Category Archives: crossfit

Overdoing Warm-Ups

Is it possible to warm-up too much?

It was so funny when I ran ultra-marathons. They’d announce 5 minutes to start time and most people are still sitting in chairs or just gabbing with each other. These are usually trail races that extend past the normal 26.2 mile marathon. They last from 5 to 24 hours and beyond. The goal is to expend the least amount of energy possible for the long haul. So warming up is really a waste of energy.

During this time, I signed up for a 5K or two. It was hillarious because you’d see people running and sprinting all over the place. I mean, its a 5K right? I really think they ran a 5K before they even toed the starting line.

So is it possible to warm-up too much? I think it depends on what you are doing. For a very low-intensity exercise of extended time, your workout is basically your warm-up. Say you are on a rowing or elliptical machine. They are low impact so you can start slow and work into a sweat. There isn’t much worry at all about getting hurt. Well, unless you are a very out of shape person who has lived a very sedentary life. But that excludes most of us who are working out.

Now, picture a Top Fuel Eliminator dragster that is doing a quarter mile in under 5 seconds. It pays to have the engine up to full temperature. They also do an intense burnout to heat the tires before they go. This also tells you that your engine is ready. So for an Olympian doing a 100 meter running sprint, yeah they are going to do a serious warmup of movements and stretching. The wheels can come off so easily with that intensity. The same for a heavy CrossFit workout that includes heavy deadlifts. Or maybe a Strongman competition where intensity is through the roof. These are the times when you warm-up in a very precise way.

Just about the time I was getting ready for my CrossFit Trainer certification, I was watching a lot of videos and reading as much as I could. One video was a road tour with Spencer Hendel and James Hobart. They would visit CrossFit boxes and join in on a workout wherever they went. They were so funny because they called their most intense efforts as going HAM (Hard as a mother *censored*). They always seemed a bit tired since they were on the road a lot. So they often skipped a dedicated warm-up. They called it going JAGUAR. I love that term. They just jumped in and got down to business.

I used to go to a CrossFit box in town. The hour flow always went the same way. You do a warm-up, often a run, row, or calisthenics. This led to mobility that related directly to the Workout of the Day (WOD). And then a strength segment that was also related. At the end, you’d do the WOD. You’d be totally smoked and then go about your day.

The problem I had with this idea is often you were doing a benchmark workout where you wanted the best time you could get. Say you were doing Diane with heavy deadlifts and handstand pushups. But you already did deadlifts and handstand holds in the strength portion. Yeah, it warmed you up, but maybe it took a lot out of you too. Then you can’t go 100% in the WOD. If I were the coach, I would program a specific warmup to the WOD, and then go right to the WOD. Then you guarantee success for your athletes. It would be perfect to do a burnout session after with an EMOM or strength with deadlifts or presses overhead.

TBH, I go JAGUAR in most of my workouts. I don’t do any warmup at all. I might do a rep or two or something that relates. But otherwise I jump right in. A WOD is an amazing warmup for a strength portion. I often blow my wad so badly with strength, I wouldn’t have energy for a WOD at the end. Another way around a warm-up is to have a buy-in and buy-out. So as part of your WOD, you tack on a 1K row or 800m run or something before and after the AMRAP or couplet that you have prescribed. Then you have the best of all worlds. Sometimes, I even add the strength into the WOD. So if you do a Deadlift workout, it could look like this.

500m row buy-in
WOD 5 rounds for time:
deadlift 285 pounds x5 reps
20 burpees
20 situps
rest 1 min*
500m row buy-out

Then you have everything covered. And the little rest keeps your back safe during a heavy WOD.

So to answer the question, it is possible to warm-up too much. A majority of us doing fitness don’t need much of a warm-up. Maybe for some of the Top Fuel people out there, yeah, its smart to warm-up. But don’t overdo it to the point where you end up with poor performance.

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Let The Games Begin!

Part 1 of 3
I’m not signing up for the actual CrossFit Games Open this year like I’ve done in years past, but I do plan to do all the workouts on my own. What makes CrossFit different from many other fitness endeavors is that its a community. We all are doing the exact same workout. Its why I love Ashtanga Yoga too. Somewhere, someone is doing the exact same sequence I’m doing. So when I’m doing the CrossFit WOD and I’m struggling with something, I know there are thousands of others feeling the same struggle. I know I don’t have to feel pity on myself even though I’m doing this by myself. And, since years of teaching yoga, I’m not fraught with comparisons anymore. But I’d still like to know that my effort is comparable and that I’m on track with my fitness.

Part 2 of 3
Since I am a Master’s athlete, I am strongly considering doing the Festivus Games (for real). I honestly struggle with some CrossFit movements, so actual competitions would be difficult. But this is made for the novice-intermediate athlete. And I’m sure I could work with the Rx weights and movements of the intermediate athlete, I’ll probably do the Master’s options. Yes, I can do lot of pullups, but I’m not going to be shy with only doing ring rows. Being a yogi means that I’m OK with whatever I do. No judgement, no self harm.

Part 3 of 3
I am signed up for the Wanderlust event in Chicago this May. I used to be an ultramarathoner. Going out for a 6 hour training run wasn’t a big deal at all. And a 50K race was my jam! But injuries started to creep in to where it was difficult to run a half mile without my calf going haywire. In the old days, a 5K was a warm-up for something bigger. Now, that’s going to be my race. But you know what? Even in the little things, we should strive to do well. So I’m using the Festivus Games training as my training for this race. I can shift to more specific running in the few weeks prior. My muscles and heart will be strong already.

So that’s my plan and should keep me occupied until Summer. Then I’ll be ready for swimsuit season — haha!!!

Oh Not That Again!

crossfit hspu

I had a back injury (non-CrossFit) that kept me from working out late last Summer. Then I did my own rehab for about a month. When I felt I could start taking a load again, I went back to CrossFit. I started with the daily CrossFit.com WODs and eventually shifted to my own programming. Then the holidays kind of derailed all my good intentions. I ate a lot and sat in a car for hours to and from family visits across the country. Good habits can be broken.

So at the New Year, like most people, I vowed to make some changes. I don’t do resolutions because I think resolutions are made to be broken. I wanted to get back to a strong deadlift. And I wanted to make some body changes. So I start programming for those things. Lots of powerlifting and bodybuilding were thrown into the mix. And just because I know I need to control my bodyweight, I did some cardio as well. I was rowing, ski erging, and running. But all of that gets very boring. I started skipping workouts. I didn’t have time to get through all I wanted to get through and then would just not do it. It just wasn’t working.

So last night, I look at my sheet that has all my tasks for the day; the same things I’ve been doing since the New Year. I glared at my sheet and threw it in the trash. I programmed a triplet of trap bar deadlifts, dips, and wallballs. Nothing crazy, just something simple. Three rounds only took me 4:50, but it gave me that air sucking, nerves tingling into my fingers and toes, wanna lay down and die kinda feeling. But when the waves of pain goes away, you know you’ve done something. It combined all the things I had been doing for an hour into 5 minutes. Did you hear that? 5 minutes!!! That’s not all I did, but that’s all I had to do. I’m lightly sore this morning and its all good.

The key is: do a little warmup (something fun: I do hula hooping, pole dancing, trampoline hopping, BOSU ball balances). Then set up a wod. Make it something DO-able. Don’t make it crazy. Maybe add a moderately heavy movement and a bodyweight movement. Optionally add a cardio component like box jumps, burpees, or double unders. Then that’s all you have to do!! If you feel you have more energy, do some heavy work or bodybuilding. Olympic weightlifting is my Go-To since its mostly concentric (i.e., it doesn’t make you so sore). But the Oly’s also test mobility, balance, speed, and power. That’s it. Just do the WOD if you don’t have time. Then you’ve already done a lot!

I’m back baby!!

 

 

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.

Bunch of Cheaters!

ilya

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).

kip4

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.

Music for Yoga: Part Deux

I was doing CrossFit for a few years before I first went to a local CrossFit Box. We did the warm-up, strength work, and got ready for the WOD (workout of the day). What is interesting is how your adrenaline begins to pump when you see the workout on the white board and you strategize how it will go. You want to do your best and get the best score you can. What really cranks it up is when the coach announces “10 SECONDS!” The timer starts to beep and you step up to the bar. At 3-2-1 GO, the music is turned up loud. Its some hard-charging jam that makes your blood pump out of your chest. Its such an amazing feeling.

The Box where I was going had fairly conservative owners that I had a lot of connections with. While I had harder tastes in music, I still don’t enjoy lyrics that go into unnecessary violence and vulgarity. So this gym (Box) played energetic music, but nothing very hard. At least not as hard as I like.

I decided to get my CrossFit Level I certificate, so I travelled to Atlanta and stayed with my sister-in-law’s family. The training went well and we learned a lot. What I didn’t expect was that the CrossFit trainers always did their own WOD over lunch. We were all sitting down eating our lunches and gathered to watch. It was hot and muggy in Atlanta, so they were unabashed about stripping down to briefs and sports bra. I mean, it was Christmas Abbott and some hugely buff dudes. What was most interesting was their choice in music. And they cranked it up really loud! It was so different from my home Box. It changed my view on what hard really was. And these people went deep into the pain cave. I’ve never seen with my own eyes that kind of intensity. It went right along with their music. Loud and hard!!

Not long after, I volunteered to be a Judge and worker for the CrossFit Games Regional event in Chicago. That intensity I saw in Atlanta was equaled at this event. I mean, they had a professional DJ slamming the jams left and right. It pumped up the crowd as well as the competitors. My own music playlist completely changed after that. I made sure I set myself up with success during my own workouts. I was so amazed by the feeling I had watching those competitors slay their workouts. And the music was about 40% of the excitement. It was huge!

For most of yoga, that kind of intensity isn’t all that congruent with hard music. But for some classes, like Rocket Yoga, it totally fits. It was based on hard, classic rock. In my Hot Yoga classes, I’ve made playlists primarily with techno, EDM, and hard Pop styles.  While its about yoga and not the music, the music can add a lot to what’s going on. In fact, for Rocket Yoga, I have 4 playlists that I choose from to make up a class:

  • Rocket Launch – an intro while first starting up that slowly builds and sets the mood.
  • Rocket Heating – hard driving beats that charge up the energy.
  • Rocket Cooling – milder tunes that fit with seated poses and an introspective mood.
  • Rocket Landing – very calm and mellow sounds that you’d use for meditation or sleep.

For the most part, I don’t even want people to realize the nuances of what the music does for them. I want it to meld into the entire experience of the class. Just like the dimming of lights and calming of my voice toward the end of class. It should be a natural progression toward a peaceful savasana. Its an intense experience of release that rids the chaos from the mind, lengthens and soothes the body, until they arrive at a peaceful existence. Music adds greatly to honing this atmosphere. Feel it and love it.