How to Take High Quality Photos for CrossFit – Part II: Settings and Technique

The problem with most “sports photography” advice is that it applies to field sports where long zoom lenses are the norm and outdoor light is abundant. In the early days of taking photos, I couldn’t find much for fast action, indoor photography, so much of what I learned was trial and error.
In part I of this series, I talked about the equipment for taking great CrossFit photos. In part II, I’m going to talk about the settings and techniques you can use to optimize your equipment whether it’s a high-end DSLR or a mobile phone. Note: most of these settings can also be applied to point-and-shoot cameras and Micro 4/3rd cameras. I chose the two extremes simply to keep it simple, but you can usually play around with settings on any camera.

As you read along, I’ll include photos I’ve taken over the years with as much information as I can in the caption to give you a sense of the settings I used. I hope you find it useful.

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Photo featured on CrossFit.com’s Affiliate page for a number of years Camera body: Canon T2i Lens: Canon 28mm f/1.8 Setting: Aperture Priority Aperture: f/2.0 Shutter speed: 1/200 (calculated by camera) ISO: 6400 Processed in Lightroom

CAMERA SETTINGS
DSLR – A DSLR is preferred so you can dial in specific settings. The three main options will be Aperture Priority (Av for Canon, A for Nikon), Shutter Priority (Tv for Canon, S for Nikon), or Manual (M for both). If I’m in a setting that is consistent with lighting, I will use Manual and set my shutter speed (1/250 or higher), aperture (anywhere between f/1.4-2.0), and ISO (usually high – 3200). If I’m in a spot where lighting is inconsistent (bright vs. dark areas) then I’ll go either aperture or shutter priority. For aperture priority I’ll usually set it to the brightest setting (f/1.4 for my Sigma 35mm) If I’m using shutter priority I’ll set it to at least 1/250 up to 1/500. For both I will set my ISO to 3200 or higher. Setting my ISO higher will mean slightly grainy photos, but I’m ok with this because 1. I’m not taking typical portraits where noise is the devil and 2. I’d rather get an unblurred photo that’s a little grainy than a blurry photo with no grain. As to why I would use Aperture or Shutter Priority – out of habit, I start in Aperture Priority, but if I find the camera is misreading the scene and has a slower shutter speed than I want, I’ll move it over to Shutter Priority. For weddings and landscape photography I care very much about aperture (how blurry the background is) but for CrossFit it’s usually more about the shutter speed.

Mobile phone – there are apps out there where you can control the camera on a mobile phone, but I don’t have enough experience to recommend one over another. However, if you’re using the regular camera app on the iPhone, my recommendation is to slide your finger up on the screen to raise the exposure compensation. This will make the scene brighter than the phone thinks it needs and usually this is a good tweak for photos taken on a phone. If you forget to do this, then just edit it afterwards by raising the exposure a bit.

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Photo featured on CrossFit.com on 01/23/2015  Camera body: Canon 6D Lens: Canon 35mm f/1.4 Setting: Shutter Priority Aperture: f/2.8 (calculated by camera) Shutter speed: 1/250 ISO: 3200 Processed in Lightroom

LIGHTING (FLASH)
Lighting conditions are going to be determined by the space you’re in. If you have more control over lighting or your subject (e.g. you need to take headshots of your coaches or you’re taking a nicer photo of a member for a testimonial) then the ideal lighting is “soft” bright light. In real life this looks like going to a bay door or window and having your subject stand in the shadow/shade closest to the bright light. You don’t want them to stand in the bright light because it will blow out the picture, but you want enough light to not make the picture underexposed or grainy. To any photographer, shade is a better friend than overhead direct sunlight, so keep that in mind.

If you’re taking pictures of your athletes working out, then you’re at the mercy of the light available in the box. Open as many doors/windows as you can to get as much natural light as possible in. Shooting during the day is obviously going to be better than night, but you might have enough artificial light to be adequate. I personally hate using flash if I can avoid it – not only does it usually create a washed out tone to photos, it’s also distracting to athletes working out. This is another reason I recommended bright prime lenses with big apertures – you’ll have less of a need for flash.

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Photo featured on CrossFit.com on 6/21/13 Camera body: Canon 5D mark II Lens: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Setting: Manual Aperture: f/1.4 Shutter speed: 1/500 ISO: 500 Processed in Lightroom

FOCUSING
DSLR – When you half-press the shutter on a DSLR and see a red box or see the yellow box on an iPhone, that’s where the camera is focusing. I like to change my settings so I’m on center point focus, not auto-focus. This way I can control whether I want to focus on the person close to me or farther away from me. If I know I have the time, I’ll do what’s called “focus and recompose” where I put my subject in the center of the screen, half-press to lock my focus, and then slightly shift my camera to recompose the shot. Some professionals like back-button focusing so you can look that up, too. Either way, turn off the auto focus so you have control.

Mobile phone – simply tap where you want to focus. Brace your arm against your body or better, a pull-up rig or box so your arm is steady when you take the shot.

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Photo featured on CrossFit.com on April 21, 2013 Camera body: Canon 5D mark II Lens: Canon 50mm f/1.4 Setting: Manual Aperture: f/2.8 Shutter speed: 1/160 ISO: 4000 Processed in Lightroom

COMPOSITION
If you’ve dabbled in photography, you’ve probably heard of the Rule of Thirds. Basically if you look at your camera screen and divide it in a tic-tac-toe grid, the subject of your photo “should” be at one of the four intersection points of that grid. If you can do this, great (see “focus and recompose” above). While this might be a fine way to compose a shot, this is actually not the biggest priority for my CrossFit photos (as opposed to engagement/wedding/travel photos) Why? Because I don’t want to sacrifice missing a shot just to get the “right” composition. Besides, if you really want to play around with composition, just shoot wide (stand back to get a wider scene) and crop/rotate after the fact.
With that said, having a different perspective than the normal human view (about 5-6 feet off the ground) can be useful to grab a viewer’s attention. So don’t be afraid to lie down on the ground (makes for a super stable position, but be careful of your surroundings!) or get up on a box. If it’s a competition, get behind or among the spectators for their viewpoint. Or perhaps you get them in the background cheering on a competitor as the last few seconds tick down. In general, try to frame and focus on only one athlete at a time. Whole-room shots are great, but the interesting shots are the ones that show grit, explosiveness, and victory.

Mobile phone – DON’T zoom in with your fingers and take photos. It ruins what little quality you have in that device. Instead, get as close as you can to your subject and take your photo. Then, if you really need to, crop the photo using the edit button on your phone. I repeat, do NOT zoom in with your fingers.

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CrossFit Open WOD 15.1 Camera body: Canon 6D Lens: Canon Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Setting: Aperture Priority Aperture: f/1.4 Shutter speed: 1/4000 (calculated by camera) ISO: 3200 Processed in Lightroom

KNOWING THE MOVEMENTS
It helps immensely to know the movements within CrossFit. An outside photographer who does not know CrossFit will manage to grab some good shots, but the truly dramatic and awesome photos can only be captured by a CrossFitter because we know what matters and what doesn’t. I would bet that you you’ve seen and admired a shot of someone in triple extension during a clean or a snatch. Capturing that moment of weightlessness and grace requires really good equipment, but also timing of when to shoot.
When you are thinking of movements, think of them in static vs. dynamic fashion. Do you want to capture someone at the beginning/end of a movement or in the middle? There are pros and cons to either and will come down to personal preference and what you’re trying to show. If you’re shooting a dynamic action, you might want a really fast shutter speed (1/320, 1/1,000, even 1/4000 like the photo above) to freeze the action with clarity, but you could also intentionally have a slower shutter speed (1/100, 1/200) to show a slight blur that implies movement. You’ll have to play with your settings since every situation will be different.

Mobile phone – most phones don’t have the capability to capture really fast action and gather enough light in the process. You can certainly try, but this is a huge reason to pony up for a DSLR. Remember, as a CrossFit box you are a MEDIA company, so treat yourself like one and get quality equipment!

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Rogue ad? Camera body: Canon 6D Lens: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Setting: Shutter Priority Aperture: f/1.8 (calculated by camera) Shutter: 1/320 ISO: 800 Processed in Lightroom

FINAL NOTES
There is a LOT of information out there that I haven’t even touched like post-processing (I use Lightroom), video, which lenses to use in which situations, etc. The best thing you can do is just start using your camera or go get one and learn by doing. Then revisit this blog to see if you can refine anything and then go looking for more information like editing. Don’t let all of this overwhelm you though. I remember starting out and not having a clue what aperture was or how ISO affected my photo. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch, I’d be more than happy to help. I’m on Twitter, Instagram, or you can email me.

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Review: Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA Weightlifting Shoes

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA weightlifting shoe – black picture from Rogue Fitness

Update 10/7/14: I have updated some information which can be found in red

Inov-8 came out with their first weightlifting shoe in the fall of 2013. Dubbed the “FastLift 335” (or 315 for women), it was an incredibly light pair of weightlifting shoes that had the stability for athletes to squat, clean, and snatch, but the flexible sole to run, jump, and maneuver.  (In case you missed it, here is my review of Inov-8’s FastLift 335/315 weightlifting shoes from Nov. 2013.)

In October 2014, Inov-8 will be following up with a second generation weightlifting shoe known as the FastLift 370* BOA. I was lucky enough to get a testing pair of the 370’s and thought I would share my thoughts. (Note: Inov-8 sent me a white on white pair, but the production versions will be black/black and pink/pink.)

*The number indicates the grams each shoe weighs (women’s are 315g/11oz each, men’s are 335g/12oz each).

Here is the official description from Rogue Fitness:

Utilizing the industry-leading Boa® Closure System, the next generation fastlift™ delivers a precise fit as well as custom comfort with a smooth, even closure and no pressure points. Boasting unrivalled structural stability, the shoe features a stretch-free Boa® Closure System that allows functional fitness athletes a stable platform for absolute power transfer. Micro-adjustability is guaranteed with a quick, one-handed turn of the Boa® dial.

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA – white (testing version only)

LACES – (or lack thereof?)
The first thing that stands out about these shoes is the lacing system. Using a Boa click system like that found on snowboard boots, this is more than just a gimmick. Tightening is done by twisting each dial, first the one on the tongue and then the one on the side. As you tighten the shoe, the wire lacing system disappears into the dial from each side. Each “click” tightens the shoe by 1mm so you know exactly which fit is best for you after a few uses. To release, you’ll need to turn the side dial in the opposite direction, but releasing the dial on the tongue is done simply by pull the dial up (“out”) which releases the tension. I’m not sure why the side dial is not designed this way, but I’m sure it’s intentional.

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA – white (testing version only)

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA weightlifting shoe – pink picture from Rogue Fitness

WEIGHT
Much like the 335/315’s, these shoes are LIGHT. At 13 oz. per shoe for men’s size 9, the FastLifts are the lightest weightlifting shoes on the market. (for comparison, Adidas Adipower’s are 18oz’s each, Nike Romaleo II’s are 15.8oz each, Reebok’s original shoes are 13.4oz (I could not find the weight for their newest Lifter 2.0 Plus) Interestingly, both the men’s and women’s shoes are labeled with the same “370” grams unlike the first version.

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA weightlifting shoe – black picture from Rogue Fitness

CONSTRUCTION
Much like their predecessors, the FastLifts 370’s are made with a synthetic upper and a “Power Truss” heel cage made of cylindrical tubes which I’m sure saves on weight. And just like the 335/315’s, the upper is made from a combination of mesh-like fabric and what I’ll describe as laminate. The laminate is glued on and probably provides stiffer structure to the upper, although in no way does it feel restrictive. The pattern of the laminate is different for the 370s, with a distinct strip running diagonal across the top of the foot. The strap across the top of the foot is made from the same material and “RISE TO IT” is printed across the strap. In terms of the shape and footprint of the shoe, it’s very similar, if not exactly the same as the 335/315’s.

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA – white (testing version only)

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA – white (testing version only)

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA weightlifting shoe – pink picture from Rogue Fitness

FIT
Much like the 335/315’s the fit is very similar to Inov-8’s running shoes. I have a few of their 195’s and I find the fit very similar. Sizing is also consistent and is true to size for me. The heel is actually listed as “0.65 inches” on Rogue’s website, but I could not tell the difference between the 370’s and 335’s. (the 335/315’s are listed as 0.75 inches high which is standard for a weightlifting shoe. Some powerlifting shoes are 0.5 inches high). Some people find Inov-8’s to be narrow, while I find them just right. I am a smaller guy (5’8″, 160lbs., size 9 shoe) and these are great.

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA weightlifting shoe – pink picture from Rogue Fitness

USAGE
I’ve had these shoes for about a month and overall, I like them. Since I received the white pair (not going into production), I’ve received pretty polarizing opinions on them, but it doesn’t matter since the production ones will be black on black (guys) or pink on pink (girls). This is a good decision since the white version got dirty very fast, even from my knee sleeves being pulled down at my ankles.

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA – white (testing version only)

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA – white (testing version only)

I primarily used them for back squats as I’m going through a Smolov squat cycle, but I did get some metcons in that involved running and box jumps. Much like the 335’s, these provide the stability I need in squats, cleans, and snatches, but also the flexibility to run and jump. I did notice that the tongue dug into my ankle more than the 335’s while running. I believe this is from the top dial having its base built into the tongue. It wasn’t painful, but it was noticeable. Also, if I tightened the side dial too much, it created a hotspot of pressure under the dial. This was easy to relieve by just loosening the dial a few clicks. Anecdotally, one day we were snatching and I easily felt the best I ever have while snatching. My first and second pulls felt great and my feet connected solidly with the ground. Could it have been more than just the shoes? Sure, but that’s just a story for those questioning the stability of the 370’s.

My major concern is also the major selling point of the shoe – the BOA system. If it breaks or fails, it is not an easy fix like grabbing another pair of shoelaces. I’m not sure how much the repair costs would be, but serious athletes will want a backup pair on hand at competitions. UPDATE: see below about Boa’s warranty and free replacement parts

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA – white (testing version only)

PRICE
$200 – While the 335/315’s were selling at $150, it will be interesting to see how these shoes fare. At this price point, Inov-8 is competing with the Adidas Adipowers and Nike Romaleos, both shoes that “serious” weightlifters typically wear. CrossFitters like myself would love this shoe for its versatility in both weightlifting and bodyweight movements, but you should not mistake the light weight for instability. The Adipowers and Romaleos may feel more stable, but it comes at the cost of weight. For the CrossFitter who needs to move, this weight will make a difference.

At time of publishing (9/30/14), Rogue Fitness’s website says these shoes will be available in mid October for $200. I am unaware of other retailers offering the shoes, although I imagine a few others will have them in stock (e.g. Again Faster)

PROS
-LIGHT!
-flexible for running and box jumps
-aesthetically pleasing (at least to me)
-sneaker-like fit
-easy and precise lacing system

CONS
-cost (for some)
-not easy or fast to replace BOA system if it fails or breaks
UPDATE from Inov-8: Boa provides replaceable parts at no charge for the life of the product in which we are integrated.  In order to support the continuing improvement of Boa products and the products of the Brands we work with we need the following information in order to provide your parts at no charge.  This will also be used as shipping information to get you the parts you need. For more information about the warranty, visit: https://www4.boatechnology.com/warranty

CONCLUSION
The Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA’s are a great hybrid for the CrossFitter that needs a stable shoe for weightlifting, but a light and flexible shoe for running and box jumps. It is slightly heavier than its predecessor, but tightening the shoe is literally a cinch which can be precisely duplicated each time you lift. While the 370’s could also be a great option for athletes who only weightlift, it will be a hard sell with Nike and Adidas controlling much of that market. A concern might be repair time and cost for the unique lacing system, but considering Boa’s longevity and warranty, this should not be a major concern.

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Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA weightlifting shoe – black picture from Rogue Fitness

WHERE TO BUY
Rogue Fitness (black/black, pink/pink – information only as of 9/30/14)
Inov-8 (link is to their news section as the 370 is not listed as a product as of 9/30/14)

Update: The Fastlift 370 BOA is (or soon will be) available for online purchase through Zappos, Rogue Fitness, Again Faster, Amazon, Road Runner Sports, as well as many other local brick and mortar retailers.

 DISCLOSURE
Inov-8 provided me with a pair of FastLift 370 BOAs for testing purposes. They have encouraged me to give them feedback and provide this information to the public. I was not paid to do so, nor am I obligated to give favorable reviews.

What do you think of the Inov-8 FastLift 370 BOA weightlifting shoes? Post thoughts to comments!

Catalyst Athletics Weightlifting Seminar Recap

Like many people, I had no experience with weightlifting (olympic lifting) until I started CrossFit. Even then, doing it by myself in a university gym made for a slow learning process of teaching myself by watching video after video of the snatch and clean & jerk. This is one of the reasons I always recommend people join an affiliate if they can. The hands on coaching will dramatically accelerate your learning curve for these complicated lifts. As I’ve said before, it takes a good 10,000 hours of practice to master something and these are no exception.

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Although CrossFit is about generalized fitness, it’s important for me as a trainer to learn from the specialists, especially in the technical world of weightlifting. Greg Everett is one of the premier weightlifting coaches in the USA and is the co-founder of The Performance Menu and author of Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes and Coaches. He also runs a weightlifting gym called Catalyst Athletics and travels around the world running weightlifting seminars each year. They’re based in California and rarely come out east, so when I saw they would be in South Carolina, I knew I had to sign up right away.

After driving thirteen hours through six states, we got into Charleston and had a decent night’s rest before the 10am start of the seminar hosted by CrossFit Integrity. About half of the fifty people were only taking the seminar for the experience, while the other half, including moi, were there to get certified in the Catalyst Athletics methodology. For some reason we decided to pay an extra $500 to take an in-person written test and then if we pass that, an online test. If weightlifters are masochists, I guess we were geeky masochists?

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Day 1

On Saturday, Greg and his team (Kara, Mike, and Mark) took us through breathing exercises, mobility warm ups, and the basics of the squat. Weightlifters are a funny breed because of the nature of the lifts. You find all sorts of body types, but one common theme is having strong legs. This makes sense when the snatch and C&J involve squatting. (yes CrossFitters, you need to SQUAT and no, they do not call it a squat snatch)

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After squats, we went into the progressions for the snatch. For those familiar with the USAW progressions, you won’t find too much of a difference, although I was surprised there wasn’t much talk of going from a hang to a power snatch. I asked Kara about it and she said that they really encourage everyone to squat from the get go. If someone has a mobility issue, then they’ll recommend the power snatch, but as we all know, CrossFitters are notorious for preferring the power positions over the squat. This made sense and I was glad that my thinking was in line with theirs.

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“Don’t call it a squat snatch”

Since we were a large group, we worked with PVC for going over the movements first, then broke off into smaller groups to work with the barbells. This is not an uncommon format for larger seminars and I thought this provided a good balance. The four instructors walked around and critiqued people as they lifted. If I had a critique of the weekend, it would be that some people did not get looked at for some lifts due to the order of the small group and the rotating instructors. Obviously the instructors were not ignoring people on purpose, but if you definitely wanted to be looked at, you would need to be on the bar when they walked by. Don’t take this out of context though. Sometimes we would be going over basic positions that did not need much critiquing and for the full lifts they rotated a few times. Just be aware of this format if you attend a seminar.

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Although there was clearly an agenda to go through, we would sometimes pause to go over a side note or tangent that was related to the movement. For instance, in talking about the second pull, the topic of the double knee bend (or “scoop”) came up. While some people teach it intentionally, Greg said that as long as the positions are correct, it’s impossible to NOT double knee bend and it should just come naturally. Another point was that people with long levers (legs/arms/torso) will need to use a slower first pull than people with shorter levers*. As someone already familiar with the position progressions, I found these “other” nuggets of information to be just as, if not more useful than the progressions themselves.

[*As Greg later clarified, it’s not that taller people should pull more slowly in the first pull, it’s that it’s unavoidable because of their greater mechanical disadvantage relative to their shorter-limbed counterparts. Once proficient and lifting heavy weights, all lifters should be trying to move the bar quickly throughout the entire lift – it’s not slow and fast, it’s fast and faster.]

Afternoon included lunch and then more snatch progressions. By the end of the day (5pm) we were doing full snatches with weight. With my shoulder rehab, I only started to OHS and (squat) snatch before the Open started, so I kept it light at 95#, but felt my positions were better than before. Always a work in progress though.

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Day 2

Sunday started off with an hour lecture about program design for the beginner/intermediate weightlifter. Greg emphasized that this was for the person focusing on weightlifting, not CrossFit plus weightlifting. We talked about volume, intensity, frequency, and periodization. For the weightlifter and even CrossFitter, it’s important to have a plan – long term plans, mid-range plans, and short term plans. Or as Greg calls it, Plandomization. I really liked this part of the weekend as it was a topic important from a coaching perspective. As I said, most of us attending were CrossFit coaches and we were reminded that although CrossFit is “constantly varied,” having a plan is important to the development of athletes.

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After the programming lecture and Q+A, we went into the jerk progressions, all thirteen of them. Yes, thirteen progressions starting with the overhead position leading all the way to the split jerk. I bet you didn’t think there could be thirteen progressions to learn the jerk, but there are. For you CrossFitters out there, did you know there is a difference between the push jerk and power jerk? Did you even know what a power jerk was? This is the kind of stuff you’ll learn from the weekend.

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After the jerk progressions we had lunch and then came back for the clean. Since we had already gone over the snatch progressions the day before, the clean did not take long to go over. A slightly different setup and receiving position, but the progressions were similar. Just like the day before we were able to put weight on the bars for the clean and jerk, but a lot of us were knackered from the humid weather and two days of a lot of moving. I stayed at 215# to focus on form and felt ok, but definitely drained. Half of us were cramming for the paper-based test anyway.

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watching Catalyst Athletics videos during lunch

The test wasn’t hard (I hope I passed now that I say that), but I’m curious about the next online multiple choice test. Greg said that 60% of people pass which indicates just how rigorous the tests are. For those thinking about taking the tests, you MUST get the book prior to the seminar weekend and study it, even if the only reason is to avoid Greg from making fun of you to future certs. Most of the paper based material will be covered during the weekend, but I have the feeling the online portion will include minute details that are not covered in the weekend material.

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Conclusion

Overall, this is a great weekend for those looking to work on their technique and progressions of the lifts. I don’t know if it was an anomaly, but many of the attendees were fairly proficient at the lifts already. Note that you do NOT need to be intermediate or advanced, and in fact, I think this seminar is a great one for beginners. When I run my clean and jerk clinics at CF KoP, much of my material mimics how this weekend was run.

If you are familiar with Catalyst Athletics’ philosophy and progressions, you may not learn much new material, but it’s always good to hear from the man himself and pick up on those “other” nuggets of info. It’s also a great opportunity to have great coaches look at you lift in person and get immediate feedback. It’s also an opportunity to talk with fellow lifters and trainers to see how they train or run their gym. I had an awesome time talking with the owner of CrossFit Integrity and understanding how he runs his box.

Thank you to Greg, Kara, Mike, Mark, and owner of CrossFit Integrity, Brian Kost. It was a useful weekend that did not disappoint in terms of quality instruction and active learning. If you have the chance to get to a Catalyst Athletics seminar (either as an attendee or for the certificate) or visit CF Integrity, then do it!

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