Tag Archives: crossfit

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.

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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.

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.

Workout Update: My plan is working!

I told someone the other day, as you get older, you always have something going wrong with your body. One day its a shoulder, the next its a knee. You just never know. But I know some young folks who are the same way, so its not exclusive to aging.

Today, I have zero issues. I am so happy for that. Yeah, maybe I’m not admitting to a lingering thing here or there, but nothing comes to mind as far as injuries.

I attribute much to my current lifestyle. I am working out intuitively and “playing” a lot more. Here is what a common workout looks like for me:

CARDIO
I often start (sometimes finish) my workout with a Heartbreaker WOD (workout of the day). For me, its always 21-15-9 repetitions of a couplet or triplet. They usually have a bodyweight movement or cardio aspect included. Here is a list of common exercises:

Strictly cardio: run, row, ski-erg (all for calories)
Bodyweight stuff: box jump, jumprope double unders, burpees, pullups, pushups, situps
Other ideas: med ball slams, wall balls, thrusters, Romanian deadlifts

Example: 21 calorie ski-erg, 21 kettlebell swings, 15 ski, 15 swings, 9 ski, 9 swings

OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING
I listened to a podcast the other day and it rocked my world. Instead of following the common template of snatch work then clean & jerk work in the same day, you split the movements alternating every day (or session). So every other day I do one or the other type of movement. Here are some examples:

Snatch day: snatch (singles, doubles, …), pauses, hangs, presses, pulls, angel drops, Sots press, snatch balance, snatch from blocks, overhead squat, muscle snatch,…

Clean & Jerk day: c&j (1x, 2x, 3x,…), pauses, hangs, jerks, complexes, blocks,…

This has helped me spend more time on a movement and lets me do other things too.

ACCESSORY
This could include a CrossFit WOD. Or it could be a CrossFit skill to work on, like muscle ups, handstand pushups, pistols, etc… I may do Strongman, like yoke squats, farmer carries, or Atlas stone shoulders. Or it could be straight up BodyBuilding, which is becoming a favorite. The interesting thing about Bodybuilding is that it is done strictly with quality. It is opening up tightness and weakness that my other work doesn’t cover. And lastly, I may do powerlifting. I bench press at least once a week. Trap bar deadlifts is a staple of mine and I do this nearly daily. And squats are central to Olympic lifting.

PLAYING
Its good to live life outside of work and “working-out”. One of the central points in CrossFit is to play sports. It is what makes all the hard work functional. I often Hula Hoop as a warmup or just for fun. Belly hooping gets the heart going and makes you move in ways that opens your body. But also playing and dancing with the hoop in many ways is fun. I have a Pole, so I do some pole work often, which is fun and adds lots of strength and flexibility to the routine. Stand-up Paddle Boarding, running, biking, kayaking, slack-lining, yoga aerial swings and silks, and many other activities. And actually working outside, like trimming trees, mowing the lawn, building something, all uses muscles in different ways. And of course, I play yoga all the time. I teach yoga, I participate in online challenges, and I take as many classes that I can. It is central to all that I do. Self care with self massage or getting massages from a professional rounds it all out.

Be healthy and find what works for you. Maybe you don’t devote an hour or two every day, but maybe its 15 minutes of something that makes you feel good. Take the time to enjoy life.

To Rest or Not To Rest

samsthiti

That is the question.

I still hear the prevailing wisdom that says that you absolutely need to chill out and rest at regular intervals. As in, do nothing, sit, sleep, nada!

OK, I’m on board with that. But let me throw a few nuggets your way that may change your mind.

There is a lot we don’t know about rest, recovery, and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). If you think about it, there are several ways that we gain and grow from exercise. One is the predominant idea that if you get sore, you have broken your body down so much that when you heal, you’ll be stronger than before. Another idea is in creating physiological and mechanical efficiencies in your body. If you repeat a movement, like running, rowing, or lifting, your body builds neural frameworks that enable that to happen better. In addition, if it has a heart pumping element, then the heart is continually laying down new cells and those individual cells become more efficient at pumping blood. I believe this all to be true.

The latter case where you’ve had a neurological or physiological challenge that improves efficiency, its quite possible that less recovery is needed. There isn’t a structural component that needs to be “cleaned out”. But for the former, where it is possible that muscle breakdown has occurred, fibrin and collagen and healing lymphocytes are sent to the site of trauma and a more defined recovery needs to take place. Picture the arms that connect an old choo-choo train’s wheels to make them rotate. Each one of these arms is now clogged up with gunk, whether sludge, mud, or other debris. You can either sit and wait for the rain, wind, or other natural processes to wash the gunk away. Or, you can go in there and clean it up manually.

First of all, I’m a firm believer that sleep is the numero uno (#1) priority in recovery. You don’t get any bragging rights for sleeping less. If somebody tells you they function just fine with 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night, they are blowing smoke up your nether-regions. You need those repeated 90 minute cycles that lead to hormone growth producing REM sleep. Each cycle is progressively deeper and more effective. Without this, you’ll not grow or recover and you’ll likely end up sick and injured. Sleep, then nutrition, should be your first priorities. You can’t make hormones if you are not eating healthy fats, proteins, and carbs.

So back to the choo-choo train’s clogged levers. Old school exercisers and mothers around the world would tell you to rest (aka do nothing). In the old days, the doctor would put you in a cast and tell you not to move for weeks if you had broken something. Now, we know that leads to frozen shoulder types of ailments. Today, you can get a major hip replacement and the next day the doctor has you walking laps around the 5th floor of the hospital. Its a totally different mindset from what was previously thought.

ACTIVE RECOVERY should be your mantra today. If you feel sore from doing Murph (run 1 mile, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 air squats, run 1 mile for time), the answer is not to lay down for 3 days and let your body recover naturally. You need active recovery. That is, go for a walk, a run, get a massage, take an Epsom salt bath, or, heaven forbid, do a workout.

The massage and bath are passive ways to recover. But they are very effective in that kneading those muscle fibers clears out the junk around the muscles. It also moves the lymph, which doesn’t have its own circulatory pumping mechanism. Lymph is what carries all those T-helper cells and other healing hormones. It also carries the bad stuff away, the toxins and broken bits of tissue. All of this makes sense in old school recovery and shouldn’t be overlooked today.

What is a newer concept is the active recovery. OK, maybe not that new. We know that running, riding your bike, walking your dog, or swimming can all be effective tools to recovery. They are doing the same things as passive recovery. What many haven’t explored, however, is the idea of actually working out again. I mean, you just broke down the muscles, how can you possibly go back and do more? But its true.

When I wrestled as a kid, I was always sore. But somehow, we’d run, do some exercises, and get our bodies warm only to go back on the mat and work at 100% every day. In Ashtanga Yoga, the Primary Series is called the healing series. When someone was tired or sore, the founder Pattabhi Jois would say “You Do!” And somehow, you get on your mat and find yourself all better again. There is something to hopping back on the horse and getting stuff done. Its not a macho or boneheaded kind of thing. It is a matter of physiology and mechanical efficiency. You gotta clean out those levers of the Choo-Choo.

Olympic weightlifters train up to 2 long sessions a day for 6 days a week. And remember, they only have two primary movements, the snatch and clean & jerk. Runners often run every day. And a carpenter swings a hammer every day. Get your sleep, eat well, and try to workout often. Travis Mash, coach and record holding powerlifter, says that youngsters may do better to take a day off now and then. But as you age, he says that we should lower the intensity slightly and workout more often, like every day! This keeps us well-oiled and functioning at full capacity.

Sleep, eat, and keep moving EVERY day!

Pleasing to the Eye

franco-back

Tho beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I’ll happily give my two cents worth.

First, the picture. This is Franco Columbo. He grew up into bodybuilding with his dear friend, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both of their stories are incredible to read. Franco is from Sardinia, a large island off the coast of Italy. I’m not sure of all the languages he speaks, but definitely Italian, German, and English. He was an idol of mine partly because he was a short guy at 5’5″. He was a boxer and powerlifter. He also did strongman feats of strength, like bending steel bars and blowing up hot water bottles until they burst. Arnold convinced him to try bodybuilding and that’s what he is best known for. He was often competing against Arnold in the lightweight and heavyweight finals of Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe contests. He eventually came to America where he became a chiropractor. I imagine he could give a person a good crack of the back. Look at those lats!

The reason I post this is that a man’s back is a huge indicator of strength in a man. I think it goes largely unnoticed to the untrained eye. Many see strong forearms or biceps, or maybe thick neck and traps. But its the lats that show a lot for me. If you’re standing behind a man who “works” for a living in the line at Subway, you can clearly see the strong back. You know he’s swung a sledge and lifts heavy stuff all day long.

When I was still fairly new to CrossFit, I went to a level I trainer certification in Atlanta. The seminar trainers were talking up front with big whiteboards to write on and a tall plyometric box for demonstrations. When they demo’d the first movement, the squat, none other than Christmas Abbott took off her layers and jumped up on the box. Men, women, crickets,…everyone’s jaws dropped! Yeah, I’ve never seen a woman that fit before, at least not in real life. But a very close second was one of my primary trainers. He was like a mini-Franco Columbo. The CF Trainers wore these red t-shirts. I thought his shirt would burst at the seams from his thick lats. I couldn’t help but stare. He was only 5’5″ too, but he must have had an X-Large Men’s shirt on. You could tell he had been doing deadlifts, pullups, and lots of rows. You can’t help but notice a strong, thick back.

For women, what I notice most are thick rhomboids and traps. I once went kayaking with a fellow CrossFitter and now CF Coach. I was paddling behind her and I couldn’t help but notice how strong her upper back was. I see this in lady rock climbers and my yoga students as well. Characteristically, when a lady walks into CrossFit, the most difficult movements for her are pull-ups. Its just a fact of life. But with development, the lats and upper back get stronger. Its a totally different kind of fitness to be able to climb. And it shows well for women. It also improves posture, which is an unknown that we don’t readily notice. But it makes for a very statuesque woman who stands tall with her shoulders back and heart open.

It could go without saying that the glutes are the biggest and strongest muscle in the human body. But I’m saying it here. You can’t go living a strong life without a nice, strong booty. It is the primary lever in our bodies. You see dudes at the gym who only do bench press and curls. They are missing out on the REAL strength of squats and deadlifts. I would say they aren’t really strong even though they may bench 315 pounds. All these young guys walk around with baggy jeans with an empty butt. And since we lose muscle mass as we age, old dudes especially have notably skinny legs and butt. As an old dude myself, its what I prioritize in life. The butt should be #1 on everyone’s list. It leads to a long healthy life.

Build that strong booty and back. I promise you, your work won’t go unnoticed.

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.