WheelWOD qualifier #1: We’re gonna do #2

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The WheelWOD qualifier is underway, and I, along with 15 other adaptive athletes, will be competing in 3 designed workout challenges this week to decide who gets to attend the championship round. I have to humbly admit that, even though I only need to finish in the middle of the pack to advance, my chances are low given that I still struggle with some of the basic movements. That said, after my attempt at WOD #2 went, shall we say, unevenly, my coach Conan reminded me that what matters is being in the gym is just doing the work, which makes me wonder if he were recalling this famous quote from the Bull Moose:

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After polling my fellow Impavidus Gym athletes, I decided to attempt WOD #2 first, which if you recall is:

a) 10 minutes to find hanging clean 1 rep max

rest 2 minutes

b) 7 min AMRAP

  • 10 Clean & Jerk from floor @ 65lbs
  • 10 Wall Balls 14lbs @ 8 feet

The rationale they offered, and I agree with it, is to get the hardest one out of the way first and then build some momentum and finish strong. Clearly this workout features two things that I don’t do well – a) Olympic lifting movements, and b) throwing medicine balls high in the air. In fact, My 16.4 workout was drastically curtailed because I couldn’t meet the wall ball standard at all.

Part A

With 10 minutes to play with, I wanted to get a few successful lifts in before I worked up to my 1 rep max. And here’s the truth – I’ve only been working on the clean movement for about 9 months, so up to this point I would struggle to get 65 lbs more than twice in a row. But with the coaching and support of Coaches Seth & Doug, I was able to hit my 1 rep max at 80 lbs. Barely.

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As I’ve often written, the clean movement is an incredibly difficult challenge because I don’t have any dip drive or hip extension, which is where you generate most of your power. If you can’t get a good vertical pull on the bar, it really just feels like a negative curl, which means that you’re using much smaller muscles, as compared to the chain of muscles involving the lats, deltoids, traps, and triceps.

I spent the last few minutes of the set attempting 85 lbs. I didn’t quite get there, but I’ve read that it’s good to document your failures as well as your successes, so here it is:

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I wish I could have gotten that 85 lbs, but at the end of the day, I bested my previous PR in the clean by 15 lbs. That’s not a bad day. But wait, there’s more!

Part B

For the 7 minute AMRAP, I was once again going to have to do 10 clean + jerk from the floor, which I first encountered in the Open, followed by the wall ball. I wanted to try and do both movements out of my every day chair and not my sport chair because the seating gives me a little more hip control, which helped me in Part A. Also, it gives me a little more of a height advantage on the wall balls, where I can use every inch I can get.

That said, I realized there is something to be said about not thinking things all the way through. And physics.

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Yep, didn’t see that one coming!

After completing the wall ball section, I moved through 4 more C&J until the 17 minute mark. I wanted to get through that movement at least twice, but didn’t quite make it.

What’s that, you say? I can’t add? Well, you’re right.

10 minutes for 1 rep max + 2 minutes of rest + 7 minute AMRAP = 19 total minutes.

After taking an extended rest period where I thought I was done but was not actually done, we got back on the barbell and finished out the C&J with enough time to get a few more wall ball attempts in.

Despite the mishaps, I was generally satisfied with the workout because of the challenge of the movements. And then, as we were winding down, Coach Doug said to me those dreaded words:

“You should maybe think about re-doing that one”

Which is funny because Doug is an elite CrossFit Masters athlete, one of the best in the world, and he has strong feelings about  re-doing an official workout. His main argument – don’t let your ego get the best of you! However, in this case, he might be right, given that I lost precious seconds with my C&J Fosbury Flop and then forgetting how to add to 19. Doug’s argument is compelling, and if I have enough time this week, I may give it another go. Unfortunately these workouts are not just about the workout, but the entire set-up and recruiting people to help out, and I still have 2 more qualifiers to go.

At the very least, I still increased my C&J PR by 15 lbs.

Many thanks to everyone who helped me out for WOD #2: Doug, Seth, Conan, and Monica were all instrumental in getting it done. On to the next one!

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.

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.

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Volume: 10 min EMOM Pistols

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

Adaptation

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.

5/13/15 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)

Adaptation

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.

AMRAP

  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

KB

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

Conditioning

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

Adaptation

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)

April 13, 2015 WOD: modifying an entire workout

Today’s WOD was comprised of 2 segments:

Dynamic Effort
A1. Box Squat 31X1; 5 x 2 (speed, speed, speed)
A2. Max Height Rebound Vertical Jump 3 reps; 5 sets

Conditioning: 3 rounds @ 90% effort
-1 min burpee broad jumps
-1 min db/kb thrusters – 25/15#
-1 min box jumps – 20/14″
rest 3 min actively and then repeat

This type of workout is always going to be problematic for para-athletes because nearly every single movement is prohibitive. Instead, focus on what the workout’s goal is.

Part 1

Replace box squat with shoulder press. In today’s workout, we first worked on explosiveness, and then moved to a max effort. For my own records, I finished with a max effort of 115 lbs for 2 reps for the shoulder press.

Part 2

Replace the three prescribed movements with 3 adaptable movements that allow lots of reps in short periods of time. The challenge for the wheelchair athlete however is that there is no rest time in between the 3 movements (only the 3 minutes of rest after the 3rd movement).

I replaced the 3 prescribed movements with these:

  1. Wall balls
  2. Elevated push-ups
  3. Medicine ball crunches

The workout was as much about getting from one movement to the next as quickly as possible as it was about the reps. This is also the kind of workout that might require some repetition in order to get the positioning of all of the equipment in the right place. For example, after you finish the wall balls, where do you drop the medicine ball so that when you get to the crunches, you can easily grab it? Where do you put the mat so that you can go straight from the chair to the mat and start push-ups? How do you position your body so that you can drop straight out of your chair into a natural position for the next movement?

I have found that thinking about these things before, during, and after the workout are beneficial because one of the big challenges for the para-athlete is to get the heart rate elevated and to stay elevated during the workout. If there is too much downtime in between sets, it becomes difficult to stay in that ideal zone.

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.