The Secret Sauce

by Admin | January 29, 2018 | BLOGS | 0 Comment

Written By: Colette Wheeler

As a collegiate runner, I ran a lot. I ran in the morning, I ran in the evening, I raced on Saturdays, and I ran 14-milers at 7am on Sundays. I ran long and, for the most part, I ran slow. Every day was predictable, and pretty much every day could be made comfortable because my body had long since adapted to the high-volume, low-intensity, unvaried stimulus presented. Often, the most uncomfortable part of my training was reaching a max boredom limit and having to persevere through the remaining miles of a particular run.  

On rare occasions, my team and I would visit the weight room to “lift” and “do conditioning” off of the roads. “Light and high reps” was the prescription for distance runners, so I spent my time doing a whole lot of 5-10 lb curls, light leg extensions, a few slight elbow-bends that passed for pushups, and very dubious 70# “squats".  Overall though, the party line read something like this: “more is better, so to be a better runner, you just run more”.

This regimen did not make me a better runner.  At the time, my results disappointed and baffled me; however, through my exposure to CrossFit I now see exactly where the system broke down.  My training lacked variation and intensity -- two key components integral to improved overall fitness.  Yes, I could run for a long time at a decent clip, but ask me to sprint to a finish or power up a hill and I would not excel.

Okay, this isn’t a sob story about my “wasted” college running career.  I went to a Division III school; I have no illusions of grandeur about What Might Have Been. I share this anecdote because it is in some sense familiar to many.  We fall prey to the idea that “more is better”, so great volume of one exercise will cover many bases of fitness.  Due to the nature of the human body’s ability to adapt to a stimulus, that is simply not true.

The human body readily adapts to a presented stimulus.  This is a good thing, it’s the main driver of evolution and enables the continuation of our species.  However, with regard to fitness (and CrossFit), continuous adaptation is key.  Constant variation of movement at high intensity creates that continuous need for adaptation within the body.  Without it, we merely continue existence at a new, comfortable plateau.  

So how do we recognize and define variance and intensity? How do we apply it?  Variance can come in all forms - movement, weight, rep scheme, wod length, etc.  Intensity manifests through achieving the intended workout stimulus (engaging one or more energy systems - phosphagen, glycolytic, oxidative/aerobic).Variance and intensity depend upon one another.  Without variance, intensity drops, and vice versa.

We will look first at intensity.  With a simple Power equation, intensity is quantifiable. Put on your math hats and get ready.

Check out this equation:

Power = (Force x Distance) / Time,  That is a nice equation.  Now check out these numbers: We have a 135# female (that’s the Force).  She has an arm length of 2 feet from shoulder to knuckle (Distance).  She completes a strict pull-up in 6 seconds (Time).
There are 5 reps, so multiply everything by five.  Voila, that female produces 305 watts of Power.  Hook her up to any light bulb in your house and that bulb would explode.

Strict: 5 x (135# x 2 ft.)/6 sec = 305 watts
Kipping: 5 x (135# x 2 ft.)/3 sec= 610 watts

Sounds cool, but now compare it to the possible power output by a kipping pull-up.  Same Force, same Distance, but way faster Time. By changing her speed, she ratchets up her intensity and doubles her power output! Incredible.

And now you may be thinking, “well why would we ever do strict pull-ups?”. Enter variance and human energy systems. Gah. First math, now science. I know I know.  

Check out this table of energy system awesomeness:

Energy system

Effort Duration

Example Movements

Phosphagen

 

3 reps heavy DL, 5-10 second sprint

Glycolytic

30 - 120 seconds

200-400 meter row

Oxidative (Aerobic)

> 2 minutes

1000 meter row, Cindy

 Stay with me now. This is thrilling stuff, people. Really.

The phosphagen system covers most power- and weightlifting movements (squat, deadlift, presses, snatch, clean and jerk) and strict gymnastics movements.  Think “high power, short time period”.  

The glycolytic system activates for efforts sustaining one half to two minutes in duration.  Still high power, but with a blend of cardio mixed in.  

The oxidative system is probably the most familiar system.  We also know it as the aerobic system.  Workouts that are longer than 2 minutes utilize the oxidative energy system.  Think “cardio”.

An athlete can be intense in all of these systems, but it’s the variance of those systems that really matters here.  Take deadlifts, for example: Monday and Wednesday WODs both have dealifts, but Monday prescribes a very heavy weight and Wednesday prescribes a relatively light weight.  Using the same “comfortable” weight in both workouts will completely eliminate variance and snuff out the magic brought by intensity.  

Why would someone choose to do the same weight in both situations?  Well, it can be a result of poor coaching, uninformed scaling, or just plain old ego.  CrossFitters of all types can fall into this trap, and it is a joint effort by both athletes and coaches to sidestep the trap whenever possible.  

Remember adaptation? When we feel comfortable, we have adapted.  Be concerned with the right simulus.  Sometimes that’ll mean to push the weight and sometimes that’ll mean light and fast. Yes, the new level of movement will feel a lot harder, and yes, you may drop some spots on the leaderboard when you are outside your comfort zone, but you are getting BETTER and FITTER and HEALTHIER because of it. To get all that you can out of CrossFit, continuous adaptation is a requirement.

So now what?  The preceding text is not a call for everyone to do every movement as prescribed, RX.  Far from it.  It is an explanation calling for smart, intentional loading or scaling of workouts in order to preserve variance and high intensity performance. Most of us come to a CrossFit gym to “get fit”, or to improve our health and overall wellness.  Unfortunately, “fitness” isn’t a trophy we can earn in a short time and then display on our mantle forever after.  

No.

We must constantly, deliberately, skillfully challenge ourselves every day to be better, stronger, faster, fitter, healthier than the day before. CrossFit has shown, time and again, how variance and intensity produce incredible, life-changing results in so many areas of fitness and life. Celebrate the successes each day brings knowing that because you improved today, you can improve again another day!   If you’ve adapted and are skilled at a certain weight -- load more on the bar! If you like the heavy barbell, take some off and try to go faster.  If you have mastered a step in a gymnastic progression -- level up and push to the edges of your capabilities! Believe in your coaches, your abilities, and most importantly -- believe in yourself. Find that intensity and get after it.


'Tis the Hour

by Admin | January 1, 2018 | BLOGS | 0 Comment

Written by: Colette Wheeler

As CrossFitters, we take classes and community for granted. Most of us take CrossFit classes, and on the rare, odd day that we have to WOD alone, it’s a real downer. The class setting just seems so natural, so embedded in how you “do” CrossFit that we forget how special, how uniquely wonderful it is to our health and wellness. So now that we’ve reached the end of the traditional season when we gather together to break bread, let’s take a moment to look forward to the hour we gather each day to break a sweat.

It’s no coincidence that we are drawn together to eat and exercise. These are, after all, two activities essential to living a full and healthy life. Way back in humanity’s early days, we thrived in a hunter/gatherer society. To eat we had to move, and to move we had to eat. Nutrition and movement were just simply “living”, and we “lived” together as a group. Then humans developed agriculture, which tasked a few to tend to foods and enabled the majority to focus attention and energy elsewhere. Undeniably, this task-change rocketed humanity to incredible heights; however, movement and nutrition diverged and the benefits of group movement were lost for the majority. Fortunately, CrossFit provides the link back to the benefits of group movement: The Class.

Exercise for exercises’ sake is HARD. Children and adults alike crave structure, and without structure in our exercise, just figuring out what to do can wear a person out. Lucky for us, in a class the bare minimum requirement is to simply “follow the leader”. Coach says “do 10 squats”, and you do 10 squats. Coach says “do 10 burpees”, and while you may grumble a bit, you do at least 7 (come on, let’s be honest) of those burpees. Every moment of that hour is planned and executed by another person. Without going into great detail—“fitness” applies to the mind AND the body. The whole package. At the CrossFit class, you can leave your heavy burdens at home, in the car, or at the door for safe-keeping. The mind rests and recovers while the body gets put to work doing the things it was designed to do!

 

The Class awakens our inner competitor. We all have a bit of The Competitor in us; it’s how we as humans have been programmed to survive. We needed to be faster than, smarter than, better than competing elements to thrive and provide. We inherently learn and are motivated by watching others, so we NEED others around us to drive us toward bettering ourselves. The CrossFit class sets the stage for that inner competitor to activate and excel. Whether it’s a full-out sprint to the finish, a challenging lift, or a gymnastic achievement, we gain confidence in our own abilities by seeing others around us perform. One’s inner monologue changes from “ha, no way!” to “well, I bet I can do that, too!”. When exposed to other crossfitters, the Inner Competitor creates and presents a better Outer Human.

Of course, at the heart CrossFit is its community. The community in a class environment is a logical extension of our behavior outside of the gym. When enduring pain or discomfort any other time of day, we come together, hold hands, exchange words of encouragement, what-have-you. Exercise and the forging of fitness is fantastically difficult—so of course we choose to do so together. In a class, you’re not alone and much less uncomfortable as a result.  You revel in the sweat and glory in the burn. The music blares, your coach is with you—in your face, at your side, seemingly everywhere at once—your classmates are all around you, the clock counts down, the reps go by, and before you know it, the WOD is done and meaningful high fives and fist bumps are exchanged. Everyone has just been through the same torturous gauntlet of movement, and every high five says not only “good job!” but also “we made it, we did it, all of us together and we didn’t give up”. Camaraderie, the sharing of laughter and suffering, binds together the CrossFit community. You come to know the people around you, their families, their joys and hardships, and your life is more full.

As we stride into a new year of possibilities and beginnings, let’s every day say, “‘tis the hour”. ‘Tis the hour to break a sweat together. ‘Tis the hour of giving and sharing, of laughter and struggles. ‘Tis the hour to compete against each other and with ourselves. ‘Tis the hour for coming together, for supporting one another. ‘Tis the hour for fitness and for health.

 


WOD to Recovery

by Admin | December 21, 2017 | BLOGS | 0 Comment

Written by: Colette Wheeler

Injury, discomfort, and restriction create an experience rich in emotion, frustration, and complexity. Similar to our animal counterparts, when not at our physical best, we tend to isolate ourselves from the pack--withdrawing from our usual activities in hopes of healing through disuse. Though a natural instinct, it is not a course of action that leads to a speedy recovery.

The label of “Injury” can be used to describe myriad ailments occurring in our bodies. The injury spectrum includes anything from mild, twinge-y discomfort to broken bone or torn muscle. Though the spectrum is broad and varied, injuries of all sorts can be handled using a similar approach. Essentially, the prescription for recovery is specific to the individual, but the process applies to the injury spectrum as a whole.

Let me set the scene:

You have been CrossFitting for three months. You are making huge strides—you just PR’d your back squat, and you can do strict pull-ups like you never thought was possible. THEN ONE DAY, you’re warming up with air squats. Your right knee feels weird. Ew. What’s that twinge? You decide to “push through” the pain. It can’t be that serious.

Fast forward a few days/weeks/months even — that daggone knee hurts every day. You’ve been doing your same routine, maybe taking a day off here and there to rest, and it just isn’t getting any better.

So the reasonable solution is to rest.  All-out rest for a predetermined length of time, like a week or a month.  No CrossFit, no use of that achey knee, nada.

Wait.

What if this were some other ailment? For instance, what do you do if your stomach hurts?  If you were to “rest” your stomach, the consequences would be dire.  When your stomach hurts, you change or modify what you put in it. You don’t stop using it altogether.

Let’s have a look at that knee again. If you haven’t changed or modified your workouts, it comes as no surprise that the healing process has not begun. An injury cannot heal itself while sustaining constant assault.  Granted, full rest of the knee isn’t a life or death situation (as in the stomach example), but regardless how well-intentioned you are, halting your routine altogether begets some (unintended) consequences.

When you go cold turkey, you deprive the rest of your thriving muscles and joints. Your poor healthy knee is now doing double duty as it suffers through unconscious gait changes and unexpected stress. Healthy Knee, now working overtime, isn’t getting any TLC in the form of strengthening movements. Healthy Knee has been misused and hung out to dry. Often, it is only a matter of time before ache and discomfort descend upon Healthy Knee.

What’s more, Those hard-earned pull-ups are fading away as your shoulder and core muscles weaken from disuse.You haven’t seen your friends in a while because you stopped CrossFitting. All those endorphins and feel-good hormones no longer course so heavily through your bloodstream. All that work and sweat equity you’ve put into your fitness begins to erode and atrophy.

Yet, take heart! There are fabulous options available to you.  An injury is a golden opportunity to better yourself, to hone specific skills, to allow yourself to specialize in a single or group of movements that you have previously ignored or not excelled in.  All you need to do is open a line of communication with your coach(es).

Instead of taking off from CrossFit, take the opportunity to master a skill. Your knee may be hurting, but you have recently achieved strict pull-ups! Practice and master the kip and/or the butterfly. Level up to chest-to-bar. Practice and become comfortable with handstands and inversion. Become the resident handstand-hold champion. Go one step further and build up to handstand push-ups. The magic here is that every one of these gymnastic “no-leg” movements still engages your whole body, legs and all!

But okay, a day will come when the WOD is chock full of movements you can’t do without significant discomfort. A worst-case scenario WOD for knee pain is a spicy meal of back squats, front squats, overhead squats with a side dish of running and lunges for dessert. The likelihood of that combination being programmed is extremely low, but we can use the example as a thought experiment of sorts. With all that leg work, you’d obviously have to skip that day, right? Wrong. Single leg squats and other rehabilitative movements can replace all those two-legged squats. Furthermore — the front and overhead squat are accessory movements to the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch. Both Olympic lifts have other upper body, overhead components that can be exercised in strict fashion just like the squat.  Working with a coach, you would be able to determine a good modification for running and lunges based on the particular level and type of discomfort you experience in your knee.  Remember, your coaches are there to help you get fit, no matter the circumstance! Your coaches are knowledgeable, experienced professionals who will walk with you on the path to greater health and fitness.

CrossFit, at it’s heart, is infinitely scalable and modifiable.  You joined the gym to gain fitness, and to lead a happier, healthier lifestyle.  Almost everyone that begins CrossFit scales or modifies a movement or two for weeks, months, or even years. Pain or injury is simply a short decline in fitness, a small obstacle to overcome through the use of scaling and modification.  The example given here is pain in the knee, but this concept can be applied to any area of the body.  Where there is a will, there is a way.  Don’t shortchange yourself if you’re not at 100%.  Resist the instinct of isolation and complete, unstructured rest. CrossFit got you to 100% once, staying intelligent in the gym through injury will bring you back to that 100% mark!