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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

USAPL Meet Express Report

I'm extremely tired and mostly happy. I'll have much to write about this later, but here are the bare bones. We worked in kilos, so all the weights in pounds are approximate.

Squat 1st attempt: 340 good lift
Squat 2nd attempt: 375 no lift, depth
Squat 3rd attempt: 401 no lift, depth. This was a heart-breaker. Our video, admittedly from a bad angle, shows me at parallel though definitely not lower. Good judging; entirely my fault.

Bench 1st attempt: 220 good lift
Bench 2nd attempt: 245 good lift. Actually the judges blew this one. My butt came way off the bench. In the end it's a game, and I'll take the freebie and know I got away with one.
Bench 3rd attempt: 265 no lift. I knew this was ambitious, but I thought it might go. I got pinned. Good work, spotters!

Dead 1st attempt: 330 good lift.
Dead 2nd attempt: 360: good lift
Dead 3rd attempt: 375: good lift

6/9 and I didn't waste time adding my total. Many, many good things happened here, but I missed the one I really wanted.

I got a nice silver medal, but I didn't do it alone.
Thanks go to: Mike B for reminding me to bring ear plugs, C.H. for the knee wraps and pep talks, D.B. for the massage and good cheer, J.H. for the caffeine and good cheer, A.L. for the positive and strong energy, and everyone who has used one of my barbells.

Blue Heat feels great on the hams, butt, and low back. More soon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Six Days Out, Gauges, & Cream

I read a great quote from Dave Tate, president of EliteFTS and former Westside Barbell lifter, this morning, "The squat starts between the chalk box and the bar. From that moment on you require 100% focus. If someone approaches you during that brief time you have every legal right to punch them in the neck."

I hold that to be true, even axiomatic, and I'd add that the squat ends when the lifter has completed the immediate, short-term processing of the lift, which is why I won't talk to you when you might think I'm done.

I'd say the week leading into a meet, or even better just the last few days, is like a slow walk to the chalk box. This one hasn't been good to me probably because I'm looking not to PR but to smash my PR, and I know my focus has been narrowing for at least a week already. I'm dimly aware that almost everybody tolerates me and many people actually like me, but I'm beyond help here. Asking me how it's going just doesn't make any sense to me now. It's time to wait a week, please, and ask me how it went.

In the last week or two before I meet, I want to know all the little things I normally wouldn't think about. I know it takes me between 3 minutes and 3 minutes, 5 seconds to get into knee wraps, belt, and wrist wraps. I know I weighed 184.6 yesterday and 183.0 today. I know what my morning urine discharge weighs, unbelievably heavy, and what my morning fecal matter weighs, disappointingly light.

The last week involves a lot of mental rehearsal and a few reasonable precautions; I will continue with a very low carb intake, and I'm drinking as much water as I can tolerate in case there's an accident with my weight and I have to cut Saturday. Beyond that, I try to be alone as much as possible and read a lot.

That's how I do it. As usual, you can do whatever works for you.

To me perhaps the best part of my journey towards physical competence (athletic elitism would be overstretching it in my case) has been in cultivating the mind-body connection, essentially learning to talk to my body and listen to what it is trying to tell me. I've written before of how I watch my heart rate when I lift. An elevated heart rate while necessary and good in competition is a clear warning sign of over-training in the gym. This, though, works both ways. While the heart may be telling me that I'm about to do something stupid, I can also try breathing deeply, slowing my heart, and telling my body that it is getting a perfectly reasonable request to move a load it should find strenuous but nowhere close to impossible. Most of the time, for me, it works that way. I can have a successful training session and teach my body that heavy is not synonymous with hard.

Today teaching the morning CrossFit classes I gave a brilliant lecture on the relationship between sustained power output and stroke rate on the erg. As happens with me, I realized two hours later that I had left out critical information. In my rowing I've given considerable thought to breathing. It turns out to be an easy way to figure out what the body is doing. One breath per stroke means you can row for hours. Two breaths a stroke means that you have at most a couple minutes before you feel the lactate build-up coming on. I find that if I concentrate on my breathing, I slow down; it can cost me seconds on a 500 split. While my mind apparently is stupid enough to forget to talk about breathing, the body is never stupid enough to quit breathing, so it seems to me that a conscious attempt to really monitor breathing impairs my body's ability to row. But I do check in from time to time. Am I at one or two breaths a stroke? And again here, if you quickly notice you've gone to two, you can sometimes force deep slow breaths and go back to one, pushing away the anaerobic wall.

So heart rate and breath rate, for me at least, serve as convenient and useful gauges to monitor what my body is doing. I suspect there are many more, but I'm still looking for competence, not elitism, and I haven't found them yet. Post your ideas to comments.

I'm cat-sitting for V.P. again, and last night I went to her house to see if anything has changed since I last had the job. She had nearly a full quart of cream in the refrigerator which she was unsure what to do with. I suggested she drink as much as possible or better even more with her coffee, and I'd figure out what to do with the rest.

Today I opened the refrigerator, and found at least a half-pint.

I regarded the ivory beauty.

Weighing 183 and needing still to get to 181.75, I drank the fuck out of that cream.

I have a certain intensity, but I too draw a line between competitive results and just being an idiot.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Staring at the Floor, 11, 000 calories, & What's Next

About every two years I find one of those people I want to talk with all night. While that never quite happens anymore, I can still make it to 2 am, but even then, I'm aware that we don't quite understand each other. So while I resent your inability to understand me in an hour, I admit I don't understand you either.

What I suspect, though, is that you think I don't like you when I stare at the floor and talk to the wall.

None of it.

Attempting a true 1RM squat is fraught with danger: tendons snap, bones break much quicker than a spotter can jump in, vertebrae fly across the room, and testicles roll across the floor. None of which I can think about now. So in the final weeks of training leading into a meet, I may be either thinking or not thinking, both of which from the outside look like staring at the floor and talking to the wall.

Yesterday I was not thinking, which is the preferred place to be. I like you just fine, but I'm not going to mind-fuck myself by making eye contact with you and picking up any foreign thought. I'm riding an anti-thought wave of non-failure, and I need to be able to access that at the meet.

We can talk about it later. What I regret is that I can't take you there with me, but I do hope to see you there one day.

And no matter how little I talk, it's too much. I was in the cubes yesterday listening to the P90X, $60 caffeine and appetite suppressant pills, chronic cardio talk, and I couldn't quite leave it alone so I sent out the following e-mail to my fat-loss competitors:

"You guys realize I got to 17.5 percent [body fat] by drinking a pint of heavy whipping cream a day. I'm running an 11k caloric deficit a week now."

And I thought the easy way to fat loss is to become active enough to get only slightly fat taking in 1,600 calories a day in liquid and then simply stop drinking all those calories.

Too easy, in fact.

So I wondered if I could compete in November at 165 pounds. I'm sure I can't weigh 165 because when I had the running addiction and had significantly less muscle than now, I got stuck at 167. I think I can, however, go down to 172 and sweat and piss out 7 pounds for an early weigh-in.

I'm going to try it. It will keep me focused and give me something to do until I meet someone who can keep me up until 2:30.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Death-Squatting & I'm Fat which is not a Big Deal

When I saw the squat cluster work out, 25 reps at 85-90% of 1rm resting no more than 30 seconds between reps, I knew I'd eventually have to try it. I'm guessing, and I hope it turns out I'm right, that putting it two weeks before the USAPL meet will give me time to be fully recovered and newly adapted to heavy loads.

So yesterday M.B., K.S., and I did the squat cluster, they at 315 pounds and I at 340 pounds. I'd say this one went beyond epic and became transformational. I feel like an entirely new person now. We will see at the meet if I am stronger, but I'm now fearless. At the fifth repetition, I was seriously thinking I might end up stapled under 340 pounds and seriously injured, but I ground out twenty more anyway. Whatever C.H. decides my third attempt is, I'll take it; like Lemmy from Motorhead said, "you win some / you lose some / it's all the same to me." This workout, whatever its physical merits ultimately turn out to be, put me in the perfect frame of mind to crush a PR July 31st.

I don't know if ice baths work, but if they do, I'm glad I took one because I feel terrible today. Beyond the flu-like systemic fatigue, I've got some exquisite pain in my ass, hams, and adductors. I'm happy to report my quads feel untouched, so I know I was sitting back and surfing the stretch reflex on all 25 horrible squats.

Last week I learned there is a contest at work to see who can lose the most body fat in 90 days. There's a $100 entry but a four figure payoff for whoever can lose the most body fat by percentage, not weight. I figured I'm reasonably fat, at least fatter than I need to be, and much fatter than in my harder core CrossFitting days, and that even over 90 days a thousand dollar pay out looks great at my current poverty level, so I signed up.

I got a pinch test at Max Muscle today which revealed I am 17.5% body fat. With my abs visible if not defined, I had trouble believing that, so I had V.P. do two more four site pinch tests which averaged 17.6% body fat.

Well, the great thing about being that fat is that my winning chances are even better than I thought they would be.

It was interesting to me to listen to the pre-contest buzz around the cubicles last week. Some people were not entering because they're happy remaining fat and taking cholesterol medication so that they can continue eating pizza. At least one person declined to enter because she didn't want her weight and body fat percentage known to the other contestants. I have never understood that line of reasoning, but in fairness I have never been a woman, and after Sunday's squatting I seem even less feminine.

They people who did enter the contest are every bit as interesting. There are the inevitable P90X'ers who I have no doubt will lose substantial weight, probably muscle. Then there are the guys who are sure they will win because they were so awesome back in high school. Look, I'm a guy, even more so after Sunday, and I also benched 400, had a 4.4 40, and a 39" vertical jump in high school. Like any guy, I can still improve my high school stats simply by having additional beer.

What I've learned, though, is that in the present - and it could be argued the present is all that counts - it takes intelligently applied work to reach goals.

I figure I'll win because I can eat lean meat and vegetables for 90 days, and work with intensity, up to and including 300 kettle bell swings at 6:30am if that becomes necessary.

Fuck, after Sunday I can do anything.

After Sunday I don't doubt my commitment, drive, and work capacity.

After Sunday, I do doubt my intelligence.

After Sunday, I don't doubt the quality of the people I've decided to surround myself with now; if necessary, they'll supply the intelligence.

As fat and weak as I am, I bet I can increase my barbell lifts while dropping weight.

Watch me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

the Toothpaste doesn't go on your Face

I've accepted the fact that while my brain works well it's also slower than my box jump cycle time, and I hope that my writing is at a minimum adequate because I know that my speech varies from cryptic to idiotic. I'm still sometimes shocked by my apparent verbal incompetence. I recently told a group of people that I squat like they brush their teeth, and I quickly realized that neither they nor I knew what I was talking about.

It was an accident, but I'm right.

Yes, maybe this is after the fact rationalization, but it's like this: I think it's important, I do it with regularity, and I don't get the toothpaste on my face.

Lately some attention has been given to the fact that I start squatting with an empty 45 pound bar. I usually say, and it's true, that I can't immediately squat to parallel, but I'm not just warming up my hips; I'm seeing where the toothpaste is going. I'm not perfect at anything, and sometimes I get a minty-fresh and supposedly whiter mustache, but the idea is to rein that shit in before it's all over my face.

I haven't catalogued how many ways there are to fail at brushing teeth, and after years of multiple tries a day, I'm not too worried about it. There are many small ways to go wrong squatting, but they all show up as one of the big three: sitting down and not back, falling forward, and having the knees collapse inward. Sometimes everything works, and life is beautiful. Usually one, two, or even all three of these things are happening. The trick is to start figuring this out at 45 pounds and have everything fixed somewhere south of 300 pounds.

Consistency makes the process possible. Every repetition at every weight is done in the same way. If like me, your left hand goes on the bar first, then your left hand goes on the bar first from 45 pounds until your third lift in competition. If you're going to arch out a 1rm attempt, you're going to arch out 45 pounds. If you don't have a two-step walk-out, I don't want to see it, and if you do, you don't take three steps with 45 pounds. And of course I could go on ad naseum.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I might try to brush my teeth wrong handed next time and see what happens.

I wouldn't dream of doing that with my squat, but maybe that's because mommy never did tell me I had to squat.

I do this because I want to.

I might as well become as good as I can.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An Increasingly Rare Great f'n Day, and Mind Games

According to my intuitive programming, yesterday was the last day before the USAPL meet July 31st to try a 1RM squat. I've been worried about walking out a big PR attempt, so I decided to squat with 40 pounds of chain on the bar. Chain is great stuff. It tries to jerk you around and is therefore good for working on stability, and since it de-loads at the bottom, it forces an explosive start. If you've got 385 pounds of bar weight at the bottom, and you apply 385 pounds of force, you're going to get stuck when links start coming off the floor.

I was again squatting with K.S. with C.H. assisting us.

It proceeded thusly:
45 x 5
45 + chains x 5
135 + chains x 5
185 + chains x 3 wrist wraps on
225 + chains x 3
275 + chains x 1
315 + chains x 1 belt on
345 + chains x 1 loose wraps on
375 + chains x 1 tight wraps on
(385 + chains x 1) missed on depth, I was about an inch high.

After months of training, which has been a grind at times, I have something to be happy about, and I was. The 415 top / 375 bottom squat was good, and while my last attempt was high, I felt good with 425 pounds on my back.

I think I can make the depth problem go away. I have stayed away from wraps in training, and I think my CNS is just trying to do its job of protecting me; it's trying to shut me down early because it doesn't know the wraps are going to give me a pop out of the bottom position.

C.H. asked me what I'm going to try at the meet, and when I told him 340, 370, 400, he didn't hesitate before saying simply, "410." With that attitude, which coincidentally is exactly the same as mine, I now have full faith in his ability to handle me at the meet. I'm still going to open 340, and I'm going to let him call my second and third attempts with the sole condition that no matter what happens on the second attempt, the third has to be at least 400. I've decided I don't even want to know what's on the bar. This will be the first time I'll be able to lift and not think, and I'm going to enjoy it thoroughly.

While I'm done with max effort singles, I will have a final high volume, high intensity day Sunday.

I have no idea what will happen at the meet. This time, however, I'm sure that I will be fully prepared for a big PR day when I'm on the platform.

Possibly, just possibly, people wonder what I'm thinking when I talk to the bar. Certainly not always, but more often than not I'm thinking about my heart rate and then nothing. I've learned that watching my heart rate gives me the easiest way to monitor my arousal level. What I'm happiest of all about this last session is that even with 425/385 my arousal level was right around 7 on a 0-10 scale. Absolutely perfect for training.

I haven't found the perfect level for a competition squat, but I suspect it's right about 9.25. Just like I do with you, I cue myself when squatting. I watch myself very carefully during every warm-up rep and see where the problems are. Sometimes, and the more I practice the more this happens, everything is right on, I'm in the groove, and I can just feel myself squat with no self-coaching. Still too frequently though, I will be falling forward, so my most frequent self - cues are the same "back" and "chest up" you hear from me. Not so many times now, and especially with knee wraps on, do I need to give myself, "knees out." At any rate, I've found I need to have room in my head for two cues, and trying to squat on 10 crowds all the thinking out. I think the two contributing factors in my near-death squat last November were unequally wound wraps, and trying to squat on 10.

I leave you with a profuse apology that I can't explain what I'm thinking about when I want to crank the arousal above 7. It's a non-verbal thing for me, and the best way I can describe it is unfocused aggression. I suppose it feels a bit like I'm bracing myself for the impact of the final, big meteor.

I'm worried now that my longer term thinking is drifting all over the place. I've caught myself thinking about what happens after I squat 455. Sometimes I think about how a mere 90 more pounds would be a triple body weight squat, and sometimes I think it would be both awesome and good for my rowing to increase my 20RM from its current 245 to 315. What I'm forgetting in all this, of course, is that I haven't squatted 400 yet.

Shut the fuck up, listen to C.H., and do my job which is to squat whatever is on the bar.

I don't control fate and yet I feel that something beautiful is about to happen.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


One of the downfalls of living in the United States is that for the most part we speak English. I like English - I majored in it - but it tries to make an entirely new, unique word for every idea that wants expressing. Often I'm partial to German with its tendency to take as many existing words as necessary, smash them together, and come up with a compound noun.

Thus we have "Nullumficken," which means, of course, zero fucking around.

I've been accused of many things: possessing animal intensity; shooting synthetic testosterone - yes this accusation has actually been made semi-publicly; being in general a jerk - which may not be entirely untrue; and more.

In truth, the only thing I do is access Nullumfickigkeit when it becomes necessary.

I've always been good at short duration Nullumfickigkeit, the stuff that let's me erg a sub 90 second 500 when a 1:40 would hurt me every bit as badly as it does anyone else, when I know that two hours later people will still be asking me if I'm okay, and when I know they'll walk away thinking I'm a jerk.

Like a twenty minute AMRAP, a 6,000 meter row, and other things I hate, longer duration Nullumfickigkeit is harder for me. What I've found is that registering for a competition and paying for it helps me find whatever Dauerhaftnullumfickigkeit I can.

After registering to compete at 181.75 July 31st, I was mortified to weigh myself at 188.6 this morning. Normally when people say, and they always do, that they want to lose ten pounds, I give them the soul-piercing gaze just long enough to ascertain that they're serious, then I walk away. Sure I'm a jerk, but weight loss goals only make sense for those few thousand people in the US who compete in body weight division sports.

So for the next three weeks I'll have to forgo the 33,000 calories I would have ingested in the form of heavy whipping cream, and eat the chicken, salmon, and broccoli. I won't enjoy this, and I'll probably be a jerk. You will do whatever it is you do, but I'd suggest you get close enough to me to feel the Nullumfickigkeit while staying far enough away to avoid the jerkiness.

Or you could do nothing.

Looking at my log, I see it's been 370 days since L5 went shooting across the room on a dead lift gone wrong. I've blocked that out as best I can, and therefore I can't exactly remember what I was doing a year ago, but knowing me I was probably trying to hit parallel on a squat with a 15 pound training bar. I'm sure I wasn't attempting the empty 45 pound bar yet.

I also see that on L5 day, my 1rm bench was 225 pounds. Yesterday I hit a paused 255. 30 pounds in a year, or 2.5 pounds a month. I admit it's tempting to scream at the sky and ask why not 50 pounds, but I've been doing this long enough to know that 30 pounds a year adds up, and that in any case it's better than regressing and adding to the obesity epidemic.

I think I'll not lift at the August meet, but concentrate on coaching which is really the more important part of my coach/athlete job.

All of which means let me know if you want to have pancakes, peanut butter cups, and root beer August 1st.

There is a limit to how much I can avoid fucking around, and if I hit 400, you might find me delightfully non-jerky.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Squatting, Sculling, and the RTD Project

After deciding to compete in the USAPL meet July 31st, I realized my current cycle is of course not set up to peak at the end of July. Because of that, I've left my program behind and I'm lifting intuitively which can actually work quite well if you have enough experience to feel what your body wants to do.

Tuesday I was squatting with K.S., and it went:

45 x 5
135 x 5
185 x 3
225 x 3 wrist wraps on
275 x 3
315 x 1 wrist wraps and belt
345 x 1
375 x 1 wrist wraps, belt and EFS Heavies on

375 was easy, and I quit with 400 in the tank. C.H. has agreed to handle me at the meet, and he's going to be good at it. On his first try he got the knee wraps tight enough to leave bruises, and he promises to improve before the meet.

I'm not sure what I'll do next week, but I might hit a single for 395-405, or if it feels right I might single 375 with one set of chains - 375 bottom, 415 top. I'm sure I can smash 400 at the meet, but the walk-out in wraps is death-defying. 375 with chains trying to knock me over might be the way to go.

On 7/17 I'm going to try a squat cluster, probably 340 x 25 in 2's and 3's trying to keep the time under 25 minutes. After that it's just eating ultra-clean and making sure I come in at 181 pounds.

Sculling was fantastic today. On reflection, I can't say my quad is good, but we're much less amateurish than we were two or three weeks ago. I think I'm a natural born stroke, but I rowed in three today which wasn't bad, and we're thinking about putting me in bow again. As a coach/athlete, I try to shut the hell up and do what I'm told in the boat, which I can usually do, but I'm also simultaneously critiquing Coach Deb McCabe. It is amazing to watch how the right cue can transform me from a monkey to a reasonably proficient sculler. I'm trying to catch some of this coaching voodoo and use it in my own practice.

I continue to be angry on a daily basis over things that shouldn't affect me. I'm sure the long term solution is to keep reading Marcus Aurelias and associating with the fantastic people around me. Since that might take a while, a lifetime or more, I've decided to launch the RTD project. With the way my body feels, I've been thinking about an early retirement from power lifting after I squat 455 at 181, but now I want to squat 500 and do it in a sheltered RTD bus stop.

If I can do one thing before I die, I want to show people that they don't need Five Fingers, Progenix, Max Muscle, carpeted toilet seats, chrome faucets, 3-D televisions, constant hand holding, endless shit talk, and so on. Seriously, just shut up and try anything. Preferably for more than two weeks.

Of course I'm aware that things are never as bad as I tend to think they are. I taught Finn Walden to head-bang today, and that's pretty good.