Cutting Through the Noise

By: Marcos Hernandez

The internet is a great tool for education. There are many sites that offer quality information on lifting, conditioning, nutrition, and equipment. There will be different opinions so how do you decide who/what information to trust?
Well, the best gauge is results. Does the coach have athletes who are at a high level in their sport? Has the nutrition protocol generated results for any high level athletes? Any athletes whose advice you wish to follow should definitely be at a high level in their sport. One thing to keep in mind when following athletes is that a lot of them were genetically blessed and what works for them might not work for the general population.
Another measure is quality and quantity of content. If your source has consistently churned out content of a high quality then you can be sure that they have done their homework. When judging quality, it is important to realize that information can be backed by both scientific evidence AND experience.
Lastly, when it comes to social media (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) you can judge them based on how many followers they have. This is assuming of course they aren’t showing a ton of skin and selfies. A lot of the big names in Crossfit have a lot of followers because of their popularity within the community but might not necessarily provide information applicable to you. If the person you are taking advice from has 6 page likes on Facebook or 17 followers on instagram, this could be sign that this person is simply a self-proclaimed guru who hasn’t actually tried any of their methods on actual athletes in a real world setting.
Whatever information you might stumble across, feel free to share it with your coaches and ask questions. We have been sifting through good/bad advice for quite a while now and can help you sort through all the clutter and point you in the right direction!

The Köhler Effect

The training atmosphere in a CrossFit gym created by the group dynamic and interpersonal interactions of its athletes is one of the most powerful elements behind the effectiveness of CrossFit. This concept of individuals raising their level of effort and performance in a group setting is very real and observable phenomenon in psychology, known as the Köhler effect.
The Köhler effect: phenomenon that occurs when a person works harder as a member of a group than when working alone. Much research suggests that the Köhler effect may have at least two causes, one rooted in the process of social comparison and the other in the effects of individual members being indispensable to the group. For further reading, see here.
We’ve all experienced the Köhler effect, likely without even realizing it, every time we come to the gym for class. Many of us are regularly confronted with the need to train solo. Think about the types of exercises, weights, volume, and intensity of those workouts done on your own. Now, compare that to doing the Throwdown last weekend, or setting a deadlift PR, or crushing the L2 WOD on a day you weren’t even sure you had the energy to train.
The Köhler effect is one of the big reasons we encourage all of our athletes to get into group classes. Through no magic of our own as coaches, we are able to leverage the momentum & energy of the group to help everyone raise their level of effort. This is also why we say the most important thing for you to do is show up to the gym. Once you’re here, your fellow athletes will ensure sandbagging is kept to a minimum since no one likes to be the weakest link.
You would do well to keep this concept in mind next time you travel: why go through the motions in your hotel gym (or likely not workout at all), when you can instead drop in to a local CF box and get a real push of motivation there. Do not seek out sources of inspiration; seek out guaranteed renewable sources of motivation in the form of training partners here at CFSS or abroad.

Coaches are not Psychics

By: Marcos Hernandez

Athletes have to tell coaches when something is wrong. Communication is the only way the athlete-coach relationship will work. It is a red flag when something hurts. Telling the coach when pain occurs allows for the prevention of further injury.
There is no benefit to pushing through the pain- any minor injury can quickly turn into a major injury when ignored. Both athletes and coaches have to look at the big picture; it is better for athletes to come in at full strength later in the week than to grind through something that feels wrong.
The movements in CrossFit are going to cause some discomfort. Simply put, they are not easy. However, if something is wrong let the coaches do their job and help. There is always a replacement for any movement that might cause injury. Coaches cannot read minds or tell when something is wrong. Sometimes, but not always, the pain on an athletes face is noticeable. By the time the “pain face” arrives the damage has been done and the workout is likely done for today.
The effects of pain aren’t only physical, they are mental. When an athlete strains their lower back doing deadlifts or kettlebell swings it can cause overly conservative attempts in the future. So even if the back has completely healed the threat of injury is enough to limit progress in the future. The most important thing about training is that it continues long term, without prolonged interruption. Injuries tend to derail progress towards your performance goals, and are also very frustrating psychologically as we often realize they could’ve been prevented.
Let coaches know if something hurts or even if it doesn’t feel quite right. Sometimes everything can look great and small tweaks still occur. It is not uncommon but without effective communication there is no way coaches can know or help in a proactive manner.

L1 & L2 Programming: A Primer

We frequently receive question during and outside of class about the rationale behind the programming of different L1 & L2 workouts.
Programming for group CrossFit training is a rather complex, multifactorial topic that cannot be fully explained or expressed in a blog post. However, I would like to shine some light on the “why” behind the WOD and help give you the athlete a glimpse into the Russell Crowe-esque ‘Beautiful Mind’ of a coach.
First, L1 & L2 are simple designations for novice / less fit / less skilled CF athletes and experienced / fitter / more skilled CF athletes. Keep in mind that we’re painting with broad strokes here. Also, time doing CrossFit does not equal expertise. Some people will be L2 caliber the day they complete Elements, and others will be L1 athletes even after months or even years of doing CrossFit. L1 & L2 designations are often WOD-dependent, as we commonly see folks do L2 one day, and L1 the next based on what we’ve cooked up that particular day. L1/L2 is a way for us to begin to address the challenge of working with a large group of athletes encompassing the full spectrum of fitness, strength, and skill. In a perfect world, we would likely program 3, 5, or even 10 different levels on a daily basis. However, in reality that would be terrible impractical and cumbersome.
Think of L1 & L2 as two separate, but at times, similar training programs. The L2 weekly program is crafted to challenge a more experienced CF athlete across broad time & modal domains (cliché, but true). The L1 program must be compatible with L2 for logistical / coaching reasons, but the movement pool, loads, and volume must align with the abilities of novice athletes. Some L2 workouts are easily scaled, or simplified to a logical L1 equivalent, while other L2 workouts are designed to be performed sans modification.
What you as an athlete need to understand is that the needs of beginners and advanced athletes differ fundamentally. Performing “Fran” with PVC and jumping pull-ups as a substitute for 95lb barbell thrusters and pull-ups just isn’t “Fran”. Instead, we can use other methods and movements to appropriately challenge that beginner athlete and in time better prepare them for the rigors of a workout like “Fran.”
One of the defining marks of a beginner is a lack of strength, movement proficiency, and overall work capacity. The L1 athlete is going to do 10,000 kettlebell swings, for example, and then come bug us coaches about learning the finer points of the hang clean or muscle-ups.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the fastest way to acquire a new skill is often through working on a seemingly unrelated movement that helps prepare the athlete for the more advanced skill. There is also the issue of trying to leapfrog key points in the development curve for the sake of being able to try sexier, more technical movements. Show me better front squats, presses, deadlifts, swings, push- ups, pull ups, and rowing technique before trying to tackle kipping, overhead squats, T2B, jerks, etc. Essentially, we are trying to address different weaknesses and needs with both our L1 & L2 programs. While the two take place concurrently, they are independent of each other and programmed for as such.

High / Low Training

High intensity is one of the main hallmarks of CrossFit style training. Keep things brief, basic, and brutal, sprinkle in some variety, and you’ve got yourself a damn effective and time efficient fitness routine.
This all sounds great conceptually, but in practice most people only do CrossFit roughly 3x / week. Optimal training frequency is a classic N=1 question, varying wildly from individual to individual. For some folks, the issue is simply lack of time to make it in to workout, for others their bodies aren’t yet ready for an increased workload that frequent CrossFit training demands.
Whatever the case may be, the question often arises, “what should I do on the days I’m not here?”. That’s a great question and the answer is, it depends. We lead sedentary lives, which contribute to countless negative health outcomes and resultant suboptimal lifestyle choices. Therefore, every day you engage in some form of physical activity is a plus, every day you do nothing, a minus. When I say activity, this can be an of number of things- from recreational sports, to outdoor games, to hiking, biking, swimming, doing yard-work, etc.
Strive to be as active as your lifestyle permits, and that also means finding a balance between higher, moderate, and lower intensity forms of exercise and physical activity. First, think of exercise as a stressor on the body (it is). Next, associate high intensity training as increasing your baseline stress levels, moderate intensity training as slightly increasing your baseline stress levels, and low intensity training as reducing your stress levels.
Low intensity training is simply enjoyable forms of physical activity that helps us recover from harder training sessions, reduces stress levels, builds our aerobic fitness base, and generally keeps our bodies moving well. Remember, there is a therapeutic dose for everything in nature, and hard training is no different. If 3 days is good, 4 won’t necessarily produce better results, and in some cases can actual hinder progress. On days you can’t make it to CrossFit, try to start dropping some more “low” workouts into the mix. This will help you bridge the gap between strenuous sessions, and give you the necessary mental break from the rigors and strain of pushing your physical limits.

What Kind of Athlete Are You?

By: Marcos Hernandez

You can either be an athlete who needs to be pushed forward OR you can be an athlete who needs to be held back. Neither are necessarily good or bad. Just different.
The athlete who needs to always be pushed to work a little harder or lift a little more might not see the desired progress. Without attempting heavier weights coaches cannot see where the movement patterns breakdown. However, they could stay healthy longer and have more in the tank when they need it (competitions). Sometimes the athletes don’t know the difference between pain and discomfort.
The athletes who need to be held back often times sacrifice movement quality in the chase for more intensity. While it might lead to a good workout that day, the long term training suffers. Poor movement patterns can slow down progress later down the road. This type of athlete will see good results in the short term but long term results will plateau. This could lead to frustration and an atmosphere where the athlete might consider quitting.
Both types of athletes can benefit from embodying one important quality. Being the type of athlete who only needs to be coached once. What I mean by this is that after your coach gives you a cue, that issue will be worked on until it is no longer an issue. As a coach, this is great because we can find the next place where the movement breaks down. Another cue, another chance for the athlete to make changes. This can go on virtually forever. This way, the athlete is continuing to progress and is also taking full advantage of all the knowledge the coach possesses.
Be the athlete who only needs to be coached once.

The Hay is In the Barn

I first came across the phrase “the hay is in the barn” from a blog post by NFL veteran and CrossFit Football founder John Welbourn. The “hay is in the barn” is a farming saying that means there is no further preparation or work to be done. This quote is highly applicable to the optimal preparation mindset for athletic competitions, exams, big work presentations, to name a few.
Being nervous before one of these significant performances is very common, but ideally this nervousness doesn’t stem from being underprepared. As John says, “do the work, put in the hours and the suffering, leave nothing to chance and when the moment of truth presents itself you can feel confident that “the hay is in the barn” and there is nothing left to do but get out of the way and let greatness happen. If you do this, the feeling in the pit of your stomach isn’t nervous energy…it is adrenalin.”
Think about it- the outcome of most events are out of your control; however, you are in control of your own effort, repetition, and sacrifice. With that in mind, don’t waste time worrying about your competition or other external variables you are unable to influence. Instead, turn your focus inward and strive to be as ready as you can given your time/rest/recovery constraints.
For a more concrete example, CFSS’s own El Jefe Barbell will be competing this weekend at the 2015 Baltimore Open (details and directions here). Our athletes having been training hard for this meet specifically for the past several months. Everyone has their own unique set of circumstances with regards to work, family, and other commitments. However, the most dedicated and committed athletes find the time necessary for their training and rarely, if ever, miss practice. Other athletes also want to improve and do well, but aren’t able to commit to their training with the same level of discipline as others. This isn’t exactly a revolutionary observation, but it bears repeating nonetheless. My advice to all my lifters the week of a competition is to trust your training and trust the process. Don’t sabotage your performance by doing anything dumb this week, or thinking you can improve a deficiency or strengthen a weakness during this final week of preparation.
Like it or not, at this stage the hay is in the barn. If you’ve truly done the work, rest easy this week and visualize your successful performance. If you haven’t fully put in the work, you may find it a bit harder to similarly keep your mind and body at ease. The beauty of sports is their unpredictable nature; excellent performances can happen at the most unexpected time. Even the prepared athlete can have a bad day. However, the prepared athlete should always hold their head high without regrets; they were ready, and if unsuccessful this time, their next victory is right around the bend.

Gripping the Bar 101

By: Marcos Hernandez

This is something we go over in our Elements class but its always good for a refresher. There is a definite difference in gripping the bar when we front squat versus when going overhead.
When front squatting, letting only our fingertips remain in contact with the bar is okay because we want the bar resting on our shoulders as much as possible. Typically when there is too much gripping of the bar in a front squat, the elbows remain too low or simply drop during the squat which can lead to unnecessary wrist pain.
During the finish of a clean, we want the bar to rest on our shoulders. Therefore, during the turnover, we want to make sure to release our hook grip and let the bar get to our shoulders. The bar can be in our fingertips because it is very similar to our front squat in the catch position.
When we go overhead (strict press, push press, push jerk) we want a full grip on the bar. The bar is in our palms and our fist is closed so our shoulders can apply force to drive the bar up. During our dynamic overhead movements (push press, push jerk) we might consider sacrificing some of our full grip on the bar in order to have some more contact with our shoulders. This isn’t like front squatting because there is still a majority of our hands closed around the bar but our fist might not be closed. The reason we do this is to get every ounce of power from our dip/drive. If the bar is resting in our hands versus our shoulders this power cannot be fully used to get the bar overhead.
This is similar to a thruster grip. Not quite a front squat, not quite a full fist. The thruster grip needs to transition from the full front squat position, with elbows up, to an overhead position. Lacking mobility can lead to wrist pain when doing thrusters because the bar isn’t fully onto the shoulders during the front squat. When performing the thruster, strive to keep as much hand on the bar as possible while still keeping the elbows and chest high during the squat.
Ideally, all of us would be mobile enough to front squat with a closed fist and our elbows all the way up. The reality is that this position is very hard to get into even for seasoned weightlifters. Hopefully this makes it clear when to use different grips on the bar and why it helps to do so!

“Treat the light ones like the heavy ones”

One important concept when it comes to technique is consistency in your movement patterns. Ideally we should strive to make all of our reps look as similar as possible. A quote I like is “treat the light ones like the heavy ones, and the heavy ones like the light ones.” Far too often I see people approach the bar and perform their lifts with very different levels of focus, intensity, and even technical execution when the weights get heavier. For an example, see today’s picture on the blog: 2 split jerks @ 60 & 117kg, and they look very similar outside of the noticeable look of exertion on my face. That consistency springs out of deliberate practice in pursuit of that goal.
Now let’s be clear, a max effort deadlift is obviosuly going to necessitate more effort, focus, and exertion than your first warm up. However, what you should seek to standardize is your pre-lift movement setup and sequence. Every time you deadlift for example, make sure you are doing the same steps in the same order before during and after each rep. Place your feet in the same stance, set your back, grip the bar, remove the slack, get your air, and finally pull the bar. Your sequence should be unique to you, and it should also be consistent. The more you practice this set up, executing the lift becomes that much easier, and your technique begins to hone. You also will have many less things to focus on outside of a nuanced aspect of the exercise you are performing.
Consistent technique is one of the best ways to ensure injury free continual progress in any lift you are performing, so make sure to focus on your movement habits next time you train!

Book of the Month: Ready to Run by Kelly Starrett

By: Marcos Hernandez

I recently finished Kelly Starrett’s (K-Star) newest book about running, entitled Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally. Anyone who runs regularly, wants to run regularly, or is generally interested in running should DEFINITELY read this book.
A couple things I took from the book you should know in case you decide not to read it:
1) Mobility: Spending ten minutes a day on your soft tissue issues will add up. Over time, these issues will go away and new ones will come up. Each mobility weakness you encounter is a chance to get an improvement in performance.
2) Warming up: Never start running cold. Always warm up. You should be sweaty BEFORE you start running. A good suggestion was to include jumping rope, skipping, lunges, and burpees. He especially recommended jumping rope because it wake up the soft tissues in your feet.
3) Air Squats: The ability to perform a proper air squat is required before a running program is implemented. This means your knees are out over your toes, weight in the heels, and hip crease is well below parallel. Not being able to meet this standard was a red flag. The athlete who cannot perform this standard is not ready to run
4) Shoes: K-Star talk about the current shoes industry and how large cushions encourage a heel strike. This is not the way humans evolved to run. Humans are designed to run with a forefoot strike. After years of keeping our feet wrapped up in over-cushioned shoes most of the soft tissue in our feet will need to be taken care of with mobilizations (lax ball in the foot) laid out in the end of the book
5) Hydration: It is important to drink a lot of water throughout the day to make sure your body is always ready to run. A large majority of this water should be spiked with electrolytes to aid in absorption. What can happen is that the water you drink isn’t being absorbed properly so you end up going to the bathroom more than necessary. Electrolytes are available at local running stores and online
6) The Couch Stretch: With your knee on the ground and your foot elevated behind you, work up to having your torso vertical. If you’ve tried this then you know how difficult it is. It is a good stretch to attack the hip flexors that are shortened with chronic sitting. A good suggestion is to keep your butt tight to ensure your hip is tracking in the right direction
7) Compression: Compression aids in blood flow. It is an easy way to help maintain your soft tissues. Compression socks are super easy to include in your daily running routine. K-Star suggests using compression during airline travel to combat the extended time sitting.
8) Toes: Having our feet in shoes all day has removed the ability for many Americans to manipulate their toes. A good stretch was called the “Toe-reanimator” where you thread your fingers between your toes and move your feet in circles. It helps when making the transition to a forefoot strike to have toes the aren’t stiff and tacky.
9) Training through pain: Pain is an indicator that something in your movement is wrong. Running through a problem might be ok in the short term but it is risking your long term health. When pain occurs it is ok to stop running and walk back. Walking is still exercising and won’t exacerbate any issues you have. Live to fight another day
10) Programming your mobility: At the end of the book, K-Star lays out a sample mobility week. It includes time barefoot and mobility moves to attack common issues. Most people give mobility no more than a passing thought before working out. Kelly’s sample plan is thorough and will put any athlete onto the climb to becoming a supple leopard.
This book was extremely well organized. It lays down the 12 movement standards (here’s a link to the standards online) and outlines a plan of attack to make sure every athlete can meet them. I highly recommended this book to anyone who is a runner or interested in incorporating running into their training routines.