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Say goodbye to Peter and hello to Barbara

Posted 8th March 2017 by Geoff Stewart


Time really does seem to be moving along and we are planning our – your – second 12 week training phase of 2017, which will start at the end of March. Here’s a reminder of some of the principles of our usual program design and some basic info I bang on about every time a new program rolls round. As you know, CrossFit is predominantly a GPP program and its aim is to get you fitter, stronger, leaner and meaner. The Mothership site puts it thus:

“CrossFit is: “constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement.” This is our prescription. Functional movements are universal motor recruitment patterns; they are performed in a wave of contraction from core to extremity; and they are compound movements–i.e., they are multi-joint. They are natural, effective, and efficient locomotors of body and external objects. But no aspect of functional movements is more important than their capacity to move large loads over long distances, and to do so quickly. Collectively, these three attributes (load, distance, and speed) uniquely qualify functional movements for the production of high-power. Intensity is defined exactly as power, and intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with maximizing the rate of return of favorable adaptation to exercise. Recognizing that the breadth and depth of a program’s stimulus will determine the breadth and depth of the adaptation it elicits, our prescription of functionality and intensity is constantly varied. We believe that preparation for random physical challenges–i.e., unknown and unknowable events–is at odds with fixed, predictable, and routine regimens.”

Our program will take the above principles and mix them up with our experience, training knowledge, passion and good old fashioned fun.

What’s in store for the second 12 week phase?

Rather controversially we are labeling this phase “functional bodybuilding”, or Barbara, for short. We know this sounds like a contradiction in terms and we are going to get some stick. When you use the words functional and bodybuilding together, a whole myriad of opinions – good and bad – come out of the cracks, but fear not, Barbara knows what she’s doing and like a lot of the women I know and admire on International Women’s Day and throughout the year, she’s intelligent, efficient, good at multi-tasking and good at cutting through any mansplaining she comes across in the gym. Read on for a bit more info on our master plan.

What does functional mean in this context?

When people talk about functional training they often talk about specificity or transfer into a given or set task (i.e. you’re training to get better at a specific task). Dr. Everett Harman in the book, “Essentials of Strength & Conditioning” says:

“The concept of specificity, widely recognized in the field of resistance training, holds that training is most effective when resistance exercises are similar to the sport activity in which improvement is sought (the target activity). The simplest and most straightforward way to implement the principle of specificity is to select exercises similar to the target activity with regard to the joints about which movements occur and the direction of the movements. In addition, the joint’s range of motion in the training should be at least as great as that in the target activity.”

There are many examples of programs and ideas which try and replicate a task into a gym type training setting, e.g. a stick attached to a cable pulley to replicate golf swings. My wife’s ex-boyfriend, who was a racing driver, drilled a threaded insert into the top of an old helmet and screwed weights onto it, then would sit for hours rocking his head from side to side to build neck strength to help combat g-force when he was racing. How many things are wrong with that sentence? Some functional training ideas are simple and effective and some are a little bit more left-field, as you can imagine.

This is all very interesting and specificity is all well and good but we’re not in the business of training your golf swing or your motor sport skills to the exclusion of everything else. For us, our “target activity” (to use Everett’s terminology) is life itself. For 80% of the population, or possibly more, there is huge benefit in exercises which build functional performance by increasing muscle mass, proprioception and motor unit recruitment, bone density and cardiovascular health amongst other things. To put it simply, just getting fitter and stronger will improve your performance in other sports and activities in daily life (and by improve, I mean, make you more efficient, more supple, stronger, quicker, healthier, possibly happier, allow you to enjoy moving more and also, crucially mean you could do these activities naked and you’ll look even better than you do already). To test this idea Josh is going to arrange a naked golf social in the summer, watch this space.

How does bodybuilding fit into this?

When we talk bodybuilding we ain’t talking about walking onto the stage at the Arnold Classic but more about building some good solid muscle tone, foundation strength, getting those ligaments and tendons up to strength and improving your muscle co-ordination. Very few people I have ever met have had the genetic make up to get properly big from a basic building type program. You also need to eat an absolute f***-ton of food to get stacked so don’t worry that you’re going to balloon during this program. 1kg of muscle is still half the size of 1kg of fat so leaner and fitter is the name of this game. If you want to put on a bit of size then great, and we can talk to you about nutrition and other ways to achieve this, but the primary aim of the program isn’t to grow you some biceps like melons. Instead we’re saying that increasing your structural hypertrophy using bodybuilding principles can, and will, improve your general athletic function. Here’s an interesting article from T-nation, the internet home of swollen biceps, which explains how using bodybuilding concepts in programming can improve athletic performance (note – this article, like many on T-nation, does endorse the benefits of getting huge – we’re not so evangelistic about size, and our program certainly won’t be geared towards getting big, but it’s worth a read anyway).

Oil up and shave down and I’ll see you in class x