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.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A CrossFit Affiliate Members Guide to The Globo Gym.

With the holidays upon us, many CrossFitters who are used to training in an affiliate may be forced to temporarily purchase the services of a commercial gym, more commonly referred to in CrossFit vernacular as a Globo Gym. With the rapid expansion of CrossFit there are probably some folks out there training in an affiliate who have never been to a Globo Gym. Others may simply have been away from the Globo Gym for so long they've forgotten how it works.

Fear not! We at EYF are veteran Globo Gym CrossFitters. Indeed, before opening CrossFit Monterey we infiltrated Globo Gyms from California to Washington D.C. to London, England, and managed to avoid getting kicked out (though we may have been warned a time or five...) We're here to help! Follow these five simple tips to make your travel training experience as painless as possible...apart from the WOD, that is.

1) Don't hog equipment. Okay, so in your affiliate, you can do the "Filthy Fifty" while someone else is doing the "Twisted Twelve" and three other people are doing the "Hungry Hundred" (alright, I made that one up.) But most Globo Gyms will have a couple of barbells and squat racks, a few benches, dumbbells, maybe a couple rowers, and if you're really lucky, a decent pullup bar. That's about all that you'll find of use to you. And believe it or not, you're not the only person who wants to use that equipment! Maybe the guy who wants the squat rack is going to do quarter squats, but the fact is, he paid just as much money to be there as you did. He can do all the quarter squats he wants. I'm not saying don't use the squat rack for as long as necessary: I'm saying don't take 10 minutes between sets just because you can. And I'm definitely saying don't use more than one piece of equipment at once. Globo Gyms are not the kind of place where you can take the squat rack, the bench, and the pullup bar all at once. If you don't think you can get a nasty workout with one piece of equipment, you probably haven't been CrossFitting very long.

2) Have your workout planned before you arrive. I own a gym, and this means I can show up whenever I want and play around with all the toys until I decide what I want to do. But my athletes show up and know what they're supposed to do. It shouldn't be any different in a Globo gym. You should at least have an idea of what you want to do, and modify it as their equipment allows. Don't waste time dicking around with equipment other people may want to use.

3) Play by their rules. If they say no chalk, don't bring chalk (okay, so the pot is calling the kettle black here, but it was Russ' idea!) Don't try to lift barefoot – trust me, they won't like it. If they say no Olympic lifts, don't Olympic lift. You will be okay if you don't snatch for a couple of weeks, I promise.

4) Be respectful of non-CrossFitters. Here's what I want you to do when you get frustrated with the guy doing bicep curls and half range-of-motion bench press: Look at him...really look at him...take a deep breath...and then say to yourself "I used to be that guy." Because you did. You know you did. And you sure as hell wouldn't have wanted some douchebag telling you that what you're doing is totally useless and non-functional. Play nice. And if people ask you "what the hell are you doing?" try not to come across like you're terribly superior. I've had CrossFitters do that to me, another CrossFitter...I can't imagine what those assholes would have said to someone who had been doing leg presses.

5) You can do plenty of your training outside of the gym. Ideally, you should use the Globo Gym for your heavy lifting and maybe some monostructural metcon (rowing and swimming come to mind, if you're lucky enough to find a Globo gym that has a rower and a pool.) If you bring a jump rope, a pair of rings, and an empty sandbag with you on your trip, you'll have plenty to get you through a couple of weeks worth of workouts. Or even invest in a cheap pair of dumbbells once you're probably won't cost much more than going to the Globo Gym every day. I recommend 30-45lbs for guys and 20-30lbs for gals, depending on your fitness level.

Happy Holidays from Evolve Your Fitness! Don't forget to set at least one PR on New Years Eve!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Discussion Question: Coping With Stress.

Real life is hard.  Really hard.  Like, harder than "Fran," "Fight Gone Bad," and "Murph" combined.

But you already knew that.

So how do you deal with it?

The stresses of every day life can affect every aspect of our training: nutrition, recovery, motivation, and the workouts themselves.  What effect do various stressors have on your training?  How do you cope with them?  What do you do to minimize the effect those stresses have on your training day-to-day?  Long term?  And when the shit really hits the fan, what happens to your athletic endeavours?

Post thoughts to comments.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

It's The Standard.

My friends, I am guilty of a great sin.

When I am training on the main site WOD, all my 5k runs are done on the same, flat course. If a workout with thrusters, push presses, or jerks doesn't specify that the bar must be taken from the floor, I always use the rack. I never substitute dumbbells for barbells, or rope climbs for pullups, or do my handstand pushups on parallettes.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not afraid of making things more challenging. In fact, when I'm doing my own programming, I prefer to run in the hills, I love dumbbells, and rope climbs are just plain fun. Fear isn't what's stopping me. It's standards.

You see, when faced with the prospect of participating in the same workout as thousands of other people, I've just got to give myself every advantage I can. What can I say? I get competitive.

Competition is good. In fact, competition is, in my opinion, the primary factor that's driven CrossFit to the success it's had. But a problem arises when we look at every single day of the WOD as a competition unto itself: in the effort to get the best possible time on the prescribed WOD, we lose the ability to be creative and challenge ourselves.

After the 2008 CrossFit Games, Tony Budding wrote an article for the CrossFit Journal about standards. After chest-to-bar pullups were used in the Games, a lot of people took that to mean that chest-to-bar pullups were the "official" CrossFit standard pullup. Budding's point was that standards are arbitrary: that is, the standards applied to our movements – chin-over-bar or chest-to-bar pullups, top of hip below the kneecap on squats, even running a flat 5k rather than a hilly one – are, in reality, just ways of evening the playing field in competition. It may be that abiding by these standards produces greater fitness. However, they are arbitrary on game day, because the only thing that matters in competition is...well, competition. How you trained for it doesn't matter, all that matters is how well you perform.

If you're still pretty new to CrossFit, this won't be much of a problem. Just getting to the point where you can do the main site WOD as prescribed is a challenge for most people. It sure was for me. But as you become a better athlete, the need to add variety and challenge to your training becomes crucial, both for the mental ability to deal with new and unusual tasks, and for the physical capacity to complete them. If all you want is to do as well as possible on the prescribed main site WOD every day, that's fine. That is a perfectly reasonable goal, and you'll still get damn fit. If, however, it is your goal to compete in the CrossFit Games, I urge you to remind yourself that your day-to-day training is a means to an end. So forget about doing things the "standard" way once in a while. Don't be afraid to pick up some dumbbells, climb a rope, squat ass-to-grass, or put on a weight vest.

And for fucks sake, run some hills. You're going to need it.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Perfection vs. Sustainability

CrossFitters tend to have extreme personalities. If we are going to work out, then we will push until we collapse on the ground exhausted. If we're going to deadlift, then we better lift 25 lbs. more than we did the last time. If we're going to eat better, then it'll eat 12 almonds, not 11 or 13. I love this attitude. In many ways I exemplify it.

I've nearly completed seven years of CrossFit. Recently, some unwelcome free time has allowed me to think about my experiences with training. Pretty much every extreme thing you can think of, I did it. Thinking about these experiences has lead me to ponder my training more deeply. As Adam Hesch has asked, Why am I here? Why do I fight so hard, every day, to achieve an ideal that I will never reach?

A lot of athletes will tell you that the mind can conquer anything. They will tell you that if we work hard enough there are no limits to what we can do. This perspective has validity. It is often the right advice. But I think that we do have limits. We might not know what they are, but they are there. And I don't think that the answer is always to just keep grinding.

I once ate so much food in the Georgetown University cafeteria that I vomited all over the table. That got some looks. I was trying to gain weight at the time without eating any processed foods. It turns out your stomach can only handle so much broccoli and chicken breast. If I were still trying to gain weight, I would temporarily relax my dietary restrictions. But you don't need to be that big to be a great CrossFitter.

Strength bias? You bet. I made barbell training the focus of my programming for years. I obsessed over 1 rep improvements or adding 5 lbs. to a lift each week for weeks on end. In the long run I found that I could make faster strength gains with less focus on barbells by improving my technique. But did I get fitter and stronger during the period of barbell focus? Absolutely.

Multiple WODs per day? For several months this year I was training 3-4 WODs per day. Often one would consist of a distance run at a 6:50 mile pace in a 20 lb. weight vest, a heavy olympic or power lift (I worked up to a 265 lb. power clean, 440 lb. deadlift and 245 lb. overhead squat at under 180 lbs. bwt during this time), several thousand yards of swimming, and a daily bodyweight circuit consisting of one leg squats, L-holds, deadhang pullups, and ring dips in a weight vest. Training was my life at this point. I had very little energy for anything else. I can't remember much from this period other than the constant shuffle between gyms and meals. My friends have reminded me that I was somewhat grouchy during the rare moments that I talked to another human being.

When the goal that I was training for didn't work the way I had planned, I quickly found this level of volume no longer manageable. I had made steady progress on the high-volume program up until that point, but I no longer felt capable of keeping up with training. I took two weeks off from serious training. It was the longest break I had taken since I started training 9 years ago at age 13. Did my body break down or did I just lose my mental focus? I'm not sure, but I think it was both.

What about the Zone diet? I spent a couple years weighing and measuring all of my meals. I learned a lot about portions and discipline with food during this time, but I no longer weigh and measure my food. I'll be honest with you. I still think that weighing and measuring my food would help my performance, but I don't do it any more. My guilty conscience tells me that I just don't want fitness bad enough. The other side of my brain tells me that many of the fittest guys in the world don't weigh and measure (or eat strictly paleo foods) either.

By the standards of most of my peers I am an exercise nut. But I don't feel that way. I've gone through some crazy WODs, exercised an abnormal degree of discipline in my nutrition, and completely transformed myself in the process. But I know that whatever I do, there are guys out there living their lives with more discipline. And I want to be more like them. But I know that I will always be making compromises. Should I accept these compromises, or should I insist on perfection? Will surrendering at one point lead to a cascade of failures?

I don't know all the answers to these questions. I will be fighting between the relentless pursuit of the future and the enjoyment of the present for the rest of my life. But this point does not just apply to me. It has very important repercussions for coaches. We have to work within our athlete's psychological and physical limitations while actively seeking to push those boundaries outward.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Thoughts On Motivation

Today's post comes from Adam Hesch, a former CrossFit Monterey athlete and a member of the United States Navy.  The following are his thoughts on the immensely important subject of motivation.


This is a great quote from a recent EYF post that serves as a good point of departure for discussing motivation: “Accuracy and precision in language are necessary for the intelligent analysis of data that CrossFit is based upon. As CrossFitters, we should insist upon using correct terminology where it exists, and creating it where it doesn’t.” I find this statement to be true, but I also find it to be applicable to the aspects of motivation that involve the usage of language as well.

I continue by selecting what I have found to be a useful definition of motivation according to To Motivate: to provide with a motive. Motive: An emotion, desire, physiological need, or similar impulse that acts as an incitement (to incite: to provoke or urge on) to action. If our goal is to become better at at any endeavor (such as CrossFit), I submit that having an effective source of motivation is important for achieving this goal.

My first, and most important contention regarding motivation is this: improving one's internal sources of motivation are more important than improving one's external sources of motivation. Here's why: the conditions in which we are expected to function, in any endeavor, may change. Therefore, whatever our impulse to action (motivation) towards any end in life may be, if we desire to continuously be able to succeed at this act regardless of circumstance we need to be able take this motivation with us wherever we go (intrinsic motivation), without requirement for any additional external mental or physical condition (extrinsic motivation). Note that I have not made any claims as to which source of motivation is more effective, extrinsic or intrinsic. That is a worthy discussion for another time. I only assert that the development of internal motivations is more important, because of its transferability.

About 3 weeks back, I heard someone tell another athlete in a workout “Hurry up, you’re going fucking slow.” with the apparent intention of motivating them (although I concede I could be wrong on this. It may have been simply a true statement of fact. However, assuming that motivation was the intention, I continue.) This may very well have motivated that athlete, but it wouldn't have motivated me. It reminded me of the incessant droning from drill instructors during basic training, of which after a few days no one can take as a point of serious motivation. At a different point, I heard an address to all the athletes: “Let’s go you guys! How do you want to remember this workout – that you were a pussy or a total badass?” Again, perhaps some athletes did derive motivation from this expression, but again speaking personally, I myself did not. From a functional standpoint, I never use the words “pussy” or “badass” so it was hard for me at first to relate to their intended meaning. Further, even from the standpoint of the intended meaning, I am not personally able to motivate myself by considering how I might remember myself during a particular workout; my own motivations come from other sources. And so, I am brought to my next point. Any source of external motivation, used in a group setting, should have two traits in order to be optimally effective: utilitarianism (affects the greatest performance for the greatest number of people), and the promotion of individual intrinsic motivation (which as mentioned, I believe to be the most important part). 

I would like to challenge the “extrinsic motivation paradigm” (if we can create such an idea) to focus more on the development of intrinsic motivation for the purposes already described – the most effective preparation for an unforeseeable future. Let's get rid of music one day during a 20 minute AMRAP, so that we depend not on the beat of the music but the drive of our mind to fuel our performance. Another way we can pursue intrinsic motivation by means of an extrinsic source is to have the question be posed-

Why are you here?

-to be answered only to ourselves in our minds, because a simple reiteration to ourselves of our purpose for doing a CrossFit workout (or any other endeavor in life) will keep our mind focused on just that: the real reason we are there – which as I mentioned, is dependent upon the individual. Lastly, let's replace the commonly-heard phrase “Remember the number one rule of [insert box here] – don't be a pussy!” with the more universal, functional, and intrinsically-rooted admonition, “Give me your best.” Can we really ask for more than that?

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Jerry's Story

Jerry started CrossFit this summer weighing 370 lbs. At this point, he suffered from an enlarged heart, was pre-diabetic, and had very high blood pressure. Jerry wanted to live to see his two young boys grow up to be men. Unfortunately, his health made it seem unlikely that he would be healthy long enough to do so.

Had Jerry entered most gyms as his pre-CrossFit self, scarcely able to walk, most trainers would not have known what to do. But Jerry showed up at Kenny Castro’s gym, CrossFit Ranch. CrossFit Ranch is at the forefront of the CrossFit community in terms of training substantially overweight clients. On Jerry’s first day, Kenny had to take him by the hand to get him to walk 250m to warm up.

What a difference 5 months of dedicated effort can make. Last Saturday, Jerry rowed 1000 meters. Jerry then carried a 35 lb. kettlebell and 45 lb. bar up the near-vertical Aromas hill for 300 meters. Jerry lifted the barbell upright and placed it into two weight plates. With his hands free of the barbell, he performed 30 kettlebell swings. Then, Jerry carried both these implements back down the hill.

Jerry fought through this torturous order of events for three rounds. He finished this workout, known as the Mount Suribachi Challenge, in one hour and 59 minutes, and 59 seconds.

Jerry’s achievements are not confined to one day of effort. He has lost 75 lbs. while gaining a substantial amount of muscle. Performance-wise, Jerry has raised his deadlift from 220 lbs. to 360 and increased his press from 65 lbs. to 160 lbs. Whereas he once could only run 25 yards at a time, he can now run over half a mile without stopping. You can read more about his experience with CrossFit at his blog, A View from the Plus Size.

Does anybody think that Jerry is not right for CrossFit? If a 43 year old, 370 lb. man can become an exemplary CrossFitter, then we cannot rule any person out based on age, weight, or any other elitist criteria we may think of. CrossFit is hard, but for most people, life is harder. Millions of people will choose to work hard in the gym if we show them that CrossFit is a good investment of their time.

Let me repeat this point for emphasis: We cannot rule out anyone as a potential CrossFitter, regardless of the individual’s current appearance or fitness level. The objection that people make to CrossFit’s expansion is often borne of elitist insecurity: “CrossFit’s not for people like that.” But now that you know about Jerry, you know that’s not true.

Reaching the masses is the right thing to do for our gyms, our country, and our conscience. We will have much more success as CrossFit trainers if we follow Kenny’s example and open our doors to the majority of Americans that are overweight. It should sicken us as Americans that so many of our fellow citizens are poisoning themselves to early graves. It is wrong to keep to ourselves when we have knowledge that can save our neighbors lives.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Focus on Fitness

According to John Robb, the best way to defeat an open-source insurgency is to divide it.

Could any point be more relevant to the CrossFit open-source fitness insurgency?

I am not in a position to judge the personal aspects of the dispute first portrayed on I do not have enough background information to analyze these actions, nor, most likely, do you.

On the other hand, I am very aware of the immediate negative impact that this event has had on the CrossFit community.

Robb Wolf came into this conflict with an impressive grass roots following. He has helped thousands of people, in person and online, many of them for free. Even a brief glance at the comments section of his blog reveals fan after fan thanking him for an email he sent or a seminar he gave. Robb’s online community centers around the Performance Menu journal and website and the aforementioned blog Robb also runs a successful affiliate, CrossFit Norcal, and until this week he ran the CrossFit Nutrition Certs as well.

CrossFit HQ has similarly served the CrossFit community since its inception. It leads a loosely-controlled though heavily-intertwined network of affiliates, trainers, and athletes. HQ is responsible for the certification seminars,, the CrossFit Journal, the CrossFit Games, the affiliate network, the legal defense of CrossFit and more. This community would not exist without CrossFit HQ.

What we have is two social networks that at once overlap and compete for support. Though many CrossFitters use both sources of information, most that I know have a preference.

This dispute, therefore, is much larger than the several men involved. Robb Wolf and the Performance Menu have represented a significant subset of the CrossFit community for several years. They have argued for prioritizing strength development, detailed study and practice of the Olympic lifts, generally lower carbohydrate intake than the Zone recommends, and prioritizing Paleo food quality over the Zone diet’s emphasis on quantity. These disagreements over methodology are evident in every depiction of the events of the Black Box Summit that I have seen so far, from Russell Berger’s to Greg Everett’s.

The CrossFit community is the strongest and fastest-growing social network in the fitness industry. It represents a much-needed opportunity to spread effective training and nutrition to the masses. This is the big picture.

As CrossFitters we all have are changing lives, communities, and countries, yet people are getting angry about Paleo vs. Zone when MOST OF US DRAW HEAVILY FROM BOTH SOURCES OF INFORMATION.

Our next article is going to feature Jerry Summers, a man who showed up at CrossFit Ranch this summer weighing 370 lbs. and unable to run more than 25 yards or do a full squat. Jerry has since lost 75 lbs. and can now run half a mile at a time and deadlift 360. This is a bigger story than any verbal dispute.

CrossFit will do for millions what it has done for Jerry if it remains a strong and diverse social network.

Evolve Your Fitness will continue to pursue CrossFit’s definition of fitness: work capacity across broad time and modal domains. We will use whatever methods that the available data suggests to be effective. Loyalty to any particular methodology, source of information, or personality is a recipe for mediocrity. We’re too passionate about fitness to follow anything other than performance data. We hope that the rest of the CrossFit community remains focused on performance as well.

The pursuit of fitness brings us together. Let’s not allow personal disputes to tear us apart.

Monday, 23 November 2009

If you PR, you PR.

I can't recall waking up one day, walking into the gym, and suddenly being a whole lot fitter. Nor can I recall that happening to anyone I've trained.

When I look through my training log over the last four years, there isn't one day, or week, or month, that makes me stop and say "Oh, so that's when I stopped sucking"

The reason I can't remember that happening, or find it in my training log, is that it didn't happen.

Something interesting happens when I skip a big section of my training log, however. If I look at my numbers a year apart...holy crap.

See what I'm getting at?

Too many CrossFitters hope one day they'll roll out of bed and BOOM, they're keeping up with Greg Amundson. I use the word "hope" because I don't think anyone actually believes that it'll happen like this. But it bears repeating that it won't, and it's not supposed to.

To quote Mark Rippetoe, "Training is a process, not the events of one day." This is an important thing to remember. Too often, my athletes are disappointed with adding 5lbs to their deadlift or 1 round to their "Cindy" or only taking 5 seconds off their "Fran." But here's the thing: Add 5lbs to your deadlift, 1 round to your "Cindy" and take 5 seconds off your "Fran" every 2 months for a year, and you've gone from deadlifting 405lbs, doing 20 rounds of "Cindy," and a 3:30 "Fran," to a 435lb deadlift, 26 round "Cindy," and a 3:00 "Fran."

That's a pretty significant increase in work capacity across broad time and modal domains, wouldn't you say?

In his book "Starting Strength," Rippetoe talks about linear progression: the idea that the ideal way to make progress is through small, but frequent increases in your capacity. This doesn't only apply to heavy lifts: it applies to everything we do in CrossFit. Sure, when you're brand new to CrossFit, especially if you're deconditioned, you can make extreme progress really fast. But that can't last, and a lot of CrossFitters get discouraged when that rapid improvement slows.

In a few recent posts, Blair Morrison talks about a "new competitive standard": Athlete vs WOD, rather than Athlete vs. Athlete. This is an important concept to grasp, because really what we are trying to do is be better than we were yesterday, not be better than the guy next to us. I've learned (the hard way, as I generally do) that trying to be better than someone else can't last. It doesn't matter if that other person is Mikko Salo or your training partner. Depending on another person for your motivation is no different than depending on another person for your happiness. Only you can make you happy, and only you can inspire in yourself the willpower and strength of character necessary to become the best athlete you possibly can.

Be encouraged by every new PR. Celebrate every increase in your work capacity, no matter how small. Don't ask yourself, "Am I better than the guy next to me." Instead ask yourself, every single day, "Am I a little bit better than I was yesterday?"

And if you need a little extra encouragement, grab your training log and look at where you were a year ago. You'll probably find yourself saying "holy crap."

Friday, 20 November 2009

Discussion Question: Over-programmed movements.

What movement or movements do you think CrossFit affiliates and trainers program too much?  Why?  Do you think that movement is a poor quality movement, or just done too often to be part of a constantly varied program?

Post thoughts to comments.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Metcon is a Misnomer

You see the phrase “metabolic conditioning” everywhere these days. Unfortunately, CrossFitters usually misuse the term. In CrossFit vernacular, a trainer will use metabolic conditioning (metcon for short) to refer to workouts lasting longer than 30 seconds. These workouts tend to involve a lot of heavy breathing and lactic acid. That is, as per common usage, metcon workouts tend to focus on the glycolytic and oxidative energy pathways. A CrossFitter will call Fran or Fight Gone Bad a metcon, but not a max clean and jerk.

What is the origin of the term metabolic conditioning in CrossFit? Let us refer to one of the original CrossFit Journal articles, Foundations. In this article, Greg Glassman refers to metabolic conditioning as training which “builds capacity in each of three metabolic pathways, beginning with aerobic, then lactic acid, and then phosphocreatine pathways.”

Coach Glassman includes the training of the phosphocreatine pathway within the category of metabolic conditioning. Also known as the ATP pathway, the phosphocreatine pathway is the shortest-lasting energy pathway with the highest potential for power output. Think of a heavy clean and jerk, 40 yard dash, or max box jump.

Here’s the problem: CrossFitters use the term metabolic conditioning as distinct from low-rep lifting, high-strength and skill moves in gymnastics, and max effort/short duration jumping and sprinting. Clearly, however, these activities fall within the purview of the phosphocreatine pathway and thus are in fact examples of metabolic conditioning.

A further problem with “metabolic conditioning” is that most Crossfit “metcon” workouts test and develop far more than merely energy pathway development. High rep squat cleans, for example, all test much more than just energy pathways. Accuracy, agility, balance, coordination, speed, and are at play to a substantial degree. Coaches who don’t understand the diverse nature of these adaptations will often fail to include higher skill exercises such as cleans and handstand pushups in their “metcon” workouts. As a result, their athletes will under-perform when exposed to workouts such as Grace or Mary.

Accuracy and precision in language are necessary for the intelligent analysis of data that CrossFit is based upon. As CrossFitters, we should insist upon using correct terminology where it exists, and creating it where it doesn’t.

We still need a term to describe workouts lasting longer than 30 seconds, however. I propose Extended Power Output. “Extended” implies that these workouts last longer than brief 1 to 30 seconds spurts of exertion. As all Crossfit Level One attendees know, “power output” encompasses neurological and biological components of fitness. Extended Power Output avoids the flaws of “metabolic conditioning” while accurately describing what most people mean when they say “metcon.”

Monday, 9 November 2009

Discussion Question: Carbs and Training Frequency

Since the 2008 Crossfit Games many competitive CrossFitters have started training multiple metabolic conditioning workouts per day (despite the misgivings that many barbell-strength-focused theoreticians have with this methodology.) This trend has accelerated since the 2009 Games.

Some athletes respond well to increased workout frequency, while others crash and burn. How do we best adapt ourselves to a higher frequency of training? What role does nutrition play?

Today’s discussion question, therefore, is: what is the relationship between carbohydrate intake and metabolic conditioning performance in CrossFitters?

Aaron Moburg-Jones first raised this issue in the comments section of my Facebook status. He suggested that the ability to process carbohydrates may influence an athlete’s ability to train frequently.

Shane Skowron agreed with Aaron, saying that:

“Well if you do more volume, you need more carbs… Carbs fuel glycolytic system and glycolytic system is involved in almost every Crossfit workout with a few exceptions.

Jay Ashman disagreed with Shane’s point, citing the example of Matt Lalonde from Robb Wolf’s website.

The discussion continued past this point, but it’s not my intent to summarize the debate here.

Instead, I wish to involve the broader CrossFit community in a discussion of the relationship between carbohydrate intake and training frequency.

What has been your experience with the relationship between nutrition and training frequency, either as a coach or as an athlete?

Friday, 6 November 2009

New Year's Revolution.

We want you to look like this on New Year's Eve.

But we don't want it to be because of alcohol.

CrossFit is a fitness revolution.  As CrossFitters, we hope that work capacity across broad time and modal domains will replace the current American fitness paradigm.  But in reality, the CrossFit revolution involves much more of our lives than just the way we exercise.  It means changing many fundamental aspects of our lives: the way we eat (Zone/Paleo), sleep (I've got a 9 PM bedtime), socialize (every CrossFit affiliate is a community), grieve (Hero workouts), and celebrate.  That last one is what this post is about.

We believe you can better celebrate with accomplishments than alcohol.   We believe in starting the New Year off right, and that doesn't mean making a resolution: it means achieving something.

On New Year's Eve 2008, CrossFit Monterey had an impromptu "PR Party."  Due to circumstances I originally considered unfortunate, I was forced to go for the PR deadlift I'd been planning to do during the day, late that night.  Of course, I invited all my friends to come hang out.  Thus the PRs began:  I pulled a 20lb PR deadlift.  Russ PR'd his press, chest-to-bar pullups, and muscle-ups.  Two of our athletes, Alex and John, also added 20lbs to their deadlifts.

It turns out the circumstances that led to this party weren't unfortunate at all.  We've decided to make the PR party a CrossFit Monterey tradition.  This New Years Eve, Russ and I will be at the gym, hitting PRs like nobody's business.  We're going to invite all of our athletes, and anyone else who wants to join us.  We hope that a lot of people decide to start the New Year off like this: amongst good friends, working hard, and improving ourselves.

This is our challenge to you as a CrossFitter, and especially to all the CrossFit affiliates out there: Host your own PR party.  Serve Paleo food.  Invite every CrossFitter you know.  If you read this blog and train at an affiliate, suggest it to them.  And if you're CrossFitting on your own and have no place to go, you're more than welcome at CrossFit Monterey.

You want to be part of the fitness revolution?  This is your chance.

Start something.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

WODs vs. Chores

You love to train hard. But what about those dozen other things that you should be doing? What about eating more vegetables instead of fruit? Improving your hip and shoulder mobility? Or even sleeping more?

All of these things are less exciting than Fran. Boring, even. So it doesn't surprise me that you're not doing them regularly. I know that I have been guilty of working on my hip and shoulder mobility only slightly more frequently than I go to see my dentist.

This post is not going to add to the list of things you should be doing regularly. It is going to help you accomplish more of the tasks you already have on that list.

Why do you train so hard in the gym? If you’re like most CrossFitters, you love numbers. You’re addicted to PR’s. Boiling every performance down to pounds or seconds allows you to compete every day.

Now let’s look at the stuff that you should be doing, but don’t. What does it all have in common? Sure, it’s boring. But why?

If the WOD didn’t have numbers and competition, it would just be a chore. And that’s where eating vegetables and your mobility work are right now. They are a chore.

Sure, we know that in the long run, eating vegetables and loosening up our hips is going to lead to better WOD scores. But most of the time, the long-term is too abstract to motivate sacrifices now.

Let’s WOD-ify that thing you should be doing but aren’t. All of the moralistic hand-wringing in the world isn’t going to motivate you to do your PNF work after a WOD.

How do we turn chores into things you actually WANT to do?

Here’s a simple three-step process:

  1. Measure performance.
  2. Set a goal.
  3. Compete.

Now, for a concrete example:

Remember that hip and shoulder mobility work that I neglected for so long? I work on it every day now.

I read about the hands-together/feet together overhead squat in the Crossfit Journal a few months ago. That afternoon I tried to get as close to it as possible. It was ugly.

But look at that checklist above. I found a way to measure my hip and shoulder mobility, a goal to shoot for, and I knew that other people had done this before. If they could do it, then dammit, so could I (competition.)

Since this revelation, I’ve worked on my shoulder and hip mobility almost every day. I haven’t gotten the feet-together/hands together overhead squat yet, but I’ve made a lot of progress towards that goal. This increase in hip and shoulder mobility has improved everything from my squat form to my gymnastics strength.

I did not make this progress because I became more disciplined. Instead, I turned hip and shoulder mobility from a chore into a challenge.

So what’s that one thing you’ve been neglecting? How are you going to motivate yourself to do it?

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Check Yourself: Learning from Underperformance.

Intermediate and advanced CrossFitters are a confident bunch.  They are fitter than the vast majority of people they come in contact with, and they know it.  This confidence makes it much more painful when they don’t meet their own expectations.  Underperformance hurts. 

Underperformance is the best chance you’ll get to improve your own training and fitness. It’s time to reevaluate the efficacy of your programming, nutrition, mental outlook, recovery, and technique.  Why didn’t you perform up to your standards?  What can you do to improve your newly discovered weak points?

This post is longer than usual, but its vital relevance to your training merits its length. We will look at two top CrossFit athletes, Blair Morrison and Ricky Frausto, and examine how they have reacted to underperformance.  CrossFitters would do well to learn from Blair and Ricky’s intelligent responses to underperformance.  Each athlete has used underperformance as an opportunity to learn and improve, rather than as a catalyst for anger or denial.  Let’s start with Blair.

Blair finished in 7th place at the CrossFit Games.  His blog,, examines his efforts to train hard in the barren wasteland of Western Europe (barren as far as fitness goes at least.) 

A few days ago, Blair completed this workout:

With your bodyweight on the bar, do 5 rounds for time:

3 OH squat

6 Front squat

9 Back squat

12 situps

He completed the WOD in 11 minutes, which is by all means a pretty impressive performance.  But Blair was not satisfied:

“Last night's workout, the more I think about it, was very different from my usual WODs, perhaps revealing a hole in my programming. Looking back, I've subconsciously categorized squatting with weight as purely a strength exercise, meaning I never do it except on heavy days. Since I've been in the Netherlands, I think I've only included weighted squatting one time in a metabolic conditioning workout, and that was with 100 lb overhead squats during the Lullaby workout. Furthermore, I rarely combine similar movements into the same WOD, instead opting more for oppositional movements. Today, my legs are feeling this neglect.”

Blair has decided to address this “neglect” in his programming:

“Going forward I think I will try to include more "similar movement" groupings (squat complexes, clean complexes, snatch complexes, Bear complexes, etc.). In addition, I'm going to try and put variations of complex style workouts into metcon formats to help fill the hole exposed last night.”

Blair found a weakness and immediately started plotting a strategy to improve it.

Let’s look at our second case study: Ricky Frausto’s response to underperformance at the 2009 CrossFit Games.  Ricky came in 38th out of 74 athletes, a result which many CrossFitters would be happy to achieve.  But Ricky was not satisfied:

“I wasn’t totally pleased with how I performed. I didn’t necessarily feel as though it was a failure but it definitely wasn’t up to what I expect of myself. I blame myself for not preparing myself to to the fullest possible potential. I took it somewhat for granted. My diet was not where it should have been and I just didn’t give myself a chance to make it to day 2. I believe in myself to the point that I should have been in the top ten, if not higher. No excuses though, the unknown and unknowable is what I train for and I knew that going in but just didn’t give it my all in preparing. For this, I am sorry to all my fans out there. I give you guys my word that will never happen again. I will soon begin my journey into preparing for the fourth annual CrossFit games and I vow to be indestructable. The athletes will get better, the workouts will get tougher, but I will give myself the best opportunity to go head to head with the best and do damage.”

In a later post, Ricky revealed how he planned to change his programming in order to achieve this goal:

“I tend to gravitate towards the heavy and short met-cons but forget the importance of short met-cons that involve light weights as well as throwing in some light and long and/or heavy and longer in the mix as well…

So what I did yesterday was an example of changing it up a bit. I did full cleans (squat included) and ring dips. Usually in a workout like this, I would prescribe a heavier weight for the cleans kind of like Elizabeth but maybe even heavier than 135. Instead, I went with 88 pounds and decided to do ten reps of each movement for 10 rounds.  Now, the weight would not hold me back. My mind would be the culprit now. Could I push through when it would feel as though my heart would jump out of my chest?”

Ricky, as we all do, had a bias in his metcon workouts.  Sure, he reached a very high level of fitness with this bias.  But as with all long-term biases, it came to hurt his performance in the end.  Rather than clinging to the familiar, Ricky chose to confront the uncomfortable. 

So now we have seen how two very fit athletes have responded to underperformance.  Now let’s turn to you.  Have you performed at a lower level than you were expecting?  How did you react? What are you going to do about it?

Post thoughts to comments.