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.
 

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.