Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Hypertrophy for the CrossFit Athlete - Christian Thibaudeau (2016)

Note: This is an excerpt from Maximum Muscle Bible by Christian Thibaudeau and Paul Carter. 
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This book is loaded with applicable muscle-building info.
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Chapter Eight: Hypertrophy for the CrossFit Athlete
by Christian Thibaudeau

There is this idea that CrossFit guys are small. That may be true when you look at those who only do group classes (which is often more of a cardio session with weights than heavy work), but if you look close at the elite-level Regional and Games competitors you will find plenty of very solid physiques.

Of course, you won't find any IFBB pro physiques among them. But guys like Nick Urankar, Jason Khalipa, Neil Maddox and Dan Bailey, to name a few, look very muscular and lean with full muscle bellies. 

The competitive guys need to be strong. Unless you have some crazy bodyweight skills and an unstoppable engine to compensate, if you can't clean and jerk at least 325 pounds, snatch at least 265, deadlift more than 500 and squat in the high 400s, you can forget about being competitive. These aren't even high numbers; there are several competitors who can snatch in the 300s and clean and jerk above 385 pounds.

More Muscle to Get Stronger

Neural efficiency, technique and leverage are all nice and well, but they have their limitations. And, ultimately, muscle moves weight. Neural efficiency, technique and leverages will only allow you to make the most of the strength that you muscles have. 

At an equal level of neural efficiency and technical mastery, if you have more muscle you will lift more weight; just look at elite Olympic lifters who add 20 to 30 kg to their total (or even more) when they go up a weight class. 

[Note: Here's a quick example from the past. Tommy Kono:
As a lightweight at the 1952 Olympic Games - total 362.5 kg.
As a light-heavyweight at the 1956 Olympic Games - total 447.5 kg.
As a middleweight at the 1960 Olympic Games - total 427.5 kg.] 

If you want to be strong overall, adding muscle mass to your frame is a surefire way to get there. 

Muscle as Your Armor 

Another aspect of adding muscle is that it can help prevent injuries. For example, more muscle mass in the muscles of the shoulder girdle will greatly increase the body's capacity to handle physical stress at the shoulder joint. In that regard, see muscle mass like your armor. It will help protect you by increasing joint integrity and stability.

In addition, athletes invariably suffer muscle imbalances (some muscles being proportionately too weak for the others) which can cause injuries or at least chronic aches and pains, and can also decrease performance. Hypertrophy work for these lagging muscle groups is a great way to solve the issue; when you have a lagging muscle group, big compound lifts with heavy weights aren't the solution because the body will prefer to use its strongest muscles to do the job, which will only accentuate the imbalance.

Hypertrophy to Fix Leakage Points

I like to explain strength in the big lifts (and bodyweight work) as a pipeline,through which water runs down towards the endpoint. If the pipeline has some leakage points, the force of the water at the end of the pipeline will be decreased. It is the same thing with lifting strength. Each muscle involved directly (prime mover or synergist/agonist) or indirectly (stabilizer or fixator) can be a potential force leak if it's too weak. The more leakage points you have, or the longer the leaks are, the less capable will you be of demonstrating your strength potential. I was reminded of this recently when I was doing isolation work for the lower body with my friend, Nick. He used more weight than I did on leg extensions, leg curls and leg press, yet I can squat 100 pounds more than he can as I have less strength leaks in my glutes, lower back, midsection and upper back.

Hypertrophy work is a good way to fix leakage points once you have diagnosed the problematic muscle group. A weak muscle group is normally smaller in proportion to the stronger ones; it is underdeveloped relative to what it should be. The activation of that muscle will also likely be deficient, meaning that you will not be good at contracting it properly. Both elements can be better developed with isolation work (where it's hard to compensate with another muscle), using lighter weights and more focus on the quality of the contraction. Once the weak muscle has gained some size and activation is improved, it will more easily be "included in" when doing bigger, heavier lifts.

Hypertrophy as a Confidence Builder

Charlie Francis (Ben Johnson's former coach) was once asked why Ben put so much emphasis on the bench press and upper body development. Charlie mentioned that the shoulders and arms can contribute up to 10 percent of running speed. However, the biggest benefit was that the athlete liked the way he looked, which increased both his confidence and his performance.

I can confirm that. When I coached at the CrossFit Games this year, I saw a lot of posturing, competitors discretely comparing their physiques, and so on. It can help with intimidating your opponents, which can hurt their confidence.

We've all had days where we looked and felt small (even though, to the external eye, we didn't look any different). On these days, you can't perform well because your confidence and drive just aren't there.

This might not be the best reason to do hypertrophy work, but it is a real phenomenon nonetheless and it should not be dismissed.

Hypertrophy Work to Improve Specific Elements of a Competitive WOD

One of my favorite ways to use hypertrophy work with CrossFit athletes is to combine it with a technical skill (as a superset, if you like).

The purpose is the use the hypertrophy work to pre-fatigue a key muscle involved in the skill, thereby making the skill more difficult to complete. At first, your performance will decrease but you will then adapt. Keep in mind that you might very well have to do a rope climb or hang power clean with your hands and forearms gorged of blood and lactic acid in competition. Doing a combination of bodybuilding work with skill work can therefore prepare you for that. There is more on this specific strategy later in this chapter

Isolation Work is Not the Devil

Important: When I mention "hypertrophy" in this chapter, I am mostly referring to using isolation work and special techniques that are normally in the realm of bodybuilding. Technically, sets of 6 to 12 reps on big compound lifts are also "hypertrophy work" and these should definitely be part of the training of a CrossFit athlete, but this chapter, and especially this section, will discuss how to integrate isolation work which is designed to increase the size or a specific muscle in the training of the CrossFit athlete.

If there is one thing I love about CrossFit it is that it did more to popularize the big lifts (deadlift, squat, front squat, overhead press, snatch, and clean and jerk) than any other lifting sport has ever done. People are now comparing their squat instead of their bench press, and talking about how they must make their legs bigger instead of how their biceps are too small. CrossFit made the big lifts mainstream and it rewards those who focus on them.

Sadly, while powerlifters, Olympic lifters, strongmen, and gymnasts are all well-perceived by CrossFit athletes since they learn a lot from them, there is still a schism between CrossFitters and bodybuilders. For that reason, CrossFitters tend to disregard everything that bodybuilders do. Isolation work is often seen as a worthless waste of time, and seeking muscular development is seen as an unworthy practice. Hopefully, after the introduction to this chapter, you are beginning to see otherwise.

Isolation work to build a specific muscle in not an inferior form of training. True, it isn't as rewarding and it doesn't require the same physical and mental investment as working hard on the big lifts does. But it serves a real purpose. You can't build a house with only a hammer and, with training, sometimes doing more work on the big lifts isn't the best option; it may not be the "too to to the job."

When you perform a big compound lift, your body doesn't know that you are trying to develop a specific muscle group. All it knows is that there is a big ass weight that is trying to fight you and, in the interest of survival, it will use the muscles best suited to do the job. If you have a certain muscle dominance, your body may very well focus on shifting more of the workload to your stronger muscles rather than your weak link. It is thus these stronger that will receive the most stimulation and will progress/grow the most; this simply augments their strength and accentuates their natural dominance while the weak link stays the same. For example, if you have super strong should3ers and weak pectorals and triceps, the deltoids will take on more stress when you bench press and thge pectorals will be left relatively unstimulated.

Chinese and North Korean Olympic lifters do 30 to 45 minutes of isolation/bodybuilding work after their main lifting sessions several times a week. If a group of athletes who are already training 20-plus hours per week see fit to add some more work on top of their grueling schedule, they must certainly see a benefit in it, don't you think?

They understand that muscles move weight; the more muscle you have, the greater your strength potential. Why are they using isolation/bodybuilding work to build their muscles at the end of the session? Because their training is already full of neurologically-demanding exercises; the last thing they want is to use a high volume of more neurologically-demanding movements to work on hypertrophy too! The same is true for CrossFit athletes: most of what they do is hard on the nervous system. They should give it a break when doing a portion of training aimed only at muscular development.

The Four Ways to Do Hypertrophy/Bodybuilding Work if You Are a CrossFit Athlete

A CrossFit athlete who wants or needs to increase their muscle mass has four options. The best one will depend on how much muscle mass the athlete needs, if they need to add muscle mass overall or just to fix a weak link, how much time they have before their next competition or not, and their skill level.

For example, someone who has a competition in two months or less or who doesn't have the best skill consistency will be ill-advised to devote an entire phase of training to gaining muscle mass. For that person, reducing their CrossFit training to a minimum while shifting their focus to strength and muscle mass might not be a smart option.

But a CrossFit "Ninja" (to steal the term from Ben Bergeron) who is smaller, has great bodyweight skills and conditioning but lacks strength and size, and also has a lot of time to prepare for their next competition might do well to invest in a six to eight week period where they focus solely on getting much stronger and larger, while putting their skill/metabolic conditioning at maintenance level.

Regardless of your needs, goals and time available to train, it is possible to integrate hypertrophy work into your performance training. The four options are as follows.

Option 1: Adding 15 to 25 Minutes of Hypertrophy Work to the End of Your Training Day.

This option has the least impact on how you program the rest of your training. You can keep up with your regular programming and add a small amount of isolation/hypertrophy work at the end of your session. This works best when you only have one or two muscles you want to "fix". This way, you can focus on only one muscle group for 15 to 25 minutes, and you will be able to "hit" each of the two target muscles twice or even three times per week.

One of the main benefits of the approach is that your nervous system will be firing on all cylinders after your big lifts/skill/metcon and muscle recruitment will be more effective during the isolation work. The drawback is that when you get to the isolation work, you might be glycogen-depleted and tired, which will make it harder to get a good pump and apply enough effort to make it work. For that reason, it is important to consume protein and carbs intra-workout to at least keep your glycogen levels at an acceptable level.

The first option can be done with pretty much everybody, but it works best if you only have one or two weak muscles to fix. I believe that if you are trying to develop all your major muscles by training each one once a week for 15 to 25 minutes, you won't get many results compared to training them two or three times per week.

Key Information

Keep in mind that often a weak muscle is weak because you are simply not good at utilizing it. For that reason, during a big lift your body won't integrate that muscle as much as it should. You can view isolation work not only as a way to build muscle, but also as a way to improve your capacity to use that muscle. And, the better you become at utilizing it, the more easily you will integrate it into the performance of the big lifts. In return, those big lifts will begin to "work", and therefore develop those weak muscles.

Option 2: Complexing Isolation Moves Into Your Training

By complexing, I mean combining isolation/hypertrophy work with your strength or skill work. In both cases, for CrossFit athletes, I like to do the isolation work prior to doing the skill or strength move.

Why? Because this can prepare you for a very real problem that might occur in competition: having to do a skill when a key muscle if fried or full of lactic acid. For example, you might be good at doing legless rope climbs but, when your arms and forearms are pumped, it's a different ball game. Doing a snatch might normally be fine but if your shoulders are toasted, it will suddenly become a circus act! By doing isolation exercises for an important muscle involved in the skill or strength lift, you get used to doing the latter under sub-optimal conditions. At first, your performance will decreases (better to have that in training than in competition) but, over time, you will become just as efficient doing the skill/strength movement with a tired/pumped muscle; your performance drop will be very low.

Here, the goal isn't so much to fix a weaker muscle but, rather, to use the isolation work to fatigue a muscle that will then limit the performance of a skill or strength move. The result is that the muscle will become larger but also that it will become more resilient to fatigue - both will make you a better athlete.

You can even include isolation work like this for a WOD/metcon session. For example, you could do a triplet where you have one metcon exercise, one isolation/hypertrophy movement, a one skill or strength exercise.

Here are some examples:

Front Rounds for Time 

20 calories Assault bike
12 dumbbell hammer curls with a 2-second hold at the top of each repetition
1 legless rope climb (15 feet)
1 normal rope climb (15 feet).

Couplet (no rest between first and second exercise)

Deltoid triple set (8 seated laterals + 8 seated front laterals + 8 Cuban presses)
3 snatches @75-82%.

Triplet (no rest between exercises one and two, and two and three)

Barbell curl modern 21s (7 full reps, 7 top-partials, 7 bottom-partials)
Lying dumbbell triceps extension 1-1/2 reps (lower down, lift halfway up slowly, lower back down, and then lift completely up to complete one rep.) x 10 reps
Maximum unbroken muscle-ups (or strict muscle-ups, depending on level).

This approach should be used mostly by more advanced CrossFit athletes, or at least by those who already have a solid technical mastery of the bodyweight (muscle-ups, handstand push-ups, pull-ups, rope climbs etc.) and barbell (Olympic lift variations) skills. Fatiguing a key muscle involved in the skill makes its performance much harder. If your level of mastery isn't high enough, it will be impossible to do the skill properly and you will learn bad motor habits.

Option 3: Having a Hypertrophy Day During the Week

This is a fairly non-invasive approach to hypertrophy. By non-invasive, I mean that it doesn't interfere much with your normal programming. Hypertrophy work isn't really that demanding on the nervous system, so it won't affect your capacity to perform due to neural fatigue. Muscle damage is normally overplayed; a trained muscle can be re-trained again after very little time if proper nutrition is used. Furthermore, CrossFit athletes often use the same muscles several days in a row, so that's not something new or out of the ordinary for them. The only thing I recommend is to consume enough carbs on the hypertrophy day to avoid local glycogen depletion.

You can thus devote one day a week to building muscle mass. Normally, I like to do some strength work in there, too. Firstly, because the strength movement(s) activate/potentiate the nervous system, making the recruitment and stimulation of the muscles by isolation work more effective, but also because the strength movements themselves can contribute to developing more muscle mass.

There are two approaches to that training day:

A) For three to four weeks, pick one muscle group to be the focus point of your hypertrophy session. The template for that training day would then become:

Exercise 1: Big lift involving the target muscle (for example, close-grip bench press if you want to work on triceps development), using 4-6 sets of 3-7 reps. I like the 1 x 7, 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 7, 1 x 5, 1 x 3 loading scheme.

Exercise 2: Assistance exercise for the big lift, focusing on the target muscle (in our example, it could be a half close-grip bench press from pins or a close-grip floor press) for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.

Exercises 3 and 4: Superset of two isolation exercises; one for the target muscle group (dumbbell triceps extension, in our example) and one for its antagonist/opposing muscle group (preacher curl, for example). Use 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps for both, focusing on the quality of contraction.

Exercises 5 and 6: Superset of two isolation exercises; one for the target muscle group (cable triceps pushdown, for example) and one for its antagonist/opposing muscle group (dumbbell hammer curl, for example). Here we use a max pump technique; something like slow tempo extended sets, 21s, or double contractions. The technique itself doesn't matter as much as creating a huge accumulation of lactic acid and fluid inside the muscle (big pump, bro). Three sets are done in this manner.

The downsides to this approach are that you will only hit the lagging muscle directly once a week and that you will not work on improving the whole body at once. In both cases, it is important to remember that you are already doing plenty of work for the whole body during your regular programming; you are likely doing squats, deadlifts, push presses/strict presses, pull-ups, dips, etc. So it's no like your body isn't receiving any stimulation. This approach is more about building up a lagging muscle group, so it will work even though the target muscle is only worked once a week for hypertrophy. Since our goal is to correct a weakness, and not win a bodybuilding contest, it's fine if you don't train the whole body for hypertrophy all at once. Especially since the whole body will already receive some stimulation from your regular programming.

 B) Doing a whole-body hypertrophy session. Here, I like to use an antagonist superset approach whereby you pair two exercises targeting opposing muscle groups.

You can use basic hypertrophy loading schemes (sets of 6-8 or 8-12 reps) or use intensification methods for some of the exercises.

A good template looks like this:

Exercises 1 and 2 (antagonistic superset): One movement targeting the quadriceps (could be a Bulgarian split squat, squats doing only the middle portion of the range of motion, a hack squat machine, etc.), and one targeting the hamstrings (any form of leg curl, glute-ham raise, reverse hyper, etc.). Do not rest between exercises 1 and 2. 

Exercises 3 and 4 (antagonist superset): One movement targeting the pectorals (could be dumbbell or kettlebell flyes, a pec deck machine, a wide-grip bench press, a dumbbell bench press, etc.) and one for the mid-back (face pull, bentover row to chest, chest-supported dumbbell row, rear delt machine, rear delt raise, etc.). Do not rest between exercises 3 and 4.

Exercises 5 and 6 (antagonist superset): One exercise for the lateral or front deltoid (dumbbell lateral raise variations, dumbbell front raise variations) and one exercise for the lats (straight-arm pulldowns, dumbbell pullover, kayak row, one-arm dumbbell row/lawnmower, etc.). Do not rest between exercises 5 and 6.

Exercises 7 and 8 (antagonist superset): One exercise for the biceps (any form of curl) and one for the triceps (lying or standing dumbbell triceps extension, lying barbell triceps extension, cable or band pushdown, etc.). Do not rest between exercises 7 and 8.

Option 4: Devoting a Training Block to Maximizing Hypertrophy 

This option involves putting your metcon work on maintenance. This obviously means doing less skill work, too. Basically, for four to six weeks (or even seven to eight if you really need more muscle mass), you will train primarily for strength and hypertrophy. It is also important to eat a caloric surplus during that phase as we are shooting for an increase of bodyweight of about 4%. Eat a lot but don't let yourself gain too much fat.

A good template looks like this:

Day 1: Lower Body (Squat)  

Exercise 1: Major squat variation (back low bar, back high bar or front) trained for strength. Ramp up to a 1, 2 or 3 RM, then do 3 sets of 3-5 reps with 90% of the maximum reached for that day.

Good options include:

Zombie Squat (front squat with arms extended in front of you, so the bar is resting on the deltoids only) if keeping an upright torso is a problem in your front squat.

Paused Squat (front or back, three to five second pause at the bottom) if your weak point is getting out of the bottom position.

Double-Contraction Squat (squatting all the way down, getting back up to parallel, going back down, and then standing up completely to complete one rep) is another option if you are weak at the bottom position.

Half-Squat From Pins (starting the bar on the pins, with your legs at a 100 degree angle) if your main issue is feeling intimidated by a heavy load, or if your core strength is a limiting factor.

Super-Slow Squats (going down and coming up in five-second tempos) if your problem is getting out of position during the squat. Do the movement slowly, focusing on pushing only with the legs and maintaining a static torso angle.

Exercise 3: Quadriceps movement where the goal is to get a good quad pump. We want the muscle to  be under tension for 45 to 60 seconds. You can use a leg extension machine, do leg extensions with a dumbbell between your legs, do leg extensions with a resistance band or (my favorite) dragging a sled backwards while staying in a "seated/crouched" position. Perform 3-4 sets using whatever rep number or intensity technique you want - as long as the time under tension is between 45 and 60 seconds.

Exercise 4: Glutes movement, following the same guidelines as for the quads: keep the muscle under tension for 45 to 60 seconds per set and perform three work sets. You can do hip thrusts, wide Bulgarian split squats, or push a prowler forward focusing on long, full strides contracting the glutes hard.

Day 2: Upper Body (Horizontal)           

Exercise 1: Horizontal press variation (bench press, close-grip bench press, incline bench press, or decline bench press) trained for strength. Ramp up to a 1, 2, or 3 RM, then do 3 sets of 3-5 reps with 90% of the maximum reached for that day.

Exercise 2: Assistance movement for the horizontal press. As with the squat, perform a compound movement to strengthen the weak link in the horizontal press movement, for 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps.

Good options include:

Floor Press (bench press lying on the floor, pause for one or two seconds with the elbows on the floor before pressing) if the sticking point is right around or just prior to the mid-range position.

Partial Bench Press From Pins or Board (elbows at 90 degrees before pressing) is another option if the sticking point is right around the mid-range point.

Extra Range Press (doing lower than if the barbell is stopped by the chest, either with dumbbells or a cambered bar( if your sticking point is from the start of the movement.

Incline Press (dumbbell or barbell at 15 or 30 degree angle performed with a 2-second pause at the bottom) is another option if your weak point is from the start of the movement.

Spotto Press (paused bench press, completely relaxing in the bottom position) is another option to strengthen the start of the bench press

Close-Grip Incline Press if your sticking point is in the last third of the movement.

Partial Bench Press (from the st third of the range of motion, with elbows at around 110 degrees) is another option if your sticking point is near the lockout.

Exercises 3 and 4: Superset of one triceps isolation exercise and one mid-back isolation exercise, with both done for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. Do not rest between exercises 3 and 4, but rest about 90 seconds after exercise 4.

Exercises 5 and 6: Superset of one deltoid isolation exercise and one lats exercise, with both done for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. Do not rest between exercises 5 and 6, but rest about 90 seconds after exercise 6.

Day 3: Bodyweight Skill Maintenance and Metabolic Conditioning

On this day, you will spend about 30 minutes on your bodyweight skills and then perform two short and intense WODs/metcon sessions, with a total of about 20 to 25 minutes.

Day 4: Lower Body (Pull)

Exercise 1: Olympic lift variation (snatch or clean variation) to stay sharp with the movement and to activate the nervous system for the deadlift work. Perform 6-10 sets of 2 repetitions with a moderate weight (70-80%). Focus on technical perfection as well as speed and crispness of execution.

Exercise 2: Major deadlift variation (conventional powerlifting deadlift, sumo deadlift, Olympic/clean deadlift). I don't like ramping up to a max on a deadlift in training. I believe that doing plenty of work in the 80-90% range, focusing on perfect position, is much more effective in the long run. Shoot for about 15-20 total work reps with 80-90% in the form of 5-7 sets of 3 reps. Every rep must start from a dead start on the floor.

Exercise 3: Deadlift assistance exercise. Pick an exercise to focus on your weak point in the deadlift. Do 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps.

Good options include:

Deadlift From a Deficit (deadlift, standing on a two to three inch platform, focus on leg drive off the floor) if your weakness is getting the bar moving from the floor.

Floor-to-Knees/First Pull (lift barbell from the floor to the knees only, and pause there for two seconds per rep, can also be done on a podium) is another option if you are weak off the floor.

Barbell Hack Squat/Behind the Back Deadlift (with your heels raised on a block, hold the barbell behind you and deadlift it) is another option to strengthen the first pull but, specifically, if your quads are holding you back.

Romanian Deadlift if your weak area is the passage from below to above the knees.

Arched Back Good Morning is another option if your weak area is the passage from below to above the knees.

Partial Deadlift From Pins (from just below the knees) is another option to strengthen the transition from below to above the knees.

Barbell Hip Thrust if your problem area is the lockout.

Partial Deadlift From Pins (from just above the knees) is another option to strengthen the transition from below to above the knees. Be sure to mimic your actual pull (posterior chain/lower back) and do NOT cheat by "sliding" your knees forward to leverage the bar.

Exercise 4: Posterior chain exercise involving the glutes and hamstrings (glute ham raise, reverse hyper, kettlebell Romanian deadlift, or back extension) for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.

Day 5: Upper Body (Vertical)           

Exercise 1: Major overhead lift (strict press, behind the neck press, push press, or thruster) trained for strength. Ramp up to a 1, 2, or 3 RM, then do 3 sets of 3-5 reps with 90% of the maximum reached for that day.

Exercises 2 and 3: Superset of one exercise for the lats and one isolation move for the deltoids, with both done for either 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, or using intensification techniques to create a maximum pump.

Exercises 4 and 5: Superset of one isolation movement for the biceps and one isolation exercise for the triceps, with both done for either 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, or using intensification techniques to create a maximum pump.

Exercise 6: Short but very intense WOD involving 6-8 minutes of all-out effort.

Day 6: Olympic Lifting Skills 

Exercise 1: Snatch variation. Again, the focus is on technique and speed. Do 6-8 sets of 3 reps with 75-80%.

Exercise 2: Clean variation. Same principles as for the Snatch.

Exercise 3: Jerk variation. Same principles as for the Snatch.

Day 7: Rest Day  

This fourth option is better left to what Ben Bergeron (coach of the 2015 female Games winner and male runner-up) calls "Ninjas" - the smaller athletes (170 pounds or less) with great bodyweight skills and conditioning (who can therefore afford to reduce their amount of both for 6-8 weeks) but lack size and strength.

Those who are stronger than they are skilled and conditioned would be better off selecting another option - the exception being team athletes who have a specific role on the team (to be a strength beast).

Regardless of the strategy you decide to use, as a CrossFit athlete you should not neglect the importance of increasing your muscle mass. It will help you become stronger on both your lifts and advanced bodyweight skills.

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