Tuesday, February 2, 2010

6 Months In: Pregnancy and Training

by Cate Kelly

Cate Kelly was one of my very first clients as a professional trainer. She has been a valuable member of Greyskull for over two years. She housed Greyskull for a time out of her garage, and is responsible for inspiring many who have come through our doors. Most recently (last year) she recruited her Dad, Brian, into the mix, one of Greyskull's most colorful characters, and another terrific asset to our organization. This article was written by Cate at the six month mark of this, her third pregnancy. Cate trains with me twice per week, and is one of the most goal oriented trainees I have had the pleasure of working with.

When I first found out I was pregnant for the third time, I hoped that at least I could make it through the first trimester without compromising my training. I had been feeling strong and good about my body and I wasn't really looking forward to letting go of that. I talked to John and we agreed that there was no reason to make any changes right away. Right off the bat, the first week I was pregnant, I added ten pounds to my dead lift PR. It was a good start. Everyone will tell you the goal during pregnancy is to maintain your strength not to make gains. That is fine for most people, but I think most of the people at greyskull would agree, maintaining for nine months would be a bit tedious. Especially, because I know at the end it is quite possible that I may be so big and lazy that all I want to do is stay home and eat hoagies.

The weeks started to pass quickly. Each week I would press/bench-press, squat, and dead lift and each week I made progress in the lifts. The 12 week mark came and went and I still felt good so john and I decided to continue on with business as usual. The only difference being that we agreed to focus on sets of five and triples, rather than a single max effort. (although I admit I forgot about that conversation for a while). There were adjustments along the way. My stance gets wider and wider. You can't imagine how sore you can get from changing your stance! At one point, we had to take 30 pounds off my squat and start again. When that happened, I feared it was the beginning of the end of my pregnant strength training. But we just rebuilt my squat, five pounds a week. And my squat for 3 sets of five is now 20 pounds higher than it was before I got pregnant. At six months pregnant, I've added fifty pounds to my dead lift. My results are beyond what I had ever hoped.

The physical benefits are obvious. My body is better equipped to carry another person with me. The aches and pains of my former pregnancies are non existent in this pregnancy. And it's not like Im small!! In my first two pregnancies, my lower back was especially miserable from the stress of carrying a big belly, and this time I am totally comfortable. I look better, too. My weight gain is consistent with my prior two pregnancies — believe me I am not a skinny pregnant girl. And no one has ever said to me you don't look pregnant from behind with a straight face. But I am a lot firmer than I was in my first two pregnancies. Im not exhausted in the same way I was with my first two babies. I remember always wanting to sit down when I was pregnant before. I don't feel that way this time, which makes chasing a three year old, a five year old and a puppy a lot more feasible. I remember during my second pregnancy bemoaning that I had to carry a one year old around. Now I carry my five year old, no problem.

It's the mental benefits that I hadn't anticipated. I feel like myself. In my prior two pregnancies I felt like my life was on hold for nine months. This time I feel like I am still making progress, and not just sitting around waiting for it to be over. I don't feel like my body is going to be a train wreck when I come home with a new born. I think part of my improved mental state comes from the physical benefits. My body is not being taxed as it was before so I can sometimes forget that I am pregnant or at least not focus on it. But part of it comes from being able to feel like I am pulling the boat forward a little bit, each week when I train. I am not just waiting for the baby to be born, I am trying to add as many plates to the bar as I can before the day I feel like I can't. My fear in planning this baby was that I was going to lose a full year's worth of strength — in missed training and then in months making up for lost ground. Now I know that it won't happen. People keep asking me when I am going to stop lifting, or stop making progress. I don't know. But I do know that if I had to stop tomorrow for the rest of my pregnancy, at least i'd only be losing out on ten weeks instead of forty. I hope that wont happen, but it seems like making up ten weeks would be relatively easy. I am excited about what's to come. It gives me a different level of confidence about how I might recover from childbirth. It just makes me happy to think about.

Cate Pressing 105 x 5

Photo courtesy of Carlita "I just want to be a nurse NOW!" Rivas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"It's a Process", Part 1

by Nichole Maier
foreword by John Sheaffer

Nichole is a dedicated trainee who trains primarily outside the walls of Greyskull in her home gym that she built after becoming increasingly frustrated at the "Y". She comes in for training once a week (schedule permitting) due to living out of state, and receives program and dietary feedback and support through email and those sessions. Her observations on strength training, body composition, and diet are always insightful, and it has been gratifying seeing her make progress and come to understand the intricacies of individualized needs in exercise and diet prescription. Look to see more installments in this series as she provides updates on progress through and towards her short and long term performance and aesthetic goals. Note: the dietary and training ideas discussed in this article are extraordinarily simple. Nichole's account of muscular bodyweight gain (she was a rail when she first arrived) and fast and simple fat loss reflects the ease in which one can achieve results and get to the right destination when they are following the right roads with the right directions. Stay tuned for part 2, it will be good. What Nichole is doing now diet wise is really cool, as is her training. (Ok, that last part was a blatant plug). Here's Nikki.....

Up until I began lifting barbells and following a dedicated strength training program, body image had been the sole focus of every workout I'd ever done. Sure, on some level I wanted to be a great athlete, but mostly I wanted to look hot. Over time, a lack of progress towards the body of my dreams led me to conclude that I am incapable of changing my body. Disturbingly most mainstream health and fitness information feeds that lie, making it sickeningly common. Everything from genetics, to time constraints, to aging has been blamed for our lack of control over the condition of our bodies. Deeming it a lost cause, many give up on their body image; I did too. I didn't really mean it, but I wanted to mean it and that made all the difference. And so, fueled by my disdain for the topic as a whole, I swore off any consideration for body image. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but this set me up perfectly for initial success in the journey towards greater strength.

The first several weeks of training brought great strength gains. My resolution to focus only on strength was paying off; already I was stronger than I had ever been. This was the first time in my life I had succeeded in the gym, and I was far from finished. When my progress started to stall (as it inevitably does) I turned to my coach - the one and only Johnny Pain - for answers. What more could I do? It was time to delve into the world of nutrition. He recommended a half-gallon of whole milk per day plus lots of meat. Not the lean kind of meat, either... the best choices of meat would come from the animals with the thickest necks (think cow). The extra calories (in particular, the miraculous blend of nutrients cleverly disguised as milk) would help me build the muscle I desperately needed. That was all I needed to hear; I headed straight for the Wawa and never looked back.

Armed with the confidence that only strength can bring, I ate with reckless abandon. I immediately blew past my previous sticking points and hit PR, after PR, after PR... a 50-pound deadlift PR instills confidence in the milk like nothing else! About six weeks into this “gaining” cycle, I competed in my first powerlifting meet. With my first official lifts under my belt, I paused to take in the moment. I was in awe of the progress I'd made in such a relatively small period of time, and I recognized that without the simple dietary additions of milk and meat, this rate of strength gain would not have been possible. I had arrived at a much-awaited turning point. The realization that my new found strength was the result of a carefully executed strategy allowed me, for the first time in a long time, to believe I was capable of changing my body. I had successfully escaped my obsession with body image and in the process, managed to reverse the longstanding misconception that I'm stuck with my body as it is. Confident and inspired, I was ready to take my training to the next level. Or so I thought...

The very next day following the powerlifting meet was the fitting appointment for my wedding dress. I hadn't tried the dress on in over nine months, yet in the last six weeks alone I had gained about ten pounds and outgrown the majority of my clothes, so I expected this fitting to be a grand disaster. To my surprise, the dress still fit. I was relieved... until I stepped up to the angled mirrors. For the first time in about three months, I was seeing my body from an aesthetic point of view. I saw some muscles, but I mainly saw fat – a lot of fat. The circumference of my wide hips seemed to have doubled, love handles had transformed my tapered waist into a big square block of pudge and, not to be forgotten, my belly was bigger than ever. Yikes! As it dawned on me that this chubby body was the same strong body I had been so proud of only 24 hours ago, a sinking feeling arose. What have I done? As if the dress wasn't bad enough, I thought of my bikini. Following the wedding, we'd spend a week in Punta Cana… could this body seriously be considered bikini worthy? Even I am not that naive.

The minute I got home I tried on my teeny bikini. I’ve never actually worn it because it’s, uh, teeny. I had planned on wearing it in Punta Cana because when else can you wear a teeny bikini if not on your honeymoon? Based on the body staring back at me in the mirror, this bikini wasn’t really appropriate to wear anywhere, honeymoon or not. Again the assembly of new additions paraded in front of my eyes; the hips, the love handles, the belly, and the cellulite were overwhelming. It all caught up with me at that moment – three months of ignoring my body image hit me smack in the face like a much deserved bitch slap. All the motivation I felt the day before had vanished and I felt hopeless.

The next day I explained the situation to my coach. I felt like such a hypocrite – not even 48 hours ago I said I wanted to take my training to the next level, and now here I was saying I wanted to lose fat. I felt ashamed to have such a superficial goal. Thankfully, my coach fully supported my decision to prioritize fat loss over strength gains in preparation for my wedding. He was surprisingly optimistic - this was not a big deal because fat loss is simple. My bad attitude bulked at that. Fat loss is simple? Since when? But as the conversation progressed, my doubt receded. Coach explained that changes to body composition can go both ways, and contrary to popular belief, it is just as simple either way. The major factor of my fat loss plan would be nutrition. The guidelines were simple: six small meals a day, each containing a palm-sized portion of lean protein (chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, etc) and 1-2 cups of veggies (preferably raw). The last meal before bed and up to two other meals each day can be substituted for Myoplex Lite, a delectable little meal replacement shake. My training would remain the same (basic barbell lifts three days a week) with the option to add a snatch-lunge barbell complex or sprints on up to two rest days per week. Coach said these additional workouts were optional because there’s no rush, four weeks is plenty of time for the kind of fat loss we were looking at. Again I was skeptical, but already in the back of my mind the bigger picture was beginning to develop: I have already done this. If I could gain muscle, I could lose fat.

The initial transition from a gaining cycle to a fat loss cycle was rough, but with my back against the wall I had no choice. Thankfully, I was quickly regaining perspective. Within the first week I was able to step back from my initial reaction and study the bigger picture. I realized there are some aspects of training you simply cannot ignore. Body image is one example. In my case, had I not been so determined to ignore my body image I might at least have seen this coming. I was now realizing that training is not a single action; rather, training is a process. When I began this journey several months ago, I wanted a stronger body. I never imagined that to get where I wanted to go I'd have to gain ten pounds of scale weight and then lose eight, arriving at a significantly lower bodyfat percentage than when I started. I never expected that in order to increase the amount of weight I can squat, I would decrease the weight (sometimes by a lot). I never guessed that fat loss hinged on something other than quality time with the elliptical. Yes, at first glance the process of training looks impractical and unnecessarily complicated, but I have come to learn that training done right is none of those things.

Post fat loss, I can confidently say that change is possible. I accomplished not only my overall goal to get stronger, but each of the smaller goals contributing to that process. The wedding dress fit perfectly and as for the teeny bikini, well, it was such a success that I bought three other hot bikinis to take with me! My journey towards greater strength continues (it will always continue), but this experience has taught me a valuable lesson; however important an individual goal may be, it is imperative not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Each step of the process has a purpose, and each is a valuable component of the end result.

Nichole on her Wedding Day

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Meet report: Mandy & Rachel Feldman, WNPF Nationals

by Mandy (and Rachel) Feldman

This weekend we had a great time in Bordentown for the meet. Weigh -ins were quick and it wasn’t too long of a wait to hear the rules and start warming up. All of our warm ups for all of our lifts felt great. Here’s what our lifts in the competition looked like.

Mandy (14 years old)


Opener- 325 was a light and easy weight for me, knowing that I could triple it at least
2nd attempt – still felt good. I wanted to beat my last attempt in my last meet, 358, so I went to 360. It came up with a little struggle, but I still had some room.
Last attempt- 370 was my last attempt. Didn’t want to go too crazy on the weight. It came up a little slower than 360 but still came up nonetheless.


Opener- 175. Got it up easy without any problems
2nd attempt- 190 got up but I had to push a bit to get it up
Last attempt- Missed 200 but not by much. It was just a little too heavy


Opener- No difficulty whatsoever. 325 was a breeze
2nd attempt – 365 got up pretty easy. Felt good about going to 385
Last attempt- 385 came up with no problems. I had to pull hard to get it up, but it was a no lift, because they said I “hitched” it

*Final Total: 925

Mandy's Second attempt 365.

Rachel (12 years old)


Opener- 165 looked and felt great
2nd attempt – The bar felt good on my back and I got up 185 without a problem
Last attempt- Mandy had told me to go to 205 (John was still battling traffic) but instead I went to 200, because the most I had ever squatted was 195 so I was sort of cautious, but I am happy because it was still a personal best.


Opener- 75 felt good, like a weight I could do work sets with
2nd attempt- 90 got up but I had to push hard
Last attempt- I missed 100. The judge had the spotters get the bar because I was pushing on it for too long without it going anywhere


Opener- Pulled 175 up easy, but got red lighted for my left leg stepping back while the bar was coming up
2nd attempt –195 felt good, but I was really worn out from everything else. Came up but it was tough
Last attempt- 210 came up as well, but at the end of the day I was beat. I pulled it up, but it felt heavy

*Final Total: 500

Rachel setting up her third attempt Deadlift (210). She has pulled 215 for sets of five in training, so we knew this lift was a lock for her.

This weekend was a great experience for Rachel and I. It was cool competing in a different federation and knowing that I set a state record because none had previously been set and that Rachel came and in her first meet ever set state and national records. Watching both of us get stronger and continue winning is going to be a very cool experience. I’d like to thank John and everyone at Greyskull for pushing Rachel and I to get stronger and excel in Powerlifting. We are grateful for the opportunity to compete and represent Greyskull and all of the hard work that John has done to make us strong, and all of the hard work we have put into getting strong. I encourage all of you to try competing in at least one Powerlifting meet just to experience what it’s like, because it is an amazing feeling going onto that platform and showcasing all of your hard work and training.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why I Resigned my Affiliation with CrossFit

John Sheaffer- Greyskull Barbell Club

Recently I’ve received a lot of emails asking me why I resigned my affiliation with CrossFit with plenty of paid time left in my agreement. I decided that to set the record straight and/or dispel some of the rumors, I would share some of my reasoning behind that decision.

First and foremost, my resignation was fueled by my observation of the precipitous decline in the quality of the average CrossFit affiliate. When I got involved in the organization, most affiliates were garage gyms, some were operating out of parks, or backyards like mine, and most were relatively legit. The people were those who abhorred what was the norm, the Bally’s, Gold’s, 24Hour Fitness crowd selling long term gym memberships to facilities staffed by individuals deemed incompetent to teach one about fitness and promoting near useless exercise regimens. Over the next few years I watched the CrossFit community in general become more and more like the very people and chains that they set out despising at the onset. Now, hundreds of people get certified every weekend in a course that lasts two days and has no testing or requirements to pass. This certification then entitles them the right to affiliate with CrossFit after paying a fee, and filling out the necessary paperwork (I know, I did it). So now we have a flood of these people taking out business loans, buying all sorts of rowers, kettlebells, cheap bars, bumper plates and the like, and opening up shop in a strip mall or warehouse space. There, they dish out a one size fits all exercise prescription for all who come through the door, and prescribe a starvation diet for them to subside on. They pack classes with 20 people and turn them loose, with some Will Smith pumping, to go to town on the twenty minute “met-con” “chipper” “WOD” nonsense that someone pulled out of their skinny, zone eating ass as a one size fits all prescription for all who enter that morning. The people love the community aspect, the camaraderie and the atmosphere. They bring more people in, charge them $150 a month, and build a nice little business. Their people make progress as any human will when taken out of their normal habitat for a while. The fat people lose a few pounds and inches, the weak males that can’t press 75lb become weak males that can’t press 100lb. The women lose their dreaded tits and asses that they all despise. They get “progress” out of these individuals on a short term basis not because of their phenomenal coaching prowess, but because a chimpanzee could elicit positive adaptation out of an untrained couch potato for a few weeks (and would undoubtedly be stronger). Meanwhile, down the street is a serious facility where serious training occurs, and where people pay good money for help and guidance towards reaching their personal fitness or athletic goals. This place addresses the needs of each individual client, the ones who need to lose fat are put on programs to help them lose fat, the small, weak males are put on programs to make them big, strong males, and everyone is put on a program to make them physically stronger in the absence of adequate strength before getting crazy complicated with anything else. Problem is that both facilities share “CrossFit” as a part of their business name, and as such become universally interchangeable to the layperson. This results in the business owner hearing things like “my cousin does CrossFit”, or “I did CrossFit for a while in _____ so I know what I’m doing”. Between this and things being said like “CrossFit makes girls into men and men into girls” it doesn’t take long for anyone with any integrity, or concern whatsoever for the legitimacy of their name being damaged to realize that they are not benefiting in any way by being associated with that organization.

I’d like to add that my comments regarding the programming, if you would like to call it that, that these shit affiliates dish out are based on the idea that these individuals know next to nothing about programming for conditioning, let alone strength training, and that it is their erroneous application of misinterpreted ideas that causes this problem. While I don’t whole-heartedly agree with everything that Greg Glassman teaches in terms of exercise prescription and design, I do respect the man. He has always been nice to me, and he is very knowledgeable and well meaning in his own right. I like many others was impressed with the performance of some of his Santa Cruz athletes in the early videos that I watched years ago. That served as the major catalyst for my involvement with the organization. Interestingly enough, I’ve scolded many an affiliate that I have met who proudly spoke about showing prospective clients those videos to entice them to join, and yet would not have the faintest idea as to how one would train an individual to get to the level of the athletes featured in the video. This crap that we see today was not supposed to be the norm; it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. “CrossFit” and “HorseShit” were not supposed to become synonymous at any point. If a person meets ten people from France in their lifetime, and eight of them smell like shit, then one can make a generalization about people from France, and they aren’t an asshole for doing so. Likewise, if people are bombarded by shit smelling CrossFit, then what are they to do but make a generalization about that name? It is unfortunate because there are many in the community that are good people doing good things. (a decent litmus would be if you are offended by this, you probably suck, and if you are nodding your head and/or laughing then you probably don’t. That or you’re delusional and think you don’t suck when you really do in which case weigh yourself for step two. If you weigh 160 and you aren’t 5’2” and your name isn’t Dutch Lowy, go eat and then come to terms with the fact that you suck). Ok so a bit of humor there, but there really are good people out there in this thing, and I really do feel bad for them.

I am not sure of the current count on worldwide affiliates, nor do I care. Over a year ago I spoke with a very well respected member of the CrossFit community who is near and dear to the HQ staff (no it’s not Rip I’m referring to in this one) he told me at that point that he estimated that one in thirty affiliates was actually decent, and wasn’t actively damaging the reputations of everyone who shared the common name but was doing good things with their little piece of the world. That was over a year ago. The count on affiliates at that time hadn’t broken 1000 yet. I spoke with him again a few months later and he said that it was probably one in fifty at that point. Wow, I wonder what his figures would be today. Now, of course that is a representation of one man’s opinion, but given the person’s status in that community, I think that it speaks volumes.

So what then to the person who says that some people just want to go and work out and meet people and have fun, or it’s better than them going to Bally’s or being fat. First of all, no, it’s not necessarily better than going to Bally’s by default. There are many, many strong, capable athletes training in chain, commercial gyms, and many people have transformed their bodies and lives in such establishments, some while even under the tutelage of a not yet so qualified “pin setter” who would grow to be a good coach. Second, I don’t have a problem with those people who want to go have fun and don’t care about actually progressing or being serious about their time and monetary investments. Those types get fired by me as clients quickly and I therefore don’t have to worry about dealing with them. I say let them have their fun. What I have a problem with is their use of the term “elite” fitness in all of their advertising and promotional materials. If you want to go to a fitness themed nightclub during the day to model your expensive yoga wear, do it, but for the love of God don’t pretend or claim to be elite. This goes for the guys as well. The emaciated, pussified, faux hawked nerds who I see at my platform while working certs with Rip who can’t press 105lb for a set of five (true story here, I have had the biggest guys in the group at three consecutive Barbell certs, and not one of them could press 125 for 5. You better believe though that they critiqued Andy Bolton’s bodyweight and appearance, and Vasily Alexiev’s press technique during the video portion of the seminar, and of course they were all wearing cool affiliate shirts with cute tough guy catch phrases like “CrossFit_______ : I’ll fuck your mother” or I’ll beat you to death like I caught you fucking my mother”, elite athletes can talk that talk you know.) Bottom line, I don’t mind that those people exist per se; they just shouldn’t be lumped into the same category as those who aren’t like them. Hence since that type is now the majority, the real people become the minority by default and need to exit promptly.

Since I brought it up, and since they don’t like me by now anyway, I’d like to add that the HQ staff’s reluctance to effectively give a shit about the information brought to the community by their SME (subject matter expert) crew is another reason for my departure. I have listened to numerous lectures on nutrition given by the level one and two staff that tout the Zone as the end all and be all of nutrition. Meanwhile, their resident nutrition guru whom they entrust to teach the Nutrition Certification, Robb Wolf (a great guy, and good friend) has always taught quality first, and focuses on improving the quality of the food people are eating before concerning them with zone blocks or other variables, an approach that myself and others have had tremendous success implementing on clients (unlike the jackasses that tell a recovering anorexic to weigh and measure her food, or tell a binge eater who subsides on french fries to eat 8 “blocks” of foods that Michael Jackson would think were weird, I know a bit insensitive to the now deceased MJ, but hey, he was a homosexual pedophile people). Likewise, and even more apparent to me, working for both the level one staff at one point, and my good friend and mentor Mark Rippetoe currently, is the lack of concern for the fact that you can’t effectively teach the barbell lifts with a piece of pvc pipe. There are significant differences between the way that the CF staff and the way that Rip (their former expert) teaches the lifts which he and others attempted to rectify numerous times in the level one and two curriculum but were met with the old “this is the way we’ve done it” routine. On the subject of Rip for those that are curious as to why he left, the reasons are many, but not unlike mine. Additionally, in his case, was the horrendously shitty communication, or lack thereof at the HQ level which had gotten so bad as to become personally offensive to him.

So now I’ve ranted, made some new friends, pissed some more people off, and filled in the reader on my observations for whatever they are worth. I again would like to say that there are many good people still involved in CrossFit, and that there are probably even some that suck currently that will develop into people that don’t suck. For many (Like several in my immediate geographical area, including one in particular that just keeps ra-ra cheerleading their way into a bigger and bigger business) I don’t see that ever happening, they will go on to suck forever. I would also like to add that I don’t claim to be the smartest, nor the best at what I do. I don’t have all of the answers, and I am a perpetual student of my discipline. I have contradicted things that I have said before, and I am sure that I will years from now as well. What I do have is passion, and integrity, and a commitment and desire to deliver to the best of my ability a valuable service to those who employ me. My door is always open to anyone seeking to discuss these matters or any others.