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Majoring in the Minors

Majoring in the Minors

When I was getting my CrossFit Level 1 certification, we had a lecture on nutrition. The instructor, a woman named Nicole, was discussing the major macro nutrients — proteins, carbs, and fats — and how to make sure you get the right amount of each.

A guy in the back raised his hand. “What about Vitamin B12?,” he said. “How do we make sure we get enough of that?”

What Nicole said next has resonated with me ever since. She let out a sigh, and said, “Listen, don’t major in the minors…”

I think this point is true of how we approach diet and fitness in general.

Nicole was saying that there are large, basic things you need to do before you start worrying about smaller, more intricate things. The biggest nutritional problem for the average person is not a vitamin B12 deficiency. The Western Pattern Diet is so out of whack in terms of portion size and carb consumption that obsessing over your vitamin levels is a little silly by comparison.

You consumed 6,000 calories today? Congratulations, you got a lot of vitamin B12. You also got Type 2 Diabetes.

The underlying problem here is that majoring in the minors is really a subtle form of procrastination. When it comes to fitness and diet we all know what we need to do. We need to eat less, eat better, and exercise more. This basic formula hasn’t changed in thousands of years.

But we don’t want to do this. The food industry has got us hooked on sugar and it’s become really easy to sit on the couch and watch a Friends marathon on Netflix (remember when you had to wait for a TV show to come on?). So we willingly confuse the issue with ultimately pointless questions about specifics and subtleties, when the basic problem is staring us right in the face.

While I realize some people have legitimate health issues that complicate things, let’s face facts — the average person doesn’t have questions. Instead, they have excuses masquerading as questions.

Mainstream health clubs are built around exploiting our tendency to major in the minors. In my two years in CrossFit, I’ve become increasingly amused by modern exercise equipment. I just spent a weekend in Chicago, and the Globo Gym attached to the hotel was packed with some of the most arcane machinery I’ve ever seen. There is now a machine to isolate almost every muscle in the human body, apparently.

(I’ve often thought if someone from the Middle Ages was transported forward in time and walked into a health club, he’d think he was in a dungeon. People are strapped into scary-looking machines, sweating, grunting, and in obvious physical pain. Clearly, they’re being tortured for crimes against the Throne.)

I’ll freely admit that I was so guilty of this as a younger man. In my 20s, I was a body-building gym rat. I used to say things like, “Dude, if you do a inverted reverse cable crossover at just the right angle, it totally blasts your inner pectorals.” The truth was that I couldn’t find my “inner pectoral” with a map. I half-suspect it’s sitting around with a magic unicorn somewhere in a dark corner of my imagination.

Anyway, I wandered around Globo for 10 minutes looking for two things: (1) a squat rack with a decent number of plates, and (2) a straight pull-up bar. I managed to find the former, but the latter was completely missing (apparently all pull-up bars are cambered now — bent down at the ends; when did this become an exclusive thing?).

However, I did manage to find something called “The Power Plate.” The company that makes this contraption calls itself “the global leader in whole body vibration therapy” (pretty sure that’s not a crowded market). You stand on this machine, turn it on, and it vibrates…or something? According to their website, it harnesses “the body’s natural response to destabilization,” whatever that is. I wasn’t quite sure and you needed to take a class in order to use it.

(I don’t know about you, but I hear this all the time: “Hey, can you strap yourself into that Power Plate machine and help me move these boxes?”)

Now, I’m not trying to pick on the Power Plate, but it’s a handy proxy for the larger problem: the entire paradigm of today’s fitness industry is an example of majoring in the minors. An acre of machines says to the world, “Hey, this is complicated and tricky. You need all this stuff to do it right.”

No, you don’t.

I maintain that if you did these five exercises — and nothing else — you’d pretty much cover everything you need:

  1. Squat
  2. Push-Up
  3. Pull-Up
  4. Sit-Up
  5. Burpee

And that’s it. Honestly, the first four are enough. I threw in burpees just for cardio. (And because we all hate them. Suck it up.)

These exercises have been around for, well, ever. There’s nothing intricate here. The squat, in particular, is the very picture of purity. There’s nothing complex about a squat — other than knowing good, solid form, there’s not a lot of technique to it. A squat is a raw staredown between you and gravity. It’s beautiful that way, but some people are almost disappointed.

“That’s it? You just…squat?” they’ll say.

Yes. First you stop whining, and then you squat.

The way fitness is viewed these days, it’s almost a liability to say you need virutally no equipment to do these things. After all, without fancy equipment, how can we be doing anything productive?! Sure, you need bar for the pull-ups, and a barbell for the squats is handy, though a bunch of air squats will be enough for many people. If it’s not, pick up a heavy rock or a random toddler.

Regardless, humans will remain in a never-ending search for the easy way out, or for some complication or angle to take our mind off what we know we need to do. We thrive on novelty, we’re quick to seize on and magnify excuses, and we’re convinced there’s some secret we’re missing that will unlock The Miracle of Fitness™. Since it’s so hard, there clearly must be a magic diet or fitness regimen that will make it easy.

There’s not. It takes effort. The major pillars of fitness haven’t changed: eat right and sweat a lot. Does this suck? In the short-term, yes. In the long-term, it’s freaking awesome.

Getting and staying in shape is the same as it was a thousand years ago. CrossFit, Zone, and Paleo are just throwbacks and amplifications of the same things humans have been doing since we started walking upright. I get seriously defensive when people call these things “fads.” No, how we’ve been eating and exercising for the last 30 years is the fad! Fitness and diet didn’t change. We did.

So, instead of obsessing over the supposed intricacies of it all, just get under the damn bar and squat. Don’t stop until you get tired and sweaty. Then do that again tomorrow.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s not complicated. It never was.

squat

Posted in Crossfit Philosophy, CrossFit Workouts, Lifestyle, Nutrition0 Comments

girls

Throwing Down

There are two things that my eldest daughter wants right now: (1) new carpet in her bedroom, and (2) a better vertical jump for volleyball.

In the interests of efficiency, my wife and I decided to combine the two.

I brought her into the gym and had her try a couple box jumps out. Twelve inches was trivial. Eighteen was too. Twenty inches made her think twice, but she finally settled in on a 24-inch jump, which is impressive, since this is the adult male standard at CrossFit Sioux Falls and Gabrielle is a 13-year-old girl.

We ordered and assembled a Rogue box jump, just like down at the gym. It’s presently in the basement. My daughter heads downstairs every night and pounds out 30 reps.

Her goal is to box jump a vertical mile. At 24 inches, that’s 2,640 reps. At 30 per night, this is about 90 days. She updates her spreadsheet every night, and she’s scheduled to finish out the mile sometime in April. When she makes this goal, we’ll go carpet shopping.

Since she started, I’ve been warning her about missing a jump. In over two years of CrossFit, I’ve managed to never miss a box jump, but I imagine it’s painful. The edge of the box is sharp, and shins don’t have a lot of protection.

Sure enough, one night when I was traveling, I got a text message:

I fell for the first time doing a box jump today. Skin has been removed.

I don’t know when I’ve been more proud.

You have to understand that my daughter is the girliest of girls. She’s a roaring pink tornado of Taylor Swift, Instagram selfies, and glitter nail polish. Yet this girl launches herself to the top of a two-foot box over and over again, until she can’t do it anymore and pays the price by ripping (meticulously moisturized) skin off bone.

Good for her.

Both my daughters (Gabrielle, 13, and her sister Isabella, 10) played basketball for a while. I enjoyed watching them fight it out on the basketball court. I wanted them to experience what it was like to defend their physical space. I wanted some other girl to come over, shove them, and try to take what was theirs. I wanted them to fight that girl off, to defend that ball like it belonged to them.

Now, I’m not violent by nature or anything, but my wife and I took comfort in the idea that our girls were learning how to break out of a stereotype. They were learning how to ignore what society might expect of them — modest femininity, perhaps? — and they were learning how to throw down.

throw down (slang, idiomatic verb): to fight, to incite a fight, to make a stand, to produce or perform admirably or forcefully; from “throw down the gauntlet”

Other people’s opinions matter to a pre-teen girl — far too much, I’ve learned (my wife knew this already, having been one once). But through the process of getting down and dirty under the basket, our girls were learning how to shake those opinions off and fight for what was theirs. They were setting aside what society had told them to expect from themselves, and they were digging in to see what they could find underneath.

I see the same thing at CrossFit. I’ve written before about how CrossFit invites you to abandon decorum. For guys, this is natural — from childhood, we’re told to be big and loud and to grunt and to sweat. That message isn’t as clear for women. There are still stereotypes and boxes that women are supposed to fit into.

But at 5:30 a.m., there’s no makeup, there’s no hairspray (is that still a thing?), and there are no mirrors.

But there is sweat. And grunting. And pain. And there’s a lot of weight being thrown around by people — men and women — who don’t care what they look like. When falling barbells shake the floor, there’s no telling whose shoulders they were on. And when the gloves come off, there’s a good chance the nails are painted. I’ve seen Beast Mode, and it often wears a ponytail.

Getting to the edge of what you think is possible is universal. The exact experience is different for everyone, but I love how the result cuts across every demographic. When you abandon appearances and come face-to-face with your absolute limit, there’s a sense of accomplishment there that transcends age, background, ethnicity, and gender. Pain doesn’t play favorites and it doesn’t go easy on anyone.

I judged a competition at CrossFit Sioux Falls last weekend. The last workout of the day was a chipper — a long list of movements, so-called because you have no choice but to “chip away” at it.

This chipper was kicking everyone’s ass. It was capped at 20 minutes, and a lot of people were hitting the cap without finishing.

I was judging a team of sisters: Chelsey and Megan. After fighting through 270 reps of other stuff, they had gotten to the last movement: a 60-calorie row. (Calories are technically a unit of energy. In CrossFit rowing, you don’t burn calories, you generate them. Generating one calorie of energy on a rower might be about 10 meters of distance.)

Chelsey rowed her half, then Megan got on the rower with about 90 seconds left. I was doing the math in my head, and I knew she wasn’t gonna make it. There just wasn’t enough time.

And she didn’t make it. But damn, did she come close.

Time ran out with just four calories to go, which blew away my estimation of where she’d end up. When it was over, I tried to show her the scorecard, but it was obvious she and I weren’t even in the same zip code. She was sitting head-down on the rower, elbows on her knees, breathing with her entire body, wrapped in a bubble of pain. She had found the edge of her own personal abyss and looked over.

Now, I know nothing about Megan or her story, but I do know that on this day, Megan threw down. She didn’t beat the clock, but she made damn sure the clock knew she was coming, and she went down swinging.

And this is what my wife and I want for our daughters. We want them to know that the best way around an obstacle is often to go right through it. We want them to know that if they find themselves walking through Hell, the best strategy is to start running. And we want them to know that if something scares them, don’t flinch — stare that thing right in the face, stop worrying about what everyone thinks, and if you’re gonna go down, then go down swinging.

In writing this, I don’t mean to overstate the importance of my own opinion or imply that anyone needs my approval to get medieval on a barbell. I’m writing this because I’ve seen what society tells young girls they’re supposed to be, and CrossFit has shown me one example of what happens when those expectations are ignored.

So, Gabrielle and Isabella — if society tries to put you in a box, throw down and jump on that box.

In fact, do 30 reps. For time.

girls

Posted in Crossfit Philosophy, Events, Lifestyle0 Comments

paleo diet

Make Your Diet a Lifestyle- Paleo Challenge 2015

motivation paleo
It’s  a New Year and with a New Year comes resolutions and many goals to accomplish.  To be successful you need a plan of action and additional support from your fellow CrossFitters can come in really handy.  We don’t want you to think of a Paleo Challenge as limiting what you can do but taking advantage of all you can be and do!  We want this to be a life changing experience that changes your thinking and feelings about what you eat.  It is not meant to be a diet that makes you think about food all day and how deprived you are of everything you love to eat.  We also do not want you to have to give up social obligations with friends because you are doing a Paleo Challenge.  We want you to live life…full, healthy, and with long-term success!  If you are a new member or an old member this is a great way to check and recheck your nutrition especially after all of the holiday fun and festivities.

Paleo Challenge Coming…

This time, we will be running the challenge within the gym.  We have tried other challenges such as Whole Life and LuRong but this time we are going to run the challenge within the gym holding ourselves and you accountable.  This means that the more people we get to sign up the more winnings there will be.  The challenge is set to start Monday January 19th  and run through March 1st; we will have our informational meeting, measurements, pictures, body composition and weigh- in on Monday January 19th at 6:30pm.  There is a sign up sheet on the whiteboard, and shortly after you sign up you will receive an informational packet that will have the rules, grocery lists, and other additional information to help you get started.  We will have meetings every Sunday night at 6pm going over different topics and answer all your weekly questions.  The price of the challenge is $40 and all we will award prizes of the total value to the top 3 men and 3 woman finishers – we will announce the prizes midway through the challenge.

We will have a baseline workout on Thursday, January 22nd and retest the last week of the challenge.  This will kick off your personal evaluation.

Let’s start the New Year off right and get everyone involved in this fun learning experience that will not only change your way of thinking about food but change your family’s way of looking at food.  We will have weekly family friendly recipes, cooking workshops, and special informational guests to break things down.  Registration will begin on Tuesday January 6th and go through Sunday January 18th.

Here is an overview of the Challenge and dates:

  • January 6th- Registration begins + pick up info packet
  • January 19th – Informational meeting, measurements, pictures, body composition, and weigh-ins
  • January 19th- Challenge begins
  • January 22nd- Baseline workout
  • January 25th- First Sunday meeting 6pm

Let’s get after this CrossFit Sioux Falls!  Not a member, and want to join us?  Come in, check out the gym, and let’s discuss a plan that gets you on a New Year kick-off.  See you in the gym!

paleo diet

Posted in Featured, Lifestyle, Members, Nutrition0 Comments

fearless

New Year = New Challenges

2015

 

Happy New Year and welcome to 2015!  What a great year we have had, filled with births, weddings, new coaching staff, and a ton of new faces in the gym.  After 5 years of great members, both new and old, we are still going strong and 2015 looks to be another amazing year for us.  If you have been on hiatus from the gym because of the craziness of the holidays and Christmas vacation we are ready for you to get back on track; come WOD with us.  We have many exciting things coming up including the Winter Throwdown and the Holiday Party: this January 10th is going to be a blast.   We all know it’s that time of year … the beginning and everyone is talking about resolutions and what you are going to change or delete from your life.  But my question to you is more challenged: what can you add to your life or your family or friends life?

So many of us sit on the sidelines and watch life pass us by.  We talk about how time flies and how there just isn’t enough hours in the day.  Is 2015 your year to start getting off the sidelines and get into the game of life?  If your not healthy or happy with yourself then how can you be happy in your life?  Change is hard and not always wanted but there comes a time when its needed.  You may not even see it until it happens, or you may have to struggle to let change in.

What will the new year bring you?
What do you want it to be, for not just you but your family?

Maybe its time to focus on your health and wellness, your diet, or maybe its your kids health and wellness?  The new year for CrossFit Sioux Falls will be focused on all those things and more!  We have a family focus and with the new year comes the start of our kids classes, parent and teen classes, our nutrition counseling and challenges, and we can’t forget about the amazing community and friendships along the way.  If you are looking for a change for yourself or both you and your family, then please come to challenge us to help change you to feel better and look better in the new year. I go back to the question “what are you going to add to your life or your family or friends life?” … maybe health, wellness, friendships, and community!  How about CrossFit?  Take the first step…and we will walk, jog, and run and row with you to success!

fearless

If you are ready to walk in, just as we welcome in a energized 2015, we welcome you to CrossFit Sioux Falls. Come in, call 605.274.3474 or email info@crossfitsiouxfalls.com – and if you are ready, just walk in…let’s get started.

Welcome a NEW YOU in a New Year!

– Liza and Team.

 

 

 

Posted in Events, Featured, Lifestyle, Members, Nutrition, Uncategorized0 Comments

Hiring Level 1 CrossFit Trainer at CrossFit Sioux Falls

CrossFit Sioux Falls is looking to hire.  Here are some details:

Full-time or part-time CrossFit trainer position available at a CrossFit gym in Sioux Falls. We are seeking a motivated individual who desires to work in a successful CrossFit gym with awesome members and a solid community, is familiar with CrossFit and experienced in motivating people in a group fitness setting. Person must be passionate about people, fitness and life – that order works also, but mix and match as is  you.

While CrossFit Level 1 and previous CrossFit coaching experience is a plus, it is not required.  If you come to work every day excited to in a CrossFit environment, I want to talk with you, added skills being the bonus.  We are willing to train the right person, if they show drive and dedication to people and CrossFit. 

Ideal candidate can work just a few classes a week Coaching or desiring a full-time position of approx. 40 hours per week with vast responsibilities including coaching class. Position is open now and could start as soon as hired. Pay canbe by class, hourly, or salary depending on agreement and healthcare reimbursement is available for full-time positions.

If you are comfortable leading a group or desire to learn this skill in the fitness setting, please respond via email or text and we will follow up.

You can reach me at 605.321.8778 for an initial discussion or email Liza at liza@crossfitsiouxfalls.com.

We look forward to speaking with you,

Greg

Posted in In the News, Lifestyle0 Comments

colette and scott

November’s Member of the Month is a Couple…..Colette and Scott DeVos

colette and scott

 

Congratulations Scott and Colette!  I have known Scott and Colette DeVos for over 10 years; we have kids that are the same age and when they were young we went to the same gym to have some kid-free time mixed in with a little elliptical and running.  Colette and Scott are two of the most positive people I have ever met.  I will never forget the day Scott walked into the office and said “Colette and I want to start CrossFit.  When is your next intro class?”  I was so excited I couldn’t wait to get them both in the gym.  Here is a little Q and A with Colette and Scott……

When did you start CrossFit…
July 2013 Colette and Scott started with the Intro to CrossFit program with Jeremy.  They were very excited and nervous but wanted to do something together to get in better shape.

What is your Favorite and Least Favorite movemements……
Scott’s
Favorite Movement-anything shoulder to overhead and least favorite Double Unders
Colette Favorite- Double Unders and least favorite is anything overhead.
I guess opposites really do attract!

If you could design a perfect workout for you what would it be…
Scott’s
workout would consist of rowing, push-ups and push press
Colette’s workout would consist of running, double-unders, and squats

How has CrossFit Changed your life and what has CrossFit taught you about yourself….
Scott- Prior to CrossFit, working out was something I didn’t want to do and rarely did.  I have been consistent three times a week since starting over a year ago and I really look forward to going to the gym.
Colette- CrossFit has changed me for the better.  I am stronger, more confident, and have learned to believe in myself.

What things can you do now that you thought you would never be able to do before you started CrossFit…
Scott-
I struggled through the warm-up during my first intro class (hamstring cramps) and every movement was a challenge.  I enjoy seeing how far I have come.  I can do most movements and know I will continue to improve.
Colette- LIFTING WEIGHTS!!  I was completely overwhelmed at first.  Slowly, my form has improved and I have gotten stronger.  I am proud that I didn’t give up on myself.

—A snippet of testimonial from Scott and Colette on Member of the Month—

We were having pizza and beer when Liza let us know about athlete of the month. We were celebrating the completion of the Lurong paleo challenge and talking about CrossFit and laughing with each other. CrossFit has brought us closer in our marriage. The community, coaches and friends we have made over the last year are what keep us coming back! Our kids see us as an example of health and fitness now which is a wonderful gift. I know we don’t consider ourselves athletes, but I guess maybe we are.  A couple that works out together, stays together is true for us. Thanks Crossfit Sioux Falls.

————–

Scott and Colette, we all love your positive attitude, your friendly smile, and above all your ability to be coached.  You are both amazing role models for both our new and old members.  Congratulations on being members of the month keep up the great work and striving for your goals.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Lifestyle, Members0 Comments

My Year Without Sugar

I made a Facebook post a couple days ago. It said this:

As of today, it’s been one full year since I ate anything with added sugar.

The response was immediate. In addition to the comments on the post (worth reading), I got a half-dozen private messages on Facebook, a few text messages, and multiple people stopped me over the next few days both at church and the gym to ask me questions about it.

Apparently the idea of removing sugar from their diet completely was incomprehensible to people.

In an attempt to mass-answer as many questions as possible, I decided to write everything down. If you asked me questions I didn’t get to, I hope I answer them somewhere below.

(I’ll warn you in advance that this article starts out very matter-of-fact but gets more touchy-feely and pseudo-psychological as it goes on. Feel free to bail out at any point. The nuts-and-bolts information is at the top.)

Yes, I stopped eating added sugar a year ago — October 18, 2013, to be exact.

How am I defining “added sugar”? Basically any sugar that God Himself didn’t put in the food. Yes, yes, I know there are naturally occurring sugars in all sorts of foods — fruit, dairy, etc. These are fine. What I’m avoiding are the sugars dumped into food during manufacturing specifically to make the food sweeter.

How strict have I been? Very. So much so that I can still remember most of the accidents. For example:

  • I was eating some trail mix in an airport in Boise, Idaho when I realized there were yogurt chips in it. I spit it out.
  • I got halfway through a steak salad that tasted suspiciously sweet. The server swore the dressing was vinaigrette…”Oh, wait, it’s maple vinaigrette…” (Maple vinaigrette? Seriously, who does that?)
  • I accidentally had some cranberries on a salad a few weeks ago. (Watch out for cranberries, as they’re essentially inedible unless soaked in sugar. If something has cranberries, I guarantee it has added sugar.)

There were a few more accidents (and I’m sure even more that I probably didn’t catch), but you get the idea of how far I took this. When you’re leaning over an airport garbage can spitting yogurt chips out in full view of everyone walking by, you’ve clearly become somewhat obsessive.

No, I do not feel deprived. Not at all.

  • I’m eating more food than at any other time in my life.
  • I’m enjoying food more than at any other time in my life.
  • I have a healthier relationship with food than at any other time in my life (much more on this below).

What do I eat? Damn-near everything. Contrary to what everyone thinks, it’s quite possible to avoid added sugar completely. Yet, the most common question I got was, “If you don’t eat sugar, what can you possibly eat!?” People apparently think I’m starving.

You’d be amazed how much stuff you can eat, but the current American diet can’t see past manufactured, processed foods, so people tend to overlook all the other stuff. Factory food is the default, and real food has almost become a fringe diet. I should package this and market it as “The Retro Diet ™” because I’m essentially eating what your grandparents ate in the 1950s.

Basically, I eat lots of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts, eggs, and dairy.

I’m thinking back over today, and it was a pretty average day food-wise, so here’s the play-by-play:

  • For breakfast I had the same thing I always have: a big cup of frozen strawberries (defrosted in the microwave) and two cups of bulletproof coffee. (The BP coffee is something I’ve been having in the last few months. Prior to that it was four eggs fried in butter and smothered with goat cheese.)
  • I had a couple handfuls of almonds about halfway through the morning. I wasn’t really hungry, but smoked almonds are awesome.
  • Lunch was at a Rotary meeting, so it was a buffet. I had a salad, some cold cuts, some cheese, cooked beef of some kind (I think it was brisket), a few potatoes, and milk (I’ve started to love whole milk again).
  • I was a bit hungry later in the afternoon, so I had some grapes and some cheese slices from a big hunk of “Seriously Sharp Cheddar” that I keep in the fridge.
  • For dinner, Annie made flank steak with sweet potatoes and green beans. (My wife is an awesome cook, and she’s been really supportive of my diet for this last year. Bless her.)

Yes, that’s a lot of food. My diet beats up rice cakes for fun and takes their lunch money. Clearly, I’m neither deprived nor hungry. In fact, I’m writing this at 9:33 p.m. and I’m still stuffed.

And I’m writing this from memory only because it’s fresh. I do not track my food. I can’t remember what I ate yesterday, and I don’t care. If I’m hungry, I eat until I’m not. I don’t plan anything in advance, and I don’t write anything down afterwards.

There are some generalities you can draw out of yesterday’s food –

It’s almost Paleo, with the exception of the dairy. In particular, note the lack of grains . I went through a Paleo challenge at CrossFit Sioux Falls in January and loved it. I’ve been avoiding grains for almost as long as sugar. I usually find myself in a social/group situation a couple of times a month where I don’t have much choice but to eat grains (bread, essentially), but I never eat it otherwise. I did finally bring back dairy (I even have a blog devoted to cheese plates), so I’m “Paleo + Dairy,” if that’s even a thing.

There’s a lot of fat in my diet. I’ve come to understand that dietary fat doesn’t make you fat — sugar and carbs do. After much experimentation, I can say that my weight is unaffected by how much fat I consume. I’m eating more fat in my diet now than at any other time in my life, yet I’ve never been leaner and my weight has never been more stable (I’m invariably within 2-3 pounds of 210, to the point where I’ve stopped bothering to weigh myself).

In addition to weight stability, I’ve never been in better physical condition or had more energy than I do today — both background energy throughout the day, and acute cardio endurance for CrossFit WODs. Even at 43-years-old and two solid years of CrossFit, I still set a couple of PRs a month. If I don’t have my BP coffee in the morning I can feel it. Fat is my biggest energy source.

(If you want much more on the effect of fat in your diet, I highly recommend The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong In a Healthy Diet. This is a meticulously-researched book on the effect of dietary fat on the body, and how we’ve been led down the wrong path for decades. It was recommended to me by a cardiologist.)

Note too that everything I eat is awfully close to its natural state. Very little in my diet is manufactured or processed. I didn’t do this on purpose, but if you eliminate sugar and refined carbs you end up removing most processed foods as an accidental byproduct, which tells you a lot about how food is produced in this country.

I try to get my diet as “irreducible” as possible — which is to say, I try to eat food that cannot be reduced any further.

Consider a piece of cake — there are probably 30 ingredients in it, all mixed together. You could never separate all these ingredients back out. On the other side of the coin, consider a simple tomato. There’s one ingredient — the tomato itself. You can’t “reduce” it any further than that. Even if you have a salad, this is still reducible. If I wanted, I could pick it apart and separate all the different stuff in the salad onto little piles on my plate. This is a good thing because I know what’s in it.

If I can’t visually separate (reduce) food to its base components, I get nervous and generally avoid it. You just don’t know what’s in it, and if it’s not irreducible, there’s a good chance sugar crept in somewhere along the way. The best food hasn’t been changed much from how it was pulled out of the ground.

Finally, if the food can’t rot, it’s probably not good. If you can leave something sitting in the open for months without worrying about it going bad, then for God’s sake don’t put it in your body. Real food rots.

(Yes, there are exceptions to everything I wrote above. Relax — they’re just guidelines.)

There’s clearly a lot of food you can’t eat. Check the ingredients because sugar has become something of a default ingredient. We can trace this back to the low-fat diet craze of the 1980s. The government told us that dietary fat was bad (based on poor evidence), so food manufacturers pulled the fat out of everything and just replaced it with sugar. The “cure” was worse than the “disease” (in quotes, because it was a cure that didn’t work for a disease that didn’t exist).

(A sad byproduct of this was that obesity rates almost immediately began to climb and never stopped. Read this article for some handy visual evidence.)

Sadly, there’s lots of sugar in “healthy” food too (looking right at you, granola bars), so you have to be diligent about ingredients. A pet peeve of mine is that “Applesauce” has sugar. If you want it without sugar, you have to buy “Unsweetened Applesauce,” which just contributes to the expectation that sugar is normal and deserves to be in everything. Someone needs to be slapped for this.

A good rule of thumb is that if you have to individually unwrap something, it’s probably not good . Sugar and carbs get injected into food in factories. If it’s wrapped individually, then it was manufactured, and it’s likely loaded with things you don’t want.

I’ll stop here before I go all tin foil hat on you, but you get the idea. You have to know what you eat. Read labels religiously, and try to keep food as natural as is practical.

So, why did I swear off sugar completely? Well, there’s a lot of background behind this, and this is where we get touchy-feely and personal. You might read this and think, “well, that has nothing to do with me.” Everyone has their own story and if you’ve never related to food the way I did, then good for you.

But even if none of my story applies to you, I’ll talk a bit about the lessons I learned from it, which I think are fairly universal to the human condition.

Here we go –

Last October, I was returning from a four-day trip to Boston and New York where I spoke at back-to-back conferences. It was stressful — lots of travel, lots of people, two full speaking gigs for two different talks, which means double the work. I ate my way through it all. I was delayed in the Minneapolis airport, and was on the tail end of a three-day sugar binge.

You have to understand that when I binged on sugar, I binged hard. I would stop at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in whatever airport I happened to be passing through, and that would kick off days of eating anything sweet I could get my hands on. I’d eat so much that I’d essentially get hungover — I’d wake up in the morning feeling like crap, and the only way to feel better was to eat more sugar.

It had been like this all of my life. I had always had a sweet tooth. Even in the four years since I started my fitness journey, and the two years since I started CrossFit, I still measured my diet in “days since the last binge.” When I would start eating sugar, I couldn’t stop. I’d start to slip, and then I’d consume 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day for several days before I could get a handle on it. (It wouldn’t stop at sugar, but more on this below.)

I was (and am) obsessed with CrossFit, but it was barely stemming the tide. It was the only thing keeping my weight in check. What I would do is absolutely kill it in the gym for a week, then trade all the progress I made for some (read: lots of) Haagen Dazs.

This made me feel like crap, both physically and emotionally. It was the latter one that really took a toll — physically it was bad enough, but the feeling of being out of control was tough to take. Food would just kind of roll over me and there was little it seemed I could do about it.

And once you blow it, you figure, “What the hell? I already blew today, so I may as well go for broke.” So, it started with a little treat here and there, and ended up with me eating anything and everything.

It was at this low point sitting in Minneapolis that I pulled out my trusty Kindle and searched for “food addiction.” At the time, I wasn’t sure this was appropriate, but it certainly seemed reasonable at the time and I didn’t have anywhere else to go. The top result was this book: Food Addiction: The Body Knows

I read the book in one sitting (I read fast). The first half forced me to confront the truth — I couldn’t control what I was eating. When it came to sugar, I was an addict. (For the record, the book is uneven. The first half is great; the second half, less so.)

I decided to detox myself. I decided not to eat sugar for a week, which I did and felt great. Then I went another week. Then another. Then another. As of a few days ago, it was 52 weeks.

I wish it was more complicated than that, because everyone keeps asking me how I did it. There was no trick to it. I just did it.

It was not planned. There was no way I could have looked out at a year stretching in front of me and decide not to eat sugar. I started with one week. But what I found is that it made my life better in so many ways, many of which were not physical. It quickly became something of a self-sustaining thing. The more I did it, the better I felt, so the more I wanted to do it.

I’ve given it a lot of thought over the last year, and I’ve come to two realizations –

First, I’ve realized that some humans (read: me) are not good at moderation. We can be “on” or we can be “off,” but we find it tough to exist somewhere in the middle. And the complicated thing about food is that we have to eat to live. You can’t quit all food cold turkey. I find it virtually impossible to moderate addictive food, but simply quitting that type of food altogether wasn’t that difficult.

(Consider this: what if we had to have just a little heroin each day to live? How many heroin addicts would we have? For many people, sugar is just as addictive as heroin. This has been proven.)

Second, while sugar is bad for you in an immediate sense, the really destructive part of it is the secondary effect it has on your appetite. It’s not just the sugar you’re eating right now that’s the problem — a more destructive effect is what that sugar is going to encourage you to eat later.

I have a pet theory I call “The Lonely Carbohydrate.” Carbs are inherently lonely, and when they get inside your body, they try to invite company over. They’re like the loser that comes to your house party and then invites all his friends.

Sugar begets sugar. If it gets inside you, it will try to prolong the spike in blood sugar by getting you to eat more sugar. This is true of all refined carbs. Carbs are lonely. Invite them to your party, and they’ll text all their stupid friends, and the next thing you know your house is over-run by douchebags who crash on your couch and won’t leave.

These two lessons combined to make it weirdly easy to quit sugar. Where I thought I would feel deprivation, I felt…peace. Moderation is stressful. Constantly keeping track of how much sugar I’ve eaten, whether or not this “treat” is deserved, and whether or not I’d be able to stop after one cookie — it extracts a mental toll. When I completely removed that, it eliminated an enormous and constant source of stress. I could finally just stop thinking about it all.

Yes, it would be wonderful if I could moderate my sugar intake. If I could just eat a reasonable amount of sugar, then I’d still be fine. I’m sure some people can do this. I am not one of them.

And somewhere in there, I discovered a very hard truth: there was no way to win my battle with sugar.

If I ate one Mint Brownie, I would want to eat 10 and would just end up pissed off that I wouldn’t let myself eat 10. But if I ate 10 (oh, I’ve done it), then I’d end up pissed off that I ate 10.

Damned if I did, damned if I didn’t. Moderation would still piss me off, just from a different direction. I lost either way.

I found some comfort in a saying that’s been floating around addiction recovery circles for years.

One is too many. A thousand is never enough.

And therein lies the absolute truth: an addict can never get enough, and they’ll destroy themselves trying to fill a hole that can never be filled.

To quote the computer from Wargames:

The only way to win is not to play.

So, will I never eat sugar again? I don’t know. Maybe not.

The cravings pass after a while. Avoiding sugar starts out as a novelty, and you wonder when you’re going to quit this latest fad. But at some point — and I imagine it’s different for everyone — it ceases to be a novelty and just becomes the new normal. There is now a huge category of food that just doesn’t even register as an option for me. If I’m in a situation where there’s nothing I can eat, I just don’t eat, and this feels entirely normal.

I’ve learned to love food again and I’m not giving that up. Few things make me happier than my strawberries and coffee in the morning. There’s rare joy in demolishing a 20oz ribeye and not feeling the slightest bit guilty about it. Give me a bag of trail mix and I’ll be the happiest guy on Earth for five minutes.

I love real food again. I can’t get enough of it, and when you eat the right things, you almost literally can’t eat too much. I defy you to blow your your diet on almonds. Or chicken. Or green beans. You’ll run out of hunger long before you’ll do any damage to yourself.

I can say this: I have no current desire to eat sugar ever again (or grains, for that matter). To say that I’ll never eat it again seems a little drastic, but I doubt I’ll have a craving for it tomorrow either.

If you string enough tomorrows together, then I guess you have…well, forever.

I suppose we’ll see. Talk to me in 20 years.

Posted in Crossfit Philosophy, Lifestyle, Members, Nutrition, Uncategorized8 Comments

Love the Process

I’m writing a book. It’s a big book — some 400 pages. Every morning, I write for 2-3 hours at a coffee shop. I have a long way to go.

Sometimes this is overwhelming. If I think too much about the 60,000 words looming in front of me, I might freak out and stop writing. The big picture is scary.

So I’ve learned to stop doing this. I’ve learned to concentrate just on the section I’m writing at the moment. No matter what the future holds, I concentrate on doing the best job writing the 3,000 or so words I have to write that day.

“Even if this book never gets published,” I tell myself, “I’ve been given the chance to drink coffee and write about a topic I really enjoy, and there are worse things in the world than that.”

Humans constantly evaluate our willpower against the progress we’re making toward some goal. If we’re closing the gap between us and the goal, we’re more likely to stick with it. If the distance isn’t closing, it gets harder to hang on.

We do this because we usually view our pursuit of the goal as a temporary, unpleasant condition. We are chasing a goal, and at some point we will achieve it. When we do, we’ll probably stop doing the things that got us there. Our current labor is just something we’re doing right now.

But what if it wasn’t? What if the goal wasn’t…well, a goal? What if the pursuit of the goal — or, rather, the process behind the pursuit — was the goal itself?

One reason our society can’t seem to stay healthy is because we look at health as a goal, not a process. It’s a temporary condition we achieve, not a state we exist in perpetually.

One of the best pieces of advice I got about eating was that the only diet that works is the diet that never ends. Which means it isn’t a “diet” at all. Diets are traditionally goal-centric — do this thing for a period of time to achieve this goal. But if a diet never ends, then it’s not a goal, it’s a state of being. It’s a process.

In 2010, researchers did an experiment where they took two groups of treadmill walkers. Before starting a workout, they encouraged one group to think very hard about how this workout contributed to their goals (goal-focused). For the other group, they encouraged them to just think about the workout they were doing right then (process-focused). Before starting the workout, both groups noted the amount of time they intended to workout.

The result? The goal-focused walkers claimed they would walk an average of eight minutes longer than the process-focused walkers. But, when the final results were tallied, the process-focused walkers spent nine minutes longer on the treadmill.

Um, what?

The researchers identified two characteristics: intention and pursuit. Intention is what you plan to do (the goal). Pursuit is what you actually do (the process). Intentions are easy. Pursuit is hard. We concentrate so much on our goals that we forget the process.

The researchers theorized that increased intention simply freaked out the exercisers:

[...] focus on the goals of exercising renders this activity more effortful thereby reducing gym users’ persistence.

Put another way, the big picture was scary. The current process seemed small in the larger context of their goals, so it was less important, and exercisers were consequently less willing to put up with physical discomfort for it.

The authors even extended this to other contexts and activities, like children and drawing:

[...] we ask whether children who expected to receive certain rewards for drawing would draw less if they [think about] these expected rewards vs. focus on the drawing itself. We predict that attending to incentives has negative consequences on engagement.

This is a classic example of intrinsic (internal) motivation vs. extrinsic (external) motivation. Intrinsic motivation is that which comes from the process itself (exercise, drawing). Extrinsic motivation comes from the reward. Intrinsic motivation is stronger and more durable. We stay focused on the process. The goal is important, certainly, but secondary.

Daniel Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us, talks about intrinsic motivation in the context of helping a friend move. If you spend all day lugging boxes for a good friend, you’re doing this out of genuine love and care for your friend. Moving sucks, but you’re spending time helping a friend, and there’s honor in this.

If, at the end of a long day, the friend offers to pay you $100 for your time, how would you feel? In handing you a wad of cash, your friend has completely changed the context of what you did. The reward has shifted completely outward. You were no longer doing it for the intrinsic reward of helping your friend move (the process); instead they believed you were doing it for the extrinsic reward of money (a goal). You’d likely be offended.

Humans love context. We’re obsessed with the big picture and how everything fits into it. Every experience we have is a puzzle piece, and we try to fit it into a larger framework of experience. We often won’t want to workout unless we have some larger goal framework to fit it into. Are we working towards something? Are we making progress?

Additionally, we love thinking about our future self because our future selves are perfect. A 1999 study showed that when movie watchers had to pick a movie to watch days in the future, they picked acclaimed movies like Schindler’s List. When they had to pick a movie to watch right now, they picked something like Weekend at Bernies. Why? Because, in their minds, their future self was cultured and deep. By comparison, their current self was superficial and frivolous.

Goals are all about context and the future self. They allow us to dwell on this amazing future moment when everything comes together and we are who we want to become. This is exciting. By comparison, we find the actual process to be boring and tedious.

So, should we abandon our goals? Absolutely not. But make sure you love the process in spite of them. Make sure you enjoy the process of pursuing the goal, not just the idea of achieving it.

If you have goals in the gym, but never get any closer to them, would you quit showing up? If so, then this might be a dangerous place to be. If you don’t love the process, but instead love the progress, then progress has become a crutch. You depend on it to stay motivated.

But progress isn’t guaranteed. Injuries happen. Backslides happen. Business trips happen. Sometimes you just stop making forward progress for months at a time. And, for the older athlete, there comes a day when you stop hitting PRs. Then the only goal becomes just to decline more slowly than average.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that there’s honor in repetition. There’s comfort in routine. There’s strength in consistency. There’s power in the struggle. There’s even an odd sense of security in boredom. There is joy in the process, and no matter what the future holds, the most important burpee in the world is one the I’m doing at any given moment.

Just like the book I’m writing, I try to approach CrossFit as a continuing process, with goals as a background motivation.

I’d like to do an L-sit rope climb. I’ve been working toward this for months now. I can get about 20 seconds of an L-sit, and I just got a legless rope climb, so now I’m working on putting them together. That’s far easier said than done, but I’m gonna get it one day, and that day is gonna be awesome.

But that goal is not what keeps me coming into CrossFit. Rather, I love the routine of walking into an empty gym at 5:15 in the morning. I love the people, especially the usual suspects that trickle in that early — it’s quiet, so you look up every time the door slams shut. I love the lonely echo of my footsteps off the building during my warmup run. I love the spirit of communal destruction and the tribal mentality that says, “We’ll beat this WOD together.” I love walking out of the gym at 6:45, completely drained and feeling fantastic about it.

Sure, I have goals. But I love the process, and like the diet that never ends, this is the only way it works over the long-term. If your forward progress stops, your extrinsic motivation dries up, and you quit coming to the gym as a result, be sure to stop back in about 20 years. I’ll still be here.

Look for me at the top of the rope, legs held perfectly parallel.

Posted in Crossfit Philosophy, Lifestyle, Uncategorized1 Comment

lurong

Overview of the LuRong Paleo Challenge- Meeting Wednesday Sept 10th 6:30

lurong

 

All right I know many of you have questions about this new Paleo Challenge that we are trying and after reading the 60 pages of rules and “to do’s” I totally understand why you have questions.  I am going to try and summarize as much as I can for all of you and then we will be having an info meeting Wednesday night at 6:30 for more questions.

The challenge starts on Monday September 15th-Sunday November 9th; in order to be eligible to win cash and prizes you must complete all of the requirements of the 8 week long Challenge.  These rules include completing 10 standardized workouts, dietary compliance, taking before and after body measurements, recording your weight at the beginning and end of the challenge, setting and tackling goals, trying new recipes, and submitting a video or written experience.  I know this list is long and it sounds a little overwhelming at first but all of these things are going to help you be successful with this challenge.  We will plan on covering every requirement in our weekly meetings as well.  I think one of the most important requirements and key to your success is goal setting and that will be covered in our first meeting.

Workouts:
You will be required to complete 10 workouts during the challenge, weeks 1 and 2 you will be required to complete 3 workouts; these are going to be your baseline workouts.  In weeks 7 and 8 you will test these workouts again to see how much you have improved on your performance.  During weeks 3-6 you have 1 workout each week to complete.  We will have these workouts programmed into our Thursday workouts, or you are more than welcome to come into open gym and do the work.  There is an option for each workout to choose your skill level, level 1 being the easiest and level 3 being the most challenging.  The level that you choose for workout 1 -3 must be the same level that you use for workouts 8-10 as these are the testing workouts.

Weeks 1&2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Weeks 7&8
Benchmark Workouts (WODs 1, 2, and 3) WOD 4 WOD 5 WOD 6 WOD 7 Benchmark Workouts WODs 8, 9, and 10
Initial Body Measurements Ending Body Measurements
Starting Weight Ending Weight
Set Goals Track Goals
Recipe Explorer
Educational Blog
Written Experience
Video Experience
Optional Progress Photos Upload

Measurements and Pictures:
During the challenge we will be taking 7 different body measurements; these measurements will be taken at the beginning and at the end of the challenge.  The seven areas are waist, hips, chest, right and left legs, right and left arms.  We will be doing the measurements at the gym starting Monday morning September 15th; please make sure you email me and set up a time to get your measurements done.  Weight will also be done at the same time as your measurements; again try to make sure to wear the same clothing for your first weigh in and your last.

Dietary Rules and Guidelines:
Everyone will submit their food log on the challenge platform page for everyday of the challenge.  You will mark a “cheat” or “clean” for each of the 6 time periods during the day.  This will make more sense when you go to the challenge platform and see how it is set up.  The time periods that you are accountable for logging are Breakfast, Morning, Lunch, Afternoon, Dinner, and Evening.  You will receive 3 points for every “clean” and receive 1 point for every “cheat”.  If you fail to submit any score at all that will result in a 0 score for that day.  You will have 6 full days to enter in your scores for a given day.  You will need to read through the dietary rules to find out exactly what counts as a “cheat.”  Below is an overview of Paleo foods and foods you are allowed to eat in moderation.

General Paleo Diet Rules

  • Eat lean meats, lots of vegetable, some fruit, some seeds and nuts, limited starches, no sugar, no dairy, and no legumes.
  • No candy, soda, pastas, wheat, rice, oats, rice, artificial ingredients, bagels, tortillas, corn, or cereals.
  • No, beans, peas, lentils, white potatoes, or soy.
  • No milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, or butter (see ghee exception).

General Moderation Defined

Many foods are perfectly acceptable and nutritionally beneficial for someone to consume while trying to become healthier or when losing weight. However, some of these items need to be limited in their quantity or frequency of consumption in order to help Participants reach their goals.

Foods that are listed in the Food Search under Moderation without any specific rule, serving, or allotment are considered General Moderation. The Sponsor puts it in the hands of the Participant to police themselves on these items. With these items more is not better, primarily due to either their high calorie content or potential effect on blood glucose levels or insulin response.

Specific Moderation Defined

Some foods need a little stricter monitoring than a general call to moderation, especially when the goal is weight loss, body transformation, and improved performance. Therefore, some food items listed as moderation will also contain a serving size and allowance in order to help keep Participants on track and more likely to reach their goals.

Reference the Food Search for comlete details.

Special Allowances

Natural Sweeteners- 1 total combined tablespoon per day or 1 pack of Stevia (1 Packet per day= 1 gram). Allowable sweeteners are listed in the food search. Some of the included items are raw agave, honey, coconut crystals, erythritol, and pure maple syrup.

Bacon- eat in moderation only if no nitrates or nitrites and nutrition label says “0″ Grams of Sugar. Some are cured in traces amounts of sugar so sugar could be on the ingredient list but if it says “0” grams of sugar it is allowed.

Ghee- Grass fed clarified butter is the only dairy exception. When grass fed it is a versatile and healthy fat source with valuable Omega-3 fatty acids. Limit Ghee to 2 tablespoons per day.

Caffeine- Naturally occurring caffeine from tea or coffee is in general moderation, but caffeine in a supplement or listed as an ingredient on the label is limited to 30 mgs or less in a serving. Zero Calorie Chewing Gum- no more than 2 sticks per day

Wine- One 6 ounce glass of red or white wine per day with dinner. You cannot save up days for a weekend splurge.

Lemon juice or fruit juice- if used for flavoring or cooking (3 oz or less per day)

Protein Shake Supplementation- Due to the wide spectrum of Participants in the Challenge and different end goals we are allowing 1 serving of your choice of Protein Powder supplementation if it is taken within 30 minutes post- workout. It cannot be used as a meal replacement or used in any manner other than as a post WOD Protein Supplement. A pure egg white or hemp protein with no added sugar or other banned items would not be held to the same limitation.

Endurance Athletes- many Participants may be training for or competing in an endurance event during the Challenge. For any event or training session that lasts for 120 minutes or more of continuous and strenuous exercise a Participant is allowed to supplement with electrolyte replenishing drinks, goo, energy blocks, etc.

Bonus Points:
You will also get the opportunity to earn bonus points which will help you on some of those days that your “cheats” may have been high.  Here is how the bonus points work….

Bonus Point Title Why Points Possible
Benchmark Workout Completion 5 points for completing each benchmark workout 30
Performance Workout Completion 15 point for each workout completed 60
Goals 5 points each for your first 6 tracked goals 30
Recipe Explorer 4 points for up to 5 recipes submitted 20
Written Experience Submitting a written experience 10
Video Experience Recording and submitting a video of your experience 20
Total Bonus Points Possible 170

I hope this helps clear up some of the confusion and makes the challenge easier to understand.  Remember that we are having a meeting tonight (Wednesday) night at 6:30, so if you are thinking about doing the challenge or you have already signed up and just have a few questions please come to the meeting for feel free to email me at liza@cfsiouxfalls.com. Also the link to the rules page on the LuRong Challenge website is https://www.lurongliving.com/challenge/page/rules  and please go to this page, it will give you all of the information you need to know.  It will also give you all of the deadlines you need to know for the whole 8 weeks.

Challenge ahead!

-Liza

 

Posted in Lifestyle, Members, Nutrition0 Comments

fittest-falls

CrossFit: A Gentle Introduction

If you already know all about CrossFit, then this article isn’t for you. Well, not directly for you — it’ll actually be really handy for you to send to people who ask you, “what’s that CrossFit all about?”

This is meant to be a lightweight introduction to CrossFit. I have a follow-up article coming in a couple weeks which a more detailed introduction into CrossFit Sioux Falls in particular and how a specific class looks, but in this article we’re going to talk about the idea of CrossFit in general, why it works, and what makes it different.

I’m not an employee of CrossFit or of CrossFit Sioux Falls. I’m just a near 43-year-old father of three who has been CrossFitting for two years. (Consequently, there are some opinions in here. Sue me.)

Here we go –

The Basics

“CrossFit” is really three things:

  • CrossFit is a workout philosophy and methodology that emphasizes high-intensity, combinatorial, functional exercise.
  • CrossFit Inc. (sometimes called “HQ”) is a company founded in Southern California back in the 90s. It promotes CrossFit the philosophy, trains and licenses CrossFit gyms, and organizes the CrossFit Games every year.
  • CrossFit Sioux Falls (CFSF) is a specific CrossFit gym in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (my gym, in fact)

That explanation may sound pedantic, but it’s important. Henceforth, when I say “CrossFit,” I mean the philosophy. When I say “CFSF,” I mean my gym. Or your gym. Or any gym, really. The point I’m trying to make is that CrossFit the Philosophy is a separate thing than CrossFit the Company and A CrossFit Gym In Your City.

CrossFit Inc. has a loose relationship with its affiliate gyms. They all pay a licensing fee to use “CrossFit” in their name, and the coaches are all certified by CrossFit Inc. However, each gym is free to implement and interpret CrossFit as they see fit.

So, if CrossFit exists apart from a gym, can you do CrossFit without a gym? Sure, to some extent. CrossFit is a set of common movements and methodologies, and you could conceivably do this in your basement or garage with great results. What you would lose is the programming, coaching, and social aspects of belonging to a gym (more on that below).

The philosophy/gym dichotomy means that praise and criticism of CrossFit can be categorized two ways:

  1. Of CrossFit, the philosophy and methodology
  2. Of a specific gym

Like anything, some gyms are mediocre, some are terrible, and some are fantastic. So it goes.

I find that most criticisms of CrossFit fall into the latter group — people get frustrated with something dumb that a particular gym or coach did, and they unfairly extrapolate that to CrossFit in general and even project it onto other gyms. This sucks because some bad apples make everyone look bad, but such is life.

CrossFit works on a class model — CFSF offers scheduled CrossFit classes, multiple times a day. You workout as a group, under the guidance of at least one coach, and often two of them. You don’t just come and randomly workout on your own at CFSF. There are a few designated “open gym” times during the week where you can do just that, but most everyone attends scheduled classes.

Most CrossFit gyms are fairly purpose-built. CFSF, for example, is not a “health club,” it’s a gym. There are no showers, no lockers, and no mirrors outside the bathroom. It’s small, it’s hot, there’s chalk everywhere, and the paint is chipping off the walls in places. It’s less Beverly Hills and more…Rocky. If it’s important to you that your gym is pretty, then CFSF probably isn’t for you. Perhaps CrossFit isn’t either because CrossFit gyms are generally not designed for comfort.

(I once had a fantastic workout at CrossFit Warehouse outside Chicago. Near as I could tell, the entire gym was built into a rental storage unit. CrossFit Portland was a bit more elaborate, but was essentially an old truck loading facility in an industrial park.)

CrossFit gyms exist on an informal scale of “purity.” Some teach CrossFit classes as just one of a bunch of different types of exercise — they may be a full-blown health club that teaches CrossFit in among Zumba and Pilates. Other gyms are very pure, meaning they do nothing but CrossFit. CFSF is that type of gym — it exists for CrossFit and nothing else.

It’s also worth noting that there’s an element of competition to CrossFit. The CrossFit Games is the annual, global competition of CrossFit athletes. It’s preceded by The Open and Regionals — about four months of the year is spent working through the various brackets until the actual Games in late July. In addition, there are other, independent competitions all over world.

CrossFit gyms will vary in how much they care about competition. CFSF is very competitive. CFSF has sent athletes — individuals and teams — to the Regionals in Chicago every year I’ve been a member (Zak Carchedi placed 8th of 44 in 2014; Mary Theobald placed 14th in 2013).

While most people are at CFSF (and CrossFit itself) to simply stay in shape, there are a handful of extremely competitive athletes that train there, specifically to compete in The Games and other events.

Why is CrossFit Different?

CrossFit can be weirdly hard to explain because it’s nothing new. There is no secret to CrossFit — no magic voodoo that makes it different. In fact, I don’t think any single movement in CrossFit is out of the ordinary. We’re essentially doing Olympic weightlifting, calisthenics, and some gymnastic-ish movements. All of these things have been around for decades.

So, why does it work so well? A lot of reasons –

CrossFit is basic. There’s no special equipment or methodology. CrossFit is about pushing yourself hard — lifting heavy weight, doing hard cardio. CrossFit doesn’t get lost in esoteric theory and the fad of the day. CrossFit is pure, basic, physical fitness.

There’s minimal equipment at CrossFit. There’s an elaborate pull-up rig, but little else besides bars, jump ropes, and weights. Notably, there are no machines. In fact, when I have to work out in a “regular” gym when I travel, I almost get confused by all the equipment (you’ll find me on the floor next to the bench press, doing push ups).

The current exercise industry chases fads around, or creates new ones to sell you things. While some people have labeled CrossFit as just such a fad, I couldn’t disagree more. CrossFit is the anti-fad — it’s a return to basic physical fitness, without frills or complication.

CrossFit is balanced. As a kid, my favorite event in the Olympics was the decathlon — this is where athletes competed in 10 events over two days (remember Bruce Jenner, before he was a Kardashian?). The runners had endurance, and the weightlifters had strength, but the decathletes had it all.

CrossFit is the same way. They have 10 principles of fitness, and they’re trying to improve you across the board. They don’t want you to be the strongest, or have the most endurance or even the best balance — they want you to have a good mix of all of them.

I grew up in the 80s, and I remember the “cross-training” craze. Remember Bo Jackson? Bo knows cross-training. Bo knew a little of everything. CrossFit is the same idea. Life is physically demanding in so many dimensions, and CrossFit wants you to better at all of them.

The athletes at The Games are amazing in this respect. You’ll find guys who can swim 1,000 yards and run a 5K in the 95th percentile, then turn around and walk 100 yards on their hands right before they squat 500 pounds. The breadth of skill and capability they possess is just breathtaking. There is no specialization. (Watch this highlight reel from the 2014 Games to get an idea of all the different things they have to be good at.)

CrossFit is popular with the military, police, and fire/rescue for precisely this reason. In those occupations, you have no control over the situations you’re going to be thrust into, so you have to be ready for anything. CrossFit aims to prepare you for the unknown.

(The picture below is a great example. I took this at the Fittest of the Falls competition. The guy in the foreground is walking on his hands. In the background, you can see a couple people hanging from the bar and swinging up their legs to touch their toes to it, and a woman on the far left (in orange) is squatting while holding a bar overhead. That’s an enormous amount of exercise diversity in a single photo, and this was just one event in a broader competition.)

fittest-falls

CrossFit is intense. There’s a good chance that CrossFit will push you harder than you’ve ever been pushed. You have mental blocks that CrossFit will effectively tear down.

I maintain that a human being will only get to about 85% of their maximum capacity by themselves — your self-preservational instinct to avoid pain just won’t let you over that threshold. The group and coaching dynamics of CrossFit can get you across it. You’ll find yourself doing things that you never thought you could do.

I’ve written at length before about how the class pushes you to go further. You’ll get closer to your personal limits than you might ever have gotten before. You just might amaze yourself.

Intensity is one of the things I think you’d lose if you did CrossFit on your own. The group dynamics of a workout are critical to pushing your limits, and the larger social aspect of the gym community pushes you to stay consistent over time.

CrossFit is programmed. The workouts aren’t random. They’re programmed by a head coach at CFSF.

You go through cycles — you might see the same types of exercises showing up on the whiteboard for six weeks or so. This is a programming cycle. Then you’ll do something else for a week (a “deload week”), then launch into a new cycle.

There’s a method behind the madness, and, in this sense, CrossFit is less like just randomly working out, and more like having a fractional personal trainer watching over what you’re doing.

This programming means you can’t hide from things you don’t like. Hate squats? Tough. Don’t like burpees? Suck it up, princess. The whiteboard at the front of the class doesn’t play favorites, and it doesn’t care what types of exercise you secretly try to avoid.

CrossFit is coached. Each class has a professional coach — often two of them. They give you significant instruction, no matter what you’re doing or how many times you’ve done it. Yes, remedial snatch training might seem a little tedious sometimes, but it’s good to know what you’re doing when you’re getting a barbell up over your head.

You’re never just out on your own. If you have a question, ask. If you want to really work on something, come in sometime during open gym. Each open gym session is staffed with a coach who can work with you.

This is one of the things that varies considerably from gym to gym. CFSF has a fantastic group of coaches that care deeply for their members. They’ll take extra time to teach you things, and they’ll stop you if you’re doing something stupid. Not every gym is like this — just like everything, there are some stupid people out there (and, thanks for YouTube, it’s easy for these stupid people to make everyone look bad).

CrossFit is functional. In CrossFit, the muscle is not the point. The movement is the point. You don’t work on muscles in CrossFit, you work on movements.

For example, at a traditional gym, they might show you an exercise that isolates your shoulders and tell you “this will make it easier for you to lift things over your head.” At CrossFit, you just lift things over your head.

It took a while for me to notice, but we never work out our biceps directly at CrossFit. In a traditional gym, standing in front of a mirror doing bicep curls is almost a requirement. At CrossFit, the only way our biceps get worked is by doing pull ups (strict, kipping, and ring rows). Like everything else, biceps are worked as a byproduct of a movement. (In fact, here’s an article about exactly that: The Arms Race and Olympic Lifting; PDF.)

That’s why most every movement at CrossFit is combinatorial. You don’t workout muscles in isolation, rather you work out combinations of muscles as part of a functional movement. Why? Because this is how you move around in the real world.

You’d never get into a leg machine and move it around in some bizarre, unnatural way to work some single muscle to make you better at squatting. You just squat. Life isn’t lived in a machine — life is lived on your own two feet, so you should learn to perform that way.

CrossFit is varied. You never fall into a rut. Every workout is different, and part of the fun is just showing up and seeing what crazy thing they have for you today.

Your body can’t plateau because it constantly has to adapt to new things. You might do a certain movement or workout consistently for weeks, then not see it again for months. (It’s worse for competitors at The Games. They find out about a lot of the workouts just minutes before they have to do them, so they can’t specialize their training.)

Not only does CrossFit vary exercises, but (at CFSF at least), they’ll vary the movements themselves by breaking them down. One day we might do snatches just from position one, which completely changes the dynamics of it (you have very little time to drop under the bar). Or they might break off just the jerk, without the clean, which lets you concentrate on part of the movement.

Since you never know what’s coming, you can’t hide from workouts or movements you don’t like, and you can’t use things you find easy as a crutch. You have to be ready for anything.

CrossFit is competitive. As I mentioned earlier, there is a competitive aspect to CrossFit. The CrossFit Games are the Olympics of the sport.

There’s an Open competition leading up to it that anyone can enter. One workout is released per week for five weeks. CFSF usually has several dozen people enter the Open, and the workout heats are held on Saturdays in the early spring. It’s a total gas to come watch.

(If you want a taste of it, here’s Zak doing “14.4″ — so-named because it’s the fourth workout of the 2014 Open. Athletes competing for a spot at regionals have to turn in videos of their workouts, like this one. Zak would go on to place 8th in Chicago.)

There are smaller, regional events, like The Granite Games up in St. Cloud, and CFSF even runs The Fittest of the Falls here in Sioux Falls which brings in athletes from all over the region. Plus, there are a couple “throwdowns” every year in the gym itself, just for members.

Even if you never compete, it’s fun to watch. The Games are streamed on the Internet in late July.

CrossFit is scalable. Each workout has a prescribed weight, movement, or reps (called “Rx”). If you can’t do it, just do something else.

There’s generally accepted “swappable” movements, and you’re welcome to move around less weight if what they’ve prescribed is too heavy. No one wants to see you get hurt, and if you can get a solid workout doing something else, that’s just fine.

My right knee has been unstable since high school. If the class is ever doing something involving weighted lunges or lunging to the side, you’ll find me doing squats holding a 45-pound weight. I don’t check with anyone, I just do it. So long as you’re doing something to keep working, no one cares.

It’s inspiring to see the range of athletes co-existing at CFSF. You have 20-something competitors right alongside (literally) 50-somethings just trying to stay in shape. Respect is measured on effort and consistency. All that’s asked of you is that you show up for the workout and leave everything you have on the floor, whatever that might be for your age, skill, and fitness level.

CrossFit has objective standards. Clearly, this is not specific to CrossFit — almost every sport has objective standards. Runners have distances (5K, 10K), weightlifters have weights (a 300 lb. bench press), even baseball players have achievements (a no hitter).

But at CrossFit, you’re constantly working in relation to these standards. They provide a larger context to what you come into the gym to do.

CrossFit has named workouts — they’re either named for women (“the girls”), or for actual U.S. soldiers killed in action (“the heroes”). Some of these workouts approach legendary status — ask any veteran CrossFitter what their “Fran time” is, and they’ll probably be able to tell you (mine sucks, thanks for asking).

At CrossFit, you keep track of your capabilities across dozens of standards, and achieving a new PR (personal record) is cause for celebration. I have a file in Evernote with my PRs for about 20 different movements and standards — anything from named workouts, to the number of unbroken burpees I can do, to my max single-rep weight for a front squat. Likewise, after a workout, you’ll see lots of people pull out their notebooks.

CrossFit is about making continuous progress against these standards. Keeping track of them keeps you accountable to them.  You’ll push yourself harder with these standards in the back of your head — wanting to chip away at my Nancy time keeps me going, both going to the gym regularly, and going as hard as I can during a tough workout.

CrossFit is social. This one may seem odd after all the talk about intensity and competitiveness, but it’s not something to overlook. It’s important in both the small and big pictures.

For a specific workout, you won’t sit around a talk the entire hour, but a fair amount of catching up happens during warmups. If you’re consistent about a particular class, you start to know the regulars. There’s about a dozen of us that always work out at 5:30 in the morning, and there’s a comforting routine to seeing us all trickle in while it’s still dark out.

In a larger sense, you’ll learn people’s names, you’ll learn about their lives, and you’ll see them outside the workouts — a couple BBQs a year, the Christmas party, maybe a Superbowl party, etc. In addition to being a gym, CFSF is a community.

I spent two years working out at a big health club right before I joined CFSF. I never knew anyone’s name. But the first time I missed a week of CrossFit because of a cold, I got messages on Facebook asking me where I was and if I was okay. I’ve made some great friendships at CFSF that go way, way past just working out together.

You might think, “I’m not joining a gym to make friends.” That’s fine, but you’d be surprised at how far it goes when you’re having a crappy week and you don’t feel like working out. Staying in shape can be hard, and it’s easier when you’re not walking that road alone.

This short video is a great example. This is from a competition at CrossFit 781 just outside Boston. Just watch it to understand the level of respect and support that exists at most CrossFit gyms. Here’s another angle on the same moment, which includes the massive group hug at the end. You just don’t get this everywhere.

Not enough? Here’s a touching article about how a CrossFit gym embraced the special needs sister of one of their members.

I never realized how much traditional gyms lack a sense of togetherness until I started CrossFit. The personal interaction at my CrossFit gym has made a huge difference in my life. [...] One of the coaches that was there doing some construction on the new wing that night took it upon himself to look out for her. He made sure she had water if she was thirsty, and when her iPod died he brought over an extension cord and a charger so she could keep playing her game.

I’m not saying that no other gym on Earth is like this. But I’ve worked out for extended periods at probably 10 different gyms in my life, and I’ve never felt community like at CFSF.

(And, yes, some people have called CrossFit “a cult.” Whatever. If being in the greatest shape of my life at 42 while being surrounded by friends means that I joined a cult, then more people should join cults. Bite me.)

A Final Word

I often joke that I love CrossFit like a fourth child. However, the truth is maybe even more dramatic: I believe in CrossFit — I believe in the change that it has delivered in the lives of a lot of people.

But I’m also a realist: there are many ways to fitness, and CrossFit is just one of them. It may not work for you, which is fine. If this isn’t for you, find something that is. Define what you believe fitness to be, and then pursue that.

CrossFit has defined “fitness” as:

Increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.

(If you want 10 pages of documentation around that definition, here you go: What is Fitness?)

This overlaps quite nicely with my personal definition of fitness. I want to be capable of increased physical effort in unpredictable circumstances and timeframes (refer back to my admiration of decathletes). Essentially, I want to survive the impending zombie apocalypse, and Lord only knows what that’s gonna take.

This definition might not work for you. For you, fitness might mean just running long distances. If so, then I suggest you skip CrossFit, buy a good pair of shoes, and run until the soles come off.

But if you’re looking for fitness that’s applicable to a wide range of situations, and you want to do something fun, challenging, and with a great sense of community, then CrossFit might be exactly what you’re looking for.

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