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Beware the Lure of the Sexy Met-Con

If you’ve been following our business (formerly CrossFit Whole9) for a while, you’ll know Dallas builds all of our custom programming around strength and quality of movement. Because of this strength focus, we’ve yet to program a high rep, high volume chipper like the Filthy Fifty. Our met-cons usually come in the form of a short, heavy, simple drill done after a strength or power workout, or a track or “strongman” day where we sprint, jump, throw stuff and carry stuff. We’re in the business of strength-based fitness, and our programming reflects that focus.

A few months ago, Dallas took that strength focus to the next level and created a Power to the People style program. The 603 PTP was a high volume, low intensity series of workouts designed to do one thing – make you stronger. We chose to work the deadlift and press at the same time, hitting both of those movements four days a week, for eight weeks straight. We threw in some gymnastics and Olympic lifting skill work, short, heavy met-cons and a few track days, but for a two solid months, we did a whole lot of deadlifts and presses.

And almost all of our virtual trainees disappeared.

Up until then, we’d had a good amount of people following our programming on line. CrossFitters and exercise enthusiasts from all across the country (and across the pond) were posting after workouts like Overhead Math and the Sissy Test. But come week three of the PTP program, all but a few loyalists had abandoned our workouts. When we asked why, people commented, “the workouts got boring,” or “it seemed too easy,” or “I missed my met-cons.” Fair enough, maybe… but also a crying shame. Because the people who DID stick around put up to 25# on their deadlift and 20# on their press in just two months. And on top of that, they PR’d workouts like “Cindy”, put weight on their clean and jerks and got a lot more comfortable under (or over) a heavy barbell. Boring or not, the PTP program worked, and the people who saw it through reaped the benefits.

People often make misguided assumptions about CrossFit workouts based on what grabs their attention on paper. “Tough workouts”, “elite athletic training” and “high intensity” translates as high repetitions, endless rounds, a grab bag of exercises (often seemingly chosen at random), or some combination of the above. And there’s a trend, especially among those new to CrossFit and inexperienced with programming, to ride that met-con train all the way to Cortisol Crazytown.

I’m here to caution you… beware the lure of the Sexy Met-Con.

For some (especially those new to CrossFit), the lure of something like the Filthy Fifty or the “300” workout is undeniable. Hundreds of reps of various bad-ass exercises all in one workout? That MUST be good fitness. New trainees doing their own programming fall quickly into the Sexy Met-Con trap, piling on the reps, adding more and more exotic movements, needing an excessive amount of time to complete the workout. They get beyond creative, making up workouts so complicated that you need a map and a flashlight just to follow along.

Trainees aren’t the only victims of the Sexy Met-Con pull. New coaches and affiliate owners fall into this trap as well. What looks like you put more effort into your programming – seven rounds of five different exercises with a complicated rep scheme, or “Back Squat 5×5”? What’s an easier group class workout – a 20 minute light-weight met-con, or a structured PMenu-style Olympic lifting session? This isn’t a dig on those coaches or affiliate owners – I get it. The pressure to get creative and put out fresh “unknowable” workouts every day is enormous. There is also a need (real or perceived) to drastically distinguish themselves from their Globo-Gym competition. Add in the pressure from clients to make them SWEAT so they feel like they’re getting what they pay for and the Sexy Met-Con becomes an easy go-to on all counts.

But while it’s an easy trap to fall into – some affiliates never bear-crawl out. I follow several gyms’ custom programming, just to keep an eye on what everyone else is doing. With one, I counted back a few months and found 22 days of met-con out of a month’s worth of programming. Twenty. Two… not including rest days. Another programmed “find your deadlift one rep max” workouts two months apart – without a single day of strength-oriented deadlifting in between. Sure, they did some light deadlifts during met-cons… but how much does your 1RM go up without putting the work in on your 5x5s?

There are a few things wrong with this phenomenon. First, longer length met-cons (even those that go “heavy” for time) will not make you as strong as you could be. Sure, your cardio will improve, and you’ll most likely see some strength gains, but nowhere near the gains you’d see picking up heavy stuff with a tried-and-true 5×5, 3×5 and 3×3 protocol. (Of course, this point is only valid if you believe, as we do, that prioritizing strength is the most effective way to get better at everything.)

In addition, these types of workouts miss the bus by focusing on quantity at the expense of quality of movement. The never-ending pursuit of improved met-con “performance” overlooks the important component of quality-based training. You can learn your nine foundational movements in a group class and “practice” them in a chipper, but none of those movements (performed fast and loose, as these met-cons tend to inspire) prepare you for moving a real load. Sloppy air squats won’t translate to more weight on your back, and a hundred med ball cleans won’t prep you for a heavy clean and jerk. What you are doing, unfortunately, is reinforcing bad movement patterns for literally hundreds of repetitions. And that’s hard to recover from if and when you decide you want to start adding weight to the bar.

Want to be a better CrossFitter? Make sure your workouts are constantly varied, right? On first glance, these met-cons seem to fit the bill. The structure makes you THINK you’re working a good “constantly varied” program, with fresh-out-of-the-hopper movements and convoluted rep schemes. But “constantly varied” means more than just swapping out exercises in your 30 minute met-con. These Sexy Met-Cons work primarily one metabolic pathway, with a very limited range of strength and power. So all those randomized exercises and rep schemes, when contained within the same longer length, light-weight met-con, aren’t really variety at all.

But the biggest danger by far is this – these Sexy Met-Cons can quickly take a dive into “overkill” territory, where your training starts to hurt more than it helps. You can’t tell me that day after day of Filthy Fifties won’t produce a sharp decline in movement integrity, and the overuse of certain muscle groups, joints and tendons. (How many days of kipping, ring dips and push-ups can you do before your elbows starts to hurt?) In addition, the body goes into serious cortisol production around the half-hour mark, so these day in, day out, longer length workouts wreak all kinds of havoc on the body. These kind of met-cons (much like long distance “cardio”) are notorious for pushing people into over-trained territory, and where over-training lives, injury is soon to follow. (Not so awesome for you, but serious job security for Dallas.)

But who wants to work a boring 5×5 when there are plenty of sexier workouts to choose from? I’ll tell you who. People who want to be stronger. Nothing builds muscle and strength like the big lifts – squat, press and deadlift – supplemented with gymnastics skills for core strength and low repetition Olympic lifts to develop explosive power. And I’m not taking a bunch of one rep maxes, either! Sets of 3’s and 5’s are your money-makers – where you train the body and build the strength. Missing your met-con? Work them in, but hit them hard and keep them short. Piling 30 minutes of “cardio” after a serious strength workout is, in a word, counterproductive. And for the love of Pavel, keep them simple. Thrusters and burpees, broad jumps and overhead carries, sprints and swings – all simple, all brutally effective.

Our PTP program may not have looked like much on paper, but damn if it didn’t make our trainees strong as hell, and fitter across the board. So beware the false promises of the Sexy Met-Con. Getting fancy with a chipper is fun once in a while, but if you constantly find yourself in need of a map and a flashlight to finish your workouts, sprint (don’t jog) to the nearest barbell and enjoy the simple pleasures and performance gains of a back squat 5×5.

Dallas picks up really heavy stuff.

Comments

  1. Michael CFFB says

    ‘Cortisol crazytown’…that’s my new favourite word. Awesome article :)
    looking at the mainsite WODs…I don’t even know what they are trying to achieve anymore…

  2. says

    You people, with your smart thinking and your programming that works. Gah!

    I surrendered my frequent, beloved met-cons, just as I put down the buttered toast and banished the milk & blueberries, and damn it! All of those moves have been good for me. [muttering about how Moxy-Boss and Dallas think they know everything and jeez, maybe they do]

    But… I reserve the right to do “sexy met-cons” on holidays — just like I’m gonna snarf a cookie on Xmas Eve.

    I have to admit, my husband Dave and I did 5X5 OH squats yesterday, and it felt very good. Plus, every “green vegetable” heavy lifting day makes the met-con “cookie” days even sweeter.

  3. says

    @Michael: I gotta admit, those heavy “TGUs for time” made me wonder if I’d been sniffing glue. I love adding TGUs into workouts! We do it all the time… just not as part of a met-con. Shudder.

    @Mel: You, my hot little protege, have come a very long way. From met-con madness to dead hang pull-ups and weekly 5x5s… we couldn’t be more proud. Enjoy your Christmas chipper AND your cookie – you’ve earned them!

  4. Nadine says

    And that in a nutshell is why I love(d) the 603 =) and will continue to follow you with Whole 9

    ….and PS- I did the PTTP program just not at the posted time, and gained strength in many areas!…will be testing my 1RM next week (I am finishing up week 12 now)

  5. Dawn says

    Hi Melissa,

    Another great article! Question [and I think you've answered it before in your posts, so I hope you don't yell at me] : ) but I have to ask it anyway…..what about the idea that you are burning fat when doing a met-con or cardio workout? I’m grimacing as I type this, because I think I know the answer, but when there are people constantly preaching the “30 minutes of cardio a day” you just need to hear the right answer to help keep you on track.

    Have a Merry Christmas! (Ours may be sidetracked, as we are supposed to get 14 to 24 inches of snow tomorrow morning.)

  6. Kevin says

    Hi Melissa,

    Indeed, beware the lure of the metcon! Just wanted to let you know how fantastic this article is. This is a point that’s been resonating with me lately. I think one thing folks often think when they are new to Crossfit, or an affiliate, is that volume is your friend. If I go 5 days a week and take the weekend off then I am doing more good than if I go 3 days a week and get some quality rest. I am sort of reprogramming myself into remembering rest days are a great thing. Sleep goes a long way as well, 8-9 hours a night will do great things for cortisol levels. I think I read somewhere on Robb Wolf’s blog that his fittest trainers really only workout 3 days a week, have their nutrition dialed in, and are generally happier for it. Luckily, my affiliate announces the WOD in the morning and I am an evening client so if there are consecutive met-cons I can just skip them all together and wait for the next strength day to roll around. Keep up the good work, I really enjoy reading these!

    -Kevin

  7. MelissaG says

    As someone who thought endless met-cons were the way to beat myself into fitness I didn’t want to believe you when you said to stop and just pick up heavy stuff. But, as always, you were right. Just adding one dedicated strength day a week put 50# on my deadlift in 7 weeks and dropping a pants size didn’t hurt your “less is more” argument any either. So, no more running with flashlights towards the ugliest met-cons. Now, if someone would put a bar and plates under my tree I’d be a happy girl.

  8. says

    perfectly written… a long metcon has its place once in a great while to test your mental toughness and long-term endurance, but they are NOT to be a staple of any good CF program. I looked back on my programming and I found 1-2 workouts that would take an average person about 25- 35 minutes to complete.

    Not everyone is perfect with programming, hell we all make mistakes, but without a focus on strength and creating smart metcons, we are just running bootcamps.

  9. says

    I love me my metcons, but grudgingly agree with everything you’ve said and I have to see My gym, CrossFit Regina does a good job of programming lots of 5×5 and 3×3 days, but I haven’t done a good job of making sure I get there on those days. As a result, I’m not nearly as strong as I should be. I guess I’ve got a New Year’s Resolution in the making.

  10. says

    I completely agree that too many gyms do way too much of the burpee/ball slam/kettlebell swing/box jump/repeat type metcons. I also agree that not enough gyms properly coach and program the slow lifts and Olympic lifts.

    However, there are also a lot of gyms who OVER program slow lifts and Olympic lifts. I say over program because I DON’T understand the reasoning behind strength specialization for CrossFitters. I’ve yet to see any data which shows that developing high levels of strength is the primary factor in developing high levels of fitness, by CrossFit’s definition.

    Yes, high level CrossFitters can lift heavy, but they can also run fast (people forget that long before Josh Everett ever learned to clean & jerk he ran a 49 second 400m) and are pretty capable novice level gymnasts. In fact, of all the athletes I’ve trained, the ones who have made the fastest and most consistent progress weren’t the strongest. It’s been the fastest short distance runners (200m-400m.)

    I think there’s been a fallacy of generalizing personal data. A lot of people come to CrossFit weak, and thus, limit strength is their weakness. Those folks need to work on it. But they don’t need to work on it because it’s heavy lifting; they need to work on it because it’s their weakness. I, on the other hand, am not going to see my best gains in fitness by focusing on barbell lifts. It’s not going to improve my 5k time.

    Mark Rippetoe talks about the incredible adaptability of the novice athlete: riding a bike will improve your 1RM squat. The same is true for CrossFit. If I have someone at a novice level of fitness focus on heavy lifting and short metcons, they’ll probably get better at everything. But try it with an advanced, or even intermediate athlete. It won’t fly.

    There’s nothing wrong with strength specialization if it’s how you like to train. There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be really strong. However, I have seen no data to indicate that strength specialization is necessary or even prudent for someone who wants to be a high level CrossFit athlete. If you have such data, I’d love to see it.

  11. Andy says

    Hey! I stuck through into September on PTP! (Probably didn’t post enough, though.) I fell off the wagon for work-related reasons … which have not yet improved, but will in January, when I will hop back on the PTP bandwagon.

  12. Scott says

    hey melissa & dallas,

    Great piece… I totally agree with what you said, although it took me a while to get the picture. I have been one of those folks who loved all the long metcons (and loved using my endurance background to beat my friends in them) and too often avoided the heavy lifting/strength days. After months of this I realized that I was still weak and still sucked at the Olympic lifts and finally decided to do something about it. I went back and found the 603 PTP programming and followed it faithfully for 2 months and quickly added 75# to my DL and 30# to my PP. I want to thank Dallas for the work he put into the PTP and the way he eased the weight up, it made it less intimidating for a weak endurance freak like myself.

    I now try to make those lifts the focus of my daily workouts and then add in a few metcons as time/energy permit. I do wonder what you guys do for programming post-PTP? when you are doing the 5×5′s or 3×3′s are you always lifting heavy, or do you alternate heavy days with lighter/ladder days?
    Also, are there other gym sites/blogs that you would recommend with a similar focus on strength? It would be good to know who you follow and give props…
    thanks!

  13. caz says

    Great article. Hope you’re right!
    Here’s my takeaway: “These Sexy Met-Cons work primarily one metabolic pathway, with a very limited range of strength and power.”

  14. says

    @Dawn: Hi, stranger! How’s the home gym coming along? As for the concept of “30 minutes of cardio a day”, here’s my take. Chances are, that cardio is being performed at a moderate pace/intensity. People are running at an easy pace, doing long, slow distance cycling or plodding away on the elliptical machine after their workout. (I doubt they’re doing 400M all-out sprints for a half hour!) That type of cardio workout puts you in this crappy middle ground, where you’re certainly stressing the body… but not stressing it ENOUGH to produce adaptation. All that running is doing is wearing out your muscles, joints and tendons – without enough intensity to make you stronger or faster. Think about it – did all those years of 30 minute elliptical workouts make you better at ANYTHING? (Even the elliptical?) I doubt it. What a waste of a half hour!

    You want to burn more fat? PUT ON MORE MUSCLE. I’ve yet to have a trainee NOT start leaning out when they started picking up heavy stuff. And if you want some extra punch, throw in some short, hard and fast sprint work one or two days a week. Make sense?

    Melissa

  15. Mike says

    Excellent article! Well said. I just want to add that a 20 rep heavy back squat will test as much if not more mental toughness than a 30 min map & flashlight chipper.

    Keep up the awesome work and have a great holiday!

  16. Brooks says

    I agree whole-heartedly. I was one of your long-distance followers and followed 603 religiously (by the way, do you still have any 603 t-shirts?), but then 603 was aborted along with the programming. Will you be posting the daily WODs again. I enjoyed the programming and truly miss it!

  17. says

    Nice one guys. Nothing was more shocking than following a local boxes programming my first 4 months of Crossfitting and losing strength….I picked up the PTP a few weeks behind and saw nice steady increases. You guys always seem to keep things simple, hype free and based around what works…the barbell. It’s been around for a long time for a reason. Keep up the good work..I’m a big fan.

  18. Daigle says

    Melissa,

    I agree that the chippers are way over-done at alot of affiliates. To this day, we still have some members that clearly cherry pick WODS and NEVER show up when we’re slingin’ iron. If it’s not a 20+ minute metabolic thrashing they’re not interested. However, as flawed as that may be….alot of people aren’t in it to get stronger….being athletes (or at least more interested in being strong and well rounded) that perplexes us. I’ll NEVER miss a 5×5, oly day, or heavy lifting in general. The need for that time domain is clear though, its my weakest element in CF…..longer than 15min I suffer and don’t perform nearly as well. Below 10min, I can hang with the big boys. So I take those chippers when I get them too, because that is MY weakness. Love you guys…keep up the great work and keep it outside the box so to speak. Tell Dallas I said hi…and get the F down here to visit! Merry Christmas!

  19. Michael Donner says

    Hey Melissa,

    I followed PTP the whole way through, but stopped checking the blog because I found it harder to track. What I did was copy the protocol you printed out early on and posted it in my garage. You may not have lost as many as you thought.

  20. Jesse Richards says

    Totally have to agree Moxy-Boss. I actually just finished PTP today, and had the best christmas present yet, a 25 pound DL pr to go with a 15 pound improvement on my press yesterday. It’s almost like this stuff works… Good article! Metcons are indeed sexy, but too much does you no favors. Keep spreading the word!

  21. says

    Claims of superior methodology need to yield consistently superior performance to be taken seriously.

    Barbell specialization and short time domain specialization have not yet met this standard. If you produce the data, I’ll change my mind.

    Mikko Salo’s (as well as Moe Kelsey’s) performance speaks louder than any theory that barbell-strength theoreticians may claim.

  22. Hamilton Toms says

    Russ,

    Not sure I understand your point. I think you are saying Ms Urban needs to produce data to demonstrate that more barbell work is superior to the traditional x-fit met-con routine?

    Is that’s your point, first, doesn’t x-fit need to produce some data?

    Second, why do so many go off the x-fit rez to do strength work and say they’re better performers because of it? Purely anecdotal, I know, but as persuasive as any x-fit testimonial.

    As for Salo, his self-described training was anything but basic x-fit met-cons.

  23. Eva Bigongiari says

    I loved the 603 programming and wanted to follow the PTP program when it was initially posted, but didn’t have the necessary equipment at the time. (My heaviest sandbag was only 135 lbs and not really conducive to deadlifting.) When I finally did get a barbell set, I was disappointed to find that I couldn’t access the 603 PTP workouts in their entirety anymore. I hope you find a place to post those old workouts again on your new site. I’d really like to try it.
    I agree that it’s easier to program a workout that just smokes people than it is to program for real strength improvements. Just because something is complicated and difficult doesn’t mean that it’s what’s best for achieving optimal health. I don’t like workouts that are so involved that I’m constantly having to check my notebook to remember what exercise I’m doing next. I find it interesting to note that in my own experience I feel much better the day after a short power or strength oriented workout than I do after a complete burner of a metcon. To me any workout that leaves me feeling hung over the next day was not really an effective one because it did more damage than good.

  24. says

    Hamilton,

    Several points:

    1. I never argued against serious barbell training. I argued against Ms. Urban’s assumption that focusing on barbell strength training is a superior method of achieving fitness.

    2. I wonder what “typical Crossfit metcon routine” you’re talking about. CrossFit training is not just about metcons. The affiliate that I train at and often program for, CrossFit Monterey, follows general CrossFit training. Note that we still lift heavy, and our athletes are still getting much stronger. We don’t make heavy barbell lifting any more or less a part of our routine than other aspects such as bodyweight exercises, higher repetition lifting, and running.

    3. CrossFitters have made progress with strength-specialized routines. They are effective. Efficacy, however, does not necessarily imply superiority. Many routines work. To claim superiority, however, a method must demonstrate consistently higher levels of performance than that achieved by other methods.

    4. Taking just the guys I train with and program for, we’re looking at between 430 and 565 lb. deadlifts within 2 years of serious, general training. This progress is accompanied by matching improvements in gymnastics and running as well. It is a misleading myth that general CrossFit training doesn’t make people stronger.

    5. I was not using Mikko and Moe to justify the mainsite workouts. Clearly, they both train very differently. However, it is also clear that Mikko and Moe are no strangers to frequent and extended metabolic training. Mikko trains 3 “metcons” per day and Moe competes in triathlons. Maybe they would be fitter if they focused on barbell lifting and cut back on their “metcons”, but right now such talk is just speculation.

    In order to make a convincing argument for the superiority of barbell lifting, athletes who specialize in barbell lifting will have to reach levels of performance consistently higher than those achieved by general training. This superiority will be found in performance data, not eloquent blog posts or exercise physiology theories. I’m waiting.

  25. says

    Lastly, regarding your statement that CrossFit should supply some data, thanks to the Games, Crossfit.com, and the affiliates, we know all of the top performers and what they eat, how they train, what backgrounds they come from, etc. It is my assertion that this data does not yet support your and Ms. Urban’s favoring of a barbell strength focus.

  26. says

    @Eva (and others): We’ve recently gone through some serious web site reconstruction. As a result, the old 603 posts weren’t showing up properly on the CrossFit Whole9 site. I’ve corrected, I’m pretty sure… you can access the Archives by month from the home page, or scroll through the weeks on the Workouts page. I know it’s not the prettiest looking thing right now, but it’s going to take a while to get all that formatting cleaned up. In the meantime, at least everything is there and accessible.

    Thanks for pointing that out! Sorry for the inconvenience.

  27. says

    Russ,

    I think you may have misunderstood the purpose of our editorial post. We were neither extolling the virtues of a barbell-only program, nor were we disparaging CrossFit’s main page programming in general. The real point we were trying to make was that CrossFit trainers & affiliates (that do their own custom programming) should resist the urge to (over)use exotic-looking movements and complicated rep schemes (often leading to excessively long workouts) to give clients the illusion of an optimal fitness program that is magically designed to be one-size-fits-all. I would much rather see affiliates and especially new trainers do CF’s main page programming on a consistent basis than to make up their own programming that, by my observation, tends to lean very heavily on longer metcons that are perhaps easier to run as group classes and require less experienced/competent coaching of quality movements. It is my premise that a CrossFit program that includes a broad range of movements and time domains but that emphasizes the strength component is a step up from CF’s main page programming and a HUGE step forward for affiliates that program longer, lighter metcons on a too-frequent basis. And, I won’t even get into the Games discussion. I do not and will not compete at exercise, any more than I’ll compete at eating better Paleo than you or growing my hair longer than someone else. Thanks for your perspective.

    Mike, your reference to 20-rep squats made me shudder. I’ve done that a few times (20 reps at a 10RM, a la Super Squats), and Jesus told me I should do something less painful. I listened to him.

    Nadine, I’m stoked that you’ve stuck with our PTP. Let us know how your 1RMs go!

  28. says

    @Russ,

    Dallas said it well, but I’ll throw my thoughts in too. First, thanks for contributing. Based on the content of your post, I’m going to assume you’re new to our affiliate and my blog. I’m also not sure you read the article really well. You sort of extrapolated a whole lot of stuff, which is kind of silly because we’re not saying most of the points you’re arguing against. Here are a few things to help you understand our train of thought.

    1. Our article does not say that Barbell Strength Training > CrossFit, or that picking up heavy stuff is the proven best way ever to achieve fitness. We don’t even say that CrossFit = Met-Con (only that some people assume that to be true).

    What we DID say is that Barbell Strength Training > Map and a Flashlight Met-Cons. There’s lots of data out there as to why piles of long length, lightweight met-cons (the CF equivalent of LSD training) isn’t a good fitness strategy. Google, or ask Robb Wolf. Or Mark Sisson, he’s actually got some good takes on excessive bouts of “cardio”.

    2. Our affiliate is not interested in building better CrossFitters. If we were, we’d kip our muscle-ups and ring dips and program the SDHP and med-ball clean, because those skills are needed to be a really good CrossFitter. We don’t do any of those things. Our affiliate is interested in making people better at real life – not just CrossFit movements and workouts. And we’ve decided to approach that goal by making people stronger. We’re not claiming we produce fitter people than you – only that what we do works well for us, and our clients.

    3. As Dallas mentioned, we are not interested discussing the Games competitors’ training programs. In fact, we won’t talk about the Games here at all. Just between you and me, we think the Games are dumb. CrossFit is not a sport, it’s just a way to exercise. Like Jazzercise. Or Zumba!

    4. If you’re looking for some kind of pissing match between my deadlift and your Fran time, you’re out of luck. This is just what our affiliate does – we like picking up heavy stuff, and we think everyone needs to be stronger. If you think that’s not the best way to well rounded fitness, then our programming isn’t for you. That’s the beauty of the program – as a CrossFit affiliate, we are each left alone to do our own thing.

    I’m not feeling the need to continue, mostly because I’m not interested in proving our CrossFit is better than yours. That wasn’t the point of the article at all. Do what works for you, and we’ll do what works for us. And then we’ll write about it – eloquently, apparently. Thanks for that compliment.

    Best,
    Melissa

  29. Hamilton Toms says

    Russ–

    Like you, I think you need to do more than barbell work to be “fit.” In fact, I am stronger but less fit today than a year ago because of my muscle-headed training during the last year.

    For me, one of the challenges is defining x-fit. If people do more than mainsite-like sessions on a 3 on 1 off (or similar) schedule, are they x-fitting? Or is the definition of x-fit infinitely expandable if the training includes some “met-cons” for time?

    The fact that Salo does both extra strength and endurance training says to me he is not doing x-fit. You write that Moe (about whom I know nothing) does triathlons. Again, if he actively trains for triathlons, doing distance work, that’s beyond the bounds of x-fit. Isn’t it?

    My question to you is, are your guys making the gains you describe solely with mainsite-like programming, or are they doing more?

    Just curious. If I appear argumentative, that’s not my intention, just a character defect.

  30. jp says

    Great article. Here’s more data:

    I work out alone at a globo, but programmed something for myself for the 4 weeks leading up to x-mas. This would be a typical week:
    Monday – Squat 3×5, Bench Press 3×5, “play” with 3′s and 1′s of Clean or Snatch
    Tuesday – 4x100m sprints with a triplet between each sprint (21,15,9 back extension,decline situp,pullup)
    Wednesday – Deadlift 3×3, Shoulder Press 3×5, play with Clean or Snatch (opposite of Monday)
    Thursday – Rest
    Friday – Squat 3×5, Bench Press 3×5, max Clean or snatch
    Saturday – Repeat Tuesday
    Sunday – Rest

    I tweeked it each week if I felt like I was doing too much in one area. For example one week I did DL’s twice and squats only once. I took a couple unscheduled rest days (2 in 4 weeks). But here’s the results:
    3×5 SQ = up 20lbs
    3×3 DL = up 40lbs
    3×5 BP = up 10lbs
    3×5 SP = up 5lbs
    Max Clean = 155lbs
    Max Snatch=80lbs

    Sure those gains will level off, but I do “feel more comfortable under (over) the bar.” I’ve been scaling WODs for two years and I know I am FINALLY getting closer to being able to do more WODs as prescribed. Hardcore crossfit defenders are starting to sound like the American Medical Association: you say there is no data to show that a cure(method) works, yet you refuse to test the cure(method) to get some data and ignore the data that is offered up by the proponent of the cure(method). Furthermore, if crossfit’s defense of the crossfit method is the top athletes at the games, that is like putting a bunch of “cured” people in a room and saying they are cured because they are in that room. Big Deal. What did they do before they walked through the door? We all (novice to expert) know that the top athletes at the games are doing more than just the mainsite WOD as part of their regular training, so why do crossfit defenders cry foul whenever someone tries to outline a way to make gains? I did not start following crossfit as an “elite” athlete, so I have to do SOMETHING to get near “elite” so I can train “elite.” If barbell helps, thats what I’ll do. Or is crossfit only for “elite” athletes and everyone else must stand aside in awe? Oh, and by the way…if an emphasis on strength and barbell training is not useful to crossfit, then why all the videos and WODs focussing on these aspects lately? Are you actually going to give it a try and collect some data, or keep arguing against it and just try to put out some fires? I’m just a guy out here working out alone, but I can see what’s being said on both sides.

    ps – DOES ANYONE IN BUFFALO, NY HAVE RUBBER PLATES SO I CAN BAIL SOME OLY LIFTS?!?! HAHA those numbers are small!

    jp – 5’7″ – 155lbs – 35yrs

  31. says

    @Dallas:

    “I think you may have misunderstood the purpose of our editorial post. We were neither extolling the virtues of a barbell-only program, nor were we disparaging CrossFit’s main page programming in general. The real point we were trying to make was that CrossFit trainers & affiliates (that do their own custom programming) should resist the urge to (over)use exotic-looking movements and complicated rep schemes (often leading to excessively long workouts) to give clients the illusion of an optimal fitness program that is magically designed to be one-size-fits-all.”

    This is fair. However, the post did contain the following statement:

    “There are a few things wrong with this phenomenon. First, longer length met-cons (even those that go “heavy” for time) will not make you as strong as you could be. Sure, your cardio will improve, and you’ll most likely see some strength gains, but nowhere near the gains you’d see picking up heavy stuff with a tried-and-true 5×5, 3×5 and 3×3 protocol. (Of course, this point is only valid if you believe, as we do, that prioritizing strength is the most effective way to get better at everything.)”

    This certainly makes it seem as if barbell strength is the key to fitness – forgive me if I’m misreading it, but “prioritizing strength is the most effective way to get better at everything” seems pretty clear. When it’s preceded by mention of 5×5, 3×5, and 3×3 protocols, it seems like barbells are being referred to. If Russ or I inferred incorrectly, I don’t think it was done unreasonably.

  32. says

    @Melissa,

    “2. Our affiliate is not interested in building better CrossFitters. If we were, we’d kip our muscle-ups and ring dips and program the SDHP and med-ball clean, because those skills are needed to be a really good CrossFitter. We don’t do any of those things. Our affiliate is interested in making people better at real life – not just CrossFit movements and workouts. And we’ve decided to approach that goal by making people stronger. We’re not claiming we produce fitter people than you – only that what we do works well for us, and our clients.”

    I like this, because a lot of people who argue in favor of their programming one way or another do so claiming that it will create fitter athletes by CrossFit standards. I applaud you stating that that is NOT your goal, and thus you train differently.

    “3. As Dallas mentioned, we are not interested discussing the Games competitors’ training programs. In fact, we won’t talk about the Games here at all. Just between you and me, we think the Games are dumb. CrossFit is not a sport, it’s just a way to exercise. Like Jazzercise. Or Zumba!”

    Why isn’t CrossFit a sport?

    Are weightlifting, powerlifting, track & field, cycling, distance running, and swimming sports? If so, what criteria designates them as such?

    What about basketball? The way I see it, basketball could be defined as “an exercise method designed to develop cardiorespiratory endurance, agility, accuracy, balance, and coordination.” Nothing is a sport until you add competition.

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/sport
    1.
    a. Physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.
    b. A particular form of this activity.
    2. An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitivel

  33. says

    @Jacob,

    I know LOTS of people consider CrossFit a “sport”. We just don’t. We USE CrossFit to be BETTER at sports, at life challenges, at our jobs. But I don’t consider my exercise protocol a “sport”, any more than I did back in high school when I was spending an hour a day on the elliptical. (Can you imagine the idea of “elliptical competitions”? I would have kicked ass, by the way. I could complete the entire “mountain climber” protocol while listening to Oprah and reading US Weekly.)

    Furthermore, I think the concept of the Games is driving people to be better at CrossFit, at the expense of good, quality real-world training and fitness. Kipping your way through a met-con (whether it’s pull-ups, muscle-ups, ring dips or handstand push-ups) is necessary if you’re going to be a Fran, Diane or Elizabeth fire-breather, yet I know a die-hard CrossFit competitor who can knock out 20 kipping pull-ups and not a SINGLE dead hang. How “functional”, how impressive a show of “strength” is that, outside of the relatively small community that is CrossFit?

    I’ll happily wait to say I “have” a muscle-up until I can do one without kicking like a spastic kangaroo. I’d rather get strong and perform the movement properly, even if it means I’ll NEVER be able to complete fast muscle-ups a part of a met-con. Which would, by definition, make me a terrible Games competitor.

    Maybe it’s just semantics, but it’s part of our affiliate’s philosophy… we train to be better at real life, not to be the best at exercising.

    Thanks for your comments. Good discussion.
    Melissa

  34. says

    @Melissa,

    At the risk of publicly sounding like a gigantic Ass, I have to say that there is a tremendous amount of irony in your statement about the elliptical’s “mountain climber” protocol. Mostly because… at that point in your life, you probably couldn’t have climbed a mountain bigger than the mountain of gossip magazines next to the elliptical. But… you’ve come a long, long way, and I’m very proud of you. Now go pick up something heavy!

  35. says

    @Dallas:

    You’d be a big Ass if it wasn’t totally true. Thank you for plucking me from the sea of Gold’s Gym cardio princesses all those years ago. We should revive the idea of opening a halfway house for girls like me… the Whole9 Home for the Skinny-Fat. No 7K rows, 12# body bars or Dannon Lite-and-Fits to be found… just a standard issue pair of Chuck Taylors, a full set of bumpers and a mandatory 2,500 calories a day.

    Seriously, this could be huge.

  36. Dawn says

    @Melissa,

    My home gym is competing with Band Hero and the imaginary gun safe my husband wants to buy. Sigh. I do prefer going to the gym for workouts, but it is nice to have around for those frigid days when you don’t want to leave the house.

    It’s funny you mention the sprints, as I did them Saturday, I picked them over a 5k to burn off stress from family and the holidays. : / Now I see that the family did me a favor : ) I am going to start your PTP today. I suck at presses and really like deads. It’ll be interesting to see what my 1RM is at the end of the 3 weeks. Thanks for the input!

  37. Mike says

    Great article. I am curious about your choosing a PTP approach for the strength aspect of your program over other options such as an approach more like CFSB, CF Football, Starting Strength, etc.
    Incidentally, some of my best training results came while I was doing a PTP style deadlifting program prior to doing Main page Crossfit workouts. However, I was also doing lots of other stuff at that time, including a burpee challenge and CFE.

    More recently the bulk of what i do has been based upon CrossfitFootball. However, it is getting time for me to experiment with some new programming again. Some of the programs I’m considering at the moment are Invictus, Catalyst Athletics, MaxfitUSA, and the CrossfitEndurance main WODs in addition to their endurance WODS.

  38. Jon says

    “…we train to be better at real life, not to be the best at exercising.”

    Thumbs up to you Melissa!

  39. says

    @Mike: I can’t speak for Dallas, as the PTP program was his idea… but from my perspective, I wanted to get stronger, and not “generally overall a little stronger in all aspects”, but P-CHAIN and OVERHEAD stronger. The PTP program was perfect, as it focused on just two exercises (DL and press) throughout the cycle, while adding in just enough skill, gymnastics and power/met-con work to keep my overall fitness on track.

    We love Catalyst’s programming. In fact, that’s what Dallas and I are following right now, as we both need more time under and over the Oly bar.

    @Jon: Sweet! Thanks.

    @Brian: Holla at Diablo! I used to borrow your track workouts for my own training, back before we affiliated. You guys do good stuff, tell the head honchos over there thanks for the link!

  40. Brad Garner says

    Melissa….I love the overall theme of the post. I will admit my programming could always improve and I want to lean in much more of a strength bias….

    This may be nit picking, but kipping vs dead hang pullup….If you train for life and not to be a better crossfitter, would it be reasonable to assume that if you were being chased by a bear and needed to get into a tree, that you would most likley kip?

  41. Patrick L. says

    I have been making these same arguments for awhile now. Thanks for presenting what I had been thinking in a well reasoned and complete way

  42. says

    @Brad: Thanks for the note. I LOVE these kinds of questions! Here is my answer… If I were being chased by a woman-eating-bear… why would I waste time swinging on the branch if I could quickly and easily pull myself straight up? ;)

    In all seriousness, we do train kipping pull-ups – we just prioritize dead hangs to build the strength to control the momentum-added movement. Kipping is good way to blow through a bunch in a row, but it’s not the backbone of our pulling training.

    @Patrick L: Nice of you to comment. Thanks!

  43. To look good says

    I train to look good, after all aren’t we all. Everybody talks about metcon and strength, what about hypertrophy. I know alot of people say that it comes along with strength, but 3×3 or 5×5 once every four weeks on back squats is not going to give you strength and it sure isn’t gonna produce hypertrophy. Workouts like kelly or cindy aren’t gonna give you muscle and who cares if you do fran in 30 seconds, your still skinny.

  44. To look good says

    Not so quick there dallas. Those roid head routines in flex are as worthless as the kipping pullup. I haven’t touched a dumbell, cable, or machine exercise in years. All i have in my garage is an olympic bar, thick bar, power rack, pullup bar, bench and lots of weights.

    Performing reps under 70% of max aren’t gonna do you any good but have their place once in a while in any given routine. I do 3 heavy overall body days with 2 days of stairs, sprints and sled work. Some programmers do a great job of this but 90% are heart rate spikers with adolescent weight. Overtraining is the biggest mistake of most programmers, the natural body needs to be rested and recuperated. Cheers.

  45. says

    @Pseudonym Guy: Your sarcasm plus sense-making is confusing me. And we’re not sure what you have against dumbbells. But you did say “heavy”, “sled work” and “overtraining is the biggest mistake”, which makes me think maybe we’re on the same page? ‘Cause we’re with you on those points for sure.

    Bottom line – whatever you do, we hope you look good doing it.

  46. Ian says

    Hey guys, this is a great blog and everything you say is sooooo true. I got wrapped up in the long metcons for about 6 months. Felt beat up all the time and really never felt like training. I swapped that out about a month ago for Max Effor Black Box training 3 days/week and have never felt better. I’ve been reading these blog entries all last night and this morning and I am convinced my next move is to up my 2000 calorie diet and start eating more….

    Thanks for the great info….

  47. says

    Melissa, your pals Erik and Lauri out in Cali! Congrats to your success and new ventures…

    Sister, you are pretty spot on–your post perfectly described our arc from a “Metcon Palace” to a dedicated S & C facility that puts more thought into programming, away from the seductive lure of the long time domain.

    Everyone should know that this is consistent with CrossFit’s Methodology as envisioned by Glassman. Read “Virtuosity,” and he’ll explain that the perfect CrossFit session begins with a dynamic warmup, practice a skill, perform a major lift, and finish with a tight little couplet or triplet…

    Some of the most devastating CrossFit Programming consists of your WG, WGM, and GG combos….timed and scaled so that the class is coming in a tight grouping around the firebreathers…

    Dutch Lowy said it best, “Give your athletes what they need, not what they want”–and they’ll thank you for it through their results.

  48. says

    @Erik and Lauri… HI, San Elijo! I still receive your email updates now and again, I’m glad you’ve stayed in touch (and followed us over here from the blog!). Thanks so much for your comments. I had not heard that quote from Dutch, but it’s in line with our Manifesto on the main page of this site – what you think you want may not actually be what you need. And as coaches, Dutch is right – we’re here to give you what you need! (And I guarantee that’s not another 45 minute bodyweight met-con.)

    Thanks for the note, and keep up the strong work!
    Melissa

  49. duey says

    hey tyspskin powerlifting, track and field, swimming are all legit sports because they’re well defined. someone that wins the 100 meter dash or deadlifts the most is clearly the fastest runner in or strongest person at that meet. someone who wins the crossfit games has the best across wcabtamd… thats a very ambiguous definition and hard to interpret…

  50. Alex says

    Mr. Look Good-
    Sounds like you actually do some good functional strength training and solid programming so not sure what your quarrel is with the programming here. It’s the first time I’ve visited this site (via Robb Wolf’s site) but I like what I see already. Be careful about your statements though- German Volume Training uses high volume 60% 1RM loads and has produced olympic weightlifting medalists, champion bodybuilders, and muscle models who look quite incredible, ‘hypertrophied’, and super strong. It has been a favorite of legendary strength coaches like Charles Poliquin and old-timers like Vince Gironda: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vince_Gironda. There is more than 1 way to skin a cat my friend. Anyway, we have similar stuff in our garages so you still sound ok to me :)

    Melissa and Dallas- Stoked on your site and the programming- it’s cool to see more smart coaches tweak the CF model in the right direction and focus on strength. I couldn’t agree more about the ‘Games’ and making a sport out of exercise- always thought that was D-U-M-B. I train for my basketball, capoeira, bodysurfing, freediving, hiking, climbing, and to be useful in an emergency, aka REAL LIFE.

  51. says

    New bump from Eva T on FB had me re-reading this today. Hope you guys are doing well. Life lesson I learned: don’t sweat the ‘virtual trainees’. They won’t win the ‘virtual games’ nor will they pay your ‘actual bills’.

    :)

    JMS

  52. eileen says

    WOW! What an article and what a thread! This comes at a GREAT time for me because I am coming off of a 5 month knee surgery rehab, and have had a very long time to think about how I want to train.

    I see this argument happening all over the place, meaning, on Facebook, where I live.

    There is the “we want to be stronger and do better OLY lifts” camp. And the “I kinda want to be stronger but it’s not as much a priorty as gettting better at a lot of skills and fitness” camp.

    The people who truly make it a goal to get stronger IN THE SHORTEST PERIOD OF TIME, not leave it to infinity, invariably move to a strength training program with shorter metcons. It becomes Strength and conditioning, Strength being first.

    The people who are interested in simply getting fitter overall, getting better at CrossFit, improving WOD times, learning new skills, will stay with CrossFit as it is presented by their box.

    There is merit to both. It depends on what you want!!!

    I want both, to be honest. I want to get stronger in the shortest amount of time possible, (not as strong as I will ever be, but stronger, having come off of rehab). But I also want to do rope climbs, muscle ups, handstand pushups, and I like to run. I really do. I want to be strong and fast.

    So I will now do a focused Strength and Conditioning Program because I have watched enough people get great results. It’s different from following my box’s daily wods.

    And I’m old. I’m almost 47 so being turned on by all of this and knowing I can only get better is truly exhilarating.

    I see these arguments ad nauseum. The point is to figure out what YOU want, and there are enough people out there who have done the work to demonstrate what will be the best next step.

    I know I want to do strength biased programming right now. My cardio and my metcons will come back just fine, thanks. But my strength, as well as learning how to do the things I just mentioned, takes focus.

    I love CrossFit because of all of this. There are options. And if you want it, you just look around and find it.

    GREAT ARTICLE!!!!

  53. KDuse says

    Hi, great read. I’m taking a lot from this. I have been a dedicated Crossfitter for over six months and I have seen great games in my metcons and core lifts. But my strength has plateaued or even decreased in my squat and presses. Deadlifts and cleans are solid though. I love my metcons but I will focus more on some “Old School” 5x5s. Thanks,

  54. says

    Strength is the base of the pyramid upon which all other physical traits are built. Simple as that.

    Working to improve the quality of your movement takes a lot of time, patience, focus, and hard work, yet it’s often looked down upon if you’re not writhing in agony at the end of each workout.

    To each his own.

  55. says

    Jim,

    We’re with you 100% on that one. We often say, “there’s a difference between training and simply being miserable. We choose to TRAIN.” By the way, thanks for all your excellent tutorials. I’ve used some of your progressions in my own training, with results that were good (though proportionate to the time/effort I dedicated to each movement). Thanks again.

  56. Raf S says

    Crossfit doenst chosen at random? IN crossfit(dot ) com , say that” chosen at random”" < I understand what you say , but if the most crossfit do the same like "central" . Sorry but Tonny Bud…show in video is totally chosen at random!

    I say that because i admire whay you doing , and your open mind , and point view!

    thanks!

  57. Jeff says

    Great article. I think you just summed up 90% of what I believe about programming.

    One of my good buddies is using ur 603 program and has put a lot of strength on recently it’s been great for him.

  58. says

    Reading this post seals the deal for me: before, I thought I had found an amazing CrossFit box in Napa, but now I’m entirely CONVINCED!

    The programming’s entirely bent in this direction, although there are a few longer MetCons in there too (people would whine, you know). Every day we’re lifting something heavy before attacking a short, power-based workout, and I’ve PR’d like a maniac because of it.

    Thank you for all you contribute to this community! I’m tuned in.

  59. says

    RM: The specific type of programming you choose should be based on your goals. A true powerlifting program, MEBB-style program, Wendler 5-3-1 and the like all have their place, but selecting the program that’s right for you may take some introspection (and the help of a good coach).

    Best,

    Melissa

  60. steve says

    I, as a CrossFit box / gym owner agree 100% with you.

    Dedicated strength work or olympic lifts, followed by a very short (5-12 minute) conditioning is the optimum for getting strong, powerful, and fit. Sometimes (maybe once a week) a longer, 20 minute metcon is good for endurance. Chippers – occassionally. And the fact that you can mix in tons of different exercises or variations should hopefully limit overuse injuries.

    Great article.

  61. steve says

    and I agree with new people programming crazy crap – no thought process, just throw it at the wall and hope it sticks – no long term goals, no short term goals, no periodization (oh no – I said the P word), nothing but random = poor programming. They don’t take the time to come up with a plan. And that sucks. I have my trainers make out their programming and I try to tell them to follow the same advice you give, but they just can’t do it – so I’m taking the programming back.

    Thank you for the advice

  62. says

    Beware of the lure of only lifting, its the new thing now… you can get strong and increase cardio endurance in a heavy metcon. Form does not have to be sacrificed, that is up to you and your coach.

  63. says

    @Andy,

    First, I’m sorry I didn’t see this until now – keeping up with comments is hard around here.

    To clarify, the point of our article is that, for a health-focused program (which is the goal of the vast majority of CrossFit/GPP participants), picking up heavy stuff never hurt anyone, metabolically. In fact, some of the smartest coaches we know will prescribe a program of heavy lifting; long, slow distance work at a recovery pace; and perhaps some VERY short (2 minutes!) metabolic conditioning sessions to help people recover from adrenal fatigue, overtraining injuries, and other metabolic conditions that can arise as the result of chronically overdoing the sexy met-con – even WITH good form. So from our perspective, nobody has to “beware the lure of lifting only,” as with proper coaching and form, that program never hurt anyone.

    Of course, a prescription of heavy lifting only does not lead to optimal, well-rounded performance… but then again, we’re not performance-focused around here, we’re health-focused. And those aren’t always one and the same.

    Best,
    Melissa

  64. Sarah-Anne Nelson says

    This is a great article! However, I have a clarifying question. I totally understand not wanting to do 30min chippers all the time, my question is where is the line drawn between these “longer” metcons and “safer” ones? 15 minutes? 10 minutes? I understand that regardless lifting heavy things is a very important component, and so I am trying to change my current workout plan. Does cutting metcons to 3xweek and lifting 3x a week (with one day overlapping) for 5x a week a good strategy? The 3 metcon would hopefully be a mix of shorter and longer (max 20 min) metcons. Any feedback is greatly appreciated!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Does this make you any less of a man or woman? No. It means, scale this stuff, and do it correctly or you will find yourself in the “hurt locker” like our friend here. Scalability is a law that exists within this community and is not used enough. I have seen far too many competitions and been to way too many gyms where there are no standards for this stuff being used. It’s sad, real sad, as folks are not getting a true taste of what this stuff can actually do for you. Then there are those who do get it. It is so painfully obvious who they are as their people move so well, and going into the tunnel of “white light” is not the only goal. They have leaders who live by standards, not atrocious met-cons every other day trying to please the “fitness fanatic” who thinks heavy means bulky. Beware of the sexy met con gym! [...]

  2. [...] of these conversations start in relation to why we don’t do more long days.  I just read this article posted over at The Whole 9 Life that I thought summed up my thoughts on programming very well.  If [...]

  3. [...] Whole 9: Beware The Lure of the Sexy Met Con Games update: The new Open website (wmv/mov) CrossFit This entry was posted in WOD. Bookmark the permalink. Contact Us info@crossfitqueensny.com 18-31 27th Avenue Astoria, NY 11102 (click for map) (646)361-9969 Archives Select Month February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 Location 18-31 27th Avenue Astoria, NY 11102 Contact info@crossfitqueensny.com Search for: [...]

  4. [...] got a thing for strong people. Many CrossFits are lured to the sexy metcon. Power is still our focus, but we know how handy being strong can be in real life events and how [...]

  5. [...] Beware the Lure of the Sexy Met-Con, Dallas & Melissa Hartwig 30-minute long conditioning workouts are really common in the CrossFit world. If you’re interested in getting stronger, increasing your “Grace” time or cutting down on your cortisol levels, lift heavy things and lift them right. “Getting fancy with a chipper is fun once in a while, but if you constantly find yourself in need of a map and a flashlight to finish your workouts, sprint (don’t jog) to the nearest barbell and enjoy the simple pleasures and performance gains of a back squat 5×5.” [...]

  6. [...] Scaling Movements If the workout calls for a movement that the athlete is not able to do as prescribed yet then the athlete can use this time to work toward the next progression. Using bands for pull-ups? Can you get 7 in a row with the one you are using? Try to do some with a thinner band. Doing ring rows? Try progressing toward a couple of pull-ups with a band. Can’t squat below parallel yet? Try and get lower each time. Using a bench for push-ups? Try a couple from your knees. Talk to your coach/trainer if you have questions on how to progress in a movement. An interesting read. [...]

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