About Prashanti Ganesh

Compulsive talker, Hedonist, Gemini.

My year with Greg Robins

After my first visit to a powerlifting gym back in 2015 (Total Performance Sport, MA), I knew I wanted to compete in the sport at some point. Even though I had back squatted, deadlifted and benched (where I hit bodyweight the first time I ever tried!) a bunch before the visit, most of my learning came through YouTube, training partners, popular strength programs and self-experimentation.

It didn’t take too long for me to reach out to coach Greg Robins (who I had met at Cressey Sport Performance back in 2015, where he currently coaches), and ask if he would program for me. (I still don’t know why I decided to email him and will probably never do, but it was the best decision ever. I do have a video of him watching me front squat at Cressey Peformance last year – maybe that was it)

Its been exactly a year since I started working with him, and I’m fairly certain I’m going to continue working with him for the rest of my life. How much I’ve learnt this past year about training, programming, coaching, and just good old lifting heavy stuff is overwhelming.

#mycoachisbetterthanyourcoach

#mycoachisbetterthanyourcoach

To summarize what a good year its been, here are some numbers:

2015 October 2016 October
Squat – 70 kgs x 3 – 5 reps Squat – 90 kgs x 1 rep
Bench Press – 45 kgs x 1 – 3 reps Bench Press – 60 kgs x 1 rep
Deadlift – 100 kgs x 1 rep Deadlift – 117 kgs x 2 reps

Here are some of my top learnings from the past year, which I think a lot of us can benefit from:

  • Train more than thrice a week: You’ll live, I promise. One of the first things that he asked me even before we started working together was if I had the bandwidth to train 6 days a week. In the limited time that I had spent in the fitness industry, I had been told multiple times that training thrice a week was adequate, and that it was important I don’t train more than that so my body could recover between workouts. But considering that I’m a training junkie, I was more than thrilled at the thought of having just one rest day. For the past year, except when my city had massive floods or the once or twice I’ve been sick, I have been training 6 days a week. I am still alive and kicking, with all my joints intact and have made the most progress I ever have with my training. However, while for me this meant lifting 6 days a week because my goal was to eventually compete in a powerlifting meet and just get stronger, it doesn’t have to be that for everyone. With some of the women I coach, this gave me the confidence to programme 4 strength days in the gym and encourage them to either play a sport or pursue something that they enjoyed like running or zumba, on other days, without constantly worrying about overtraining.
  • Grow, grow, grow your back: I’ve been doing some sort of pulling/ rowing movement at least twice a week, especially these last few months. Not only do I do them twice a week, but I also do what was a  previously an unimaginable number of sets for me. Apart from the fact that my back looks like a (very sexy) road map right now, I’m also able to maintain some solid upper back tightness on the deadlift, get a much better bench set up and my grip strength has gone through the roof!
  • Strength is a skill: I have obviously always paid attention to technique and have constantly worked on getting better at various lifts and using different tools. But learning to pay attention to finer details that potentially play a big role in how and how much I lift is something I’ve developed recently. Videoing all my sets and watching them over and over again, consciously ‘practicing’ some of the things my coach has asked me to fix are good examples of how I treat strength as a skill. And the more I do this, the more and better I’ve been able to lift.
  • The bros are on to something, train upper body more than once a week: When I recently met coach Robins, he said something very interesting – that it was important to train upper body twice a week, just like we train two lower body days (squat and deadlift). Even though I have been doing two upper body days for the last year, it never occurred to me that this is what I was doing. Upper body muscles are also better at recovering when compared to larger lower body muscles. So recovery is not usually an issue when it comes to training upper body lifts more frequently. Here’s what my training  week has looked like for most of last year:

Sunday – Sprints and plyometrics

Monday – Squats

Tuesday – Bench

Wednesday – Active Recovery

Thursday – Deadlift

Friday – Bench

Saturday – Rest

  • Cycle your key lifts: If you have spent long enough training the big three (squat, bench and deadlift), you should be well aware of some of the drawbacks of using those lifts consistently in the long run – muscular imbalances, repetitive joint stress, CNS (Central Nervous System) fatigue are some common examples. In having worked with coach Robins, I quickly learnt how I don’t have to conventional deadlift week after week to get stronger on the conventional deadlift. I’ve done the sumo deadlift, deficit deadlifts, low setting trap bar deadlifts, banded and pause deadlifts, and my deadlift has gotten nothing but stronger. Same deal with squats and the bench – incline, decline, pause, close grip, banded and Spoto bench and Safety Squat Bar, front and pause squats are some of the variations I have trained. I think this plays a huge role in me not developing any major muscular imbalances and staying injury free, while continuing to make massive progress in terms of technique and load on the bar.

  • Be ready, be aggressive, attack the bar: I rarely feel like I don’t want to train. But on days that I do, I usually feel extremely guilty for feeling that way, push through my training and end up having an overall shitty session. Recently, I discovered the importance of readiness, and how that determined how my training goes. Times when I haven’t been able to hit the numbers my coach has wanted me to, assuming technique was in place, it was usually because I wasn’t feeling up to it (mostly because of bad prep or recovery). I’ve now learnt to take a nap or eat a meal or complete things on my to-do list before I train, because those are the things that usually get in the way for me personally. Another lesson has been the importance of being aggressive, especially on the deadlift. Apart from always ensuring I have Metallica/ Mumford and Sons/ the Max Mad theme song (depending on the workout) on high volume, I’ve worked on being more efficient with my set up and deliberately reducing the time I have to think before lifting the bar.

As my coach would say, train with a purpose!

-Prashanti

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What’s the hurry?

Fitness and having a good physique is commonly viewed as an end result. You work hard for X number of days, you do A, B and C and boom, in 90 days, you look exactly like that movie star in that poster.

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Its okay, we’ve all  been there.

For the longest time, I approached fitness the same way. I needed to find the perfect workout, the perfect diet, and do it perfectly for a set amount of time and I would be jacked to shreds just like the fitness models I followed on Instagram. This, unfortunately, didn’t quite work out for me. I was constantly burnt out and had to force myself to get in most workouts. I tried to eat right, but always got frustrated with the lack of – or minimal – progress in 3 months (where’s my 6-pack at, dammit) and gave up. I was never happy with where I was, and more importantly, with who I was.

About 6 months ago, I started working with coach Bryan Krahn (thanks to the encouragement of my awesome business partner, Prashanti). Obviously, I ‘screwed up’ and cheated on my nutrition the first couple of weeks. He was very kind about it and gave me some helpful advice about what to do, and then he said something game changing – ‘This is a skill, and skills take YEARS of practice to master’.

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#mycoachismorejackedthanyourcoach

This blew my mind. I was caught in the trap of trying to find secret exercises, workouts and diet plans that I was sure that all these people were doing that made them look that way. The truth was far from it. All the people who looked the way that I wanted to look had several things in common – they ate right 90% of the time, they trained hard and looked forward to their workouts and listened to their bodies. They also took care of sleep and stress outside of training. And most importantly, they had been doing this for many, many years.

Fitness and getting jacked, is a skill. Just like art. Just like sports. You have to fully experience and enjoy every second of it you want to be good at it. You HAVE to love the process. You can’t just drudge through your workouts and your diet and see results. You have to respect that everything about the way that you’ve lived your life so far, not good or bad, has led you to looking and feeling the way you do right now. To change that is a huge transformation that is probably going to take you as long as it took you to get here.

Contrary to feeling depressed about that or going into denial (which is what I did), take a moment and think about it from a different point of view. There’s no pressure now. No end point to get to. The goal now to enjoy the fuck out of your workouts, enjoy the process of eating right and take care of your body, in order to enjoy the way that you feel every day. And the better you get at that, the better you will look. Isn’t that awesome?

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So get comfortable, breathe and enjoy the ride.

-Sandeep

2016 – The year of fitness, fun and fat loss!

 

There is a certain magic to group training, the energy generated when a group of people commit to a cause and honour it by pushing themselves is electric. It allows them to surpass their individual shortcomings, and overcome their fears and doubts. It allows them to do the most important thing when it comes to fitness – just showing up.

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After much thought and careful planning, Strength System is proud to bring to you the FitBox.

FitBox is more than just a group or a bootcamp class. It is a 12-week journey that will act as your first step into fitness. These 12 weeks will not be easy, and the results that you get at the end will be hard-earned.

Here are some of the features and fun things we have planned:

  • Constantly changing workouts that can be scaled to challenge any fitness level.
  • A specific focus on general fitness and fat loss to leave you feeling amazing at the end of each workout and awesome at the end of three months.
  • Many toys to play with like kettlebells, trap bars, medicine balls, TRX suspension trainers, gymnastic rings, valslides and sleds.
  • Gamification of workouts to keep training fun and intense.
  • Nutrition tips, tricks and hacks that you can implement right away.
  • No gamification is complete without rewards. So, prizes for most consistent, most improved, etc.
  • ..and much, much more!

That new year resolution for fitness that you make every year, let’s make it count this time.. 2016, let’s get started on the awesome!

SMFR 101


Bro, do you even Self Myofascial Release (SMFR)? Even if your tongue protests at having to pronounce that, you’ve definitely done it at some point if you’ve ever trained with us at Strength System. Remember the foam roller and the lacrosse balls? We like to have all our trainees start their sessions with about 5 minutes of SMFR using these tools. If you have a desk job, or lead a generally sedentary life (and yes, working out 3 days a week and doing nothing else is sedentary), or spend a couple of hours every day driving, you will probably benefit from some SMFR.

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A quick primer: fascia refers to the layers of connective tissue that envelop the body all the way from the toes up to the skull. Most relevant for us, fascia also envelops our muscles (hence the term ‘myofascial’). Theoretically, SMFR helps to break up ‘adhesions’ that develop in our fascia from overuse, imbalances, and the general stresses of life. This prepares our muscles and joints to move through a larger range of motion than they previously could. While the science behind why SMFR works is still hotly debated, we’re just happy that it works.

While specific problem areas depend on the individual person, we typically find that most people will need to prioritize their glutes, upper back, chest, lats, and hip flexors. As a general rule, make about 5-10 slow passes up and down each muscle group that you’re targeting. If you find a tender spot, pause on it, and take a couple of slow, full breaths, and think of sinking your body slightly into the roller.

Just one warning: don’t expect the foam roller or the ball to cure all your mobility ills. You can’t roll out your thighs, hop off the roller, and do a split for the first time ever. At best, it gives you a short window of opportunity to use your new flexibility superpowers to work on your basic movements. And always remember the 80% rule: you should be in significant discomfort, but never in pain. Bro tip: if you’re holding your breath, don’t!

-Varun Srikanth
varun@strengthsystem.in

What’s your passion?

When we emailed Steve Pulcinella of Iron Sport Gym way back in December based on Alexander’s recommendation about visiting him during our trip, he didn’t have much to say. He cracked some jokes and invited us to come over, but what we were intrigued by the most was his honesty. We were two complete strangers from another country and he didn’t hesitate to warn us that it was a pretty slow period for Iron Sport and that most of his members had just only recently quit.

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His story is moving. He started in a roughly 1,500 sq.ft garage gym – a facility that he put together mostly so he had a place to train at. With a highly successful powerlifting and strongman career, he needed a place that wasn’t a regular commercial gym, and there was no better solution that starting his own place. Iron Sport was one of the first few gyms to have great equipment for powerlifting and strongman, and allowed you to do things like lift heavy weights that most other ‘health clubs’ frowned upon. If you enjoy lifting heavy and like to try out cool stuff in your training, this would have been your dream come true. And as expected, it was for many in and around that area of Philadelphia.

Everything was going well – people who understood the value of and respected the space were showing up. In fact, it was going so well that Steve Pulcinella was now forced to consider growing, therefore shifting to a bigger space. A much bigger space.  And so he did. By early 2,000, Iron Sport was now functioning out of a 7200-sqft space, now with added weightlifting platforms!

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When Iron Sport was clearly leading the race, the American fitness industry started to evolve – CrossFit, among other trends came in, and even some of the more loyal Iron Sport members wanted to check out what else was out there. To stay on top of things, Stevey P decided to go all in – they added more strength equipment and weightlifting platforms, discarded the cardio stuff and became more niche. Unfortunately for him, this meant his audience was now a lot more limited to those who subscribed to a style of training that could be done with purely the tools and equipment available at Iron Sport. And as you can imagine, that number might not have been too big.

Despite the fact that it was now a lot harder for him to pay his bills, let alone make a profit, Steve Pulcinella was someone who wasn’t willing to give up his integrity, he was someone who would go all the way to stand behind something that he strongly believed in – the sport of strength. He was someone who wasn’t willing to sell out for the sake of making more money and he wasn’t going to change who he was.

As people who are on the verge of setting up a gym, Sandeep and I have had to ask ourselves some hard questions based on the lessons we learnt at Iron Sport. What sort of gym do we want to be? Who do we want to cater to? Will we be forced to pick between keeping our integrity and selling out – even if just a tiny bit?

We know that answers to those questions will show up as we grow, both personally and professionally. But one thing is certain – we want to strive to be like Steve Pulcinella. We want to always be honest about what we’re made of.

-Prashanti

Perform Better Series – Manipulating Movement with Nick Winkelman

Its always a challenge to present at the end of a seminar, especially if you are trying to say, or teach in this case, a lot in a considerably short amount of time. Despite being put in such a situation, coach Nick Winkelman made so many thought-provoking points of as part of his presentation titled ‘Coach like a caveman – How the environment shapes our movement’ at the Perform Better seminar in March, that I am still trying to wrap my head around most stuff. 

With coach Nick Winkelman
With coach Nick Winkelman

Most of his presentation centered around the concept of implicit (thinking about something before doing it) and explicit ((learning from/by doing) learning , and how those two ideas can be used in the context of coaching an athlete. But what he spoke right at the start about ‘manipulating movement’ is what could be immediately applicable to those of us who either train on a consistent basis or train others. For instance, a coach manipulates movement when he ‘cues’ a trainee to do something. ‘Breathe into your belly’, ‘knees out’ are examples of such cues that helps a trainee perform a movement differently to make it better. 

Coach Winkelman’s focus, however, was on how environmental factors can affect, and therefore manipulate movement. If there’s a chair, you want to/ can sit on it. If there’s no chair, you will not be able to. The chair is the environment here that’s garnering a ‘response’ from your body.   

Tying this idea with other parts of his lecture, my conclusion is simple – if I understand that I can manipulate movement by getting my body to respond to the environment, the option of ‘creating’ an environment that could promote optimised learning should definitely be possible. In other words, we now have the option of creating an environment purely based on what we want to learn or teach. 

Now, an environment can mean two things. It can either just be the training space – does it have a psychological effect on the trainee where he/ she feels safe and secure and are other such fundamental questions answered? Secondly, an environment could also means tools and drills. These tools and drills can be used to reinforce the pattern we are trying to teach/perform or help us better a movement pattern, among other things. Not only does this minimize conscious effort from the trainee’s end, but it also makes the learning curve self-limiting, that is, room for simple errors are restricted through immediate feedback.

An example that coach Winkelman provided was getting an athlete to stay upright on a high knee drill. A coach can keep drilling the cue ‘stand tall’ or something to that effect to a trainee and the trainee can try over and over again, thinking that’s what they’re doing. But without effective proprioception, that just isn’t going to work. His idea was to just have the trainee hold a light medicine ball over his head instead, and by changing the basic premise of the environment, we are manipulating the trainee to maintain a more upright torso. In essence, we are in a way forcing the trainee to be more aware of an increased verticality. 

Personally, I’m going to start including a day of stair sprints in my training moving forward. I have always been very comfortable running on a track or any flat (safe) surface. But when we hiked in Sacramento with coach Chip Conrad back in February, I realised how I struggled to move through not-so-smooth terrain and there was this constant fear of miss-stepping and tripping. By trying to respond to the stairs, I will hopefully be able to manipulate my movement to adapt better to unpredictable terrain. Using different flight of stairs or changing the number of stairs I step on each time could maintain the unpredictable nature of this training. 

 In conclusion, the environment does not only play a role in how we learn a movement, but also how we change and adapt movement.

 (Note – This is part two of the Perform Better series, covering the Learn By Doing seminar that took place in March, 2015, in Boston. Part One can be found here.)

 – Prashanti

Perform Better Series – The Boyle System

The entire trip was planned around one thing – meeting coach Dan John. I checked his schedule in November last year and when we found out that he was going to be presenting at Perform Better‘s one-day seminar in Boston in March, we put that on our calender and planned pretty much everything around that day. Now all we needed were start and end dates.

With coach Mike Boyle

With coach Mike Boyle

We used coach Mike Boyle’s Certified Functional Strength Coach (CFSC) certification as the start point and coach Martin Rooney’s Training for Warriors certification as the end date (which didn’t exactly work out because we added coach David Dellanave to the end, but you get the idea).

The Perform Better seminar was awesome because not only was Dan John presenting, but so were Mike Boyle and Martin Rooney, along with coach Nick Winkelman of EXOS.

The seminar felt like a review of the Boyle certification and a preview to our weekend with coach Rooney. We learnt some great new ideas on coaching from coach Winkelman. It was just something else to meet Dan John.

Perform Better is where I like to window shop the most these days. Its an organisation that not only sells top-notch fitness equipment, but also resources in the form of books and DVDs. They are particularly known for their seminars and conferences that have proven to be opportunities of learning and networking for folks in the fitness industry world over. Since we have none happening back home, it was important that we include at least one of these as part of our trip, to experience what it feels like to learn from many great minds at the same time.

Since we learnt so much from each one of the presenters, I think they deserve their own individual blog posts.

This one is the coach Boyle instalment.

Some of the information that coach Boyle covered in his presentation was part of our CFSC, and apart from reinforcing what we had already learned, a lot of the new information that he was throwing at us at the seminar helped tie some loose ends and answer some questions that had cropped up since the seminar.

With Kevin Larrabee

With Kevin Larrabee

Our certification was run by Kevin Carr, Marco Sanchez and Kevin Larrabee (All of whom are awesome!). So this meant we didn’t really get to meet coach Boyle until the seminar, so that was pretty exciting. His presentation walked us through the system that they have developed and been successfully implementing over the years at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning.

With Kevin Carr and Marco Sanchez

With Kevin Carr and Marco Sanchez

The system is both straightforward and genius – everyone foam rolls, everyone does a dynamic warm up/ activation, some form of power work followed by strength work and finish with some sort of conditioning depending on who and when. Moves are classified into categories, and there are progressions and regressions. Why its genius and how its applied in practice is what we learnt about in detail at the certification, and there’s no way I’m going to give it away, but I do highly recommend the cert.

Coach Boyle threw numerous knowledge bombs at us at the seminar and below are some of them that stuck with me:

  • If your athlete isn’t foam rolling and stretching, you are already five steps behind. Roll first and then stretch.
  • Progressions make things harder, regressions make things BETTER, not easier.
  • When someone can hold a plank for 30 seconds or more, move on to the next progression. Think levers.
  • ‘Anti’ is the key word in core training. Core muscles prevent extension, and DOES NOT help bring the ribs to the pelvis.
  • When it comes to muscle tone, kids are like filet mignon while adults are beef jerky. Take this into account when programming the power components for someone.
  • Always focus on developing eccentric strength.
  • Don’t worry about designing the perfect programme. Design an ‘ideal’ programme. Its a recipe and not a menu. The end result should make sense.
  • Its more important to correct asymmetry than to create symmetry.
  • There can be multiple reasons for picking unilateral lifts over bilateral, but the concept of bilateral deficit is the most pertinent – the combined total (of weight lifted) of right plus left is more than right and left.
  • The key to success in this field – rip off other smart people. But – be smart enough to know when you’re wrong.

-Prashanti

Where they finally spoke in kilos

Even though I’m highly competitive, I don’t enjoy all kinds of competition. I gravitate towards and tend to be better at the kind where I don’t have to work with a team and am only representing myself. After sprinting, strength sports have appealed to me the most in that regard, and the explosive, competitive nature of Olympic weightlifting in particular has fascinated me. 

Weightlifting consists of two lifts – the snatch and the clean and jerk. In the snatch, the lifter has to take the barbell from the floor to overhead in a single movement, and in the clean and jerk, from the floor to the shoulder and then overhead.

Since they’re highly technical, there is a lot that can go wrong from not doing the lifts right, and since I had no interest in spending a whole lot of time in undoing bad technique, I decided not to dabble in it until I had the chance to formally get coached in the lifts. I stuck to watching videos and studying about the lifts, apart from the occasional attempts at figuring them out.
 
This past weekend, Sandeep and I attended a two-day seminar coached by Kara Doherty and Blake Barnes, both of whom are part of the popular weightlifting gym Catalyst Athletics. A big fan of coach Greg Everett who runs Catalyst, I was really excited about finally getting the chance to properly learn the lifts from experienced coaches. What was perfect about the seminar was that not only did we learn how to do the lifts ourselves, but also how we could teach them to others. 
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Kara and Blake were awesome coaches

 
From being super scared of ever trying a snatch or clean from the floor (I always stuck to the hang version) and receiving it in a proper squat (I only did power cleans and snatches), I finished the weekend with a not-so-heavy-but-pretty-decent snatch and a bodyweight clean. 
 
When I think about it, more than the fact that I had two awesome coaches working with me, it was due to the emphasis that they laid on progressions and regressions that really enabled me to get comfortable with and understand the lifts. They broke down each move into multiple steps and it always at least took us at least four levels of regressions before even actually attempting the main lift. I’m going to interpret and refer to these lifts as regressions and progressions, while folks from Catalyst prefer considering them as ‘variations’.
 
I’ve roughly summarised below the progressions that we worked with for the snatch, and why we did each exercise. A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches by Greg Everett is a great place to go to for further reference and regressions to the clean and jerk. An even better idea would be to find a coach who knows what he/she is talking about. 
 
The Snatch Balance Series:
  • Overhead (OH) squat – A big lesson for me on the OH squat was maintaining a relaxed wrist position on the OH position. When I say relaxed, I don’t necessarily mean loose and dangly. By not keeping the wrists tight, you are able to maintain the bar in a much more stable position (just past the center of the forearm). I was also taught that one doesn’t generally maintain the hook grip in the OH position. 
  • Pressing snatch balance – By keeping the bar on your shoulder like in a back squat, you get under the bar into a squat, while pressing the bar OH. This is a slower, more controlled regression where you gain confidence in getting under the bar.
  • Drop snatch – Add some speed and an aggressive elbow lockout to the snatch balance press for this move. This move teaches you to reinforce speed and maintain technique through transitioning to the bottom of the squat. 
  • Heaving snatch balance – With just a dip, the lifter is forced to get under the bar without moving his/her feet. Their ability to maintain contact with the bar and generate force against it is tested and improved upon in this lift.
  • Snatch balance – Only after multiple goes at this move was I able to consistently hit the same receiving position at the bottom of the squat, without compromising on speed. 
From here, we went on to do multiple progressions to do a snatch from the mid hang position (mid-thigh), progressions to the snatch from the floor and finally the snatch. 
 
By the time we got to the heaving snatch balance, not only was I super comfortable with each of my positions, but I also knew exactly knew what my issues were. This meant that when I finally did the snatch, I mentally calm and focused, even though I had a mental check list of everything that I needed to focus on, I wasn’t freaking out. 
In all, it took us about 12 steps, multiple callouses, torn shins and an entire day before we even attempted the snatch. And this was because it was a seminar, where the intention was for them to teach us as much as they could in a short amount of time. In a real life training situation, while some folks might skip some or all of these steps, some might spend weeks or even months on just working on these before getting to the main lift. Some others might use them in their warm up.
Lesson learnt – A good way to learn a lift is to do it correctly over and over again. A better way would be to understand its intricacies, break it down accordingly and progress your way up to the lift.   
Dutch Lowy runs BlackBox, the gym that hosted the seminar. He was also in 2 CrossFit Games!

Dutch Lowy runs BlackBox, the gym that hosted the seminar. He was also in 2 CrossFit Games!

 
-Prashanti

‘Starr’struck at SFCF!

Many months ago, when there was no real plan in place, and Sandeep and I were still just talking about going on this trip, coach Arvind Ashok told me that I should definitely visit San Francisco CrossFit and that it was the kind of the gym that I would love to train at. I took him very seriously, and told Sandeep that we HAVE to go, and last week, we did.

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It was incredibly coincidental that the first CrossFit Open workout was announced the same week that we were there, and obviously, I HAD to do it for the fun of it.

The workout didn’t sound too intimidating, especially because I had the option of doing the scaled version. This was important for me personally because I suck at doing the kip, and 15 toes to bar over multiple rounds wasn’t particularly encouraging. I ended up doing a partly scaled version, so my workout ended up looking like this:

AMRAP in 9 minutes:

  • 15 knees to elbows
  • 10 deadlifts with 75 pounds
  • 5 snatches with 65 pounds
    (Yes, I used 2 bars)

Followed by:

1 rep max clean and jerk (Time cap – 6 minutes)

But despite the modifications to the original workout, I had no confidence going into it for two reasons. Firstly, it was a new atmosphere with new people and I’m easily intimidated. More importantly and relevant to this situation, I am quite inexperienced with most moves in the workout except the deadlift and maybe the (push) jerk.

I was in wave two of the group doing it with me, so this meant folks who completed the workout first provided various tips – definitely do a “full clean” and remember to switch grip on the deadlifts were the two that came about the most. I didn’t do either – I did hang cleans and ended up using the hook grip on my deadlifts. Like for everyone else, the deadlifts felt like active recovery between the other two moves, and the snatches were what trumped me the most.

I ended up with a total of 6 rounds and a little more and in 15.1a, I managed to clean close to bodyweight (105 pounds), but failed on the jerk. I successfully cleaned and jerked 95 pounds.

Lessons learnt from doing the workout:

  • CrossFit is crazy. I absolutely love it.
  • Technique trumps brute strength
  • I need to wear pants or some sort of shin guards when I deadlift.

To be honest, I learnt a lot more earlier that week when I had the opportunity to take coach Diane Fu‘s Strength and Conditioning class twice. The first workout was fairly straightforward. Seven rounds of 3 hang snatch singles, each from 3 different positions – the hips, above the knees and from the floor. This was to be followed by 3 sets of 10 reps of (2-inch) deficit snatch grip deadlifts.

We were doing the 7 sets of 3 singles so that we could understand how to and get better at being able to maintain consistent positions throughout the movement. This especially helped me because one of the biggest things I’ve been struggling with is ‘jumping’ when the bar crosses the hips on all my lifts, and I have the tendency to jump too soon on most. She also coached us to always look straight ahead at the horizon at an ‘immovable’ object because most of us had the glaring tendency of looking down because “we were thinking about what we wanted to do” with the lift. On the deficit deadlifts, the idea was for us to load our legs for longer than on a regular deadlift.

The second workout we did was 3 front squats followed by a jerk (going into it from the 3rd squat). When we got to a point when we were unable to take the load overhead, we worked up to a heavy set of triples. Immediately after each set, we did 5 box jumps and the goal was to jump as ‘vertically’ as we could. The idea here was to see if we were able to effectively and efficiently generate power after our heavy set of squats.

What was interesting about both workouts for me was how she had programmed it in such a way that she challenged performance and our ability to maintain technique when fatigued.

One of the highlights was definitely us getting generously coached by K-Star. He fixed both mine and Sandeep’s front rack positions. He picked on our compensations and physically moulded us into where he wanted our wrist and elbows to be. Initially, I was quite annoyed at how alien this new rack position felt, but as I did a few sets, I realised that all he had done is reinforce my shoulders to be in an externally rotated position and I ended up feeling a whole lot more stable.

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We were initially to do an assessment, spend a whole lot of time and money on introductory sessions since we’ve never done CrossFit before and all that jazz before we could take part in any of the classes. But K-Star took one look at me and waived all that stuff. He did make me a fair deal – I’d have to buy everyone at the gym beers if I ended up moving terribly, and I’d be immediately kicked out of class.

I guess I lost my only potential chance at getting a drink with K-Star.

-Prashanti

Do you even lift, bro?

Do what’s necessary to get you in the right positions, and then go lift heavy – that’s definitely not what I was expecting to hear someone from Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) say. Based on the information that they put up on the internet in the form of blog posts and YouTube videos, which Sandeep and I have used (both personally and with some of the folks we’ve worked with) and learnt a lot from, we weren’t really expecting to see athletes at CSP to be doing much heavy lifting. Even though we knew that the coaches there lifted heavy, since most of the information that they put up can be classified into the ‘corrective exercise’ or ‘rehab’ categories, we assumed that’s what their trainees were mostly doing.

Clearly, we couldn’t have been more wrong. One of the first things that welcomed us as we entered the gym was the fervid noise of barbells being dropped on the floor set to the background of a playlist that everybody there seemed to know the words to. The trainees were squatting and deadlifting some heavy ass weights and doing all sorts of push ups, pull ups and other difficult-looking movements. (Ever tried an oblique hold with pallof press?)

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Coach Greg Robins watched us do some front squats and with some simple cueing, changed our lives.

It smacks us real hard – there is a lot more to it than what coaches put out there in the form of articles and videos. While the internet is an awesome platform for sharing information, a lot can be lost while trying to interpret what’s put up. We realised that the information that coaches share is usually what they feel might not be easily accessible to others or are things they’ve gained through their own expertise and personal experiences. Something as straightforward, but important, as strength training is not something they need to constantly harp about.

Every move that they were doing at CSP seemed to have purpose. A squat was a squat, sure. But nobody was made to build strength and load up just for the sake of getting stronger. They were using strength training to teach their bodies to get into good positions, and produce force from there. For example, just like how the trainees understood why they were foam rolling or spending time stretching or activating a particular muscle, they also knew that they had to be able to push off the floor and pull a heavy load in order to learn to produce force and transfer it to something like a jump.

Another thing that struck us was how everyone at CSP was crystal clear about the role they play – they are the ‘strength and conditioning guys’. While their average trainee is a specialised athlete, they realise that they aren’t <insert sport> coaches. On the other hand, they are also aware of the fact that they aren’t physical therapists. They are constantly trying to help their trainees move better, but aren’t ‘fixing’ anyone.

CSP intern Eric Temple was awesome!

CSP intern Eric Temple was awesome!

Bottom line – making sure that we put our bodies in the right positions is critical for safety and optimal force production, and strength should never be built over dysfunction, as the popular saying goes. But there is no purpose to constantly working toward getting into better positions and moving better without really getting anywhere on the strength curve. Strength training reinforces good movement patterns and can be ‘corrective’ by itself, if done right.

We understood the massive difference between ‘corrective work’ and good old ‘coach’s eye’.

And since we’re on the topic of folks lifting heavy stuff at CSP, here’s Sandeep hitting a PR of 355 pounds on the deadlift on our first day there! Maybe it had a little something to do with the fact that Tony G was training in the same room as we were!

-Prashanti