Learn to Adapt

 
By: Marcos Hernandez
 
March 17th – 20th I had a business trip in Quebec City. While it was exciting to see a new place and listen to French constantly, the timing was not ideal. The Crossfit Open is in full swing and I am less than one month out from a weightlifting competition. Needless to say, I would need to come up with a strategy to take advantage of the situation.
 
First, and most obviously, I took it as a chance to deload. I have been lifting heavy 5 days a week in addition to the crossfit open wods and metcons during the week. My hands have been a little beat up and after all the heavy deadlifts of 14.3, the deload came at a perfect time.
 
Second, I took it as a chance to work on areas of training normally not included. The treadmill and a lacrosse ball became my best friends. Steady state cardio (running) is not something I do often but I took this business trip as an opportunity to prepare for any soccer I will be playing in the spring. You can never have enough mobility so I searched for the tight spots before and after going for a run.
 
Lastly, I tried to find a gym where I could drop in. Luckily for me my friend in the company I was visiting happened to go to a “small gym, not very mainstream.” Turned out to be a powerlifting gym, Elite Function. I highly recommend stopping by if you ever go to QC. Staying true to my forced deload, I went in and did a light clean complex, some kb swings, goblet squats, and farmers carries. It was a great experience at a new gym and I got to watch some strong dudes pull some heavy weight.
 
The most important aspect to a lifetime of training is learning how to turn a negative into a positive. Hopefully all of you have a better understanding of my thought process when parts of life seem to get in the way.
 

Lessons in Success from the All Blacks

 
I came across an article recently about the New Zealand All Blacks Men’s Rugby Team, which discussed secrets to their unrivaled success. As a primer, the All Blacks are New Zealand’s premier National Rugby team. Rugby in New Zealand is like soccer in Brazil- it’s the national pastime and nobody does it like the Kiwi’s. As someone who is deeply interested in the habits and cultures of high achieving organizations and groups, I immediately recognized the carryover in their lessons to individuals like you and I.
 
Here are the 5 leadership lessons of the All Blacks, applied to us here at CFSS:
 
1. Sweep the Sheds
As my friend Jeff would say, “more humble athletes, please.” Personal humility and a willingness to learn and be coached are key virtues of the athlete. Hint: you don’t already have it all figured out; that’s why you’re here. Respect is earned through effort and consistency, plain and simple.
 
2. Follow the Spearhead
A corollary to rule #1: there is no “I” in “team.” CrossFit is an individual sport, but it takes a tribe to built a monster athlete. Camaraderie, competition, and shared adversity are some of the most powerful and transformative elements of CrossFit. You never know when you are going to be the one suffering through a tough workout in need of encouragement; proactively building up some good will would be a smart investment.
 
3. Champions Do Extra
Never allow yourself to be satisfied with your performance. Actively seek out your weaknesses, refine your technique, fine tune your body, seek out new methods, etc. Training, learning, and improving are not a destination, they are a continuous and ongoing process.
 
4. Keep a Blue Head
Is the glass half empty or half full? Are you excited at the prospect of improving your clean technique, or do you suck at Weightlifting and can’t possibly ever get better? Champions cultivate their mental game in addition to their physical abilities in order to dominate. Learn the power of visualization and positive self-talk / reinforcement among other strategies to help improve your performance in high pressure situations.
 
5. Leave the Jersey in a Better Place
Legacy matters. What kind of legacy and reputation do you want to be a part of? If you leave the gym for a year and come back, what kind of people and environment to want to train in when you return to CFSS? This a shared responsibility between us as coaches and you as athletes, but it all comes down to: working together, staying hungry and humble, and paying your knowledge and experience forward to the next wave of athletes.
 

Self-Taught

 
By: Marcus Taylor
 
All of the coaches here at CFSS enjoy teaching those that want to learn. We love to tear down the old Globo-gym notions of fitness and working out. Here we teach you guys how to train and to make strength and conditioning a part of your lifestyle. Pat yourself on the back for making that investment in yourself…we thank you for that because lots of people take the “easy way out” and attempt to teach themselves. WRONG MOVE
 
Yesterday evening, I taught a Kettlebell class at the Reebok Fithub in Georgetown. Beautiful store with all the gear any Crossfitter needs and wants. Anyway, when prepping the program for the class the Reebok Ambassador, Andrea Ferry, who setup the event told me “There’s SOOOO much interest in this class, its already at capacity”. This gave me the thought that there’s interest because people don’t know how to use the kettlebell…they have never been properly coached….they never sought out the training…they were “self-taught”.
 
I started the class with a brief intro of myself and told them of my purpose which was to educate them FIRST, keep them safe SECOND and LASTLY to give them a great workout. I just went over how to Squat (air and goblet), Swing, Push Press and Burpee. I have to give them credit because they listened as if I was giving million dollar stock trading tips. They killed the mini-WODs I gave them and they gave me lots of positive feedback afterwards. Most of the 27 people there (we capped it at 16 but others kept coming in) said that they used kettlebells in their gym or own one for home workouts. But that evening was the first time they actually learned from a professional on how utilize it properly….they were self-taught.
 
Being self-taught and high-level at whatever aspect of life is unique and reserved for the truly gifted. The Jimmy Hendrix’s and Fredick Douglass’ of the world are few and far between in history. For the rest of us if we want to learn how to play a guitar or to read we take music lessons and/or english from a teacher…a professional. Being self-taught or never listening to what your coach says can lead to terrible habits that are hard to break as well as possibly injuring yourself. Thank you guys for checking your egos, breaking away from the “self-taught” mentally, and allowing us…the professionals…to teach you.
 

Expectations vs. Reality

 
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.
 

YOU have got to want it

 
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.
 

Associations

 
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!
 

An Ounce of Prevention…

 
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.
 
Wrist Wraps
 
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.
wrist wraps
 
Knee Braces
 
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
knee sleeves
 
Calf Sleeves
 
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
calf sleeves
 
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!!!
 

Don’t Treat Your Body Like a Rental Car

 
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.
 

Reward Meal vs. Cheat Meal

 
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.
 

Delayed Gratification

 
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!