The Right Tool for the Job

“The test of a man’s or woman’s breeding is how they behave in a quarrel. Anybody can behave well when things are going smoothly.”

George Bernard Shaw

selecting the right exercise can sometimes seem as bewildering...
selecting the right exercise can sometimes seem as bewildering…

I’ve been inundated by a work tsunami as of late and, as a result, the blog posting has suffered.  Only so many hours in a day, unfortunately.  But just as I keep right on ticking along with my Paleo ways, even in the face of the  crazy-weird hours I’ve kept this past week — a good opportunity for bouts of IF and ultra-short/ultra-intense workouts, by the way — my mind keeps right on juggling the various tangential minutia surrounding the Paleo core.  Just look to right and check out some of my Twitterings of late.

A recurring theme that I’ve noticed though, over the past couple of weeks, is that of combining Oly lifts with MetCon work.  Did Oprah recently endorse this practice or something?  Have I missed a new late-night, get-slim-quick infomercial?  In any event,  I’ve been confronted with the (in my opinion) faulty notion of using Olympic lifts (“Olys”, for short) and their close-cousin derivatives for metabolic conditioning purposes repeatedly as of late.  Maybe there’s just something afoul in the air?

Ironmaven, over at the blog, A Philosophy of Strength,  had a nicely conceived post related to this issue back in September, and I believe the sentiment needs to be re-examined now.  I don’t know what that particular vibe is in the air these days — or what’s brought it on — but I’ve had my sensibilities accosted lately by witnessing some of my fellow gym goers engaged in what looks to be MetCon work with ugly-form Oly derivatives  — bad, bad idea folks.  Seriously bad.  I don’t know that I can add too much more to this discussion than Ironmaven already has in her post, but I’ll throw a couple of ideas/opinions out for discussion nonetheless.

The Intersection of Olys and MetCon — The Crossfit Nation

If you’ve spent much time at this blog, you know that I believe Crossfit to be (in concept at least, if not as actually practiced by many) a fantastic overall conditioning (GPP) program; for more on that theme, check out this older post.  One knock I do have against Crossfit, though, is the philosophy (propensity might be the better word) of using Olys and their close-cousin derivatives for MetCon work — though, to be fair to Crossfit, it does seem as if they’re moving away from this trend.  But truthfully, the question of utilizing Olys within a MetCon-emphasis methodology should be approached from two different prospectives: (1) the nature of, function, and benefits of the Olympic lifts for athletic enhancement, and (2) the “whys” behind even considering Olys for a MetCon methodology to begin with, when so many better options are available; in other words, why use channel locks when the 9/16ths box-end wrench you really need is right there in your back pocket?

This is a theme that I’ll explore over the course of a few additional posts, as I know many folks are curious as to the specifics of why I avoid the Oly/MetCon mix.  At the very root of the issue though, is this: fatigue.  In my opinion, if you’re hitting proper, MetCon-related fatigue levels, you’re sure as hell not in a suitable state to perform a well-executed (and easy on the joints/connective tissue) Oly lift.  That’s not to say, though, that the movement pattern itself is a poor choice — it’s not — and in fact it’s a perfect movement pattern for MetCon work.  Am I contradicting myself, here?  I think not.  Because it’s not at all the movement pattern that’s the problem, it’s the tool of choice — the implement — that’s the real problem, here, and this is where much confusion arises.   What are some good implement choices for weighted Metcon work?  Sandbags of all shapes and sizes are my favorite.  Slosh tubes are great as well, as are dumbbells and kettlebells, just to name a few options.  Consider my workout from yesterday; MetCon, TTP style.  With a pair of 80lb DBs, I blistered through the following:

  • Lunges x 20 yds.
  • DB Snatch (aka, “The Cred”) x 2 + single-arm overhead press (x1), push-press (x1), push-jerk (x1) + 1 additional “cred”; each arm
  • alternating, single-leg explosive deadlifts (see below)
  • Repeat of the “cred” combo

I believe I made it through 4 or 5 rounds of that; I say “believe” because (1) my focus toward the end was blindered on merely completing the next rep of whatever it was that I was dealing with at the time.  Also, I shifted to a mix-and-match of lunges and DLs once I hit the point of not being able to complete a full 20 yds of lunges in one “set” — and this came pretty early on.  In performing the explosive single-leg DLs, I focused on hitting the glutes/hams vice the lower back by initiating the drive from the heel and exploding up to the point of catching a tad bit of air with minimal “toe-off”.  Of course, “minimal” turned to “more and more” once fatigue set in.  My single-arm presses morphed into push-presses, and my push-presses to push-jerks, as my shoulders and triceps fatigued, so that toward the end I had fairly well settled into 3 rather ugly push-jerks (with my right arm) while managing only 2 (even uglier) with my left.  And this, in my opinion, is how MetCon work ought to proceed.  One must expect — embrace, even — a certain, acceptable level of form/technique deterioration, if one is truly engaged in MetCon work.

And therein lay the problem with the utilization of Oly lifts (and their close-cousin derivatives) in a MetCon modality — acceptable form/technique deterioration due to fatigue.  The Cred, for instance — although being of similar movement pattern as both the snatch and power snatch — is much more form/technique forgiving, and is therefore a suitable option for weighted MetCon work.  But let’s quickly look at this from the flip-side.  What if my goal for a particular workout is to work instantaneous power output in this particular movement? Again, I need to choose the right tool for the job and, in this instance, I’d go with the snatch and/or power snatch, as I can chunk much more weight and, with the movement execution time and distance being (practically speaking) identical, maximize my overall power output.  Now, that said, if my goal were to work max instantaneous power production in an unbalanced/unilateral environment, then a heavy Cred would be a fine choice or, if I wanted to focus mainly on the unilateral catch balance aspect of the movement, a single arm snatch might be just the ticket.

More on this subject as time permits…

In health,


10 responses to “The Right Tool for the Job

    • I have to admire the (wrong-mined as it may be) ingenuity, though…and at least he seems to be wearing Vibrams 🙂

          • There are no failures, only feedback. It’s always best, though, to learn from some one else’s negative feedback. Your candor is appreciated.

          • Back at my old best deadlift I was a big dummy and had made such steady progress that I wouldn’t accepted the fact that I wasn’t feeling so hot and tried to push a workout. Tweaked my back and lost a load of strength that took me over a year to gain back. We’ve all be dummies but we try and do better.

  1. I believe that gif is actually a friend of mine called Kirez Reynolds 😀

    He also did an upside-down version of “Fran” I remember(that’s right … hanging from the bar by your feet and rowing it towards you)

    The use of olympic lifts for conditioning is a large gap in Crossfit’s programming(btw, do I have to be careful not to rouse a Crossfit discussion here Keith?).
    The fact that they approve of the deteriorating form on olympic lifts(I believe Greg Glassman said that slipping of the form is inevitable and is normal)boggles my mind ..
    The olympic lifts have so much to offer simply by doing them properly, even if it’s not for typical metcon purposes.
    When you do the standard full lifts, like a full clean+a split jerk, well-executed and coached, for 3-5 reps, you WILL get a tremendous metcon benefit without fatiguing so much that your form deteriorates.
    That said, I love kettlebell swings and dumbbell power snatches to train the hip-extension function in a conditioning training. They’re hard, but don’t require constant attention to technique because it’s a very fluid movement.

    “Simple” is something that’s often neglected.
    I absolutely love hill sprints for conditioning …

    – They are tough as hell.
    – They strengthen your hamstrings and calves more than running on a flat surface.
    – There’s less impact on the ground(since each foot strike ends up higher than the last, instead of straight down).
    – Very little technique is required, you “learn by doing”.

    I feel that once you can effectively “turn the mind off” during a conditioning workout, you can go very far. Might be one of the reasons that running is so popular.

    • No worries about starting a CrossFit flame war; for the most part, I (and I’d assume, most TTP readers) are, aside from the Oly lift/MetCon issue, CrossFit apologists. I’d love to hear-out the other side of the argument, though. I wrote a post a while back (Perfect VS. Good Enough), that addresses the issue of form deterioration/”improper” technique. A trainee certainly doesn’t need to exhibit perfect form (unless training for Olympic lifting specifically — and even then we need to account for/accommodate various body types and mechanical idiosyncrasies), but the intent should always be there; same as the intent should always be (in my opinion), to execute the concentric phase of any exercise as fast as possible. There is a very narrow window of “technique forgiveness”, though, the more “technical” the lift becomes. That’s why I prefer non-technical lifts with MetCon modalities.

      Just an aside: hill sprints and/or stadium step sprints (which I do a lot of) work the quads more so than flat-land sprints which, properly executed, should be ham/glute dominant. Think of the body angle of coming out of the blocks, which is more so a quad dominant motion (and is very close to a hill/step sprint angle). In fact, one visual cue in identifying a good sprinter is his/her ability to quickly transfer out of the quad dominant “start” and into the ham/glute dominant “stride”. For this reason, I keep my hill sprints very, very short so as to mimic a flat-land “start”. Just my opinion, though.

      • Hmm… I think you’re right that hill sprints engage the quads heavily when you perform them at a high angle(30-45°), now that I think about it. This makes sense.

        In that case(you would have to know my specific injury background to know the reasons I perform these and seldom anything else, but just bear with me)the combination of hill sprints and sand sprints on a flat surface would be ideal for those that can’t run on a flat, hard surface with a high frequency(like me).

        Both offer less impact and more activation of the ankle and food muscles, and the hills focus of the starting muscles(quads)and the sand sprints on the acceleration muscles(hamstrings).

        Just philosophising out loud though.

        Btw, always got my Vibrams. Ironically, the Vibram Company is from Italy, yet it’s apparently much more difficult to obtain them in Europa than in the USA.
        Doing fine on my bare feet, for now, but temperatures are dropping fast.

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