Risk Vs. Reward, “Moar Squatz”, and other rants…

Anyone familiar with the Simpsons? You know, that show that used to be really funny and fresh, but now feels old and stale?  Well every now and again, they would come up with a “Clip Show”, one which would feature snippets of prior episodes because they were too lazy to come up with a whole new episode. Today’s article is my version of the “Clip Show”… Except I’m not too lazy, I just have a lot on my mind.

So… Last week I took a look at functional exercise programs and my conclusions about them. Today, I wanted to take a look at more of the “Hardcore” crowd. When I say hardcore, I mean the CrossFitters, Powerlifters and even the Olympic LIfters. Enough with the parentheses, sorry. So anyways, I have a couple of gripes with this group as well, even though I have a shaved head and several tattoos (a conundrum, I know). What kind of person would I be if I only took one perspective, and never considered another?

1. Most Folks in the Hardcore realm have little understanding of Risk Vs. Reward.

I’ve been guilty of it as well. What do I mean by Risk Vs. Reward? Let’s use a scenario as an example: Marcus has had prior back injuries, and he is feeling not quite 100% today. However, today’s workout requires that he find his 1 rep max back squat. Being that he is too cool and awesome to skip a workout, he comes and puts in work. He works up to about 90% of his 1 rep maximum and feels ok, but there’s still that nagging twinge. Not terrible, but definitely noticeable. Everyone is watching, the PR board looms in the background… These next 2 attempts are for all of the marbles. What should Marcus do?

Risk: Marcus could jack his back up a shit ton, and miss 2 months of training if he falters on one of his next couple of attempts. Reward: Marcus could potentially get his name raised up a little higher on the board, proving to everyone that he is the BOMB-diggity. Hmmm, sounds like quite an easy choice when it’s on paper doesn’t it? In the moment though, the concept of analyzing Risk Vs. Reward doesn’t always take shape. Life isn’t a Disney Movie… Sometimes the choices we make can have really bad consequences.

Am I saying not to attempt your 1 rep max? ABSOLUTELY NOT. My point is this: too often I see people chasing these max efforts when they have no business doing so. It could be for any number of reasons… You may be too stiff that day, you may have sub-optimal form on that lift but have the strength to get away with it at 399 lbs but at 401 lbs will jack yourself up a shit ton, or any other number of things. Hell, more than half of the problem is that people attempt 1 rep maxes on days where they dont even have one scheduled.  All of these things can turn a slow-mo training day into weeks of regret. Ask yourself this question: what do I have to gain and what do I have to lose from what I am about to do? All training must serve a purpose, otherwise you are wasting your time.

2. Squats and Fish Oil Don’t Fix EVERYTHING.  Much of the Powerlifting community and especially CrossFitters love to throw around the phrase “Squats and Fish Oil Bitches” as the be all end all to fitness and “rehab”. This phrase takes different forms, but it’s a dangerous misconception and the thought of novice lifters out there with back injuries and assymetries taking it seriously is frightening to say the least. If you are weak and undertrained, and have the mobility to do so, squatting will definitely help you. Same goes for if you are strong and well-trained with adequate mobility. But this whole belief (I know that there is humor behind it, but some people actually believe this) that squatting heavy and taking fish oil will solely be the cure of all your ailments is asinine. I love the enthusiasm for the squat, being that it is my favorite exercise… however if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

Truth is, some people will never be able to squat a ton of weight. Acheiving good squat depth and mechanics should be a great goal for anybody, but that doesn’t mean that they will all become amazing squatters. In the real world, people have limitations that just won’t go away. Contrary to popular “Moar Squatterz” belief, these people can still be trained and workout effectively, leading to a much more fulfilling life of movement.

*Disclaimer: Marcus LOVES squatting, and does not speak ill of the squatting gods EVER.

3. Improving your kipping does not make you stronger.  Let’s take a little break from the kipping pull up, kipping handstand push up, kipping ring dip, and any other kipping variation of a bodyweight movement. Obviously, the purpose of adding kipping to any movement is to be able to increase work capacity by prolonging muscle failure with a little help from Vitamin Kip. I understand the concept very well, and I am not opposed to it. What I am opposed to, however, is when folks use nothing but kipping exercises. You will not get stronger from kipping. More efficient, yes. Better met-con times, yes.

Contrarily, I will go as far as saying that I’ve seen that the amount of kipping pull ups I can do has gone up in direct proportion to the amount of strict pull ups and the amount of weight I can pull on a weighted pull up. Again, I am not stating that kipping is stupid or anything of the like. What I am saying is that too often I see people spending too much effort on refining their kip, and never putting in the work to get strong in that movement. The payoff from working these strict movements and adding resistance to them is that it will have carry over into your kipping, as well as make you stronger. Working solely on kipping will only improve your kipping. Coming back to my earlier point, ask yourself what the purpose is for your training.


4. CrossFitters tend to have scatterbrain.

It would not surprise me that some of you out there reading this blog would answer the above question with something along these lines: lose weight, look better, feel stronger, improve my Fran time, qualify for the CrossFit Games, run a marathon, enter a lifting competition. The list goes on and on. Although these seem to have all of the same vibe of getting “fit”, too often they are in direct conflict with each other. I guarantee that your Fran time will suffer if you train for a marathon, you will not be as strong as you can be if you are on a calorically deficient diet (weight loss), and you will not be the best CrossFitter you can be if you are the best Powerlifter you can be.

That being said, I’ve been guilty of it more than anyone else I know. I hit a point where I got ok at everything, but not great at anything. That’s fine, and I’m not saying it is a bad thing. It’s very nice to be able to run a mile in under 6:40 while still being able to clean 275 lbs and squat almost 400 lbs, with a respectable 4:00 Fran time. However, sometimes you have to prioritize. You would be surprised at how much progress you would make by just taking 3-4 weeks to work on something specific.

This becomes kind of confusing for those who CrossFit 3-4 times a week and just want to improve their fitness. My advice to you; keep CrossFitting… It will get you fit. I am mainly speaking to those of you with more specific goals. In CrossFit, what tends to happen is that the better you get at it, the more your weaknesses show through (let’s exclude the elite group of Regional/Games athletes, as they are pretty much outliers). You can do 25 rounds of Cindy, but your Clean and Jerk sucks. You can deadlift 500 lbs, but the 400 meter run feels like quicksand.

Think of your body as a machine with finite but renewable resources. You can only dedicate so much of your body’s resources in any given amount of time. If you are dispersing those resources towards your Fran, your bench, your pull ups, your Cindy, your Grace, then those things will improve… Just not as quickly. But if you apply those resources directly to your target goal you will see improvement that much faster. If you are a CrossFitter through and through (competitor status) and think specificity is the enemy; ask yourself what you suck at. Then ask yourself, in the past 6 months, how much better you have gotten at it. Will that weakness prevent you from standing on a podium?


My take on this whole article is as the same as last week. If you are up and moving, that is better than sitting on the couch and getting fat. Do what you have to do to get moving. That being said, not every system or mindset is perfect. CrossFit is no different. But it is a highly effective program that I love teaching and being a part of.


Basically, my goal is to have everyone be less like this:





My Take on The “Functional” Community

Let me start out by saying that my take on exercise is this: If you are up and moving, ultimately it is a much better choice than the alternative of sitting down and getting fatter. I think as fitness professionals, we get caught up in trying to prove that what we are doing is the BEST system out there. Truth is, it’s just another system.

This is most apparent between the two warring factions of “Functional” and “CrossFit”. I am a very open minded person, and the thought of not growing or becoming set in my ways scares me to death. With that in mind, I decided that I would take the past couple of months to brush up on my “Functional” knowledge. I’ve read 4 different books about “Functional” training, and have mixed feelings about the whole concept. Just to clarify, the gist of “Functional” training occurs pretty much universally among most Personal Training certifications: that being ACE, NCSF, NASM, and even NCSA. Their train of thought is usually the typical examples of training in most commercial gyms and in a lot of performance centers. This community is usually the first to bash CrossFit as being unsafe and ineffective.

I will never say that CrossFit is the perfect system, nor will I say that “Functional” training does not work. However, after reading up on some of the top experts in the field of “Functional” training, I have some interesting conclusions.

1. I have found the amount of single leg and rotational work to be very frustrating and counter-productive. In life we are very rarely going to work in one plane or on both feet… I GET IT. But, dont tell me that consisting your program around single leg curl to presses, chop and lifts, and lateral bounds is going to make your athletes a cut above the rest. These exercises are not stupid, useless, or anything along those lines. However they should make up a very small portion of an athlete’s program. In Mark Verstegen’s “Core Performance” (Mark Verstegen owns one of the nation’s top performance centers called Athlete’s Performance) his workout for an advanced athlete consists of supersets including: Alternating DB Bench presses/PhysioBall leg curls, 1 arm-1 leg DB rows/Split Squat… Then a circuit of Physioball Push Ups/ Split DB Curl to Press/ DB Pullover Extensions/ Physioball Reach, roll and lift.  Out of these 10 exercises, I consider only 3 of them to be much more of a warm up. Some of them have their place for corrective strategies for those with assymetrical movement patterns and strengths, but these exercises are the bread and butter of his program. Can I get some triple extension on 2 feet? Can I get a HOT TUB (anecdote from a commercial)?

2. They err towards the side of caution and injury prevention. One thing I am grateful for in my “functional” education is that I have picked up a lot of ideals about keeping my clients healthy and well preserved. Sometimes in CrossFit, powerlifting, and olympic lifting there tends to be more of a focus on numbers than on safety. One thing I love about “Functional” training is that they definitely aim to prevent injury in the client. This may be the main reason for my gripe in the above paragraph. Unilateral movements help raise body awareness, which will in turn help the client in injury prevention. These will also sometimes be the best ways to correct muscle imbalances. For this reason, I am a big fan of the FMS (Functional Movement Screen). I think unilateral movement and corrective exercise is good and should be supplemental to a training program.

3. This Shit is not Rocket Science. Probably my biggest gripe with the “Functional” community. Guess what… Get more proficient at squatting, deadlifting and pressing on two feet. Once you are good at those things, work on generating explosive power and coordination in olympic lifting and kettlebell work. Sprinkle in some assistance work, some complimentary effective bodyweight exercises, and progression for these exercises. Continue to progress weight on the lifts, vary the accessory exercises, and make the bodyweight things more challenging. Voila.. It’s really that simple. Dont put them on a PhysioBall, dont have them clean on one leg, or curl in a lunge…. Sometimes the “Functional” crowd gets a little too complex for their own good. One of my favorite coaches in the “Functional” side of the spectrum is Mike Boyle. In his book “Advances in Functional Training” he covers everything from the FMS, functional dynamic warm ups, strength training, power training, plyometrics, and program design. Much of his programming is broken down into Linear/Lateral Plyo’s, Trunk stability, Hip Dominant, Knee- Dominant/ Vertical Press/ Horizontal +Vertical Pulls/ and Power+Explosive movement. That’s it. Train these movement patterns with what exercises best fit your athlete. Progress them in these large movements that are put together in a methodical way. Dont reinvent the wheel, just get your clients results.


So here’s the verdict on “Functional” exercise: much of the methods that are still in tact baffle me. I have been slightly frustrated by the fact that these coaches with such a great track record have published books with ideas and programs containing many things that are (for lack of a better term) geriatric. It’s not necessarily the movements themselves, as they carry a lot of efficacy. Moreso, their application is my true problem. When the main course of your programming is single leg DB rows and chops/lifts and the closest thing you have to a heavy compound lift is alternating DB bench press, I feel like your athletes are missing out on timeless, highly effective exercises. All is not lost however… Combining these “Functional” concepts to help prevent injury, improve body awareness, address assymetries, and create new stimuli is not a bad thing. Improvements in these avenues will definitely create better athletes and should be a goal of any strength and conditioning coach.  The thing is, as with any program out there, there are holes and omissions.