Power Monkey Camp – Day 5

So Vic McQuaide gave me some tips on my double-unders…

While my training age might have shown itself earlier this week, my true age finally kicked in. I woke up tire and sore. Thankfully, we had the morning off. Unfortunately, my internal alarm clock still woke me up before 7am, but I happily stayed in my twin-sized bunk bed until around 8am before grabbing my umpteenth banana from the canteen.

I made my way over to open gym and started things off with some leisurely improvised yoga and stretching. Then I grabbed Coach Ryann, who rowed on the women’s team at Yale, for some one-on-one training. She helped correct my shoulder and arm position in the back of my stroke. And though a subtle change, she also helped move where I was strapping in my feet so that it was where my toes meet my foot rather than further up on my laces.

Afterwards, Coach Shane Gerraghty, who is the camp co-director and a stuntman in Hollywood, was leading some other campers through handstand practice. I was invited to join and others followed foot. A great tweak that he made was recommending that we start the handstand from standing with our arms and body in the position that they should ideally be when we are upside down. He also had us take a big lunge forward to start it off. Both tips helped a lot.

A brunch of scrambled eggs, bacon, guacamole and sweet potato hash was well received by all before starting our afternoon sessions. I grabbed a second full serving, as I have done at most meals this week, as I know I need to eat more. I realized I should have been insisting on bigger portions all week as I am so skinny compared to most of the other guys. Put me next to Ron Ortiz and I look like a comic strip weakling.

Coach Duke Van Vleet running us through a drill to help with bar muscle-ups.
Coach Duke Van Vleet running us through a drill to help with bar muscle-ups.

We kicked things off in the afternoon with Coach Duke Van Vleet, a former U.S. National Gymnastics team member and Cirque Du Soleil performer. The guy is strong as hell. He led us through some warm-up using therabands to help with our shoulder mobility. We then worked through pull-ups, toes-to-bar and bar muscle-ups. One of the main takeaways was how a gymnastics swing could help with our kipping. Also, that a lesson to be learned from gymnasts is that you perfect all strict movements before adding activity. It’s no wonder a gymnast can crank out butterfly pull-ups or string sets of kipping chest-to-bars.

I had a chance to quickly chat one-on-one with Duke. I asked him about building grip strength and he said nothing beats hanging from the bar. He suggested even doing it as a Tabata. Also, to my chagrin, he said ditch the gloves. I’ve been told that before, but hearing it from someone as talented on the bar as Duke might have finally convinced me.

Dave Newman of Rx SmartGear teaching jump rope technique.
Dave Newman of Rx SmartGear teaching jump rope technique.

Our last organized training session of camp was with Dave Newman, the owner of Rx SmartGear. Here’s a guy who knows ropes. He’s also the guy I saw working one-on-one with Amanda Allen, the back-to-back CrossFit Games Masters Champion, at camp. I definitely was ready to pay attention. Our focus was on three key elements of a successful double-under: 1) bounding; 2) rotation; and 3) timing.

We did lots of drills to help with all three. Dave also showed how to better set-up and pick up the rope more quickly and efficiently, especially in a competition. And as a counterpoint, how to stop the rope and not just throw it out of the way like most of us do in the middle of a met con, which wastes time if we have to pick the rope up again.

My coaches back home would not be surprised to hear that Dave, and even Games Athlete Vic McQuaide who was in the session with me, told me I need to slow down. We also worked on how I was flicking my wrists and how to correct that.

I have a lot to practice when I get home. But camp is not over just yet. Tomorrow is competition day!

Power Monkey Camp – Day 4

So I worked out at Rich Froning’s gym…

I know why I am here, but today was a day where I had to convince myself I belong here at Power Monkey Camp. I’m not used to full days of physical activity and training. Further, I am definitely scaled compared to so many of these Rx coaches and athletes, and especially the elite Games competitors. With a group WOD and another lifting class in the mix, I knew I had to just stay positive and keep focused on my own learning and growth.

56 campers preparing for the WOD at CrossFit Mayhem.
56 campers preparing for the WOD at CrossFit Mayhem.

After another awesome breakfast prepared by Paleo Nick and his team, the majority of us campers piled into vans, pick-up trucks and little VW Bugs to drive to Crossville, TN – the home of CrossFit Mayhem and Rich Froning. I’ll say right upfront, that he did not make an appearance. Regardless, everyone was excited to see his gym and do a regular WOD together. It was part fandom and part bragging rights as everyone was going to flex their stuff in front of the group.

We started with team “rowling” as a warm-up. In teams of 4, we each had to take turns rowing a 100 meters until we reached 4,000. The goal was to hit 100 on the nose and how many ever meters you were above or below 100 when you put down the handle you had do a burpee per meter. The whole thing was for time and the group loved the competition. Knowing my strength and skills are not as developed, I was determined to row hard and do all my burpees as fast as possible. I was going to demonstrate to my team and the other campers that push come to shove, I at least have hustle if not equal muscle. After my first round, my one teammate commented, “Wow, you jump high in your burpeees.” The compliment made my day.

My team finished in 20:02 and consistently had to only do 2-3 burpee per turn and we all hit 100 perfectly at least once. It was most the fun I’ve ever had doing bumpers and rowing. I’m definitely bringing that one back to my coaches at TwinTown Fitness.

We then moved right into the main WOD, which had a five-minute time cap and had to be done in four heats given that we had 56 people. It was 1-2-3-4-5-5-4-3-2-1 thrusters (135#/95#) and bar muscle-ups. We were allowed to scale the weight and substitute chest-to-bars. It was an amazing fit of activity to watch as each group went – bars and plates clanging, cheers, grunts and the clock ticking. When it was my own turn, I tried not to be intimated by the fact that I was staring face to face with Games Athlete April Lowe on the rig as I did my C2B and she did the bar muscle-ups. The five minutes was exhausting but everyone rode the high and enjoyed e good sweat.

Coach Mike talking technique with the group, which included Andy Timm and Games Athlete Amanda Allen.
Coach Mike talking technique with the group, which included Andy Timm and Games Athlete Amanda Allen.

After caveman sized burgers and slaw for lunch at the mess hall, we returned to the main gym for more training sessions. If you’ve followed my journey, then you know how much trouble the snatch lift caused me in the Dakota Games back in June. This session with USA Olympic weightlifter Mike Cerbus and Jessica Gallagher-Salvagio was just what I needed. We worked our way through a series of lifts to build to the actual snatch. We worked on overhead squat, snatch balance, Stotz press, muscle snatch, shrug & hold from Romanian deadlift (RDL) position and snatch from RDL position. I’ve done the Cal Strength program with my gym and had a great coaching, but it’s always good to hear a new perspective or approach. The big thing Mike and Jessie had me focus on was 1) wrists open at top, 2) keeping a nice straight vertical line, 3) wider stance and 4) keeping my head in neutral. It was a lot of good info to digest and they were excited for the progress I made even in our short time together.

The second session in the afternoon was led by Sadie Durante and Dan Melzar. From afar, watching othe groups go through the session, it appeared to be light and fun and easy. It was definitely fun, but by no means easy as they put us through a gymnastics warm-up and mobility exercises that left everyone sweating more than we had all week. We then moved onto some work on the trampoline track, front rolls, back rolls and hand stand falls. The highlight was doing front flips into the foam pit. I’ve never done a front flip, not even off a diving board, so that was a crazy first. And now hopefully not the last. The whole session made me excited for the remaining gymnastics classes I have back in Minnesota this month.

The sessions ran right up to dinner, which was Paleo Nick’s version of the Happy Family dish served at Chineses restaurants. The dish had pieces of grilled chicken, steak, shrimp and tiny meatballs. Paleo Nick also spoke for a few minutes about his mission and outlook on food. He might give a nutrition talk tomorrow, which I am definitely going to attend.

Until then, I’m ready to just relax and sleep in. We have the morning free and hopefully my bunk mates can all agree that no one needs to get up to workout until at least 8am. This is supposed to be a vacation, right?

Power Monkey Camp – Day 3

So Neal Maddox helped me test my overhead mobility…

It was an action-packed day and my training age is showing itself. In terms of my real age (32), I feel good and healthy though tired like everyone else by the end of the day. But being only 3 years into CrossFit and only doing 5-6 training sessions per week has revealed itself as I try to keep up with this group of Games athletes, box owners and coaches.

Everyone is super supportive and I don’t feel out of place but it is like practicing with the Varsity squad when you are only a mere freshmen. Yet this is the type of environment where I can challenge myself to be better everyday.

Here’s a rundown of Day 2:

Dave Durante led the group through a half hour warm up, which was focused on active stretching. Everything comes down to hips and so those were especially targeted. It was great and awful to hear all the cracks and groans as everyone limbered up for the day.

Coach Andy Timm demonstrating the Iron Cross.
Coach Andy Timm demonstrating the Iron Cross.

The morning was off to an intense start as we began with work on the rings with Coach Andy Timm. For two hours we worked on drills to help with strict muscle-ups and kipping muscle-ups, neither of which I can do. Both are advanced skills, but the big homework piece for me is to work on my dip, especially keeping the rings in tight close at the bottom. The other takeaway was the move away from a kipping movement that I use for pull-ups but instead towards a gymnastics swing, which if done right makes the muscle-up a lot easier and repeatable.

Dan Pope talking to the group about proper athlete assesment.
Dan Pope talking to the group about proper athlete assesment.

Dan Pope, a Strongman and CrossFit competitor with a doctorate in physical therapy, led our next session, which was all about screening, assessment and injury prevention and rehab. He walked us through mobility exercises for the front rack, deadlift, overhead lifts and squat.

With the squat being the most important, he had everyone do a few and quickly brought me to the center of the group to use as an example as there were issues that needed to be corrected, namely my left ankle mobility and my hips. The fact that my squat was not perfect was not anything new and has been the subject of multiple conversations with a variety of coaches. But Dan did offer some active movements that I could do each day to correct the problem specifically targeting the left ankle issue above all. His mobility exercises can be found at Fitness Pain Free.

Dave Durante leading the group through exercises on the parallel bars.
Dave Durante leading the group through exercises on the parallel bars.

If my grip strength was tested enough on the rings, it was going to be put to the test on the parallel bars. Head coach Dave Durante led the session and worked us through holds, dips and walks on the bars. We then moved onto paralets and planches – basically more easy stuff…ha. There is a ton of information being presented and a ton of exercises we are being taught. It can seem frustrating to not follow completely or get only one attempt, but Dave put the week into perspective saying that with all the tools being given, “Application is on you. Consistency is on you.” I’ve got work to do when I get home.

After the sessions were over, I took advantage of the free time to work on my handstands and double unders. Dave came over while I was practicing freestanding handstand holds and helped me with rolling out of them back safely onto the ground. It was a great one-on-one opportunity to work with him in a friendly casual setting.

Later, after dinner, we took our camp photo in our matching Power Monkey Camp shirts. I hung around for open gym and did another 5,000-meter row for the third day in a row. It flew by thanks to a great conversation with another camp goer as we talked nutrition and Paleo and all things food.

I’ll definitely sleep well tonight, which should help as I have to rest up for tomorrow’s field trip to CrossFit Mayhem.

Power Monkey Camp – Day 2

So Chad Vaughn said I was making a lot of progress…

My childhood dream of going to summer camp has finally come true. It’s just like Salute Your Shorts but with lots more muscle. Waking up and heading to the mess hall is just plain fun! The whole setting helps take everyone out of the stresses of life and let’s them just enjoy each other’s company and focus on learning and improving.

Speaking of the campers, it’s pretty amazing the wide geographic pull the camp and the lineup of coaches drew. There are folks from Chicago, Detroit, Charlotte, Orlando, Dallas, New York City, Nashville, San Francisco and all over the country. Plus participants from Australia, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico. Lots of different languages and accents, yet everyone talks CrossFit.

The day was well organized and jam packed as we split up into our groups and started rotating through the stations:

Chad Vaughn led the morning warm-up for all the campers. He started with a discussion of the squat and the importance of making it a full body motion. Not just getting to parallel, but getting all the way into your squat every single time. We then ran a light 800-meter jog, did 15 leg swings (L + R = 1), 15 side leg swings and then 15 air squats. We then closed the warm-up with a reverse tabata where we did squats for 10 seconds and then held in the bottom of our squat for 20 seconds. Chad and his wife walked around and made adjustments. I was moved to a rack so I could hold on and keep my chest up. I wasn’t even surprised as it’s a frequent correction made by my regular coaches.

My group started with the head coach himself, Dave Durante, to work on handstands in all its forms and progressions. The play by play would be too exhaustive, but one of the key takeaways was that Dave said to master the handstand you have to work on 1) strength, 2) position and 3) stability. One of his big pushes to achieve this was encouraging us to stay off the wall and practice with a partner as needed. The other point of interest was his focus on the tripod position for handstand push-ups. It made the movement less intimidating and more doable. He also gave me a great exercise to practice at home to work on handstand walks and shoulder mobility. It was a full two hours but awesome!

Jason Leydon from CrossFit Milford gave a lecture on programming that was a bit more oriented towards the coaches and box owners, but there were some good takeaways, especially related to my upcoming preparation for Freeze Fest in January and return to the Dakota Games in June of next year. First he emphasized the importance of understanding stress and how the body responds. He coupled this with discussing metabolic (endurance work) versus mechanical (weightlifting). An over abundance of either is best avoided. Jason discussed programming for competiting athletes by actually working backwards from what’s required in the events and utilizing benchmarks and other tests. After the session ended, I discussed my current focus on strength but need to maintain the engine and he provided me with a high level program to follow. I’m excited to put it in motion.

Chad Vaughn going over technique for the clean.
Chad Vaughn going over technique for the clean.

The last session of the day was working on the clean and jerk with Chad Vaughn. This guy is an Olympic athlete and holds the national record in this lift. He knows what he is talking about! And I was going to make sure I listened. Again, it would be too much to regurgitate here, but I was struck by his methodology of building us up to the clean. We did multiple exercises and followed a progression of lifts from the front squat to a strict elbow press to a push press to a split jerk then deadlifts to clean grip deadlifts and finishing with cleans. It was slow and deliberate and the focus was on technique and not the weight. The class ran over but I hung around to make sure he saw my clean. In response to my movement throughout the session, he thought I was making good progress and just needed more time and more reps.

I finished the day with a nice moderate paced 5,000 meter row and a huge heap of ribs prepared by Paleo Nick. The week is off to an excellent start and no one even seems to mind all the rain as we are just too busy in the gym. Plus, my five o’ lock shadow is quickly turning into a ten.

Power Monkey Camp – Day 1

So I was riding in a minivan with Elizabeth Akinwale…

As you may know, I am attending Power Monkey Camp this week in Crossville, Tennessee. It is a training experience focused on gymnastics and weightlifting organized by two former Olympic athletes, Dave Durante and Chad Vaughn. It is held at Flipfest Camp, a summer gymnastics camp set on the shore of Lake Frances, about 95 miles east of Nashville.

Upon arriving at the airport, I joined the crew of campers who would be driving over to the camp together. They were easy to pick out of the crowd thanks to their athletic wear, tattoos and beards. But all as nice as can be. They were representative of the campers that are here this week – a mix of Games athletes, box owners, coaches and amateurs.

We had a caravan of mini-vans and made our way through the countryside of Tennessee with the appropriate amount of moonshine and Deliverance jokes. I had the pleasure of riding with Minneapolis-born and raised Games athlete Elizabeth Akinwale. Rather than talk about her athletic career, We talked about the everyday and the familiar – Chicago traffic, Minneapolis winters, her son, my nephews. It was perfectly norl and set the tone for how this week will be – an opportunity to be with amazing athletes and coaches but interacting at a familiar level.

This was emphasized by the fact that it truly is a summer camp with cabins and a canteen and a mess hall where we will all sleep and eat together. It’s a week where dress clothes and makeup are eschewed for sweats and gym socks. No facades, no fronting, just a fun week of playing and learning in the gym.

The afternoon was free for us to do whatever. I took advantage of the gymnastics setting and practiced my handstands for almost an hour. I rested for a bit and then realizing dinner was still a ways off, decided to go back to the gym and row a 5,000-meter row at a moderate pace. It was a casual environment with people watching football or working out, staff unloading equipment and everyone shaking hands and trying to remember names.

maDinner, which like all meals at the camp, was prepared by Paleo Nick. It was delicious and much welcomed. I enjoyed two generous plates of the Thai a Turkey Throwdown he served up and now cannot wait for breakfast.

Dave Durante and Chad Vaughn discuss the week ahead.
Dave Durante and Chad Vaughn discuss the week ahead.

After dinner, it was finally time for the orientation session. Dave and Chad and the staff introduced themselves and went over the schedule and logistics for the week. In addition, they welcomed Ron Ortiz, Vic McQuaid, Scott Pancheck, Neal Maddox, Amanda Allen, Wes Piat, Elizabeth Akinwale, Amy White, April Lowe, Shawn Ramirez, Anna Toonacliff and Jules Broadbent – all of whom were there to participate and learn alongside the campers.

With such a dynamic mix, Dave emphasized how important technique was to the mission of the camp. We are here to set a good foundation. It’s with this focus that he encouraged us to approach each and every moment. Dave believes that everyone is starting the week at the same level. Forget what you know or think you know and appreciate what we all will learn together.

I was struck by the welcoming words of the owner of Flipfest Camp, three time Olympian John Roethlusberger, who said that he doesn’t measure greatness in such a diverse group by the hardware around our necks but by “how close do you get to how great you can be”. I am looking forward to a week to focus on finding out how great I can be in such a truly supportive, fun environment.

…and I’m definitely not shaving this week.