We ALL Have Obstacles

Yesterday afternoon we had our first official obstacle course training camp.

John and I have been coaching OCR since 2012 – but in a weekly class format – so we were excited to be able to offer it in a more condensed way. AND in one of the best Crossfit boxes in Canada, Crossfit New West.

spartan training vancouver

We could not have asked for a better group of enthusiastic and determined people… and got everyone from first timers to those who had completed the World’s Toughest Mudder and UltraBeast.

Yet, everyone had something to work on.

We ALL have obstacles that challenge us.

It’s funny. I think of myself as someone who is generally terrible at everything. Especially anything new.

I saw in their eyes what I have felt in mine. At times, insurmountable challenge – at times, staggering accomplishment.

After I had Seren (AKA the baby), I had lost so much grip and arm strength that I couldn’t even hold myself up on the monkey bars, never mind traverse them. I wondered if I should bother trying to get it back.

The other end of the monkey bars was too far literally and metaphorically for someone who couldn’t make it to the next rung.

Fall, fall, fall, fall. Try again, and again, and again. And again.

I had also gained weight, which made running hard. But I kept on picking my feet up and moving forward.

For the first few years in this sport I could not make it two steps across the balance beam. I couldn’t help but wonder how falling repeatedly off the beam was making me any better staying on it.

Walls were always too high to grab and I couldn’t coordinate using the toe kicks.

Things slowly, imperceptibly, started to get easier. And I started doing harder things. In my head, I’m still the same person who can’t hold themselves up on the monkey bars. In fact, more often than not I am surprised by the things consistent training has allowed me to do.

I wanted to put down the top three things I did to get from puttering along and repeatedly falling off a pull-up bar to standing on a podium with super heroes.

1.) Hang every day. EVERY day. Just hanging for as long as you can is a good start. But it’s boring as hell. I have always been a big fan of mixing things up: holding onto one or two towels, changing grip, bending my arms, hanging for different durations. I started back just hanging as much as a could every time I passed by my pull-up bar with no baby in my arms and I tried to make my forearms numb 5 days a week.

2.) Run, hike, walk and loco-mote. Here it is: running sucks when you start out. But it gets SO much better. Just keep doing it and one day you’ll get it. If you lost it, good for you, you’ll have way more faith because you know it’s still there inside you. If you ask me, you cannot spend too much time moving – just switch up the mode so as to not overtrain. Every little bit, like taking the stairs or walking your groceries home, helps.

sandbag training

All aboard…

3.) Play. Go try a new fitness class, take aerial gymnastics, buy a pass to a bouldering gym, chase your kids around the park. Just get moving and get out of your comfort zone. You’ll be ready for anything life throws at you… or obstacle course racing.

Most of all, be patient and trust in the process. It’s cliche but it’s true. Believe.

For April and May I’m going to be launching different challenges on my Yo Mama So Fit Facebook Page to get you ready for anything this summer throws at you.

They won’t take much out of your day but hopefully they’ll make all the difference in terms of what you can do with it,

How to carry a sandbag

You might think this post is akin to a “Learn to Walk” program. As in: obvious.

Step 1: Pick it up
Step 2: Carry it

As those of us who raced in the 2014 Vermont Spartan World Championship Beast realized, there’s a little more to it. If you are in the OCR community, you probably saw your Facebook feed blow up with horror stories about just how terrible this obstacle was. Indeed, it really “made” the race. Elite women had to carry one 60 or so pound sandbag up, elite men had to carry TWO. Yeah. That crazy course designer Norm, and his crazy ideas.

Number one, I suggest you carry big old sandbags up and down mountains in training. But here are a few tips to help you make carrying the least effort (and back ache possible).

1. Practice proper sandbag clean form. If you only have one to carry, you’ll want to balance it on one or both shoulders. Of course, to carry it on your shoulders, you’ll need to get to your shoulders from the ground. Often easier said than done. In the video below, you’ll notice that I “lap” it or put it on my lap before throwing it up and getting under it on my shoulder. You’ll also notice that I throw it too far back and almost over my shoulder. You want it to land balanced so you don’t need to readjust. Good bad example hey?

2. Once it’s up there, do not set it down unless you have to. The hardest part (and biggest risk) comes from setting it down and cleaning it back up. On that note, before you pick it up or set it down, get as tight in your core and keep your spine neutral (do not hunch your back to lift or drop it). That being said, there are no penalties (outside of extra time) from setting the bag down. You are also permitted to drag it or carry it in your arms (which has been done successfully). You are not, however, allowed to let it roll downhill.

3. Keep your back flat as you walk with your abs in and try not to side bend excessively. You’re hoping someone could see you from far away and not see that your carrying a frick load of sand in a giant bag.

4. Step carefully if the bag is heavy. You might get away running downhill with the pancake sandbags but you’re not doing that with a big bad heavy-weight on your neck. On that note, keep a brisk steady pace… the sooner you’re done, the sooner you’re done!

5. Balance the bag but move it a bit. Little adjustments go a long way. I put it on one shoulder, then both (you have to look down to make this position comfortable), then a little more on the other. You get the picture. Just don’t make big adjustments that are likely to throw you off or ones that require you to grip the bag. You want it to rest on your shoulders. Even if your grip doesn’t feel tired at the time, you’ll want to save it for the obstacles to come (like rope climbs and monkey bars.)

6. When you’re racing, pick a good bag… even if it takes an extra second. The ones at the top of the pile will be easier to get but if it’s been raining out, they will probably have picked up some water weight. And if you’re wondering why there are two styles of bags, there will probably be ladies bags and mens bags so ask the volunteers if you’re unsure. Some times they’re pink… which makes things easy.

7. In Spartan Races, you cannot choose penalty burpees. You must complete this obstacle to finish. So get it done and get a move on.

Sandbag carry training:

Some more tips from a heaving sweaty person on a mountain:

10 Fun Squat Variations

squat

To carry on with the last two week’s burpee variation theme, I am going to talk squats this week.

In my opinion, squats should almost always be butt to heels. SHOULD. Truth be told, most people can’t get there. In fact, the United States military once required the deep squat as part of their sniper training… so few recruits could do it that they removed the requirement.

Love or hate Crossfit, it has really brought the deep squat (and olympic lifting) into view and has dispelled the whole bad for your knees myth.

Things do go wrong though. The two big wrongs that I see most often are the heels coming up or the back rounding.

If your heels come up you likely lack enough mobility or balance to take it low. The good news is that increasing the depth of your squat incrementally is the easiest fix. That and in the case of mobility restriction, stretching your soleus.

So it also is with the rounded back. The hamstrings are usually the limiting mobility factor and cause the butt to tuck under or “wink”. However, the problem often lies in not engaging the hip flexors (think of pinching the front of the hip together) and/or lumbar extensors (keeping the tailbone lifted slightly as the butt drops). Often the entire back rounding in a hunched style is a balance thing, but it can also be tightness or just lack of body awareness.

All things considered, if you are over age 5 and haven’t had your squat assessed by a professional, chances are good that you’re doing it wrong.

So perfect your technique and then get creative.

1. Squat Jumps. You can go for height or speed, jump forward, jump sideways, jump backwards, kick your butt, tuck your knees. The sky is the limit. Just make sure to land softly (your feet should not make any noise and you should land low).

2. Single Leg Squats. The easiest way is to keep one leg reaching behind the other for counter balance, harder is keeping the ankles inline, harder still is reaching one leg out front as in a piston squat (grabbing your foot makes it easier but it’s still a big challenge – keep your weight forward and press through your heel).

3. Narrow Squat. This one’s otherwise known as a chair squat. Ensure your knees stay behind your toes.

4. Wide Squat. You can do it sumo style with your feet straight or plie style with your feet turned out. Make sure though that your feet and knees go in the same direction.

5. Back Squat. The bar goes on the shelf created by pulling your shoulders back, below your neck (not touching). It gets complicated when you talk high bar or low bar but a good rule is not on bones. It should not be uncomfortable.

6. Front Squat. You can go genie style with your arms crossed on your shoulders or on the same shoulders. You can use a bar or dumbbells. Keep your elbows up at the bottom, chest proud.

7. Squat to Side Leg Raise. You can add a straight leg raise at the top to get some extra booty work.

8. Squat Holds and Pulses. Try adding them in at different heights to work on a sticky spot or offer a challenge.

9. Wall Squat. You can usually hold these for much longer than an air squat. Keep your knees at 90 degrees if you can. They make a good option for folks with anterior knee pain.

10. Add Dumbbells. You can add a bicep curl, overhead triceps press, overhead press, lateral or front raise, or rear deltoid raise. Not only will your workout be cut in half but your core will need to work to harmonize the two. One caveat, although compound exercises are more functional, you won’t be able to lift as heavy.

Burpee variations you probably haven’t tried… and a quick history lesson of the magnificent burpee

The burpee. Such a simple movement with such endless possibility for variations.

So much possibility, I needed a second installment!

I also thought it was right to touch a little bit on the history of the burpee. Many people think it’s some sun salutation power yoga move gone wild. But the true credit really belongs to the movements name sake, Royal H. Burpee. He was a psychologist who worked for the greater New York YMCA. I believe that probably makes him Dr. Burpee – best name ever. I’d change my name and get a doctorate to make that happen.

Anyway, he developed the burpee test to challenge stamina, agility and coordination. 

The burpee developed as one of the few exercises that had no real consistency. Sometimes people did a push-up, sometimes they clapped at the top, sometimes they didn’t even hop. I think Crossfit has done a great job standardizing the move: elbows in, chest to deck, feet leave the floor.

And now for ten more variations, in case you’re already bored of last weeks. 

1. Single Arm Burpee – The whole movement with one arm. Make sure you have a solid single arm push-up and even more solid wrist before you take this one on.

2. Fence Under Burpee – Add a fence under instead of a push-up from the plank position… dragging your nose on the floor from down dog to up dog.

3. Parkour Burpee – These guys are nuts and so are their burpees. Do one burpee on the floor, hop up onto a table and do another there. Hop down and repeat.

4. Side Burpee – Place hands beside feet, hop into side plank and back to standing.

5. Lateral Jump Burpees – Replace hop up with lateral hop, either traveling to one side and back or moving back and forth.

6. Hurdle Burpees – Set up some ropes or hurdles and use the jump in the burpee to clear them straight on (harder) or laterally (easier).

7. Thruster Burpees – Instead of jumping your feet behind your hands, jump them beside them so your feet and hands make a straight line.

8. Pull-up or Muscle-up Burpees – Instead of a hop do either a pull-up or muscle-up. You can really get creative here: donkey pull-ups, single arm pull-ups, chin-ups, v pull-ups… just make sure the bar is high enough that you don’t smoke your head on it.

9. Hopper Burpees – Tie something near the level of your max jump height and aim to touch it each time.

10. Reverse Traveling Burpees – Once moving forward is too easy, replace hops with backwards hops.

l’d love to here your variations in the comments below.

Happy Burpeeing!!

 

 

Paula Radcliffe – World Record Holder in the Marathon – and Super Mom

Paula Radcliffe - World Record Holder in the Marathon - and mom

Paula Radcliffe is not your typical mother. She is the fastest female marathon runner in world history. She is also mother to Isla and Raphael. Paula managed to make comebacks after both births with the help of a team of professionals. How does she manage to care for her children? Luckily, she has a team for that too. Headed by a stay-at-home-dad, they often call on nannies and extended family to pitch in. What advice does this superstar mom have for us regular moms? Just that. Build a team of support. Many of us juggle fitness, careers and family. You can’t do that on your own. “Take the support from the people around you, from your husband, from your partner, from your family so that you can get your time for your training. You talk about the sacrifices athletes make, I never really felt like I made a sacrifice for my career until I came away for a month without my kids. That was really hard, but at the same time, it was a huge motivation to make every second of the training count and make it worthwhile, being away.”