Andre Shiskin is a Russian born football player from Northern California. He is a D-1 defensive end at the University of Western Carolina. But to hear him tell it he’s already an NFL Pro-Bowler. He is on break and always trains with me when he is home. Everyone loves him. He always has a big smile and an even bigger cooler full of food. At 6’5″ and 285lbs he barely squeezes into the cab of my truck. My daughter calls him Andre The Giant.
“Big Jash’!” he exclaims as he slaps my back, “Zdrasvitsya!” He knows I speak some Russian.
“I’ve got apples, bananas, a few turkey sandos, some peanuts, something my mom made…not really sure what its called in English… you hungry?”
“Yes,” I reply, “starving. But I am going to wait until after the workout.”
“Why, you think its gonna be hard?” He is already peeling an orange.
I stare at him in disbelief, “Do I need to remind you that we are training with Big Jon.”
“I know. He told me we’re doing cleans. Big deal. I always eat before weights at school. Makes me feel solid!” He slaps his chest hard as he says it. I shake my head in disbelief.
“This is gonna be awesome,” I laugh.
“What are you talking about??!!” Now a banana.”I am going to dominate this workout. I am in great shape. These guys aren’t gonna know what hit them!” He’s excited now, sweating.
I am laughing and shaking my head. For me training with big Jon Anderson is a very serious matter. Not a casual workout with the homies. Not even a big squat day with some heavy hitters. With Jon there are no easy or “light” days. No. Training with Jon requires a great deal of mental preparation. Not to mention a significant amount of time blocked off for recovery, as well as food, water and restoratives (and poosibly a portable urinal) close at hand.
Andre is new to this group. I always love bringing someone new to into the mix. They either bring their “A” game and get a key to the executive restroom or they flounder and drown in the deep waters. Either way it always makes for a good story and we all work harder.
It could go either way with Andre.
By the time we get to the Dungeon he has consumed two oranges, an apple, a banana and a turkey and avo sandwich. His impressive gut is distended as he struts towards the platform. Big Jon is there with his daughter Taylor and world class Cross Fitter, Danny Nichols. Danny is another athlete that I have been working with for years. He jumps at any opportunity to train with us because he knows he will be pushed into deep waters. Danny holds the CrossFit world record in the thruster lift at 335lbs. He has also snatched 320lbs and Clean and jerked 412lbs weighing about 235lbs. He looks like a super hero and brings intensity and resolve to every workout.
These are the kind of guys who know the value of good training partners and a positive attitude.
Jon is moving slow. I see his Adidas weightlifting shoes are untied. This can mean only one thing…
He knows our only chance to beat him in this workout is if he is hobbled. Even though I have cleaned 440lbs I am almost certain we won’t be going after heavy singles. That is never the purpose of Jon’s workouts. The purpose is to skate the line between total physical breakdown and adaptation. To push yourself into deep, dark waters.
I strap on my shoes and start warming up, afraid to ask what’s on the docket. My last workout with Jon left me legless for days and almost killed some other guy. I was only now bouncing back.
Danny isn’t scared. “Whats the plan, Jon?”
We all freeze and lean in. “Well I figure we take advantage of all of our strengths and work on our various weaknesses at the same time.”
Sounds great. A perfect workout. The problem is I can’t think of a single weakness between Jon and Danny. I am at Def-Con 4 on the fear factor.
The workout is as follows: a 275lb barbell is loaded. 10 reps, ground to overhead. Any style. The only rest you get is when the others are lifting. Go to failure. Last man standing wins.
Jon lays down some ground rules:”Be ready when its your turn. There are too many of us to be wasting time. Get water and chalk before you’re up. Lets set a good pace and keep it as long as we can. Don’t anyone leave the rest of us hanging.” He looks everyone in the eyes, “understood?” After we’ve all nodded in agreement he turns around and gets after it.
Right away I see the severity of his hamstring injury. He is pulling off one leg and loading up the back instead of the hips. But he is moving fast and the bar is flying. His first set looks like he’s holding a broomstick.
Danny is eager to go next so we give him room. He is an extremely athletic and powerful man. But more than that he is ultra competitive. He grabs the bar and absolutely molests his first set.
Now it is me. I have the most experience in the olympic lifts but the least amount of gas in the tank. Let’s just say I am a one rep monster. Sets of 10 are NOT in my wheel-house. This was gonna be a long one.
By the 5th rep I am on fire. I am relying heavily on technique. My hands feel like they are going to tear apart. But I am fired up and the boys are letting me hear it. I lock out the 10th rep and Andre is chomping at the bit to start.
He cruises through his first set. He is strong and fast. Plus he has great technique in the Olympic lifts. When I first met Andre he was 10 years old. He was tall and skinny and his knees were the thickest part of his legs. But he had gigantic boats for shoes. 14 EEE’s at 10! I knew then that he would be something special someday so I immediately taught him how to power clean.
After his set he is jumping around, hooting and hollering as Big Jon starts into the second round. He is so strong yet so inflexible that his “cleans” never actually touch his shoulders but float about chin level before he push jerks it overhead. Rep after rep, he never slows down. Consistent. Aggressive.
Danny is up again and the pace is heating up. He is such a gamer. He knows when to strike. He wants to put it on us early so we can’t keep up and fade fast. He is increasing his pace and each rep looks better than the last. The bar is moving up and down so fast that it looks like he’s jump-roping it.
My next set is approaching rappidly. Danny clearly hates me. He could take a small break here after number 7… but he is not slowing down. In fact 8, 9 and 10 seem to fly by. He looks like he can do 1000 reps.
I chalk up and dig in for a plateful of pain. The very first rep I tear a quarter sized callous on my hand. No turning back. By the third rep the bar is too slick with blood to hold onto. Jon walks over and grabs my wrist to have a closer look.
After a moments reflection he crushes a large peice of chalk into the meaty hole in my hand, shrugs and smirks, “Let’s go brother, time to step it up.”
I grip the bar, drop my hips and bang out 3 more reps. 4 to go. My lungs are on fire. I hear my old coach, Steve Gough, in my head: “Pull hard and move fast!” 2 more down. Get set. Get aggressive. On your heals. Squeeze. Big finish. Rack and stand. Hips through. On your heels. Big chest. Drive hard and reach.
One more. Time to turn up the heat. I can’t slow down this early. Stay aggressive. “You ready boy?” I taunt Andre. It is false bravado but I need it to push through.
“Oh I’m ready,” he says as I drop the bar. But this round came around pretty fast. He is belching and breathing hard and sweating like a whore in church. But he breezes through this set easier than the last. “How many sets are we doing, anyway?”
“You can stowe that shit right now, brother. You are doing as many as it takes.” Jon says as he limps past the big Russian.
He is hurting. Bad. I may be the only one here who notices. His demeanor hasn’t changed. His attitude and aggression remain constant. He has none of the usual pre-emptive excuse bullshit you hear from most people. He just charges forward.
I have never known an athlete more comfortable with pain than Jon Anderson. It is astonishing. He would rather die than show one shred of mental weakness. Because to him that’s all pain is: your mind convincing you to stop before its in any real danger. Like when you’re a kid and you reach out for something hot. The nerve endings in your fingers tell your brain its hot long before you are in any real danger of getting burned. That’s how Jon looks at pain; like his body is warning him that its gonna get burned if he keeps this pace up.
“Pain makes some men break,” he says to himself, “and causes others to break records.”
This set is just as easy as the last. Danny is pacing back and forth like a jungle cat waiting to pounce. He is fired up. He has what my coach would call “linebacker eyes.” Focused.
This set is even faster than the last. He only stops once when Jon tosses him a block of chalk around the 5th rep. His hands are bothering him, too.
My turn again. My hand is taped and I am chalked up. The first rep feels like its glued to the floor. Just crush this first one and the rest will follow, I tell myself. It feels like a max dead lift with a pull and a prayer, then an eyes-on-the-cheeks front squat and an uncharacteristically easy jerk! Follow that with two more touch and go reps. 3 down. I take a deep breath, adjust my bloody hand tape and reach down for number 4. Success. 6 more. 5 more. Everyone is screaming at me, including my erectors and hamstrings.
“Let’s go, Jasha,” cries Taylor. Her words are insprational and her voice pushes me through the rest of the set. To be fair it was more like 10 singles than a set of ten. You could see Jon and Danny getting antsy.
“C’mon Jash’, we don’t want to get cold,” says Jon, “Andre is ready for round 3…” Surprised, he looks around.
“Where the hell is Andre?”We quickly search the area and find him outside, behind the facility.
“Already?” He is green. His swagger seems to have swaggered out of the building. He aprehensively approaches the bar. He is beginning to mumble stuff like “…last set…” and “…let’s just do some abs…” and “…I squatted heavy yesterday…”
“Andre, focus on your technique,” I say encouragingly, “you’re going to be fine. Just crush this set so we can move on.”
This seems to motivate Andre. His next ten reps are better than the first set. This time there is no hooting and hollering. No chest slapping. Andre is in deep water. He is disoriented and in pain. Jon is already 4 reps into his 4th round when Andre bolts for the back door and barfs over the railing behind the facility. Its hot out and the smell instantly wafts inside. Jon is on his 6th rep when he looks up with a smile on his face.
“What did he eat? Smells like pineapples. It’s making me kinda hungry.”
But really Jon smells blood. He is going to try and pick us off one by one. Andre is already fading and making excuses. The barf is a signal in the water to a predator like Jon. “You had better pull yourself together, boy. I’m taking you into deep waters today. I hope your ready to get wet!”
With that he hammers out 6 more reps.
“That was twelve,” Danny points out as he approaches the bar.
“I know. I figure I owed you a couple since I stopped to smell the roses.”
“Fair enough,” laughs Danny as he hammers out another flawless set. This time he is shaking his hands out between lifts and actually glances at his palm around the 7th rep. He may be running into trouble too but will do his best to disguise it.
I am sitting down, stretching my hamstrings (which feel like piano wires) when I realize everyone is looking at me expectantly.
“Your turn, coach.”
“Shit.” I get up and walk towards the bar. I know any kind of hesitation or complaint will be met with heavy opposition. The first rep goes up pretty easy. And the next. I have reached that part of the workout where the body starts to adapt to the load. Its when the pain feels a little distant and not so intense. I call it the “Shirley McClaine Moment.” I only ever get to this state when I push past what I consider my limits. Its only when I am dragged into deeper waters that I really get there.
It’s also where I make my biggest gains.
I have found a rythmn. Endorphins are managing my pains. This is my best set yet. My lungs are on fire but I finsh strong.
“Andre, you’re up!” Shouts Jon at the back door.
Andre is outside, leaning back with his shirt off and arms spread wide against the railing. His eyes are closed and he has a gentle smile on his face. He is sunbathing. “I said you’re up!”
Andre snaps his eyes open. “What are you talking about? I thought Jasha said we were moving on.”
“Yeah!,” snapped Danny, “Moving on to the next set! We are just getting warmed up. And by the looks of that last set you are nowhere near your limits.”
Andre starts to say something but can tell from looks on our faces that almost nothing he says will make a difference.
“Did you do another one, Big Jash’?” he asks sadly.
I still can’t talk but nod yes. This has been the longest break yet and the natives are very restless.
It is about this time that Andre had his big breakthrough. He gritted his teeth and made up his mind. Maybe we made it up for him but at that moment there was no backing down. He was going to give everything he had.
And he did. The next set and the one after went very smoothly. Same for Jon and Danny. Jon’s face was a mask of pain but he never slowed down. Danny knew it so pushed harder. I couldn’t imagine they could keep up this pace for long. As for me, the next two sets were the beginning of the end. My hand was a bloody mess and both hamstrings were seizing up. My technique was breaking down badly. If I didn’t get my shit together I was going to hurt myself.
All in all I made it through seven and part of an eighth set before I pulled out. 74 reps. The guys didn’t object much. I’m sure they were happy to be rid of the dead weight. Andre put up a bit of a fight until Danny called him out on it: “You just want him to do another set so you can get more rest!”
It went on like this, set after set. Everyone pulling for eachother. Taylor looking up from her coloring book to cheer us on always seemed to help the most. Twice Andre vomitted out back and twice was dragged back in and propped up in front of the barbell only to crush his set. His mind was telling him he was done long before the body was really even close. He was in deeper waters than he had ever been. The sharks are circling. At the beginning of his ninth set he says flat out that he can’t go on… he is completely shot… he has a dentist’s appointment…but we remind him that he wants to play pro ball and that somewhere someone is killing this workout. Only they are doing it with 315lbs instead of 275. And they want his spot on the team bad. And they are willing to work twice as hard and twice as long just to have what he has.
That is enough to carry him through two more sets. He even saddled up for number eleven but just had nothing left.
“At least I didn’t lose to the old guy,” he says pointing his thumb at me. Like I said. Everyone loves Andre.
By the end of the workout I have done 74 reps, Andre broke triple digits with exactly 100. By the time Jon had finished he had done 152, counting the 2 extra he did early on. Danny did 150 before I stopped them. Neither of them was going to back down but both looked close to the edge so as their “coach” I suggested they call it. I don’t know if things would have been any different if Jon had not been injured. But I doubt it. I believe he got the most out of himself that he possibly could that day. And so did everyone else. We all ventured into deep water. It looked a little different for everyone but we all got there.
Afterward we all sat around in the sun, drinking protien and eating Andre’s mom’s Russian food.
“Good job brother,” Jon says to Andre. “You really brought it today.”
“Thanks for having me,” replies Andre. “You guys are beasts. I knew this would be tough but I had no idea it would be that bad.”
“Well I’d love to have you back next week. I have some local kids who are right where you were a few years ago. I think it’d be good for them to train with someone like you and vice versa. What do you say?”
Andre thinks hard for a moment. You can see him doing the math. He is weighing the potential pain of another deep water session with us versus the potential gains they represent. “That sounds great. Same time next week?”
“Yessir! Just make sure you bring more of that beef your mom made!”
“Uh. That’s not beef,” says Andre.
“Well what the hell is it?” asks Jon.
“I don’t know. Not beef.”
“Well whatever it is bring more.”
Deep Water Clean & Jerk workout
There may not be a better excercise than the clean and jerk. It combines speed, agility, flexability and power. It also requires a tremendous amount of focus as it is an extremely technical movement and if you aren’t concentrating you could get hurt. So it builds your mental capacity and stamina.
Very few excercises use more of the body working in concert while recruiting a high percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers. The force required to perform a one rep max in the clean and jerk is over ten times greater than a max bench press and three times more than a squat or dead lift. They WILL make you extremely explosive and quick.
It’s also a great excercise to get the heart rate up. Because you are using virtually every muscle in your body with each rep you can do a very comprehensive workout when you are pressed for time. A high rep clean and jerk workout, properly performed, can take as little as 20 minutes.
Finally, high rep clean and jerks will test your mettle. You will know what you’re made of after a grueling, deep water C&J workout.
Here’s what you do:
First learn how to clean and jerk properly. Don’t just go online and watch a few yahoo’s training in their garage gym. Go find a certified coach in your area and learn proper technique. This will allow you to lift properly, efficiently and therefore, heavier. It will also help prevent injury. Its important that a trained eye know when to pull the plug on a potentially dangerous workout or push it a bit harder when someone is sand-bagging.
Next find suitable training partners. Someone who is going to get the most out of themselves and you. Someone tough and resilient.
Next find a spot that accomodates Olympic style weightlifting. Bumper plates and a bar that spins at the very least.
Pick a weight that everyone can manage but will pose a big challenge as you venture deeper into unknow territory.
This requires honesty and introspection.
Do sets of ten until there are two consecutive failures. Last man (or woman) standing wins.
Bring a good attitude and come ready to work.
If you are a beginner or unsure, start light. A great beginner “Deep Water” C&J workout might look like this: 30% for ten reps. Rest while your partner does his 10. Next 40% for 10. Rest. 45% x 10. Rest. 50%x10. Rest. 55% x 10. Rest. 50%x 10. Rest. 45%x 10. Rest. 40%x 10. Rest. 30% go to failure. The rest between sets is ONLY while your workout partner lifts. Be ready to go and don’t slack.
Your first time out you may not set the world on fire. If its too light go up. If its too heavy take off some weight.
You should be smoked at the end of this one.
Not only that you will be a tougher, more resilient athlete who is one swim closer to your goals.