Outlaw Camp Review – The 'Advanced' Version

So Jay and I recently got back from the Outlaw Para Bellum Camp at Real Fitness Sarasota and I thought I’d give it a full-on review from a coach/affiliate owner perspective. Let me start off with this, the entire 3-day camp only cost $399. And these 3 days were from 9-5. On our way home during the final day, I asked Jay if he thought it was worth it and he replied with a resounding “YES!” Then I asked if he’d have paid double…again another resounding ‘yes.’ Rudy – charge more. You and your stable of coaches are worth it.
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Let me preface the entire review by saying this upfront: I’ve been a follower of The Outlaw Way for nearly two years now. And guess what members of my gym – so have you. I certainly tailor it according to the population and goals we have within CrossFit For Glory, but the meat and potatoes are there.

Now, onto the content. As Rudy so eloquently put it, they dropped a metric ***-ton of info on us the whole weekend. We had a fancy little notebook to reference and take notes with. Said notebook will go alongside my most treasured strength and conditioning literature that I’ve amassed over the last decade (or more?). Topics covered were: Programming philosophy (Rudy Nielsen), Olympic Weightlifting (Spencer Arnold), Power Lifting (John Dill), Connectivity (Mike Poppa), Athlete Prep (Michael Winchester), and Biomechanics (all). I’ll review them all individually, and completely out of order just to irritate you.


Power Lifting – John Dill was a cool cool dude. Definitely “the quiet one” of the group as we were told he would be. But get him talking about his specialty, the power lifts, and you can see him light up. Nothing pretty here like O-lifting, just pure raw awesomeness. After an in-depth discussion on low bar vs high bar squatting (that actually started on day 1), we moved to the floor. They did a brief demo of the low bar squat, and it had honestly been so long since I’d seen one performed I almost forgotten how UGLY they are. That is about as ugly and non-athletic a movement as I’ve seen done in a LOOOOOOOONG time! No, don’t blame the demo guy (Winchester). Then it was high bar time where we all went through a progression to culminate in full speed squatting. Next time you feel a PVC behind your rear end when you’re squatting, thank these guys. Loved the talk and demo on deadlifts, especially about the mindset and strategy for pulling a one-rep max as well as the difference between lifting for strength gains vs. lifting in a met-con (pulling from a dead stop vs touch and go). I was glad that they mentioned a transferable reason for bench pressing – to improve the lockout of your overhead movements! Yes, there are definitely more benefits, but I think that one is important enough to most CrossFitters that it’ll get them to stop making fun of this important lift and add it back in, yours truly included.  And finally (!), someone else in the CrossFit world recognizes a huge deficiency in the use of the Glute-Ham Developer machine – not for stupid GHD sit-ups, but glute-ham raises. It’s in the dang name people! These were a staple every other place I’ve worked at. Let’s change that, huh? Takeaway here: the squat is the single most important movement we do, PERIOD. Imagine that being yelled and repeated 5-7 more times. It is that important. So guess what? We’re going to continue to squat. all. the. time.


Oly Lifting – If you take a look back at all the workouts you’ve ever done since you’ve been a member at CFG, most people will tell me the same three things: we squat A LOT, we snatch A LOT, we clean and jerk A LOT. So, you can imagine how geeked up I was for this section. For me, Spencer’s entire lecture was very confidence boosting – it reassured me that I do know what the heck I’m doing and can teach the O-lifts very well. Positioning, cues, faults, teaching progressions, transferability, importance…he covered it all. Nearly all of what he taught is exactly what I’ve been teaching you all since we opened the doors at CFG. The snatch portion of the morning was reminiscent of our last Olympic Lifting Clinic in January – very rewarding. Being surrounded by so many solid lifters that day gave me a great opportunity to hone my skills in pointing out the more minor flaws that cause better lifters to fail. And having Spencer, or another coach, within ear shot (no hearing jokes) to point out the minute differences between a successful lift or a miss was irreplaceable. One of his trademark phrases was that you need to “Warm-up like you work so you can work like you warm-up.” Hmm. His last bit of talking was how to best use ‘Coaches Eye’ to break down lifts. We use this tool periodically, but not enough. That will change. Takeaway: I’m a sucker for all things Olympic Weightlifting and was so happy to be around a huge group of people who shared that same passion for the beauty of the lifts as I do. Also, I learned a few new tactile cues for foot repositioning in the snatch and the jerk…you’ve seen these already and PR’s have come along with them!


Athlete Prep – if you’ve ever asked me about my education at the University of Florida, you’ve no doubt heard me talk about biomechanics and sport psychology as probably my two favorite classes ever. I’ll cover biomechanics next. Michael Winchester’s piece could essentially be considered sport psychology, and I loved every minute of his lecture. You can tell that he loves to coach, plain and simple. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a complete newbie with no experience or a bona-fide baby Froning. It’s out of this pure love for coaching and competitive experience that his knowledge on this topic runs deep. Individual vs team prep, how to manage athletes, how to scout a competition…I don’t know what he missed. Winchester was also my group’s coach during the Coaching Practical. He was very complimentary to me, saying that I set the bar quite high for our group – a HUGE compliment in my eyes that I won’t ever forget. Thanks Mike. Takeaway here: People don’t spend enough time on their recovery. At CFG, we have an unwritten rule that you are to take care of your business (stretching, cool-down, foam rolling, etc) post-WOD. You’ll see us address this in a more formal manner soon!

Biomechanics – this was not actually a separate lecture during the camp, but it darn well should be. Every time we were on the training floor, the coaches addressed the always asked question of “What is the ideal set-up?” by pairing up two similar sized athletes and then breaking down their anatomical differences. Far too often, I see the following scenario play out with rookie coaches: they’ve seen a bunch of videos (or played enough sports, or done enough CrossFit, or whatever they think qualifies them to coach) of whatever lift they’re teaching and try to squeeze every person that they see into this tight little mold of the ‘perfect’ set-up. I’ve even seen it at our box as some of our veteran athletes try to help newer ones. This is when I have to step in and show them there is no one-size-fits-all approach. More than a decade of coaching experience in watching thousands of people move has ingrained this principle in my head – you can’t have a cookie cutter approach to putting people in specific positions for what we do. Torso vs leg length, femur vs tibia length, arm length…all these ratios are taken into account when someone walks into my gym and I asses them as an athlete. The fact that ALL of the coaches at this camp addressed this at every turn was a welcome surprise for a biomechanics nerd like me. Reminded me of my lab time spent with force plates and other cool gizmos…
Takeaway: Looking at people and seeing them as a series of levers is something that Rudy and I have in common. Who’d have thought?


Connectivity – Rudy pointed out that this section was basically their gymnastics piece, but since we CrossFitters don’t do “real gymnastics,” they came up with the term connectivity. Quite fitting I think as demonstrated by Mike “Thorpitt” Poppa’s drill on how to levitate yourself off the ground. Many of you experienced this trick already. The idea of this part was that the more connected you can keep your body (think: one muscle), the better you’ll be able to transfer power to the pull-up bar/HSPU/MU/etc, and the more efficient you’ll be. The more efficient you are, the less energy you have to expend to complete any given task. Takeaway: I have faith that the new emphasis you’ll see on the hollow to arch position will produce a lot of people getting their first pull-up, so be ready. Same goes with handstand push-ups and yes, the elusive muscle-up.
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Programming Philosophy – even though this part was listed first in the list above, I saved it for last because, in my eyes, it is the most important. To put it plainly, this is what I paid $400 bucks for. I have literally read and re-read every single word Rudy ever has written about all things related to his programming, but I wanted more. And boy did this lecture portion deliver. The depth and breadth of the information is far beyond the scope of this review, but I strongly believe that this part of “The Outlaw Way” (TOW)  is the seminal movement to potentially unifying two huge factions in the world of strength and conditioning that could not seem more at odds with one another than they are right now. Those two factions are:


1) the traditional (periodized, “not random”, well thought out, etc) model of strength and conditioning as seen in collegiate and professional settings around the country as well as “sport specific/pro-athlete prep” facilities like what I came from – places like Velocity Sports Performance, the IMG Performance Institute, and Athletes Performance.


2) CrossFit.


The gist is this: from the outside looking in, CrossFit is viewed by MOST to be built around a bunch of chaotic randomness, difficult and/or injurious movements, inexperienced coaching, with no thought given to programming, progressions, technique, volume vs. intensity, seasons, etc, etc. Sadly, this assessment is correct of many CrossFit boxes. What Rudy revealed to so many this weekend is this: TOW is purpose built and designed specifically through the model of a periodized program that is backed up by boatloads of research and looks eerily similar to what the “traditionalists” are doing in their facilities.


At face value, the two sides could not be more divergent. In my time at VSP and IPI, we systematically built each athlete or team a specific periodized program built around their season to maximize their development without compromising their sport specific needs. We had cycles of strength, power, endurance, and finally sport-specific work moving in lock-step with their respective seasons. To put it plainly, this was programming in the most scientifically proven way possible. We took cues from the best weightlifters, strength athletes, track athletes, etc in order to accomplish our goal.


The seemingly rigid template that Rudy has developed with his coaches was actually shown to be quite dynamic and flexible dependent on the feedback/results he was getting from his large following. In listening to Rudy’s lecture, I was reminded of the days that I worked alongside some of the top minds on the traditional side of things as he talked about Prelipins Table, how to structure a program around a specific season (which the Sport of Fitness most certainly has), strength and power templates, and possibly most important – how everything we do affects the central nervous system. He went into painstaking detail about the transferability of the core lifts (Snatch, C&J) to everything else we do within, and outside of, CrossFit; a connection that I believe needs to be broadcast out to the world. And therein lies the importance of a camp like this: we had a phenomenal group of coaches and affiliate owners who now have the opportunity to take this info back and disseminate it to all of the athletes at their respective boxes.


In his closing piece, he talked about the need for a hierarchy of movements that is necessary to maximize an athletes potential. Basically it boils down to the fact that you need to develop and practice those things that are higher skilled and have the most carryover to lower skilled movements. This is why I LOATHE seeing gyms that program loads of wall balls, kettle bell swings, and burpees in an effort to feed the need for a “pretty” workout to satisfy their members “cardio bug.” I know, stay on topic Josh, you’ve already written on that point ad-nauseam. Takeway: our programming is awesome, is backed by and designed with the forethought of actual science, and most importantly will make you better at EVERYTHING you do.


“Everything is Everything.” This was the theme of this series of Outlaw Para Bellum camps, and an idea we’ve integrated within our teaching at CFG since the beginning. There are direct and measurable correlations between the primary movements we do (snatch, c&j, squat) and your success as not only a CrossFitter, but in whatever sport you play outside of the box, and life in general. They tied every lecture and coaching sidebar back to this point, it was that important.


Before I forget, we also got to spend some Q&A time with Elisabeth Akinwale, a Games athlete. Do I need to repeat that or even go into any more detail???? She was an absolute machine to watch WOD, incredibly humble, and I’m pretty sure went through the whole Q&A session with a heart rate above 150 as it started about 30 seconds post-WOD.

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I’d like to close this review (read: stream of consciousness) by thanking the entire staff of Real Fitness Sarasota for hosting such a big group for three full days. They greeted us with a smile every time we walked through the door, let us treat their box like our own, and answered every silly question I had about simply running a gym. To the Poppas: Thank you. Rudy, John, Michael, Spencer, and Thorpitt – thanks for sharing all the knowledge you’ve amassed over your careers as strength and conditioning coaches. What you guys are doing has the ability to not only change the landscape of CrossFit, as both a sport and general fitness program, but it’s quite likely you could close the fictitious knowledge gap between “traditionalists” and us silly CrossFitters. Those are some big shoes to fill.


(Rudy, when one of your coaches call in sick or need/want a weekend off, call me and I’ll be on the next flight out. No joke, and you won’t be disappointed.)


/end shameless plug for a side gig
people working out in a group fitness class


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