Our Blog - CrossFit Westerville

How the un-fit ‘fit’: a new adventure

It’s new, its all new!  In actively choosing to improve my life, it means so many things in my life will be new.  There are so many new and awesome things we set our goals around.  Like buying a new wardrobe, or sporting our new body on a planned beach vacation.   For some its fitting in to a new pair of jeans, or scheduling a make-over with new hair style.   For some it’s sporting that new swimsuit.  For others its an adventure trip, or simply doing an activity that previously felt not possible.

We often look forward to a hitting a weight loss goal, and set our eyes on the prize of getting a new wardrobe to match.   What we rarely talk about is the first closet that needs cleaned out, and thats the pantry.  Before we can clean out our clothes closet and replace it with new gear… we commit to workouts and have to take a serious look at our food consumption.  Why, because our current lifestyle is not getting us to where we want to be.  So the NEW we want,  comes with a NEW we must do to get there.  It’s habits, its how we eat, how we think, what we do, how we act.

No one is perfect.  Just this week,  i had a donut!   It was yummy!  And I enjoyed it!  There is no need to torture yourself,  but certainly start making weekly changes that will get you there.  The smallest things, whatever that is for you!   Sometimes its food, sometimes its fun, sometimes its work.  But it will all come together if you just keep chipping away at it.

My first blog release spoke about how this has been a multi-year journey.  I’ve spent the past 7 years sticking with the mindset of “trying to make it work”.  That is a long time.  And I am only a portion of the way to where I want to be.  Everyone will be different.  And many of you,  will likely be less stubborn than I in realizing what it takes to make it happen.   I was a little difficult to deal with when it came to changing what I do.

Recently, I realized I need to modify just about everything I know in life. My friends remain the same, but how I operate on a daily basis has not, and can not remain the same.   Fitness is a lifestyle change.  It’s not a short term diet, its not a short stint with a personal trainer.   These things may help you along the way,  but if you don’t come out with new habits that change your day to day and you plan on returning to your old self.  Save your money.

Be mad, be really mad, and thats ok. Change is a must, and it’s starts with purging our current closets.  Emotional closet, food closet, mental closet, but most importantly our habit closet.  To change, my habits must change.

How the un-fit ‘fit’: the Super Villain

You know in comics how there is always a super hero and a super villain? Isn’t it strange how in the battle to become your better self, you play both roles?
I’m practicing being a ‘fit’ person. I’ve convinced myself that to actually be more fit, i have to first act more fit, because lets face it, if I was acting as a fit person already I would not be who (an middle aged lady that has difficulty with some basic everyday movements) and what (50lbs overweight) I am right now.
What does it mean to act fit? This means habits or behaviors that mimic that of a fit person. So I’ve committed to making it to the gym 3 or more times / week (my super hero self). Last week, this meant I had to put in two workouts on Saturday. And also start eating healthier. Now, don’t let me fool you. Habits and behaviors won’t change without a fight. For example, when I started going to the gym and hitting my goal each week, my reward was a donut! Yes a donut (my super villain self)! I am a food lover. And I know I am not going to be fit all at once. So that is what it took to convince myself to show up at first. No longer do I need that donut to show up.
Everyone’s journey is going to be different. YOU need to do what works for YOU! If you need a donut to start showing up, then eat that donut! But first show up… and then keep showing up!
Chose your habits wisely, and give yourself allowance and forgive yourself the small indiscretions it may take to achieve it. Those should be short lived in the grand scheme of things.
Find the things it takes for your super hero self to control more of your time than your super villain self does.

How the un-fit ‘fit’: breaking through

I’ve had countless starts and stops.  I’m talking weight loss.  My journey has been a multi-year, fists to cuffs, drag you down knock you out kind of fight.  Ok let’s be honest, it’s been a war.  Some battles lost and some won, but in the end I now seem to be on the right path.

I’m a good 50lbs overweight, and I’m a CrossFit gym owner.  For the past year, I’ve almost been embarrassed to admit this.  I’ve been ashamed that I don’t look fit enough to claim part ownership in such a fitness rich community.  But what that ver y same community has helped me realize… It’s that we all have a starting point.  We all have our battle bruises when it comes to life.  Many of those battles guide us down a less fit path.  The community I am now a part of has provided the needed support for me to get back on my feet.  Everyone asks where I have been,  how I have been doing, and cheers me on no matter how painful the movement.  Why?  Because they want me to succeed.  They want me to hit my goals, and for that I am grateful.

This journey is painful.  It’s emotionally and mentally painful.  Every day I still fight all the negative talk that wants to keep me from the gym or eating healthy.  It’s physically painful to get back in shape.  A former D1 athlete, I am astonished at how much I can no longer do.  That’s a tough pill to swallow.  But each day I show up, I improve.  I make motion towards my goals, and my image of me has started to change.  I’m proud of my box jump now 24″.  That I can hit a few double under, that I can do a push up not on my knees.  These are small wins, but all wins that will help me get back to being the fit me and the ‘fit’ mom I want to be as an example to my daughter.

Join me in 2016!  I’m here to listen, to share, to encourage you to also reach your tipping point on your fitness goals!

How the un-fit ‘fit’ : Introduction

For the past year I have been a CrossFit gym owner.  Part of an amazing ownership team, and part of an even more amazing community at CrossFit Westerville in Westerville, OH.  This past week, I reached a breaking point and opened up on Facebook.   Because not only am I a CrossFit gym owner, I am a mother, a business professional, and 50lbs overweight.   The last fact something that I have battled for the past 7 years and counting.   I’ll re-post my breaking point post in a coming release  but here I would like to introduce my new blog:  How the un-fit ‘fit’.

Please note, this could be relevant to any fitness activity.  It’s simply that CrossFit is my current experience, and one I can directly speak to.

There is a lot of talk in the CrossFit community, and across social media sites about who CrossFit is for.   Some say it’s for everyone.  There are parts of  this I agree with.   But I would like to get more specific.  If you are tired of trying. If you are looking for a challenge. If you need a support system.  If you don’t want to be the expert in how to move or what workout to do today.   If you are fit.  If you are un-fit.  If you have participated in athletics prior.  If you have never participated in athletics prior.  If you want to lose weight. If you want to gain weight.  If you want to be a better self, be more confident.  If you want to feel good about you.  Then CrossFit is for you!

I’m going to leave the functional fitness and all other fitness benefits to the experts.  That’s not why I am writing this.  I am here to breakthrough the emotional barriers you and I and so many others create, which prevent us from trying it at all.   There are intangible benefits you will get from giving CrossFit a chance.  CrossFit is community built, community strong, community driven workout team.  Meaning side by side someone is there to help you, to cheer you on,  to get you through.  CrossFit, if you allow it to will help you feel more confident because quickly you will accomplish things you  currently thinking are not possible.   One personal example is doing a full push up again.  I’ve had back surgery.  I’m overweight.   And I’ve allowed this to hold me back from trying for so long.   So I set my first goal to simply show up.  Because I showed up consistently,  I now am a better version of myself and can occasionally pump out a few push ups not on my knees.

When I first committed to showing up.  Everyone supported this.  The coaches modified workouts length, movement, and time to make it work for me.  Because showing up is what I needed at first.  And that is all I needed.  Now I feel the need to push beyond what I think I can do and do more.  Point is,  no one was there shaming me to do more before I was ready.   Friends, other members I didn’t even know cheered.  And their cheers were focused on me doing and giving only my best on that given day.

Not all gyms or experiences are created equal.  We will dive more in to this in a future post.  But for now,  know that every gym has created its own culture. Sometimes this is even true for each class.   Gyms that have a mission statement and a focus for their members will provide some insight as to what that location is focused on.  You will have to find the one that works for you!  This may take time.  This may require visiting several different locations.   At the end of it all,  remember the journey you are about to commit to is ABOUT YOU!  So evaluating and selecting the things you are surrounded with is a very important component of the journey.  One that will directly impact the outcome of your journey.

There is a lot more to come…  but I hope you will enjoy this blog and follow me on my 2016 journey.   And discover how the un-fit ‘fit’!

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!

Gear Review: Hylete Icon XL Convertible Backpack

Hylete XL Icon Backpack

You might think you don’t need the Transformer of gym bags, but you’d be wrong. The Hylete Icon XL Convertible Backpack is probably the closest any athletic company will get to building a gym bag that is the equivalent of a Swiss Army knife.

Hylete has had a couple of iterations of this bag, most notably upgrading the first release with improved zippers all the way around. We’re talking a lot of zippers here. Zippers on top of zippers; but the design and reason for all those zippers are the key strength and contributor to the expandability and versatility of this bag.

The bag is built in the common tear-drop daypack shape with a base capacity of 36 liters. With the flip of the wrist though, those zippers start to turn that basic daypack into something else entirely; adding an additional 17 liters of holding power. Across the front of the bag is a full arch zipper that expands the volume of the whole pack. At the base of the bag is another zipper that when undone exposes an entire shoe compartment capable of holding three separate pairs. The side compartments zip open for accessory storage on one side and a thermal insulated space for keeping food cold or warm. The last zipper covers the concealed section for a full set of backpack straps for even more mobility if you need it.

I think Hylete’s video on this backpack does a much better job of explaining the versatility and “presto-changeo” capabilities of this bag.

Inside the bag there are even a couple of more surprises. There is a fully padded laptop inner sleeve with a Velcro closure to keep the computer from popping out when you toss the bag around. And there is a mesh sack attached to the back wall of the pack to toss dirty clothes into. And the surprises just don’t end there. Inside the bag is an entirely separate drawstring bag that buckles into the primary backpack. Even this drawstring bag is tricky, having a bottom zipper that opens to another dirty clothes bag and side zips that give two more compartments of separation for rings, wallets, watches or whatever you toss in there.

At a price point of $200.00 I could easily just give this pack a really high mark as one of the most versatile backpacks you’ve ever seen.  And I would have no hesitation in telling you that if you wanted to invest in a portable CrossFit footlocker, this is your pick. But, let’s face it, 200 bucks is a lot of coin for a gym bag when you can just as easily pick one up for a quarter of the price. Or just use the one you pulled out of the closet that you think used to belong to your uncle, or roommate, or that hitchhiker you wish you’d never met.

Even though I had been putting this bag through the wringer for more than three months, I knew I had to up my game if I was going to push this duffel to its limits. In the gym setting, nothing I threw at this bag phased it. Considering the cost of the bag, I decided I would run it through some really difficult trials; namely as my single piece of luggage on international business trips.

6 airports, 10,000 miles and none the worse for wear.

6 airports, 10,000 miles and none the worse for wear.

My professional career gives me the chance to travel frequently (the adventures of which I blog about on www.crossfithobo.com) and I am very set in my luggage choices. As a global road warrior for the last 15 years I am one of those “one-bag-never-check-anything” types of travelers. I can go for a two week business trip and never use a baggage space bigger than the overhead compartment. Taking a gamble and using a gym backpack was no easy decision given my longstanding habits. But my specialty bags, like my indestructible Red Oxx Air Boss cost $200 to $300 each, so it only made sense to see how the Hylete Icon XL would stand up against stiff, purpose built competition.

I have to admit that after three 10,000 mile round trips even I am surprised by this bag. My first trip was to Warsaw, Poland and I did the one bag carry-on on the out bound flights. Even in a couple of small planes, I never had to ramp check. On this first trip I took the rare step of checking a bag just to see if the handlers could tear it up. I never, ever check a bag. They didn’t even put a scuff on the ballistic nylon. As I write this I am on a return flight from my second trip to Zurich, Switzerland and I pulled off a pair of easy 4 day business trips with shoes, changes of office clothes and a set of gym gear. This pack has become my go-bag and my bug-out bag for both the gym and parts unknown.

I’d encourage you not to think of this as an expensive gym bag. Consider it the Swiss Army Knife of your luggage collection that you just happen to take to the gym every day. If you’re looking for the perfect bag, I might have just found it.

RX+

  • Incredible versatility
  • Seemingly endless expansion of space
  • Rugged, high-quality construction
  • Really cool design features like the insulated food pocket and extra string bag

RX-

  • A big price point
  • Easy to stuff to the point of overload (an 80lb gym bag isn’t a lot of fun)

Richard Bird reviews gear and documents his travels to CrossFit gyms around the world for Tabata Times and at www.CrossFitHobo.com. Along with being a Masters level Scottish Highland Games Athlete,  Richard is also a co-owner and coach at CrossFit Westerville.

Originally posted to Tabata Times @ http://www.tabatatimes.com/?p=34014

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.

What’s Holding You Back? Take a Different Path for Progress

It happens to everyone pursuing progress in the gym, the dreaded plateau. If you are new to CrossFit, you may not have experienced this phenomenon yet, but trust me, it’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. There are many ways to bust through a plateau, but today I want to explore the road less travelled on the way to new strength gains in the gym.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find at times there is an overarching belief that to get stronger in a certain lift, you just need to increase the frequency, weight, or volume of said lift to get stronger. This approach works and works well, until it doesn’t, resulting in a plateau that can be frustrating and demoralizing.   When this happens, many of us just continue doing what we have always done, hoping that by shear force of will, the plateau will be broken. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it can result in overtraining and usually involves plenty of negative self-talk.

What I would like to suggest is that we dig deeper into the plateaued lift to pin point the limiting factors that make up the whole functional movement and attack those factors with focused training to unlock new strength and keep progress moving. Let me give you an example from my training.

Overhead Squats –

I had been stuck at 145lbs for months and could not seem to improve my strength. I added more OHS to my weekly programing, I tried percentage based strength progressions that worked for my front and back squat, but nothing I did was making my OHS stronger. Until I stopped overhead squatting. Wait, what? Yes, you read that right, I stopped overhead squatting because of a shoulder injury. For eight weeks, the only things I could do on my shoulder were handstand holds and handstand taps. But the day I was released to lift overhead, I tried my OHS again and PR’d by 20 pounds. You see, what was holding back my gains on OHS wasn’t the complete movement itself, it was my ability to engage the right muscles in my back and shoulders to effectively stabilize and balance the weight overhead. I could not develop these muscles enough by just overhead squatting past a certain point – my 145lb plateau. It took focused time in a handstand and performing handstand taps to develop those muscles and once they grew stronger, they immediately “unlocked” pent up gains in my lift for a 20lb PR.

Once I experienced this alternate path to progress, I began evaluating my other lifts to see if there were other “component limiters” that were stifling progress. Here are a few common limiters and some training approaches to help you bust through the next plateau you experience.

  • Deadlift – Lack of strength to keep shoulders back limits ability to maintain a good position to pull maximal weight.
    • Add horizontal pulling to your weekly workouts such as bent over rows. I prefer using dumbbells or kettlebells to work both sides independently, but you can use a barbell, as well. Focus on pulling your shoulder blades together and down as you lift. Adding a 2-3 second hold at the top of the row will add more strength and reinforce the isometric hold needed to maintain your deadlift position throughout the lift.
  • Squats – Many people have a dominate leg which often means one glute is not stabilizing properly during squats, leaving the other leg to do more than its fair share on max lifts.
    • Add lunges and single leg squat work to address glute engagement issues on squats. You will immediately be able to tell which leg is your weaker one when you do these exercises, as balance and strength will be lacking on your weak side. Focus on slow controlled reps and you should see your balance and strength improve on your weak side with a few weeks of training.
  • Overhead lifts (Push press, jerks, overhead squats) – Many of us have bad shoulder mechanics from poor posture and bad lifting habits. Often our traps and shoulders are doing the work that our lats and serratus anterior should be doing. The serratus is a stabilizing muscle that runs along our ribs and attaches to our shoulder blades. This is the muscle that keeps our shoulder blades from “winging out” into an unstable position.
    • Handstand holds force the Serratus to engage and make it difficult to compensate with other muscle groups like you can with a barbell. Start by accumulating 2 minutes of handstand holds in as few sets as you can. Once you can do this, add handstand taps. For taps, keep your arms locked out and just shift your weight from side to side. It’s not important to touch your shoulder, its important to shift your weight from side to side. This will force your Serratus to stabilize even more. This will build the strength you need to lock into a good position with a barbell overhead, it will also help you gain stability for handstand walks!

So the next time you run into a plateau in the gym, stop and think about what parts of the lift could be limiting you. Ask one of our coaches to watch you and evaluate your lifts, often a second set of eyes can catch things you can’t. The answer to unlocking a new PR may not be as difficult as you think. Sometimes, taking the road less travelled can lead to amazing results!