Friday, 29 January 2010

Why we like weighing and measuring.

We like weighing and measuring our food. Not necessarily the Zone: we like weighing and measuring our food.

The Zone is 30% protein/30% fat/40% carbohydrate. By Barry Sears' own admission, this is merely a ratio that sits at the top of the bell curve. It's a good starting point, but it won't work for everyone. Robb Wolf said it best: "there is no magic ratio."

But we still like weighing and measuring. Not necessarily the Zone: weighing and measuring.

Lately it seems weighing and measuring and The Zone are perceived as one and the same. But Barry Sears didn't invent weighing and measuring. He invented the block method, which is our favorite thing about the Zone: it makes it a whole lot easier to weigh and measure our food. Blocks are easier than grams, particularly for those of us who are not so mathematically inclined (i.e., Jacob.)

We're big fans of Paleo eating. Quality is important. We see Paleo as the nutritional equivalent of the deadlift, squat, clean & jerk, running, pullup, etc...high quality movements that you need to be performing. But you want to know how much weight is on the bar, how long it took you to run 400m, or how many pullups you did, right?

Nutrition is no different. In order to achieve optimal output, we've got to measure the input, and then adjust accordingly.

Should you weigh and measure every meal every day forever? In a perfect world, yes. But it most likely won't happen, and that's fine. People are too busy, and except for the occasional super Type-A individual, the benefit of having every meal perfectly weighed and measured is not equal to the cost. The suggestion I usually offer to my athletes is this: When starting, weigh and measure for one month. After that, weigh and measure one or two meals each day to keep your "calibration." This allows you to weigh and measure the meals you eat when you're at home and have time to be precise without stressing out.

Once you're used to weighing and measuring, it's time to tweak. Play with lower carbs/higher fat, post WOD nutrition strategies, etc. Record the results, and with time, you'll find your optimal ratio.

If you can't seem to get it just right, don't fear. There are professionals who can do it for you at a pretty reasonable price. I'm doing this now, with Steve from Primitive Foods (who I stole this posts picture from, by the way.)

Post thoughts to comments. If you have recommendations for other meal planning services you've had a positive experience with, post those to comments as well.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Questions For Melissa Urban

Here at Evolve Your Fitness, our sole commitment is to performance data, not to any particular method of training, eating, or recovery. Our mission is to spread data-based fitness training to the world. Unfortunately for our free time, very few people are receptive to our way of thinking. It sometimes feels like running uphilll, in sand.

A little while back, we had a brief exchange with Melissa Urban of CrossFit Whole9 in the comments section of her blog. After a few posts, we still had a few questions for her, but we didn't want to hijack the thread, so Jacob contacted her privately. He never received a reply. We're hoping this post will yield better results.

The Claim: Ms.Urban claims that she trains her athletes to be more capable for "real life," not to be better CrossFitters, and that prioritizing strength is part of this. Kipping muscle-ups and ring dips don't count, strict pullups are superior to kipping, and a structured barbell strength program is necessary.

The Question: Upon what data has Ms.Urban made the assumption that strength is more important than any of the other 10 components of fitness for "real life?" Why is kipping not as valuable as the ability to pull or push with the upper body alone? We agree that strength development – from strict pullups and muscle-ups to increasing your 1 rep max back squat – is important to general fitness, and to real life, but why is strength more important than cardiorespiratory endurance, stamina, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, or accuracy?

The Claim: Based on Ms.Urban's belief that strength development is the most important component of fitness, and her programming, which is vastly different from generalized (i.e. non-biased) CrossFit programming, we can safely infer that Ms.Urban believes programming is insufficient for strength development.

The Question: Why? Russ and I have both made tremendous strength gains solely on mainsite and mainsite style programming. So have our athletes, and apparently plenty of others. We're still waiting for someone to provide us with contradicting data. If Ms.Urban has such data, we'd very much like to see it.

The Claim: Ms.Urban openly states that she does not train people to be fitter by CrossFit's standards, nor does she use CrossFit's exercise methodology with her clients. Yet, for some reason, Ms. Urban owns a CrossFit affiliate.

The Question: Why does Ms. Urban affiliate herself with an organization whose goal she does not share and whose methods she does not employ?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Coach's Checklist: Questions you should be regularly asking your athletes.

In order to be as effective a coach as possible, you're going to have to know some things about your athletes. This isn't a comprehensive list: each athlete will be unique and will require more and different information. However, these are some questions you should be asking all the time.

1) How are you feeling?
Deliberately leave this question open ended. Don't create conditions like "how are you feeling physically?" Let the athlete answer with whatever is on the top of his head. If he wants to talk about his knee hurting or how stoked he is about his new 1RM deadlift, great. On the other hand, if he wants to talk about stress from work or his recent promotion, that works too. This is probably the most important question you will ask the athlete. Pay close attention to the answer: your athlete may answer with the obvious (injuries, stress levels, etc) but if you are attentive, you may notice things that the athlete doesn't recognize for what they are, such as indicators of overtraining.

2) How's your diet? Ask him to break it down for you: what did he eat yesterday? I always follow this question with the offer of assessing a 3 day food log, if the athlete is willing to take one down.

3) How are you sleeping?
Again, leave this one open to interpretation. If the athlete is sleeping poorly, he may give you reasons why, be they physical, mental, or emotional, training related, work related, or family related. If they're sleeping well, make sure to take note of the conditions they are currently living in, as well as you can: when someone performs a movement correctly, we tell them "remember how that felt, because that's how it should feel every time." Similarly, identifying factors in an athlete's life that are having a positive effect on his training can allow us to recreate those factors when things aren't going as well.

4) How do you feel about your training?

Specifically, you want to know:

1) Where does the athlete feel he is making the most progress?

2) Where does the athlete feel he is making the least progress?

3) Does the athlete feel anything is lacking from his training?

4) Does the athlete feel anything is too prevalent in his training?

5) Is the athlete reasonably comfortable handling his current workload?

Along with asking your athletes these questions, here's a big question you need to ask yourself as a coach:

What are the connections between my athletes answers?

If ten of your athletes say "I think I'm running too much," you might be programming too much running in. If ten of your athletes say "I'm not recovering, I'm irritable, and my heart rate is elevated when I wake up," you might be overloading them. If ten of your athletes say "I've really enjoyed the last few weeks, I feel like I'm making a lot of progress," you're doing something right, and should work to determine what it is so that you can recreate the effect.

Post questions you think it's vital to ask your athletes and other thoughts to comments.

Saturday, 9 January 2010


Breathing is important.

I know, I know: "Thank you, Captain Obvious!" But hear me out. me out...whatever.

In weightlifting, the Valsalva manuever is often spoken of. I'm probably oversimplifying, but essentially the Valsalva manuever is taking a big breath before you initiate a repetition, and holding that breath throughout the duration of the repetition. This causes an increase in intra abdominal pressure, and that in turn helps you keep your skeletal components in the correct biomechanical position to make the lift.

CrossFitters know of, use, and discuss the Valsalva manuever. But curiously, an equivalent technique for gymnastics is rarely, if ever discussed. However, it's just as important: try to do a max set of pushups, and note what happens to your breathing. As you fatigue, you probably end up doing something like this: 1) Pause at top of pushup 2) take a big breath and hold, 3) descend while still holding breath and aggressively push up. Something similar will most likely occur for pullups, handstand pushups, ring dips...pretty much any gymnastics movement in which you can reach failure.

Pay attention to your breathing, learn how to control it to optimize your work, and reap the rewards. Just make sure you let it out once in a while...otherwise you may pass out, and while that is amusing, it's ultimately counterproductive, since you can't finish the WOD.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

LuLuLemon, Board Shorts, and Starting Strength.

What do you think of when you imagine a typical CrossFit gathering? You probably think of the latest trends in Crossfit culture. There are many trends in CrossFit: board shorts, barbell strength specialization, CrossFit football, using ridiculous quantities of chalk, and lululemon pants. With the constant changing of style, how are we to distinguish truly superior methodology from passing trends?

The mark of superior methodology is consistently superior performance. Within the realm of CrossFit, we should recognize superior methods by the superior work capacity across broad time and modal domains which they consistently produce. In other words, for us to consider board shorts a superior method of fitness, then the athletes who wear them must consistently and significantly outperform those who train in sweat pants, regular shorts, jeans, and even those who train naked.

We will recognize improved methods by data such as faster run times at all distances, heavier clean and jerks, higher quantity and quality of bodyweight exercises, and better benchmark workouts such as Fran, Elizabeth, and Murph.

Note that efficacy does not imply superiority. Many methods improve fitness, but that does not necessarily mean they are superior. We often see examples of how a CrossFitter used Method X and got fitter. What is missing is how the results of Method X compare to the results gleaned from other methods.

Performance data, and not exercise physiology theories, is the basis for intelligent discussion of fitness methodology. The best available test of fitness as CrossFit defines it is the CrossFit Games. We look to the Games as a valuable source of performance data, though it is by no means our exclusive source. At EYF we also consult our personal experience as athletes and coaches, as well as much outside performance data as we can get our hands on.

Unfortunately for the proponents of popular CrossFit trends such as ultra low-carb diets, lululemon pants, and barbell strength-focused routines, few recent claims of superior methodology have met the above standard. It is hard for us to see the difference between advising Starting Strength for CrossFit and getting tribal tattoos.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Show me overwhelming evidence, and I will change my mind.

*Note: Written by Russ, posted by Jacob.

Last week my mother trained at CrossFit Monterey for the first time. I took her through the standard warm-up and Beginner WOD. Though she swore that she wouldn't be able to complete the workout many times, she nonetheless completed over 100 squats, 15 ring rows, 27 push presses with 30 lbs., 45 jumping pullups, 3 tuck holds, and 15 knee pushups. It meant a lot to me to be able to show her what we do at CrossFit Monterey. Most people have no idea what an intelligent personal trainer does; the stereotype of the semi-retarded globo-gym trainer is far more prevalent in our culture.

My mother and I talked after the workout about CrossFit. She asked me an important question: how is it that, after seven years of CrossFit, I still am able to learn new things? I told her that I learn more about training every single day. I believe that I will continue to learn more about physical training every day of my life. Consider the fields of knowledge pertinent to effective coaching: psychology, nutrition, physiology, kinesiology, physics, logic, statistics, rhetoric, and more. Specializing in even one of these fields will fill a lifetime of study and practice. There is certainly enough material to keep a trainer constantly busy.

It would be impossible for any one trainer to be an expert in all of these fields. A good trainer must therefore draw on the experience of experts in other fields to supplement his own understanding. But how is a non-expert to know which methods to choose?

At EYF we evaluate methods in two principle ways: the performance data of athletes who use a particular method, and our personal experience with that method. Though we are very assertive of our own points of view, at the same time we are constantly experimenting, reviewing performance data, and tweaking our methods correspondingly.

Last weekend is an excellent example of this. I had the opportunity to work with Jeff Alexander of Network Fitness. It was my first professional introduction to Self-Myofascial Release (SMR). I had a little experience with this method from the folks at Balance Gym and the other trainers at CrossFit Monterey, but I had never put much stock in the method. I hadn't seen enough evidence to change my mind. Now I have.

The picture at the top of this post illustrates the difference that Jeff's SMR techniques made. After about 20 minutes of work on my right side's shoulder and pectoral muscles, I decided to test out what difference the work had made in my range of motion. You can see the result below. I had 3-4 inches of additional ROM in my right shoulder that was not present in my un-treated left shoulder. For someone who has often struggled with maintaining proper overhead position, this is a big deal.

Moving forward, I am going to research SMR more deeply and experiment with it more on my own. How else should I act when confronted with overwhelming evidence?

Post to comments any breakthroughs that you've had in fitness recently. It could be a nutritional strategy, exercise technique, programming method, or anything else. Post also anything you've changed your mind about, and why.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

It's almost time...

Are you ready for the New Year's Revolution?

The night is fast approaching, and CrossFit Monterey is gearing up for our PR party.  Have you got plans for a PR party of your own?  Post your plans to comments.