Apr 22

Become a More Coachable Athlete

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As passionate coaches, we want to impart athletes with as much knowledge, information and attention as possible. Unfortunately, the communication process is often interrupted, both on the coaches’ and athletes’ part, by class size, distractions, time and client management, running two different workouts at the same time, etc. Here are seven ways that you as an athlete can get the highest rate of return on the coaching we are trying to dish out.

1) Show up 10 minutes early. This will help you check out the WOD by watching the previous class finish. You can get a glimpse at the scaling options, targeting times and goals for the workout and give yourself a transition time to mentally ramp up to get in the right mindset.

2) Talk to your coach. Before the workout is a great time to bring any special needs or considerations you might have to the coach’s attention. Maybe you have an injury, maybe you are scared, maybe there is something that is especially challenging for you. Before class is a great time to address those things.

3) Get in tight when the coach is talking — “like it’s cold and I’m the campfire.” Briefing the WOD or going over ways to attack the workout as well as points of performance and standards are vitally important. Having to repeat stuff takes time away from athletes, so get it in close even if it gets a little weird.

4) Slow it down if coaches are using a movement progression. We are after quality, not quantity when it comes to learning movement. Don’t be in a rush. Quiet your mind and concentrate on the concise cues the coach is giving. Work on improving little details and retain those little improvements so they can accumulate over time.

5) Get eyes on you. Ask the coach to watch your movement. It doesn’t have to be every rep, but the coach should see a few good reps for every athlete, and regardless of your ability, you should walk away with at least one cue. Wait for the coach, ask for attention. This also puts pressure on you to perform with an audience.

6) Write your cues down in a log. If there was a tactile or verbal cue that worked well with you, jot it down. Athletes internalize things in different ways; maybe squatting against the wall gives you a better lumbar curve or maybe just hearing “arch your back” gets you there. Keep an inventory of your fixes.

7) Stay after class. Pick the brains of coaches. Let them go into more details for the fixes or recommendations they made for you. This is a great chance to get the “why” of the actionable cues you got. Also, after class is a great time to do “goat” work and work on those weaknesses that challenge you. Maybe it is getting reps of the kipping pull-up progression or working on double-unders. It’s often the accumulation of this time that facilitates breakthroughs.

These are a few ways to maximize the athlete-coach experience. Understand that communication is a two-way street. We give a cue and you communicate with a physical result. But there are some types of communication that are not communicated physically.  If there are any emotional considerations or things that we need to know to get you to work at the threshold of your physical and mental capacity, let us know. Coaches are usually very approachable and empathetic, wanting to help people who need it.

Apr 22

How to Kill Your Next WOD

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Regardless of whether you’re an experienced CrossFitter or a beginner, you know what those first few weeks felt like. You hurt! In fact, even now your days off feel oh so good. Experienced CrossFit athletes will tell you that in time you adapt to the rigor, but perhaps the more pertinent question is this: How do you know when you’ve optimized your recovery between WODs? The answer is: You don’t.

There are no signs or markers of recovery. You can’t even go by delayed onset muscle soreness (i.e., how sore you are the next day or two). And that’s why you can always improve your recovery efforts, even if you think you’re getting progressively better at handling WODs. Optimal recovery for each of us is a dynamic, systematic physiological process that changes as we change. But — and this is an important “but” — if you are actively working a sound, synchronized recovery program, you are doing everything you can to reach your potential. Here’s what you should know to do exactly that.

Recovery Deficit

You’ve likely heard the term “oxygen deficit.” That’s the state that occurs when more oxygen is being used than is being supplied, at which point something has to give, some “payback” has to occur. Similarly, in exercise science, researchers are starting to speak more about a “recovery deficit” — a condition in which the body is not so much overtrained as it is under-recovered.

In recovery deficit, payback is hell. You feel weak from the start. You never really get going, and you can’t wait for someone to yell, “Time!” The problem is that your body has not yet fully recovered from the stress of your last WOD, and now you’re asking it to respond to a new stressor. It can’t and it won’t.

It’s important to remember that muscle adaptations from exercise stress are a luxury, not a priority, for your body. That is, only after your body takes care of its basic physiological needs (nutrition, repair of tissues, etc.) will it begin to “supercompensate” from any stressor and bring about growth.

With that in mind, here are 10 ways to optimize recovery and kill your next WOD.
CrossFit Nutrition

1. Clean Up Your Diet

We know, you wanted something sexier, right? Unfortunately, what and how you eat on a daily basis is one of the biggest factors in how well you recover. Remember, the WOD is just a stimulus for growth. The body doesn’t grow and progress during a workout; it grows during the repair and recovery process. And if you are going to bust your butt in the box, you might as well support that work at home, too.

A clean diet includes lots of lean protein to support muscle growth and lots of fruits and veggies. Fruits and veggies contain good antioxidants, which can protect against muscle cell damage, and the phytochemicals in dark-green leafy veggies can repair connective tissue and may be able to reduce inflammation.

But you also have to watch your total caloric intake. If you’re dieting to drop a few pounds, your recovery will suffer. Trust us, fat loss will occur over time if you keep training. And if you don’t recover well, then you won’t be able to keep training anyway, right?

Lastly, make sure you show up to a particularly tough WOD having eaten sufficient carbohydrates. Remember, carbs are the body’s fuel source during high-intensity activity. So make sure you take in plenty of pasta, rice, potatoes or bread before a grueling WOD.

2. Pre-WOD Snack

One way to enhance recovery is to minimize the amount of stress your body encounters during the workout, and one way to do that is to ensure you eat enough energy-packed nutrients before the session. Every body is a bit different when it comes to handling food before a WOD, but you should try to consume a snack or small meal one to two hours before training. The snack should contain 250 to 350 calories with roughly 60 percent of those calories coming from non-sucrose carbohydrate sources. Some commercial sports drinks fit the bill, as do salads, whole-wheat bagels, granola bars and fruit.

3. Post-WOD Work

Immediately after finishing your WOD, cool down with some light activity. Get on the rower or bike or jog or even work (lightly) on your gymnastics skills. By continuing to push blood through your vessels, you are helping to circulate out the waste products of muscle contraction.

After your light activity cool-down, stretch while your muscles are still warm. A nice, relaxed static stretch of muscles worked that day also can help enhance muscle elasticity and plasticity as well as recovery. Make post-WOD stretching part of your standard routine.

4. Break It Up!

Physical manipulation of affected muscles can reduce swelling of tissues and muscle damage. What we know is this: When muscles are compressed after intense exercise, muscle function improves and there are fewer signs of inflammation. That compression can come from anything that will provide direct pressure on the affected muscles. Sure, regular visits to a sports-massage therapist can be costly, so save those for the times you are feeling particularly beaten up. Instead, take advantage of inexpensive alternatives. Use a roller, lacrosse ball or even partner massage to break up muscle tightness.

CrossFit Massage

5. Post-WOD Nutrition

When the clock stops on your WOD, it starts on the next one. During your training session, glycogen synthase — an enzyme whose mission is to help you replenish the energy you lost — is circulating in high concentration. It’s trying to find glucose to store for your next session, and you have 45 minutes to an hour to capitalize on it, so don’t wait to get home before you ingest carbs. Get a post-WOD recovery drink or other fast-digesting carbohydrate in you as soon as possible. Interestingly, most recent research is showing that a recovery drink with a little protein added to the carbohydrate solution actually results in greater glycogen storage than one with carbs alone.

6. Sleep

If you’re not sleeping well, you are guaranteed to be sacrificing growth and progress. Not only does a significant amount of the anabolic process (i.e., muscle growth) occur during sleep, but it is also when the body tends to regulate growth hormone, melatonin, cortisol and other hormones that can affect how muscles adapt to training.
Try to get at least eight hours a night. It may not be easy, but if you commit to it, you will notice an improvement in your workouts. To help, keep a check on your intake of caffeine, sugar, alcohol and water the last few hours before you hit the sack.

7. Stay Hydrated

You’ve got to show up at the box hydrated for optimal performance, and you need to maintain hydration during the next 24 hours. If you don’t stay hydrated, you’re hurting your body’s ability to reduce swelling and soreness, and you could even promote rhabdomyolysis.

How much water should you drink? After a WOD, drink 1 pint for every pound you’ve lost on the scale. What about during the whole day? A reasonable formula is to take your bodyweight in pounds and divide by two. That’s how many ounces you need. Probably more than you thought, huh?

8. Supplementation

The more we look at supplements and muscle recovery, the more we recognize the role many have in repairing and replenishing cells. Here are the top five:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids. These oils from fish and plants can reduce cell inflammation resulting from an intense exercise session.
  • Vitamins A, C and E. These vitamins have antioxidant properties, meaning they can prevent the destruction of muscle cell membranes.
  • Branched-chain amino acids. Leucine, isoleucine and valine can be used directly by muscle cells for energy. Keep circulating levels high.
  • Creatine. Study after study shows that creatine supplementation enhances performance in repeated anaerobic bouts — exercise that is very much like a typical WOD. Supplementing with it ensures you are ready for the next hard workout.
  • Calcium and iron for women. Women have particular needs for adequate calcium and iron. Ladies, if you are not a big dairy or meat eater, please consider calcium and iron supplements — or a good multivitamin that contains 100 percent of the Daily Value for your age of these two important micronutrients.

9. Thermal Therapies

After a tough WOD, you could benefit from cold therapy, also called “cryotherapy” (an ice bath, etc.), which calms muscle and tissue inflammation, thereby minimizing oxygen depletion on the cellular level and even soreness. The vasoconstriction that occurs from that icy plunge also can help flush hydrogen ions and metabolic waste from affected muscles.

But what if you don’t have access to an ice bath — or you just hate freezing cold water? Try a contrast shower. In either a shower or a tub, alternate between cycles of hot and cold water. Try 60 seconds of hot (up to 110 degrees), followed by 30 seconds of cold (as low as 60 degrees) for five to seven cycles. Studies show that contrast hydrotherapy, which alternately dilates and constricts blood vessels, reduces inflammation and promotes lymphatic drainage of waste products.

10. Know When to Back Off

We all like to hit WODs all-out, all the time. The problem is that there are times when we need more rest despite the fact that we’re doing everything right. For instance, the ability to recover could be hampered by a training regimen that’s not appropriate, emotional or psychological stress, or even something like the common cold.

So listen to your body. Ask yourself: Do I feel weak today? How is my enthusiasm for training? Am I prepared with adequate sleep and nutrition? If you are not ready for another WOD, don’t be afraid to take a day — or a few days — off. That may be just what your body needs, and you will likely come back stronger.

Apr 22

Core Concepts

Time to use your imagination.

Pretend your body is a seesaw and your hips are the pivot point in the middle. As one end of the board goes up and the other goes down, and vice versa, you want that board to be rigid. If it bends, it could break, and there goes the seesaw.

Or, your body is a house. Place that house on top of a solid foundation and it will stand strong and tall for decades. Put it on an unstable, cracked foundation, however, and the house will fall apart. It could be the prettiest home on the block, but if it’s on a faulty slab, it’ll crumble.

Now, you’re shooting a cannon from a canoe, and the outcome is predictable: The cannon is powerful and its ball is lethal, but with every shot, the canoe gets damaged and eventually it sinks.

Your core is the middle part of that seesaw board, the foundation of the house and the base on which the cannon sits. If it’s solid, the rest of your body will be able to function at a high level in the gym or in competition. If it bends, cracks or is a tiny boat floating on water, it will give way and, like the seesaw, there goes your performance.

“If you drew a straight line from your hips to your shoulders and you use your hips as that pivot of the seesaw, you don’t want anything to bend along that line,” says Dr. Brian Strump, owner of CrossFit Steele Creek and Premier Health & Rehab Solutions in Charlotte, N.C. (crossfitsteelecreek.com). “All your limbs pull from the core, so if it isn’t working properly, you’ll have increased risk of injury, your motor control for sports will be worse, and you won’t be as strong.”

Core Curriculum

Definitions of the core vary slightly from trainer to trainer, but virtually everyone agrees that the core is way more than just the abs. Strump regards the region as “just above midthigh to right below the shoulder, and everything in between,” which includes anything named “abdominus” (rectus, transverse), the obliques, the muscles of the lower back, the diaphragm, the upper hamstrings and hip flexors, and all the small muscles in that area that most people don’t realize exist — in other words, pretty much any muscle in the midsection and hips.

But as many muscles as there are in the area, there are more benefits to having a strong core. The baseball pitcher will be able to throw harder with less strain on his arm, the basketball player will be more agile with better body control, and so on. For the CrossFitter, novice to competitor, virtually everything you do in the gym is enhanced — exercise technique improves, strength numbers go up, WOD times go down.

“The stronger and more efficiently your core works, the less force you need from all your other joints,” Strump says. “The problem we see in most people that can’t properly squat adequate loads isn’t necessarily that their legs aren’t strong enough but that the core isn’t strong enough to support the weight. Just because you have huge quads doesn’t mean you’re going to squat a lot of weight. Your core needs to be able to support that weight across your back. Kettlebell swings become easier, back squats become easier, you’re not having to rest as much during workouts. Maybe I can do a set of 20 or 30 reps as opposed to 10 or 15. You should see bigger squatting numbers, bigger deadlift numbers, and it will even increase the number of push-ups you can do.”

Increased efficiency and body control have a lot to do with this. Take a kipping pull-up or muscle-up, for example. Neither of these exercises can be performed for an appreciable number of reps without efficient movement. The legs can’t be flailing wildly, and the arms need to stay within an acceptable path of motion so as to not waste energy. And it’s the core — the meeting place in the middle between the arms and legs — that largely determines whether form gets sloppy or efficiency prevails. It’s the puppet master pulling the strings on your physical performance.

“With a stronger core, an athlete will have better body control and better coordination in terms of knowing where their body is in space,” Strump says. “The more efficiently the core can work, the more efficiently the hips can work, the better an injured knee can feel, the less force that’s needed to dispense through the shoulders and elbows and wrists. If it’s a CrossFit competition, an athlete would recover faster and feel less worn down between events.”

World of Hurt

The benefits of a strong core are numerous, while the consequence of a faulty one can be any number of injuries: “lower back strains, disc injuries, hip pain, pulled hamstrings and shoulder injuries,” says Strump, who’s also a licensed doctor of chiropractic in addition to being Level 1 CrossFit and CrossFit Olympic Lifting certified. “The most common thing I see is lower-back pain. The muscles of the lower back should be there to keep your spine from hunching over,” he says. “You can tell when someone lifts poorly. You look at their back and you can see the shoulders and spine get rounded. That forced flexion is a very common way for people to injure themselves. Most people are weaker in those posterior pulling muscles.”

Such injuries can be caused by not working the core enough or by not understanding all the core’s crucial functions, which can result in misdirected training. “My core isn’t strong enough,” you say to yourself, “so I better do more planks and sit-ups.” It’s not quite that simple.

“While GHD [glute-hamstring developer] sit-ups and planks may be good exercises, that shouldn’t be anyone’s main way to strengthen their core,” Strump says. “Flexion is just one of the core’s jobs; preventing movement is another. It’s like the seesaw — you don’t want it to bend or flex. If you train the core to always be in flexion, then you can’t be surprised when your overhead squats don’t improve.”

But it’s not only about pure strength. You can make all the muscles from the hips through the midsection stronger, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll function properly. “You have to be able to control the core. That’s the biggest thing,” Strump says. “The muscles need to fire in a coordinated sequence. The deep muscles need to contract first to stabilize the hips and trunk; this creates a more stable base for the arms and legs to work best. So to simplify it as saying, ‘I need a stronger core’ — true, but it also needs proper mobility and stability. Mobility takes into consideration flexibility, strength and motor control. Somebody could be strong in the core but could still have poor control over his body.”

Middle Management

For the deep core muscles and glutes to fire before the primary movers, they need to fire in the first place. If the bigger muscles (quads, lats, etc.) contract without the smaller ones, the core will be less stable, which will result in less power and strength in the short term and increased injury risk later on. According to Strump, the core and glutes are inactive in many individuals, particularly those who sit at a desk all day, because of prolonged flexion in the torso and hips. (The glutes work to extend the hips; sitting puts the hips in a flexed position.)

“Before I squat or deadlift, I want to make sure that, after sitting at a desk for eight hours, my core and glutes are primed and ready to go,” Strump says. “I don’t want the first time I ask my glutes to work to be when I’m under a barbell with 100, 200 or 300 pounds on my back. And warming up with a lighter weight on that exercise isn’t necessarily going to do it. It might start working, but it’s not the deeper core muscles that I want to initiate to start firing properly. After I do movements that will get the glutes activated and core initiated, then I can go to the bar and start warming up.”

Check out the warm-up routine designed specifically by Strump to improve core stability and mobility. The exercises selected aren’t traditional core isolation moves like planks and sit-ups; rather, they’re movements that are intended to “turn on” the core muscles and glutes to enhance overall strength, power and body control for CrossFit workouts while decreasing injury risk.

“It’s not just about planks and sit-ups,” Strump says. “Because sometimes with the core, the muscles are strong, but you just have to put all the pieces together.”

Just Breathe

The forgotten core muscle, according to Dr. Brian Strump, is the diaphragm, which plays a major role in breathing. In fact, learning to use the diaphragm correctly while lifting can pay immediate dividends in core stability.

“Most people breathe up as opposed to breathing out,” Strump says. “When you breathe out, the diaphragm rolls up, filling the stomach with air like a balloon, and adds stability in the core. Just breathing out can add pounds to your squat or deadlift on top of making it safer by eliciting those deep stabilizers of the lower back and pelvis.

“As a breathing exercise, lie down on your stomach, breathe in and force yourself to feel your stomach pushing against the ground. If I’m watching you, I’m looking for your butt to rise. People take breathing for granted, but before you lift a heavy weight, it’s key. The big guys who lift a lot of weight know how this is done.”

Apr 22

Become The Lord Of The Rings

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“You cannot run away from weakness; you must some time fight it out or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?” — Robert Louis Stevenson

Whether you want to stand atop the podium the CrossFit Games or you just want to keep posting personal bests on the whiteboard, your level of success is predicated on a willingness to identify and summarily eliminate deficiencies. And even though a full third of all CrossFit programming includes various gymnastics elements, many athletes marginalize the importance of these moves, instead dedicating their early time at the gym to easier skills they have deemed a greater priority. But any serious CrossFitter should stubbornly insist on eliminating weaknesses, not avoiding them.

Gymnastics moves are intimidating if you have never done them before — or if you’ve tried in front of fellow athletes and failed. But mastering these moves and their core elements can make you vastly more proficient at everything else you do in CrossFit.

“CrossFit founder Greg Glassman is an ex-gymnast who understands the benefit of moving the body in different planes and has set gymnastics up as a foundational element of CrossFit,” says Jeff Tucker, former gymnast and CEO of CrossFit GSX  in Fort Worth, Texas. “All gymnastics ever did was serve me well throughout my 24-year career as a firefighter. I could move my body better. I was more agile, more explosive, stronger. If you’re not doing gymnastics, you’re not doing CrossFit. It’s that simple.”

Dusty Hyland, co-owner and head gymnastics coach of DogTown CrossFit in Culver City, Calif., believes that gymnastics can be a valuable tool for any athlete because of the many purposes it serves. “Gymnastics is fundamental to everything across the board,” Hyland says. “Basically, it’s no-load weightlifting and body mechanics 101. Put another way, it’s functional bodyweight movement. And for the elite CrossFitter, unfortunately, it’s the most underutilized third of the programming. It shouldn’t be. It can identify mobility deficiencies and help you avoid injury. If you can get efficient in these movements, you’ll have a leg up as a competitor.”

See Also Ring Dip

Additionally, Tucker and Hyland contend that the core strength and stability benefits can translate immediately into nearly every other CrossFit activity. From a stronger kip to a heavier deadlift, those who train gymnastics moves in earnest can expect a significant performance boost.

“We want athletes to understand that the greater their core strength, the greater their overall strength will

be,” Tucker says. “One athlete went from a 325-pound plateau on her deadlift to 369 simply by adding gymnastics moves that better developed her core. For those who would doubt the payoff, we see the proof constantly.”

Don’t go thinking that you have to go all “iron cross” to start getting all gymnast-y. As with anything else, focusing on a basic progression of moves is central to developing proficiency. And these moves, which you will encounter if you spend any length of time at your local box, help to diffuse the aura of impossibility surrounding gymnastics for CrossFitters. No need to start walking over to the rings. Snuffing out this weakness starts, not surprisingly, between your ears.

The Intimidation Factor

Some people who are new to CrossFit — those maybe looking to sweat off a few pounds — are often intimidated when walking into an environment in which people are hand-walking and doing ring dips. This throws up a red flag and forces immediate evaluation of their own capabilities. Doubt can quickly creep in about the value or practicality of this type of skill work.

“I think definitions become really important,” Tucker says. “People say that gymnastics are too skill intensive. What is skill-intensive work? Is the snatch skill intensive? Or the overhead squat? So much mechanics go into doing these things correctly before going heavier. One of the greatest things we do that we put out there is that you don’t have to do as much skill-intensive work as you might think to do gymnastics work. And you’re never alone. On average, about 2 percent of people in a class can do most gymnastics moves like the iron cross, and that’s fun for a coach like me. Obviously, there has to be some prerequisite strength. It’s only once we find a starting point that we start to work on more advanced things.”

But the popular vernacular — and what folks have learned about gymnastics from NBC — could cause peoples’ survivalist brains to go into high gear. No one wants to fall off a high bar, right? “When people use the term ‘gymnastics,’ they immediately think of the Olympics and the highest level of a very specialized sport, not fundamental position,” Hyland says. And, he adds, any coach worth his salt is going to walk you through the progressions in a way that promotes proper skill development and safety.

“What we are really discussing here is a focus on proper position for better mechanics in movement,” Hyland says. “Efficient movement rooted in safety starts with the development of optimal position. And once you can train without fear, you can train in earnest.”

Training (Slowly) in Earnest

Step away from the rings. We’re not there yet. Before we can snuff out your glaring gymnastics incompetence (or unwillingness), you have to resign yourself to starting small. And on the floor. Try the following exercises.

Apr 22

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

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ndred years ago, I was a gymnast. I have memories of some pretty intense, several-hourlong sessions involving repetition, after repetition, after repetition. Sometimes it bored me to tears, but I knew in my sport it was necessary and common. One night, after an especially trying practice filled with being lost in twists and over-rotating flips or landing on my ass a million times, I complained to my dad that I was doing things over and over and just not getting any better at them. It was clearly my coach, right? Or my sore knee. Or just a bad day, maybe. But my dad, being the brilliant man that he is, followed up my complaint with the best piece of sports advice I’ve ever received. My dad told me that the old saying is BS. Practice does NOT make perfect. Rather, perfect practice makes perfect.

I’m the first to admit that when things aren’t going the way I’d like, I have moments of laziness. In gymnastics, I’d work on a twist for hours, get frustrated, and end up doing it the same way every single time. I wouldn’t make a conscious effort to change something about what I was doing. My coach gave me cues, my body knew what to do, but my mind wasn’t in the game, and I lacked the commitment needed to make the necessary adjustments. And until I fully committed, my movements and skills presented the same struggles and displayed the same flaws.

After that night, I tried to apply what my dad had told me. I tried to be more coachable by truly digesting the cues and feedback and by making an immediate conscious decision to force my body to do precisely what I wanted. It wouldn’t just happen. And it wouldn’t be easy. And it wouldn’t be comfortable because it was different. And human nature fights change. But truth be told, it worked like a charm.

In CrossFit, the same rule applies. If an athlete continuously practices a wall ball with a low throw and a less-than-full-depth squat, it will never get any better and neither will his or her bum. If a core is not engaged and breathing and tension cues are provided, it’s going to take effort to make that adjustment. But if it’s not put into play, improvements will be lackluster at best. When it comes to CrossFit, safety is a top priority, and as adults, we must take our safety (in part) into our own hands. We need to come to classes prepared to progress and change and adapt. We need to shift movements from bad habits to healthy and functional. And we need to remember that practice does NOT make perfect … in fact, practicing something wrong can lead to really crappy results.

The pursuit of perfection is a long and endless one, but at least the path guides you in a better direction. A perfect practice session doesn’t necessarily mean everything you did was perfect; it simply means you were conscious of your performance, enough so that you worked toward improvement through change. That’s a perfect practice. So the next time you pick up a barbell or hop onto the rig for some pull-ups, remember that only perfect practice makes perfect.

Apr 22

The Open Is Coming and You Should All Be Excited

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Photo courtesy of the CrossFit Games

Open registration is almost here, and CrossFitters across the nation have greeted the Games season opener with anxiety, trepidation, groans, moans and an overall negativity.

Stop it.

The Open, even more so this year, is a qualifier for a very small percentage of the participants. For the other 100,000 or more of you, there is very little pressure. Just like every other day of the year, it’s an opportunity to create goals and attack them, to test yourself and compare your performance to last year, and an opportunity to expect your best performance possible. What makes this different from any other day? There is no need to inflict unnecessary pressure on yourself and destructively compare yourself to Games athletes who have made this their livelihood and job. If you expect the best from yourself every day and enjoy exercising with your friends, the Open is just another day of doing what you love.

More than individual accomplishments, however, the Open is a celebration of the global CrossFit community. Teenagers in Thailand are doing the same workouts as Masters in Spain, and they’re doing the same workouts as Jason Khalipa in California. At no point does any other sport do this. Whether you do CrossFit as a way to satisfy your competitive energy, simply to stay in shape or as a way to break down mental barriers, the Open is a celebration of the individual and collective transformations, journeys, improvements and obsessions that we’ve developed for this community and methodology. Use this time to create a wealth of positivity in the gym rather than resentment, competitiveness between members and cheating. Look at the Open for what it is — it’s allowing CrossFit Headquarters to unite us all for five weeks. The Open is coming whether you like it or not; choose to embrace it — and for goodness sake, get excited!

Apr 22

Assistance Exercises to Grow Your Deadlift

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There are countless assistance exercises that will help raise your deadlift numbers. In fact, for most CrossFit athletes, the inclusion of any assistance work is a key step toward getting stronger.

Here’s four specific ways to improve your deadlift.

1. Trunk Twists. Stronger oblique muscles are key to overall strength and accessing hip drive. Though there are a number of movements to train the oblique muscles, try trunk rotations with a sled. This allows the athlete to train abs in a heavy, explosive manner, which is much more like we often demand from ourselves when trying to build core strength and, oddly, less like what we often end up doing.

The athlete will load a sled, stand perpendicular to the sled with the slack out of the strap, and rotate violently with the strap pulled in close to the rib cage to move the sled. This same exercise can be trained with a band looped though any upright structure that allows the athlete to rotate through increasing tension.

2. Glute-Ham Raises. Most CrossFit athletes spend far more time on the glute-ham developer faceup (for GHD sit-ups) than they do facedown. The GHD’s money is in the facedown application of developing the posterior chain.

See Also 3 Things To Handle Outside of Class

While most athletes aren’t strong enough to perform the movement unassisted, athletes can use bands and/or spotters to accumulate sets of eight, 10 or 12 of the GHR. To execute the movement, put your feet in the footholds with your toes facing down and place your knees into the front pad. With an erect torso, squeeze your glutes to maintain forward hips and descend until you’re parallel to the ground. From here, finish the movement by pulling yourself up to the starting position with your hamstrings.

3. Dimmels. Named after the late Matt Dimmel, the movement is incredible for developing the glutes, hamstrings and back, with specific emphasis on hip drive and speed. To execute, lower the bar to below the knee much like a good morning and fire the hips through with maximum speed such that when done well, the bar is driven forward off the hips. Connect reps fluidly with maximum speed from below the knee to hip for heavy sets of eight, 10 or 12.

4. Good Mornings. Though they’re a staple in most powerlifters’ arsenals, the CrossFit community often keeps good mornings light for warming up or activations. Heavy barbell good-morning variations in the eight- to 12-rep range are excellent at developing positional strength for the deadlift, in addition to the carry-over of increased general posterior strength.

Since making it a point to supplement my main moves with heavy assistance work, I’ve seen my deadlift climb back up after a plateau. If you’d like more information about these movements and the experts that got me moving in this direction, visit wodfollow.com where Shane and Laura Sweatt of CrossFit Conjugate dish out invaluable knowledge.

Apr 22

Get Fit For Less

It wasn’t until I found CrossFit that I came to attribute the best equipment as the most basic equipment. No longer were shiny pieces of gym equipment that cost thousands of dollars desirable. This notion was only magnified in the past few years as much love for strongman has captivated me in the same way that CrossFit had.

Both CrossFit and the strongman communities know all about making due with what you’ve got. If all you’ve got is $200, here are a few pieces of equipment that are worth a look:

1. Sandbag. Maybe I’m biased to strongman training, but a good sandbag is as versatile and as much of a punisher as any other piece of equipment. I don’t mean little bags with handles on them, either. Big, heavy, awkward bags are the name of the game. I like Strong Fit’s sandbags. For $200, you could walk away with three or four of them. Plus, they’re indestructible.

2. Axle. Though it, too, seems like a “strongman only” implement, the axle will allow you to do most every barbell strength movement and add a challenge that will improve your strength and your grip. For less than $200, you can have a shiny new one shipped to your door or you could make a fleet of them yourself.

3. Bands. As arguably the better accommodating resistance (when compared to chains), I’d recommend getting a few pairs of light bands to add variance to everything you already own. Pressing, deadlifting and squatting against bands is only the beginning. Accessory exercises like kettlebell swings can be varied with bands, as well. In addition, a host of special exercises from face pulls and oblique twists to band pull-aparts and triceps work can be facilitated with bands.

4. Sled. This year has been the year of the sled for me. Walking long (~1 mile) with moderate weight or walking short (~200 feet) with heavy weight has been life-changing in terms of posterior chain development, recovery and building capacity. Not to mention, the sled is an affordable tool to add in a host of other exercises like rotational movements, presses and pulls.

Get fit without tapping into your life savings. It’s how Rocky did it.

Apr 22

Top 5 Tips for Handstand Success

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Handstands are a foundational movement. A successful handstand requires a combination of body awareness, stability and strength.

For many people, the most difficult part of a handstand is fear: kicking up short every time, not knowing how to fall out of a handstand, or just being resistant to a new and uncomfortable movement. But the ability to align the body in one of its sturdiest positions can serve an athlete well in pretty much every other aspect of CrossFit. So the handstand is an important movement that should be mastered.

As a former gymnast and diver, I have solid experience in the upside-down world. So today, I’ll offer my top five tips for handstand success.

1. Squeeze your ass and tummy.

This is so underestimated. The biggest mistake in handstands (handstand walking, handstand push-ups and just a free-standing handstand position) is a torso that’s as stable as a wet noodle. You’ll see an archy back, a head way out in front and probably really ugly leg positions.

Most of this can be remedied with a super-powerful ass squeeze and a tight tummy. With a tight enough bum and gut, an athlete’s pelvis will tilt forward just enough to hollow out the hips and get rid of that painful-looking lower-back position. And a tight core will solidify the handstand stability. Handstands begin with the core and finish with the extremities. With that alignment in place, the legs should come together (and with another cue straighten out) and solid foundation has been set to support any further movement.

2. Lock out your arms.

This is not a muscle movement. While it does require some strength, your handstand should rely primarily on skeletal support. Your skill will last longer and look better. Make sure those arms are completely locked out. Like an overhead squat, the catch of a snatch or the completion of a jerk, you’re allowing your locked-out position to support the load. Same thing applies to handstands. Support your bodyweight, but lock those arms out before you even kick up. Use the momentum of your legs to pivot into an upside-down position on top of those sturdy stilts we call arms. And voilà! You can hold a handstand for days or walk for solid distances.

3. Heels ahead.

I like to tell my athletes that whether they are kicking up to a wall or trying to hand-walk, they need to find their “oh-shit” moment. It’s that moment when discomfort and fear make an appearance. That moment when control feels a little lost and you find your feet past vertical. This is the moment when either your heels connect with the wall or (if you’re free standing) you gain some forward momentum. It’s a good place to be. It’s a place of progress. Many people just won’t let those heels ahead, preventing them from achieving an open and balanced handstand position. As long as your heels lead the way (only slightly), you have either kicked up hard enough or have forward movement. This is where you want to be, and this is where you want to stay.

4. Keep a fairly neutral head.

A neutral spine is always the best route to go. So against a wall, a head perfectly in line with the body is great. The gaze should be just as if you were standing up. But that gaze, while walking on your hands, can be a bit tricky. The perfect handstand-walking gaze position is just above the fingertips. Trying to look way ahead to a finish line can really do a number on the neck and back, and can throw off the stability of an athlete’s core. Keep the focus just slightly ahead to keep things in line and keep moving forward.

5. Learn to cartwheel.

Afraid of falling? Just practice your cartwheels in both directions, and when you have it moderately mastered, work on kicking to handstands and gracefully cartwheeling out of them. Most bad experiences with handstands involve landing on a flat back (stealing your breath) or crumbling to the ground in an effort to avoid a flat-back landing. Lead with a single leg. When you lose control, whether forward, backward or sideways, lead the movement with one leg for a safe landing. It might not be pretty every time, but it offers some landing predictability and it sure beats the wind being knocked out of you. Another option is to “tuck and roll,” which simply means tucking your chin and lowering to a somersault. I consider this slightly more advanced and only applicable to falls forward. Now go warm up with some cartwheels and somersaults.

Handstands aren’t just a great way to get a new perspective (upside down). They’re a great way to hone in on your body awareness and transition core strength, balance and stability into lifts and other movements. This is not a skill that is quick to perfect, so spend some time on it, even if that means using your empty walls at home. Once the strength is there, handstands are a no-excuse skill that athletes should tackle mentally and physically to improve their overall game.

 

Apr 22

3 Tricks to Move Through the Pain Cave

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We’ve all been there. It can be an important part of advancing your fitness, but to say it’s enjoyable would be dishonest. It’s called the “pain cave” for a reason, and if it feels good, you probably aren’t really in it.

Here are three tricks to keep you moving when everything in your body wants to stop:

1. Count Small Rep Sets.

I’ve always done extremely well with “Fran,” for example, but the idea of doing all 21 and all 15 reps unbroken makes me want to vomit. Of course, I do everything unbroken, but for the round of 21, I count to seven in my head (three times). The round of 15? You guessed it. I count to five (three times). If it sounds complicated or like overkill, it might not be helpful for you, but it surely gives my mind a break.

2. Coach Yourself.

This idea is an old-school tip from CrossFit Games veteran Jason Khalipa, who is nearly as notorious for entering the pain cave willingly as he is for his time spent on the podium. When asked how he can push through the pain and avoid all the self-talk that says to stop, he said he focuses on what he’d say if he was a coach watching himself. Rather than, “Man, this sucks! Take a break,” try saying things to yourself like, “Spread the floor!” and “Elbows up!” for a positive distraction.

3. Use a Mantra.

Founder of SEALFit and former BUD/S Honor Man Mark Divine made it through the toughest training on earth with a positive, lighthearted mantra that he’d repeat to himself while in the pain cave. For this Navy SEAL, it was, “Looking good, feeling good, might as well be in Hollywood!” that did the trick. Finding your mantra might take some homework, but it could be the focal point that helps you in times of adversity.

Ultimately, you’ll need to find what helps you under stress and exploit that. For many of you, one of these three strategies might be a helpful tool to add to your mental game.

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