Power Monkey Camp – Day 4

So I worked out at Rich Froning’s gym…

I know why I am here, but today was a day where I had to convince myself I belong here at Power Monkey Camp.

I’m not used to full days of physical activity and training. Further, I am definitely scaled compared to so many of these Rx coaches and athletes, and especially the elite Games competitors.

With a group WOD and another lifting class in the mix, I knew I had to just stay positive and keep focused on my own learning and growth.

FIELD TRIP

After another awesome breakfast prepared by Paleo Nick and his team, the majority of us campers piled into vans, pick-up trucks and little VW Bugs to drive to Crossville, TN – the home of CrossFit Mayhem and Rich Froning.

I’ll say right upfront, that he did not make an appearance. Regardless, everyone was excited to see his gym and do a regular WOD together.

It was part fandom and part bragging rights as everyone was going to flex their stuff in front of the group.

We started with team “rowling” as a warm-up. In teams of 4, we each had to take turns rowing a 100 meters until we reached 4,000.

The goal was to hit 100 on the nose and how many ever meters you were above or below 100 when you put down the handle you had do a burpee per meter.

The whole thing was for time and the group loved the competition.

Knowing my strength and skills are not as developed, I was determined to row hard and do all my burpees as fast as possible.

I was going to demonstrate to my team and the other campers that push come to shove, I at least have hustle if not equal muscle.

After my first round, my one teammate commented, “Wow, you jump high in your burpeees.” The compliment made my day.

My team finished in 20:02 and consistently had to only do 2-3 burpee per turn and we all hit 100 perfectly at least once.

It was most the fun I’ve ever had doing bumpers and rowing. I’m definitely bringing that one back to my coaches at TwinTown Fitness.

We then moved right into the main WOD, which had a five-minute time cap and had to be done in four heats given that we had 56 people. It was 1-2-3-4-5-5-4-3-2-1 thrusters (135#/95#) and bar muscle-ups.

We were allowed to scale the weight and substitute chest-to-bars. It was an amazing fit of activity to watch as each group went – bars and plates clanging, cheers, grunts and the clock ticking.

When it was my own turn, I tried not to be intimated by the fact that I was staring face to face with Games Athlete April Lowe on the rig as I did my C2B and she did the bar muscle-ups.

The five minutes was exhausting but everyone rode the high and enjoyed e good sweat.

SESSION 1 – SNATCH

After caveman sized burgers and slaw for lunch at the mess hall, we returned to the main gym for more training sessions.

If you’ve followed my journey, then you know how much trouble the snatch lift caused me in the Dakota Games back in June.

This session with USA Olympic weightlifter Mike Cerbus and Jessica Gallagher-Salvagio was just what I needed. We worked our way through a series of lifts to build to the actual snatch.

We worked on overhead squat, snatch balance, Stotz press, muscle snatch, shrug & hold from Romanian deadlift (RDL) position and snatch from RDL position.

I’ve done the Cal Strength program with my gym and had a great coaching, but it’s always good to hear a new perspective or approach.

The big thing Mike and Jessie had me focus on was

  1. wrists open at top,
  2. keeping a nice straight vertical line,
  3. wider stance and
  4. keeping my head in neutral.

It was a lot of good info to digest and they were excited for the progress I made even in our short time together.


SESSION 2 – MOBILITY & TUMBLING

The second session in the afternoon was led by Sadie Durante and Dan Melzar. From afar, watching othe groups go through the session, it appeared to be light and fun and easy.

It was definitely fun, but by no means easy as they put us through a gymnastics warm-up and mobility exercises that left everyone sweating more than we had all week.

We then moved onto some work on the trampoline track, front rolls, back rolls and hand stand falls.

The highlight was doing front flips into the foam pit. I’ve never done a front flip, not even off a diving board, so that was a crazy first.

And now hopefully not the last. The whole session made me excited for the remaining gymnastics classes I have back in Minnesota this month.

The sessions ran right up to dinner, which was Paleo Nick’s version of the Happy Family dish served at Chineses restaurants.

The dish had pieces of grilled chicken, steak, shrimp and tiny meatballs. Paleo Nick also spoke for a few minutes about his mission and outlook on food.

He might give a nutrition talk tomorrow, which I am definitely going to attend.

Until then, I’m ready to just relax and sleep in. We have the morning free and hopefully my bunk mates can all agree that no one needs to get up to workout until at least 8am. This is supposed to be a vacation, right?

Power Monkey Camp – Day 5

So Vic McQuaide gave me some tips on my double-unders…

While my training age might have shown itself earlier this week, my true age finally kicked in. I woke up tire and sore.

Thankfully, we had the morning off. Unfortunately, my internal alarm clock still woke me up before 7am, but I happily stayed in my twin-sized bunk bed until around 8am before grabbing my umpteenth banana from the canteen.

I made my way over to open gym and started things off with some leisurely improvised yoga and stretching.

Then I grabbed Coach Ryann, who rowed on the women’s team at Yale, for some one-on-one training.

She helped correct my shoulder and arm position in the back of my stroke. And though a subtle change, she also helped move where I was strapping in my feet so that it was where my toes meet my foot rather than further up on my laces.

Afterwards, Coach Shane Gerraghty, who is the camp co-director and a stuntman in Hollywood, was leading some other campers through handstand practice.

I was invited to join and others followed foot. A great tweak that he made was recommending that we start the handstand from standing with our arms and body in the position that they should ideally be when we are upside down.

He also had us take a big lunge forward to start it off. Both tips helped a lot.

A brunch of scrambled eggs, bacon, guacamole and sweet potato hash was well received by all before starting our afternoon sessions.

I grabbed a second full serving, as I have done at most meals this week, as I know I need to eat more. I realized I should have been insisting on bigger portions all week as I am so skinny compared to most of the other guys.

Put me next to Ron Ortiz and I look like a comic strip weakling.

SESSION 1 – BAR WORK

We kicked things off in the afternoon with Coach Duke Van Vleet, a former U.S. National Gymnastics team member and Cirque Du Soleil performer.

The guy is strong as hell. He led us through some warm-up using therabands to help with our shoulder mobility. We then worked through pull-ups, toes-to-bar and bar muscle-ups.

One of the main takeaways was how a gymnastics swing could help with our kipping. Also, that a lesson to be learned from gymnasts is that you perfect all strict movements before adding activity.

It’s no wonder a gymnast can crank out butterfly pull-ups or string sets of kipping chest-to-bars.

I had a chance to quickly chat one-on-one with Duke. I asked him about building grip strength and he said nothing beats hanging from the bar.

He suggested even doing it as a Tabata. Also, to my chagrin, he said ditch the gloves. I’ve been told that before, but hearing it from someone as talented on the bar as Duke might have finally convinced me.

SESSION 2 – JUMP ROPE

Our last organized training session of camp was with Dave Newman, the owner of Rx SmartGear. Here’s a guy who knows ropes.

He’s also the guy I saw working one-on-one with Amanda Allen, the back-to-back CrossFit Games Masters Champion, at camp.

I definitely was ready to pay attention. Our focus was on three key elements of a successful double-under: 1) bounding; 2) rotation; and 3) timing.

We did lots of drills to help with all three. Dave also showed how to better set-up and pick up the rope more quickly and efficiently, especially in a competition.

And as a counterpoint, how to stop the rope and not just throw it out of the way like most of us do in the middle of a met con, which wastes time if we have to pick the rope up again.

My coaches back home would not be surprised to hear that Dave, and even Games Athlete Vic McQuaide who was in the session with me, told me I need to slow down.

We also worked on how I was flicking my wrists and how to correct that.

I have a lot to practice when I get home. But camp is not over just yet. Tomorrow is competition day!

Power Monkey Camp – Day 6

So I almost hit Ron Ortiz with a bean bag…

The final day of camp came with some trepidation as it was time for the competition. It also came with a tinge of melancholy as things were coming to close and it would soon be time for the goodbye party.

It was a great week but there was so much more to learn and to drill and to improve. As an echo of what so many of my fellow campers said, “If only there was more time.”

So despite all the mixed feelings, I got a solid breakfast courtesy of Paleo Nick and his awesome crew.

I then headed to the gym for some yoga / stretching and warmed-up on the rower in anticipation of the start of the competition.

The field was packed with much better, stronger faster athletes but I was here to take part in all aspects of camp. In this case, participating was just as important as winning.

I did not get on this journey to shy away from the challenge, but to embrace it. As with any competition, I tried to focus on my own efforts and just get into the right head space to do my best.

EVENT 1 – MAX EFFORT JERK

Chad and Jodi Vaughn taught us all so much about the jerk and proper technique. Their big takeaway was simply the focus; and for this lift it was all about a stronger dip and throwing the head back.

I knew what I had to do and what the lift should look like, but I definitely needed more reps to practice.

When my heat went and we had eight minutes to find our max effort jerk, mine turned out to be more of an aggressive push press. I hit 165#, which was a PR for me in the push press but understandably not a proper jerk.

This was more evident at 175#, which I failed and every witnessed my elbows bent just holding the bar overhead for what felt like an eternity and unable to get my arms locked out.

Understandably, Jason Laydon who was in charge laughed when I lightly asked him after my attempt, “That wasn’t a jerk, was it?”

He gave a big smile and said, “No.” Add the jerk to my list of homework assignments.

EVENT 2 – FOAM PIT SWIM

Since we were at a gymnastics camp, the coaches decided we should take advantage of our surroundings and had the foam pit as the center of the event.

Basically, we had to “swim” across and back as quick as possible.

Trying to climb through the foam cubes was embarrassingly stupid, but fun – especially when you were just watching others.

I was the second group to go and did not understand what the proper strategy was to get across the foam and thus had a pretty pitiful performance as seen in the video above.

The pit engulfed me, I lost my headband that I had put on for comical effect somewhere in the mix, and was absolutely exhausted after just 70 seconds of work.

It’s not an event that needs repeating anytime soon.

EVENT 3 – 12-MINUTE AMRAP

The final event was a triplet of hang squat cleans, toes-to-bar and box jumps. In the scaled division the weight was 95# for men. The rep scheme was 3-3-3-6-6-6-9-9-9 and so on until the clock ran out.

I was frustrated with the foam pit swim and the max effort jerk and decided that it was time to muster up all my energy and drive to attack this WOD.

At the advice of Chad, I wore my weightlifting shoes to help me get into the bottom of my squat better. It definitely helped. It was a little bit louder wearing them every time I did a box jump, but they worked well overall.

However, the multiple reps of squat cleans was tough. By the time I got to the 9s, I had to break them up. In the last 30 seconds, I was glad I pushed myself to get that second wind that made me rev up the engine to finish strong.

I was happy enough with my performance having completed the 3s, 6s, 9s and 12s and getting 10 more hang squat cleans before the clock rang.

But, truth be told, afterwards I was fried and had to go chill out on my own for a bit at my cabin. I’ve become a more competitive person over the past year and am still learning how to handle the emotions and stress of it all.

It was a long week at camp and I worked more than I ever have in the gym, both mentally and physically, and so I needed to just have a chance to step away for a bit, catch my breath and reenergize so that I could enjoy the remaining hours at camp.

SLO-MO VIDEO ANALYSIS

After a nice hot shower and some mental rest, I was back and ready to finish the camp on a good note. I had signed up along with a few other campers for a slow motion video analysis with Dave Durante of my handstand.

He had me get into a handstand hold for a few seconds and then we watched it back on a screen with the group. (Check out the behind the scenes footage.) Dave talked through what was good and what needed work.

Specifically, he recommended I need to point my toes and tighten my legs to make sure they are not inactive. Further, he said my gaze needs to move to looking straight down at the floor so that my head is in a better neutral position, which will help me maintain a longer hold.

To work on all this, he advised that I make handstands a daily exercise, whether it be just a few wall walks or practicing free standing holds.

Whatever the exercise, I need to be in a handstand position daily – not once a week like I have been doing – if it really is a goal of mine to perfect my handstand.

After the video analysis, it was time for a Power Monkey Luau. Paleo Nick had roasted a pig overnight and was now serving up 140 pounds of meat along with giant baked sweet potatoes and other treats to us hungry campers.

After filling our bellies, we had a bean bag tournament and beers. Everyone was in great spirits and some had even “dressed up” a bit, ditching the workout clothes for the night. The evening ran long and evolved into a brilliant late-night dance party where lots of laughter prevailed.

I surprised the group with my dance moves and was happy to just be celebrating with them all. That good note I wanted to finish on turned out to be a great one.

The thread that tied the whole week together was the same that I find at my local gym and many other CrossFit boxes across the country – the strong sense of community.

We had inside jokes and great conversations that moved beyond the topics of favorite WODs or preferred protein shakes.

And it came from the top down as Dave, Chad and all the other coaches went out of their way to give extra time to us all during open gym and to eat and play with us the whole week.

There was a true sense of camaraderie by the end and, especially among my group that I rotated with throughout the week, a wonderful sense of friendship.

At the airport waiting for our flights home, we talked about a strong desire to return next fall to show the improvement we had made thanks to everything we had learned.

But more importantly, to just be back in each other’s company for a fun active week even if it was in the middle of nowhere Tennessee.

We didn’t need a Las Vegas casino or a sunny beach in Mexico – just a bar, some plates and a pair of rings.

What a Difference a Year Makes

Last October, I was asked by my friend Alice to be her partner in the Freeze Fest Team Challenge. She wanted me to compete with her and I said, “Yes!”

That seemingly simple question and quick response might not seem like a big deal, but it was a defining moment in my life.

Up until that point, I thought I was content just being a participant – sitting in the audience was fine with me since everything was relatively good. I had a job. I had my health. I had my friends and family.

There were no big ups or downs. Nothing to really complain about.

But then, by deciding to compete, a switch went off. Synapses fired. Suddenly I was hungry for more than just “good”. I wanted better. I didn’t want to just compete, I wanted to win.

I focused on my training, I cleaned up my eating and I hit the ground running. But then I got to Freeze Fest in February and things didn’t go as planned. We lost. We fought damn hard, but we lost.

Yet, I wasn’t upset. I didn’t regret competing. I realized that losing is okay. I had spent so much time avoiding loss in my life by not taking risks that I never realized there could be so much personal reward and growth from the experience alone.

So I went back to the gym, started working with a personal trainer and prepared for the Dakota Games – my first individual competition.

I was a total gym rat and seeing physical change as I started putting on more weight and muscle.

I showed up in Fargo in June stronger than ever, but again I lost. Some would take that as a sign to quit, I took it as a sign to work harder.

I also started thinking about what risks I was avoiding outside the gym. Where else was I hiding from the prospect of losing?

I realized that I needed to start putting more effort into my job and demand more of myself in my career. An opportunity opened up within my company and I reached out and told them to hire me.

I was smart.

I was capable.

I was now more driven than ever before.

The confidence that I had gained in the gym was spilling over into other areas of my life.

My colleagues saw it and gave me the job. It’s been challenging and has required a lot of quick learning and longer hours, but it was worth fighting for.

I also considered other aspects of my life. I have been renting and living in apartments for the last ten years.

I have avoided being a home owner because of the risk involved and the process seemed scary – there were nightmares of loan officers, broken water heaters and endless leaky faucets.

It was so much easier to just let the maintenance guy fix the toilet or change the light bulbs. Yet, again with all this change to my own sense of self, I knew it was time. I could do better. Live better.

Be happier. Purchasing my first home has been overwhelming, especially as I sit here surrounded by newspapers, boxes, bubble wrap and suitcases as I prepare to move this weekend.

But it’s also been absolutely thrilling. The sense of pride I have every time I open my new front door can’t be beat. I’m putting stakes in the ground and proving to myself that I am ready.

In the last twelve months, I have put myself in the ring. I competed in St. Paul and Fargo. I hit new PR’s. I did Murph with a weight vest. I put on 15 pounds. I did a handstand. I did a back spring on a trampoline, numerous times.

I grew a beard, shaved it off, and grew it back again. I went to Power Monkey Camp and trained side by side with Games Athletes.

I got a new job. I bought a crockpot. I bought a house. I spoke in front of an audience of 700+ to tell them why they should compete as adults. I got life.

By simply saying “Yes”, I’ve moved the needle.

I’ve experienced constant change, both physically and mentally, that has shaken me to my core and almost brought me to tears.

But it has also brought me more happiness than I could have imagined. The bigger muscles are nice, but the bigger smile is even better.

More Weight

One of my favorite plays is The Crucible by Arthur Miller. It is about the Salem witch trials and an appropriate literary reference as Halloween quickly approaches.

At one point during the play, the mass hysteria of the townspeople leads to Giles Corey, a honorable elderly man in the community, being accused of witchcraft and subjected to pressing. Giles refuses to admit he is a witch or wizard and as punishment more and more stones are laid upon his chest.

In an act of defiance, he ignores all the pain and anguish he is suffering and simply says, “More weight.”

He refused to give in and was crushed to death.

It’s a brilliant moment, especially in the film version starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder.

For whatever reason, my nerdy English-major sense of humor always thinks of this quote when doing any sort of heavy lifting at the gym.

The context is clearly very different than the witch trials of the late 1600s, but I always think of Giles and his ability to stay strong and absorb the pain.

“More weight!”

Now as I enter week two of Smolov, Coach Teddy advised, “If you were able to finish every rep on Week 1 and your range-of-motion is above reproach add 10 to 20 pounds on squat and 5 to 15 pounds to push press.”

Thinking about the adjustments that I made to my form and technique and how the lifts felt by the end of the week, I decided last night to add 10 pounds to my back squat and 10 pounds to my push press. Here are my weights and rep scheme for week 2 of Smolov Jr.:

MondayWednesdayFridaySaturday
 6 x 6 7 x 5 8 x 4 10 x 3
Push Press100107.5115120
Back Squat135145155165

Last night the push press was difficulty but I made it through thanks to the aid of Coach Andy who recommended I keep my elbows bent during the dip rather than turn my hands too early to prepare for the position overhead.

The back squat felt good though supposedly Andy took a video of my form and I am interested to see what the tape reveals. More things to work on for sure.

Like adding more weight to the lifts, we also added more reps to the Cycle 1 progression, which we are doing every Tuesday for 6 weeks.

For the 10-minute EMOM of wall balls, we added 1 more rep from last week’s number. For the 10-minute EMOM of toes-to-bar, I remained at the same number as last week as I had difficulty finishing all the reps.

Finally, in the 8-minute EMOM of Russian swings and burpees, we added 1 burpee every minute. All in all, what I deemed last week as one of the most difficult hours of CrossFit suddenly became more challenging.

But to take liberties with an analogy, sometimes you have to fight through the pain and the sweat and the tears and say, “More weight.”

Just don’t do it in the gym at the expense of form or range of motion as it will crush you.