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.
 

Hold Yourself To A Higher Standard

By: Marcos Hernandez

 
Improving movement quality is the name of the game in the gym. The goal is to maintain a high movement quality standard under both heavy loads and fatigue. Lifting progressively heavier weight allows for continued improvement in the basic movement patterns. Consider warm up attempts the time to practice perfecting the pattern.
 
Movement quality breaks down under fatigue. Continuing through a workout when the quality of movement is not what it should be ingrains bad patterns. Continued over reps and workouts, these bad movement patterns become the new normal, your default movement setting.
 
Quality of movement is improved by maintaining a higher standard. Remember, in the gym what matters is how well the movements are performed. Maintaining a higher standard lets the body be more efficient. That is the key to putting more weight on the bar and going faster during conditioning.
 

Make Time For What Is Important

By: Marcos Hernandez

 
Finding time in a busy schedule to train isn’t always easy. New appointments and commitments creep in and something has to get the axe. Working hard in a CrossFit class and potentially being sore the next day can seem daunting. It is important to stay stubborn and focused on the fitness goal.
 
Maybe afternoon classes are becoming a challenge to get to because of work, kids, traffic. The gym is open every day for 6AM classes every weekday. 6AM may seem early, but almost no one has a conflicting appointment that early, waking up and training ensures you get in your workout no matter how your day goes, and you’ll feel energized the rest of the day once you’re done. Feeling lethargic can also make it difficult to get to the gym. Doing work at 80% intensity is better than doing no work at all. A couple days in the gym, not going all out, might even provide an extra boost of energy to help tackle everything else you’ve got going on.
 
At the end of the day, decide what is important to you and make time for it, even if that means sacrifice. Consistent training produces hard earned results that speak for themselves.
 

You Are What You Eat!

 
Let’s take that concept a step further- you are what you eat, EATS! By now I think most health conscious folks (CrossFitters, for example) are well aware of the essential interplay that exist between diet and health, wellness, and longevity. As Hippocrates said, “let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
 
First, we must commit to sourcing our nutrition from meat, seafood, poultry, veggies, fruit, starchy roots & tubers, nuts, and seeds (Paleo for short). Once we’ve grasped and adapted this simple (not easy) framework, its time to take a closer look at the source of our food.
 
Fundamental to this concept of knowing where your food comes from is the precept that food is not a commodity. All apples, for example, are not created equally, nor do they have the same nutritional content. Some of the commonly used buzzwords to describe food quality are conventional vs. organic, grass fed vs. grain fed, pasture raised vs. industrial, etc.
 
These contrasting systems are complex and multifactorial topics, so we will stick to the basics when discussing them. Industrial farm operations utilize very different inputs and methods of production when producing produce, meat, etc. The primary objective is typically generating the largest yield of products at the lowest possible cost, very much an approach taken in a factory setting. Produce grown in a field sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, in soil full of artificial fertilizers, sprouting from a genetically modified seed just ain’t normal or natural.
 
As a general rule, food should be both nourishing to our bodies and to the natural environment it is grown in. Eat real, unprocessed, unadulterated crops- crops that aren’t tainted by chemicals or artificial enhancement. The seedy underbelly of GMO crops is the fact that we are finally starting to see the health ramifications 10-15 years after their initial introduction into the modern food system. We are also seeing the damage industrial monoculture farming practices have on soil health, the water supply, and the environment as a whole.
 
The same rules apply for our meat and seafood. There is a marked difference in wild caught fish from healthy populations than fish “grown” in spawning pools in captivity. When it comes to beef, eat cows that lived the natural life of a cow- roaming freely and grazing on grass in nice, verdant pasture. These animals tend to be much leaner, healthier, and their fat has a very favorable content and ratio of omega-3 (anti-inflammatory) to omega-6 fats. Grain fed feedlot cattle tend to be fat, sick, and diseased. They live in captivity and are constantly being pumped with antibiotics while also being fed an unnatural diet of corn by-products, grain, and sometimes even the parts of other cows! Unhealthy animals produce unhealthy meat, plain and simple.
 
Support your local farmer, farmers market, and food economy. Opt for food that is sourced locally and produce ethically and with care. Your body (and mind) will thank you for it.
 

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.