with a narrow grip was around 215. After doing some intense wide grip work last October and November, I started to get some shoulder pain, and I thought it was time to bring the grip in and not worry about my numbers. Longevity also counts, afterall.

This week I wanted to see where my squat was. I had felt extremely good the last two weeks first hitting a 345 double, then doing a 350 single that felt ridiculously light, so I thought I'd push for a real single.

I missed 375 on depth, but I could feel it was a mental and not physical problem, so I loaded 385 and hit it without much struggle. Since this was a 10 pound PR I stopped, but probably I should have tried 405. At any rate 375 was where I was last July when I blew up my back.

I remember laying face down on the mats wondering if I would leave under my own power, and then as the weeks passed, I wondered if I'd ever squat 100, 200, or 300 pounds again.

That was also about the time I was growing the fuzzy outline of a future mustache. I just did what I was supposed to, in this case not shaving, and six or seven months later I've got a braided beuty that would make Genghis Khan jealous.

Other than that, I'm doing 30 days of ultra strict paleo eating. That's not really much of a challenege for me, so to make it meaningful, I removed nuts from my diet. I didn't waste time weighing myself, but subjectively I feel leaner already.

Finally today is my first day in about 80 years without coffee. I'm alive, sort of. I'll report on this one later.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I have long had difficulty understanding people's aversion to competition. Coaches are always asked, “when should I start competing,” and with a few minor exceptions not even worth noting, the answer to anyone who expresses interest is, “right now.” I think many people are afraid of competition or think they're not good enough. The rebuttal to anyone who isn't “good enough” is simply to point out that competition is against the person you were yesterday, no-one and nothing else. It's hard or impossible to avoid fear, but it might help to remember that life is competition, and playing a sport is actually the safest way to compete. You get to choose the time, event, location, and to a certain extent who you compete against perhaps based on age or skill level. Life isn't like that. You're happily working away, you get called into the boss's office, and it's game on. You didn't know it was coming, you didn't get to prepare, and you don't even know the rules, but suddenly you're competing for a raise or maybe even just to keep your job.

Lately I've competed in three sports. I'll briefly run down how these sports are looked at, how I look at them, and why they might matter.

Power lifting

What it looks like from the outside: a bunch of guys and a few women trying to lift as much as they can in the squat, bench press, and dead lift.

What it looks like from the inside: you versus “can't.” “Can't” comes in many forms, fear, dis-belief, unwillingness. I guarantee that at the bottom of a heavy squat, you'll meet “can't” head-on, and you'll conquer it or get smashed.

Why it matters: How many times “couldn't” you do something? What was it, public speaking, meeting a longstanding problem you were avoiding, tackling a project you put off for months? Maybe like me you've had days you “couldn't” get out of bed. Get on a platform and lift more weight than you did yesterday. Start proving to yourself that you can.

Indoor Rowing

What it looks like from the outside: men and women pulling like crazy on an indoor rowing machine, an “erg,” sometimes for a set time, sometimes for a set distance, commonly 2,000 or 500 meters.

What it looks like from the inside: you versus pain. In the 2,000 meter race pain comes like a relentless stalker. You go 800 or maybe even 1100 meters looking over your shoulder knowing the inevitable pain is coming, and it does. Then you have 900-1200 meters left to try to make friends, because pain will be there until the end. The 500 is more like running a gauntlet with a flying start. If you're good you get 200 or even 250 meters before you even get hit. Then you get hit, and get get hard. No problem, you just go like a maniac for 250-300 more meters because if you slow down at that point it just hurts worse.

Why it matters: sorry, pain is a part of life. You really want help getting on and off the toilet because your hip or knee hurts? Why not make friends with pain now? He'll be around.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

What it look like from the outside: two men or women grappling and trying to win by choking the opponent unconscious or breaking a limb.

What it looks like from the inside: you versus a real live opponent who is not only trying to stop you from doing what you want, he's trying to do something worse to you first. It can be fun if you're winning. If you're losing, prepare for a claustrophobic nightmare.

Why it matters: I don't make lemonade. Life doesn't hand out lemons, it hands out people who want to oppose you or get in your way just for the hell of it. It's good to learn early to win the fights you can with the least possible energy, and it's good to learn how to lose as you sometimes must. If you're losing, fine. Learn to lose by referee's decision, not by being choked out.

I don't have any formula for getting on the podium, as I've rarely been there. I've watched awards ceremonies from the furthest corner of the room, and I've missed some entirely when it seemed to me I had to get out of the room as soon as possible.

It's okay. The person you were yesterday wouldn't have entered the arena. You've started the winning process. If you make to the podium someday, congratulations. If you never make it, congratulations. You beat the crap out of the person you were yesterday, and that's all and everything you can possibly have any control over.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Let's Go to the Mailbag for Reader Q&A

Matt C of Atlanta, Ga. writes in today, "What happened to barbell mile? Now you're a rower? I thought the cross fit was training for the bjj? Focus!"

First thanks for reading, Matt. In the past weeks I've learned that this blog's readers include some people I really admire. I have a small but quality circulation, and I like that.

Basically nothing happened to Barbell Mile. Before the Mile High Sprints I took two de-loading weeks in a row, and now I'm repeated last month's cycle, so if I did post it would look like:

3 x 5 of something, with not a lot of weight.

The only noteworthy thing to happen lately is that I hit a PR press which is actually pretty sweet since the press is usually the last lift to come up.

I'm also working on another blog now, and in effect I get paid for doing that one, so if I am capable of writing 150 words for example, I have to give them to the guys paying me. It's not at all easy for me to write any of these, but that would be a subject for a blog on writing.

Am I rower? Yes, I think so. By far my favorite physical activity right now is trying to blow myself apart in under 90 seconds rowing a 500. Not so fun for me but even more important is trying to improve my 2000 which is pathetic judging from my 500. So yes, I'm a rower, and I'm going to row until I get it right.

In addition to being a rower, I'm a power lifter. Now it's true that you can't ride two horses with one ass, but since I row and lift at sort of a high intermediate old guy level, I'm pretty sure I can get away with training both as long as I seriously de-load one of them as I near a competition in the other. I would further guess that my seriously good 500 is a result of my pretty good back squat. In fact, my high intermediate old guy 500 blew away a few college rowers at the Sprints. I strive to take my games beyond the high intermediate old guy level, and should one of them suddenly become really good, I'd re-evaluate my training and see if I should push the good one and really go light on the other one, but right now I'm not in danger of suddenly getting extremely good at anything.

So what happened to BJJ? Well one can look at BJJ as physical training, sport, art, or self-defense. When I started BJJ, I had physical training in mind, but it soon became my sport. I was aware that some day for some reason I wouldn't compete in BJJ and at that point I'd continue training to appreciate the art. I had assumed I'd quit competing when I was 70 or so. Now I haven't given up on competing. The problem is just that if I compete as a master in a state tournament, I'm going to have to pay a bunch of money to fight a guy who is most likely from a sister school, and I won't be able to put my heart into beating him. It would make more sense to get together at one of our academies and contest maybe three out of five without paying $70. International tournaments on the other hand are a blast if my limited experience still holds. I went to the Pan-Ams two or so years ago and had a great time. I vowed I'd be back the next year in fact. Between injuries and poverty, it hasn't made sense for me to fly to one of the coasts for a big tournament. Currently I'm training jiu-jitsu at a nice relaxed speed and enjoying searching for technical proficiency while I develop it as an art.

I hope my life works out such that some year I can hit the Pan-Ams or better the World Seniors. When that becomes possible, yes, I'll use cross fit to condition. I may be a high intermediate old guy, but I can still get into ass-whuppin' condition in six weeks with crossfit, so I'm just not worried about maintaining a high state of physical preparedness for BJJ right now.

Finally your question is well-timed. I just laid out an entire 24 weeks of training today. It's largely an experiment to see if I want to put it in for some of my clients, and it's focused on pushing the power lifts, fucking destroying college rowers on the erg, and maintaining enough conditioning so that I can make good on my six weeks claim should circumstances make that necessary.

As an afterword, the other blog is about BJJ. I don't control it, but it will be made public when enough material has been amassed. Yes, I love BJJ. It just can't be my main sport right now.