Wednesday, June 08, 2011

From CrossFit to High Intensity Weightlifting

By Diana Hsieh

After exactly a year of CrossFit, I've decided to switch to Body By Science / SuperSlow (BBS/SS). Yowza, what a change for me... and a good one, I hope!

I've been toying with the idea of this change in my workouts for a while now, partly due to concerns that the whole "metcon" aspect of CrossFit was exhausting me without improving my strength or fitness. Other reasons, as you'll see below, grew on me too. Ultimately, I was convinced after doing an official BBS/SS workout with Ed at Doug McGuff's gym Ultimate Exercise a few weeks ago, when visiting Eric Daniels before ATLOSCon. (Yes, the experience was seriously awesome, and I really enjoyed chatting with Dr. McGuff afterward.)

First, what is the Body By Science or SuperSlow method? Here's how it's described on the website of Ultimate Exercise:

I. High Intensity - To stimulate your body to make an adaptive change your exercise intensity must cross a certain threshold before your body will respond. By training to muscular failure, we send an alarm to your body that more muscle and improved metabolic are needed. Also, we use a training protocol called "SuperSlow" which involves lifting and lowering the weights over a 10 second time frame. This eliminates acceleration and momentum which keeps the muscle under continuous load and more effectively fatigues the muscle.

II. Brief Workouts - All of our workouts last 20 minutes or less. We desire the minimum amount of exercise that will produce the stimulus for adaptation. Anything beyond this amount of exercise only acts to consume precious recovery resources.

III. Infrequent Workouts - Reaching the required stimulus intensity threshold consumes a large amount of your body's resources and the subsequent adaptive changes are metabolically expensive. Replenishing resources and making metabolic investments takes time. Reintroducing the stimulus (a workout) too soon will interrupt these processes.

IV. Precise Record-Keeping - Keeping precise records of your workout performance allows us to know if we are manipulating the variables of intensity, duration, and frequency appropriately. By doing this our clients can show progress on every exercise of every workout.
Second, why am I switching? I'll tell you! But please keep in mind that these reasons are personal to me. I have no beef with my CrossFit gym, nor with anyone who chooses to CrossFit. If it's working for you, keep working it!
  1. I'm enthused that my progress will be measured with every workout, but that I won't need to do the measuring. I've been frustrated by my inability to easily tell whether I'm doing better or worse in CrossFit. Yet that's important to me, given my thyroid problems. I'll have noticeable gains or losses in strength, purely due to increasing or decreasing my desiccated thyroid. It will be good to track my strength, carefully and objectively -- or rather, to have someone else do that!
  2. I don't want to go to the gym more than once per week, and that's all that BS/SS advises. I live in a rural area and work from home, so every hour-long CrossFit session consumed nearly three hours of my day -- and seriously interrupted the flow of my work. I could manage that once per week, on Mondays, when I have my dog training lesson and grocery shopping to do. Twice per week had become a burden, due to changes in my schedule. With BBS, I'll just be lifting once per week, for about 20 minutes, when I'm already in town. That's a major win for me.
  3. I want to enjoy fun physical activities most days of the week! Whenever I'd CrossFit, I wouldn't have the time or energy to ride my horse Lila. That began to seem like a sacrifice to me. With BBS/SS, I'll have the time to do whatever sports I please on my six days off, so long as I'm not lifting weights.
  4. I want to leave the gym energized, not deliriously exhausted. Too often, CrossFit workouts would just beat me down, to the point where I couldn't think clearly or work for hours and hours afterwards. That's why I had to work out in the evenings, from 5:30 to 6:30 pm, because I couldn't afford to spend the whole day in that state of exhaustion. Sure, we did a fair bit of strength training at CrossFit, but not as much as I wanted. The "metcons" just killed me -- and I wondered not only whether they were providing any benefit, but also whether I was actively doing myself harm, particularly given my (still ongoing but better) thyroid problems. In contrast, after the initial recovery from my jelly legs with BBS/SS, I might feel a bit tired, but not beaten to a pulp.
  5. I'm excited to be able to push myself to full capacity without risking injury. With CrossFit, it's too easy to injure yourself as you push yourself with more weight in lifts or kettlebells, more height on boxjumps, and so on. Yes, there's lots of attention to form, but when you get tired, just one bad rep can do real damage. I strained the rotator cuff in my right shoulder in a workout this winter, and while it's better, it's still not great. As a result, I've been cautious about the weight I use, particularly with kettlebells, and that's limiting my progress. From what I've read, the injury rate on BBS/SS is nearly non-existent, because you're lifting the super-heavy weight so slowly and in such a controlled way.
  6. I'm enthused to be working out in air conditioning! I was not looking forward to hour-long CrossFit workouts in the broiling heat of Colorado afternoons. Yet I couldn't switch to morning workouts, for fear that I'd be exhausted for a whole day rather than just a few hours at night. That might seem trivial, but working out in the heat is extra-draining.
  7. As the icing on the cake, SS/BBS will be cheaper per week than even my measly two sessions of CrossFit. Win!
So, given all that, I'm very excited to start BBS/SS. I don't want to do it on my own: I need a trainer to push me to do my very best. Happily, South Denver has a SuperSlow affiliate -- now TruFit Health -- and my first workout was on Monday. That went really well, and I'm looking forward to future workouts.

As for the results... I'll keep you updated!

P.S. If you decide to try my SuperSlow gym (now TruFit Health) in south Denver, please tell them that I referred you!

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