I’ve been noticing a trend pop up in classes recently that I feel compelled to nip in the bud. That’s right, its time for some tough love folks. That trend I’m referring to is outward displays of disappointment and frustration during some of our recent barbell complex workouts. For the last several weeks, we’ve placed a programming emphasis on the hang power clean, and more recently included the push jerk. These are some of the most complex movement patterns you’re going to come across in training. What I need you all to understand is the following: the barbell snatch and clean & jerk are the only two exercises that are contested in the Olympic sport of Weightlifting. Like any other sport contested at the highest levels of athletic competition, the best athletes have made massive sacrifices and put in countless hours of sweat equity to reach their current levels of performance. While minimum proficiency levels (with say a PVC pipe or empty barbell) can be reached fairly quickly in an athlete with good body awareness and flexibility, developing real skill in this sport usually takes years of dedicated practice. From firsthand experience I can say that Weightlifting, while ultimately very rewarding, is a damn challenging pursuit that most lack the patience to stick with. As Dave Tate would say, simply moving from shit to suck in regards to performance could take years to achieve.
What does this mean for you, the athlete? Don’t get mad at yourself when you haven’t mastered the nuances of the jerk the first, 5th, 10th time you are exposed to it. These are complicated exercises that require speed, coordination, skill, timing, etc. I don’t want to see head shaking or negative self-talk taking place when you are learning an advanced exercise that is unfamiliar to you. Instead, embrace the process of getting better! Think about what you could have done better on a particular lift, and focus on improving the one specific area on your next go round. Do not expect to make linear improvements to your hang clean like you probably have in your front squat, deadlift, etc. Beginners are typically greatly limited by their technique, not by their strength and power. Keep honing your technique and allow time for progress to happen.
Here’s a personal anecdote for some perspective. On Monday I posted a video of 13-year-old Clarence Cummings doing a 135kg (297 lbs) power clean and jerk at a bodyweight of roughly 135 lbs. I’ve been seriously focused on weightlifting for a couple years now, I am fairly proficient technically, and this kid blows my best lifts out of the water. His last meet he snatched 112kg (245 lbs) and clean and jerked 136kg (300 lbs) at the youth nationals. My best lifts in the gym are a 102kg snatch and a 130kg clean and jerk, but I outweigh him by 60 lbs and, oh yeah, he’s 13! If we broaden the competitive pool and look at weightlifting at the international level, I would be highly competitive in the Women’s 53kg (117 lbs) weight class. Don’t even get me started on the men’s side, because you wouldn’t even believe what those guys are lifting.
My point with this is that as a beginner, you simply are not good enough or experienced enough to be disappointed. It’s understandable being frustrated with struggling, but its also irrational. If I started playing violin tomorrow, I should expect to be terrible at it. The only way to improve would be accepting the fact that improvement will be incremental and slow, but slow progress is still progress. Ratchet down your expectations, think long term, and recognize that somewhere, a small Chinese girl is literally warming up with your max. Once you accept that, focus on the one thing you actually can control: your own effort; everything else is simply noise.
I am in the business of motivation of and accountability. These are the two areas, above all else, that cause people to give CrossFit a shot (or any new coach/gym/training program for that matter).
Motivation (intrinsic) – what is the source of the fire in your belly to train? These are your goals and aspirations, no matter how trivial or superficial they may seem to others. What are you seeking to accomplish and how badly do you want to succeed?
Accountability (extrinsic) – who or what are your support structures to keep you on the path to your goals? The list is long here, but typically this comes from a coach, training partners, friends, family, or a future date of an important event (wedding/competition/reunion/etc.)
Having worked with a lot of folks over the past 5 years, I firmly believe that you can do so much as a coach. I’m your sensei for 1 hour a day a few days a week; the other 23 hours of the day, it’s on you. I can’t control what you eat or drink, when you sleep, whether or not you stretch and foam roll at home, etc., and I don’t want to. Nobody changes unless they have deep desire or motivation to do so, no matter how persuasive the speaker. I want to convey as much of my knowledge and expertise as I can to willing listeners who are ready to accept the message.
The genesis of this post was listening to the opinions of Robb Wolf (author and nutrition guru) and Christopher Sommer (USA Gymnastics national team coach) on this exact topic. Robb and Chris are two great coaches with a vastly more experience than I, and here’s there take on the matter.
“How do you get people to want to eat better? My only answer I’ve had with that, with basically about 15 years of coaching people is- I really have no idea. They’ve got to have some innate desire to do it. And no amount of cheerleading on my part I’ve found to be particularly effective for that.” – Robb Wolf
“People decide on their own level of success. If they’re serious, they’re going to find a way to make it happen. They are going to find the time, they are going to find the intensity, they are going to find the resources. If they’re not serious, there is no amount of handholding in the world that’s going to make that happen.” – Christopher Sommer
No matter what kind of goal we are talking about, the importance of genuine motivation is universal. If you want to succeed, find that compelling, sustainable source of willpower and the right environment to nurture your goals, add a healthy dose of hard work and consistency, and allow growth to take place.
One of the key features of how the human brain processes the massive amount of sensory input and data it receives on a daily basis is the concept of associations. Our brain “files” new information that we’ve read, heard, seen while we are asleep, so that we can then recall it in the future. Additionally, our minds seek to form links and associations between pre-existing knowledge and new information that may be connected in some way to things we already know.
While you may or may not find the science of the brain interesting, you might be asking yourself what does this have to do with working out? One of our biggest tasks as coaches is helping people create new associations in their brains when it comes to the proper mechanics of a particular lift or movement. For example, most people are familiar with the terms squat, lunge, push up, deadlift, press, and pull up when they walk in to the gym on day 1. However, and this cannot be overstated, your preconceived notion of what these exercises look like and how they should be done are probably vastly different than my associations of these exact same movements.
What accounts for this disparity between coach and athlete? There are several factors here, but the biggest two are knowledge and experience. By knowledge, we are talking about functional anatomy, exercise science, biomechanics, and a practical understanding of the optimal technique(s) used to performing an extremely wide variety of exercises.
Next is the issue of experience and expertise. It is a common mistake to confuse these two seemingly similar concepts. Experience is a necessary factor in cultivating expertise in any field, however it is not causative. Simply having experience does not confer expertise; deliberate practice of technique and continuing education in your field are what lead to mastery and expertise. So, when you come to me with 15 years of experience working out in various gyms, this does not mean you have any idea how to perform a proper squat, deadlift, or kettlebell swing.
This brings me back to my original point: as coaches, we must try to imprint or change your existing brain associations regarding what a perfect, safe, efficient deadlift looks like. In many cases, folks have simply never been taught the proper technique for various exercises, and have gotten by imitating the movement of others, or trying to pick up some tips and pointers on the internet or in fitness magazines. My goal is to create a uniform level of understanding regarding my expectations of how you should front squat, push press, box jump, row, etc., despite what you may have heard to the contrary. It is important to recognize that in any field there are huge knowledge and information gaps between professionals and your average person, and that there is a certain level of trust we must place in these professionals in order to access the expertise they’ve acquired over the years. Bottom line: think of your coaches as the fitness professionals we are and let us take the mystery out of getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by asking questions, listening, and taking our advice!
Just before Christmas I gave you a list of stylish workout items that’ll make you look good while aiding in your performance. NOW I will list the necessary “tools” that any weightlifter/crossfitter has in their toolbox. These tools will not only assist your performance in WODs but will help prevent injury.
Surprise folks….lifting heavy weight is HARD. Its mentally tough as well as being physically demanding. Whatever that doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. In the process of discovering strength you’ll get a few nicks and nags along the way, that’s common, that’s training, that’s life. However, you can avoid concern uncomforts and injuries.
These are INVALUABLE. One common phrase that I hear is “When I hold the bar that far back it really hurts my wrists”. In my head I’m thinking “suck it up, you’ll be alright” BUT being an ass doesn’t help anyone. To help with wrist pain from Presses, Thrusters and Front Squats PLEASE purchase a pair. They aid in support and stabilization for these movements and after while you’ll forget you even have them on. $12 from Rogue.
About 7 years ago I had MAJOR knee surgery (Complete tear of the ACL, partial tear of the PCL, tears in my meniscus and a broken/dislocated knee cap). After doing PT I thought that everything would be normal, I was mistaken. Every once and awhile I will “feel” it. I have wrapped my mind around the fact that my knee is always “recovering”. So to aid in it’s recovery, I always wear knee braces when squatting heavy weight or when doing explosive movements. They keep my knees warm and provide a lot of stability for the work I am demanding. If you’ve ever had any knee trauma or have had any sort of knee pain just buy a pair and wear them as a habit. Around $40-50 bucks
When deadlifting I see people starting the lift too far away from their shins. I can not stress enough the importance of keeping the bar on your legs for the entire lift. If the bar is just centimeters off it could cause serious injury to your lower back. The reason why people start so far away is because the bar hurts. In some gyms its almost a badge of honor to have bloody shins but that’s stupid and unsanitary. To avoid that I have to pat myself on the back with finding the solution. Yes, you could wear long socks but they don’t do much. I have found that neoprene calf sleeves are a much better answer. They are thicker than socks and give you the barrier you need protect you from the bar. About $13 per sleeve at any Modell’s or Sports Authority
Some people will think that these items are just more expenses to their growing Crossfit bill but they aren’t. These are important for your training in order to keep you training safely. I won’t advise you if I didn’t already have these in my toolbox. Lift heavy, look good!!!
I heard this line on the Joe Rogan Podcast recently, and it’s brilliant in its simplicity. When you stay in a hotel or drive a rental car, odds are you are probably not too concerned about keeping things pristine. You can throw the towels all over the floor, leave trash in the cup holders, and you probably aren’t too concerned about the door getting nicked in the parking lot because you bought the rental insurance.
Now contrast that with how you treat that brand new Acura sedan you just bought. I guarantee, at least early on, that you aren’t parking remotely close to another vehicle, weekly car washes will be a given, and nobody is riding around with you wearing muddy sneakers.
What’s the point of this drawn out analogy? From my experience, most people treat their bodies like total crap. They fuel themselves with cheeseburgers and snack food, live in a constant state of sleep deprivation, don’t exercise or move nearly enough, and generally act as if the body they are inhabiting can be traded in at some point for the 2014 model once they’ve abused it enough.
Here’s the thing: you’re only issued one set of functioning joints, muscles, organs, soft tissue, etc. Our bodies are designed to be incredibly resilient and put up with a lot of nonsense on our behalf, but its incumbent on you to make those gifts last as long as possible. We have yet to reach a point medically where we can replace our original hardware with after market parts that function anywhere near as well or as dynamically.
I’m not suggesting you treat your body like a temple or a Ferrari; rather, I’m in the camp of surfing legend Laird Hamilton, who equates his body to an old Chevy pick up truck. It’s meant to take a beating and keep on running, even if you sometimes throw some questionable fuel in the tank. Think about this concept next time you are standing in line for an hour waiting for a free sample at Georgetown Cupcake.
One could easily make the argument that the only difference between these two phrases is semantics. One takes an optimistic view, the other a pessimistic view. However, I would argue when it comes to nutrition and dieting, this distinction is huge.
Much of what we are trying to overcome when undertaking a new diet or dietary change (paleo / whole 30 anyone?) is rooted in the psychological. We are creatures of habit, with many beliefs and rituals that are ingrained over the years. Think about what you eat for breakfast for example. I would venture a guess that many of you have eaten the same thing for breakfast for years, never once stopping to question whether or not you could be eating something better, healthier, more optimal that kick start your day.
So back to the question of rewarding the positive, or embracing the negative. Dieting already has quite the negative connotation as it is; the term ‘cheat meal’ simply reinforces this stigma. Instead, lets choose the positive. Remember, you are fighting against years of inertia and routine here. Allow yourself a meal or two throughout the week where you deviate from the norm of your regular diet, and really enjoy that meal and what it signifies.
Now, like most things, reward meals fall on a continuum. You don’t get to reward yourself every evening for eating well by consuming a pint of ice cream (unless your name is Marcos). Keep the frequency fairly low; additionally, try to not go entirely off the deep end with the quantity and what you are consuming. 2 Donuts will probably scratch your itch just as well as 12 Donuts. Eat in a manner that still makes food enjoyable, and allows you to quickly bounce back to being a fat burning beast when you do decide to kick your heels up.
One of the reasons why I believe people so commonly fail to follow through on their fitness or fat loss goals is that it may take weeks, months, or even years to achieve said goal. There are a things worth considering here:
1) How realistic are your goals?
2) Do you have meaningful ways of measuring progress along the way to your goals?
3) Do you have short and medium term goals to keep you on the path to your long term goals?
4) What are your motivations for achieving success? How bad do you want it?
Meaningful goal aren’t accomplished overnight. You have to put in hours, days, weeks, months of sweat equity in the gym and in the kitchen if you want to see progress. People are impressed by the end product, the accolades, impressive performances, etc., but they are rarely privy to the hours of work put in to get to the top. Success individuals did not become so by coincidence.
The impetus for this blog post is the recently released end of season awards list by the Atlantic Coast Rugby League for the Fall 2013 Season. As some of you may know, I trained a group of University of Maryland Rugby players this summer here at CFSS. Of that group of athletes, I’m very proud to announce that 4 (Matias Cima, John Davis, Guy LoPresti, Matt Reilly) were selected to the All-ACRL First Team, which is a huge accomplishment. Additionally, Matias Cima was awarded Player of the Year honors for the second time in 4 years. All of this comes after a strong 2 place finish in league play, with tough losses to two top 15 nationally ranked squads.
These guys have been training with me here at the gym for the past 7 months, showing up every week looking to get better. In particular, we trained 3 days a week at 7 AM all summer long, a time when most College students are almost certainly asleep. As Bob Knight famously said, “most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win”. Think about that quote the next time you are considering missing a training session. When it comes time to perform on game day, the last you want to feel is the remorse that comes from being underprepared.
Congrats again fellas!
I’ve closely followed the Paleo movement for years, while also immersing myself in as much quality nutrition texts/blogs/podcasts as I could my hands while pursuing my growth as a coach and an athlete. Additionally, I spend my days helping people to achieve their fitness / fat loss / wellness goals. As such, I tend to be very critical of articles I read online, typically those found on mainstream media outlets, that seek to explain or simplify or rationalize the obesity epidemic in America. One such article was just sent my way written by an expert contributor for the Washington Post entitled, Five myths about obesity. In italics are a few of the comments I’ve taken issue with and would like to provide my commentary to.
Because restaurant meals usually have more calories than what we prepare at home, people who eat out more frequently have higher rates of obesity than those who eat out less.
As anyone who follows a paleo / primal diet or has undertaken Whole30 already knows, eating out is not antagonistic to fat loss or maintaining current weight and body fat levels. I often make the case that people generally tend to eat more nutritiously when they prepare their own meals, but it is not some unreasonable task to eat out and follow your normal eating habits. The bottom line is that Americans invest less time and money on their food than our parent’s generation or our counterparts in Western Europe today. However, I would consider this to be a correlative, not a causative factor of rising obesity trends.
Meanwhile, the food industry has developed tens of thousands of products with more calories per bite, as well as new, effective marketing strategies to encourage us to buy and consume more than necessary. We should blame these business practices, which are modifiable, for obesity rather than our genes, which are not.
Correct, obesity is not a genetic disease. Obesity is a lifestyle disease. There are certainly genetic predispositions in certain populations towards being leaner / heavier, however these effects are far outweighed by an individuals lifestyle choices (diet/sleep/exercise/stress management).
In regards to the issue of corporate marketing / product placement / pricing strategies, thinking you can somehow introduce regulations to make these business change their strategies in any meaningful way is terrible naïve. You are in control of the inputs you place in your body; you have no control over governmental food policy, agricultural subsidies, or how safe consumer products are sold in a free market.
The problem is not that we eat too much, but that we are too sedentary.
According to a study done by Australian scientists that studied 25 million children in the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia, “children around the world are less aerobically fit than their parents were as kids, a decline that researchers say could be setting them up for serious health problems once they’re grown up.”
To suggest that physical activity levels in children or adults are unchanged, or that they do not contribute to our current health crisis is simply preposterous. We know that exercise alone is not an effective long-term fat loss solution. However, the impact of instilling in the children the importance of being physically active throughout their lifetimes (beginning in PE class in grade school) cannot be overstated enough. Physical education is now voluntary in many schools around the country, if not outright eliminated due to education budget cuts. As far as useful life skills are concerned, it would not be a stretch to make the claim that health and physical education should be placed on equal footing with subjects such as history and science.
We can conquer obesity through better education about diet and nutrition.
Again, I call b.s. The fact that doctors and nurse practitioners have disproportionately high rates of obesity has no bearing on their ability to be effective messengers on preventative health strategies, such as dietary and lifestyle counseling. It is a known fact that shift work, common amongst nurses and many doctors, is a known carcinogen and massively disruptive and stressful on the human body. Massive, stressful workloads, performed at all hours of the day tend to significantly effect one’s blood sugar, cortisol levels, eating habits, and in turn, body composition.
While one may prefer taking medical advice from someone who appears healthy, it is simply a logical fallacy to think that their ability to follow said advice has an bearing on their actual clinical abilities.
Education can help, but what’s really needed is regulation — for example, limits on marketing that caters to our addiction to sugar and fat.
If you rely on the federal government for guidance on optimizing your health or your diet, you have placed yourself on the fast-track to diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and at an increased risk for heart disease, neurodegenerative disease, and early mortality. Sounds bad, right? I cannot emphasize this enough: the government doesn’t have the first clue about what an ideal diet is, and is entirely too corrupted by outside lobbyist and special interest groups to provide unbiased recommendations on the topic.
Additionally, limiting how companies market unhealthy products is equivalent to putting a bandaid on a gaping wound. The root issue has to do with our agricultural system, how we raise livestock, subsidy programs, massive food conglomerates, and unsustainable food production models. These are all complex, interdependent problems that will not be solved by something so simple as placing labels on cookies warning people that consuming said product make cause unwanted weight gain. For proof, just look at the ineffectiveness of warning labels on cigarettes.
Obesity is a complex disease, with roots that were unknowingly planted years ago by many different groups and policies whose impact are being felt in a major way today. I don’t propose to have all the answers, but people deserve better than oversimplified misinformation on the matter. Hopefully this post provided a bit more clarity on the subject.
By: Marcus Taylor
CrossFitting is both mentally and physically demanding. You are asking a lot of yourself to undergo this style of training. It’s both challenging and exciting to tap into your animal nature. Crossfitting allows your body to adapt to most stressors. One reaction to these stressors are developing calluses on your hands…I like to call them “natural gloves”. Let’s first understand exactly what a callus is and what they comes from. Webmd says “Calluses are areas of thick, hardened, dead skin. They form to protect the skin and structures under the skin from pressure, friction, and injury…Calluses on the hands of an active person are normal.” So from multiple kettlebell swings, barbell lifts, and pullups, you form these natural gloves because your body recognizes that you need them (the body is amazing).
However, when the callus gets too hard and untreated it’s more likely to rip open and your training is put on hold for at least a week. You can’t hold a barbell, bar or kettlebell properly and now that little rip causes some safety concerns for your training. You’re now thinking about the rip rather than focusing on the task at hand. The solution to this problem is in the prevention of the problem.
From my years of competitive kettlebell lifting, as a staple of my training I religiously used CORNHUSKERS LOTION. After a training session where my hands felt painfully raw, my use of this stuff allowed me to train another day. I have NEVER ripped my hands and I attribute that to my use of this magical concoction that actual old time cornhuskers would use. Somehow cornhuskers lotion softens your calluses without removing them. Which is exactly what you need if you are an avid husker of corn or crossfitter. You can purchase Cornhuskers Lotion at CVS for around 4bucks. Follow these steps for use:
Step 1: Wash hands thoroughly and immediately following an intense bar/kettlbell WOD
Step 2: Apply Cornhuskers Lotion to slightly dampened hands (this allows for the lotion to seep into your pores)
Step 3: Once hands dry, apply again
Step 4: If hands continue to feel raw, apply again
*Don’t apply to an open wound*
Cornhuskers Lotion has also been linked to help with a variety of skin issues as outlined in this article. I more than suggest using this product and making it a part of your training routine. Buy it, train hard, use it, rinse, wash, repeat. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – Ben Franklin.
“May you have the hindsight to know where you have been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.”
Goal setting is one of my favorite, and most oft discussed topics here on the blog. Seeing as though the end of 2013 is upon us, it seems only right that we take a look back at the year that was, while also taking a look ahead to 2014.
Before we discuss our strategies for goal setting in 2014, we must first take a moment to be introspective. How did you fare in 2013? Did you have any goals for yourself this past year, and if so, did you accomplish them? If you did not have any written goals for yourself in 2013, what were you able to accomplish professionally, personally, athletically, spiritually? Take some time and make a candid inventory of the things you achieved this past year in the various arenas of your life. Once you’ve done that, take some quality time to reflect on how you succeeded in each instance, the journey you took to that goal, and how it made you feel when you achieved.
One extremely common finding among top performers in sports, business, the arts, is that they have a hard time taking real satisfaction and enjoyment from their accomplishments. Often times they are so focused and obsessed with their craft, that the joy of winning is extremely short-lived in favor of planning and preparing for the next task or season ahead. In many cases the glory of victory leaves many feeling hollow or lost, as they now have the thing they’ve been chasing potentially for years. This is why we must embrace and enjoy the process of training, of working towards a goal; the spotlight will fade quickly, but the memories and hours spent behind the scenes are what we take with us.
“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” ― Otto von Bismarck
It is also valuable to write down where you fell short of the mark, as well as the reasons why. If we do not analyze our mistakes and find meaningful takeaways, we are bound to make them again. While their is real wisdom in the above quote, I disagree with somewhat. Personal experience tends to be a powerful teacher, presuming we are smart enough to see the folly of our ways, and also presuming the mistake does not have serious long term ramifications. There are many lessons I’ve learned as a coach, athlete, and business owner through failure and mistakes that have greatly enriched me, and I truly believe I wouldn’t have learned them any other way.
In part 2, we will tackle strategies for making 2014 your best year yet!