Athlete Best Practices

“We are the sum of our actions, and therefore our habits make all the difference.”

 
When it comes to sustainable, long-term success in the realm of fitness, fat loss, and health there are certain behaviors top performers typically have in common. Keep in mind, nobody is perfect nor should 100% discipline and adherence to our habits be the mark we strive for. Rather, we should aim to check as many important “boxes” as we can, as often as we can. In doing so, we will likely continue to make progress in pursuit of our goals both in the gym and outside of it. Here’s the list, for reference:
 
Successful Athletes:

  • Keep a training log and know their personal bests
  • Are consistent in their training and don’t make excuses (either do or don’t, there is no “try”)
  • Are willing to prioritize and make sacrifices to accommodate their workouts as needed
  • Focus on cultivating a healthly, well-rounded lifestyle to empower their performance (sleep, diet, stress management)
  • Have things they are working on outside of class – movement, mobility, aerobic endurance, specific weaknesses, etc.
  • Are “coachable” and want to be coached
  • Are good listeners, and aren’t afraid to ask questions for clarity or about how to get better
  • Have other physical pursuits outside of CrossFit. What’s the point of being fit if you never use your fitness in real life?
  • Recognize that the details matter. Small refinements compound over time to create large change
  • Tend to focus internally (in your control) vs. compare themselves to others (external focus; out of your control)
  • Work hard and are competitive! There’s no shortcuts or elevators to the top and you’ve got to always find new ways to challenge and push yourself
  • Have good attitudes! Whining and complaining are a choice and make nobody better
  • Show up prepared and ready to workout. They’ve eaten and hydrated and are mentally and physically ready to go
  • Show up on time (if not early) and typically stay late. Same rules that apply in the real world
  • Are willing to trust the process, presuming the process works & makes sense
  • Have a long term vision of where they want to be, and are willing to be patient to achieve that vision

This is by no means a complete list of habits and behaviors to emulate, but rather a collection of best practices exhibited by consistently successful athletes here at CFSS. Let this serve as a guide to help you figure out where you can make improvements and adjustments to consistently look, feel, and perform better! As a reminder, if you identify areas where you’d like to improve, but are unsure how best to go about it, just ask a coach for advice!
 

“Diet Starts Monday”

 
How many times have you uttered the following phrase, “diet starts Monday!”, or “[insert new workout routine/lifestyle change] starts tomorrow!”? If you’re like most people, you’ve probably uttered some variation of those phrases countless times, typically after a day / weekend / month(s) of less than ideal lifestyle choices. One of the hardest things people struggle with is getting back on the wagon after they’ve strayed from the clean, healthy living path for an extended period of time. The thought of heading back into the gym after taking a few weeks or months off can be daunting. The same can be said for getting back onto a structured nutrition plan after indulging in cheap calories and junk food over an extended weekend getaway.
 
Our lifestyle habits, for better or worse, tend to be largely influenced by momentum. When you are in a positive feedback loop of working out regularly, eating healthy, and going to bed at a reasonable time, it seems to require very little effort to keep the good times rolling. This concept also applies to when we are in a negative feedback loop of eating crappy food, staying up late watching Netflix, and skipping the gym due to lack of energy and motivation. Breaking out of our well established pattern requires a massive shift in momentum akin to stopping a freight train barreling down the tracks. So, the question remains: how do we get back into the positive feedback loop after say a weekend bender of junk food, sleep deprivation, and ample amounts of “12 oz. curls”?
 
Getting back on track is as simple as returning to your normal routine as quickly as possible. Presuming you were on a quality routine prior to your most recent departure from the norm, simply pick back up with the things that made you feel great in the first place. When Monday morning rolls around, force yourself to get up at your usual time, eat your normal meals, go to the gym at your normal time / frequency, and try to get in bed at your usual time at night. Regardless of whether or not you are still feeling the ill effects of the weekend, restore normalcy as soon as possible. By all means, feel free to back off the intensity in the gym, drink more water, and attempt to get a little extra sleep if possible. However, in order to get back on the wagon, you don’t need to do a “cleanse” or a “detox”, a crazy diet, 2 a day workouts, or any other ill-conceived ideas to somehow mitigate your choices the past few days. Don’t beat yourself up about eating pizza or having that extra glass off wine; shake it off and focus on doing your best in the present, as this is the only thing you can actually control. As an aside, depending on how you deviated from the norm the most (lack of sleep, too much sugar, etc.), you can make a targeted effort to get back to baseline quicker by prioritizing that area. So, if you were on team no sleep all weekend, get to bed 30 minutes early for the rest of the week and see how you feel. Personally, I like to kick off the week with a day or two of low carb eating if I was a bit too indulgent the previous weekend, focusing on high protein, high fat, some leafy veggies, minimal starch (if any) and no sugar. This, coupled with getting back into the gym, seems to bring me back to baseline the fastest.
 
What’s the strategy if we are hoping to get back onto a healthy routine but haven’t had one in months or longer? We want to follow a similar approach to the tips outlined above, with a few differences. For this individual, I would start with re-integrating exercise first as the initial catalyst for other lifestyle changes. Start walking daily, and try to make it to the gym or a group exercise class 2x per week. Start here, and keep this up for a month or more before tweaking volume or intensity at all. Once exercise becomes routine, start making dietary tweaks, eliminating the low hanging fruit – sugar, processed foods, grains, alcohol, etc. and see how your body responds. Around this time, I’d also be looking at sleep, and making every effort to optimize quality and keep 7 hours as the daily minimum. In time, exercise frequency can increase, dietary parameters can tighten, and sleep needs can be tinkered with as well. Don’t try to do this all at once, as this can be too much for most people to sustain. Take a very reasonable approach, and focus on consistency and slowly building positive habit change. As is the case with everyone, progress isn’t linear – there will always be setbacks, vacations, injuries, illnesses, etc. When these things invariably happen, don’t stress. Why? Because your diet starts Monday!
 

Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

 
One of most important attributes a coach should possess is the desire to continually learn and expand their base of knowledge and understanding. Secondarily, the coach must also be willing to seek out information and viewpoints that may challenge their current beliefs and biases. Simply seeking to reinforce one’s pre-existing training dogmas helps neither the coach nor the athletes they serve.
 
As a coach, I’ve been exposed to many ideas and people who have fundamentally altered my views on training, nutrition, corrective exercise, etc., and helped me to see the nuance required to effectively work with various populations of athletes. As such, our programs have continually evolved and improved over the years while still sticking to our core principles of crating well rounded, resilient individuals in a safe, sustainable environment.
 
This concept of open-mindedness and truth seeking also applies to you as an athlete. Are you willing to accept that what you believe or have done in the past may be in fact incorrect or ineffective for you at this stage of your life? The training, diet, and lifestyle strategies you employed at age 20 may not work so well at age 40. Additionally, just because you’ve always done X (insert behavior here), doesn’t mean it’s healthy, beneficial, or optimal. An easy example is diet- just because you drank milk when you were 10 years old doesn’t mean it still agrees with your current gut microbiome and digestive system. Similarly, if you’ve been unable to lose body-fat on your own, are you willing to try a potentially radical departure from your current way of eating a la Whole30 for a month? The only way to know if a particular dietary intervention is effective for you is actually trying it!
 
The mark of an intelligent person is their ability to form new opinions and beliefs when presented with new information, no matter how damaging to the ego it may be. Do not be the ideologue that blindly follows and doesn’t cast a critical eye at their behaviors and underlying beliefs. Have strong opinions, but also be willing to cast them away when necessary in order to grow as an individual.
 

5 Sets Of 1

 
Deliberate practice is one of the primary keys to improving the quality and efficiency of your movement. Every rep of every set you perform is an opportunity to ingrain and reinforce proper mechanics. When we do careless or sloppy reps, we are subconsciously learning bad habits, which in turn can hold back progress and also lead to potential injury.
 
With these concepts in mind, I want you to reconsider how you approach your next 5-rep set of deadlifts. Don’t think of it as a set of 5, instead think of it as 5 sets of 1, or 5 singles performed consecutively.
 
Often when people perform 5 reps in a row, the first rep looks great, and at some point during the next 4 reps the technique devolves or looks fundamentally different than the first rep. This change in technique could be due to fatigue, lack of focus, loss of position during the lift, etc. The bottom line is that the athlete’s efficiency and execution weresub-optimal (you were able to do 3 good reps and 2 low quality reps in a set of 5). From a simplistic, outcome only viewpoint, were you able to lift the weight, yes or no? The answer is yes. However, in all sports, especially strength sports, the difference between a made and missed lift at maximal weights is razor thin. The goal isn’t simply lifting the weight, its lifting the weight with precision and control.
 
In powerlifting and weightlifting competition, there are no do overs when you make a mistake on a lift and fail. You are only performing a single repetition at a time and that rep must be excellent to maximize your chances for success. Note – you can have textbook technique and still miss your lift if the weight is too heavy or your effort is inadequate; conversely, you can still make a lift with poor technique, but this is a rarity in high level competition and you are at a heightened risk of injury. By looking at 1×5 reps as 5×1 rep, we are getting better at the most important skill in lifting: doing a single repetition really well.
 
Applied to the deadlift, whether you reset on the floor each rep, or perform a controlled touch and go technique, you remove any bouncing of the bumper plates off the floor and thus strengthen you ability to pull off the floor from a dead stop. Experienced lifters are capable of smoothly lowering the bar to the floor and immediately continuing into their next rep without the benefit of any momentum. However, we prefer all novice lifters to slow things down and take the time to breathe and re-establish tension between reps when doing a set of 5 to ensure proper technique.
 

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

By: Marcos Hernandez

“My idea was to encourage the kids to madly cheer for each other to set personal records. It was magic. Not only did we take the first six place in the girl’ discus throw, but every athlete scored lifetime bests that day.” – Dan John
 
This is a concept that every community can benefit from. Cheering on fellow athletes is encouraged! Supporting others during the workout provides energy for a strong finish. Not only can the support lead to new levels of success being reached for other athletes, the success of others tends to lead to more success for the community as a whole. Don’t sit quietly while others work hard. Be loud and encouraging!
 
The community in a crossfit gym is large; often times there will be other athletes that are new faces. Coaches do their best to make new athletes feel welcome but they need help from the rest of the community. Athletes can help out by introducing themselves to new people. A new face is a new opportunity to make a friend. Take advantage of the opportunity! Then make sure to cheer loudly for them in the workout.
 
The gym is not a library. Be loud, encouraging, and friendly. Extend your hand to every new face and cheer loudly to keep the sense of community strong!
 

Majoring In The Minors

 
It’s been over 7 years since I’ve consistently spent any time frequenting commercial gyms, whether to workout or train clients. Once I discovered the world of CrossFit and CrossFit Gyms, there was no turning back. Commercial gyms simply lack the equipment and atmosphere needed to train the types of movements and workouts performed in CrossFit. This isn’t a value judgment about Gold’s, LA Fitness, etc., rather a matter of personal preference.
 
I recently spent some time at the University of Maryland gym to hit a quick workout and it made me realize I’ve been in a bubble, insulated from the ways the average gym goer exercise and interacts with their environment.
 
There are no good or bad training styles; however, there are good or bad routines when examined through the lens of one’s goals as an athlete/trainee. The thing that was most striking to me being back in my old college weight room were
• The lack of a safe / efficient technique being displayed
• The number of people using inappropriate weights for their ability and exercises they were performing and
• The amount of people training simply for aesthetics i.e. the “show muscles”, specifically arms and direct abdominal work
 
Experience has taught me a few things pertaining to these observations:
• Getting injured is easy. Recovering from injury is exhausting – mentally, physically, emotionally
• Sacrificing technique and range of motion for the sake of more weight is a fast track to injuries. Again, refer to point #1
• Learning how to lift via YouTube, magazines, your buddies, etc., are poor substitutes for a coach. Seek out coaching and learn it right the first time.
• Even if your goals are simply to look good naked, the bulk of your training should focus on big compounds movements – squats, deadlifts, presses, swings, pull ups etc. These movements recruit more muscle fibers, strengthen connective tissue, burn more calories, and ensure you are also a useful human
 
Why does this matter? Scarcity. As an athlete, you have a scarcity of time to train and unlimited options regarding what to do with that time. Also scarce is your ability to recover from said training. Don’t spend hours toiling away in the gym at tasks that deliver little to no return on your effort and get you nowhere closer to your goals. Don’t major in the minors!
 

2016 Open Recap!

By: Marcos Hernandez

 
What a year this was for the Open! Everything was thrown at us this year- overhead walking lunges and bar muscle ups were brand new, there was a high rep chipper (16.4), heavy cleans, and more burpees than anyone wishes to count. Going Rx any given week was a huge accomplishment with such a wide variety of skills tested.
 
Personally, I thought the workouts did a good job of testing the field. Smaller folks would have a hard time getting through the cleans of 16.2 and the deadlifts of 16.4. A bigger person would have a hard time getting through all the burpees, all the hanging movements, and if they could get to them, the handstand push-ups (16.4).
 
A couple things I thought they could do better with the workout design would be to break up the hanging movements. 16.1, 16.2, 16.3 had chest to bar pull ups, toes to bar, then bar muscle ups. In my opinion, these could have been broken up in order to save hands from ripping. The other criticism I had was 16.5. The announcement had the potential to be a lot more exciting. Big Dave C had all year to come up with a workout and this is what he came up with? Thrusters and bar facing burpees (again), really dude? in my opinion when you’ve got 3 stallions in Rich, Ben, and Matt, you come up with a way cooler workout to showcase the Open and CrossFit as a whole to the community and general public.
 
One of the best parts of the open this year was how many people sacrificed their Friday nights in order to come in and knock out the workouts as a group. The team atmosphere was electric and doing the workouts together helped everyone push themselves farther than they would normally. It was also great seeing so many people get their first taste of competitive CrossFit as well as their first bar muscle-ups and handstand push-ups! Now that the mental barriers have been crossed, we can all practice these new skills so we are ready to crush workouts when they show up in the future.
 
Again, great job to everyone who participated! And an extra pat on the back to those who did every workout Rx’ed. It was a tough 5 weeks but we are all better for it!
 

Rucking

 
RUCK•ING [VERB]: To put weight on your back and go for a walk. More weight or more miles equals more results, more friends and more time together equals more fun.*
 
As most of you are probably aware, I’m not a huge fan of running. I try to limit my exposure to running to the following scenarios: being chased, chasing something, emergencies, playing sports, and the occasional sprint or track workout. Needless to say, it’s a short and specific list that doesn’t happen very frequently. I simply want to be upfront about my biases before delving deeper into the topic of this blog post.
 
The question of what should I do from an exercise standpoint when I’m not at the gym/doing CrossFit is one we get constantly. The simple answer is, it depends. Generally speaking however, the goal is to try to be active everyday. Active could be CrossFit, playing rec sports, doing yoga, going running, biking, swimming, hiking, or a whole host of other activities. Really, it comes down to your time, goals, and proclivities.
 
With that in mind, many of our athletes seem to gravitate towards running. A few obvious reasons- you don’t need any equipment, you can do it anywhere, it’s easy to do when time is a factor, you can do it by yourself, etc. Running is also a great cardiovascular workout, and one of the most practical forms of exercise as it features heavily in almost every team sport people typically play.
 
The glaring issue with running with most folks is this: you don’t run to get in shape; you get in shape to run. Almost everybody I know that runs does so to help maintain his or her weight and/or to stay in shape. If you love running, great (most people don’t); if not, I’m here to give you an alternative to try instead.
 
Rucking is essentially throwing on a backpack or rucksack of some sort, putting some weight inside of it, and going for stroll. For weight, you can use rocks, bricks, cinderblocks, weight plates, really anything you prefer. Next time you want to go for a hike in the woods or a long walk with the dog, throw on the ruck and get to it. That extra load adds a new element of difficulty on your legs, back, core, lungs, etc. while not drastically increasing the impact on your joints that you experience when running.
 
You be amazed at how much more of a metabolic workout something as simple as walking becomes when you’ve got a 20-30lb pack strapped to your back. Think of this as a complement or alternative to logging lots of miles running, especially for those of you who simply want to perform an outdoor activity to work up a good sweat in the process.
 
Personally I like to shoot for a solid hour ruck whether its in the woods or a more residential area. The key is working in some varied terrain i.e. uphill, downhill, pavement, grass, dirt trails, etc.; find ways to challenge yourself when you do this.
 
Especially for those of you who experience joint pain from distance running, give rucking an honest go and see what you think!
 
*Definition courtesy of goruck.com, purveyors of fine rucks and great rucking based teambuilding events
 

Work Fucking Harder!

 

“Whats the secret to success? There are no secrets. Be humble. Be hungry. And always be the hardest worker in the room.”

 
2016 has finally arrived, and like every January before it hope springs eternal. A New Year brings new possibilities for growth, change, adventure, achievement, and much more. January is resolution and goal setting season, but it is also a time for reflection and introspection. Before diving into determining all the amazing, important things you will accomplish, places you’ll visit, and things you’ll do be sure to take a moment to look back. Objectively think about where you’ve been, your successes, failures, and shortcomings, where you surprised yourself and where you fell short of the mark. It helps to know where we’ve been to determine where we want to head moving forward.
 
Ask yourself where are you currently headed based on your actions and attitudes these past several months? Where would you like to be in 1 month, 6 months, 12 months? Think both big and small, across all the important areas of your life. Professional goals, relationship goals, fitness & health goals, financial & long-term planning goals. Be comprehensive and thorough in your approach if it is important to you.
 
While everyone’s values and priorities are unique, broadly speaking we all tend to share similar goals for ourselves. No matter what your goals are this coming year, our motto is the same: Work Fucking Harder. All you can control in any situation is your effort; put forth your best effort, stay the course, and good things will happen. Make a plan to kick ass this year, and execute that plan with a savage, ruthlessly efficient work ethic. I hope you took the weekend to get your mind right because the grind begins in full force on Monday morning whether you’re prepared or not.
 

The Fat Loss Highway

 
I’m a big fan of analogies. Many insights on training, diet, and lifestyle can be easily conveyed in the form of an analogy, story, or anecdote. Presenting what can be otherwise boring information in the form of a story tends to resonate with folks much more effectively than a specific coaching cue or piece of advice.
 
With that in mind, I want you to imagine the journey to fat loss as a car traveling down a highway. As we all know from experience, the more cars there are on the highway, the longer it takes to get to our destination, and likely the more frustrated we become during the process.
 
Unlike getting stuck driving in traffic, which is largely out of your control, you can control the “traffic” on your fat loss journey. Things such as your environmental stressors, sleep, and diet all increase congestion and can slow fat loss down to a crawl. When stress levels rise, regardless of the cause, the stress hormone cortisol rises as well. The end result: increased fat storage.
 
Eating inflammatory foods, sugar, and excessively restricting calories are all stressors as well and will increase fat loss “traffic”. Lack of restorative sleep (due to poor diet & stress) blunts our recovery processes, alters our will power as it pertains to food cravings. Lastly, your everyday life stressors, such as your job, financial issues, interpersonal relationships, commute, and light & noise pollution all increase traffic as well.
 
Simply exercising vigorously, or addressing diet, sleep, or stress levels individually is inadequate when it comes to reducing traffic in a meaningful. To truly move it in the direction of rapid, easy, fat loss one must take a multifaceted approach that covers each of these areas simultaneously. Certainly, starting with incremental change in one area, and building change over time is likely the best long-term strategy. However, it is imperative to realize that progress during this incremental change phase may be extremely slow. These changes are synergistic though, and will eventually yield massive change if the individual can stick through the hard work/minimal return phase. In reality, you are lying the foundation for health and setting into motion a flywheel that can transform your physique, wellness, and overall quality of life.