Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Today I took another step backwards towards being able to squat heavy again. I strained my hip flexor again, this time on my right side instead of my left like it has been in the past. Let's take a look back at my hip history just these past 6 months. In March I strained my hip the first time and really couldn't squat at all, even unweighted, for a good 2 months. I then started squatting again and was feeling good, and then around the middle of June I reinjured it. Then about a week after I started squatting again (today) I hurt my right side, except today I did it stretching, and I wasn't even stretching my hip (I'm not really sure what actually happened). Yes this is incredibly frustrating, and I really am trying to rehab my hip and not get injured, but somehow I keep getting hurt. Maybe I'm just not meant to squat, who knows.

I've been at camp this summer and since I couldn't squat at all, and I couldn't snatch or clean because there weren't any bumpers, so naturally I stuck to deadlifting and overhead presses as my main strength exercises. Naturally my luck would kick in with my shoulders, and one night when I was having a pool party with my campers, we were "fighting" in the pool and one of my kids pulled on my left arm (my left shoulder has been the one that has had issues in the past) in some strange way where I felt a pop. I ended up getting it checked out and there wasn't any structural damage done, but I have yet to feel comfortable doing any hard work with it.

Now what's with the title, "When Life Gives You Lemons..."? Well, in this case, life has given me the ability, or really forced me, to work on one big thing right now. I can't squat, I can't press, so naturally I need to get really good at deadlifting. Since I was going to be at camp, I needed a program that wasn't going to require a lot of time because I don't have any time, so I started a Wendler 5/3/1 cycle 2 weeks before camp started. I'm now on my 3rd cycle, and next week, I'll be maxing out on 95% of what my actual 1RM was when I started all of this. I'm pretty excited because I'm finally putting in time to get really good (it's all relative to me) at something because I have to.

This is all meant for people to look at injuries differently. Yes, injuries suck. They don't let you work on different skills or lifts that you may want to, but unless you have something really major wrong, you are still able to work on some things. A buddy of mine got a really bad strain to his calf and can't do much lower body work now. Now he is getting really good at gymnastics work because that's about all he can do.

Injuries should not be something that bring you down and make you hate training. Injuries should be something force you to work on things that you're now able to only work on, and most likely you were neglecting beforehand, and get a lot better at them. Don't let injuries be a reason to be lazy, use the "lemons" that you've been given to make some awesome "lemonade" and get really good!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

CrossFit is NOT for Everyone

Well that was a very sharp title, considering I advocate CrossFit to just about anyone who is actually willing to listen and have a willing conversation with me. But really though, it isn’t for everyone and I acknowledge that completely. However, there are different reasons why training only CrossFit may not be for you.

You are a pure strength athlete:
Now when I say that, I mean that you are either a competitive weightlifter or powerlifter, and only those 2 things. It is actually pretty simple why CrossFit may not be for you in that case. The conditioning done won’t make you stronger, it may make you fitter, but those sports are about 1 thing, and 1 thing only: lifting as much weight as physically possible at once. Now yes, there are people like Lauren Fisher who is a fairly competitive weightlifter and CrossFitter, in fact she just competed at the Junior World Championships and will be competing at the CrossFit Games, but she is an anomaly who also has a long history of weightlifting. Her weightlifting benefits her CrossFit, but her CrossFit doesn’t benefit her weightlifting, there is a reason she doesn’t place better and lift more when competing, it’s because she spends too much time doing things other than weightlifting. Now for her, that’s fine, she wants to do both, but if she wanted to really excel at weightlifting, she would definitely have to cut out a lot of her CrossFit because the conditioning alone weakens you (note: I love Lauren Fisher and am a huge fan of hers, and think that her ability to be successful in both, especially at only age 20 is incredible). It is however possible to use some techniques from CrossFit to improve weightlifting, just not the conditioning. A lot of the gymnastics could greatly benefit weightlifters, especially any handstand work to develop strength and stability in the shoulders. On the Barbell Shrugged podcast, Mike Bledsoe mentioned that doing ring handstand –push-ups always increase his jerk by developing unilateral strength and stability at a full range of motion. There is also a reason you see people like Dmitry Klokov doing lots of gymnastics work, he is doing whatever he can to just get stronger.

You play another sport:
Now this one is a little tougher to argue because I do think it can be incredibly helpful. There are countless stories of strength coaches who have incorporated CrossFit Football into their programs and have seen both increases in strength and speed of their athletes. What I mean in this point though is that if you play another sport, whether it is football, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, or anything else, you have to spend time playing your sport. Playing that sport and practicing specific skills is the only way in which you can truly be better at your sport. Think about that for a second, if you don’t practice your sport, then how do you plan on excelling at your sport? However, for their strength and conditioning program, I do think it is fine to use some CrossFit protocols, but I wouldn’t do it all the time, especially for the in-season programming. In-season is when you need to maintain your strength and conditioning and while some gains can be made, it is also very taxing because you are spending so much time practicing as well and that can inhibit your recovery. In the off-season however, I think it is fine to use it for your programming, but also make sure you are keeping it relative to your sport. For example, a running back doesn’t need to be doing 20-minute workouts everyday in the off-season when the average play lasts 5 seconds. However that running back also needs to build and maintain the conditioning to be able to maintain explosiveness throughout an entire game, and depending on his particular strengths and weaknesses as an athlete is how you will do specific programming. However, that running back, and any other athlete, should be doing plenty of strength training (and I am also a large advocate of gymnastics (gymnastics in the way that CrossFit defines gymnastics, not necessarily doing high level gymnastics that professional gymnasts are doing) as a means of both developing strength and stability but also in the development of body awareness) in the off-season for that is when serious gains can be made.

Those are actually the 2 major groups that I feel should not be doing CrossFit for the majority of their training. In general, if you need a specific skill for whatever your goals are, you should spend enough time to become proficient in that skill, but you can use CrossFit as a strength and conditioning program to supplement their specific training.

If you feel that I have missed any groups or have any questions regarding this, feel free to leave comments. I want this to be a dialogue.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Is CrossFit a cult?

I'd like to preface this with the fact that I am a CrossFitter and I already know that making this post that no matter what I say will be controversial. My plan here isn't to be super controversial, it's more that will all the CrossFit bashing going on, especially the post written by Erin Simmons here (I'm not going to go into defending CrossFit from her article because that has been done in countless other places and I won't be writing anything new. I will say though that I think that if she is going to write something, she really needs to write more intelligently because she has a lot of unintelligent things in her post. It's actually quite ridiculous how blind she is). What I want to talk about is the criticism on the social aspect of CrossFit and how it has been labeled as cult by many people.

To begin with, a lot of definitions of cults are religious based, so I felt like I had to pick more general definitions of cult. From Merriam-Webster there are two definitions. 1st: "a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>". 2nd: "great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work". From dictionary.com there is one good definition I'd like to use: "an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers". From those definitions I feel like I can create a rough definition of what a cult is: it is a group of people who strongly believe in some set of values and act upon that belief. 

CrossFit has been labeled as a cult for being a group of crazy people who do this crazy exercise and eat this weird diet, oh and they make sure to post about it on Facebook too. 

We also apparently only want to go out of our ways to recruit others to join our evil ways and will do anything to do so. Oh, and the CrossFit Level 1 Seminar staff is preaching the gospel created by the great and powerful Greg Glassman (our messiah and savior), and those attending are becoming brain washed to spread the gospel to further people who don't want to think for themselves. 

Now to put a somewhat realistic and actual take on what all of that means. CrossFit is, more than anything else, a fitness methodology that was created by Greg Glassman, that has been defined as "Constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements" and the goal is to create fitness. I'll give a brief explanation of that in hopes that people know what it means already. Constantly varied is that you are usually always doing something different in hopes to create a slightly different stimulus for your body so it never adapts and you can continue to improve. High intensity is just as it seems, you are either doing as many reps as you can in a certain period of time, doing a set amount of work as quickly as you can, or you're lifting heavy weights. Functional movements are those that are engrained into our DNA and we are meant to do, squat, pull, push, hinge, and carry. There have been other movements added like the olympic lifts (snatch, clean & jerk) because they are great at developing large amounts of the 10 general physical skills and athleticism. 

Based on that, all a CrossFitter is is someone who follows that methodology in order to get as fit as possible. Now Greg Glassman also found that people will work harder and get greater results when training others and that is why there are affiliates all over the world. CrossFitters don't come together because we are insane, we come together to work out because that will just get us fitter. So yes, what we do in order to get fit may be different than what other people do, but it is simply our chosen path; instead of running, boxing, yoga, zumba, or any other methodology, we simply chose CrossFit.

Now onto this funky diet we have. At the Level 1 seminar, they teach the basics on the Zone Diet which was created by Dr. Barry Sears which is aimed at achieving stable blood sugar levels, hormonal balance, low inflammation, and good health. It is a diet based on macronutrient ratios of your caloric intake. They also mention the foods we should eat in order to achieve optimal fitness and health "meats and veggies, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar". CrossFitters have also become popular for eating a Paleo Diet which is very similar to the foods that CrossFit recommends we should eat. The basis behind that is that our DNA has not changed very much in thousands of years and our diet shouldn't change much either, whereas the modern western diet is made of things that are killing our bodies because they aren't meant to handle those foods. Again yes, CrossFitters generally have a different diet than most people eating a modern western diet, but what about things like the Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet, Grapefruit Diet, and any other crazy diet you may have heard of. All of those diets have their own purpose and for some work. This diet that CrossFitters follow has just been shown to give optimal health and for most optimal performance. 

The other points I mentioned were mostly jokes, but have some validity. Yes you will find many CrossFitters posting things on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or some other site, but that isn't because we're nuts. It's because we are starting to prioritize health and fitness in our lives and our goals change to things like getting that first muscle up, a big squat, or some other thing. We get excited about these things now. That's like a fashion designer posting all of these different outfits because that's what that person is incredibly excited about, or a dancer posting some crazy routine that they did because it is awesome for that person. And yes, a lot of us will try and recruit those closest to us to try, but that again isn't because we are insane, it is because we have seen the amazing results that have come from CrossFit and want the people we care about to experience the same. Plus, we have found some of our closest friends through CrossFit and want to share that world with you. I promise, most (there are always the crazy ones in any activity) of us just want you to see the benefits that thousands of people have seen and it is because we care about you. 

I have talked about some of the criticisms, but still is the comment about CrossFit being a cult incorrect? After writing this out, honestly, I don't think so. CrossFit is a cult. CROSSFIT IS A CULT!!! Now people may think I'm a little crazy for saying that since I am a CrossFitter, but I'm proud to be a part of  a community of people who prioritize health and fitness and are willing to invest in that and work really hard to get there. We are a group of people that get excited about our friends doing the same. Yes, CrossFit may be a cult, but I can't think of a better cult than one that has the goal of getting healthier and doing it in a way that gives you a community of friends. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Importance of Sleep

I’m sure everyone knows that without sleep we really can’t function. That is something that has been hammered into us ever since the day nap time ended. Now that we are all grown up and have busy lives, whether it is school, work, a family, or something that somehow doesn’t fit into the previous three things, sleep is now wanted more than ever, yet we can never seem to get enough of it. On the other hand, some of you may be in denial and think you don’t need as much sleep as others and that you can be fine on 2-4 hours of sleep a night. Well to you people I have but one message, You are so wrong! I have learned firsthand these last two weeks just how important sleep is, both with health but also my fitness, happiness, mental state, and anything else that can be applied to a person.

Last Saturday (May 3rd) was my comedy group’s sketch show and as such, we were having late practices every night as a part of our “hell week”. It also happened to be a week with 2 exams and a paper, so there was not much time to be had for sleep. Due to my class schedule and the extra practices, I had to wake up really early that week, to the point where I really was averaging 2-4 hours of sleep a night. The day before my show I had planned on testing my deadlift in hopes of setting a new 1RM. Due to the lack of sleep I had been getting, I hadn’t been recovering, and as such, while I was working up, weights that I could previously hit fairly easily were feeling incredibly difficult. At that point I knew it would be a waste to even try and that I would definitely not hit a new max, but instead today I was able to hit a PR. Sleep is probably the most important part of gaining results from training because that is when your muscles recover. If you’re not getting enough you won’t recover, but if you are you will see all kinds of progress.  

Not only is sleep incredibly important for making progress in your training, but it is also incredibly important for your health and wellness. This past Wednesday, my lack of sleep finally caught up to me and I felt absolutely terrible. I could barely stand, to point where one of my teachers told me to leave class and go to bed. Not only had I gotten sick to exhaustion, but I was also feeling very agitated and cranky towards everything, and that was frustrating to me because I’m not usually like that. I ended up sleeping 6 hours during the day though, 9 more that night, and then 10 hours Thursday night and woke up feeling phenomenal Friday, like I was a new person.

Sleep is the most important part of training and you should aim to get 8 hours of sleep each night, probably 9 if you trained that day. If you’re not sleeping you won’t make progress, but you’re also going to get sick and feel terrible. Do yourself a favor and go back to cherishing your sleep. Now go get a good night’s sleep everyone.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Training with Injuries

With intense training, you are bound to get some bumps and bruises on the road to increasing your fitness. A little soreness isn’t a bad thing at all and probably means you’re actually working pretty hard. Injuries on the other hand are not a good thing at all because they can really derail your progress, plus they are just incredibly annoying. However, there are certain ways in which you can train through and around your injuries.

First thing you have to do is listen to your doctor (assuming you’ve seen one). If your doctor says not to do something, don’t do it. Making the injury worse is not worth whatever progress you might see, and if you’re pushing through an injury, you’re probably not going to be getting any progress anyway. For example, a month ago I noticed some pain in my foot, went to a doctor, and found out I had a stress fracture in my 2nd metatarsal in my left foot. He told me no jumping and no running. That means I had to stop everything that had that. He then recommended I lay off doing most everything else. Now in general I wouldn’t recommend what I did, but in my mind because he didn’t explicitly say not to do other movements, I went along doing just about everything else as far as pain would allow. In general though, I would listen to your doctor’s orders AND recommendations. I may be fine now, but it is always possible that the things I was doing could have just made things worse.

If you have something that is not an injury like a fracture where you can still do things, but it hurts to do so or you can’t go through the full range of motion, then you can still workout, but modify things to not strain the injury, and then do lots of mobility work to help with the issue. Again, to use myself as an example. After doing my Level 1, I woke up the next day with a pretty bad strain in my left hip flexors. It was most likely a result of doing lots of squats the 5 days prior in various capacities. As such though, I can’t really squat right now and because of that I now have to modify workouts that have squatting or any other large amounts of hip flexion to not include it. On days where there are movements such as thrusters, I would just do push presses. Plus before and after workouts, I do a lot of mashing of my hips, release of my psoas, and trying to create slack in my quads. In general, if you have something that more just gets in the way, but isn’t an extreme injury, you can find things to work around it. I would definitely recommend talking to a coach though because they know more than you do, that’s why they are there.

Having injuries sucks, but they don’t have to be the end of the world for your training. It is possible to work around them and still see progress, but you want to do it conservatively and intelligently so you don’t make the injury even worse.

Recap of CrossFit Level 1 Seminar

The last weekend in March I attended the CrossFit Level 1 Seminar at CrossFit Federal Hill in Baltimore. Before I get into the seminar, I must say that that is an absolutely magnificent facility. I decided to attend the seminar for a couple reasons, but the main reason was in a way that I had no reason not to. I have probably learned about as much as I can easily find online about CrossFit at this point. Plus, while it may sound cheesy, I really believe in what CrossFit does for people, and since I want to eventually get into coaching, it seemed like the right time.

On Saturday we begin the day pretty early on with just going over, “What is CrossFit?”. This was interesting for me in that I had heard just about everything that was discussed, but never in this perspective and never in a room full of other CrossFitters who were there to learn as much as I was. After going over what CrossFit is, we then went into our first movement series, the squat series that includes the air squat, front squat, and overhead squat. This was a very humbling experience because I knew I didn’t have the greatest squat before, but I was being pushed and moved into positions that I didn’t know were possible, but then I learned how I can help fix my positions in the long term. After the squats, we went over “What is Fitness?” We went over the 4 different models of fitness that all contribute to the definition of “Increased Work Capacity Across Broad Time and Modal Domains”. This was a similar feeling to the first lecture, for I had heard all of that before at one point, but hearing it discussed in this setting made everything resonate with me much more. After lunch we came in to do the press series that is the press, push press and push jerk. Yes! I wasn’t brought into the circle for doing things wrong, but instead was actually complimented on my positions. After that we then went over the thruster and the kipping pull up. We all thought we were going to be doing Fran as our workout that day, but no, it was 3 rounds for time of 15 thrusters and 12 burpees. Being the day after I did 14.5 I was so sick of those movements I just wanted them to be done. After our hard workout, we took our sweaty picture that would go up on crossfit.com and then for those who wanted to, people stayed around, talked, and we even enjoyed in some nice and incredibly refreshing beers. All in all a great first day.

Sunday we started off with nutrition, and it was funny because the presenter admitted that Saturday was their cheat day so they felt guilty giving that presentation. We discussed the hierarchy of movements and how nutrition is the foundation, as well as what types of foods we should be eating, and ended on the zone diet. We then went into the deadlift series, which is the deadlift, sumo deadlift high pull, and medicine ball clean. We spent a lot of time on the deadlift, and that was extremely helpful for everyone in my group because we all had slightly different faults and that helped with identifying them. We didn’t spend a ton of time on the sumo deadlift high pull, people seemed to get it pretty well once they were able to get the right set-up position. It seemed like we spent forever on those cleans. We kept going back and forth on certain faults and then once something was fixed another problem would occur. They were horribly exhausting to go through. Naturally our workout before lunch would include those cleans, in fact it was an 8 min AMRAP of 8 pushups, 10 medicine ball cleans, and 12 sit ups. This wasn’t as hard as the workout on Saturday, but was a nice solid workout where I was able to keep a good pace. For this, we had a partner and coached each other under intensity for the first time. While we were coaching, the seminar staff would come around and then coach our coaching, so it was nice to hear different ways to say the same thing. After lunch we discussed programming. While this was a very interesting lecture for me, and was probably the most beneficial and practical for people, I didn’t agree with everything that was said and I don’t think I would ever program like was went over. They did acknowledge that though, and admit that that is one of the better things about the affiliate process is that each affiliate can be programmed differently and that the lecture is a base of knowledge. After a quick review session, we took the test, and that was the end of the weekend.

It was a very long and tiring weekend for me, but it was an incredible experience. I learned more than I could have imagined, and I had so much fun doing it. For anyone interested in coaching or just wanting to learn more about CrossFit, I highly recommend going to the Level 1 seminar because it will be a worthwhile weekend. It is worth the $1000, I guarantee it. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Why I did the 2014 CrossFit Open

Now that the CrossFit Open is over, I’d like to reflect on why I actually decided to do the Open from a hindsight perspective, so here are my 10 reasons why I did the CrossFit Open.

1. I have been doing CrossFit on and off since the Fall of 2012 and while I have had my issues with consistencies and injuries, I finally feel like I have a solid grasp on a lot of the movements and wanted to see where I am.

2. I finally have the opportunity to. During last year’s Open I paid attention but wasn't able to do it. There Isn’t space or equipment necessary to do it at school, but now that I’m interning at CrossFit DoneRight I’m finally able to do it.

3. I saw incredible achievements. I witnessed people getting their first muscle up, first chest-to-bar pull up (I was really hoping that’d be me, maybe next year), and one person pulled their 1RM deadlift for multiple reps during 14.3. The coolest thing of all was when I was on spring break visiting a gym out in LA, I witnessed a 16 year old do 10 unbroken muscle ups during 14.4. The open just makes people work that much harder to where they can do things they never thought possible.

4. I can compete with everyone. I may not be the fastest/strongest/fittest person but I was able to compete right along with the best athletes in the world. It is a cool thing to know that I’m doing the exact same workout as Rich Froning, Jason Khalipa, Dan Bailey and more.

5. It is a great way to track my progress. While this may be the first year I've done the Open, I know exactly where I placed and next year when I do it, I can see if I have progressed based on my placing. While it is only one way of tracking progress, it is a fun way of doing so in a competition setting that you don’t get everyday.

6. I am one of 209,585 people to sign up for the Open and that is just really awesome. Plus, with all those people, I was able to see where I stood up, and after 5 weeks, turns out I’m the 67,574 fittest person in the world. That’s top ⅓ in the world and I’ll take that any day.

7. You have to push yourself to do something that you may not think possible or that you wouldn't otherwise try. For the average person, they wouldn't have thought they’d be able to do a lot of these workouts as prescribed or they wouldn't for whatever reason. For example, for me if I were doing 14.2 as a regular workout, I wouldn't have programmed it as chest-to-bar pull ups because I don’t have them, I would have done regular pull ups so I could move farther in the workout and get a better metabolic effect from the workout. Instead I had to really push myself to go after those pull ups. Granted, I didn't get any (Jay said he would have given me a couple, but I didn't actually feel them hit my chest) but I still was forced to work as hard as I possibly could.

8. It’s your chance to experience a completely unbiased programming. In some programming, you’re able to hide your weaknesses. In the Open, there is no hiding at all, and once your weaknesses are exposed you are forced to work on them to become fitter.

9. It displays the epitome of the CrossFit community. In a regular workout, people are working hard and cheering for each other. During the Open though, you are going as hard as possible and people are screaming at you to get you to do as much as your body can handle. Regular workouts are a great display of community, but the Open is on a whole different level.

10. While it may seem cheesy, I simply just wanted to. It is fun, and only costs $20. It is the only real chance that I get to do a competition and it is really fun.

I loved doing the Open. If you did the Open, I hope you enjoyed it, and if not, I highly suggest you do it next year because you will not regret it at all.