Thursday, May 17, 2012

CrossFit: Athletes or Clients

I recently touched upon this subject in conversation with a couple of friends. It's really been on my mind lately.

With the CrossFit Regionals coming around, the Kool-Aid blogs and the satirical blogs are all up in typings about the Athletes of Exercise. I read the satirical ones with supreme relish. Beast Modal Domains, The Naked CrossFitter, and I really wish Drywall would come back. They called the CrossFit Games the "World Series of Exercise" and there is a lot of fun being made around the non-specialized athletes.

This begs the questions: What makes an athlete?

It's easy to say an athlete is someone that puts their skill and training on the line in some head to head, or team to team, competition. But every day, I see people pushing themselves harder and caring more about achieving their goals than half the people on my old judo and dance teams. They don't expect strength, speed, and skills to just land in their lap. They WORK for them.

So I ask again, why is that half assed training done by person A considered athlete training because he or she competes. And why is that balls to the wall, smart, progressive work done by person B who doesn't compete mean they are just an exerciser?

I have a few people that train with me three times a week. I push them hard. They push themselves hard. They get stronger, faster, and are learning to do things they've never tried before, from gymnastic skills to Olympic lifts. They may never compete in anything, but I prefer for them to consider themselves athletes rather than exercisers or "clients".

Clients are people who come to the gym for an hour, are put through a routine of muscle contractions and elevated heart rate and then sent off to go back to their previously scheduled life. Athletes come in with goals, and the hour they spend with me at the gym is just part of their work. When someone thinks of themselves as an athlete, they are more likely to make decisions and take actions that will fuel their progress. From the food they eat, to the amount of sleep they get, to deciding "I'm going to bike to the grocery store instead of driving." When someone considers themself an athlete, they begin to really embrace physical culture.

So in conclusion, I'm all about calling people who bust their asses and make good decisions ATHLETES,  regardless of their competitive standpoint.

Monday, May 14, 2012

High Rep Olympic Lifts

They annoy me. They annoy me like whoa. And this annoyance has come to the forefront for me as I work at two CrossFit gyms and the CrossFit Regionals with their high rep Olympic lifts are being shoved down my eye sockets.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the Olympic lifts, in their proper technique and their overall intention, are NOT about speed, but about get a shit tonne of weight overhead.

Here's the thing about doing the Olympic lifts for their intending purpose: The point of the technique is to create momentum on the bar so that it hangs out midair, giving you as the athlete time to get under the weight. The whole point is to buy time. You see top lifters being incredibly fast, because the less time you have to buy, the heavier the weights can be.

That's when you do the lifts with correct technique.

Now CrossFit has their athletes training the lifts for the explicit purpose of doing lots of reps at lower weight very fast. Suddenly you have these pretty strong people simply muscling the bars to their shoulders or over head. The bars never touch their bodies. There is no acceleration. No dynamics to the lift. It's just grip and rip.

Good weightlifters can manipulate how much hang time they put on the bar, so they can do light reps pretty quickly. But they trained from the get go to put that hang time on the bar.

It's much easier, in a technically sound way, to learn to do the lifts for their intended purpose FIRST. To get the technique right as it applies to getting heavy weights over head. Then the properly trained athlete can go back and take their technique and manipulate it for speed.


Jon North does "Grace" (30 clean and jerks at 135lbs/ 62kg)

Some CrossFitter doing "Grace", rounded back, never hits full extension

Thing is, CrossFitters lift heavy occasionally. Jon and his brethren NEVER do endurance stuff. It's going to be a lot harder to teach dude #2 to fully extend himself and get those top end numbers he's probably capable of because he's dug himself into the high reps for speed technique hole. Jon can step out of his wheel house and go bat shit on his lifts because good technique has been so drilled into him. It's how he breathes.

The point here isn't to bash on CrossFitters, it's to emphasis how important I think it is for anyone to solidify the technical aspects of the Olympic lifts, then focus on using them for their purpose (go heavy!), and only then start going batshit on the reps for time stuff. There are plenty of other  moves out there that aren't as technical a person can use to buff up their strength-endurance and anaerobic capacity.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Make It a Priority

I whole heartedly believe that the body is meant to move, be challenged, and to enjoy it. Physical culture to me means finding the active modality that fits your personality the best and running with it. It means prioritizing movement, from walking to your coworker's cube rather than emailing, to riding your bike to the store rather than driving, from the "normal" way out.

I'm not talking about exercise, I'm talking about activity. DOING things, with your BODY.

I can't say I've met anyone who has told me they aspire to be couch potatoes.

But you have to get out there. You have to prioritize activity and you have to prioritize trying new things to find that niche.

Humans are very much creatures of habit. You go into any college class room and you'll notice that student tend to sit in the same area, if not the same seat, for a class through the entire semester. We make our friends and we stick with them. We rarely up and move to cities that are really far from where we grew up by pure choice, it's usually because of work or school.

You'll have to make a very active decision to get something new into your routine. You're going to have to step out of your comfort zone and decide that your past experiences aren't adding up to what you want your story to entail.

It's not easy, but each time you set an appointment, and KEEP it, trying new things becomes easier and easier. Trying new things becomes a habit in itself.

I want to make a point to myself to try something new each month. That doesn't mean everything will become a new hobby, I'm sure most of the things I try will be "Oh, that's cool. Moving on."

Make a goal like that for yourself. Never stop exploring.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Perfect Push-up?

Bodyweight movements can be the most annoying. You're moving your body through space, this part is supposed to bend while this part is supposed to stay straight. This needs to stay tight, while this muscle has to relax for movement to happen. Then there is scaling. You weigh what you weigh, and you can do modifications, but we all crave the full movement.

Two articles on the push-up, first from the Huffington Post that talks a bit to back sagging:

Huffington Post: Perfect your Push-up

Now a video from KStar's Mobility WOD which talks a bit more about core stability in the push-up, why we don't much like knee push-ups, and proper arm placements. Also, check out this slingshot action:

Mobility WOD: Push-ups and Sling Shots

Get moving!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Carb Back Loading Misstep

So I'm toying with the Carb Back Loading protocol. Here's the high level overview:

1) Have coffee with heavy cream when you wake up and wait 2-3 hours to eat.

2) After you do eat, stay under 30 grams of carbohydrates.

3) Train later in the afternoon or evening. By training, we're talking only about serious, kick-ass resistance training. Not CrossFit, not HIIT, not endurance work, no matter how hard you kick your own ass at it.

4) On days that you train hard (resistance train, no HIIT, CrossFit, or endurance), you have about an hour of time to eat high glycemic index carbs.

While my weight hasn't really budged enough to say I've lost or gained, I do feel like I'm starting to slowly shed some fat and my training doesn't feel flat the way it did when I was doing the ketogenic Paleo diet at the beginning of the year.

And another perk: if I don't train, like REALLY train, I'm not allowed my designated carb load of mango and sticky rice. Hows that for motivation to pick up some heavy weights?

So, as mentioned, my go to is mango and sticky rice. I found an easy recipe that turned out pretty well. And unlike sushi rice, sticky rice keeps okay. Not great, but okay enough to make a few days worth. Well, Monday comes around and I'm somehow out of pre-sliced mango (ManFriend, grumble grumble), so I guess I gotta back load with something else.

Enter the local coffee shops and one particular cookie bar. Dimensions about 2in x 3in x 1.5in. Starting at the bottom, the layers were graham crust, marshmallow cream, peanut butter, and rice crispie with chocolate chips pressed in. The first bite was pure heaven. The last bite was torture.

I'm going to go out on a limb and blame not just the inordinate amount of sugar, but also the peanut butter and the likely low quality ingredients in general.

Lesson learned. Time to go buy more mango and a lock box to keep it in.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Evolution of Nutritional Science

Popular and medically recommended diets are changing faster and fast it seems. If you go back far enough, people were advocating limiting potatoes and sugar to keep the fat off.

Then it was low cholesterol. Then it was low fat. Then we were touting whole grains. Then is was low carbs, but as much fat of any kind. Then it was Paleo.

It was carbs in the morning. Then it's no carbs at all. Now it's carbs after your workout. 

It was eat every 2-3 hours. Now it's intermittent fasting. 

Why do we keep being duped? Who are we supposed to listen to?

The thing with science isn't so much that it's changing. The science is always the same. It's that we are learning more and have methods now to delve deeper into the biochemistry of how we work and how nutrients affect us. 

Think of it like a game of hang-man or Wheel of Fortune. At first, only part of the solution shows and you find phrases or words that fit what you know. As more letters are revealed, you have to change your mind as to what the answer is. 

Nutritional science is like this. Things keep changing not because the science was wrong, but because the conclusions to the data were simply a best fit for what they knew at the time. 

Unfortunately, a lot of "experts" and those in the health and fitness industries will take the theory of the moment, something that maybe works or has worked for them in the past, and hold onto it despite what new research says. Then you end up with people holding desperately to the whole wheat and low fat paradigm and ignoring or scoffing at the tidal wave of new research that says otherwise. It's not so much because they are TRYING to dupe you, it was the best fit for the data we had at one time. It's no longer the best fit anymore, though. 

The best thing to do is keep on top of the research. That's a tall order, though. Other than that, find someone that you can track how their opinions have changed with the emergence of new science and try to follow their lead. And take it easy on people who still follow a long refuted dietary method, this stuff is HARD to keep up with! 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Muscle is Good for Metabolism, BUT....'s probably not in the way you think it is.

Common media mythology states over and over that muscle is more metabolically active, so if you have more muscle on your frame, you're burning more calories just sitting around. This is true, BUT the difference is practically negligible. Plus, fat is pretty metabolically active, it doesn't just sit there like dead weight.

I'm only going to go through a brief overview of this, but the science is out there.

If you read Gary Taubes's "Why We Get Fat", you'll realize it's NOT about calories in and calories out and you'll also learn another neat little tidbit: you don't get fat because you over eat, you over eat because you are fat. (Of course, there are the fun little addictive tendencies due to sugar and personality, but that's a whole 'nother can of worms.)

Fat cells want to hold onto their stores, and they want to greedily take in more. When supplies get low, they will release hormones that tell your brain you are starving, to eat more carbs and create more insulin to get more into your fat cells. So fat isn't just sitting there, it is actively creating and releasing hormones that will make you want to eat more, and want to eat more CRAP.

That's why for some exercise won't do much except make people eat more, unless it's accompanied by a good (read, something not full of carbs) diet.

So, okay, resting muscle and fat doesn't have that big of a metabolic difference. Why is having more muscle good for your metabolism?

Usually because the activity done to attain that muscle is what is fueling your metabolism.

To put on muscle, you need progressive fatigue and overload. Heavy weights and high intensity training (think about how sprinters look) ups your post workout metabolism for up to 48 hours, depending on the level of your intensity. (Look up studies about "EPOC" to read more on this.) Your fat isn't going to be more metabolically active after a training session, just the muscle. Now, two days later and you've only been resting, the metabolic difference is going to go right back to negligible.

So to sum up: Same song and dance. Train hard, lift heavy, run fast. And before anything else, EAT RIGHT!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Back to Training Reflections

What got me into this mess in the first place. Not that it was a huge mess, but it was a frustrating place of pain. Occurring over and over.

Psoas problems are often due to doing things in over extension. For most people, that means they are setting up their backs in a sway-like manner for lifting or squatting. And as boss-man KStar told me, it can take around 10 days for your body to heal after hurting it once. Probably why my two weeks off was a pretty smart move on my part.

Here's where I'm over extended: it's not in my lifting, its in my extra-curricular activities. In both pole dancing and trapeze, a high premium is put on flexibility, particularly in the lumbar region of the back.

There was a time I was really flexible. Like center splits and back walk-over flexible. That time is not now. If I get really warm and sweaty, I can still get pretty close to my right and left splits. If I get hot and down right drenched, MAYBE I can go into a back bend with minimal discomfort. I don't know if I'll ever see the center splits again, though.

My body can't do those things, but when I walk into these classes with my dancer's ego and brain's remembrance of those movements, I start to behave and practice like I can still do them. So looking back, is it any wonder that I started having psoas issues around the same time that I threw myself full force into pole dancing and static trapeze?

What do I do about it? Here are my behavioral goals:

1) Take it easy on yourself when it comes to flexibility movements.
2) Get to classes earlier and get REALLY warm before you start to stretch.
3) Take time outside of the classes to get REALLY warm for the sole purpose of stretching.

Tonight is my first day back to the pole studio. I hope I can follow my own advice!