Movement Patterns > Tools

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
A common pitfall we routinely observe athletes falling into is the belief that there is something inherently magical about the barbell as a tool for getting stronger, as compared to the kettlebell, dumbbell, sandbag, etc. The logic goes roughly as such- I’ll spend a few weeks getting the basics down with these simpler tools so that I can prove I’m ready to graduate to the mythical barbell like all the rest of cool kids in the gym who have been training longer than me. Sound familiar? It should, because if you’ve spent any significant amount of time in the weight room, you’ve probably thought these exact thoughts. Maybe you are still currently trapped in this way of thinking.
There is nothing magical about a barbell. Nor is there anything magical about a kettlebell, dumbbell, sandbag, medicine ball, or any other piece of equipment in our gym. They are all tools with varying benefits, drawbacks, and degrees of utility. What’s crucial to understand as an athlete is that tools are always subordinate to movement patterns and training principles. Our express goal is to train all of the major human movement patters as frequently as possible, ideally with as much movement variety and diversity of stimulus as possible. If we accept the premise that squatting is important, we will then recognize that air squats, barbell front squats, kettlebell goblet squats, single leg squats, etc., are all equally valid and necessary means to help us accomplish our goal of squatting frequently.
Unless you are a strength athlete who competes in barbell based sports (weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman), there is no need to obsess over the barbell when it comes to performing strength work. The barbell will certainly allow for the greatest amount of weight to be lifted. However, we do not need massive weights, and the associated compression on our spine and stress on our joints and connective tissues in order to get very strong. Look at gymnasts for example – they hardly lift, if at all, and possess some of the strongest upper bodies and midlines imaginable. Additionally, absolute strength doesn’t correlate 1:1 with athleticism. If the strongest athlete in a given contest were always the best athlete, the NBA, MLB, NFL, etc. would be dominated by recreational powerlifters and weightlifters. The reality is that you need to be strong enough for your given sport or athletic pursuit in order to perform at a high level without getting hurt. Strong enough doesn’t equal as strong as possible.
Understand that every tool has a purpose, a role to play in our quest to help you build yourself into a more robust, resilient, well-rounded athlete. We choose the tools we use based on what will best help the athlete improve given their build, experience level, goals, limitations, strengths, etc. If you’re > 6’3”, chances are you’re probably going to deadlift with a trap bar or off blocks and not from the floor. If you’ve got a significant shoulder mobility asymmetry or strength imbalance, get ready for a steady diet of single arm presses until we resolve the issue. The tools are a means to help us move better and accomplish our goals; think of the tools as interchangeable and unimportant. A well-rounded athlete has mastery of all the tools in the weight room, not just the barbell. Look no further than this years CrossFit Games Regional events, which featured 0 barbell workouts, instead relying heavily on unilateral dumbbell based workouts. The most complete routinely spend time building and maintaining skill and capacity on the various implements we utilize. Lastly, a resilient athlete isn’t one heavy back squat away from a knee injury, or a max-effort deadlift away from 3 months of physical therapy, one 400 meter run away from plantar fasciitis.
When a coach tells you to perform a lift with one tool instead of another, it’s neither a punishment nor a regression, simply a better alternative for you at this time. The right to lift with a barbell is earned, not given. Once it is earned, however, always remind yourself that it is simply one of many tools in the arsenal to aid us in the path to getting better, fitter, and stronger.

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!

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.

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.

Choose Your Pain

“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment. ”Jim Rohn
Take a minute to re-read that quote and really think about its significance. One of the most common topics discussed on this blog is goal setting, as well as strategies for new habit formation, tips for improving your mindset, and overall mental toughness and resolve.
Everyone has goals for themselves, ways they could be better in all areas of their lives, and likely a long term vision of where they’d like to be one day. Let’s focus this concept on fitness and performance related goals specifically as they are easiest to quantify. Let’s say you play a sport, or have entered yourself in 10k race, CrossFit competition, or Weightlifting meet for example. Lets also presume you aren’t doing this “for fun” or for charity, and are actually invested in how well you perform.
You have 2 choices: train reasonably hard, eat reasonably well, get decent sleep, and achieve mediocre results. Leave not insignificant potential performance on the table by not optimizing all the variables clearly within your control. Then, when people ask about how your event went, tell them how you did while providing caveats and qualifiers, altering the narrative after the fact to make it sound like you were just doing it for the sake of doing it. We are all masters of rationalizing doing things half-assed, or providing excuses about how we could’ve done better if we wanted to if we had done x, y, and z.
The other choice is pretty simple, albeit not easy. This is the path of greatest resistance, the hard choices that separate the champions from the rest of the pack, who are destined to mediocrity. I’m talking about personal sacrifice of course; not skipping workouts, eating clean for extended periods of time, turning off the tv and going to bed early, missing happy hours and parties, and generally doing all the things that add up to provide massive advantage over your competition.
Here’s the cold, hard truth: losing sucks. Knowing you didn’t give your preparation your all is like a nagging itch you can’t scratch. Even the best at self-denial know deep down that only they are to blame for their sub-par results. Are you the kind of person who is content with being average, or squandering your potential? Whether you are an overachiever or an underachiever, consider the following quote from Muhammad Ali, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.”

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 Silent Killers

the silent killers
I came across the above picture in a restaurant awhile back depicting some of the major vices affecting the health and well being of the American public at the time. While I think the case can still easily be made against tobacco, booze, sugar, and salt as leading factors of many negative health outcomes, I’ve come up with my own more contemporary list inspired by this timeless cartoon.
1) Sitting
2) Sleep Deprivation
3) Stress
4) Grains & Sugar
Many smart individuals (me included) have been saying that sitting is the new smoking for quite some time now. While I do believe smoking is considerably worse for your health, sitting is inarguably disastrous for your long term mobility, posture, as well as cardiovascular disease. The more you sit, the less you exercise. The more you sit, the more you reinforce poor posture, tighten and shorten your hip flexors, and cultivate that ultra attractive hunchback look popularized by Quasimodo in the 19th century.
Sleep deprivation is one of my favorite things to discuss on the blog and with clients. Americans are chronically sleep deprived as a population, and the health implications are pervasively destructive. When you don’t sleep enough, your cognition and learning are negatively affected, your immunity is weakened, recovery from intense exercise is blunted, cellular repair and growth hormone release are diminished, and the list goes on. Sleep is essential to optimal function. Sleep 7+ hours minimum, non negotiable.
Stress, the real silent killer. Stress is hard to see and hard to measure. We know when we are under large amounts of stress, but we take it for granted. Evolutionarily speaking, humans are designed for bouts of extreme stress (very short duration), and extended bouts of low stress. Instead, most folks live in a realm of chronically high stress. This results in altered testosterone / estrogen production, excess body fat levels, sleep disturbance, excessive fatigue, and more. Know your stress triggers, and find productive ways to remove stressors from your life.
I’ve lumped grains and sugar together because they so commonly coexist in the same foods. I don’t care if you have a diagnosed wheat/gluten allergy or not, I have yet to meet a single individual who did not feel better, look better, perform better once they reduced/eliminated their grains consumption from their diets. Sugar and cereal grains will most definitely make you fat, sick, and die prematurely. Instead, lets focus on eating real food like high quality meat, seafood, fruits, veggies, starchy roots and tubers, nuts, and seeds instead.
These big 4 are not meant to be exclusive. There are obviously many other major contributors to the public health epidemics we currently face as a society. Are alcohol and smoking still a major problem in this country? Of course. I see this list as moving past some of the glaringly obvious issues / vices, and onto some of the factors than can easily be downplayed, but are becoming increasingly important as science and mainstream public awareness evolves and grows moving forward.

Prepare in Advance

One of the primary constraints we face as coaches is scarcity of time. We have a seemingly endless list of things we want to integrate into classes: movements and skills to practice and re-learn, mobility drills to try out, strength and accessory work to perform, conditioning to do, as well as dedicated core work, carries, and the list goes on. Did I mention we need to get all this done within a 1 hour timeframe?
Simply put, there isn’t nearly enough time to get it all done. However, we try to prioritize our training sessions to get as much done as possible given our limited time parameters. Here’s where your role as an athlete comes into play.
We NEED you to be more proactive as an athlete in your preparation and planning before, during, and after the WOD. Specifically, I want to talk about our expectations during class. First- get to the gym on time, dressed, and ready to train. If you are late (these things happen), get your butt in gear. This means no foam rolling- that’s what arriving early is for. Second, PAY ATTENTION when your coach is giving you the pre-WOD briefing. Now is the time to ask questions and start determining a) L1 or L2 b) what are my gear requirements? c) how much weight should I use? d) anything pertinent information my coach needs to know prior to the WOD starting?
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but the main thing we want you to start doing is being more proactive once you’ve finished your strength work during class. If we are doing a kb swing / double under / rowing workout, DO get out your ‘bell, rope, and start dropping down rowers (if reasonable) without being told to do so. We can always tell you to switch weights if you were a bit overzealous, but we’ll appreciate the initiative. If you find yourself standing around at any point with nothing to do, you aren’t being proactive.
Over time, our hope for you as an athlete is growth and better self-sufficiency. We’ve got a lot of athletes needs to attend to, logistics to deal with, and a host of other concerns. Help simplify these issues by making sure you personally are squared away and ready to go when it’s time for the 3,2,1, GO! command. Today’s workout is a great test of this request- if we are proactive and take initiative, we’ll have ample time; if we aren’t, somethings probably got to give from a programming standpoint. Take charge!

One Mission at a Time

Focus on one target, one mission, one goal at a time. Can you tackle multiple training, health, fat loss goals concurrently? Sure. Will you optimize your results/progress in any of these areas using this multi-tasking approach? Doubtful.
For example: Steve wants to put 30 lbs on his squat, train for a marathon, and get shredded for beach season all in the same 6 week timeframe.
Each one of these goals individually are perfectly acceptable pursuits. However, unless you are a CrossFit Games caliber athlete, I highly doubt all can be pursued simultaneously. All goals are constrained by the principle of scarcity; that of time, resources, recovery capacity, adaptation potential, etc., etc.
Instead of inundating your body with stressors, many of which are likely conflicting, put your effort into achieving one goal. If you want to get stronger, don’t cut into your finite energy and recovery stores going running 4x week or performing random bouts of conditioning that don’t directly relate to your training goals. If you want to lean out, keep a detailed food log, get 8 hrs of sleep nightly, lift some weights, and keep conditioning brief and intense.
Remember not to confuse activity with accomplishment. Avoid expending valuable effort on things that produce little or no positive return on effort. Allow yourself to be successful on one mission before undertaking your next endeavor.

Sleep: America’s BIGGEST Problem



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