Category Archives: fitness

Ooops, I’m in the Wrong Class

Once upon a time, I was sitting in a University class and the professor walks in. He is known to be a stern teacher and not all that personable. He doesn’t even acknowledge us and starts writing on the board what appears to be very basic chemistry. He is writing about molarity and Avagadro’s number. The problem is, everyone in the class had signed up for something a lot more complex. Someone finally spoke up and asked, “Isn’t this supposed to by Physical Chemistry?” For those in the know, its likely the most difficult class you can take in the sciences. He kind of scoffed and looked angrily at us and began wiping off the board. Next thing you know, up go the differential equations and formulas for understanding the geometrics of a water molecule.

Kind of a different slant on this is when a beginner yogi walks into my Rocket Yoga classes. It happens almost once a week. The information sheet and website describe the classes, but I don’t think people usually read the descriptions. I mean, yoga is yoga right? [Wrong!] The description says that Rocket is a mish-mash of Ashtanga from all 6 series. And to the right column says it is “High Intensity”. So you think people would ask around.

We start out with 5 sun saluation A’s and 4-5 sun B’s. Chair pose and wide leg forward folds. Once we get into splits, they are already fully invested in the class. But then we start into much more difficult poses not to mention throwing in some forearm stands and handstands.

Now is when they say “What have I done?!!!”

But its too late to back out now. I can tell by even the most basic poses that they’ve never had an Ashtanga class. Even more accomplished yogis who are strong and flexible who haven’t been taught the style of Ashtanga show their different experiences. Its not wrong, its just not how we do it in Ashtanga.

And you know what? All of this is OK. They didn’t stumble into the wrong class. I tell everyone, do what you can do. If you need child’s pose, then by all means take it whenever you want. If you want to sit and watch when arm balances come up, go ahead. But please try if you can. I tell them to keep coming back. Maybe take some Ashtanga and other more intense classes to build strength and breath. Anyone can try Rocket and is welcome to come. I try my best to speak to every new face I see after class. Most often they don’t come back, but I’m hopeful they will try again. That’s all we can do is try our best.

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CrossFit Isn’t Unique

So if you do a workout that combines several exercises done at maximum effort, is that unique to CrossFit? Certainly not! It doesn’t make CrossFit special in the least.

When I wrestled in high school, it was very common to run sprint intervals doing pushups and sit-ups in between. We often ran a minute of loops on the mats and then pop out calisthenics or wrestling moves in between. We often did a hard set of burpees and then carried someone back and forth across the room. This exercise has been done for thousands of years (since wrestling is the oldest sport).

Then I entered the Army. Talk about high-intensity interval training. Run around the pit, do flutter kicks, run around the pit, do pushups, run around the pit… We did max pull-ups, max pushups, max sit-ups…as many as we could in 2 mins for each exercise. Yeah, CrossFit does that too. But this has been done for a couple hundred years. We run obstacle courses, do long marches with weight on our backs, and lots of intervals that shock your system. Talk to Navy Seals, Force Recon, Special Forces, Rangers, SAS, Spetsnaz,…they do it too. Nothing special.

So if its nothing special, then why do so many naysayers complain about it? I don’t have a clue. The ego does wonders to the human psyche.

Most of it is jealousy. People are like, why don’t I get filmed on ESPN or CBS Sports for doing supersets of back and chest workouts? Why don’t I make money off of bench pressing over twice my bodyweight? Its the haves and have nots. So classic.

Yet you don’t have to be a Green Beret or professional athlete to do this exercise. Anybody can do it. You don’t have to do what CrossFit.com freely publishes. You can do something similar. You don’t have to do the prescribed 225 pound deadlifts, you can lift a sack of potatoes instead. There is no excuse why you can’t do CrossFit. If you want to learn a specific skill, there is always someone who is able and willing to help. If you want to learn to Powerlift better, find that person. Olympic weightlifting, strongman, gymnastics, distance running, yoga, …find someone! There aren’t any excuses. And if you hate CrossFit, don’t call it that then. Just mimic what they do and call it something else. There is no need to hate anyone. We have enough hate in this world.

The Yoga Teacher’s Touch

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There are many people who are fine with doing yoga at home. Maybe its the schedule, price, or location of a local yoga studio that makes yoga inaccessible. But for those who can, having a registered teacher trained to adjust postures with a critical eye toward safety and improving your practice makes it invaluable in a class setting. When I take pictures of myself doing yoga, I can see where my shoulders are internally rotated or my alignment is off. A teacher can do things for you that you can’t see yourself. But there is so much more beyond that touch. It separates a yoga teacher in a studio from a mere fitness class or online instruction.

I’ve said this many times, but in old school India back in the beginnings of modern yoga, there weren’t dissections of anatomy, no skeletons as models; diagrams of muscles, tendons, and ligaments weren’t a part of the training. The founder of Ashtanga yoga, Pattabhi Jois, and other teachers would adjust yogis based on energy. They could see the flow of the body and have a feeling for adjustments based on each individual’s body. It takes years of experience to know exactly what touch is needed to make a beneficial adjustment. Improper adjustments or not being aware of limitations can lead to injury. I’ve been injured myself by yoga adjustments. It can be a thin line between being helpful and pushing too far.

But beyond alignment and posture itself, there is much more to a teacher’s touch. Sure, a good teacher can use verbal cues and not touch at all. In hot yoga, I’m the sweatiest person in class, and it made me self-conscious to make adjustments. I know I’ve even dripped on people and their mats. But we’re all hot & sweaty so most aren’t bothered at all by mutual grossness. Yoga  touch goes beyond moving bodies. Sometimes, it is assurance. It is comfort. I can go and touch a person doing  a seated forward fold and I immediately notice a change in their breath. They might tense for a second, then with an exhale fully lengthen into the pose. Sometimes I touch a knee in a warrior pose and it immediately moves and responds. I have very qualified teachers in my classes who I touch because they don’t get touched often in classes. It feels good that a teacher is aware of you and is there for you. It isn’t always a correction. Sometimes it is love and respect. Usually it is both.

Yoga is often viewed as self-therapy. But the interaction with a teacher and even fellow yogis makes it more of an experience. Savor the times when you get to touch and breathe with your teacher. It makes for a much deeper experience.

Vacation [Body] Weight

Ya know, if I’m on vacation, I’m going to live it up. We all should. Whatever we do that messes up an otherwise disciplined life, its really ok. We can fix it later.

Its kind of weird for me. I follow mostly a Warrior/Paleo/Flexible dieting kind of life. Don’t think it sounds dictatorial or anything. Its the easiest way for me to live. I’m really not at all hungry in the morning, which is greatly assisted by my love for coffee. By lunch-time, my mind is working on all cylinders and I’m in a flow. If I took a break, it would disrupt that robotic state of gettin things done! I stop the coffee and start drinking water after Noon. That keeps my belly full and detoxes the coffee. Admittedly, I get slightly hangry by 4 or 5pm, but that’s quite alright. I’ve been in ketosis all day up to that point, burning fat for energy. And when I finally eat, my stomach has shrunken to the point that it doesn’t take much to feel satiated. Then I may eat a snack before bed, like a yogurt or something.

Its easy for me to get back on track once I’m in my normal routine. Once my body gets rid of all that junk I ate, the weight falls off again. I feel light and very good about myself. And in the Summer, it is even easier since I can go for a couple runs in the heat and I’m quickly back down to weight. That’s what I’m working on now.

Its all good!

Bunch of Cheaters!

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There are a lot of anti-“insert name” people out there who don’t like anything the other side does. When you come from a place where you don’t know how the other half lives, you end up with a very narrow perspective in life.

Many of us were raised in an era where there wasn’t internet or YouTube. All we had were books and magazines. They were called “Muscle & Fitness”, “Flex”, and other descriptive names. They were our Bibles for learning our sports. In bodybuilding, we learned how to do everything strictly. You didn’t cheat your muscles by swinging a dumbbell up with your curls. You wanted continuous tension on the muscle.

Then you had powerlifting, which was often a big part of the bodybuilding discussion. You lowered the bar strictly to your chest in a bench press. You don’t bounce it off your chest or do partial reps. You needed full extension for it to count.

But these know-it-alls who spent all this time with their noses buried in the magazines often weren’t proficient in other sports. And if they didn’t know what they were talking about, they mocked and ridiculed other sports. They still do.

Take Olympic weightlifting for example. It is in compete juxtaposition to powerlifting and bodybuilding (neither of which are Olympic sports). The goal is not to get big muscles or to do an isolated movement in a single range of motion. Actually, there aren’t a lot of rules at all, even though most know that they are technically much more difficult movements. In both the snatch and clean & jerk, the goal is to take the bar from ground to overhead in full extension without pressing it out. That’s about it. Yeah, you can’t touch your knees to elbows or touch a body part to the ground other than your feet. But that’s it. Simple eh?

The truth is, most of these know-it-alls would say that it is a sport for Cheaters! And yes, it is 100% cheating. You use a hook grip, which is a cheat where you wrap your thumb along the bar and wrap your other fingers around. You pull the bar up only as high as it needs to be before pulling your body under. And guess what, they bounce (or oscillate) out of the squat to get to standing. Cheating? Absolutely! But that’s not the end of it. Then you bounce the weight on your shoulders before split squatting under it to get to full extension (the Dip & Drive). Its completely cheating. And this is what the average muscle head thinks when they write comments on YouTube. Yeah, they’re all the experts, haha!!

In other circles, we call it performance. The controversy when the Fosbury Flop first happened in the high jump. Total cheating. When you find ways to reach new heights, sometimes you have to cheat (aka, find better ways to move your body in space).

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In gymnastics, you soon learn how to kip to get above the bar. Its a skill little girls learn early on in their careers. Is it cheating? Yes, it is. But it gets you to where you need to be. Kipping is actually a thang. No, some crazy CrossFit’r didn’t invent it to make the masses of Planet Fitness gurus angry at them. But its the first thing you see in the comments. “That’s not a pull-up”. “They only do that because they are too weak to do a real pull-up”. “You’re turning off the activation in your lats. You’d get much more out of a strict pull-up”. Haha, so they say in the comments.

Yeah, you could do an Olympic clean & jerk strictly. It would look like this:

  1. Slowly deadlift the bar off the ground.
  2. Strictly curl the weight to your shoulders without any excess movement.
  3. Military press to full extension locking it out overhead with no knee bend.

But I guarantee they wouldn’t be lifting 233 kg like Ilya does (512 pounds for the know-it-alls). Instead of a brute force event, it turns into an art of speed and power. It becomes a study in kinesiology (body physics). It adds elastic and kinetic energy instead of just raw strength.

People who bash things like butterfly kipping pullups really aren’t aware of the goal. The goal is performance. If someone says, without any other assistance, hang at full extension and take your chin over the bar as many times as you can in two minutes, does it matter how you do it? The goal is to do it. So you do it as intellectually efficient as you possibly can. Its not done to make the YouTube know-it-all commenter happy. Performance is different from other aspects of sport and fitness.

Yes, you could keep your feet still and throw a discus. But you’re not going to throw it far. If your goal is to be stupid, then do that. I’d rather see Al Oerter spin his way to win an Olympic gold instead.

There is a place for momentum, speed, kinetics, and other cheating to get performance! And cheating is life. A strongman lifts an Atlas stone exactly how a mom would heave a bag of potatoes to a shelf. You’re not looking at strict movement in life. You do what is necessary to get the job done.

Don’t say “Don’t”

In yoga teaching, it is more positive to not use negative words. I often see in writing and sometimes hear the word “Don’t” being used. It is more affirming to use and instruct with positive words and phrases.

I was listening to a Barbell Shrugged podcast, which is what incites many of my thoughts lately. They were talking about more effective coaching. Olympic weightlifting can be very complex to teach. The human brain can only handle so many cues and make them effectively express in the body. So instead of saying 5 or 10 things at once, they encouraged coaches to focus on 1 or 2 cues and let the athlete work on those things specifically. What was also encouraged was to be direct with what you say. Instead of saying “don’t straighten your hips in the second position and don’t allow the weight to pull straight under you or away from your hips”, say “knees back, sweep the bar back”. I tend to use these kinds of cues for coaching a lot. Say what you want to say directly without all the extra fluff.

When I was an Army Drill Instructor, we were told to always start with the position of “attention”. This is where we find the most military bearing and sets the example for our soldiers that we train. But we also refrain from weak gestures, like pointing your finger with a bent elbow. Instead, extend your arm and point with fingers extended and joined like a knife. This shows more strength in leadership than a weaker posture. We refrain from having our hands in our pockets, slumping against a wall, or lazily slogging in a chair. But that is only physical. We learn that what you say in direct ways are important too. You say things directly and to the point. “Halt, get down, Incoming, 50 meters left!!!” That is what commands authority.

When I teach yoga, I’ve seen all variations of Rabbit Pose (sasangasana). So instead of cueing and correcting after the pose, I’ve found a better way to teach it. This usually follows a deep backbend, so I have them sit up on their knees and look at me. I say “feet flat, arms straight, grab your heels, top of your head (not) your forehead, lift your hips”. Oops, I said “not”. There’s a time and place I suppose. I demonstrate as I do this. Then, as they get into the pose, I say all of that again. Invariably, someone still loses their way. But its a good example of using direct cues when they have their heads down and can’t see you demonstrate.

I would recommend that yoga teachers, and other coaches and parents, learn to use positive, affirming words. People get numb to the word “don’t” if that’s all you say. Like “Billy, don’t hit your sister, don’t jump on the bed, don’t run with scissors”. Instead, we say (when teaching shoulder stand), “keep your head centered, walk your hands toward your shoulder blades, and extend your feet toward the ceiling”. You can easily positively affirm “keep your head stable looking up” instead of saying “don’t look side to side”.

In simplest terms, tell people what to DO. Use direct verbs like “extend, reach, fold, bind”. BE positive with the words you use.

When Yoga Class is Hoppin!

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Hot Yoga class last night was totally full. Yogis just kept streaming in and we kept squeezing for more space. I was so excited to teach.

This happened before with another class I taught. My last class was full and SO exciting, and then I left. It made me so sad. Its easy as a teacher to regret leaving and moving to other things. I’m feeling the same about a Saturday yoga class. I keep being tempted to say “nevermind” and keeping my same ole schedule.

But for me, hot yoga doesn’t make a lot of sense when its 100F degrees outside. Yeah, I could do it, but I don’t understand it. When it gets cool again in the Fall, I’ll try to pick it back up again. But I’ll leave the hot yoga for other teachers for now.

The energy I felt in class last night was amazing. Usually, in hot yoga, I don’t do a lot of adjustments just because I know some people are very aware of how sweaty they are and don’t like to be touched. But I went ahead and did it and received good feedback. Sometimes as a teacher, I’m hyper-aware of the class energy. When I was an Army Drill Instructor, I felt like I could see everything. If someone had a thread out of place, I could see it from across the bay. Last night was similar. I was able to spot if toes were slightly turned the wrong way. I had x-ray vision into spines that weren’t twisting properly. I saw the slightest lack of engagement in a thigh. I really love when I have that feeling as a teacher.

I think sometimes yogis want to just hide in a class. They don’t want to be seen and will drift to a far off corner. Maybe they are tired or simply unmotivated. Maybe they can do full expressions of poses, but are simply not feeling it. But what I want to do is bring up their energy and to make most of the time we have together. I want them to be changed people when they leave class. I want moods to go from dreary and lethargic to bright and energized. The truth is, the people closest to me are less obvious than those who are in the corner. I flock to the edges because I know those are who need the most help.

Yoga goes beyond poses. It goes beyond what we’re wearing and how we look. It delves into the mind. It eliminates comparison and judgment. We live on our yoga mats in the now. What happened before in the day doesn’t matter. And we aren’t commiserating about the future even one little bit. It is about being present in mind and body. Our Kundalini rises and we look down at our physical self as if we aren’t even there. That’s the essence of yoga.

Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind