Time for a reality check, folks. Seemingly out of nowhere, the holiday season is finally upon us. These next 5 weeks are sure to be a blur, between Thanksgiving, holiday parties, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, and everything in between. One thing is for certain, this is an extremely hectic time of year for everyone. While I’m sure that isn’t a revelation for any of you, allow me to elaborate on what this means for your health and fitness.
December is traditionally the slowest month of the year for gyms, with CFSS being no exception. Why? In the hubbub of social gatherings, shopping, party planning, travel, etc., people have a tendency to throw their normal habits by the wayside. This is a huge mistake. We cannot afford major lapses in our training, especially during a time when you are guaranteed to be drinking and eating poor quality food at an alarming rate.
Here’s a few thoughts and strategies to optimize your journey through the Holiday season successfully. First- depending on your religious preferences, there are only a handful of actual ‘holidays’ to contend with this next month. Do not make the mistake of taking the cavalier stance of “it’s Thanksgiving/Christmas, I can eat whatever I want” and blanket apply it to the entire month of December. Weak-minded and weak-spirited people do that, and you aren’t weak1 are you?
Next, I want to keep training your ass off, business as usual between now and New Years. If you go on vacation during that stretch, take a few days off from training. Don’t train on Thanksgiving, Xmas, New Years. That’s several days off right there; you’re welcome. I’m sorry, but you don’t need a couple weeks off if you workout 3 days a week. You’re simply making excuses, and like butt-holes, we’ve all got ‘em, and they all stink.
I highly encourage you to avoid the common trap of snacking all day at the office because Betty decided to bake cookies for everyone because she was feeling festive. No thank you, I’ll enjoy my grilled chicken salad and being lean instead. You go to the CFSS holiday party, for example, and want to kick a few cold one’s back and eat some “paleo” desserts, go right ahead. This is a big 80/20 month if you will, in that you’re going to accept the fact that there’s going to be some deviations to your normal dietary and lifestyle routine this month, and that’s okay. And it’s okay because the rest of the year you don’t eat/drink/indulge like this and exhibit much better discipline in general.
Remember, by choosing to live a healthy, active lifestyle, and pursue you physical potential as human, you have moved above the malaise that most of our society lives in. I want you all to succeed where most others fail and avoid being a “resolutioner” come January 1st. CrossFitters have already got this whole sacrifice / delayed gratification / hard-work / goal setting thing figured out. Embrace not settling for average and finish 2013 with a flourish, not a whimper.
The more time you spend in the gym honing your physical abilities, the more you realize that there is a natural ebb and flow to things. There are times where you feel great, are excited to get into the gym, and have highly productive and intense training sessions. There are also times where your body seems to want to fight your every move, you feel week and sluggish, your motivation is in the toilet, and at best you’re punching the clock as far as intensity is concerned. Lastly, there are a many shades of average in between these two extremes.
What I’m here to tell you is that this is not only okay, it’s the norm. And as you progress down the line as an athlete in the strength/skill department, expect the ‘rainbows shooting out of your ass, PR’s every week’ workouts to disappear. The better you get, the slower and more incremental the progress. Additionally, the answer is not to push harder. You cannot ‘suck it up and train harder’ or push through a glaring technical deficiency. If there is a hole in your game, you must address it. This could most likely mean swallowing your pride, dropping the weight way down, and re-learning the fundamentals.
To the issue of simply ‘training harder,’ this also is necessarily the most prudent strategy. There are any number of factors that can diminish your physiological and psychological readiness to train (your physical & mental status if you will). This readiness too falls on a continuum from don’t workout today, to hit this WOD full tilt boogie, Froning style. Don’t see this as an excuse to never train hard unless you feel 100% (still waiting for that day to come), rather a recognition that you are human. On days you feel smoked, sleep deprived, etc., know that it is not only okay to slow it down and take it easy, that is the most prudent course of action in the long run.
“Objects at rest tend to stay at rest, and objects in motion tend to stay in motion.” – excerpted from Newton’s First Law of Motion.
Check out this great video by the folks over at Arc’Teryx. Think about different people in your life- we all know a few people that seem to be perpetually active and in motion, seemingly always working out, riding their bikes, going on adventures. Next, contrast that with someone you know who is the opposite of this (probably a lot easier to identify), someone who seemingly never works out and probably complains about how poorly they feel or how out of shape they are.
This concept of staying in motion dovetails nicely with a topic covered recently here on the blog: The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining. An active lifestyle is like a self-fullfiling prophecy. You seem to get more and more energy as you train regularly, play sports, and move often. The more energy you have, the more you want to move and so on and so on.
The difficulty here is of course our lifestyles. Simply put, most people have crappy lifestyles. We watch too much bad TV, fill our days with meaningless activities, and when we do get a free moment, need to take a nap or catch up on our lack of quality sleep. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone, as I found myself watching this video in the midst of catching up on a massive amount of waiting emails and unfinished projects the other day, with Rock Creek Park at my doorstep beckoning me to take a hike.
We aren’t going to unshackle ourselves from the minutiae of work and life overnight; we must make a concerted effort to get outdoors and amongst it more frequently, play more games and sports, and train often. Think about which pursuits are more likely to enrich your life, your health, and your sense of well-being.
This is the secret ingredient for being successful on heavy and maximal lifting attempts in the gym. First, establish proper (read: safe) technique. Second, develop consistency and efficiency with your technique. Third, learn how to channel your intensity and get angry at the barbell.
When I am coaching, I am not only watching your movement execution, I am also looking at your nonverbal cues and body language before, during, and after a lift. I can often tell if someone is going to miss or make a lift just by how they approach the barbell. When you are in uncharted, new-PR territory, it really comes down to your attitude and mental game. If the weight is within the realm of possibility, you need to approach the bar with a huge amount of confidence in yourself and your ability to succeed. Visualize the lift before you walk up and hit it. And when you do go pick that sucker off the ground, you better come correct: turn up the internal fire a few notches, dial in your focus, get angry, and put all that aggression into the task at hand.
Learning how to appropriately up and down-regulate your intensity in training, much like effective breathing, is an essential skill as an athlete. Everyone is different when it comes to internal and external displays of emotion, but it’s trainable skill nonetheless. When the time is right, know how to get yourself dialed and raring. Next time you are going for a big lift in the gym, stop being so passive and show me some intensity!
When it comes to training for improved athletic performance, or simply looking better naked, we are all unfortunately not on a level playing field. Your genetics, pedigree, somatype, and a host of other factors undoubtedly play a major part in your starting point and physical potential, but these factors are all predetermined at birth. Once you’re born, the only thing you can control is your effort and dedication in reaching your goals.
Keith Norris discusses this concept much more eloquently on his blog; here are some of my thoughts on the topic.
The gym is one of the last true meritocracies in modern society. As someone who makes his bones working, practically living, in a gym, I’ve got some perspective on this topic. In any gym I’ve ever worked or trained at, the people that are held in the highest esteem are those that simply put, have been there, done that, and are still doing it better than everyone else. It doesn’t matter what your occupation or social status is outside of the gym. Money and influence cannot buy a double bodyweight back squat, a 5-minute mile, 20 pull-ups, massive quads, or shredded midsection. Any fitness or physique goal worth chasing isn’t going to be achieved overnight. Do you have the discipline to put in meaningful work towards your goals for weeks, months, and years? Once you achieve a goal, are you satisfied with yourself, or are you going to reset your focus and find something new to chase? These distinctions are the dividing line between people who simply “work out”, often sporadically, and those people for whom fitness is a lifestyle.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am enamored with natural talent and innate ability. However, as a coach, I respect the hell out of effort. The legendary coach John Wooden said it best, “don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.” We’ve all got different ceilings athletically, but don’t let your perceived limits discourage you from chasing what you want. Most people barely even scratch the surface of their physical potential because they fail to grasp that you must have a long-term vision of yourself, which may take years to accomplish. There are no shortcuts in this game, just consistent hard work, methodically working through plateaus in training, enduring inevitable setbacks, and enjoying the journey.
I cannot stress enough the fact that you control your wellness, fitness, and body composition. Use those studs in the gym as motivation for where you want to be eventually, and as a source of information and guidance. Also recognize that they are not at their current level by coincidence or accident; they’ve made a conscious choice to prioritize their nutrition, sleep, and training, not allowing themselves to be victim of their ‘poor genetics’, a demanding job, or a bevy of other poor excuses.
Smart training is the “secret sauce” for getting ahead in sports against individuals that possess similar, if not greater skills and talent in a given sport. Training is also one of the best ways to develop self-confidence and a sense of empowerment that only comes from seeing the direct relationship between effort and results. This concept of putting in your time in the weight room is called ‘sweat equity’, and it simply cannot be bought. Ya gotta earn it!
By: Rachel Posell
All the recent buzz over the photo posted by a 38–week pregnant Crossfitter doing a snatch has made me think about the issue of exercise and pregnancy. The extreme and vitriolic responses, such as : “If anything happens to your baby due to your stupidity, I hope you’ll be able to handle your guilt. Pregnancy is NOT the time to be taking stupid risks.” “That can’t be safe” are unsettling and just downright mean.
One of my friends and fellow Crossfitters put it best: “In a country where gestational diabetes and high blood pressure is rampant, labor & delivery nurses having never witnessed a vaginal birth, yet losing the baby weight makes covers of magazines on a weekly basis, I’m outraged by the judgement. What happened to empowering women? What happened to the pro-choice voice? Never mind ever breaking the glass ceiling, we have other women to break our spirits before we ever get there.”
This begs the question: IS IT SAFE??? Of course you can get as many answers to this question as people you ask. I am not a doctor, so while I am NOT giving medical advice, I have had 3 children myself (the first a set of twins and the second born at the advanced maternal age of 41) the best advice I can give is the same thing I say to anyone, pregnant or not. Listen to your body, be true to yourself and be respectful of the work your body is doing. Common sense should prevail, and if you have none, seek the advice of your OB/GYN.
Pregnancy is not an illness, but ask any women who is or has been pregnant and she will tell you that you definitely feel the difference from early on. I worked out for the entirety of both of my pregnancies with the blessing of my OB/GYB (after firing the first one who told me I could “take an easy walk” for my exercise!) Did I squat heavy? No, but it sure felt heavy! I backed off considerably as the pregnancy went on and took more breaks. Did I do overhead squats? No, but I suck at overhead squats on a good day so that was an easy decision. I ran, I squatted, I pressed, I lunged, I did KB swings, the list goes on…
I think the well-respected Mayo clinic said it best: “Unless you’re experiencing serious complications, sitting around won’t help.”
“The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining” – John F. Kennedy
President Kennedy is clearly speaking to the importance of being proactive and long-sighted, as opposed to being reactionary and impulsive. While this quote is likely in regards to some aspect of foreign or domestic policy, the versatility of this quote really appeals to my philosophy as a coach.
The greatest irony of the fitness and fat loss game is the fact that the best way to get into shape is simply never getting out of shape, and the most effective cure for obesity is simply never becoming fat in the first place.
What we see time and time again is that it takes a remarkably small amount of effort to maintain a relatively solid, broad foundation of capacity (strength, conditioning, movement skills), and a significantly larger input to go from being sedentary back to a place of fitness. If you’ve ever been out of shape, whether returning from an injury or simply being lazy, think about those first couple of workouts back in the gym. How did you feel? Were you out of breath much sooner than expected? Find yourself challenged by tasks that used to be much easier? The answer is probably a resounding yes to all of these questions. This is why we preach the importance of consistency so often; even when you are crazy busy, find time for the gym. I don’t care if its once a week, you will feel exponentially better as a result. That one workout will also help serve as a bridge to the next block of time when you will be able to resume a more frequent training routine.
I’m not going to attempt to distill the nuance of a complex disease like obesity into something as simple as “just don’t ever get fat.” However, what I will say is that conditions and diseases like obesity, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, type-II diabetes, and the like can have long term health effects on an individual even in cases where they are reversed. When we are in the at-risk category for diabetes or already type-II, research has shown that irrevocable damage has been done to pancreatic beta cells, which are essential to the process of normal insulin secretion. Simply put, if our insulin doesn’t function properly, blood sugar stays in the blood steam and does not make it to the cells that require glucose as a fuel source. Chronically elevated blood glucose (hyperglycemia) can lead to a host of health complications including nerve damage, kidney damage, neurological impairment, and damage to the retina.
What this all means is when you become obese, many of your internal processes, including how we store and partition energy from the food we eat, can become radically different. You are not simply the same person +40 lbs of additional mass. This changing of metabolic processes, coupled with a lack of energy and ability to be active, make the task of leaning out and getting fit again doubly difficult. If you are fortunate enough to be at or near where you’d like to be from a body composition standpoint, try your hardest to maintain the lifestyle factors (diet, sleep, stress management) that will keep you there over the long haul.
“Practice does not make perfect. You will only improve if you practice efficiently. Being unaware of your inefficient movement patterns and insisting on increasing physical conditioning to improve your fitness level or work capacity by adding intensity and volume without ever addressing technical efficiency is not at all the most effective route to excellence. Repeating a mediocre or harmful movement pattern over and over will imprint an inefficient pattern in your neuromuscular system, leading to sustainable…inefficiency and even chronic injury. Unconscious incompetence can be very costly.” – Erwan LeCorre
While this quote is obviously about fitness, it has much broader applications when applied to the acquisition of any new skill, sport, activity, discipline, etc. Far too often do we simply go through the motions, with the belief that our repetitious effort will eventually lead to a magical breakthrough in ability. Take golf for example- how many people do you know that have been playing golf for 10, 15, 20+ years that are simply terrible? All these years of practice, and no noticeable improvement in their game. It comes down to the following: are you spending your time practicing the right things? do you how to practice the things you want to improve upon? Back to the golf example- let’s say that your goal is reduce your handicap, and so you dedicated 5 hours a week to working on your long drive ability, simply seeing how hard and far you can hit the ball off the tee. Unless you are Happy Gilmore, I doubt your handicap will decrease. Second, let’s say you have the perfect training blueprint mapped out, working on each club and facet of your game in systematic fashion, but you have a glaring and fundamental flaw in your swing. You’ve now spend hundreds, if not thousands of hours honing a swing that produces poor outcomes.
We need to learn how to move properly from the beginning of our training careers, and then focus our efforts on continually sharpening and improving these patterns. Seek to cultivate strength, fitness, and technique simultaneously for sustained progress. We want to build a car with a bigger, more powerful engine, but we also want it to be in proper alignment and as fuel efficient as possible so that it will hold up well in the long run.
Movement Efficiency: “the muscle, at the right time, with the appropriate amount of strength” – Shirley Sahrmann
The previous quote artfully describes the concept and importance of movement efficiency. You will commonly hear the movements we perform in CrossFit as functional, practical, essential, and the like. These are all accurate descriptors, however, just because a movement we are performing is natural, doesn’t mean we are performing it well or optimally.
Is it ideal to deadlift 400 lbs the same weight you deadlift 100 lbs? From a technique standpoint, you could easily make this argument. However, when we apply the full definition above, we should realize that performing these two lifts exactly the same way would be directly in opposition to the concept of “with the appropriate amount of strength.” Think of the first time (or possibly every time) you tried to do the kettlebell clean. The bell came flying up, then awkwardly came crashing down on your forearm, possibly leading to some unsightly bruising for the next few days. The same fundamental lack of control is present in this example as the last. Learning how to dial up and dial back the intensity is very much a learned skill.
Think of using the right muscle, at the right time as the proper sequencing of a movement. If you try to press overhead too soon on the ascent out of the squat in the thruster, the speed of the bar overhead will be greatly diminished. Similarly, if you attempt to squat by first bending your knees instead of pushing back at the hip, we will probably end up in a bad position, or experience discomfort or pain the a front of the knee from improper loading. The right muscle, at the right time is akin to a race car driver expertly shifting gears from 1st to 2nd to 3rd at precisely the right moment.
If we want to move more efficiently in the context of training, during a WOD, or out performing the tasks of everyday life, we need to learn how to properly sequence the actions of our muscles and limbs at a high level, while also being mindful of the physical demands of the movements we are performing. An efficient athlete will move with a sense of deliberate purpose, always doing things with an apparent ease, watching out for fatigue indicators so as to avoid breakdowns in their technique.
To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear. – Buddha
Typically, one of the first things that people discard during periods of peak stress, workload, significant life events, prolonged travel, etc., is their exercise and training routines. We need to think in terms of shades of gray, and not black and white when these things arise. When you are very ____ (busy/overworked/etc/), we should think in terms of simplification of our existing routines, and not elimination.
Yes, dropping your usual 4x per week gym routine will add a few additional hours to your week to get more things done, but those 4 hours in the gym have benefits that go above and beyond the hours you regain to do more “things.” Physical exertion is going to help reduce your stress levels, keep you healthy and feeling good, keep you mentally sharp and focused, and provide the energy you need to make it through a difficult life stretch.
A better way to handle these situations that life invariably throws at us is to ratchet back the frequency, volume, and intensity of our workouts. This could be something as simple as going from 4 to 2 training sessions per week. Or we could cut our workouts in half (if possible) from a time standpoint. Lastly, and probably most importantly, we need to know when our bodies are physiologically primed to be pushed, and when we need to be conservative. Hint: if you are considering dialing back / dropping training from your routine, this probably applies to you. Sometimes we just need to strive for maintenance of our current fitness level, and not undertake any audacious goals. Simply show up to the gym, put in a little effort, sweat out some frustration, and keep moving along. Eventually circumstances will probably change and allow a return to normalcy, but in the meantime always try to keep a semblance of the routine that keeps you healthy and happy.