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.