CrossFit Open 2016 adaptive: of failure and continuance

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Riding high on the momentum from my (slightly) more successful workout 16.3, I was excited to attack 16.4. I was still excited, even after I saw it announced, as it turned out to be a grueling 13 minute chipper that would put athletes’ arms and legs through the, well, the chipper. The Rx workout for 16.4 is:

13 minute time cap for:

  • 55 deadlifts
  • 55 wall-ball shots
  • 55-calorie row
  • 55 handstand push-ups

I looked at this workout and had two thoughts: 1) I can do all of those movements! and 2) No, wait. I can’t even do the first movement.

The reason why I thought this way is because, as a T5-T6 injury paraplegic, I have no muscle control below my pectoral region. How in the world can you do a deadlift if you don’t have either lower back or abdominal muscles? HOW?

I waited with trepidation until 6AM the next day when the wheelchair adaptive site WheelWOD would release their Rx standards, and here they are:

  • 55 deadlifts with 70lb kettlebells
  • 55 wall ball shots with 14lb ball and 9 foot target
  • 35 calorie row
  • 55 dumbbell shoulder presses with 35lb dumbbells

Well crap.

Not only have I never attempted a deadlift using kettlebells (I usually do rows while lying face down on a bench), but the standard required a collective weight of 140lbs. I could already envision it. I’d bend forward, grab these very heavy weights, and then not go anywhere with them. How was I supposed to sit upright? With no active muscles to do the work?

But…you gotta try. So I tried. I bent over, grabbed those two 70lb weights and I…sat up. It wasn’t easy, it strained every point in what could only be called my bifurcated posterior chain, and I wanted to drop them almost immediately, but I sat up. And then I did it again. And again. Even now, at this very moment, I cannot tell you how I did it or what muscle groups I was activating that would enable me to do something that I did not think I had the muscle control to do. But I did it.

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(Yes, I nearly head-butted my beloved wife who was trying to keep me from toppling over)

So there it was. Wheelchair paraplegic guy, doing deadlifts. Nothing can stop me now!

That is, until I got to the very next movement and began to practice the 14lb wall balls at a 9 foot target.

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Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

See that white line over the whiteboard? That’s my target. That’s my target that I never came close to surpassing. And that was it. That was my workout. 16.4 was officially done, as the WheelWOD rules stipulate that once you fail at a movement 10 times, your workout ends.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hit that target with that 14 lb weighted medicine ball. In fact, I could barely reach 9 ft with a 10lb ball. Even now, as I look at the leaderboard, I have no idea how dozens of wheelchair-bound people can generate enough thrust without the use of their legs and hips to toss a 14lb ball that high.

10 attempts, 10 failures. And so my workout was over.

What did I do then? I kept going.

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35 calorie row. Have you ever sat down at a rowing machine and said to yourself, “I’m basically stuck here for the next 4 and a half minutes?” That’s what I was in for, that’s what I knew I was in for, and that’s what I did. The question is, why?

To be sure, I can always quip, “Well, I didn’t want to get dressed up for nothing.” But the truth is, going into this workout, I knew my score would be capped at 55. I knew I wouldn’t get a single wall ball shot. I knew that, from a competitive standpoint, there was no point in continuing.

Why keep going? One reason is that my coach, the genteel Brad Bunde (of whom it is rumored, if not yet confirmed, that he taught Fred Astaire how to dance, Bing Crosby how to sing, and Frank Sinatra how to snorkel), has repeatedly said that the Open is a snapshot of your physical fitness at that specific moment of your life. It might be the absolute best you have to offer, but more than likely it is going to capture your limits in strength, limits in movement, your lack of sleep, the 200 things that are troubling your mind 18 hours a day, and that slice of spam you ate right before you got to the gym. So treat it as such, and don’t be embarrassed by it.

The second reason is my recollection of some savory bits of war history.

“War is the father of us all, King of all. Some it makes gods, some it makes men, some it makes slaves, some free.” – Heraclitus of Ephesus

The idea is that war and conflict are the ultimate purifiers of human character. Conflict is the unapologetic assayer of the truth of humanity. It reveals all things – anger, love, frustration, patience, discord, peace, despair, hope. The inches that separate the weight on the ground and the weight in your hands will tell you quite a bit, not about your musculature, but of your understanding of your own personal nature. The fact of the matter is, you either pick it up, or you don’t. But the truth of the matter is, you see the heavy object insuperable forever, or you see it as a challenge to which you have not yet found the best solution.

Aut inveniam viam aut faciam

This Latin phrase, which is attributed to the Carthagian military commander Hannibal (even though he didn’t speak Latin, but the Punic language of North Africa), translates to:

I shall either find a way or make one

This phrase was Hannibal’s historic response to his generals who told him that it was impossible to take elephants across the Swiss Alps.

Wait, what???

During the Second Punic War in 218BC, the brilliant Carthaginian general Hannibal led his army, and more importantly, his war elephants, across the Pyrenees and Swiss Alps and into Northern Italy to attack the Roman Republic. In what is now held as one of the great accomplishments of military force in the ancient world of warfare, Hannibal resolved to utilize his elephants and take the fight directly to the Romans by maneuvering his infantry across the mountain range.

While Hannibal’s ultimate efforts were mixed, his resolve and war cry will remain forever in antiquity (as well as at the University of Pennsylvania, Breaking Bad, and in tattoos across the world). And so it is with workouts such as this – you either find a way, or you make one. My personal resolve is this – sometimes, the way that you make will take a long time, maybe even a year until the 2017 WheelWOD CrossFit Open. But there is the door, so figure out a way to go through it.

Addendum: the man who defeated Hannibal, the great Roman General Scipio Africanus, had a pretty good line of his own:

I am aware of the frailty of man, I think about the power of fortune, and I know that all our actions are at the mercy of a thousand vicissitudes. Now I admit that it would have been arrogant and headstrong reaction on my part if you had come to sue for peace before I crossed to Africa, and I had rejected your petition when you were yourself voluntarily quitting Italy, and had your troops embarked on your ships. But, as it is, I have forced you back to Africa, and you are reluctant and resisting almost to the point of fighting, so that I feel no need to show you any consideration. Accordingly, if something is actually added to the terms on which it seems probable that a peace could be concluded — some sort of indemnity for the forceful appropriation of our ships, along with their cargoes, during truce and for the violation of our envoys — then I have something to take to my council. But if you consider even that to be excessive, prepare for war, for you have found peace intolerable.”

Post script:

My video cut out before I began my attempt at the 35lb dumbbell presses. I can attest that I started them at approximately the 12 minute mark. I can also claim that I did all 55 of them in the 60 second window. As far as you know.

CrossFit Open 2016 adaptive 16.3: best effort yet

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During the first two weeks of the 2016 CrossFit Open, I have been presented with challenging movements that I’ve never done before. I did them the best that I could, but knew that without any practice in them, my body was fighting a learning curve as well as the strength and skill involved in the movements. For 16.3, it was the first workout where I actually felt like my body had some familiarity with each of the adaptive movements prescribed by WheelWOD‘s adaptation. Because of this, I was able to dedicate most of my focus on the thing that is hardest for me while not worrying too much about the things that are easier.

If you recall, the Rx workout for 16.3 is:

7 minute AMRAP

  • 10 power snatch (75/55)
  • 3 bar muscle-ups

The WheelWOD adaptation is:

  • 10 power snatch (55/35)
  • 3 chest-to-bar pull-ups
  • 3 ring dips

I admit that when I first saw 16.3 revealed I was worried that WheelWOD, instead of assigning the bar muscle-up, which is only attainable by the most elite of wheelie athletes, would instead substitute the ring muscle-up, which while much more attainable, is still a bear.

Fortunately, the adaptation involved the breaking apart of the two muscle-up components – the pull and the push. The chest-to-bar wouldn’t be easy without the use of a kip, but at least it was reachable if I took my time.

The hardest part, similar to 16.2, would of course be the power snatch. In 16.2, I barely got into the power clean due to my struggles in the first few minutes of the workout. This time, I’d be starting things off with the snatch. But just like with the clean, the hardest part for me is to generate enough pull on the bar without the availability of abdominal muscles or hip drive. Furthermore, I had only started learning the snatch six months ago, and it was always at lighter weight (35lbs, 45lbs), and starting off of 30″ boxes. How would I do starting from the floor, and at a weight I had never really tried before?

No time like the present to start trying!

As you can see, my motion from floor to overhead is slow. Each rep took approximately 10-15 seconds, which means that the entire 10 rep set took anywhere from 90 seconds to 2 full minutes. As I look across the leaderboard for the WheelWOD competition, it is easy to see that the men and women who can do this movement the best are the ones with the best scores.

For me, pulling up the bar, repositioning my hips, and then pulling the bar as far as I could to get my elbows under it was a strain on my upper body abilities. That said, prior to this workout I had never done reps at 55lbs before. So while I was slow on this movement, which probably cost me at least another round, the weight itself was a personal record (“PR”). And as the debonair and affable Coach Brad Bunde said afterward, “You just did 30 reps at your PR weight. That’s really good.”

After the snatch came the semi-difficult move, the chest-to-bar pull-up. The key with this movement for this workout is that the bar has to actually touch your chest anywhere from the collarbone down. While I know I can get up high enough with the pull-up, actually creating contact might cause problems. And in fact it did, as in the first set, I rose up high enough but failed to touch the bar. No rep.

However, CrossFit competition is, by and large, a workout regimen of range of motion and not pure technique. With that in mind, I quickly solved my problem:

Switching from a pull-up (mostly back muscles, but pulls you at an angle) to a chin-up (mostly biceps, which burn out much faster), I was easily able to pull the bar into my chest and move on.

Moving on to…the ring dip.

The ring dip is one of the easiest movements I can do, and here is a great opportunity to express my love for all things rings. My assertion is simple – if you have limited range of motion in your legs, there may not be a better workout tool for you than getting strong on the rings. It will train you more in your strength, stability, balance, and explosive power than any other tool available.

In the end, I’m still hovering around the same spot I’ve been across the WheelWOD leaderboard, but for the first time I am satisfied with my 2016 submission. I can’t wait for what’s next.

(As an aside, this has been a phenomenal week for the CrossFit Open at Impavidus Gym. The Rx programming which involved the bar muscle-up had a lot of athletes questioning their ability to get past a score of 10. And yet, every single day, I saw groups of coaches and athletes clustered around the rigs, working through the muscle-up progression. In the end, we had so many people defeat the bar muscle-up for the very first time, and is such a joy to watch. It is what makes our gym and so many other CrossFit gyms so special. And hats off to the Games’ programmer Dave Castro, who has endured his fair share of criticism in the past. He programmed a tough workout in 16.3, but whether intentionally or not, created an environment where many athletes saw victory over a difficult movement for the very first time.)

Many thanks to all of the people who helped me with this workout – Kim Evers, Ariana Tkachuk, Brad Bunde, Colleen Taylor, and Doug Naquin. 

ParaWOD’s 16.1 adaptation is in the books

You completed 16.1 this past weekend, right? So did lots of seated adaptive athletes, per the outstanding website WheelWOD. If you are a wheelchair athlete (“wheelie,” per the Chef) and you aren’t familiar with WheelWOD, then it is time to get acclimated. After the official CrossFit Games Open competition workout is announced, Chris “Stouty” Stoutenburg adapts the workout to seated athletes. You may be too late to sign up for the 2016 competition, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do the workouts that he programs.

As we all know, the official 16.1 was thus:

20 minute AMRAP

  • 25-ft. overhead walking lunge (5 reps)
  • 8 burpees (8 reps)
  • 25-ft. overhead walking lunge (5 reps)
  • 8 chest-to-bar pull-ups (8 reps)

Total reps per round: 26

To adapt this workout, Stouty programmed the following:

Rx

  • 25-ft 1 Arm locked out over head wheel (25/15lb plate) (1 rep)
  • 8 chair to floor transfers (8 reps)
  • 25-ft 1 Arm locked out over head wheel (25/15lb plate) (1 rep)
  • 8 full hang pull-ups (8 reps)

Scaled

  • 15ft plate drag (45/35lb plate) (1 rep)
  • 8 Med ball slams (20/10lb) (8 reps)
  • 15ft plate drag (45/35lb plate) (1 rep)
  • 8 seated pull-ups (8 reps)

Total reps per round: 18

To get an idea of the nature of the body movements, as well as how they would be judged, refer to WheelWOD’s 16.1 post here.

To add to the overall experience, my friend Coach Jason decided to get in a wheelchair and attempt the scaled workout along side me. Share in the suffering! It’s the best!

How did I do? 

I attempted the workout Rx and finished the 20 minute workout with 76 total repetitions. Two of the movements – the chair to floor transfer and the plate holds – I had never really attempted before. I do have a chair get-up incorporated into my own workout adaptation, but it always involves an elevated platform like a stool or a box to get the height I need to transfer. But straight from the floor? Never. This would be difficult.

Also, when I first started my CrossFit life, my Kiwi coach had me practice holding a kettlebell straight up (i.e. inverted, with the handle facing down toward the floor) while he pushed me around the room trying to knock me off balance. That’s the closest I ever got to this plate hold movement, but having to push myself in a straight line, that was new.

Because of the requirements on the plate hold, I knew that I would have to use my basketball chair, the only thing that would roll straight and easily and allow me to push both wheels with the same hand.

I practiced both of these movements for about 10 minutes, and I was fortunate to even get that amount of practice time, as our gym was a frenzy of activity during the opening weekend of the 2016 Open. Using my sport chair, I was confident I could do both, but knew I wouldn’t be fast doing either. As far as the strict pull-ups, I wasn’t concerned, as that is a staple of my gym’s routine programming.

As it turned out however, the biggest challenge was not in the workout, but in providing video evidence that I did it successfully. WheelWOD’s standards require that the entire workout be done in a single video shot with all movements and clock visible at all times. With the space required for this workout, combined with the sheer floor space that my gym at CrossFit Impavidus possesses, the video shots were anything but basic. And in the end, my lack of preparation in this regard ended up costing me on the leaderboard, as the judges did not have the clarity they needed to evaluate effectively. As a result, my poor video planning cost me a 15% penalty, which lowered my score to a 63.

Here are my movements:

1. Plate hold

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(clip sped up slightly to see full distance)

2. Chair to floor transfer

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3. Strict pull-up

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As frustrating as it was to get penalized and not receive an official score that I thought was commensurate with my effort, there were plenty of lessons learned, not the least of which is that planning and preparation are important when it comes to providing video evidence.

Aside from that, the workout was still a winner for me. I challenged myself, completed two new movements in the process, and got to do a 20 minute workout with Coach Jason.

Thanks to Impavidus Gym for helping me out. I’ll do better on 16.2. Can’t wait!

April 6, 2015 WOD: floor press, rows, crunches, wall balls

Today’s WOD was comprised of strength training and speed training.

Phase 1: Floor press

Since I am a paraplegic, I lack muscle control of my lower extremities below the pectoral line. As a result, the bench press represents a unique challenge. The pressing part isn’t the problem; but rather, the balance and stabilization that is generated through the legs. Without this stabilization, balancing a heavy weight and being able to exert maximum exertion becomes a greater challenge.

The two solutions I apply are:

  1. Use lower weights and higher reps
  2. Do the movement resting on a mat on the floor

Today I did the press off of the floor. While range of motion is limited, it still provides good strength training for the muscles I am targeting. I focused today on higher reps with lower weight. I found my max weight at 165lbs for 6 reps, and then dropped down to 145lbs and focused on getting 8-10 reps per set.

Phase 2

RX workout as prescribed: Complete as many rounds as possible in 6 mins of: 50 Row (calories)s 40 Sit Ups 30 Wall Balls, 20/14 lbs, 10/9 ft

Adaptation:

  1. 50% of Row (25 calories)
  2. 40 medicine ball crunches (10lbs)
  3. 30 wall balls (10lbs, 7 foot toss)

I was not able to finish the entire round in 6 minutes, primarily because the time required to transition from chair to floor and back up again cost me about 45 seconds. I ended up with only 10 wall balls (I finished the set after time expired).

Conversion: I cannot do a full sit-up because I lack the abdominal muscle control, so to approximate the necessary work load I lay on my back and hold a 10lb medicine ball in outstretched arms over my head. One rep is a movement from behind my head down to touching my hips with the ball.