Tonic and Phasic – Why you can’t treat your muscles the same.

The basics are the same.  Our nervous system sends a signal. Groups of muscle fibers respond and contract.  Muscle groups work in concert with each other to create motion in our skeleton.  The action of this muscle contraction is across the hinge of any variety of joint.  Using this joint as a fulcrum, the two lengths opposite the joint either increase their angle or decrease their angle.

Got all that?  Ok good.  When our muscles contract and result in an increased or “opening” of this angle we call it extension. When we decrease or “close” this angle we call it flexion.  There are plenty of other actions that can occur. Rotation, supination, pronation… but we are going to focus on extension and flexion.

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Moving Dirt

As crossfitters and coaches we always ask for everyone to always give 100% effort. The reality of this statement is that from day to day your 100% may have varied results from day to day.  Results are not promised. The only thing guaranteed is the process.

Sometimes your 100 percent is a sprint, other days it might be a walk or even a crawl.  We all have days where we come in to the gym breathing fire, ready to Clang and Bang some weights and hit a few PRs. Other days we come in and we are measuring our success in the simple fact that we got to the gym that day.

We have all had those days, the weight seems a little bit heavier than usual. We aren’t moving quite as fast. Sometimes its because its the end of the week, or that we worked a crazy work schedule prior to getting to the gym. This should not be an excuse for not putting in the work, it is just realizing that everyday is different and everyday our performance may vary.

One of he best analogies that I have heard came from John Welbourne at Power Athlete. Training is like building a mountain. Some days you are moving dirt and building this mountain with a shovel, and other days all you have is a spoon. You can still give a 100% effort with what ever you have that day. thJTJ6DIHN

Every day is a chance to get better. I know for me that sometimes those are the best days to just find a workout that I can grind though. Not necessarily heavy Olympic lifting or very technical gymnastics, because I know that on these days I am just going to miss lifts I normally would make and end up walking away feeling defeated and beat up. These are the days I drag or push some sleds, throw around sandbags, flip some tires, hit some sledgehammer. I’m not working to PR anything, I am working on being able to grind out some work and move some dirt. Doesn’t have to be pretty.  All you need to do is supply the effort that you got available.  Rather than it being a day where you didn’t feel like you are firing on all cylinders, you can walk away having actually put yourself through a nice training session.

So on those days where you don’t need a rest day, but you aren’t up for an elaborate or technical workout, you can still get out and Move some dirt and still work on that mountain.



The Laws of Fitness: The Law of Diminished Returns

Improving performance is a process.  It doesn’t happen over night and it doesn’t come without a lot of work. In fact,  one thing that becomes apparent as we progress as athletes: The better we get, the harder we have to work to get better.

Everyone starts their path of training at different times, with different levels of experience and for a multitude of different reasons. There is commonality in the things that happen to us when we all start, regardless of whether we are trying to run faster, go longer, lift heavier and more. quads

We get started on a new program, we start training and for the first week or so, we are sore. Our body is trying to get used to the “abuse” that we call training.  Soon after that we quickly see increases in strength and speed.  We start to see progress and it seems like all we have to do is more and the results will keep coming. The day eventually comes when the progress starts to slow down.  We have to do twice as much to get half the results.

Depending on our level of experience, the first 1-3 weeks of a new program is all about Inter-Muscular Coordination. This means that we our Central Nervous System is learning which muscles to use and when. We may be able to start moving more weight but it has nothing to do with strength. Imagine that you and friends were going to push a car. This phase would be like trying to pick which friends and how many you need to push.  The car is obviously going to be able to move faster, based off the fact that you have learned to recruit more to your cause.

The Next 1-3 weeks, is about Intra-Muscular Coordination. Now that our body knows which muscles to use, we now have to get all the muscles to work together.  This involves developing timing and balance. Not just getting one muscle to work at the right time, but being able to properly utilize a whole muscle group or groups.  Back to our car pushing analogy, this would mean getting everyone in our group to heave and push together and at the same time.

These first two phases are often considered the Novice phase. This has nothing to do with your level of experience or athletic background. This is solely based on how your body is responding to the stimulus. In these phases, it seems like everything that you do is making you stronger or faster and that all you have to do is keeping doing more. dyel

After so many week we finally hit the prized phase of Hypertrophy. This is the point where I body realizes that it has turned on the right muscles and that they are working together, but they need more. Your body then turned to increases muscle size and density in an effort to increase contractile force of the muscle.  In order for this phase to continue, we must continue to provide stimulus that our body will respond to. In addition to this we must also be able to provide the correct nutrition for our body to be able to grow and develop our muscles.

The unfortunate part is that most people do not always make it to this point.  They assume that because their progress has slowed down that the program is no longer working. This could not be further from the truth. Reaching this phase is where your body actually begins making changes. Far too many people will start a program and only do it for 6-8 weeks and then stop because their growth slowed, and then start something else. They then wonder why it seems that they never get any stronger.  People will consider this an insurmountable plateau and move on to a new program. In fact, once you reach the hypertrophy phase there will be several plateau’s that one will work through. gain-muscle-protein-meme-284x300

In contrast to this, muscles take a lot of protein and nutrients to be maintained and develop.  This is why if we take too much time away from training our muscles begin to atrophy.  Muscle mass that is very nutritionally expensive to build, and if it isn’t being used our body begins breaking it down so that the body will not need so many resources.

The worst part is that you can’t always just do more for the sake of doing more. There is only so much time in the day and so much volume that our bodies can endure without reaching the point of exhaustion and potentially causing injury.

There is no escaping it. The harder you work, the harder you will have to work. This is what will separate the novice athletes who are perpetually jumping from program to program, and the committed who work day in and day out.

The Laws of Fitness: Wolff’s Law

We work out with the intent of increasing the strength and size of our musculature.  At that the same time that we are working on our muscles, our body is also thinking about our bone structure.  Without a skeleton to provide support our muscles become practically useless. Our bicep cannot create flexion with out a joint and to structures with which to create flexion. Just like a crane is useless without a cable AND a boom, we are not able to create the movement we need without both parts. Luckily with all the time that we spend working on our muscles, our body is smart enough also strengthen our skeleton. Read More

The Laws Of Fitness: Davis’ Law

We do Yoga. We stretch. We work our mobility.  We do all of these things and more and generally with a few of the same basic ideas in mind. We want to improve our range of motion and reduce our chance of injury.

Davis’ Law is details how our soft tissue (tendons, ligaments and fascia) adapt under stress and lack of stress. Read More

The Laws of Fitness: SAID Principle

When it comes to fitness there are very few things that are set in stone.  There are so many techniques, movements, and varieties of methods. It can be argued that some may be better than others but to some extent they may all hold some value. Our bodies are wonderous devices capable of far exceeding the limits that we believe them to have. So when it comes to training and preparing our bodies, there may not be a wrong or right way, but there are things that we do know to be true and are the standing concepts with which all of this running around, lifting weights, biking, running, and pure simple hours of sweat are based on.

That being the case there are several “laws” that we do know exist and operate with out fail. The first is known as the SAID Principle. For the sake of this conversation we will acknowledge it as being a “law”.  The SAID Principle is “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands”.  In simple terms our bodies get better at what we make them do. Read More

Straight Out of Line: An Understanding of Periodization

There are only so many hours in the day, only so many day in the week and only so many weeks in the year.   And then there is the fact that there always seem to be so many things to work on, snatches, jerks, cleans, handstands, double-unders and then some where in there we still just want to be able to be stronger and faster.   How do we prioritize? How do we fit it all in? How can I plan to make it all happen?


First, take a deep breath. Fitness is a marathon not a sprint. We don’t have to be better at everything RIGHT NOW.  The journey can be enjoyed just as much. But we can make a plan to make it all so much easier to manage. This is where we start talking about periodization. Read More