Categorized as: Cardio

60 Days without CrossFit: The Case for a Dedicated Weightlifting Cycle

It began over a year ago when my weightlifting coach, Drew Dillon, suggested I take a couple of months away from CrossFit to put dedicated focus on my lifts. At the time, I wasn’t ready to take such a long break from CrossFit. I was having fun, making gains in the gym, and couldn’t imagine stopping all my progress to just focus on lifting for 2 months. I brushed him off. He took it well; at the time, I thought he was just being laid back about it. Looking back, it was probably more just quiet confidence that I would come back around when I was truly ready to improve my lifts.

 

Over a year later, I came back around. I was making steady gains in the gym in all areas BUT my Olympic lifts. I had just spent four months focusing on developing my engine and had lost 20 pounds. I was terrified I would gain back the weight I lost and lose all my engine gains, but I hadn’t PR’d in a year on either of my lifts and while I wasn’t losing strength, I wasn’t progressing like I used to in my early crossfitting days. I finally decided to try his advice of giving up “crossfitting” for about 2 months while I put dedicated focus on my weightlifting technique.   And so I started, dedicating the months of May and June, five days a week, to weightlifting…here are the Top Five things I learned through this cycle.

 

  1. Positional Strength is Paramount

I’m a fairly strong athlete, my wheelhouse is a heavy barbell, NOT a long metcon, but what I learned quickly during this cycle is all the strength in the world won’t help your weightlifting if you can’t apply it to the positions required to maintain good technique on your lifts. This “positional strength”, is essential to maintaining the correct bar path throughout a lift. About two weeks into my cycle, I started to really feel solid in my positions. Suddenly, keeping my shoulders back was easier, pushing off the floor didn’t feel so foreign and dropping under the bar – especially on snatches – started to feel natural. The repetition of moving through my lifts day after day started to engrain those positions and my lifts got easier. Before I started this cycle, I just didn’t practice my lifts often enough to feel these positions and build this strength. Waiting on the lifts to appear in a “constantly varied” week of CrossFit never provided me enough practice and performing the lifts during a metcon did nothing but build the wrong habits.

 

  1. CNS Adaptation…yes, that is a “thing”

About four weeks into my cycle my lifts just started to “click”. Weights that I had struggled with the week before suddenly felt great. My consistency increased and everything started to feel easier. When I told Drew about my session, he said I was starting to experience central nervous system adaptation – literally my nervous system was making the necessary connections to make me more coordinated on my lifts. During this time, I also really started to understand the rhythm and timing of my lifts. Taking the time to repeat these lifts day in and day out allowed me to get used to how I needed to move to execute the lifts correctly.

 

  1. The importance of tension

I know you’ve heard it too, the cliché “stay tight” or “tighten your core”, but what does that really mean? Proper bracing through your core makes ALL the difference in the world on your lifts. Heavy weights feel lighter when you are properly braced and a good brace sets you up for success to receive the weight. Have you ever caught a clean and your shoulders folded forward and soon after your chest sinks and you drop the weight forward? This used to happen to me a lot, especially when I got above 85% of my max. I wasn’t bracing properly and therefore I was not receiving the bar in a stable position and I would lose the weight. Throughout this cycle I learned how to hold my brace and catch both my cleans and snatches with good core tension. This makes all the difference in the world. One of the key things I started doing during this time was wearing my weight belt even for lighter weight, I used it as a feedback mechanism to assess if I was holding my brace properly. If you aren’t using your belt this way, you should. Check out this great article from Dr. Richard Ulm on proper bracing and use of a belt.

 

  1. You can lose weight without cardio

That’s right. Surprisingly, I lost more weight during this cycle, about 5 pounds and I got leaner. This was amazing to me given I had already lost a lot of weight. I made no changes to my diet. I just lifted heavy five days a week for eight weeks.  Don’t be afraid to cut the cardio from your routine for a period of time, your results may surprise you and you can always build up your engine again!

 

  1. Recovery

I learned two important lessons about recovery during this cycle. First, I would say that overall this cycle allowed me to recover from months upon months of high volume CrossFit workouts. About two weeks into my cycle, I realized I was not waking up sore anymore. That’s not to say I wasn’t getting a great workout, but the volume of my work was dramatically decreased during this time and I believe this allowed my body to recover from the demands of all the CrossFit volume I had been doing. Second, I finally understood the technical demands these lifts put on my body, including my nervous system. Drew used to always tell me not to metcon before a dedicated weightlifting session and during this session, I could finally feel why.   These lifts are so technical that if your muscles and nervous system are not fresh, you will really struggle to perform these lifts correctly, especially at weights over 85% of your 1RM.   By eliminating metcons from my regimen, my body was able to recover and be fresh for each day of lifting. About 6 weeks into my program, I did a metcon – it was for a cancer fundraiser at our gym – I knew I had to lift the next day, but wanted to participate for a great cause. While I don’t at all regret participating, my lifts the next day were horrible. Everything I did felt slow and my timing was off.   I attribute this directly to the toll that metcon took on me. I think this was happening all the time before I took time off, I just didn’t have a “fresh” baseline to compare to so I didn’t think my metcons were really impacting my lifting. Now that I know what it feels like to lift fresh, I certainly could feel that everything was just off.

 

So what happened at the end of my cycle? I got comfortable performing full snatches and cleans on every rep. My jerk stability improved. I started to be able to “self diagnose” problems based on how I failed lifts, and correct myself! I got comfortable with the “feel” of my lifting rhythm.   Oh…and I added 30 pounds to my Olympic total and 10 pounds to my jerk. To be honest, I expected most of these things to happen during this cycle. It was when I returned to traditional CrossFit workouts that I got surprised – my handstand pushups, a previous weakness of mine, are now rock solid, my butterfly pull ups became more powerful and consistent and I PR’d my max effort toes to bar. I expected regression in these skills, NOT progression! So what happened? In my very non-scientific opinion, my weightlifting progress taught me to move better, understand my body’s unique timing, and built more power into my hips and this directly translated into these CrossFit skills. Did my engine decline?   Absolutely, but not as much as I feared and looking back on my gains – both in the lifts and my CrossFit skills – the layoff was more than worth the decline in my aerobic fitness!

 

So if you are someone who is looking to improve your Olympic lifts and really dial in your technique and set new PRs, I would strongly encourage you to take some time away from metcons and dedicate time to weightlifting. Your progress may surprise you!

 

Looking for technique help? Check out the coaches at Project Lift, they have made all the difference in the world in my technique!

 

Looking for a place to weightlift or generally improve your fitness? Check out CrossFit Westerville.   We offer CrossFit classes, bootcamps, yoga and dedicated weightlifting instruction from Drew Dillion of Project Lift. Email info@crossfitwesterville.com to sign up today!

Shirley’s Story: One CrossFit Westerville Member’s Journey to Lose Over 100 Pounds!

Shirley has been a member of CrossFit Westerville since we opened in December 2014. During that time, I have watched in amazement at her relentless pursuit of health and fitness inside our gym and in her daily life. Over a year ago, Shirley started getting serious about her weight loss, starting with her eating habits. By the time she joined our gym she had lost 44 pounds! Since starting at CrossFit Westerville, Shirley has lost another 57 pounds, bringing her total weight loss to over 100 pounds!

Shirley - Before and After!

Shirley – Before and After!

I sat down to interview Shirley to learn about her journey in her own words. Below are her thoughts on motivation, weight loss, fitness, nutrition and giving CrossFit a second chance at CrossFit Westerville.

1) Many people have weight loss goals but see limited results, what made you decide to lose weight and what kept you going to lose 100#?

In the fall of 2013, I was the biggest version of me I had ever been in my 52 years of life! Like I’m sure most people, I kept waiting on the “easy” way to lose weight, the “magic” moment when the light would miraculously kick on. But I knew deep down it wasn’t going to happen that way. I was on over 5 prescriptions for various ailments and my symptoms were not improving (anxiety/depression, high cholesterol, acid reflux, pre-diabetes, joint pain to name a few). I had reached my bottom. I kept thinking there is better out there for me than to be as miserable as I was. If this is what my fifties were going to be like, how bad was it going to get once I got into my sixties?!?!

In September 2013, with my doctor’s help, I began to titrate off of all my medications. I also received a diagnosis of hypothyroidism June 2014.

What kept me going was I started feeling better and better as the weight started to come off and the “brain fog” began to lift. The more weight loss I experienced, the more driven I became. I had a lot of support and encouragement from many friends and family members. My other half, Renee, and I started making changes to our diet which made a huge difference in how we felt! 

 

2) What surprised you the most about losing 100#?

It’s taking my brain a while to catch up with the vision I see of myself in the mirror. Funny story: I went shopping for new clothes. I’m used to a larger me. I grab size 18 off the rack, go in the dressing room, put them on, and they are too big! I went back to the clothes rack, grabbed a size 16, tried them on and they were too big! I went back out to grab size 14 thinking there is no way I can wear a 14. I tried them on and they fit!

3) I hear people say “I need to get in shape to do CrossFit” or “That is way too intense for me”.  What would you say to these folks?

Don’t knock it until you try it! When I started at CrossFit Westerville (CFW) in December 2014, I could barely do 1 burpee because I could hardly breathe or get myself up off the floor. Four months later in April, we had a workout where not only did I do 85 burpees, but I did 85 deadlifts too! I had a bad experience with a different CrossFit gym. If it had not been for friends being a part of ownership at CFW, I would not have tried it again. Just like anything else, it’s about the people you surround yourself with and the environment in which you choose to do CrossFit. The coaches at CFW are fantastic at making sure you are safe, balanced with the right amount of encouragement to push you a little. My fellow members of CFW are very supportive – it’s like an extension of my network. All levels of experience are as supportive to the new person as they are to the competitor. It’s awesome!

When I tell people what we do in CrossFit, I sometimes hear “there is no way I can do that.” When I first started, I scaled everything! I even had to scale the scaled version of exercises and movements. EVERYTHING can be scaled. Scaling is not a cop out or any form of failure. That’s the great thing about CrossFit – if you keep doing the modified versions, you will eventually be able to do them as prescribed. That journey is yours!! You can take it to whatever level you want from novice to competitor.

My favorite quote: “Scaling is not an apology or an excuse. And it’s not some bullshit way to talk down to yourself or anyone else.” – Lisbeth

4)  How has CrossFit Westerville helped you in your weight loss journey?

How do I even begin to answer this one??? The support of coaches, owners, fellow CFW members has been overwhelming. Whether it’s support while I’m in the gym, during a workout, in passing conversations, through friendships with fellow members forged in the gym and on Facebook, it has all made a difference. Of course burning calories, along with the mental and physical challenges CrossFit has presented. When I first started at CFW right after Christmas 2014, I thought everyone would be watching what I was doing and judging me. It didn’t take me long to figure out, regardless of fitness level, they were all trying to get through the same workout I was. Who had time to think about what I was doing. LOL.

Not only has it helped me lose weight, but I’ve gained a lot of physical and mental strength. Getting stronger has helped my running (which I also started back up in December 2014). I’ve shaved over 4 minutes off my per mile pace!

5) I know you made many lifestyle changes, especially in the area of nutrition.  What was your eating like before and what is your eating like now?

Renee and I sat down one day to figure out how many calories and fat a typical weekend day would include. We were mortified!!! The calorie count was nearly 5,000 calories and over 200 fat grams each per day! Typical weekend day would include Jersey Mike’s, Jets Pizza, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and popcorn.

Now we eat a good protein, veggies, and some fruit. We follow a Paleo type of dieting. We stay away from the high glycemic fruits like watermelon and pineapple. It doesn’t mean we won’t eat them if we are somewhere they are being served. We just don’t eat them in high quantities.

6) What are the top 3 tips you would give to someone starting their weight loss journey?

It’s a process.

This was something I shared recently with Facebook friends and family:

Food, hydration, movement, support from many sources, and perseverance have been some of the key elements contributing to my success. Don’t give up! Find those people who will listen. Find those who know how to help you with physical ailments. You may have to think out of the box sometimes – be willing to go there! Surround yourself with good, supportive people. Don’t dwell in the negative. Take small steps toward your goals. Be flexible in your goals. Be kind to yourself in your own process. It will not go perfectly. Don’t compare yourself to others. Remember you are worth it!

Interested in learning more about how CrossFit Westerville can help you accomplish your weight loss and fitness goals? Your first workout is always free and we offer weekly beginner Elements classes every Sunday at 9am!

Drop us an email at info@crossfitwesterville.com or visit our website www.crossfitwesterville.com for more details.