Saturday, October 25, 2014

I'm Not Doing CrossFit Anymore (Mostly)

Ever since that first time doing "Fran" with jumping pull-ups and 45# thrusters in October of 2012 and getting my ass absolutely handed to me, I knew there was something legit about CrossFit. I knew it was what had been missing in my exercise life. Something that can knock you on your ass and make you question what happened to you and if you're actually still alive, but then help you stand back up only to knock you back down and again back up, but always ending with you on your feet; something like that is too good to be true, but when it is real you have to just do it. And that's exactly what I did. I committed myself to doing CrossFit, whatever that really is. I learned everything I could about the movements, progressions, programming, everything. I learned about all the games athletes, these gods amongst people who can snatch 300# and run miles on end and do muscle ups and everything else in between, I almost idolized them wanting to be them. I just had to know everything there was about this new thing that had just destroyed me.

On and off for 2 years, I continued learning as much as I could and preaching to everyone I knew that they should do CrossFit, that it would change their life. Yes, I was that annoying guy that everyone thinks about when they think of CrossFit and how you need to join our "cult". In those 2 years, I also learned a lot about myself as a person, gained self-confidence, really developed a passion for fitness and wellness. I started asking for different pieces of equipment for birthdays, getting a pair of Rehband knee sleeves and rings last year for my birthday, and as an early present this year I got Nike Romaleos 2 (weightlifting shoes). Training had become just about everything I would think about (well I still thought about music and food, I can't give up on my 2 real loves of life) and I was learning that I can't just annoy the crap out of people about it, they have the be ready to listen (shout out to my mom who started doing CrossFit this past December after a year of asking and changing her diet in May, and is now healthier than she has been in years). All in all, I loved CrossFit, fitness, wellness, training, everything about it, and I still do, but it's different now.

Like I said, I got a pair of weightlifting shoes as an early birthday present this year because I couldn't wait until December, I had to have a pair. One day at school I was just messing around with a new barbell that the weightlifting club had just gotten and I decided to snatch even though the last time I had was in March. I was able to move better and be in better positions with these shoes, but even more, I had so much fun. I loved picking up a weight off the ground and just throwing it over my head and catching it. I had never felt something so exhilarating. I wanted more of it, I needed more. It had become like a drug to me, something I had to have. So the next few times when I went to go to work at my CrossFit gym, I decided to do some snatches and just work on it and see how it felt as well as doing all of the conditioning required. 

Then it hit me, I really like this. I really like Weightlifting. I like that it is a challenge that is out there for me to tackle head on, something that will take a lot of work, and patience, and practice (all things that I normally hate). I want to do this, and I want to do it as much as possible. But to be a good weightlifter, you have to spend a lot more time than the average crossfitter is able to spend on it, whether that's getting your squat up to be stronger or working on positions, or simply just getting in all the reps needed for the snatch and clean and jerk. Then my next realization happened, I'd have to stop doing as much conditioning if I wanted to get good at this, I'd need to spend the energy I have, I need to spend it on getting better at this. 

And that is where the title comes from, I'm not doing CrossFit anymore. I still love it. I love everything that it has done for me, and countless others. I still love coaching it and teaching it to others, I just don't have that passion and desire anymore to do that myself. I want to do this Weightlifting thing. I still might do 1 or 2 conditioning sessions a week just so I don't become a complete lazy slob, and that is where the mostly comes from, but really I am not going to do it anymore. Since I am such a beginner in weightlifting, I can get better by doing other things as well, so that's why I'm still going to work on the gymnastics elements of CrossFit since those will transfer and make me a better lifter, but that's about it.

*Edit* Just to make it clearer, my program is basically a combination of Weightlifting, Powerlifting, and Gymnastics strength training. For now, I'm doing my own programming for the first two, and adding in a gymnastics program as well to complement it. I'll still be doing some powerlifting type stuff in order to still get stronger for weightlifting, but also because I'd like to try competing in that as well; I've heard it is a lot of fun. 

Is this the end of CrossFit for me as an athlete? Maybe, I'm not really sure, and I don't know when I'll know. I do know one thing though, if/when I do decide to come back to it, I know I'll be better because of the increased strength, mobility, power, and speed that I will have gained through weightlifting. As of now though, my plans are just weightlifting (and maybe a little powerlifting, like I said, I'm still at the point where getting strong will be beneficial) and I hope to find a meet sometime next spring to compete at. Who knows what lies ahead for me, but right now, I'm really excited by it. 

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 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 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.