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?