This Week in the Gym

I finally got to the last week of my 5/3/1 + MetCon experiment, and I have come to a conclusion: I am a weak little girl.

And I’m not twenty anymore, so I can’t recover from six-days-a-week MetCons and serious strength training. So I’m going to take the prescribed recovery week, and then redraft my plan. Here’s what I think it’s going to look like:

  • Monday – Metcon
  • Tuesday – 5/3/1 – Overhead press and deadlift
  • Wednesday – Bike sprints
  • Thursday – 5/3/1 – Bench press and squat
  • Friday – Metcon

This is more days per week that I was doing before, but one less MetCon, so we’ll see.

This week’s training

  • 06 – Tuesday
    • 5/3/1 – Overhead press
      • 105lbs * 5
      • 120lbs * 3
      • 135lbs * 7
    • Metcon
      • Pushups, 20
      • Chins, 2
      • Bench leg raises, 20
      • Hyper extensions, 20
      • Air squat, 20
        • 5 rounds, 12:15
  • 07 – Wednesday
    • 5/3/1 – Deadlift
      • 250lbs * 5
      • 280lbs * 3
      • 315lbs * 7
    • Metcon
      • Ring pushups, 10
      • Ring rows, 10
      • Ring jumping lungs, 10
        • 5 rounds, 9:04
  • 08 – Thursday
    • 5/3/1 – Bench press
      • 108lbs * 5
      • 200lbs * 3
      • 225lbs * 7
  • 10 – Saturday
    • 5/3/1 – Squat
      • 185lbs * 5
      • 205lbs * 3
      • 225lbs * 10

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Today in the Gym – Moving Day

I helped a buddy move last weekend.

He rented the biggest truck U-Haul offers, which is roughly the size of a city block, and it still took two full loads to get all of his stuff to the new house. We worked for about ten hours that day, climbing up and down stairs, grabbing big, boxy things and dragging them around, and then reversing the process at the new house.

I was a little sore the next morning, but I wasn’t debilitated or anything. I’m not in the kind of condition I was in back in college, but I can still handle myself.

This also gave me a little more ammunition in the (mostly theoretical) debates I get into about power lifting Olympic lifting. I didn’t have to snatch a single thing that day, but I squatted down and grabbed something heavy roughly a gajillion times.

It’s tempting to say that the most applicable movement in the world is the deadlift, but I might have discovered a more applicable movement: the Zercher squat. To perform a Zercher, you squat down, cradle the bar in your arms, and then stand up. has a tutorial video.

I performed this movement all day last Saturday. It might be the most functional movement there is.


  • Strength: Squat
    • 165lbs * 3
    • 190lbs * 3
    • 215lbs * 5
  • MetCon – 5 circuits for time (15:59)
    • Pushups, 20
    • Chins, 2
    • Step ups, 20
    • Kettlebell swings, 97lns, 20
    • Hyper, 10

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Today in the Gym

  • Strength: Bench press
    • 165lbs * 3
    • 190lbs * 3
    • 215lbs * 5
  • MetCon – 5 circuits for time (18:29)
    • Front squat, 95lbs, 10 reps
    • Overhead press, 95lbs, 10 reps
    • Banded pullups, 10 reps

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Today in the Gym

Nothing special, just some deadlifts and some

  • Strength training – deadlift
    • 230lbs * 3
    • 265lbs * 3
    • 300lbs * 5
  • MetCon – 5 rounds for time (14:59)
    • Ring pushups, 10
    • Ring rows, 10
    • Ring supported jumping lunges, 10
    • Ring snatch, 34lbs, 10 reps / arm
    • Crunches, 10

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Today in the Gym – Life Lessons

A lot of the podcasts I’ve been listening to lately have been talking about the life lessons you can learn from a barbell. Personally, I don’t get it.

I mean, I have learned some things. I’ve learned how to pick up five hundred pounds without destroying my back. I’ve learned that high pulls are Satan’s favorite exercise, designed specifically to destroy the tender little bits of your shoulders. I’ve learned that a kettlebell swing is a hinge movement, not a squat movement.

But life lessons? Not really. I didn’t learn dedication by lifting weights. I didn’t learn respect by doing metcons. I didn’t learn tenacity by foam rolling.

That’s because lifting weights isn’t my life. For the guys I’ve been listening to, it is. And that’s the key.

I don’t think that there’s anything magical about weight lifting or martial arts that will make you into who you’re supposed to be. You can learn all kinds of life lessons doing anything, as long as you do it with all your heart.

The struggle is what’s important, not the venue. When I was writing my first novel, there were plenty of times when I thought it was hopeless, I was a hack, and that I would never write anything good. But I stuck with it, fought with it, and figured it out. The same way I wrestled with Java in college, and the same way I struggle with the barbell today.

We need antagonism in order to grow. We need a fight. We all need something we love, and I think we actually need the threat of that thing being taken away to inspire us to greatness. We learn our life lessons when we give something everything we have, when we have to dig deep and find resources we never knew we had.

The barbell can be that thing that you love. But so can writing, or music, or art, or a million other things. You don’t become great by bench pressing five hundred pounds. You become great by fighting for what you love.

Today’s Workout

I didn’t sleep last night, which means I was late getting to the gym, and felt like crap when I finally got there. The entire drive, and all through my overhead presses, I was making deals with myself.

“I’ll just do kettlebells.”

“I’ll just come in on Wednesday.”

“Okay, kettlebells and pushups, then I’m out.”

“Okay, I’ll do the whole thing, but only three circuits.”

But when I actually started the MetCon, it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t want to do it, not really, but I wanted to have done it. And that was enough.

Just showing up in 80%.

  • Strength training – Overhead press
    • 100lbs * 3
    • 115lbs * 3
    • 130lbs * 5
  • MetCon
    • Fast Five – 5 circuits for time: 23:19
      • Pushups, 20
      • Chinups, 2
      • Drop lunges, 20 / leg
      • Kettlebell swing, 97lbs, 20
      • Dragon flags, 20

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Today in the Gym – Selecting Metcon exercises

I like the intensity Crossfit demands of its athletes. I like the community, too, the encouragement, the passion, and the Hatebreed cranked up to eleven. And Crossfit has done more to convince people to try Metcon and barbell training than any other movement in history.

But there are two things I don’t like about it. One, the (lack of) programming. HQ’s stated intent is to “specialize in not specializing,” and they try to achieve that goal by throwing random exercises on the wall and seeing what happens.

This has been fixed by a lot of coaches, though. The good Crossfit trainers actually have a plan and a progression. They know what their athletes want to achieve, and they help them get there. The various forks from Crossfit, like Crossfit Football, Crossfit Endurance, OPT, or adding 5/3/1 to the mix, all address HQ’s lack of a plan.

The second thing I don’t like is all the fucking Olympic lifts.

I’m biased, because my shoulders don’t really allow me to perform these lifts correctly anymore. But it goes beyond that. The Olympic lifts, the Clean & Jerk and the Snatch, are the dirtiest-sounding lifts in the world. Sorry, I mean they’re the most technically complicated lifts you can perform. Every single thing has to be exactly right, or you’ll miss the lift, or worse, hurt yourself.

Because they’re so complicated, it’s basically impossible to do the O-lifts when you’re fatigued. At least, it’s impossible to do them right. And a bad O-lift leads to a bad injury, sooner rather than later. That’s why chiropractors consider Crossfit they’re best friend. But Crossfit regularly programs O-lifts in the 20- an 30- rep range.

If you’re doing 30 reps of the snatch, I’m pretty sure you’re an idiot. And if you’re coach is telling you to do 30 reps of the snatch, I’m pretty sure he’s an asshole.

When you’re picking your metcon exercises, you need to choose movements that you can do well even when you’re so tired you’re about to black the fuck out. That means bodyweight exercises and maybe kettlebells. Not the goddamned snatch.

Today’s Workout

The only problem I had with this workout is the fact that I suck at front squats and overhead presses … but that’s why I’m doing this, so it was kind of expected.

I was able to rack the bar successfully, for a little while, which means my shoulders and wrists are opening up. I wasn’t able to get in a position where I could translate directly from the front squat to a push press, however, so there’s still work to be done.

  • Strength training: Squat
    • 155lbs * 5
    • 180lbs * 5
    • 200lbs * 10
  • MetCon – Thruster regression
    • Five circuits for time – 13:48
      • Front squats, 95lbs, 10
      • Overhead press, 95lbs, 10
      • Pullups, 2

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Today in the Gym – 20 Reps to Hell

I used to train like this all the time. I know what I’m doing. I know what I’m getting into. But metcon workouts still surprise me.

I started this, about a month ago, nice and easy. Five circuits, and ten reps for each movement. Except chins, because I’ve become a fatass over the years, and I can’t do ten chinups anymore. But whatever. Five circuits of five movements with ten reps was nice. Not easy, exactly, but not too taxing. It was something I could comfortably achieve.

But “comfortable” is for assholes, and it wasn’t long before I moved up to fifteen reps per movement. Fifteen reps is harder, but not drastically so. I had to push myself a little harder, but I felt fine after the workouts, and I was pretty much recovered within ten or fifteen minutes.

But twenty reps? Twenty reps, at least for me, is a metabolic catastrophe.

When I get done doing a hundred pushups, a hundred kettle bell swings, a hundred dragon flags, two hundred lunges, and 10 chinups (because I’m a weak little girl), I am done. Laying on the ground, gasping for air, and wondering if that’s my heartbeat or a snare drum.

My muscles aren’t hurt, they’re just … confused. Confused and sad. Like, they’re sitting there, quivering a little, asking why and what the fuck? My lungs are thinking about joining a union, and getting better working conditions. My heart is too busy trying to escape my rib cage to comment.

When I do fifteen reps, I can go about my day like nothing happened. When I do twenty, it stays with me for hours. The workout reminds me what I did, how hard I worked.

I love it.

I want to get these fast-five workouts to sub-twenty minutes. That’s what I was doing at my peak. And when I do that? Maybe I’ll try twenty-five reps, just to see what happens.

Today’s Workout

Today’s MetCon was a mother fucker. Of course, all MetCons are mother fuckers, if you’re doing them right, but this was just a grind. It was the step-ups that did me in. I programmed step-ups in because I wanted an easier day.


I mean sure, it was easier than doing box jumps or something, but I still climbed the equivalent of a ten story building. I was on the ground by the time I finished.

I also got a pair of training bands to help with my pullups. I can do pullups, but I can’t do chest-to-bars, so I’m adding some assistance to help with that movement. I also think I need to add some strength-based pulling to bench and overhead press days.

  • Strength training: Bench press
    • 155lbs * 5
    • 180lbs * 5
    • 200lbs * 10
  • MetCon – Fast five
    • Five circuits for time – 33:09
      • Pushups, 20
      • Band pullups, 5
      • Step ups, 20 / leg
      • Kettlebell swings, 97lbs, 20
      • Crunches, 20

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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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