Strength Wednesday 4/3/12 (w/ Bonus Arm Noodles)


In my quest for lean superhero-ness, I’m following the Wendler 5/3/1 strength training program. Twice a week, Dave and I are hitting the craptastic gym in our Converse to lift heavy stuff and work on skills. (If you’re new to strength training, here’s a great overview of what all the lingo below means.)

Pushups, What?!

On one hand, I had a triumphant epiphany yesterday. On the other, I endured a serious ego bashing. Let’s examine these conflicting forces, shall we?

The Epiphany
I usually workout first thing in the morning, lest something that happens later in the day derail me from my commitment to move my body. But this week, I’m experimenting with a reverse schedule. I’m waking up early, meditating, then writing while I’m alert and energetic. After lunch, I’m scheduled to write for two more hours, then it’s workout time. Yesterday was my first time to try the revamped approach.

Thing went pretty much according to plan until we left for the gym at 5:00 p.m. Harrumph! Traffic! As work-from-homers, we’d forgotten about rush hour traffic. My frustration expanded exponentially as we crept forward slower than I could walk the same distance. Our commute to the gym usually takes 10 minutes; at the 20-minute mark, we weren’t even halfway there.

Then it started to rain.

And not just rain… it was a wrath of God storm: horizontal rain, thunder, lightning… the streets were almost instantly turned into running rivers, and at one point, I literally couldn’t see through the windshield. We decided that throwing around the barbells wasn’t worth being the people they show on the local news who make everyone wonder WHAT THE HELL THEY WERE DOING ON THE ROAD IN WEATHER LIKE THAT, so we decided to turn around and come home But by then, it had started to hail… plus horizontal rain, thunder, lightning, rivers in the street. We pulled into a parking lot to see if the storm would burn itself out. After 15 minutes, the drumming on the roof of the car finally let up enough for Dave to drive us home. Total round trip: 1 hour… with no workout to show for it.

When I got home, I marched myself out to my office and did the body weight workout I shared on my blog a few days ago.

Here’s the epiphany: Despite the fact that I’m sometimes quite hard on myself, I have come a long way. There was a time when I looked for any excuse to not workout. But there was no question yesterday that I was going to get my sweat on. I didn’t need to browbeat myself into it, and I didn’t take the inclement weather as a “sign” that I could lie on the couch instead. In fact, I wanted to workout. My body craved it. I was looking forward to it. I’m no longer the overweight girl who’ll do anything to avoid getting sweaty. I know it may seem silly that I have to remind myself of that, but sometimes I forget how much I’ve changed.

The Ego Bashing

Before we cheer too loudly for the good news above, let me be honest about the pushup situation.

Oh, my! The Pushup Situation.™

When I first started CrossFit in 2008, I made it my mission to get good at pushups. I started on my knees and eventually graduated to my toes, and I was excited about it. But then I had to backtrack because my hands were way out in front of my shoulders and my elbows bent so far to the sides, I looked like a goal post. I started on my knees again, with my elbows tucked in and my hands right under my shoulders, and eventually, I worked up to chest-to-floor pushups that were a thing of beauty. I remember the day I “did them right” for the first time, and there was no going back after that. I could string them together 20 at a time! I felt like a badass.

Then the thyroid meltdown happened, followed by a nagging pain in my right shoulder (which lead to months of rehab and no pushups). The thing about pushups is that they demand regular practice. Pushups are whiny little brats that need consistent attention. And honestly, my pushups are pissed at me right now because I’ve been spending so much time with handstands.

Yesterday was the first time in months that I attempted to do toe pushups at any kind of volume, where “volume” is five.


My workout consisted of four rounds. On the first three rounds, I managed to eke out 5 on my toes, followed by 6 on my knees, with really good form. On the last round, I collapsed on the third one and COULDN’T PRESS BACK UP. For serious! I was at complete failure.


But also invigorating! Guess who’s putting pushups back into her regular training routine?!

The pushups also played a role in my strength training workout today. My upper body is fatigued and a little sore and I can definitely tell that I Did Something With My Shoulders yesterday. Read on…

5:00 treadmill: started at 3mph and increased speed every minute t0 4 mph

2 rounds:
11 PVC back squats
11 rotations
11 good mornings
5 toe pushups + 6 knee pushups
11 squat to hamstring stretch

static squat hold & ankle stretch
quad stretch


5 @ 65% of max =135#
5 @ 75% of max = 155#
max reps @ 90% of max = 175# – I did 5.
volume set: max reps @ 65% of max = 135# – I did 13.

Overhead Press
5 @ 65% of max =60#
5 @ 75% of max = 70#
max reps @ 90% of max = 75# – I did 0. Seriously. I had to do them as push presses.
volume set: max reps @ 65% of max = 60# – I did 7.

Good Heavens to Betsy Ross! I had ZERO press today. I’m blaming the pushups; whiny little brats. My shoulders and arms were seriously noodle-y this morning. I can usually knock out 75# presses with no drama, but this morning I had to push press that weight. Dave’s awesome response? “That means you did what you’re supposed to. It’s all about lifting to failure, so good job!” And that is why Dave is an awesome training partner.


2 rounds:
11 front squat, 75#
5 body rows


2X :15 seconds against the wall

What’s the skill/move you (reluctantly) need to work on?

Monday Strength 4/15/13

In my quest for lean superhero-ness, I'm following the Wendler 5/3/1 strength training program. Twice a week, Dave and I are hitting the craptastic gym...

Read More
Strength & Sprints & Satnam

Warning: workout war stories ahead. As I explained last week, although I've been lax about sharing my workouts in my blog, I have been doing...

Read More


  • Lydia says:

    My squats are still sad little things. I need a medicine ball behind me, and unless I’m paying SUPER close attention, my left knee still has a tendency to cave in. But slow and steady improvement. Slow and steady improvement. Someday I will be able to just sit in a regular squat without falling over backwards and that day will be an AMAZING DAY.

    • Mel says:

      If it’s any comfort, I’m using the med ball behind my butt, too. And I always have to mentally chant, “Press knees out” on my way up.

      And girlfriend, any day you squat is an AMAZING DAY. Believe it.

  • Tamika Maria says:

    I hear you on the pushups. I used to be able to crank out 20+ at a time, then I hurt my shoulder and they went bye-bye.

    The thing I did that finally started to help get my numbers back up while helping my shoulder pain was to use a band similar to the way Mark Bell’s Slingshot works.

    I take one of those Iron Woody or Rogue bands that everyone uses for assisted pullups, and I double it up so I have two big loops. Then I put my arms inside the loop and put the band slightly above my elbows.

    Then get into a pushup position and do a pushup. The band pulls across your chest and keeps your elbows tight to your body. You get some rebound from the band and keep in the correct position at the same time. Works for bench pressing, too.

    If you can only do 5 reps with no bands, you can do 10, 15 or more depending on what thickness band you use. It’s just like the Slingshot, only cheaper and you can adjust to heavier or lighter bands as needed. It can be a good way to build volume without having to go to knee pushups (which don’t really translate to keeping your core tight like a regular pushup.)

    Does that make any sense whatsoever?

    • Mel says:

      Yes, that makes sense! I’m going to try it. Thanks for the tip!

      • Sarah says:

        I use a band for push-ups at my crossfit, and it is the best! Someday I will be able to do more than one regular push-up…

        Do you mind my asking what kind of weight you were using when you first started? I am weaker than just about everyone at my gym and even though I know I am a beginner, it is tempting to compare myself negatively to other people…

        • Mel says:

          Hey, Sarah! I honestly don’t remember where I started because I’ve been at it since, like, 2009. I went back through old posts and couldn’t find anywhere I’d listed my starting weights. But here’s the thing: Where I started has no bearing you YOU. YOU are awesome, wherever you are. I know that’s an annoying answer, but comparing yourself will only lead to diminished joy and confidence. And it’s irrelevant.

          The thing I LOVE about lifting weights is that it’s black and white. I can lift it or I can’t. And I find a lot of freedom in that because so many other things in life feel like you could say, “If only I’d tried harder or been better I could have…”

          But with weights, you can or you can’t. And it has nothing to do with your value as a human being. It’s purely physical. Feeling badly about how much weight you can lift is like being mad that you have brown eyes or are 5’4″ instead of 5’10”. It just *IS*. And that’s beautiful.

          As long as you keep working on strength training, you’ll get stronger. And it doesn’t matter where you start as long as you do it.

          Hope this helps!

  • I pretty much need to work on everything. But right now I really want to focus on nailing unassisted pullups and double unders.

  • Vive says:

    Oh that storm. The storm of all storms. I was on South Lamar when it came (though blessedly had just made it inside) so probably pretty close to you if you were headed to the craptastic gym. Yowza!

  • I need work on my one-legged Romanian deadlifts.

    They’re more challenging than the standard Romanian deadlift since my maximum dumbbell weights currently are only 50 lb.

    The one-legged RDL gives my calves more of a workout than the weighted calf raises I recently started. The required balance is bringing a lot of muscles into play.


  • Cathy M says:

    Pushups, pullups, running, handstands, double unders…

    I can do a really good squat, though! 😉 But anything that requires upper body strength is definitely on the list.

  • NJ Paleo says:

    I need to work on pullups. Ugh.

    Great job on the workouts! I’ve had those workouts too where you’ve been doing the right thing by doing assistance exercises, yet when you get to your main lifts you fail at the max. Sometimes it happens! But in the long run I think we’re better off by doing the extra assistance work and having the max lifts fail…..or I could be deluding myself….

  • Tom says:

    I’m in the pullup camp. I can’t do one to save my life, which is why I don’t do a body weight workout more often. I REALLY want to incorporate some pullups into my workout, but my current weight is just to much to ask my body to do apparently 😉

  • Jenn says:

    Almost everything 🙂 Pullups (currently doing ring rows – even black bands aren’t strong enough), pushups (on knees right now), double unders (I can’t even get one at this point)… I won’t start on muscleups 🙂

    I’m a total newbie at all of this but I know that it’s going to get easier as time goes on, and I keep having to remind myself that I’m only there to compete with *myself*. Nobody else.

  • hwalkerf says:

    Lydia’s comment above and this talk of assistance just made me think of something. Is there some kind of device, like a expandable/retractable shower curtain rod you could put between your knees when squatting? It would have to be smart and know when to expand and retract and maybe it could yell at you when you you caved…

  • Beth says:

    I love CrossFit and the kind of workouts you do because one cannot have an ego! You’ll be kicking ass and taking names on dead lifts, running, and box jumps then come screeching to a halt when you try and do ring dips with rings instead of on the box… Not that I have experience with this… Whenever I meet former athletes starting CrossFit, I tell them to prepare themselves to be humbled. There will come a WOD (maybe next week, maybe next year) that will break them or a lift they will totally fail at and they need to be prepared for that. The CrossFit gods LOVE to humble! And it’s beautiful in all it’s crappiness.

    That being said, I want to learn to climb the rope and do pull ups. My push-ups have gotten SO MUCH BETTER I don’t even recognize them anymore, so I need to turn my attention elsewhere. Enter: Rope. It just stares at me when I’m in our box, mocking me with it’s tall, hard-to-climb-ness. I will conquer the rope! Someday!

  • Brandon says:

    I got a set of bumpers and a bad ass bar and a sand bell and a jump rope from there in austin. I love it because I don’t have to go to the gym anymore. I am a work at home guy too, so not having to deal with traffic at all rocks. I already had a squat rack from a cheap metal plate set I bought a while back, but you could pick one up on the cheap on craigslist I bet.

  • Sara says:

    Thanks–this is exactly what I need. I’m in a down-phase in the confidence department, and reading your epiphany helped me reflect a little on the situation (and on my Pushup Situation). 🙂

  • Andrea D says:

    Push up and pull ups! Why is it a girl looks so badass when she can do both with sublime efficiency and form? I will eventually graduate to doing unassisted pull ups… one day..

  • Tom R. says:

    Once your arms get shot, it’s tough to get any life back in them. Enjoyed the post.

    It sounds like you’ve had success with the knee pushup route, but you might consider KStar’s advice in this MWOD. As I was working back into pushups after the elbow surgery, I tried the knee pushup. I never felt like I was in the right position.