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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

First Open Letter to my Accountability Partner

I've tried before to use my blog as a training log, and I decided I didn't like it.  As I prepare for the USAPL National Masters, I'm going to do several of these open letters to my accountability partner [OLAP].  I don't feel like I have much room to screw off in my training now, and I believe being accountable to someone will help me move forward.

Today was light squat day, and it went like this:

5 x 45
5 x 135
8 x 170
6 x 210
6 x 245
6 x 265
6 x 265
6 x 265

On light days especially I like to concentrate on form.  There was something sub-perfect about the top sets, but they were all adequate.

I knew it was past time to start some kind of conditioning, and I spent too much time yesterday looking for a CrossFit WoD I could do.  I was looking for something with no pressing movement at all, and I couldn't find it.  At length I remembered I have a truly interesting and somewhat sadistic book of Greyskull Barbell conditioning work outs, and I settled on "swing, swing, catch, goblet squat" - two kettlebell swings followed by flipping the kettlebell over, catching it upside down, doing a goblet squat, and throwing the kettlebell back into the next swing.  It was written as 50 repetitions at 24 Kg, and after thinking it over I did:

25 repetitions of "swing, swing, catch, goblet squat" at 20 Kg.
time 2:15

I thought my scaling was only very slightly on the light side.  Maybe I should have tried 30 reps, but I came close to getting it right.  I never put the bell down, and I definitely got a training stimulus.  Honestly it was terrifying to face a metcon alone, and I missed the experience of watching other guys do half the work I did while using twice the time because they insist on using too much weight.

Shoulder rehab: yes I did some.  Not enough, but I did some.

Diet: Well the good part is that I ate no trash at all.  The bad part is that I didn't measure anything.  I'm sure I won't overeat today, but under-eating is if anything worse.

Other stuff:  I didn't sleep enough, but I did better than Sunday night when I had some nasty stair climbing dreams.

On the whole, it was far from a perfect day yet so much better than any of the previous days this year.

That, accountability partner, is enough to keep me out of burpees, isn't it?

Monday, February 27, 2012

CF Open 12-1 & 2012 Denver Fight for Air Climb

I wrote last time about how I decided to join the 2012 CF Open, so as I did in 2011, I'll give a quick breakdown of how it went.

CF Open 12-1 - 7 minutes as many repetitions as possible, athlete must touch a target 6" above fully extended arm.

What I thought before join the Open: this is stupid.
What I thought after deciding to join the Open: this is stupid, and I'm stupid.
What I thought after 30 seconds of burpees: I can't believe I haven't lost any conditioning since October.
What I thought after 45 seconds of burpees: fuck.
What I thought after 60 seconds of burpees: abandon the ego and pace this motherfucker.
What I thought for the next 6 minutes: one more burpee.
The result: 65
What I thought afterwards: That was a poor result, but I pulled it off without further injury.
What I think now: My whole shoulder girdle hurts.  That was stupid, and I'm not sure I pulled it off. 12-2 next!

Yesterday I tried my first Fight for Air Climb, and while I had significant pre-start jitters, this was one of the funnest things I've attempted.  I wanted to at least finish in under 15 minutes, though secretly I was hoping for under 10.  It being my first time, I didn't quite know how to tackle this, but it was clear pacing would be critical.  I started off with what felt like an easy pace, but when I saw the sixth floor, which because we started in the basement was really something like the ninth, I conceded it was time to slow down and concentrate on not stopping.  I did not stop, and I finished in 12:08.

The climb had a very "row 2k" feel to it which was probably why I liked it so much.  It felt very balanced to me in that I was never sure if my lungs or my legs would quit first.  I found myself just getting into the same mono-cyclical zone of thoughtless moving like on the erg.  I think because of the zen like quality of it, I remember almost nothing, but two things stand out.  The stairwell, for the most part, was uncomfortably hot, but on a few floors doors were open and cold air was blown in.  I remember liking the cold but wishing it were either hot or cold; the contrast was very annoying.  The climb felt like a tight series of hard right turns, but somewhere in the forties or so, the stairwell was displaced such that we had a straight, flat run down a hall before rejoining the stairwell and climbing again.  From something like the 20th floor to the 50th, I was following directly behind a team mate, and I'm reasonably sure that if I hadn't been following him so closely, I would have taken one more right turn and smashed into the wall.

I thought the event was superbly run.  I believe nearly 1800 people ascended at 8 second intervals.  As we had all feared the stairwells were tight with just enough room to pass, but I estimate maybe ten or so people passed me while I passed no more than twenty, so the 8 second interval was probably pretty close to optimal with so many people climbing 1,098 steps.

At the very least I'm doing this next year with a goal of breaking 10:00, but if possible I'd like to do a few more of these throughout the country.

The only bad part was the music at the starting line.  It all sounded like mush to me with the exception of one standout.

Oh, the climb gave me a very satisfying "Fran cough" that my conditioning didn't allow me to get after 12-1, so it was a welcome Sunday redemption after Saturday's 12-1.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

the Danger Zone: One is also a Score

I'm not sure what, if anything, Twitter is for, but I have found a tweet of the day, week, month, probably year, and possibly eternity.  It was from Megan Kalmoe, 2008 Olympic sculler and 2012 Olympic hopeful, and it went like this:

"Yesterday's erg was tough. Been a long time since I've flown in to the Danger Zone. Still learning. Going to make today better."

I knew immediately that I liked it, and I continued to think about it a long time.  I have to admit I don't know what she was talking about, and I like it so much only because I know what I would have been talking about if it were my tweet.

I had been thinking about the Danger Zone [DZ] for years before Megan told me its rightful name.  It's still easiest for me to access the DZ by trying a maximal squat or erging an all out time trial.  Currently attempting to squat 400+ puts me in the DZ; I have to fully engage and give no thought to whether I rise from the hole or the spotters, one trusts, are quick enough to save me from being stapled to the platform.  The erg, if anything, is worse.  On a 500 meter piece I'm going to sit for upwards of 40 seconds not knowing if my heart will burst, my lungs will collapse, my legs will simply refuse to fire again, or if everything will just fade to black after a catastrophic systemic failure.  By extension, the 2,000 is worst of all.  I'll find the DZ as early as 800 meters in and stay there four minutes.

Note that the DZ is relative.  Matt Wenning might find the DZ squatting 1100, and while I'll race Megan at 500 meters, her Olympian stature leaves me unembarrassed to admit she'll need to finish the 2k a half-minute or more before me to find the DZ.

And while I live for the DZ, I don't live in the DZ.  I really should track this, but I estimate I go there no more than every six weeks or so.

I'm sure that if you go into the DZ and come out, you'll be transformed.  Like me, and unlike Megan and Matt, you'll come out not knowing that you're the best in the world, but rather that you're better than you were six weeks ago.  Your best, it turns out, is good enough.

The easiest way to get there is to compete, and that's why, yes, at some point - sooner than you would like - I'm going to push you into a competition.

Last Friday I did one knees-to-elbows to demonstrate for the on-ramp class at TwinFreaks CrossFit.  As I expected, I was rewarded with searing pain from my left shoulder down to my mid-back, and I knew I was correct in deciding to forgo this year's CrossFit Open.  My plan to maintain the bench press, push the squat and deadlift, and teach myself that erging fast is not impossible following the end of indoor rowing season  was impeccable.  I'm sure I can still do one pull-up, but I'm sure I don't want to.

So today when the guy I haven't seen for a year showed up, I told him he was going to do CrossFit Open workout 12-1, seven minutes of burpees.

And I knew that standing there watching him do it was inexcusably weak, so I signed myself up.

It's hard or impossible to watch someone from the outside and know when they're in the DZ.  Sometimes getting to the DZ is as easy as sitting in front of the computer Wednesday at 6pm local time betting that CrossFit HQ can't serve up an Open workout where it's impossible to score one.

One is also a score, and it's enough sometimes to find the power of the DZ.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Andrew Dudderar
Report · 3:23pm
Dude, come train
James Drebenstedt
Report · 3:24pm
I think I am in
i have a stretched ligament, frayed rotator cuff, and arthritis
all in left shoulder
but it should work
I will be in Wednesday

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Annotating a Training Plan

So far 2012 has been about reeling, free-falling, getting weak and fat, and using residual strength and conditioning to erg a couple 500's.  In a sick way I enjoy the 500's, and I thought it would keep people from noticing I've been doing nothing.  I don't know if I fooled anyone else, but in the end I couldn't fool myself.

I can forgive myself for being dejected even to the point of inactivity over the shoulder problems, but it's really past time to start doing whatever I can still do.  Apparently though I needed somebody to shove me.

A few days ago I got an e-mail from xxxx xxx informing me that I was her accountability partner, and that if she didn't do her proposed running, I was to make her jump rope for 20 minutes.

I thought that was a great idea, so I told her "sure," and by the way, you'll kindly force me to row a half marathon if I don't submit a training plan to you before Monday at 5:30 am.

What follows is a succinct, but good enough for my use, plan.  We haven't figured out punishments for me straying from the path yet, so for now it's just the plan with my comments appearing in braces.

Training plan targeting USAPL Masters Nationals May 4-6, 2012
{I wouldn't do shit at this point without a competition to focus on.  I looked around and found this and realized I'd be a moron to miss it.  I'll be lifting with the best in the US, and no matter how I perform, watching those other guys is going to keep me going for years.}

Performance Goals:
{ I'm not a fan of these, but I wanted at least something concrete.}
Compete at bodyweight of 182.6
( Entirely reasonable.  I have to stop being the Pillsbury Doughboy.}
Squat 400+
{ Under USAPL rules this is both ambitious and realistic.}
Deadlift 400+
{ This is entirely reasonable as long as that much weight can hang off my shoulder.  This one has to be fudgeable because if I start getting injury pain in training, 135 is also a fine deadlift.}
Bench 225 or more
{ This is the old "hold what you got" approach.  I seem to handle 225 fine.  It's hard to accept this after  benching 260 three months ago, but I have to quit blowing up chasing too much too soon.}

Behavioral Goals beginning Tuesday 2/28, approximately 9 weeks out.
{ These are the good ones.  I should be able to do all this stuff even if I can't handle the training loads I  would like to. 9 weeks isn't really arbitrary; 8 week cycles are good for me and I'll end up with a deload  week.}
Squat twice a week, Tuesdays and Sundays
{ I've been doing well on the twice a week cycle I've been using.  Do not fix what isn't broken.}
Deadlift and Bench Thursday
{ Pulling once a week is somewhere between enough and too much as long as you use the weight you  should be using.  It's possible to be more ambitious with the bench, but not in my current position.}

At least three WoDs per week, 10 minute cut-of
{ I have to stop being fat.  10 minutes or less will allow my to keep the intensity up.  People who insist on  doing long ass WoDs will have the opportunity to look at me and face the truth.}
No being stupid here. WoDs will be only exercises producing no shoulder pain.
{ This one is critical.  I haven't thought it out yet, but I suspect I'll be doing endless wall ball shots, box  jumps, kettlebell swings, and a few other movements.  This will not satisfy CrossFit ADHD, and I don't  care because I don't have CrossFot ADHD.}
Rowing is always acceptable as a WoD.
{ No Shit.  Still have to keep it under 10 minutes though.}
Minimum of one intense erging WoD per week, either one of the three, or as an extra fourth.
{ It's not all powerlifting.  I have to get ready for sculling, and the 2013 indoor rowing season is only 11  months away.}

Every day: all the shoulder prehab/rehab stuff I hate.
{ I'm not offering any bets on any of this.  If I did, this is easily where you should bet against me.  I hate  playing with the bands, but this is where I decide if I'll eventually bench 300+ or retire from lifting.}

Diet: Entirely Paleo approved beginning 2/28
{ I'll miss the free bagels and doughnuts on Tuesdays.  I'll also feel, look, and perform better.}
Calories will be set to 2730.
{ This is in another blog somewhere.  It's not too low and it allows a nice steady loss of fat. }
In the not improbably case of hunger on heavy lifting days, the calorie cap will be ignored as long as there is a downward trend in body fat.
{ This is in another blog somewhere.  I don't believe in being hungry although I can and will do that if I'm  not  making it to 182.6}
Absolutely no refusing to eat vegetables – no VLC.
{ I've learned that I'm not in that population that should be doing a very low carbohydrate diet.  I can and will go into ketosis if I have to, but I'm pretty sure I won't have to if I mostly follow the plan.}

That's it.  I'm ready to quit sucking now.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Nuts: Being Weird might Kill You

Often when I write a blog, I realize I have to write another blog, and today the other blog would be on cherry-picking work outs.  I'm not entirely opposed to cherry-picking, and with my shoulder not really working, I have to be careful about what I should be doing in a WoD.

Yesterdays WoD, 4 rounds for time - 6 deadlifts at 155 pounds, 12 push-ups, and 15 box jumps, looked reasonable to me.   I wanted to see how my shoulder would stand up to both pulling and doing push-ups, and all of this was done at moderate volume and light weight.

I did some shoulder prehab while the rest of the class was doing hang snatches, something I didn't feel like pushing at all yet.  They were still going when I finished working my shoulders, so I decided I should warm up the deadlift.  155 is very light, and while I'll pull 300ish conventional still, I decided to warm up sumo since I need work there, and then do the WoD conventional.

155 is so light, in fact, I decided to put chains on and pull speed doubles.  I rarely pull chains, and I haven't done it in a few months, so without much though I just centered the chains on the bar.

No, I can't foresee what's about to happen here.


I only pulled once and didn't make a double.

I smashed that fucker right into my testicles.

I still need more work on this.

Probably the reader can figured out where this happened, but I'm not going to say.  In some circles I'm known as the guy who knows how to get to 8% bodyfat with enough muscle to powerlift on the state level without any embarrassment.  And in one of these circles, I got an e-mail asking for my input on how to build a gym.

And my genitals were fully restored.

Here was a chance to do a gym from the ground up and avoid all the mistakes I made before.  This fucker could be perfect.

So I replied and said I would be delighted to help.

And in the next e-mail I was asked what I thought of this.

I'm supposed to squat tonight, but I think I'll just crush my nuts instead.

Monday, February 13, 2012

What Doesn't Kill you Makes you Weirder

My mustache has been giving me fits for a few months now.  I could almost eat, but I was finding food in my mustache with disturbing regularity.  Drinking, however, which I do even more than eating wasn't working.  A cascade of liquid - water, not so bad; coffee, worse; half and half or whipping cream, worst - would drain off my mustache onto my obligatory hoodie.

In frustration I thought to hack the growth off my face.

But, who would recognize me?  To each his own, yes, and to me it would be worse to stride across the Monaco Health Club floor once a year and have nobody recognize me as the guy with the lightning 500 meter row than to have half a pint of cream on my hoodie every day.

So I thought to simply trim the beast.

But where to start?  I looked in a mirror and could make no sense of what hair should remain, what should go, and even where some of it originated anyway.

When I had my shoulder MRI, the doctor suspected a torn labrum.  In order to make an accurate diagnosis, the radiologist shot some sort of dye into my shoulder capsule, so that imaging would show it either contained or leaking through the labrum.  The MRI turned out objectively good, which is for another blog, and it gave me a great idea.

This morning I had six scrambled eggs for breakfast, and I put on two or three times my usual amount of Louisiana Hot Sauce.

I went to the mirror and just cut off everything that was red.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Joy Revisited & Feeling out the Weights

Late last year when I realized I had shoulder problems I had been training for the March 2012 NASA powerlifting meet with a view to  finally breaking the state squat record.  I essentially stopped all upper body work and deadlifting in December, but I continued with my squat cycle albeit entirely without any sense of urgency.  I went from squatting twice a week down to once so that I could save my legs for the indoor rowing season.

I realized this week that I should be in a good place to test my 1rm squat, so at the last minute I allowed myself to be talked into doing the unsanctioned powerlifting meet at DEFY! CrossFit.  I've enjoyed three nights of horrible sleep, and I woke up this morning feeling completely unready to do anything.  I had no appetite and couldn't eat, so I used the early morning to watch my 500 meter sprint from the Denver Indoor Rowing Championships last week.  I thought that if I could watch myself do something cool, I might find it in myself to get fired up and turn in a good performance.

I watched the TFCF video on YouTube, and after it was over, YouTube suggested further videos for me one of which was another view of my 500 meter highlights.

I suppose, yes, it's narcissistic, but I loved this one.  It looks like it's about someone else and then it shifts to me.  This one captured me playing to the crowd that showed me so much love. While watching this I remembered that all this stuff happened, but I had forgotten it.  I was actually applauding the crowd from the floor  before getting up and blowing a kiss.

What I remembered without the benefit of video is that I attacked the race and had no intention other than winning and if possible setting a PR.  I remember that I was in horrible pain for several minutes after the race, and that while moving was horrible, laying down with the lactic acid build up was worse.  I remember I crawled up a wheelchair ramp out of the gymnasium and staggered around trying vainly to find relief.

I remember after it was over I was happy.  I couldn't have said why other than that I went hard and won, but this video showed my some of the fun stuff that happened that was buried under the pain in my memory.

So yes, I do know joy, and I know it comes with true near-death exertion.

Okay, so I used to be pretty good, but that was last week and I had to lift today.

My plan was to open the squat at 375, probably take 385, and then shoot for something over 400.  I couldn't seem to get my mind right, the warm up was horrible, and since I forgot that my warm ups have little to do with how I perform, I let my nerves take over and changed my opener to 355.

I felt strong if not invincible after hitting 355, so I decided to take 380 which I sunk with ease.  The video looks fine to me, but the near side judge though I didn't get to depth.

I decided to try 400.  I felt like I had more than enough strength to make it, but I haven't trained higher than 350 or so in months, and I was defeated by mental weakness.  I knew I cut this way high, and I didn't need to look at the judges.

I think in the next ten days, I'll take 410 at the gym and be done with this 400 barrier.

Every dog has its day.  I just need more espresso.

For those I don't see regularly, I've alluded to the shoulder problem and the MRI showed a stretched ligament, a frayed rotator cuff, and some arthritis.  All I know is that the cumulative effect is lot of pain for me and I haven't benched more than 45 pounds since December. 

I warmed up to 215 and felt fine, but I decided not change my opener of 45 pounds since I didn't want any accidents.  I was disappointed that my lift provoked some crowd laughter.  Possibly the crowd thought I was making a joke, but the "token lift" is well known in in powerlifting circles and it's usually understood that the lifter is injured and is just trying to make a total.

I decided to try 225 next so that if nothing else I can still lift with the fraternity boys.  It proved easy enough, so I called for 250 to see what would happen.  I got it two or three inches off my chest and I knew it was a no-go so I called in the spotters.  That was hard to take after blowing up 260 in November, but it was very encouraging to be able to put up more than 200 without any pain.

It seems that pulling causes me much more pain than pushing, and since I also haven't deadlifted since December, I opened at 135.  I could pick up 135 in any way I wanted to, but I took some time to open my hips and see if I could nail a perfect sumo pull in the groove. The sumo deadlift is a very technical slow lift, and while I was happy with my starting position, nothing went right.  I almost fell on my face before pulling through and nearly falling on my ass.  Fortunately 135 is very forgiving and I was able to use strength to overcome my lack of practice.  I didn't feel any need to test my deadlift.  I believe if I can get in some technique work, my hips will pull anything my shoulder can hold, so I passed the final two attempts.

What I know in mid-February is this: CrossFit is out since I can't currently do a pull-up with out excruciating pain.  A couple things I truly love are in: rowing and powerlifting.  I have decided to go full bore with the erging and also get back on the water this year.  I'll continue lifting, but the next meet I'll have time for isn't until August.  By then the squat record should fall, and my token lifts will be more like 275 and 425.

Hopefully around that time I'll be CrossFitting again and getting ready for another Masters' Open.

Friday, February 10, 2012

2012 Denver Indoor Rowing Championships

Strange that after more than a decade, my old hard core band appears to worth much more than I've ever made erging, because erging has definitely made me more famous.  As soon as I walked into the Monaco Athletic Club, people who saw me row at the Mile High Sprints began approaching me and telling me what a great sprinter I am.

Okay, that felt good.  I almost thoroughly enjoyed the attention, but I had to find some quiet space to be as alone as possible before doing my second and last 500 meter sprint of the year.

I went through my customary warm up which customarily felt horrible.  I've learned that how I feel warming up has no correlation to how I feel racing, so I was able to remain reasonably calm before my heat was called.

I got my erg set up, and took a little time to talk to it.

Why not? I talk to the barbell; I'm not going to be an implementist.

The whole 500 can be seen here.

The start was adequate if not fantastic.  I was hanging out at 1:20/500, and while it's usually easy for me to hit 1:18 or lower on the start, I didn't feel as though I was strong enough to do it.  I chose to hold 1:20 as long as possible before backing down to 1:24, and holding that until falling apart, and finally attempting to go all out the final 150 meters.

I made a rather serious mistake by looking at the big screen once near the end of the race.  I saw I was leading by a huge margin, and I reflexively started to slow down.  I brought a coxswain and a cheering section with me, and I was an immediate crowd favorite so there was enough screaming to get me to finish as strong as possible.

I turned a 1:25.8 which was the fastest 500 meters of the day, but it was still short of a PR by a tenth of a second.  I can't help but think that looking at the big screen must have cost me two tenths of a second or even more, but I did win the race while going hard enough to finish like this:

After the race I had a bunch of people talk to me.  I can't lie and say I didn't appreciate the guy who told me I should rank my 500 meters since I was probably one of the best in the world - I did that a long time ago, man - but the kids and their coaches were fantastic.  Apparently I was a big hit with the kids from the Monaco Athletic Club.

What a weird way to be a rock star.

I guess I have to do this again next year.