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A bodybuilder does CrossFit

Ein Bodybuilder macht CrossFit

Here's a quick summary...

1. while many think CrossFit makes exercisers weak, the average CrossFit Games competitor is very impressive
2. some CrossFit girls have better bodies than some figure athletes - even without dieting
3. there's something magical about being able to perform an explosive exercise when you're metabolically exhausted and your heart rate is skyrocketing
4. Performing submaximal exercises that focus more on speed and work density, as you do in CrossFit, is a great way to build muscle
5. CrossFit can get you lean fast without even remotely focusing on nutrition

I have a secret. I trained almost exclusively CrossFit last summer. I competed in Olympic weightlifting competitions, powerlifting competitions and bodybuilding competitions... and now I can say that I am also a CrossFitter. I trained three times a week at CrossFit Levis and then worked on my strength and Olympic weightlifting exercises on my own. I kept a CrossFit training journal during this time. And one year later, I would like to present it here: My CrossFit training journal along with a few recent observations.

Why I decided to give CrossFit a try

1) I worked with a lot of CrossFit athletes this year and helped several prepare for the Canada East Regionals. I've helped some with Olympic weightlifting and others with their overall training. I can tell you this: I've coached figure athletes who take their nutrition, cardio and training to the extreme and a lot of the CrossFit girls I work with have better body development than these figure athletes...and that's without dieting. And a former Canadian national bodybuilding champion I worked with has now started CrossFit training and she looks better than she did when she was bodybuilding - not just better, but more muscular and stronger.
2 I used to believe that CrossFit made girls look great and men look skinny - in addition to losing strength. I no longer believe the latter, as some of the CrossFit competition athletes are quite strong. The average CrossFit Games competitor can snatch 245 pounds, clean and jerk 335 pounds, deadlift 550 pounds and perform squats at 450 pounds - and several CrossFit athletes can perform overhead squats at 300 pounds and front squats at 400 pounds. Four of the guys I train can snatch over 225 pounds, which is pretty darn strong!
3 And take a look at top CrossFit competitive athletes Dan Bailey, Neil Maddox, Rich Froning, Jason Khalipa. These guys look badass - big muscles, athletic look and lean. The average height to weight ratio for the top guys is 180 cm, 88 kilos and 8% body fat or less. I know you're considered a weakling on the internet if you weigh less than 90 kilos, but in reality an average height, very lean body at 90 kilos is very muscular. Heck, the last time I competed in a bodybuilding competition, I weighed 85 kilos.
4 CrossFit has done more for Olympic weightlifting than Olympic weightlifting itself. Any sport and training model based on snatch, clean and jerk, deadlift and push press (standing shoulder press with momentum from the legs) can't be that bad.
5. i do some workouts with my wife and there is something quite sexy about seeing a woman perform deadlifts, deadlifts & push presses and snatches that really helps to reignite the passion in a marriage!
6. i hate not being good at anything, which is especially true if it's workout related.
7. i have always believed in the maxim "leaders lead from the front, not the back." believed. And I've always lived by the credo of not asking anything of a client that I can't do myself. You may not be at the same level, but you should be physically able to do what you ask of them. And having worked with a lot of CrossFit athletes, I felt bad not being able to lead from the front.
8. 5 years ago, I suffered from a virus-related myocardiopaty that led to heart failure. For two years my heart only functioned at 20 to 30% of its original efficiency. This was something that is hard to accept for someone who was athletic. It affected my training and my quality of life. This experience made me realize how important a strong cardiovascular system is. I also believe that my cardiovascular health (or lack thereof) greatly affected my ability to build muscle. Every time I exceeded 100 kilos, I felt really bad and had to reduce my weight.
9 I've always believed that training density is one of the most important factors when it comes to getting a maximum training response from your workouts. In CrossFit, training density is the most important element. Each training session is based on performing a certain amount of work as quickly as possible or as much work as possible within a given time window. This sense of urgency that this workout creates can be as powerful as adrenaline.

That was the reason I wanted to give it a try.

May - Things I learned from my first month of CrossFit

1 - I had gotten lazy with my own workouts. I stayed in my comfort zone far too often and only really pushed myself when I really needed to improve quickly (e.g. before a video shoot).
2. my cardiovascular system is both better and worse than I thought it would be. Better because I found out that I am capable of going way past the point where I thought I would die and worse because I think dying would feel better.
3. some of the workouts have been very beneficial to my own body development goals (My ideal is Georges St. Pierre with 10 to 15 pounds of extra muscle mass). However, some are also very counterproductive and make it harder for me to achieve my goals.
4. training to be good at CrossFit will do more to build the body I want than simply doing CrossFit. I think this is one of the reasons the guys and gals at a top level have such great bodies - they do CrossFit workouts, but they also do plenty of strength training.
5 I know that my methods for building strength are more effective than the methods used by even the top CrossFit athletes. I also know that the type of work performed during productive (for my goals) CrossFit workouts will do a lot to help me build quality muscle and get leaner. A combination will give me everything I want from my workouts.
6. it's fun to learn new heavy skills like handstand push-ups, muscle-ups and the like, but you don't need them to build the ultimate body. If there's one thing I don't like about CrossFit, it's the complexity of some of the skills. I understand that being prepared for anything is the driving concept, but if your goal is simply to get more muscular, leaner and stronger, then these advanced skills aren't necessary.
7 There is something magical about being able to perform an explosive exercise when you are metabolically exhausted and your heart rate is at 200 beats per minute. Being in such a strained physical state activates powerful survival mechanisms - when you perform strength and power training in this state, you generate a very powerful growth stimulus that cannot be achieved in any other way.
8. for the first time ever I had a sore latissimus muscle and my latissimus has grown significantly. I have always hated pull-ups and therefore avoided them. I have found that a daily workout of pull-ups using strict pull-ups kipping pull-ups, butterfly pull-ups and pull-ups on rings at a non-maximal level works better than anything else when it comes to building my latissimus. The strange thing is that I didn't feel my latissimus particularly strong while performing these exercises - but even more so the next day! This made me think again about some things that I had considered to be absolute truths.
9 CrossFit does indeed have a fairly high risk of injury. Even as someone who has studied training techniques, I tended to take shortcuts during WODs. It is important, in my opinion, to train the big basic exercises used in CrossFit as part of regular strength training sessions to make proper technique as much of an automatism as possible.
10. during a CrossFit training session you reach a state of deep focus that allows you to do things you didn't expect. For example, at one point I found it very hard to breathe and was close to passing out, but I ended up doing one of my most technically sound reps of snatches at about 10 pounds less than my current max weight. Experiencing this type of tunnel vision is something you can learn to transfer to strength training sessions to make them much more productive. I can also use my wife as an example. During regular strength training sessions you couldn't get her to move 135 pounds on deadlifts (due to the "big" plates on each side), but during a WOD she went up to 225 pounds.
11 My capacity to perform a heavy workload in a state of metabolic exhaustion has improved dramatically - and much faster than expected. In addition to my training, I do two workouts at the Levis CrossFit Box with my wife. I'll be honest - during the first week I thought I would never manage to finish - or even survive - the training sessions. Two-thirds of the way through the workouts, I was gripped by a sense of panic. However, by the second week I was actually able to complete a training session with good results instead of just surviving and by the third week I felt so much better after a training session that I wondered if I had done the training session correctly as I felt so good at the end!
12. i got slim fast! I am slimmer than I have been in the last 5 years and I didn't even pay attention to my diet to achieve this. I'm actually eating a lot more carbs now. After the first week, I ramped up my carbohydrate intake to make sure I could recover sufficiently. My daily food intake is as follows. Please note that this is not a dietary recommendation. I am not planning anything and I am certainly not a gluten hater.

  • 6 sirloin hamburgers (150g carbohydrates)
  • 3-4 scoops of a weight gainer (roughly 114-152g carbohydrates)
  • 6 scoops of protein powder (30g carbohydrates)
  • 14 rice crackers (112g carbohydrates)
  • 2 Finibars (80g carbohydrates)
  • A few berries (roughly 20-30g carbohydrates)

That's between 520 and 540 grams of carbs per day and sometimes I even get to 600. Not bad for someone who used to be afraid of getting over 50 grams of carbs per day.

13 Despite my biggest fear, I haven't lost any strength - I've actually gotten stronger on many of my exercises including pull-ups, overhead presses and deadlifts. I was also able to increase my strength in power snatches. My powerlifting has stayed the same, mainly due to not being able to train hard because of an old elbow injury I sustained when I overdid it on rings.
14 I am almost indestructible at weights in the 60 to 75% range. Before that, I could do tons of sets of 1 to 2 reps at 90%. But I couldn't handle higher reps or workloads. To give you an idea, let me mention that when I tested my deadlift performance after three weeks, I was able to do 60 reps with a weight in the 70 to 75% range in under 8 minutes. That may not sound huge, but that's one repetition every 8 seconds. And to be honest, I could have gone on and on. I also performed 60 reps of neck presses with over 225 pounds in just under 9 minutes.
15. my latissimus and shoulders improved the most. I've always had good, round shoulders, but for some reason I had lost some mass, shape and strength around those muscles over the last 2 years. I'm guessing this was caused by a significant reduction in my overhead training (in favor of bench presses) and chronic shoulder inflammation. To be good at CrossFit, you need to be super efficient and strong overhead, which is why I had to shift my focus more towards overhead press strength, away from the bench press. This has paid off. I've been doing a lot of overhead training with high reps, which seems to be more effective for building shoulders than max weights. Latissimus growth was something that came naturally, as I had to get good at pull-ups, which were a part of virtually every workout I did in the CrossFit box.
16 I lost fat in my upper and lower back - areas where fat is usually super stubborn for me.
17 I feel a lot better. I used to have energy slumps and even borderline depressive episodes. I attribute this to messed up brain chemistry. As it turned out, however, I was just out of shape. I feel more energized and excited to do things. I'm not at the point where I enjoy visiting my in-laws yet, but I'm sure that will come.
18 I feel athletic. I walk differently. My movements seem more fluid and confident. I look like a different person when I approach and it's not even from the physical changes.
19 My body weight hasn't changed much, although I've gotten leaner. I started at 215 pounds, which is pretty much my normal weight, and after four weeks I weighed 213 pounds, but I had lost a lot more than just 2 pounds of fat. So much for the fear of shrinking down to 180 pounds within a few weeks.
20. the sport that will benefit the most from a gainer is training for CrossFit. Not only was I able to recover from some brutal metcon workouts with ease and still move heavy weights during my strength training sessions, but I never felt physically wiped out. I only had muscle soreness once and that was after a training session where I had performed 64 reps of power deadlifts with 185 pounds in CrossFit training and then an hour later used 295 pounds in push presses during my regular strength training session. I got a sore trapezius muscle, but that was about it.

June - Observations during the second month

1. a tough month of training is behind me. I can say that this form of training is addictive and I can well understand why CrossFit is so popular. It really sucks when you do it, but it's the pride you feel and the sense of accomplishment that is hard to beat. As for my training results, I love what I see and how I feel.
2. during my second month of training, I've observed and learned a few more things that I want to share with my readers. I have always felt like the average reader of this site. I want what he wants and I like what he likes. I like to be strong and muscular, but I also love to be lean and feel athletic. I have said that my ideal body image is Georges St. Pierre's body with 10 to 15 pounds more muscle, but considering what is happening with my body, I might change that statement to 20 pounds more muscle.
3) While I expected to get leaner with this type of training, I was also worried about losing some muscle mass. Ultimately, decreasing the volume of my general strength training and increasing the volume of metabolic conditioning training was going to result in a loss of muscle mass. I was willing to live with this, but so far I'm downright shocked by the results. I certainly haven't lost any muscle mass and may even have gained muscle, which is evident from the fact that I am much leaner while my body weight has remained fairly stable. This tells me two things:

a. The amount of strength training/heavy training needed to build strength and muscle mass is much less than I previously thought
b. Lighter resistance training can actually stimulate growth if you push yourself hard enough.

4. after some deeper analysis of my self-perception, I realized that being super lean is more important to me than being super bulky. Don't get me wrong, I want big muscles and you can't achieve the look I want without a good amount of muscle mass, but it's always been my main goal to look like a walking anatomy chart. The problem is that every time I've tried to get this lean in the past, I've felt really bad during the process. I had no energy and lost strength. Why? Because with the type of training I was doing, I was achieving fat loss by reducing food/carbohydrate intake (sometimes very drastically), whereas now I am achieving the same whilst eating just as much, if not more than during the muscle building phase.
5. my back, shoulders and legs have definitely improved the most. What I really love is seeing my back getting really lean! As I mentioned before, it would normally take an extreme diet to get better definition in the back area, but now I'm seeing a lot of division just from working out. My shoulders are a lot rounder, which is cool because in the past the round shape of my shoulders was the first thing I lost while dieting. My legs are bulkier, but that's also not surprising since I do four squat workouts a week plus Olympic weightlifting exercises plus complexes.
6 I've taken to doing daily pull-ups and dips on rings to improve my relative strength. I believe that by doing dips on rings daily, I am able to maintain the mass of my pecs even though I almost completely avoid bench presses. This has led me to the conclusion that dips can be a better muscle building exercise for the chest than bench presses.
7 This is the first time in my life that I really like the way I look. I think that most of us who get serious about working out do so because we are not happy with the way we look. I am no different here. Even when I was bodybuilding I didn't like the way I looked. This could have been because once I achieved the level of leanness and muscularity I wanted, I felt so bad about myself that I saw everything in a negative light. I can safely say that now, for the first time, I look good and feel good at the same time.
8. The more I experience it, the more I believe that submaximal training, which focuses more on speed and training density, is a great way to build muscle. This is especially true for Olympic weightlifting exercises, which is why I've decided to go a little lighter on my Olympic days (I build my overall strength on strength days anyway) and focus more on complexes and EMOM training (every minute on the minute). I feel like this gives me stronger overall muscle gains while making my technique more solid and being easier on my nervous system.
9. you definitely need to ramp up the carbs! Not only will you not get fat on this program, but carbs (the right ones) will actually help you get leaner because they can help you train harder.

July - CrossFit Marathon

Want to hear something even crazier than Christian Thibaudeau training CrossFit? How about Christian Thibaudeau taking part in a 24 hour CrossFit marathon?

You may have noticed that I have an "all or nothing" attitude. Moderation is not my nature. So after less than two months with this type of training, my wife and I decided to sign up for a 24 hour CrossFit marathon organized to raise funds for a town that had been nearly half destroyed by a boxcar explosion.

The event lasted for 24 hours and a training session was carried out every hour. We were split into two teams, so we had to complete all six training sessions - one every four hours. My wife and I stayed in the gym the whole time apart from two short breaks when we went home to feed the dogs. It would be a lie to say that we slept, because sleeping was physically impossible.

When I arrived at the weight room, I noticed that a lot of people knew me. Some knew me because I had trained them in Olympic weightlifting and others knew me by reputation. Everyone was surprised to see me as they knew nothing about the "shift in my training preferences".

Therefore, when it was time for the first training session, I felt a lot of pressure. My heart rate was about to collapse before the workout even started. In addition to this, the training sessions were randomly selected, so it was not possible to assign specific training sessions to team members as we did not know the order of the training sessions in advance. This made things even more difficult. As it turned out, I had to perform a workout called "Fran", which consisted of 21 thrusters (95 pounds), 21 pull-ups, 15 thrusters, 15 pull-ups, 9 thrusters and 9 pull-ups for time. This workout may look pretty innocent, but the problem is that you can barely breathe during the workout. The thrusters are the absolute worst exercise when it comes to breathing and then you have to perform pull-ups during which deep breathing is almost impossible as you can't lift your chest.

I made the mistake of doing the first 21 thrusters as quickly as possible. While I finished first, I was panting heavily as I ran to the pull-up rack. This was due to the lack of breathing and elevated heart rate at the beginning. I managed to get through the whole thing, but promised myself I would never do this training session again.

My second training session was even worse:

  • 18 toes-to-bar
  • 16 push-ups where you lift your hands off the floor for a moment after your chest touches the floor
  • 14 pull-ups (chest to bar)
  • 12 dips on rings
  • 10 pull-ups
  • 8 handstand push-ups
  • 6 pull-ups (chest to bar)
  • 4 deadlifts and deadlifts with 155 pounds
  • 60m walking lunges with 45 pounds overhead

The whole thing went pretty well - apart from falling down three times while doing the handstand push-ups (I hadn't trained this exercise before), but I was really disappointed when I saw that the next training session (the training session that another team member was supposed to do in my place) tested the 1RM weight on deadlifts. I would have liked to have done that.

I also did quite well in my third training session, which consisted of 5 rounds of the following exercises:

  • 200m Farmers with a 20 kilo weight plate in each hand (held at the hole)
  • 20m Bear Crawl (running on all fours)
  • 10 box jumps (90 centimeters)

The next training session consisted of 5-4-3-2-1 with power reps and kettlebell snatches. I would have done quite well here too, but my wife had to do this workout and I can proudly say that her reps looked very solid. In the next round, I pulled a workout that was made for me: "Isabelle", which consisted of 30 repetitions of 135-pound snatches. All eyes were on me and I was expecting a very solid performance.

Sadly, luck was not on my side. After the first 10 reps, where I felt like I was doing snatches with an empty bar, my right quadriceps started to cramp really bad. I wasn't able to put any weight on my leg without feeling bad cramps. I paused, drank 3 liters of water, waited 10 minutes and then tried again. Sadly, most of the others had finished by this point and were resting.

The rest of this experience lies behind a veil. I am someone who usually wakes up at 4:30am and goes to bed at 8pm. On this day, I also woke up at 4:30am, but I finished my last training session at 3:00am. I don't respond particularly well to sleep deprivation. I ended the day with a training session that was tailor made for me, but by this point I was struggling to stay awake and alive, so I can't really say I dominated this training session. The most important thing I learned during those four weeks is the value of Loaded Carries. I was reminded of this when I had to do a training session at CrossFit Levis that included 5 rounds of a 400 meter farmers walk with 24 kilo kettlebells. Then, two days later, I performed the Farmers Walk at the CrossFit Marathon. My forearms and trapezius probably doubled in size afterwards.

Okay, I'm exaggerating, but the Farmers Walk had a huge impact. And I've also found that this type of exercise can teach you to breathe correctly during intense efforts. When you're doing conditioning/strength capacity training, breathing is something that is highly undervalued, yet crucial for optimal performance. I will make sure to incorporate more Farmers Walks into my training in the future due to their impact on body composition, muscle mass and breathing technique.

It was all going so well...

Back to the present... My CrossFit experience ended after the third month. That's when my health problems started. I won't cover those in full here, but suffice it to say they stopped my momentum.

Now what?

I've spent some time rebuilding some of the muscle mass I lost during my time in hospital. To achieve this, I have started regular heavy training again. Now that my strength base is slowly coming back, I'm focusing on Olympic weightlifting exercises again. I am also doing plenty of strength training. I train the two Olympic weightlifting exercises every training day, doing pulls on day 1, presses on day 2 and legs (squats) on day 3, followed by a non-training day before repeating this cycle.

I use the tried and tested 5 x 5 system for my strength exercises. My goal is to do 5 sets of 5 repetitions with the same weight and if I can do this, I increase the weight. I never reduce the weight. On some sets I might only do 3 or 4 reps, but that's fine and just means I won't increase the weight on the next session.

Will I train CrossFit again? Probably. Not to the same extent as last summer, but when my strength levels are back to where I want them to be, I'll start working out again with my wife once or twice a week at CrossFit Levis. I need to prepare to get my butt kicked hard, because unlike me, she hasn't stopped CrossFit.

By Christian Thibaudeau

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