5/27/15 WOD: Skinning Cats

Today’s ParaWOD was a 100% departure from the Crossfit class, with the exception of getting heavy for one particular movement. In the class, it was back squat. For me, it was strict shoulder press.

Phase 1

Strict shoulder press

  • 6 rep max
  • 5 rep max
  • 4 rep max
  • 3 rep max
  • 2 rep max

I started my progression at 85lbs strict press and worked my way up (er, down) until I hit my 2 rep max at 125lbs, which is a present day personal record. (When in college, I used to warm up my shoulder press at 135lbs, so…almost back to where I was many years ago!)

Phase 2

2 sets of 2 movements, super-set together, for 3 rounds:

A. Wall balls + skin the cats

What is a skin the cat? This is another great ring workout movement that offers a number of benefits for the para-athlete, including increased range of motion, grip strength, shoulder mobility, and body control. This is what it looks like:

If you think this movement would be difficult for a para-athlete that has sustained injury to the thoracic vertebrae, you would be correct! It is not easy, not at all, because we cannot simply contract our lower abdomens or tuck in our knees to get into an inverted hang position. How in the world can we generate enough torque with the muscles we CAN control in order to make the muscles we CAN’T control do what we want?

This challenge is not without difficulty, but it is possible and well worth it. You will likely need to move through a progression of the movements, taking it piece by piece. First, you will want to have a coach who understands your physical capabilities, because he/she will guide you through the movements. Next, it might be worth while to band your legs together with a strap of some sort in order to keep them in alignment. Lastly, make sure you have a soft cushion or crash mat underneath to land on in case you have to bail on the movement.

skin the cat position 1
Get a good grip. You’re going for a ride.

Starting from a seated position on the mat, the torque is going to come primarily from your shoulders pushing in a downward motion. If you place your arms on a table and then push down with them at the same time, this force is what is going to instead pivot your hips and legs toward the ceiling. If you have trouble getting your knees up in the air, you can use a strap or band and, in a sitting position, band your knees to your shoulders so that everything moves at the same time.

Skin the cat position 2
Drive your shoulders down, closing them, which torques your lower body upward.

Once you and your coach have brought you into an inverted position called an inverted hang, you may need to spend some time in this position to re-acclimate your brain to the sensation of being upside down. As children, rolling around and being upside down is a normal sensation. However, the older we get and the farther away we move from that period of our lives, the stranger it may seem, and so it is important to get used to this position before you begin to exert yourself.

skin the cat position 3
Stay in this inverted hang position for a few seconds. Re-orient your brain, make sure your grip is good.

When you’re finally comfortable in the inverted hang position, start lowering yourself further and further as your feet get closer to your original position. Use short, controlled movements so that you don’t strain anything, and feel the sensation of making your lower extremities move in the way you want them to as they are in suspension.

skin the cat position 4
Start to lower your feet past your hips, down toward the floor. Squeeze the shoulder blades together.

Congratulations, you are now at the point of no return. If you let go, you’re doing  a face-plant.

Touchdown! Try to look forward again at the wall in front of you.
Touchdown! Try to look forward again at the wall in front of you.

Getting back to the seated position will be much easier, so make sure to use a controlled motion so that you don’t whip your legs and feet forward and have them crash on the floor.

Here is a short clip of the movement you want to do once you are in the inverted position, dropping your toes down to the floor, and then back to the hang.

B. Medicine ball crunch + chair get-ups

Do you practice getting in and out of your chair from the floor? Not only is this a good strength drill, but a functional one as well, both in real life as well as in doing WOD’s where you have to change stations quickly and you don’t want to lose a lot of time in transition.

Find a good stationary object like a chair or a box, and practice getting in and out of the chair. Focus on keeping your shoulders and elbows tight into your body so you don’t strain your shoulders. The movement should be as close to a dip motion as possible where you can use your strength in your triceps and lats to press down, getting yourself into the chair.

Many thanks to Joe Villegas for his coaching and photography.

Memorial Day: “MURPH” Hero WOD

Hero WOD: “Murph”


It is an annual tradition at Crossfit Nassau to do a special workout on Memorial Day. This annual workout is known to many as “Murph,” which represents two big ideas:

1) The recognition and memory of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., who was killed in Afghanistan June 28th, 2005. From the official Crossfit site:

This workout was one of Mike’s favorites and he’d named it “Body Armor”. From here on it will be referred to as “Murph” in honor of the focused warrior and great American who wanted nothing more in life than to serve this great country and the beautiful people who make it what it is.

Murphy, nicknamed “The Protector,” was awarded the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice in Afghanistan, the first member of the U.S. Navy to receive such an honor since Vietnam. He was the leader of Operation Red Wings, the counter-insurgent mission that claimed the lives of Danny Dietz, Matthew Axelson, and Murphy himself. The mission’s only surviving member is Marcus Luttrell, who commemorated the mission in his book, “Lone Survivor,” which was made into a movie last year.

2) The second big idea is that the athletes who choose to participate in Murph get to share, in some very small way, both the memory of this fallen warrior as well as gain an idea of the warrior spirit. Doing a simple workout of course can never emulate that true embodiment, but by choosing to share in a common exercise, especially with fellow athletes, the individual can run next to the memory of a big idea, at least for a little while, allowing it to take hold of yourself so that when you think of the protectors of our nation, you think on it a little more deeply and with greater purpose.

The Workout

(You’d better pre-hydrate for this one)

For time:
1 mile Run
100 Pull-ups
200 Push-ups
300 Squats
1 mile Run

Partition the pull-ups, push-ups, and squats as needed. Start and finish with a mile run. If you’ve got a twenty pound vest or body armor, wear it.


  • 1 mile run = do it!
  • 100 pull-ups = do it! And do it strict (bar or ring-rows), because you’re a para-athlete!
  • 200 push-ups = do it!
  • 300 squats = requires something that can be done in high volume. medicine ball crunches will do nicely (10lbs)
  • 1 mile run = do it!

The use of a whiteboard is strongly suggested, because if you partition these sets, by midway your brain is going to be scrambled trying to keep track of everything.

For myself, I am cognizant of how much time I lose during movement transitions, so this time I broke it all down into 10 sets:

10 rounds of:

  • 10 pull-ups
  • 20 push-ups
  • 30 crunches

In the end, I averaged about 3 minutes per middle round. Coupled with the mile run before (8 minutes) and after (10 minutes), my total time came to 48 minutes to complete the WOD, an improvement by about 7 minutes from the first time I attempted it 2 years ago.

Remember, the goal is to take this massive workout, figure it out, and make it work. Better yet, find some friends and do it as a team, embodying on some small level the ethos of Murph and his SEAL teammates.

5/22/15 WOD: floor press EMOM, rowing into the weekend

Today’s workout was a focus on continuous, controlled exertion, followed by a 4 round, 3 station WOD.


Volume: 10 min EMOM Pistols

Conditioning: 4 rounds AFAP
250m Row
14 Empty Bar Thrusters
7 Pull Ups


Since I cannot do pistols and have yet to figure out a good approximation for it, we swapped in the bench/floor press (in the words of coach Tyler, “bench more!”). I did a 135lb press for 3-5 reps at a time every minute, on the minute (EMOM), for 10 minutes. Remember to focus on controlled decline and then explosive exertion while using proper bench technique.

Conditioning Adaptation

250m Row = 250m Row
14 Empty Bar Thrusters = 14lb wall ball
7 Pull Ups = 7 strict pull ups

The row is going to be slower than the rest of the group, since I don’t get full leg extension or the power that comes from the legs. For the other two movements, my goal was to do them unbroken, which I accomplished with the exception of the last set of pull-ups, which I had to break down into reps of 4 and 3.

Many thanks to Joe “3/4 Mountain” Villegas for his training and photography.

5/20/15 WOD: Pike Push-ups, breathing ladders, burning out your hand grip

Today’s workout is more of a conditioning variety, but incorporates heavy weights.

Volume: Partner Up and spend 10min practicing freestanding handstands.

EMOM: 10min
2-4 HSPUs

Conditioning: KB Swing Breathing Ladder (Any Style, 32/24)

ascending ladder with only 2 breaths between each set; 1 swing, 2 breath, 2 swings, 2 breaths, 3 swings, 2 breaths, 4 swings, 2 breaths, 5 swings, 2 breaths…etc…you HAVE TO attempt the next set when breaths are done – if you complete it, go on, if fail, stop the ladder; it is for control, not speed)
rest 2.5 min –
Tabata ABmat Situps Anchored
rest 2.5 min –
5min AMRAP; Farmer’s Walk; 30m = 1 rep


The handstand pushup (HSPU) presents a unique challenge for a para-athlete who lacks the hip and quad control to get vertical in an inverted position. You can solve it in one of two ways. Either get someone to hold your legs vertical so you can focus primarily on the HSPU, or scale it into something called a pike pushup.

However, even the pike position may prove to be problematic if you cannot keep your knees locked out. To solve this problem, we incorporated a box on which I lay face down, and when it came time to do the pushup, slid forward until my torso was off the box and I was in a close approximation of the pike position.


From this position, lower yourself in as vertical a form as possible into the pike form:


This is the first time we’ve attempted this adaptation so positioning will still need to be experimented with, but the motion looks something like this:

This portion of the workout was an EMOM, or every minute on the minute. At the top of each minute, I focused on getting 5-7 reps for 10 minutes total.

Conditioning Adaptation

KB Swing Breathing Ladder = 2 light KB, one in each hand, instead of the American style KB swing (ladder)

Abmat situp = medicine ball crunch(14lbs) (tabata)

Farmer’s carry = static hang  (hold, rest, hold)


Many thanks to Joe “3/4 Mountain” Villegas for his training and photography.

5/18/15 WOD: Muscle-Up Progression, fight gone bad conditioning

Today’s workout consists of one of Crossfit’s benchmark movement, the muscle-up, followed by a fight-gone-bad style conditioning segment.


A. Muscle-up progressions

Skill/Volume: Slowly accumulate as many Muscle-ups as possible in 20min. Sub in weighted pull-ups, strict pull-ups, assisted pull-ups if needed. For scaled pulls, try to string together 3-5 reps each set and use a 31X2 tempo.

B. Conditioning: For four rounds, rotate to the next station on the minute. Try to accumulate as many reps as possible.
Row – Calories
G2O (75/55)

Remember, this is a STRICT MUSCLE-UP, not those kipping ones you often see in the Crossfit Games. The focus is on strength and full body control. Here is the interesting facet to remember – the strict muscle-up for the para-athlete is essentially the same as for the able-bodied athlete. Granted there will be more challenges, particularly with what to do with your lower extremities, but the strength component is going to be largely the same, and if you can master it, I contend you will be far ahead of the game vs athletes who elect to use the kipping motion to complete their muscle-up.

Fortunately, the progression for a strict movement will not be too dissimilar for para-athletes, so find a good guide such as this one.


For my own workout today, which you can see in the image at the top, the goal was to do accumulate a lot of work within a 20 minute period. To accomplish this, instead of getting 1-2 muscle-ups and then struggling the rest of the way, I used a banded muscle-up so I could chain together 3-5 reps at a time and then rest. An easy way to use a band is to tie it on the rig and then with assistance loop it under your arms, forming a harness. You can see the bands in the image above, which help with the elusive and difficult transitioning phase.

Conditioning component

4 rounds, 3 movements, 1 movement per minute, 1 minute rest in between.

Row – Calories = Row
G2O (75/55) = kettlebell clean/press
Burpees = parallette press

Each rep counts as one rep, and each calorie on the row counts as one rep. In total, I completed 188 reps in the 4 rounds.

Thanks to Justin Doran for taking the photo above.

5/13/15 WOD: weighted dips, get up, get down, get all around

Today’s WOD provided both a good strength adaptation as well as an easily adaptable conditioning AMRAP.

The prescribed AMRAP was as follows:

Conditioning: 20min AMRAP of…
10 air-squats
10 sit-ups
10 burpees
10 barbell rows (95,65)


For the strength component, we did weighted dips on a Matador dip station.

 The basic dip movement is one of my stronger attributes, but adding weight can be tricky. If you have hip control, a belt for adding weight is the easiest way to go:

However, if you cannot keep the belt seated on your hips, you have to get creative. We took a thick rubber band and I put it on kind of like a vest, and on that band I was able to attach the belt. Now my shoulders were controlling the weight instead of my hips.

We then added weights increasingly until I hit my 3-rep max weight. I finished at my body weight + 60lbs.


  1. air squats = wall balls (14lbs)
  2. burpees = push-ups
  3. sit-ups = medicine ball crunches (14lbs)
  4. barbell rows – this one required a little bit of adjustment. Instead of doing a standing barbell row, we placed a weight bench on top of 2 boxes, and then I did the row lying stomach down on the bench.

The movements are all doable on their own, but the most difficult aspect for a wheelchair athlete is getting from one station to another. Getting in and out of a chair is one challenge that every para-athlete needs to work on. Getting up and down off of a bench is quite another, because the risk of falling is always present. However, this is all the more reason for the para-athlete to practice this movement, to be able to do it quickly, efficiently, and most important, safely.

May 1, 2015 WOD: rows, shoulder press, wall ball, pull-ups


Today’s WOD was a packed affair, but there were lots of good movements that a para-athlete can either do or swap out to make it adaptable:

Strength/ Volume
A. 1-arm Row
B. KB Windmills


10min AMRAP @ 80-90%:
3 Front Squat (wt = Monday’s BS load for 6 reps)
9 Air Squat
15 Box Jump with step down
21 Abmat Sit Ups

rest 7min

10min AMRAP @ 80-90%:
Deadlift x 7 (same weight as FS)
KBS x 14
Double Unders x 21


Phase 1

The 1 arm KB row can be tricky if you don’t have abdominal support, which I personally lack. You can either brace yourself by holding on to something sturdy (like the rig) or you can get a bench or a box and use your off-hand to support yourself. Try both a kettlebell and a dumbbell and choose the one that gives you the greatest range of motion so that you don’t bang into your chair and possibly damage your wheels (or break a spoke, which is what I did!).

The KB windmill movement will be a challenge. This is what it looks like:

From a sitting position, and without lower abdominal muscle control, it is going to be very difficult. The best way to go is to use a light weight and practice the movement going down as far as possible while still being able to return to an upright position. This movement can have real life application, because the better you can do this movement in a chair, the greater your mobility and core strength will be.

Phase 2

A number of the movements in these two AMRAPs will need to be modified, so instead, focus on the goal, which is two successive 10 minute workouts that involve constant work with no rest. Also, it is good to add in movement in and out of the chair, which always has practical application, especially when you are fatigued and need to be able to move your body.

AMRAP 1 (10 minutes)

  1. 3 KB shoulder presses (either simultaneously, or switch arms)
  2. 9 hand release push-ups
  3. 12 medicine ball crunches (heavy – 14 lbs)

7 minutes of rest to set up the next phase

AMRAP 2 (10 minutes)

  1. 5 strict pull-ups
  2. 12 wall balls (10 lbs)
  3. 15 medicine ball crunches (light – 10 lbs)

Personal goal: the wheelchair muscle-up

From nearly day 1, when I first learned about the fabled “muscle-up” in Crossfit circles, I knew that it was something that I needed in my repertoire because of its useful functionality, basic testing of strength and mobility, and because it’s so dang hard to do, for anybody.

Shortly after I started training on it, I set myself a personal goal. Not only would I work to develop the muscle-up skill, but I eventually wanted to be able to do it while strapped into my wheelchair, which adds about 28lbs of additional weight (increase of about 17% total body weight).

I happened across another guy who apparently set his sights on the same goal, and he’s clearly well past where I want to get to, but it is good to see that this is a realistic challenge and this is what it looks like:

The lesson, as always – never be afraid to scale!