Sunday, February 17, 2008

Size Matters

When it comes to bodyweight exercises, size matters. When it comes to high level strength training, size matters. When it comes to plyometric work, size matters.

Shorter, lighter humans are capable of handling a greater volume of work, given any relative intensity. It is more appropriate for them to do more volume, and appropriate for larger people to do a lower volume. Over time, the absolute pounding on the system will break down the larger athlete, if volume is not controlled for.

Furthermore, the athlete must have a solid foundation of body awareness, movement skill and strength before many bodyweight exercises can and should be used to train for conditioning. Joints and passive structures must be given time to adapt to the demands of the load; and the musculature given time to support those structures.


Sean said...

So, how does a newly training, large (wannabe) athlete judge when and how much body weight exercise to do? What kinds of body weight exercises do we have to watch the most? Not all are created equal. Obviously more strength is needed for pistols than for air squats but do we need be more careful of one than the other? Should we worry more about explosive movements (box jumps) than fully controlled movements (push ups)?

I'm acutely aware of the fact that I'm lifting up to 100+ lbs more than other athletes when I do bodyweight exercises. Days when single pull ups seem impossible or when holding that last push up in the down position has me in agony just heighten my awareness. Still, I've never addressed volume in my programming and I'm not really sure how to do so.

The Iron Maven said...


Volume would be relative intensity x # of reps--not just total time or level of exhaustion after an effort. So, you have to take that into consideration when you're planning what you want to do; and have your coach help you figure out what is appropriate. If the intensity is sufficiently high, say greater than 75% of 1RM, then you have to be careful of the volume and adjust accordingly.

If someone can only do one pull up or push up at a time, then that exercise is not appropriate for general conditioning. You would need to modify things (assisted pull ups, bodyweight rows, etc) to make it more appropriate.

It all depends on you and what you bring to the table as a new athlete. You have to evaluate your needs given your base abilities, given your goals. Realize that adaptation takes time. Realize that cumulative stress must be considered, as should the stress of any given workout.

That's kind of hard to do if you have no idea what is coming tomorrow or next week.

So, two-legged squats are less intense than one-legged; as such, a higher volume might be used. And yes, explosive movements should be doled out in lower volume than controlled movements; particularly if the training age is low. And they should not be used in a fatigued state or for conditioning, especially with novice or intermediate athletes.

The other thing to consider is base strength relative to bodyweight. Dan T. is capable of doing the bodyweight exercise volume he can @ 250 lbs, because he has solid history of basic (absolute) strength behind him, i.e. good starting strength. Training for that takes time, and a plan that does not use "reps for time" scheme. Someone of your size needs more absolute strength to survive the relative intensity of the general CF workouts.

I recommend Vern Gambetta's book, "Athletic Development" for you or anyone who wants a resource on training and the planning/variables that should be considered when training.

Sean said...

While I don't agree explosive movements shouldn't be used for conditioning or while fatigued, they certainly require a lot more care and thoughtful use.

I believe in training for life rather than for sport and I feel quite strongly that we must learn to have our full range of physical abilities regardless of fatigue or wear. If I've never trained jumping at the extreme limits of fatigue, what will happen when I need to make a leap while running for my life? I realize this example is a bit contrived but the reality is that our biggest physical challenges don't give us a week to taper our exercise and prepare. I have to be able to dodge that out of control car whether I am fresh or have just completed a 2 hour pain fest. The only way to prepare is to push your limits.

Still, we don't need to push our limits at every workout. I need enough exposure to various activities under duress to learn to cope with my limits but at the same time, I have to accept my overall limitations in order to improve my health without injury.

The occasional workout of 100+ box jumps is OK but it shouldn't be my daily fare and perhaps not even weekly.

As a novice, though not young, athlete, I bring a strong personality and a broad range of experiences. I struggle to integrate the ideas and opinions of those, such as yourself, whom I respect. While I agree with much of the philosophical basis for CrossFit, I've come to accept the volume they expect is beyond my ability to adapt at this time.

As I work towards my goals, I find variety is my biggest ally. Those handstand push ups are still elusive but I find more and more ways to train for them. Pike push ups. Self assisted handstand push ups. Negatives. I'll get there eventually.

Catherine Imes said...

If you are fatigued, you will fall back to skill.. But, you cannot build that skill while fatigued. Part of training for life is developing skill. So, in your jumping scenario, if you never learned how to jump well you may be SOL in a fatigued state.

Staying with the jumps...let's take your 100 Box jump scenario. If I'm someone with poor box jumping capabilities, should I even attempt this? No. I should "Practice" jumping first in a fresh state to build the requisite jumping skills. Doing massive amounts of volume of something that I've never learned to do correctly is just asking for trouble.

IMO, you have no business practicing something in a fatigued state, that you can't do very well in a fresh state. Because if you do shoddy reps in a fatigued state, you are 1. Asking for injury 2. building movement patterns that will inhibit future development of that skill.

There are good low-tech movements that are well-suited for met-con stuff. They are safe and they don't require as much skill as say a clean and jerk or a snatch. Dumbbell Thrusters, Sandbag work, KB Swings, Pullups (For some), BW Squats, rowing ect are all relatively low-skill movements that are great for pushing the limits. I'm sure there are others.

I'm a KB lifter. I worked for a while to get my technique honed before I upped the intensity. Now, when I am in the middle of a long grueling set, I always fall back to my technique. But, I put in the time to learn the technique outside of a fatigued state.

Something else I've gotten from that type of skill development is body awareness that does allow me to safely push harder in a metcon sense. I know when I'm doing something shoddy or maybe my posture isn't correct and I stop and make the adjustments. You won't likely gain that awareness if you don't work on skill development outside of fatigue.

The Iron Maven said...


I congratulate you on being reflective and really making some great strides physically. Give yourself credit and enjoy the journey.

Please know you can train for life by applying well-known principles of sport training. I do it with myself, my clients and with my patients. The principles are similar; they are applied a bit differently and to a different degree. The idea is to stress the system in a way that creates positive adaptations without causing derangement or injury to the system.

To do so, I have to be somewhat specific (the SAID principle--specific adaptation to imposed demand) to get the changes I want. And I choose to push the limits in a planned progression vs random method, over a period of time. For noobs, that might mean 1-3 years.

Patience is a virtue here. Don't get caught in the volume trap. If you build a good foundation, the work capacity will come.

Oh yeah, if you want, I'd love to see your Death Loop and ride it with you. You haven't experienced real pain on the bike until you've ridden 100 miles from Ladue Jr High out to Washington MO (via Highway T) and back on a sultry St. Louis 98 degree+ Saturday in July. 8 hours of pure fun in the sun!



You are correct. 200+ lb dudes probably aren't going to be able to do 100+ box jumps very often. Too much pounding. But they might not be a problem for some pixie who weighs 110# and has a training age of 5+ years.

Just an aside--To me, explosive implies maximal power. There is such a thing as power endurance, and that would be submaximal power applied over time. So if you want to do wall balls or kb swings/snatches or jerks--that's fine. But it is not maximal explosive power. Just so you know where I'm coming from when I say that I prefer to not use explosive movements for conditioning. Wall ball and KB all you want--they improve work capacity but not the ability to express maximal power.

Sean said...


What you said makes a lot of sense. I'm certainly not suggesting I do all exercises in a fatigued state. I just think it is necessary, once you have built some skill in a movement, to practice that movement when you have the reduced capacity and control of fatigue. Doing 100 box jumps at 20" taught me that I am capable of a lot more than I realized, that I could still jump when my lungs were screaming and my heart was racing and that I could get much better cycle time than I had been doing. I learned those things when I discovered how much better I did at the end of the set than at the beginning. Still, I need to spend a lot more time practicing skills than I do now.

Sean said...

I didn't mean to disparage sport training. Sport training can and does prepare you for life. Not all sport training includes some of the aspects of training I want. Not all sports train you to perform under duress. That is an aspect of training I want but it is far from the only aspect I care about. I'm on a journey to make myself a more fit and capable person. The journey is hard, painful, grueling and humbling. It is also rewarding, exciting, dramatic and motivating.

Your input, and the input of everyone I've trained with help make me what I am. There is a world of knowledge and experience out there that I not only don't have but likely won't ever have. I'm reminded of a conversation with my doctor when I rejected his recommendation of surgery. I told him, "I value the advice of experts, but it is up to me to make the final decisions about my body. I can't abdicate that responsibility no matter how many experts I consult."

I try to understand the points you make and where you are coming from. I don't always agree but I always think about it. Unfortunately, I'm a stubborn man and I have to make mistakes before some things sink in.

The Iron Maven said...


To each, his or her own. Find your path. Take your lumps along the way. You know I'm always happy to cuss and discuss.

I'm serious about that bike ride. I'm sure I could help you be a little more efficient on that bike and those hills.


Sean said...

In my eagerness to respond to other things, I forgot about the ride. The sand thing about the "Loop of Death" is how silly it seams now. Back before I'd done anything to improve my fitness, the loop of death was the epitome of difficult. These days, though I haven't been on my bike much, I doubt it would be worth mention.

I'm jealous of the ability to ride 100 miles. I'd really like to try bike travel sometime. I've got to get back on my bike.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh Grasshopper............quite and insightful conversation.

But performing unimaginable feats in times of fatigue or without prior training are only limited by the mind and soul. Those things happen on a regular basis in conditions where people are very focused. You are only training your confidence when you perform difficult tasks while under fatigue or without training. Confidence only feeds the ego. Focus feeds the mind and soul. Those who work on focusing the mind and feeling the soul will have all the ability they need when they need it.

So about that Death Loop and 98+degree heat.....that's pretty unimaginable right about now. I'm in when it's happening. Give me a shout out when the conditions are right!! Ssssssssss