Category Archives: Training

Mr. Media Features ‘Obstacle Fit’

By Pete Williams

Bob Andelman (aka “Mr. Media”) usually interviews actors, TV stars, and media personalities. This week he was nice enough to devote a 30-minute Skype interview to obstacle racing and my new book Obstacle Fit. Please check out the interview.

 

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ObstacleFit.com Launched

By Pete Williams

ObstacleFit3 With the recent publication of our e-book Obstacle Fit, we’ve launched a companion website – ObstacleFit.com – that will cover all things related to the booming sport of obstacle racing.

We’ll continue to to cover the world of Florida endurance sports, including Florida-specific obstacle races, here at EnduranceSportsFlorida.com. But if you’re looking for the definitive site for obstacle race news, training tips, and videos, as well as a comprehensive list of races around North America, check out ObstacleFit.com.

Obstacle Fit the book – Your Complete Training Program to Run Fast, Conquer Challenges, and Discover Your Inner Spartan, Mudder, or Warrior,” was released last month and is available at the moment for just $4.24 on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com.

PeteHanging“Obstacle Fit is a must-read for anyone who wants to race at their peak,” says Adam Campbell, the fitness director of Men’s Health magazine. “Pete Williams has created a cutting-edge training plan that will help you perform better, reduce your risk of injury, and literally overcome any obstacle in your way.”

“Obstacle Fit is exactly what I’d expect from a masterful writer like Pete,” says Lou Schuler, co-author of the “New Rules of Lifting series. “It tells you as much as you’d ever want to know about the subject, including how to train for it, in Pete’s signature writing style – upbeat and entertaining while also thorough and useful. If you currently race, or have any interest in starting, this is the book you need.”

An excerpt from the Obstacle Fit book appeared today on Livestrong.com.

 

 

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Going Inside the Box

By Pete Williams

There’s a popular perception of CrossFit, the bare-bones fitness craze that has swept the nation in the last three years. Think lean, ripped, tattooed Millennials grinding their way through intense anaerobic sessions in sweaty Spartan “boxes” lasting as little as 10 minutes. Lots of Olympic lifting, Burpees, and cheating – er “kipping” – pullups.

Running? That seems like it has little to do with CrossFit.

T.J. Murphy, a longtime endurance athlete and journalist who joined us today on The Fitness Buff Show, says that’s pretty much the view of CrossFit he had 15 months ago when he stumbled into a CrossFit “box” in Los Angeles. Newly-divorced, 47, and suffering from a litany of injuries from 15 years of heavy endurance training, Murphy was willing to try anything.

What he found, as chronicled in his terrific new book Inside the Box: How CrossFit Shredded the Rules, Stripped Down the Gym, and Rebuilt My Body, is that a lot of the popular perceptions of CrossFit are inaccurate. CrossFit coaches spend a lot of time identifying and helping athletes correct muscle imbalances and ease athletes into the program so they don’t blow out a joint performing a deadlift of overhead squat. CrossFit places a heavy emphasis on nutrition, advocating a hybrid plan of Paleo and The Zone Diet. As for the kipping pullups, even the most skeptical trainers see the value in them for developing core strength.

Murphy’s book chronicles his own journey into CrossFit and how ex-gymnast Greg Glassman built a loose empire of 4,000 CrossFit affiliates (up from just 13 in 2005) based on the notion that “constantly varying” workouts of short duration and high intensity that prepare athletes for any physical challenge imaginable are the best way to train.

CrossFitters are notorious for disliking running. Though CrossFit has a sister program, CrossFit Endurance, most CF disciples seem content to focus on body-sculpting WODs that stay inside the box. Even though Tough Mudder and Spartan Race closely align themselves with CrossFit, some CrossFitters struggle with the distance of longer obstacle races.

That’s not to say CrossFit can’t be good training for endurance sports. Quite the contrary. We’ve found the obstacle race training sessions very effective at CrossFit affiliate TNL Tampa, where trainer Eric Stratman includes runs ranging from 400 meters to 2 miles into a typical obstacle training WOD on Saturday mornings.

Murphy, now 48, thought he needed knee replacement surgery in the summer of 2011, but plans to return to running now that CrossFit has corrected his muscle imbalances, eliminated his back pain, and left him feeling energized in the morning rather than like a creaky old man getting out of bed. He’s going to apply CrossFit to his marathon and triathlon training, figuring the efficient nature of CF will enable him to get faster while logging far fewer miles.

Though there now seems to be a CrossFit box in every office park in America, we’re guessing CrossFit will only get bigger – especially as endurance athletes discover the value of getting inside the box.

Listen to our Fitness Buff interview with T.J. Murphy HERE.

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Call Me ‘Gladiator’

Editor’s Note: David Adams, a University of Tampa student and U.S. Army veteran, is comparing obstacle race preparation and other endurance regimens to the training he underwent in the military. In a series of stories for EnduranceSportsFlorida.com this summer, he’ll write about his progress.

By David Adams

Grinding it out at Camp Gladiator

James Bellamy is a familiar face in the world of Tampa Bay fitness and endurance sports. Over the last two years, he’s served as an ambassador for the Mix1 protein shake and, more recently, he’s led training sessions at TNL Tampa, a CrossFit gym near Westchase.

Bellamy’s latest endeavor is Camp Gladiator, a national bootcamp program that recently came to Central Florida. I recently attended one of Bellamy’s sessions at Spa Beach in St. Petersburg, not knowing quite what to expect.

We began with a 400-meter run to warm up our legs, and then did 10 Burpees, air squats, pushups, and a few other moves. After the warm-up, we dove head first into training. Bellamy introduced to me to techniques that will produce results when added to any routine.

First we performed several partner-assisted leg drills using resistance. One person would push or pull against the leg as a partner tried to raise, extend, or contract the leg. The goal of the trainee providing resistance was to apply enough force to make the partner performing the exercise labor to complete a repetition.

The most innovative partner exercise was a bent leg push/pull drill. The partner performing the set lied down, crossing a leg over the opposite knee.  Once in place, the resistor tested the flexibility of the knee by extending the bent leg as far as it would comfortably reach without causing pain.

Once the tolerance was assessed, the person performing the exercise would push their leg out as far as they could, and then retract the leg back into their body. While doing this, their partner would apply resistance by pushing on the leg during extension, and then pulling on it during contraction. This exercise really worked my hip flexors, and by the time I was done with my sets my legs were feeling the burn.

After partner-assisted exercises, we transitioned into strength training. Sumo deadlifts and high pulls and kettle bell swings were incorporated into abdominal and leg training. All sets were done for time, and the goal was to push as hard as you can to finish the set as quickly as possible.  Bellamy stood by to provide encouragement and advice on proper form.

The CrossFit-style session wrapped up with another 400-meter run, followed up by a set of suicide sprints for time. The training routine was intense, and by the finish I was feeling the burn in my legs, abs, and shoulders. Bellamy had everyone stretch after the workout to aid with recovery.

Camp Gladiator is perfect for anyone looking to improve their current regimen by adding new exercises that will produce results. Camp Gladiator is intense, and in addition to awesome workouts, they also offer some other great things when you sign up.

Camp Gladiator was started by Ally Davidson after she appeared on the show American Gladiator. After winning the competition, she and her husband used the winnings to start Camp Gladiator, which grew into a nationwide fitness business, with camps in seven states.

“The great thing about Camp Gladiator is if you sign up with me at Spa Beach and decide you want to work out in Carrollwood or any other location, you can go there without having to re-sign,” Bellamy said. “If you enlist in our bootcamp, you gain access to every one of them nationwide.”

Camp Gladiator has 11 different locations in the Tampa Bay area, with both morning and evening classes. Spa Beach sessions like the one I attended go from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Bellamy also holds morning sessions from 6 to 7 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Sunken Gardens in St. Pete.

 

 

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LA Fitness Lacks Balls

By Pete Williams

Not quite Globo Gym

About five years ago LA Fitness moved into the Tampa Bay area, opening a gym three miles south of the Lifestyle Family Fitness I’ve frequented since 2004.

It was tempting to move to the glitzier facility, but like an Average Joe’s loyalist, I remained at LFF. But when LA Fitness bought the Florida-based Lifestyle last month and offered LFF members free access to LA, it was hard to resist.

I held out until late yesterday afternoon. Presenting my new LA Fitness card at the front desk, I felt like a traitor, expecting White Goodman to welcome me. I scanned the gym’s massive layout, row upon row of cardio equipment and weights, the four-lane swimming pool, thinking they’ve got to be here somewhere.

I made two laps around the building before finding a familiar face, an LFF trainer who now works with clients at both locations.

“Where are the balls?” I asked.

He shook his head knowingly, pointing to a couple of sad, undersized, under-inflated physioballs. “They have nothing for functional training,” he said.

Technically, that wasn’t true. In addition to the physioballs, there was a BOSU ball, a couple of foam rollers, and one measly medicine ball in an off-to-the-side area that included a large gym mat and a couple of desks.

No rack of medicine balls and physioballs. No stack of BOSUs or bin of foam rolls. No TRX devices or resistance tubing.

There’s something to be said for old-school, throwback gyms. But this is 2012. Even the biggest Arnold disciples and figure model types will concede that today’s fitness industry is about functional movement, creating a lean physique that’s long and lean, flexible and strong, fast and agile, and sexy as hell.

LA Fitness, rapidly becoming the nation’s largest fitness chain, apparently didn’t get the memo.

I felt like I had traveled back to 2002. Back then, I was starting to write a book with Mark Verstegen, a pioneer in core training, who since the early 1990s had been showing elite athletes how to become stronger and more functional by focusing on all the tiny core stabilizer muscles around the hips, shoulders, and midsection. Instead of popular bodybuilding routines, he trained his athletes in the movements of everyday life and sport. The results were impressive, with Mark’s athletes dominating sports across the board.

As we wrote the book that would become the groundbreaking Core Performance and inspire four other books (with a sixth in the works), we included routines with physioballs, medicine balls, stretch ropes, and foam rollers. As much as I liked the program, and began using it myself, I wondered if the book would be embraced since gyms didn’t typically have any of that equipment.

At one point in the fall of 2002, I went to Ballys, Golds, Lifestyle, and other gyms in the Tampa Bay area. Sure enough, I couldn’t find much more than the occasional under-inflated physioball gathering dust in the corner.

“Trust me,” Mark said. “Within a few years, all of this will be standard equipment.”

He was right. These days, even small hotel gyms usually have a physioball and a couple of “med” balls. CrossFit gyms, which market their old-school training techniques and focus a little too much on Olympic lifting for my taste, use medicine balls and physioballs as part of their core exercises, pun intended.

Here I was thinking I’d get a taste of LA Fitness’ modern facilities and never walk into Lifestyle again. Instead, it was nice to get back to LFF this morning and see its racks of balls in every size and color.

LA Fitness probably will close the Lifestyle locations it purchased, consolidating everything into its bigger, newer facilities.

I’m okay with that, so long as LA gets some balls.

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Cloud Racing

By Pete Williams

On Running’s new Cloudracer shoe

For the last few months we’ve been running in Cloudracers, the newest shoes from On Running, those funky, brightly colored shoes with little padded cushioning devices on the sole.

We first wrote about “Ons” last fall. Though there’s a tendency to want to group them with Newtons or even minimalist footwear, they probably belong in their own category. The company’s technology is called “running on the clouds,” which brings an element of core training to distance running.

The Cloudracers, like racing flats, are meant for actual racing, though like any shoe it’s important to grow accustomed to them during training. I’ve never owned a pair of racing flats, so perhaps I’m not the ideal guinea pig, but I love the feel and the light weight of the shoes.

Core training transformed the fitness industry over the last decade as athletes realized they could generate more stability around their hips, midsection, and shoulders by training on unstable surfaces such as physioballs balls and BOSU balls. Such devices force the athlete to recruit more stabilizer muscles, thus building more strength and stability.

Athlete and Co-Founder Olivier Bernhard.
Photo: Braschler/Fischer

Olivier Bernhard (left) figured he could produce the same effect with a running shoe. The Swiss triathlete, a six-time winner of Ironman races, had grown frustrated with nagging knee and Achilles injuries for which doctors and trainers could not find a solution. Bernhard, after all, had textbook running form.

An engineer Bernhard worked with in Switzerland realized that there are two forces at work when running: the vertical and horizontal impact. It’s the horizontal impact that causes the most damage to muscles, ligaments and joints, though existing running shoes only absorbed the vertical impact.

What if they could create a running shoe that would allow a runner to land as softly as on sand and to push off as effectively as on concrete? The result was On Running, with models like the Cloudsurfer and Cloudrunner launched in 2010.

The technology, Bernhard says, is similar to a physioball, where the body must adjust to remain stable. “Think of these shoes as having a bunch of little physioballs that are continually providing feedback to your foot to stabilize your landing and stabilize the hip,” he says.

The Cloudsurfer

I’ve been running pretty regularly over the last nine months in my black-and-green Cloudsurfer shoes. The Cloudracer has a lighter feel and since the the 18 padded cushions aren’t as pronounced on the Cloudracers, there’s a comparable racing-flat feel to them.

The idea behind a race shoe is to have something as light and airy as possible and that’s what the Cloudracer feels like.

Running on the clouds.

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Mark Verstegen on Glutes

By Pete Williams

U.S. soccer standout Abby Wambach, who has trained at Mark Verstegen’s Athletes’ Performance, featured in ESPN’s “Body” issue

I’ve had the great fortune to help Mark Verstegen write five Core Performance books. Mark, perhaps more than anyone, popularized core training, the notion that we should be training our hips, torso, and shoulders for functional movement rather than looking at our bodies as a collection of parts the way bodybuilders and fitness models do.

Mark spends a lot of time getting everyone from elite athletes to everyday people competing in the Game of Life to fire their gluteus maximus muscles, these marvelous muscles of locomotion that we abuse all day by sitting on them.

Why is this such a big deal? By sitting on our glutes all day, which we do in our technology-based society, our glutes shut down, our hips become tighter, and we become vulnerable to back problems and a host of other injuries and ailments.

Mark suggests firing your glutes all day long. Squeeze your left cheek and then your right as you’re walking along or, yes, just sitting around. This will go a long way toward countering the effects of sitting on your ass all day, though obviously it takes a little more than that. The Core Performance program is a great place to start.

For an article in ESPN the Magazine’s terrific new “Body” issue, writer David Fleming approached Mark at the NFL combine in Indianapolis in February and asked Mark what’s the most important part of an athlete’s body.

Mark’s response is both informative and amusing and he sums it up by saying “it’s all about the ass.”

You can read that story HERE.

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Surviving Bootcamp in Downtown Tampa

Editor’s Note: David Adams, a University of Tampa student and U.S. Army veteran, is comparing obstacle race preparation and other training methods to the training he underwent in the military. In a series of stories for EnduranceSportsFlorida.com this summer, he’s writing about his progress.

By David Adams

Running the stairs in downtown Tampa

TAMPA –  A small crowd gathers near the back steps of the Tampa Convention Center. They aren’t here for a symposium, conference, or assembly.  This group is meeting with one goal in mind: to attain a higher level of physical fitness and endurance.  The group leader, Jon King, wanted to spice up his normal workouts a few times a week and felt that CrossFit would be the change he needed.

As CrossFit gains popularity throughout the country, many people who previously hit the gym now are hitting the steps, park benches, and other obstacles found in urban settings to create a high intensity workout that breaks the monotony of grunting over weight bars with ungodly stacks of plates on either side.

Fitness centers provide climate control and mirrors, but training outdoors gives athletes a pleasant change of scenery and real-world weather conditions that training facilities cannot. Endurance-oriented workouts usually are done in groups, a welcome change from the solitary nature of weight lifting and treadmill runs in the gym.

King wanted to break the repetitive nature of his workouts at Powerhouse Gym in Tampa’s Channelside District.  He and his wife Katherine, who is also a fitness enthusiast, started a free bootcamp where their friends could enjoy high intensity training a couple of times a week, as well as a fun social environment.

At the start, only a handful of people would come to the twice-a-week conditioning session, but the couple stuck with it. Now it’s not uncommon to see as many as fifteen friends gathering together for a fun and free workout.  Friends and acquaintances want to try new ways of getting in shape, and the design King created caters to people at any level of fitness.

King structured his class so that participants would be able to choose what they got out of each session. Instead of a repetition-based workout, King  set up timed events.

“I want people to get out what they put in to it.  Since not all of our friends are serious trainers, I didn’t want to overwork anyone,” King explained to me the first time we trained together.  “By timing each set everyone is free to go at their own pace, and if they are serious about it there will definitely be marked progress.”

Post-workout team photo

To vary each camp, King will change up the workouts and meeting place.

“We either meet at the Convention Center steps or at (Tampa’s) Riverwalk Park,” King says. “One session will be centered around running sets of stairs, and the next will be sprints.  To me it’s always good to change things up, it keeps people on their toes.”

A typical stairs workout session starts with a short warmup of jumping jacks.  After that, the real challenge begins. King will time each set for anywhere from thirty seconds to one minute, and usually follows up every drill with a set number of steps.  Squat jumps, burpees, pushups, mountain climbers, and lunges are common exercises during each camp.

After every set, running steps are all trainees have to look forward to.  The only relief that “recruits” receive is a short respite in between every cycle. Breaks can range from just thirty seconds up to a minute and a half, and trust me, they are much needed.  Seeing someone doubled over is fairly common, and although no one has thrown up at sessions I’ve attended, many have come close. By the time bootcamp is over, everyone is drenched.

“The gym can get boring, and when you work out alone it takes the competition out of it,” King says. “I like the sense of camaraderie that working out in groups can bring, and at the end everyone celebrates together.  Starting this and sticking with it has increased my endurance, and I’m sure everyone who comes regularly can feel the difference.”

The sweetest part of the deal: anyone can come and there is no cost involved.  The only thing you have to bring to this workout is motivation, and a willingness to push to your personal limits.

“To train with us costs you nothing but sweat,” King says.  “We welcome anyone who is looking for a change of pace.”

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Tough Mudder Training Attracting the Masses

By Pete Williams

Taking on “Wall Ball”

TAMPA – When we started Tough Mudder training at The Next Level (TNL) Training Center  a year ago, we were among a small group of 15 to 20 gathering for sessions that lasted up to 75 minutes.

Those of us who made it to last December’s race at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County found the actual 12-mile Tough Mudder easier than some of the workouts TNL head guy Eric Stratman devised.

Word of how effective the training is has gotten out and today 61 people showed up for the weekly Saturday morning torture fest. Because of the numbers, Stratman has put us into teams of 6-8 people the last few workouts. That doesn’t make things easier, but it does control the traffic flow. Unlike Tough Mudder, there will be no waiting in line for obstacles.

Today was pretty straightforward. Each team had six people, one for each of six stations:

Pull-ups

Wall-Ball (Squat and toss a 14-pound medicine ball beyond a tape mark on the wall – 12 feet up)

Sit-Ups

Push-Ups

200-meter sprint

Rest stop

Rinse and repeat as many times as possible in 20 minutes.

The key was the 200-meter sprinter. However long s/he spent sprinting was how long the rest of us spent at our respective stations. When s/he finished, we rotated, with everyone keeping track of our collective team totals of push-ups, sit-ups, wall-ball throws, and pull-ups.

It was only 20 minutes, a typical CrossFit WOD (Workout of the Day).

I like CrossFit, but my one complaint is that it’s not the greatest preparation for obstacle racing since there’s little running involved. That’s what makes Stratman’s program on Saturdays so effective. For the obstacle race training, he generally inserts a 400-meter or 800-meter run in between each typical WOD drill. That simulates obstacle racing, where you run a quarter-mile or so between obstacles.

Today’s top finishers

Today he added a 2-mile run to the end of the WOD. Some of the group bailed rather than run a mile up Racetrack Road at 10:30 a.m. in 87-degree heat.

But the rest of us made the run, which probably was closer to 2.5 miles.

My team logged a collective 1,633 reps between pushups, pullups, situps, and wall ball, or roughly 400 per station or 20 per minute. One of my female teammates and I were first in the run.

Clearly this obstacle race training is paying off.

Stratman continues to offer free Tough Mudder training at TNL Tampa on Saturday mornings, though not the next two Saturdays as his crew is competing in a CrossFit competition and staging a beach workout. They’ll be back at TNL Tampa, which is on the border of Westchase and Oldsmar, on July 28.

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When White Goodman Buys Your Gym

By Pete Williams

The “New LA Fitness”

Dear LA Fitness:

Thank you for your email this morning offering me two free coupons to experience the “club opening” of an LA Fitness where I’ve been a member for the last seven years.

Of course, I’ve never been a member of LA Fitness. The address and phone number of your “new LA Fitness” is that of my Lifestyle Family Fitness, the St. Petersburg-based health club chain with 33 Florida locations you acquired last week.

Details are sketchy at the moment, with neither you nor your new LFF friends talking to anyone. There’s been plenty of time, however, to shoot out an email letting me know that “your first billing will be automatically collected on 8/2/2012, unless your membership has previously been activated.”

Huh? This will not end well. Long before cell phones and bundled digital media services, the health club industry made the act of writing fine-print, bait-and-switch, hard-to-break, convoluted membership contracts an art form.

The next Visa bill no doubt will be interesting.

Here at the Clearwater LFF, we saw this coming ever since you opened your glitzy LA Fitness nearby four years ago. For years, our LFF has gone downhill. Equipment is replaced less often and there’s not one rusty bike in the spin room without a broken part. A facility that once always smelled of fresh paint now is chipped and dinged. Only recently did LFF add a few token flatscreens. The meathead posers and fitness model babes have long since moved four miles south to the glitzier LA Fitness.

Those of us remaining have felt like Peter LaFleur’s gang at Average Joe’s, coming for the camaraderie of the group fitness classes and because we’re used to the quirky three-level layout of a building that once was a four-screen movie theater.

I’ve been taking the same Tuesday morning spin class long enough to have seen the instructor go from being a recent college graduate vowing never to get married to a recently-married thirty something.

Unlike a lot of (ahem) larger gyms known for letting anyone with a mail-in fitness credential carry a clipboard and train members, most of our LFF trainers hold CPT certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) that are a bear to obtain. (I know; I spent six months studying for the exam and somehow passed. Good thing I’m not actually looking to become a personal trainer as the LFF trainers don’t know what their futures hold.)

A number of pro athletes who could train anywhere choose to toil in our gym despite its mismatched dumbbells and broken shower heads. James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays began working out with a trainer there before the 2011 season, when he lead the American League with 11 complete games.

Our LFF isn’t located so close to Globo Gym, I mean, LA Fitness, that it will be razed for a parking garage. But it’s close enough that it’s hard to imagine LA Fitness keeping it open.

Some members will head to LA Fitness. Others will go to Anytime Fitness around the corner. The triathletes will find somewhere else to spin. I’ll probably spend more time at TNL Tampa, the CrossFit gym near Westchase where I already spend Saturday mornings training for obstacle races.

It seems a shame, though, that LFF will go out with a whimper. Maybe we should take a page from Peter LaFleur’s original playbook and send it out Irish wake style. It’s already falling apart. Let’s have one last party and bust up the place.

Then again….we could play dodgeball.

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