Category Archives: crossfit

Yoga Did Miracles for my Back

Medical Article on Back Relief Through Yoga

When I had a mid-life crisis (joking) and turned to ultra-marathon running, the result was a lot of back pain. I don’t mean just pain as in, take a pain pill and go to sleep. It meant I couldn’t lean over to tie my own shoes. If I laid on the couch, it took about 10 minutes to figure out how to get back up. Sitting and standing from the toilet was quite a chore. Being afraid of walking my 20 pound little dog since spotting a squirrel and tugging would result in intense pain, me letting go of the leash, and not being able to chase her down. I had to operate my vehicle with my left foot instead of my right because of intense sciatic pain. It was the most terrible kind of pain you can imagine.

I went to the back clinic and they gave me cortisone shots directed by x-ray to put the needle in the right place. The right place was my L4-L5 disk that was degenerating. The doctor showed me the CT-Scan and said, “see how your disk looks? This is how we’ll all look when we are 70 years old, but yours is happening now.” I also had slight stenosis and considerable pinching to my nerves.

The first physical therapist was no help at all. He prescribed bed rest, laying forward on a pillow as long as I could, and ice. Well, I had already been doing that. Then I went to a real PT who helped me. She did Manual Release Therapy (MRT), lots of nice adjustments, but mostly her prescription were exercises. And this is KEY!!!

Our skeletal system, even with dense connective tissue, would fall into a clump without muscles. You can have fairly major deficiencies in joints and back, but overcome it largely with strong muscles.

So she had me doing exercises to work the little finger muscles that go along the spine. Let me tell you, being “strong” is not enough. I was powerlifting with deadlifts and squats over 400 pounds. But then I’d twist under the dashboard to change a fuse and my back would go out. I couldn’t do anything for weeks and it took months to recover. And this happened yearly. What I didn’t have was asymmetrical strength. Like the strength you have for wrestling and gymnastics. Or strength like doing one handed lifts and strongman movements. But the best strength of all is YOGA!

There are old texts, Sutras and such, that say that there are 80,000 to 80 million poses in yoga. So when people think they invent new ones, they are kidding themselves. Every movement of the body has been done. All these twists, balances, and holds in odd positions strengthens every possible movement in your body. It is good for any sport and any body. It is clearly what solved my back problems. And yes, I still have an episode every couple of years, but nothing like I had before.

Think of the vertebrae in your spine like any other joint in the body. It needs strong support with muscles in all directions. If it is allowed to shift side to side or pinch in one direction, your nerves will not be happy. Yoga helps prevent drastic shifting of your spine.

Yoga is the best solution. But it also helps to lift weights, do your Zumba or other fitness, and do sports. Doing deadlifts and squats are not enough since they are too symmetrical and are not done with breath (you hold your breath in competitive lifting). You need to add single sided exercises with breathing; like one-armed lifts and presses with a dumbbell. You need to do side-to-side work, like side planks, oblique raises, and leg ab/adduction. You need lunges and pistols. Asymmetrical sports are good too: golf, softball, basketball, tennis. Anything where you are throwing, kicking, and twisting.

People rag on CrossFit all the time, so forget I even said that (or embrace the idea). Variety is key. You can’t do the same thing over and over and expect yourself to grow. And it is absolutely necessary for back health. You need to do different things. Yes, you can specialize in a sport, but add a ton of assistance work. If you are a Powerlifter, its OK to try a clean & jerk or pull a heavy sled now and then. You might even try a pull-up or, heaven forbid, try yoga! It won’t kill you. Add routine deep tissue massage or other bodywork and some cardio and you have health!

Yoga just might save your life.

High Intensity doesn’t have to Kill You

sweat-angel

I’ve been a Competitive, Type-A person all my life. If I didn’t have a chance of winning, I didn’t bother trying. Its how I approached CrossFit for the first years I did it. I wanted to be the Top Dog; top of the leader board.

My stance has largely moderated mostly due to Yoga. Even when I did yoga, I was striving to achieve. I wanted to conquer all the poses. I would bludgeon myself into getting what I wanted often ending up in injury. But it was Yoga teacher training that changed all of that. I began to explore the more subtle, gentle, mindful aspects of the practice. It didn’t matter as much to me that I “got” a pose or not. Teacher says; teacher does. I also implore this in the students I teach. I always say, “We are all on a journey and where we are in that journey is just fine.” I mean that. This non-harming attitude should prevail in all of life. It leads to satisfaction, contentment, and feelings of self-worth.

As I apply this to CrossFit, I am starting to learn how this non-harming influence applies. You have to ask yourself, what is your intention for your workout (or yoga practice)? Is it to get your heart cranked up; to apply a technical movement with quality while tired; or to lift something heavy with good form in the midst of a good amount of discomfort. These are all qualities that sharpens the spear and makes you better. But, if 50 toes to bar or Heavy DT with 225 pounds only leads to injury and failure, why do it? We have to peel away the ego and meet the intention instead of padding our masculinity.

Here are a 5 tips to feeling successful in CrossFit:

  1. Focus on quality, near non-stop action in a 5 to 10 minute WOD (workout of the day); throw in a 20 minute Cindy now and then and keep moving.
  2. Forget Rx. Scale down as often as you can. Think in 3-6-9 rep ranges and move weight fast and hard. Do some 2 minute blitzes and 30 rep Grace workouts. Use less weight and keep it moving.
  3. Tabata workouts are our friends. If your intention is cardio, then these are perfect. Use “Tabata Songs” on Spotify and other places. You may do pushups, situps, kettlebell swings, double unders, or whatever. Its the perfect (scientific) solution.
  4. Mix up your sequence. Routine kills. Sometimes, do your WOD as a warm-up for an Olympic weightlifting session. Or add a heavy Powerlifting movement into an AMRAP (as many reps/rounds as possible). And anything Strongman is the ultimate CrossFit.
  5. Plan for success. Instead of feeling terrible after a workout, leave a little in the tank. Then you’ll be straining at the bit for more. Finish with a 1K Row or a run and you’ll feel just fine.

Leaving a little in the tank also means you aren’t hobbling with soreness for a week without working out or risking injury. You might find you can workout nearly every day if you want to. But you still get the benefits of strength and stamina that high-intensity workouts provide. Honestly, you don’t have to kill yourself to see progressively better results.

Learning To Fall

aikido

In yoga, we often start doing inversions like headstands and handstands against the wall. Many fear leaving the wall because they are afraid to fall. Some never leave it at all.

When I was wrestling in high school, we weren’t really allowed to throw each other, but it happened a lot. We fell on fairly soft mats so it wasn’t a big deal. It always looks worse than it feels. Later when I was in grad school, I started into Aikido at a dojo near my house. The floors were giving, but definitely not soft. You really had to learn how to fall properly so as to not injure yourself.

In early Aikido and in some traditions today in Japan, you begin with very humble beginnings. Quite often, you swept and cleaned the dojo for years before being allowed to practice. When you are finally allowed to practice, then you may spend a few years as the Uke.

Uke means “the one who receives”, or the one who takes the fall.
Nage is the thrower.

We first begin by doing low rolls from our knees both forward and backward. Then you do more awkward side rolls and what looks like Granby rolls from wrestling. Then you just lean and fall flat on your back, but you use a hard slap on the mat to dissipate your energy. You see this in the WWE Pro Wrestling. I always thought they did that just for show. Eventually, you take leaping rolls forward. Only after this are you prepared to meet a Nage who will throw you.

One lady Aikido Master was physically attacked in a parking lot at an airport. She reacted quickly and threw him into a car badly injuring him. She told the police she didn’t want to press charges because “it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t know how to take a fall.”

There is an art to falling. When you are riding a bike on roads or trails, you try to roll through a fall and not put out arms to brace yourself. Regardless, falling at 40 mph is no fun at all. In yoga classes, when teaching forearm stand, I often have yogis go to the back of their mat; put their forearms down; then tuck their chin and roll forward. If you do this several times, your fear of falling is greatly relieved. I once saw a young lady in a class (that I wasn’t teaching) trying forearm stand. She didn’t tuck her chin, landed on her head toward her forehead, and then went flat to her back knocking the wind out of her. She really hurt herself and curled up groaning. Believe me, a fall like that would probably scare a person into not trying ever again.

I would say everyone should practice tumbling rolls forward and back. Also do cartwheels, then turn the cartwheel into a round-off. You can practice this at the wall as well. This will greatly decrease your chance of injury when practicing inversions. In fact, I would always start with this first before ever trying headstands, handstands, or forearm stands.

Metaphor for life: Learn to Fall. When you start a business and it fails, learn how to recover. If you fall off your horse. Learn to get back on it again. When a child is learning to ride a bike, teach them its ok to fall. If your life is just roses and pretty ponies, you’ll never learn how to recover from hardship. A parent needs to know they can’t bubble wrap their kids for life. They need to challenge them to try when they are afraid. Everyone needs their own Basic Training Boot Camp┬áto life. Build your emotional skills. Face challenges. Go into something knowing you’ll likely fail. Learn that its OK to fall now and then. Its what makes you stronger.

I’m Not As Sore

As a yoga teacher, I continually have to consider my activities outside of teaching in order to demonstrate poses effectively. I have certain days and times plotted out to workout really hard. This usually involves heavy lifting and a CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) or two. Then I would have a few days to recover and allow the soreness to subside. I am no use to my students if my triceps cramp when I’m doing upward facing dog or my hammies seize during a forward fold.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and it makes me think about what I’m doing. Lately, I’ve felt the strength in my lifts has fallen. It all comes down to the squat for me. People like Travis Mash and Cory Gregory talk about squatting every day, and I’ve done that effectively in the past. So I’m back at it again. But its not only squats, its other exercises too.

Travis talks about younger athletes full of vigor and testosterone. They are able to get after it day in and day out. They still need a lot of rest and nutrition, but its easier for them to recover. For older athletes like myself, he actually says we should rest less, which is counter to current thinking. Instead, we need to do something every day. Maybe we don’t push the same intensity in a single workout, but we do heavy work every day. Its more about maintenance than actual growth.

My routine has really been working for me. I start with a warm-up, usually rowing, ski erging, or running. Then I go to squats. They may be back squats, front, overhead, Zercher, with chains, or any other variation. I don’t kill myself. I may do singles up to a max lift and stop. Or it may be a lighter weight for a set of 30. It may be a 5×5 of pause squats. The variations are endless. In between sets, I work on handstands and muscle ups on the rings. Then, I may do Olympic weightlifting or bodybuilding and try to finish with pulls, mostly with a trap bar.

The next day, I’m nicely toned but not really sore at all. I can jump right into it everyday. And I’m adapting to more volume each time. I’m learning I don’t have to kill myself and get sore all the time. Realistically, life gets busy at times and I take a mandatory rest day. But I don’t plan for rest days anymore. I just live instinctively. Try out this plan. But don’t sandbag your workouts. You can’t just go through the motions and expect to grow. You have to do the hard work.

Cindy

dsc_0380

She got me feeling all bent out of shape.

Cindy is a benchmark CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) that I haven’t done in a very long time. I don’t know why because its so simple and easy to set up. But it can also be just plain scary. Cindy is:

As many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of:
5 pullups
10 pushups
15 air squats

I am planning to do a long Hero WOD before Thanksgiving, so I wanted to do something that gets my mind in the right place. But now I’m totally sore from Cindy. I am teaching a yoga class tonight where I end up demonstrating a lot, so hopefully everything will be OK.

Also: I cooked two medium sized turkeys yesterday and froze the meat. I made two pie crusts too so my wife will finish those up today. But, my parents are not well right now so I don’t know if we’ll travel or not. We’ll see.

Enjoy your pre-Holiday my friends. Happy Thanksgiving!

Update: My current yoga practice

First, I’ll take you back to post-Rocket yoga training this past Spring when I was asked (er, required) to commit to a daily practice. It lasted through July when I was officially certified for Rocket Yoga teaching. I consider this a huge leap for me on top of my 200 hour teacher training. It was an awesome time of practicing my craft and setting an example (in my mind) for my students. When I would teach Rocket I could say to myself (and my class), “this is what I felt this morning when I did this practice.”

But now, I feel partially like a hypocrite. Its not that I’m not satisfied with my current practice, but I’m not setting a traditional example for my classes.

Since August, my practice has been a weight-loss journey. In the CrossFit world, where my life as a Venn Diagram overlaps, they would say weight means nothing. Its your body composition that matters. And for the most part, I believe this too. I would be perfectly happy carrying 200 pounds at 7% bodyfat on my short frame. But I’ve proven to myself, after losing 12 pounds, that I can do things now that I couldn’t do ever before. I’ve done transitions and binds that I’ve never done in yoga. I feel better about myself. And isn’t the feeling the most important part?

One main reason I bring this up is that I was 2 pounds from my goal. And instead of pushing for that 2 pounds, I let off and tried to let the last part happen naturally. Guess what? It didn’t work. I went 2 pounds the other way. So, like most men (military men especially), I sought to fix what’s broken. Here’s my plan:

5am – wake up – barefoot walk with dogs – run outside or on treadmill – heartbreaker cardio WOD (21-15-9 reps of couplet or triplet with row/ski for cals, double unders, box jumps, burpees, …)
6am – shower or Epsom salt bath, coffee, watch the news
7am – go to work
Noon – keep working, or go for a run if its nice, or maybe do some yoga
430pm – CrossFit WOD 5-15 mins, Olympic weightlifting, maybe bodybuilding and yoga
Evening – yoga wheel, restorative, or other prop; teach or go to yoga class

So, you notice that I don’t list “yoga practice” anywhere. I honestly don’t have a personal yoga practice. That’s not to say I don’t do things that are yoga related or contribute to my practice. Doing a load of dips or bench presses is like chaturanga, plank, or up dog. Toes to bar and sit-ups relate to navasana. And I feel strong in my yoga poses from all that I do. Handstands are nothing when I do numerous handstand pushups or clean & jerk well over 200 pounds. But some things suffer. Flexibility suffers. So I continue to work on that. I listen to my teachers when I take classes. And I try to demonstrate as much as I can in classes.

But I do need to commit more to my practice. It will start with dedicating at least one day a week to a full practice. Or at least going to an Ashtanga class. That’s what I’ll do. I promise.

 

The Correct Soreness

DSC_0004

It has taken me this long in my life to finally find the balance. When I was young, and even not so young, I thought I had to hammer my body into perfect shape through brutal means. I was doing the prescribed 100 reps of everything. I was running for 8 hours straight. I pushed the extremes…always. Even when I got into yoga. I always thought if I wasn’t sweaty and spent from Ashtanga or Power yoga, then it wasn’t worth my money to go to class.

It wasn’t until several years ago when I took yoga teacher training that I learned I could let go of my ego. And believe me, I had a huge one. It was all “Go Hard or Go Home” for me. I learned meditation. I learned the balance between Raja and Tamas to find the true center of happiness, Sattva. I found doing very hard, strenuous poses followed by Yin and Restorative poses brought you to bliss, or Samadhi. But this also bled over to CrossFit and my other pursuits. I stopped doing prescribed workouts and instead found my own way.

The key to CrossFit and high-intensity training is to find intensity over time. The time could be 2 minutes or 45 minutes. This was brought to light in the Olympics. I saw 200m sprinters completely exhausted after putting everything they had into their race. They were like top-fuel dragsters who put their bodies to the extreme. But you watch a 5K run and there is the same intensity. The same cup-full of energy is poured out more slowly, but the same effort is given overall.

When I went to the CrossFit Level 1 trainer course, they mentioned how intensity can’t be measured in sweat. One instructor said that in Atlanta with no air-conditioning in the gym, you can break into a full sweat just tying your shoes. Sweat doesn’t equal intensity. In some respects, I believe that soreness also is not a perfect indicator. Soreness is more linked to eccentric movement (lowering a weight or lengthening muscle). However, muscle soreness does indicate that you did something that caused micro-trauma to muscle tissue. So it does measure that aspect of working out pretty well.

The key to soreness for me is the right level of soreness. When I used to run ultra-marathons, it would take a full week for me to walk normally again, let alone run. It may take 2-4 weeks to find full recovery. I just listened to a podcast with Sara Sigmundsdottir, the CrossFit Games 2016 champion. She said it took 45 days to finally feel normal again after the Games. Extreme competition is admirable and its amazing to see what the body can do. But for most of us, that is way too much. As non-professionals, we need to live out our professional lives too.

I still vary the time periods from 2 to 45 minutes for my workouts. But most fall in the 5-10 minute range. I may do 2 to 4 different workouts of this nature in one session. If I’m doing strength or Olympic Weightlifting too, I may do a WOD as my warm-up for lifting. I may also tap into a 2 minute all out effort or Tabata Intervals (8 rounds of 20 second work and 10 secs rest). BTW, search for “Tabata Songs”. They are very useful for Tabatas. When I took high school physical fitness classes, they defined a mild soreness as being isotonic. It means that you have a nice tautness to your muscles as a result of exercise. You don’t have to kill yourself to get this feeling. But I believe you should feel something.

Here is an example from yesterday:
6 rounds for time
6 deadlift jumps with a trap bar with 111 pounds6 burpees
6 lat pulldowns on a cable machine

You don’t have to do 25, 50, or 100 reps of an exercise to feel the effect. To me, that is all about ego. If you want to grow and function in real life, let go of the ego. You’ll be nicely sore, fulfilled, and always ready for more.

On The Edge

merman pose

This morning, I did a hard CrossFit workout. People who dislike CrossFit always point out how form breaks down as you get tired. That seems to be the biggest detraction from this form of high-intensity exercise. Truth is, they always show a video of a beginner who is still in the process of learning proper movement patterns. Yeah, you could say maybe they shouldn’t be doing an Olympic clean & jerk in the first place. But the same could be said for a simple pushup or air squat. All of it is interconnected. What I have found is that mid-way through a workout (WOD), I find a few form glitches just because I’m trying to move faster. But as I get really tired, my form actually improves. A single 135# clean & jerk starts to look like an attempt at 245#. I get set, focus on my pulls, and focus on form. Its the only way you’ll get the weight up. So form degradation is really not happening.

This leads me to yoga. The other day, I taught a Rocket Yoga class. At the end of 5 sun salutation A’s (surya namaskar A) and 4 sun B’s, I had them jump right into a forearm stand (Pincha Mayurasana) for 10 breaths. Usually, when I have yogis do harder inversions and arm balances, I have them rest in child’s pose first. Then they can focus on form and putting strength where it needs it. But we jumped right into it.

This could be done for any technical movement. It might be a difficult yoga pose, a heavy weightlifting movement, walking a slackline, or posing on a Stand Up Paddleboard. It makes you reign in the chaos of your mind, forget the lactic acid in your muscles, and makes you focus hard on the task at hand. So, after my hard CrossFit WOD this morning, instead of laying on the floor and bragging about the sweat angel I made, maybe I should do a handstand or forearm stand. Maybe I should do a set of slow, deep squats. Or balance in Chair Pose on a Bosu Ball. Then, I’m not only training my body, I’m training my mind. It is a true test of focus.

(pictured: me in Merman pose, a man’s version of mermaid. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

Topside Squats

squat_heavy

My latest ideas come from listening to Mash Mafia podcasts with Travis Mash. They were talking about isometrics for powerlifting. For example, if you had two sets of pins in a power rack, you limit the upward progression like for a bench press. You don’t even need a lot of weight on the bar. You press against the pins and hold for a number of seconds. It simulates a max lift like no other. They were also talking about slow negatives, lowering the bar through a movement at a very heavy weight.

The one they got me to thinking was doing walk-outs on the squat with some astronomical weight. Feeling a very heavy weight on the bar and standing there for 10 or 20 seconds (or more) is quite an overload. Olympic weightlifters do this with jerk recoveries. They rack a bar so you are almost at full extension with arms overhead. You might start in a shallow split squat or power jerk position with your feet. Then you walk to lockout and hold as long as you can. It gets you accustomed to locking out heavy weight.

So here is my plan:
I have a goal weight that I want to squat. I’ll take my safety pins up as high as they will go on my rack. I’ll walk out with my goal weight and squat to the pins and push back up. I’ll probably only drop a few inches into my squat. But it will program my body to know what that kind of weight feels like. Over time, I hope that I can do 5-10 reps at that weight. Once I can do that, I’ll drop the pins another notch and go a little deeper. Eventually, I’ll take it all the way down to full depth and have my goal accomplished.

The hesitance I would have about this, which is why I’ve not done it before, is that your muscle memory would take away from squat depth and overall flexibility. So, to counter this, I’ll always finish with some A2G (ass-to-ground) squats for reps to make sure I don’t lose my depth. And, I’ll only do the topside squats one day a week. I’ll get the neuromuscular trauma and then allow for full recovery. Plus, I’ll still be doing Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit movements anyway, along with lots of yoga. So there is no fear of losing proper squat depth.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Perfect Male

crossfit body

Yikes! At first glance, no problem. At second glance, we probably shouldn’t be talking about what perfect is or trying to fit someone else’s standard. However, allow me to wander.

To meet the demands of performance in competition at the CrossFit Games, there IS a law of averages. Yeah, this sometimes goes out the window with outliers, but the average doesn’t lie. The average clean & jerk in 2015 was 318 pounds. So athletes have at least a 405 deadlift and usually much more. A 365 squat is also a likely minimum. But they also need to be able to run at least a 6 minute mile, do 100 pullups with a 20 pound weight vest, and row a half-marathon. If you’re too small, you won’t lift the weight. If you are too large, you’ll die in the longer events. So what is the perfect male body size for CrossFit competition?

In the 2016 Games, the average height of male athletes was 5 foot 9 inches at a bodyweight of 194 pounds. Consider Rich Froning is 5’9″ and 200#, he fits this well. Mat Fraser, the reigning champion, is 5’7″ and 190#. Rich Froning carries about 11% bodyfat. I would imagine that, due to the workload and need for stamina into 30-45 minute events, having bodyfat reserves is a good thing. Bodyfat also allows for good recovery and hormone production. It wouldn’t pay to have 6% bodyfat in performance athletics. So, I suspect a good number of male CF athletes fit this profile.

So this comes to me. I’m a Master’s male athlete. I consider myself short, but I fit the profile of a CF athlete at 5’7″ height. I weighed in this morning at 190#. However, I am 4-6% higher in bodyfat on average compared to top Games competitors. Also, everyone loses muscle mass as they age, so I could afford to be in the 175-185# range to optimally perform in CrossFit.

Despite all of this, what am I going to do? Ummm, nothing. Other than eating clean, getting nutritious food, meeting protein demands to keep muscle mass (which means strength), and drinking lot of water, I’ll keep at what I’m doing. I still have cheat foods (or reward foods), but I could probably cut back on those a bit. I don’t really need french fries with a meal. I don’t need 3 donuts when 2 would feel just right. We have to enjoy life, right? As long as I’m doing the hard work, varying what I do, exploring time domains from a few minutes to an hour, keeping up with massage and yoga, and doing a variety of sports, then I should be fine. We’ll see about the Games Open competition next year.