Today in the Gym – The Stages of Metcon

When you do a Crossfit-style metabolic conditioning, you’re probably going to go through a few very definable stages.

The first is fear. When I walk out on to the floor, when I’m getting ready to do a workout that’s really going to challenge me, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of how much it’s going to hurt, how hard it’s going to be. I’m afraid I might not finish.

This is a good fear. It let’s you know that you’re working hard enough to make a change. If you aren’t afraid–even just a little bit–you’re probably not pushing yourself enough.

Then the workout begins. I generally train in five circuits, and there’s a different emotion associated with each one.

When the first circuit starts, I’m still cold and creaky. My joints are popping, my muscles are slow to fire, and it feels like the workout is going to take all day.

But I push through it, and get to the second circuit. By now I’m warmed up and firing on all cylinders. My movements are sharp and crisp. I’m making good time, and I start to think that today might be a PR.

Then the third circuit hits, and everything starts to fall apart. I’m starting to get tired, my heart if pounding, and I’m thinking about maybe, just maybe giving up. Four circuits would be enough, right? I can call it a day soon, can’t I?

During the fourth circuit, I’m fighting just to keep going. My eyes are usually closed by now. I don’t want to know what’s going on around me. I can’t hear the music anymore. There’s nothing except the reps. One after the other, until it’s time for the next movement, until it’s time for the next circuit.

When I start the fifth circuit, the end is in sight. There’s a glimer of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. Or maybe it’s just stars in the corners of my vision. Whatever. I’m almost done. And maybe I can hit that PR. It’s time to knuckle down, dig deep, and give it everything I have.

And then, like magic, it’s over. At the end of a workout, I feel relief, exhaustion, and pride. I could have stayed home. I could have quit halfway through. I could have given up. But fuck that. I did what I came to do.

I won.

Today’s workout

I had planned on doing a ten minute kettlebell AMRAP this morning, but my shiny new WOSS 3000 Suspension Trainers came last night, and I had to try them out.

Son of a bitch, ring pushups are hard.

It’s not hard on your chest, or even your arms. It’s all the little muscles in your back and shoulders that have to tense up to keep you from falling on your face. I did easy sets of ten reps, and I was still a quivering mess by the end.

The straps came with a little exercise guide, and I think I’m going to adapt this into a fast five workout. The only “issue” (in scare quotes) is that everything you do with the rings hits your forearms, so this is going to fry my grip.

  • 5/3/1 – Deaflift
    • 215lbs * 5
    • 250lbs * 5
    • 280lbs * *
  • Metcon – AMRAP
    • 10 minutes, 5 rounds
      • Ring pushups, 10
      • Ring rows, 10
      • Ring-supported single leg jumps, 10

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Today in the Gym – 5/3/1 and Crossfit

As part of my complete inability to stick to a single program desire to continually expand my knowledge of fitness, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about various programming styles.

Lately, I’ve been focusing largely on Metcon, and doing Starting-Strength-inspired training on Saturdays. This has been working all right for me, but I’m basically always on the lookout for something better.

Which I think I’ve found. I’ve heard of several gyms and several competitors having a lot of success following Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, and combining it with Crossfit-style metabolic conditioning.

I’ve never done 5/3/1, but Jim Wendler is one of the best powerlifters around, and everyone who has used his program raves about it. It’s pretty simple: you work out four days a week, and do one of the big four lifts each day. Monday is overhead press, Tuesday is deadlift, Thursday is bench press, and Friday is squat.

You base your working weight on 90% of your one rep max (1RM).

In week one, you do a set of 5 at 65%, a set of 5 at 75%, and a set of 5+ at 85%.

In week two, you do a set of three at 70%, a set of 3 at 80%, and a set of 3+ at 90%.

In week three, you do a set of 5 at 75%, a set of 3 at 85%, and a set of 1+ at 95%.

Week four is a deload week; a set of 5 at 40%, a set of 5 at 50%, and a set of 5 at 60%.

I set up a spreadsheet to help you figure all of this out, based on estimated 1RMs. You can download the 5/3/1 spreadsheet here.

My plan is to use Wendler’s template, and do Metcon workouts after the Big Lift, instead of the assistance work prescribed in 5/3/1. This is how I hear most people are doing this, and what Wendler himself recommends (if you’re insistent on doing Crossfit). This will look something like this:

  • Monday
    • Overhead press
    • Metcon: Fast Five
  • Tuesday
    • Deadlift
    • Metcon: AMRAP
  • Wednesday
    • Metcon: Farmer John
  • Thursday
    • Bench press
    • Metcon: Fast Five
  • Friday
    • Squat
    • Metcon: AMRAP

“Farmer John” is a workout based on loaded carries. AMRAP is “as many reps/rounds as possible;” you set a clock (usually for 20 minutes), and do as much work as you can in the time alloted.

If you get anything out of 5/3/1, you should toss Wendler a few bucks and buy the eBook. Wendler is an incredibly generous guy, and basically puts this information out for free. Pay him back.

Today’s Workout

This is the first day of my combined 5/3/1 and Metcon training program. using a natch grip overhead press still feels weird, but my shoulders feel fantastic afterwards, so I’m going to stick with it.

Today’s metcon was a whore.

  • 5/3/1 – Snatch grip overhead press
    • 95lbs * 5
    • 105lbs * 5
    • 120lbs * 10
  • Metcon – fast five
    • 5 circuits for time (24:34)
      • Pushups, 20
      • Chins, 2
      • Drop lunges, 20 / leg
      • Kettlebell swing, 97lbs, 20
      • Dragon flags, 20

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Today in the Gym: Necessary But Not Sufficient

People like to say that diet is 80% of weight loss. I think that’s misguided. I’ve never been on a diet program, dropped all exercise, and seen any kinds of results. I really didn’t see 80% of the results.

Weight loss, I think, is more like turning on a light. You have to plug the lamp in, and you have to flip the switch. One or the other on its own is insufficient.

Diet and exercise both affect us in two ways: hormonally, and in terms of calories. Of these two, hormones are far, far more important. I’ve been on diets where I was eating three or four thousand calories a day and still losing weight, because I controlled my insulin. I’ve also gained weight on two thousand calories a day, because it all came from potato chips and soda.

MetCons and power lifting burn calories, sure, but that isn’t the goal. The goal is to flood your body with hormones in response to the work you just did. When you push your body, when you damage your muscles a little, the body wakes up and kicks into gear. It flips the switch.

It you want to be awesome, you have to have your diet and your training on point. Either one in isolation is a waste of time.

Today’s Workout:

  • 5 rounds for time (21 minutes)
    • Farmer’s carry, 135lbs, 2 gym lengths (up and down twice)
    • Pushups, 15 reps
    • Chins, 2 reps
    • Trap bar deadlift, 135lbs, 15 reps
    • Dragon flags, 15 reps

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Today in the Gym – Judgment Free Zone

I’m no longer welcome at Planet Fitness.

When I joined, right out of college, my local PF was a regular gym that had just bought a franchise. Nothing changed, not right away. There were still lots of benches, lots of squat racks, and lots of rusty old barbells. They sold beer at the front counter, and they didn’t mind when I threw a barbell over my head for a few dozen reps.

But slowly the gym changed. They bought new machines, but that was okay because it gave the cardio bunnies someplace to be that wasn’t where I was about to drop a two hundred pound jerk. Then the heavy dumbbells went away, but that was okay because I used an Olympic bar. But one day, when the gym moved to its new location, everything was different. Everything was shiny and purple. There were three dozen treadmills, but only one bench. The squat racks were gone, replaced with Smith Machines. They started offering free candy and free pizza.

For a while, I soldiered on. But then they set the Lunk Alarm off on me.

I wasn’t doing anything crazy. I wasn’t yelling. I wasn’t breathing hard. I was deadlifting, a relatively light 315 pounds. But as soon as I set the bar down, the lights started flashing and the alarm started blaring. A tiny, leathery “fitness coach” came over and informed me that I wasn’t allowed to deadlift anymore, because it’s “scary” and “dangerous.”

That was my last day at Planet Fatass.

They’ve gotten worse over the years. Now, they’ll kick you out for not being fat, and daring to wear a tank top. The message is clear: they don’t want you to succeed, because that might make other people feel bad.

Planet Fitness, and gyms like it, aren’t there to help you achieve your goals. They exist to take money from you and tell you that its all right to fail. They claim to be a judgment free zone, but if you break out of their sedentary, comfortable mold, they’ll judge the hell out of you, guaranteed.

Today’s Workout:

I felt like dogshit yesterday, and skipped. I didn’t feel much better today, but I get grumpy when I haven’t picked up something heavy in a while, so I scaled back and took my time.

When I bench, I always use a close grip; my shoulders explode otherwise. Interestingly enough, when I do overhead work (either an overhead press or a push press), it feels much better to use a snatch grip. I’m weaker, because I’ve never really trained that position, but I don’t get that awful clicking noise in my left shoulder. So, snatch grip it is.

  • 5 rounds for time (20 minutes)
    • Front squats, 95lbs, 10 reps
    • Overhead press, 95lbs, 10 reps
    • Chins, 2 reps
    • Kettlebell snatch, 34lbs, 10 reps / side
    • Bench leg raises, 10 reps

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Today in the Gym – Diversify your Portfolio

Continuing on with yesterday’s personal finance analogy, let’s talk about diversification.

So you’re paying yourself first. Great. Now it’s time to put that money to work. It’s time to invest, and when you invest, it’s a good idea to “diversify your portfolio,” which is a complicated way of saying “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Why? Because that gives you the best chance to earn a profit, while also avoiding the potential disaster of having your entire investment wiped out.

Let’s sat you invested all of your money in Google. Congratulations! You’re a billionaire. But if you invested all of your money in Blockbuster? Congratulations, you’re bankrupt.

A diverse portfolio can be strong in a lot of different areas. You’ve got some tech stocks, some healthcare stocks, some commodities stocks … you’ve got all your bases covered, setting yourself up for the best possible success.

The same idea applies to fitness. Sure, you can be strong. Or you can be fast. Or you can have endurance. Or you can be flexible. But why not have all of those qualities.

This is called conjugate training. It what allowed Westside Barbell to become the most successful powerlifting gym in history, and it’s the idea behind CrossFit, too. Here’s how I plan to break down my training:

Monday: Fast Five (see below)

Tuesday: Loaded carries

Wednesday: HIIT: Bike sprints, 1min on, 1min off, 20min total

Thursday: AMRAP – As Many Reps as Possible or As Many Rounds as Possible. Pick an exercise, set a time limit, and do as many as you can.

Friday: Fast Five

Saturday: Strength training, 5×5 on all major lifts

Sunday: If I’m feeling frisky, another HIIT session.

This is heavily focused on MetCon, which builds strength, endurance, speed, and flexibility, but it also includes enough strength work to keep my lifts up and growing. It’s not the best of all worlds, exactly, but it’s as close as I can pull off. I don’t have any Olympic lifts in there, because my shoulders don’t work, or any sprints, because of my knees, but all in all, I think this is a fairly diversified portfolio.

Today’s Workout:

Fast five: choose five exercises, and do five rounds for time. The exercise selection isn’t random; there should be an upper-body push, an upper-body pull, a leg exercise, an explosive movement, and an ab exercise. My routine for today:

  • Five rounds for time (20 minutes)
    • Pushups, 15 reps
    • Chins, 2 reps
    • Drop lunges, 15 reps / leg
    • Kettle bell swing, 97lbs, 15 reps
    • Dragon flags, 15 reps

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Today in the Gym – Pay Yourself First

I woke up the other day, and somehow I wasn’t a twenty year old college student anymore.

Instead, I was in my mid-thirties, with a wife, a full-time (and then some) job, and three dogs. And all of that free time I used to have? All of those nights when I’d get bored and just go to the gym for a double session? That’s all long gone.

I’ve been trying to get back into something resembling healthy condition for a while now. I’ll hit the keto diet hard, drop some weight … and then have a bad day, or a bad week, and fall off the wagon. I’ll hit they gym consistently for a while, but then I’ll work late, and the dogs need to go for a walk, and by the time I get home and get changed … I just don’t care anymore. I’ve been in the gym, but not consistently enough. Not even close.

In personal finance circles, one of the most common pieces of advice I hear is “pay yourself first.” They’re talking about saving for retirement, and the idea is that this should be your first goal, not an afterthought. Before you do anything else in your budget, set aside some money for your 401(K) or Roth IRA or whatever. Because this will pay big dividends later down the line, and if you don’t do it first, you probably won’t do it at all.

Same thing with the gym. It’s important to me. Being strong, being fast, being healthy are important to me. It’ll pay off big in the long run. But if I don’t prioritize it, I probably won’t do it at all.

I hate mornings. If I had my way, I’d be up until 5am and in bed until well past noon. But I’m not in college anymore, and I have a job, and I have to work around my realities. So every morning, I’m up early. I take our dogs–who are turning into little fatasses themselves–for a walk. Half an hour, an hour. Get moving. Get the blood flowing. And as soon as I’m done with them, I’m in the gym. This means I get to work a little later than I used to. This means I’m at the office a little later than I used to. But I’m willing to make that change in order to achieve my goals.

I’m paying myself first.

Yesterday, I did AMRAP (as many reps as possible) with a 97lb kettle bell, for five minutes. I got to one hundred reps. I’m sore as hell today.

It feels great.

Today’s workout

I can’t to thrusters. I don’t have the shoulder mobility to rack correctly, and even if I did, an old Judo injury has my left shoulder a quarter of an inch lower than my right, which would put the bar at an angle.

But thrusters are great conditioning tools, so I did a little regression. A thruster is basically a combination of two movements: a front squat, and a push press. For today’s workout, I just did sets of front squats, followed by sets of overhead press, with some chins mixed in.

  • Five circuits for time, 14 minutes
    • Front squat, 95lbs, 10 reps
    • Overhead press, 95lbs, 10 reps
    • Pullups, 2 reps

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The Vampire Diaries – S05E15 – Gone Girl

I love how often this show starts with all of the main characters talking about how much smarter Katherine is than any of them. They hate her, and they hate themselves for never being able to beat her.

There was a lot to like about this episode. It’s nice to see the fangs making a comeback on this show (and The Originals). For too long, this show has forgotten the first word in its title. Tyler is adorable when he pretends to be good at things. The moment he walked into that cell, it was only a matter of time before Damon kicked his ass. Jeremy is on the fast train to Threewayville. And it’s cool that Bonnie is still a repository of magical knowledge, even if she can’t use it.

I love what’s happening with Damon. He’s always been a few steps over the crazy line, and his infection has pushed him ever further into badass, chaotic territory. He could have just ripped the good Doctor’s heart out, but no, that wasn’t quite enough. Damon has a long memory and an overdeveloped sense of poetry.

It’s cool to see Katherine occasionally, genuinely rocked by emotions she can’t handle. She does generally care about some people. She loved Stefan, in her own twisted way, and she genuinely felt the loss of her daughter. I wouldn’t say that it redeems her, but it does humanize her.

And that was her downfall. She’s survived for five hundred years by shutting off her humanity and doing whatever she needed to do. The moment she walked back from that, the moment she let her compassion for someone else trump her sense of self preservation, it was all over. The Gilbert Gang defeated her by making her like them.

Katherine walked into Castle Salvatore like the boss she is, and she went out the way she always had to: confronted with how terrible she’s been for the past five hundred years. No sympathy, no support. She doesn’t need that. She’s Katherine Pierce. She just reminded them that she was the best, worst thing that ever happened to them, and then …

And then Stefan reminded us why he, more than anyone else on this show, is not to be fucked with. Because when you take away the hero hair and the honor and the self control, when you take away his mask, Stefan is the Ripper. There’s already a bucket of blood on his hands, and yours won’t trouble him at all.

But Katherine got the last laugh. Even when she loses, she wins. It might be a pyrrhic victory, she may not have won, but she prevented her enemies from winning. Always bet on Kat.

It was fantastic storytelling, a perfect set of character moments. It would have been a fitting end to the legend of Katherine Pierce.

But Katherine’s story? It isn’t over yet.

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The Originals – S01E15 – Le Grand Guignol

Mikael is a complete badass.

One of my favorite tropes is the “whispered threat,” the guy talked about in frightened, hushed tones, the guy who puts the fear of God into people just by showing up. Mikael fits that to a T.

He’s also batshit insane. I can understand being angry that your wife got knocked up by another guy, particularly if that guy turned into a slavering monster once a month. But hunting the child down for centuries, just to undo the stain on your reputation? That might be going a bit overboard.

Speaking of batshit, insane, there’s Klaus. I don’t know what the “wanting to bang your sister” version of an Oedipus complex is, but Klaus has it in spades. Fuck it, we’ll just call it the Klaus complex. The way he goes after his sister’s lovers, and the way he kissed her on the cheek when he “permitted” her to see Marcel … he definitely wants to sink his stake in her, if you know what I mean.

I love how Elijah is developing in this series. He’s never been a good guy, not really. Principled, sure, honorable, that’s debateable, but he’s spent decades, even centuries, doing terrible things because of his promise to his brother: always and forever.

I think The Originals is becoming the story of Elijah’s redemption, or at least his freedom. His willingness to make Hayley happy, even if it meant losing her, was genuinely noble, and his realization that his brother is a raving psychotic who needs to be put in his place is fantastic. Elijah is pretty close to the only being on the planet that can really go toe-to-toe with Klaus, and putting them at odds is a logical choice, full of story potential.

And Elijah is, I think, done being fucked with. The cold, fatalistic way he took out Celeste was brilliantly acted. There was no rage, no fury, just a clam, inexorable, inescapable death. Elijah is a terrifying opponent, and New Orleans is I think, finally about to realize that.

It was also nice to see a callback to the Magic Stake of Killing the Shit out of Everything. Once that weapon becomes more well known, I can see a struggle breaking out over who gets to control it.

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Star Crossed

Sergent Shithead: Egads! These beings have mastered the technology necessary to cross interstellar distances, making us look like feces-covered apes who have yet to work out how rubbing two sticks together can create flame! And their homologous morphology suggests either convergent evolution or, perhaps more incredibly, common ancestry!

Ranger Redneck: Homo what? Evolution? Fuck you, science! Guns ‘n’ Jesus, woohoo!

Sergent Shithead: Look, than man is carefully approaching us, hands empty and raised, in what appears to be the universal symbol of “I mean you no harm!”

Ranger Redneck: Holy shit! Better shoot the fuck out of ‘em before they steal our wimmins! Are there any kids I can kill? Blam blam blam blam blam blam blam blam blam!



Well, the CW has managed to steal another hour of my week. Honestly, if I could get Time Warner to sell me an “MSNBC and CW and PBS so my wife won’t go into Downton withdrawal” cable package, I would be all over it. On the other hand, this show appears to have nothing to do with Julie Plec, so at least I’m not completely her bitch.

The above is a fairly accurate representation of the opening minutes of the CW’s latest opus. Aliens land. They appear friendly. We shoot the fuck out of ‘em anyway, and lock them in internment camps.

Flash forward ten years, and we’re dropped right into an analog of the racial integration of Little Rock Central High School. The aliens, called Atrians, are still living in government-run ghettos, but a new program allows a limited number of them to be bussed to a white human high school. And in case the metaphor was a bit too subtle for you, the aliens are called the Atrian Seven.

Heavy handed? It might seem so. Hell, you might be tempted to call it ridiculous. We’re so much more open minded than we were 57 years ago, right? We would never be that evil to an innocent people, would we?

But then you see the shit that they’re trying to pull in Arizona, the test lab for the Tea Party’s crazy. They are–and this is actually happening, right now, in 2014–trying to pass a law that makes it legal to discriminate against LGBT people because of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” And suddenly, the premis of Star Crossed doesn’t seem all that far fetched.

Our romantic leads are Aimee Teegarden, playing Emery Whitehill, and Matt Lanter as Roman, who are, respectively, Nina Dobrev’s long lost cousin and Cam Gigandet’s slightly more muscular clone. And TVD‘s Malese Jow, in her longest running arc yet, survives the first episode, so that’s cool.

Star Crossed is your basic riff on Romeo and Juliet, but with humans and aliens instead of Montagues and Capulets, but the stars have good chemistry, the sci-fi element is fun, and the social commentary is topical. The Atrian’s special powers, revealed at the end of the episode, are cool, but come at a cost, eliminating a too-easy get out of jail free card.

All in all, a solid premier. Yeah, I think Star Crossed can stick around for a while.

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Vampire Academy

Take Veronica Mars, and make her a half vampire. Team her up with Daniel Gillies’ stunt double, and give him a ponytail and a trench coat. Drop them both into Hogwarts for Vampires, mix in some mean girls, and stir in a grave threat to the upcoming vampire royal, Mary Sue von Dracula. That’s Vampire Academy in a nutshell.

And somehow, it really, really works.

This is going to be one of those divisive movies. As I’m writing this, Rotten Tomatoes is giving it a 10% fresh score from critics, and an 81% fresh score from viewers. It’s a weird movie, with a weird premise, but if you’re coming from a TVD background, that’s probably exactly what you’re looking for.

The heroine, Rose Hathaway, is fantastically sarcastic and very competent, both as an investigator and as a fighter. She’s kind of what I’ve always wanted Elena Gilbert to become.

The only issue I had with the movie is Rose’ love interest, Dimitri. The ~*~insurmountable obstacle~*~ keeping them apart is the age difference; Rose is 17, and Dimitri is 24. That’s a pretty big gap, but when I was watching the movie, I thought Dimitri was supposed to be in his mid-30s, and was squicked out the entire time.

That aside, I really had fun, and recommend Vampire Academy to anyone looking for a little fang in their night.

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