For those of you who don’t know the guy above, James frequents the evening classes. He also runs the CrossFit related site Work Hard, Work Harder. Earlier this year, James approached Ruth and told her he wanted to start on a dedicated strength program. Although the Powerlifting Club was deactivated at the old gym due to time and space constraints, she pointed him in my direction and made him commit to staying the course for a full three months. I would have liked to get him to enter a meet, but that didn’t exactly work out this time around. Many of you have noticed and commented on James’ progress and have had some questions, so I sat down with James for a quick Q&A session.
Me: What made you decide to go for a strength cycle?
James: [When I started CrossFit] I’d picked up a lot of the gymnastics stuff pretty quickly. I mean I got muscle ups and I was able to string them together. My running wasn’t bad. But any time we did a metcon where you’d put a decently heavy bar in front of me, I’d notice that I was much less proficient than everyone else. Especially some of the bigger guys, like Jake or Brian, or other people that had better technique or anything like that. I couldn’t keep up with them any more once you put anything heavy in front of me, outside of deadlifts. So I knew I had strength issues, more than anything else.
M: So your main goal was to get stronger for the metcons themselves?
J: Actually yeah. Well that was kind of how I noticed it. If I had to list all the ten things I was worst at, squat was probably one of them — or anything like cleans or snatches. Everything seemed to fall under the strength category.
M: As far as getting ready to begin, did you make any lifestyle changes to get prepared?
J: [laughs] Not really. I mean I don’t do a lot of the healthiest things outside of the gym. I don’t eat paleo — not even a little bit. I’ve never really eaten healthy in my life.
More of this interview after the jump…
I’m a proponent of not sleeping, like I feel it’s not a productive thing to do. So that was another thing that I would eventually have to change. I tried to practice doing that stuff, but until I actually started the strength program there wasn’t any prep work. Aside from the first week, where we set my starting weights, didn’t do any metcons and prepared myself for the coming three months.
M: Since you mentioned food, what exactly did you eat during the program?
J: It was the seefood diet, as in S-E-E. At first, I tried to keep to more “paleo” carb sources like white rice or sweet potatoes. That didn’t really work out. That’s partially because no one in my family, including my wife, eats healthy. I mean I was having ice cream and pizza. The main thing for me was to just continuously eat a lot. I started reading a blog, Lift Big Eat Big. They were proposing to eat anything, eat everything. Every once in a while, you know, don’t be afraid to have a stack of 6 pancakes. Just to eat a lot. The point being, you want to eat past the point of feeling full. That was the toughest part, between working a lot and things like that, you sometimes forget to eat. You want to make sure that when you do eat, eat a lot and try to put all kinds of snacks and food in front of you and I found that helped me. I think other more disciplined people would do a better job with their food intake and maybe get better results out of it, but for me it was the seefood diet.
M: Were you using protein shakes as well?
J: Oh yeah, I was taking anywhere between 2 and 3, actually. I was having one with breakfast. If I remembered, I would have one with lunch and then I would have another one post-workout. That was kind of just to get another extra 750 calories in me. I was shooting for at least 3000 calories, trying to get towards 4000. That’s tough because I used to normally eat only 2 or 2 1/2. I would have to work in those extra protein shakes to get the extra calories in.
M: Did you find extra demands for mobility work?
J: Yeah, I was doing extra mobility at home. I would come in to the gym up to an hour before I wanted to start my workout and roll, among other things. I personally found my quads and calves got tight, for whatever reason. I learned those were the areas I needed to hit up. Sometimes my lower back and glutes. But you definitely want to allot some time for mobility. I was doing more mobility than I was lifting. I would do mobility every day, where I would only lift Monday/Wednesday/Friday. Tuesday and Thursday were a mental break. It felt great to just come in, do mobility and go home.
M: What was the toughest part of the program?
J: I guess two parts — the first part was tough because you didn’t know quite what you were getting into. Those first 2-3 weeks were almost boring because the weights were so light. You kinda want to push yourself doing other things. so you’ll come in and wish you could do a metcon. That was hard, just staying focused.
But then all of a sudden, you feel yourself string together four perfect squats and you realize what those first 3 weeks were for. You start to feel almost robotic, thinking “Every single squat was the same in that last set. Everything from depth to the timing, the speed was the same. Okay, that’s what a squat should feel like!” So that was the good part. The hardest part mentally was hitting that 300lb milestone.
M: Because it was intimidating?
J:Super intimidating. Because when we first started, you had told me that “oh yeah, you’ll get to 300, at least!” I was real skeptical because my best at the time was 255 for 3 sets of 5. Even though I plowed through 275, 285 and even 295, I didn’t want to go to 305. I wanted to go to 300 because it was just mentally so much. 305 ended up being real hard, but funny enough, 315 ended up being easy. It was just a total mental thing. The cool thing is that I learned a lot about myself in the process. I don’t know if this will work for everybody, but for me, I have to treat the bar with malice. If it gets really heavy, I can’t just be positive, like most of CrossFit is. You know, with people cheering each other on and that type of positive thinking. I had to think the world was against me and I had to think back to people who would make fun of me in grade school. I’m a nice guy now, but I had to bring up some of that anger to focus and zone in to make sure I got those lifts. Getting over 300 was the hardest part, but once I figured out how to approach the lifts it was better.
M: What kind of progress did you make on your lifts?
J: I didn’t have any one rep maxes, because we don’t do a lot of that, but my best 3×5 for squat was 255. During the program I almost got to 335. I failed on the last rep of the last round.
M: So you got 5-5-4?
J: Yeah, 5-5-4 at 335. My deadlift I had previously done 1×5 at 375, by the time I was done I got that up to 425. My 1RM deadlift was 455. My 1RM for squat was 355, almost 365. Press was the area I felt like I really broke through. I was always stuck at 125, 135 and I got up to 155. I actually felt like the squat helped that the most. There was no variable shifting in my torso, I was in control the entire time. It was cool. Bench… just being in the globogym all the time, I had done bench for years. I felt like that was the area I didn’t get the most out of. I had previously gotten up to 3×5 at 225. [During the program], I got to 3×5 at 255, so still a good 30lb jump in 3 months, but compared to some of the other stuff, maybe not as much.
M: Once you were done, what changes did you notice with regard to body composition?
J: I started the program in February 2013 and in the previous October, during the CFI Games, I weighed in at 162. I knew I wanted to get stronger then, so I started eating more, eating more and when I started the program, I was at 172. By the time I was done, I was at about 184. It’s kind of funny, because around week 9 is when everyone started noticing that my shirts were just really, really small. All my mediums got really small. I still can’t fit into any button down shirts I had, none of them. Guys will understand this, but for my collared shirts my neck used to be 16 1/2. Now it’s almost 18 — 17 1/2 is just barely enough. I got wider and bigger and packed on pounds. I would recommend to do it for anybody that is looking to pack on some weight. You know, get rid of those metcons. [laughs]
M: When you went back to those metcons, what did you notice?
J: Immediately, I tried doing bar muscle-ups and ring muscle-ups and I lost those, actually. So the gymnastics wasn’t quite there. They came back in about two weeks of regularly working on them. That was without losing any weight, so I was still retaining the strength and the gymnastics came back. It didn’t go away just because I was ten pounds heavier. As far as conditioning, the first few times I ran I would tighten up. I got really tight and it was nowhere near… I used to almost keep up with Jake and now he’d just blow me out… nowhere near. But after about a month, it started to come back and after two months, I felt like the strength that I had picked up was far outweighing any type of conditioning I had lost. By the third month, I was back to normal without losing any strength at all. One rep max-wise, I have retained about 95-96% of all my maxes.
M: I remember when you first did cleans you remarked on how light the bar felt…
J: I used to have a really tough time of 3×2 power cleans at 185. The first time I did a power clean, 135 felt really light and I basically muscled it up. 165 was easy and for 185 I thought “this is where I was” and I almost hit my face. It was just really, really light and 225 ended up being my best power clean. This was within 1 1/2 to 2 weeks of ending the strength program.
M: Normally I would ask you if you’d do it over again, but I already know we’ve started you on another cycle. What’s your plan this time around — what’s your goal?
J: I dunno what my goal is. I wrote down 400 for the squat, but the cool thing is — and this is for even the previous strength program, not just the current one — I learned how important the squat is. I mean learning dubs is obviously a cool skill It’s good to have and I want to get good at dubs just like anyone else. But when you get better at the squat, you get better at power cleans, you get better at snatches, you get better at box jumps. And because your deadlift gets better, all of a sudden your grip gets stronger and then your pullups and bar muscle-ups get better. It’s a domino effect, stemming from the squat. My goal is just to stay really strong. Numbers-wise, if I can get my squat 1RM close to 400, that’ll be really awesome. Then I can feel like some of the CrossFit Games guys… they’re all mostly over 400.
M: Any final tips for people looking for follow in your footsteps?
J: Here’s some tips from the top of my head…
I’d like to thanks James for staying late for this interview and look forward to documenting his progress in his second stint. Troy has also decided to join the ranks, starting this week, with Nick possibly soon after. If you’re interested in a similar dedicated strength focus, feel free to let any of the coaches know and we can discuss your options.
3 Rounds for time:
15 Handstand Pushups
Good Morning 3×5