Narrow Focus

by Grace Lin

Have you ever been confronted with a task that seemed impossible?  Okay maybe not impossible, but what about an extremely overwhelming task?  My guess is that you have encountered this before, and if you haven’t, you will.  So, how did you overcome the task?  Did you try to tackle it all at once?  Or did you break it into small pieces and chip away at it?  Probably the latter.

Recently, I have run into what seems like an insurmountable task: planning a wedding.  For those who are married and have been through this, you know what I’m talking about.  There are hundreds of decisions to make, tasks to do, things to coordinate, information to collect, and the list goes on.  And let’s be honest here, none of the things that go into wedding planning are “in my wheelhouse.”  When I think of all of the things that need to be done, I get overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed out.  And then I think to myself, “Stop.  Narrow your focus.  It’s just like a chipper workout.  So, take it one step at a time and chip away at it.”  And all of a sudden, a seemingly impossible task seems extremely doable.  (Of course, I am getting help from my wonderful fiancé throughout all of this)

Now, apply this concept of narrowing your focus to your training.  You can apply it to conditioning sessions, for example, a long EMOM workout.  You look at a 30 minute EMOM and immediately want to die.  But that’s because you’re focusing on ALL of the work you need to do at once.  Instead, narrow your focus to one minute.  Complete that minute, and then tackle the next minute.  Complete that, and tackle the next.  And before you know it, you’re into minute 26 and almost done.  Taking long workouts one rep, movement, or station (however you want to look at it) at a time will help rid the overwhelming feeling of helplessness and give you a sense of purpose.  Finish a task, go on to the next, and keep on trucking.

You can also apply this to skill work or any movement.  When we first learn a skill or movement, we’re usually given a couple major points to focus on, and this helps us learn how to move properly.  Then there comes a point where the movement or skill becomes second nature – meaning we go on autopilot and don’t need to think when we perform the movement.  This is when narrowing your focus becomes imperative.  If you continue to run on autopilot, how will you ever improve?  

Take the muscle up, for example.  Let’s say you’ve learned how to do muscle ups and you’re pretty good at them.  You can knock out 5 in a row easily.  That’s great!  But what’s stopping you from being able to do 10 in a row?  What are you thinking about when you perform a muscle up?  If you don’t know the answer to that, then you’re probably on autopilot.  You need to narrow your focus and think about a specific cue that will help improve your movement.  This could be leading with the toes, staying tight in the arch and hollow positions (tighter is lighter), or popping your hips fast.  Don’t focus on performing the entire muscle up; instead, narrow your focus on a specific component of the muscle up to help improve it.  And once that becomes second nature, focus on something else.

Moral of the story, guys: Having the big picture is important, but breaking it down into smaller components is also extremely helpful.  You win the big battles by tackling the smaller components successfully.

Welcome Connor and Camzin Martin!

We are thrilled to welcome Connor and Camzin Martin to the CrossFit Central Houston coaching staff! These two both bring a wealth of CrossFit knowledge as experienced coaches and athletes. With this addition, we're afforded the oppportunities to not only bring you even more high quality coaching, but more classes and new programs! Please welcome Connor and Camzin into the CFCH family!

A little more about the Martins...

If you've watched "Every Second Counts" you've seen Connor Martin. He's the skinny kid in the back of the 2008 CrossFit Games as the youngest competitor there. He competed in the 2007 Games as well as the very first Regionals, ultimately competing on the Regional stage four times before hanging up his hat as a competitor to develop both Regional and Games level athletes.

Connor began his CrossFit career 13 years ago at the fifth CrossFit affiliate worldwide. He trained extensively under Jeff Martin (the man responsible for producing the scaling on CrossFit.com for over 9 years) before beginning his four year career on the CrossFit Seminar staff where he taught the Level 1, Level 2, and CrossFit Kids Seminars, teaching over 150 seminars all over the world and achieving the status of a Level 3 CrossFit Certified Trainer.

When his wife, Camzin, found out she was pregnant they looked to put down roots and found a home here in Houston where he developed an extremely successful competition program, a teen program, strength protocols, and an on-boarding program.

Camzin began CrossFit in 2012 and has competed as a Regional athlete every year since with the exception of the year after the birth of their oldest child. Camzin came to CrossFit with a twelve-year background in gymnastics as an either an athlete, coach, or gym manager.

Camzin taught on the CrossFit Kids seminar staff for a year before becoming pregnant with their oldest daughter and has attained her Mobility, Gymnastics, and Level 2 CrossFit Training certificates. She has written and developed masters programs, as well as hosted multiple gymnastics clinics and seminars.

Since coming to Houston Camzin and Connor have fostered their second daughter from birth and are eager to be able to adopt her before the end of the year. Their passion is in helping people find confidence, health, and longevity through fitness as well as helping athletes redefine what they thought possible for themselves. They feel honored to be able to continue their journey with CrossFit Central Houston and blessed to be able to do so with the leadership here.

Two Questions That Can Make or Break Your Training (Part 2)

by Grace Lin

In the last post, we talked about the first question to ask yourself before you train every day: Why am I here?  But, the questions don’t end there.  After answering the why, it’s important to answer the what.  

What am I hoping to accomplish in this session?

Every training session is comprised of many different elements and it is nearly impossible to focus on all of them at once (not without sacrificing quality).  But, if you choose one or two elements to focus on for that day, it completely changes the dynamic of the training session.

For example, if the workout was

4 rounds for time of
30 WB (20/14)
15 Power Cleans (155/105)
50 DU

Your focus could be, “I want to finish each set of WB in 2 sets or less.”  

Or it could be, “I know I have some technical faults on my clean, so I’m going to really focus on getting the bar to my pockets and keeping it close on every rep.”

Or maybe, “I usually take big breaks between sets of DU.  I won’t do that this time.  I’m going to step through the rope immediately if I trip up.”

The what you choose to focus on is completely up to you – it’s totally dependent on the athlete.  Answering what gives you a small daily goal to work toward.  And the continuous accumulation of these small goals will carry over into achieving your big goals.  Small victories are what make big victories, and this strategy gives you small victories that you can celebrate every day.

Two Questions That Can Make or Break Your Training (Part 1)

by Grace LIn

How do you approach your training every time you step foot in the gym?  Do you rush in at the last minute, get changed quickly, and rush out to try to catch the rest of the class in the warm up run?  Or do you come in a few minutes early and lay on a foam roller with your eyes glued to your phone?  What’s going through your head in those 5-10 minutes before class starts?

If you want to get the most out of every training session, start by asking yourself two very important questions before you warm up.  You need to get your mind right before getting your body right.  So, start every training session by asking yourself WHY.  Start by reviewing your goals.  Why am I here? 

Take these two scenarios: 

Scenario 1:  You come into the gym flustered, feeling rushed, exhausted, and fatigued.  There are so many things going through your mind, you can’t grab a hold of any of them, and it feels like a jumbled mess.  You take time to sit down, calm yourself, and review your goals.  You are here at the gym for one thing – you want to better yourself.  You run that through your head over and over again, until you can see the sentence.  Having that in the forefront of your mind brings a completely different energy level and focus to your training.

Scenario 2: You come into the gym flustered, feeling rushed, exhausted, and fatigued.  There are so many things going through your mind, you can’t grab a hold of any of them, and it feels like a jumbled mess.  You put your training shoes on, sit on the foam roller for a few minutes, and mindlessly go through some mobility drills to try to feel better.  Then class starts and you follow along.

Which of those training sessions do you think will yield the best results?  Which one will yield more focus and intensity? As our population has adapted to technology, we tend to forget about things once they aren’t in front of our eyes.  That’s why it’s important to keep your goals in front of you all the time.  So, ask yourself “Why am I here?” every time you come to the gym.  Constantly reminding yourself of your why will continue to fuel the fire for your drive and motivation to train.

So, the next time you come into the gym, ask yourself “Why am I here?”  And if you don’t know the answer to that question, then now is a great time to figure it out.  

Stay tuned for part 2 on the second question to ask yourself before you warm up.

Get Strong by Slowing it Down!

by Grace Lin

In the last post, we learned about the different types of muscle contractions: concentric, isometric, and eccentric.  Now, let’s see how knowing this information can be used in daily training to make all the gainz.  When you lift any type of weight, you are placing an external load on your body.  In other words, you’re placing your body in time under tension.  This is the stimulus that starts the process to building muscle.  Knowing this information, coaches can vary how long athletes spend time under tension in their strength training program.  We do this through tempo training (also known as time under tension, TUT, training).

What is tempo training?

Well, put simply, it is specified time under tension.  There are 4 numbers associated with all tempos.  Take this for example:  30X1

  • The first number (3) refers to the eccentric phase, or the lowering phase.
  • The second number (0) refers to the isometric phase, or a pause, at the bottom of the lift.
  • The third number (X) refers to the concentric phase, or the ascending phase.  In this case, it is an “X” which means EXPLODE up as quickly as possible.
  • The fourth number (1) refers to the isometric phase, another pause, at the top of the lift.

So if we apply 30X1 to a back squat, it would go like this: 3 second descent, 0 second pause at the bottom, EXPLODE up, and pause 1 second at the top.

It is VERY important to count correctly during tempo training, otherwise the purpose is completely lost.  I’ve seen many athletes count to 4 within 1 second during the eccentric portion of a back squat.  Make sure you are counting full seconds for these tempo prescriptions.  If it gets too tough, grab a friend and have them count for you!

Why should I do tempo training?

Well, for one, it is a fantastic tool to build strength – aren’t we here to make gainz??  Also, it slows the movement down so athletes can build better body awareness.  Along with that, it improves your control of lifts and your joint and muscle stability.  

Maybe most importantly, slowing down compound movements develops connective tissue strength.  A slow and controlled motion places more stress on the muscles, whereas a bouncy, ballistic motion places more stress on the tendons and joints.  Finally, the isometric pauses at the top/bottom of the lifts force you to recruit more muscle fibers, which means STRENGTH GAINZ.  This will help increase your muscle capacity and muscle endurance.

Who should do tempo training?

Everyone!  It’s great for the novice athlete to increase his/her body awareness, body control, and to build good mechanics.  It’s also great for the intermediate/advanced athlete to build strength, improve stability, and improve control of lifts.  And finally, it’s a fantastic tool for athletes who are rehabilitating from an injury because it slows down movements to recruit muscle fibers of a targeted area without placing a lot of joint stress.

When should I implement tempo training?

The most common time you will see tempo training programmed is during strength components or during accessory work.  This could look like adding a tempo to a back squat, bench press, or deadlift.  It could also be added to gymnastics movements, like adding a tempo to a pull up, ring dip, push up, or strict handstand push up.  For accessory work, you could add a tempo to hip extensions, glute ham raises, bent over rows, or glute bridges.  The possibilities are endless for the application of tempo training to your daily routine!  You could even add them to your air squats or, even better, wall squats.

A little goes a long way with tempo training.  You don’t need too many sets or reps to reap the benefits.  Start with 3 sets of 5-8 reps of your target movement, 2-3 times a week.  If you ever have any questions or want suggestions on tempos, feel free to ask any coach!  By putting in consistent work, you should see great improvement in a month’s time!

Muscle Contractions 101

by Grace Lin

Let’s learn about our muscles!  All of our movement is a derivative of our muscles (more specifically, muscle fibers) contracting.  Muscle fibers generate tension through the actin and myosin cross-bridge cycling – anatomy review, anyone?  Under tension, the muscle (specifically, the sarcomere) can lengthen, shorten, or remain the same.  Most of the time the term contraction implies shortening, but when referring to the muscular system, it means the generation of tension within a muscle fiber regardless of length change.

All movement requires muscle contractions.  These contractions are categorized into isotonic and isometric contractions.  Isotonic contractions generate force by changing the length of muscle fibers, while isometric contractions generate force without changing the length of muscle fibers.

Isotonic contractions can be categorized into concentric and eccentric contractions.  Concentric contractions occur when the muscles shorten while generating force.  An example of concentric contraction would be the upward pull during a pull up.

Eccentric contractions occur when the muscles lengthen while generating force.  An example of eccentric contraction would be lowering down from the top of a pull up (AKA the negative).  Many coaches implement eccentric loading to build strength because it allows athletes to push their muscles past their normal point of failure.  On average, you can lift 30-40% more weight eccentrically than you can concentrically.  For example, an athlete may not be able to perform a strict pull up (concentric contraction), but they can jump to the top of a pull up and slowly lower themselves down (eccentric contraction).  Additionally, eccentric movements cause the most damage to muscle fibers and is one of the main reasons we experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Isometric contractions also have an important place in training.  Some examples of these would be holding a hollow body, plank, the bottom of a pause squat, holding onto dumbbells, etc.  But the most important isometric contraction that we perform every day is our posture!  Engaging our core while sitting and standing is an isometric contraction.

All three types of muscle contractions are beneficial to strength training.  We use all three every day we are in the gym.  Understanding them better can help you fine tune your training to maximize your strength potential.  Stay tuned for the next post on how we implement these types of muscle contractions in tempo training!

The Open is Over...Now What??

by Grace Lin

Congratulations on finishing the 2017 CrossFit Open!  We hope you had a blast these past 5 weeks and are excited to tackle it again next year!  Now, for a small percentage of the population, the Open was stage 1 of advancing to the next level, Regionals or the Masters Qualifier.  And an even smaller percentage will advance from Regionals to the CrossFit Games.  But for the majority of people, our “Games” was the Open.  So, now that it’s over, what do we do?

Now is the time to reflect upon your performance during the Open.  Did you have any glaring weaknesses?  Was there a particular workout that you struggled with more than the others?  Was there a workout where you performed extremely well?  What can you identify as your strengths?  The list of analyzing questions goes on.

We are going into what’s called the off-season.  This is the time to get better at those weaknesses you identified from your reflection.  Don’t try to take them on all at once!  That’s a recipe for failure.  Make a list of things to work on and chip away at them.  Each of these items should have an attainable goal.  Just pick one or two at a time.  Create an actionable plan to attack each weakness.  Once you attain your goal, move to the next item on the list.

Take this example of a goal and actionable plan of attack:

GOAL – consistently string together 10+ DU.  

PLAN – spend 10 minutes before/after class working on DU, 3 times a week

The Open is a great test of fitness for everyone.  The workouts are expertly designed to highlight strengths and expose weaknesses.  Now, for the majority of us, we have the next 365 days to work at improving upon our exposed weaknesses to become better, well-rounded athletes.  And when the 2018 Open rolls around, we will be fitter and ready to test our progress!

How's Your Head Game?

The state of mind that you take going into a workout (and life) is one of the most important things that will impact your performance.  There are a lot of factors that go into your workout performance, like the workout movements, weather for the day, people in class, time of day, etc.  Most of the factors (like the ones just mentioned) that people take into account when assessing their performance are out of their control.  But, something that is ALWAYS in your control is how you think.  What is your mindset when you go into a workout?  Is it consistent from day to day?  Or does it change once you see what the workout is?  The best athletes will have the same, consistent mindset going into each workout no matter what.  

Take this example I recently experienced.  I had a 2 part workout to perform:

12min AMRAP
5 Power Clean
10 T2B
15 Wall Ball
*Rest until the 20 minute mark, then…

3 Rounds for time
20 DB Shoulder to Overhead
25 Pull-ups
30 KBS

Now, let it be known that the only movement that I would consider a strength in any of that is the power cleans.  I am average at T2B and pull ups.  And wall balls are my mortal enemy.  I had two completely different outcomes after performing this workout.  I did really well on the 12min AMRAP (the one with my mortal enemy).  And then the 3-rounder ate my soul.  So, here is what happened:

I went into the first workout with a plan of attack and a POSITIVE mental attitude.  My goal was to go unbroken on the wall balls, because I knew this was my weakest movement in the triplet.  And guess what??  I did go unbroken on every set of wall balls, with an added bonus of going unbroken on the T2B!  I came out of the workout feeling very happy with my effort.

During the rest period, a comment was made, “This part is going to take forever.  It’s going to suck.”  For some reason, that comment stuck in my head and it kept growing.  I went into the workout with my mental game completely off… I went into it with a negative mindset.  And guess what?  The workout did suck.  During the workout, all I could think about was how much it sucked.  I was thinking of every excuse in the book to drop off the pull up bar or put the KB down.  The workout crushed me when it shouldn’t have and I came out mentally defeated, feeling terrible about my performance.

So, what’s the lesson to be learned here?  No matter what extrinsic factors are surrounding you, DON’T let them mess with your mindset.  You are always in control of your mindset.  Focus on you, and only you.  Get into the habit of practicing positive thoughts going into ANY workout.  Remember, the mind is a muscle that needs to be trained, just like anything else.  And repetitive training will yield muscle memory.  It’s not going to happen overnight; it’s going to take consistent and intentional effort every day.

The next time you’re about to do a workout, stick with positive thoughts!  Take these for example:

THINK: I can do this, stay moving, one rep at a time, get to “blank number”, etc.  

DON’T THINK: This is hard, I’m tired, this is heavy, this sucks, I can’t do it, I’m breathing so hard, I still have “blank number” to go, I can’t breathe, etc.  

Practice makes permanent.  Make the effort every day to keep a positive mindset in everything you do.  Create small goals for yourself to keep a winning mindset.  Small wins turn into big wins, and big wins turn into victories.

The CrossFit Open: Tips for Success

by Grace Lin

We are in the middle of the 2017 CrossFit Open!  I hope you all have enjoyed the first 2 weeks and are HAVING FUN with these workouts!  As we approach the next 3 weeks, you may start to feel a bit worn down from all of the energy highs and lows.  The Open is a very exciting time, but it is also extra taxing on our bodies, both physically and mentally.  So, to help you stay healthy (mind and body), here are some tips for success as you attack the rest of the Open:

Stay hydrated!  One of the most important things you can do for your body is to drink enough water every day.  The general rule of thumb is to drink at least 2 liters a day, PLUS 500 milliliters per hour of vigorous exercise.  Check out this post about staying hydrated: Hydration.

Recover properly!  A major player in any successful training program is proper rest and recovery.  Each workout we perform is the stimulus for change; the ACTUAL change happens during the recovery phase.  This is when our body repairs and builds muscles.  In other words, your gains happen during recovery.  So, if you aren’t recovering properly, then your gains will suffer.  Several factors go into recovery (e.g., nutrition, sleep, hydration) and there are also many different methods of aided recovery (e.g., massage, compression).  Check out this post on how to recover properly: Rest and Recovery.

Mobilize!  This should be a habit you already have, but just as reinforcement, mobilize every day!!  Spend at least 15-25 minutes every day on mobility.  It’s usually best to hit 3 major areas: thoracic spine, lower body, and upper body.  If you have specific problem areas, make sure you spend some extra time there as well.  Check out this post on mobility for some tips:  Mobility.

Sleep!  This goes hand in hand with proper recovery.  Don’t let your sleep suffer!  You should aim for a minimum of 8 hours of sleep each night.  For some reason, sleep is one of the first things to go when our lives get busy.  However, people don’t realize that’s a negative feedback loop.  When sleep is reduced, the body does not function at its peak and many things suffer, like brain function, emotional stability, physical health, and hormone balance.  Check out this post on tips for a good night’s rest: Sleep.

Hand Maintenance!  Keep your hands healthy!  As we go through the Open, we don’t know what the workout is until it’s announced on Thursday night.  This means you must be SMART with your training the rest of the week leading up to Friday Night Lights.  So, if there are a significant number of gymnastics pulling movements (e.g., pull ups, toes-to-bar, muscle ups) programmed during the week, make sure you prioritize your hands.  If you feel like they’re going to tear in the middle of the workout, STOP and switch to ring rows!  It’s not worth tearing up your hands.  Also, stay on top of your hand maintenance and make sure your calluses are smoothed out.  Check out this post on tips for taking care of your hands:  Hand Maintenance

HAVE FUN!  I know the Open is an exciting and stressful time of year.  We all want to do our best, and in doing so, we put that much more pressure on ourselves to perform to our expectations.  I am extremely guilty of this.  Just remember, pushing to do your best is great, but always have fun while you’re doing it.  Otherwise, it’s not that enjoyable ☺

How to Improve Your Thruster (Part 2) - Cycling

by Grace Lin

In the last post, we talked about how to improve your thrusters by identifying your limiting factor(s).  Maybe it’s various mobility limitations (hip, front rack, overhead), or possibly it’s the transition between the front squat and overhead press.  In this post, we will go over tips on how to cycle thrusters efficiently.  The ability to cycle thrusters efficiently is crucial in maintaining stamina during high volume thruster workouts.  Increased efficiency results in larger sets and less fatigue during those sets.  So, here are some tips on how to cycle thrusters efficiently.

Keep the bar on your shoulders.  Pretty self-explanatory here - don’t get sloppy elbows!  They don’t need to be high like a front squat, but they do need to remain in front of the bar to create a shelf the bar can sit on.  The lower that bar sits on your shoulders, the more energy you are expending to hold the bar up or resist it from sliding down even more.  Once the bar slides down your shoulders, the thruster will own you.  

Pull the bar down and lead with the elbows.  Actively pulling the bar down helps get the bar in the correct position on the shoulders, rather than letting it fall on the shoulders.  Take advantage of gravity here, and help that bar a bit by pulling it down – this also increases the speed of your thrusters.  Additionally, if you don’t pull the bar down, you may be resisting the weight on the way down which will burn out your triceps.

Keep the order of operations.  The order of operations for the thruster is front squat and then shoulder press.  One very common fault in the thruster is pressing too early, which leads to shoulder burnout.  Be patient in the press; use the power generated from your legs to drive the bar off the shoulders and then finish the second half of the press with an arm punch.  The first half of that press should come from the momentum generated by the legs.  Another common fault is squatting too early on the way down.  Don’t start to squat until you feel that bar touch your shoulders.

Breathe.  Maintaining a good breathing pattern is always important in any movement.  In the thruster, pause in the overhead position to take a breath.  When it comes to high volume, light weight thrusters, I like to take two breaths per thruster.  I take a breath at the top and another at the bottom.  Everyone is different, so figure out what works for you!

Squat clean the first rep.  I’ll keep it short here – it saves time!

Know your limits.  Find different rep schemes that work for you, both physically and mentally.  These will be dependent on the thruster weight and your own capacity.  Many people like descending rep schemes, like 8-7-6, and some prefer even sets, like 3 sets of 7.  For some people, quick sets with short rests work best, but be warned, this ONLY works if you are strict with your rest time.

So, now you’re ready to tackle all the thrusters, right?!  Hopefully these tips will help you the next time thrusters come up in a workout.  Try testing these out and see what works for you!

Thruster Tips

by Grace Lin

Thrusters!  Love them or hate them, they are a staple in CrossFit.  And with the Open coming up, you know they’re going to show up.  They have been in every Open since it started in 2011.

In order to improve your thruster, you have to first identify what needs work.  A thruster is a combination of a front squat and overhead press.  Two primary movements will translate into your thruster ability: front squat and push press.  If you struggle with one or both of these movements, then it is going to largely affect your thruster.  Maybe you have a great front squat and push press, but thrusters still crush you.  If that’s the case, then the transition between movements or breathing may be the limiting factor.  Whatever is your limiting factor, here are some tips to improving your thruster.

Hip mobility.  You MUST have a solid air squat to be efficient at thrusters.  Building on that, you must also have a solid front squat too.  So, if you have trouble keeping your heels down, knees out, or torso upright during an air squat, then working on hip mobility is going to be imperative.  A weak air squat is magnified during a front squat, which is magnified even more during a thruster.  Check out these posts on squat therapy and improving your front squat to help with hip mobility.

Front rack mobility.  In order to perform thrusters efficiently, you need to be able to keep the bar on your shoulders with a full grip during the front squat.  This is where many people will have issues.  With a normal front squat, you can let the bar roll to your finger tips to keep the elbows high.  However, since the bar going overhead with a thruster, a full grip is needed for the transition between front squat to overhead press.  Many people with limited wrist and/or shoulder mobility are forced to expend extra energy keeping the bar on their shoulders, or worse hovering over their shoulders, during the thruster.  Check out this post on tips for improving your front rack.

Overhead mobility.  The end of a thruster occurs when the arms are extended overhead in a full lockout position with the bar over the midfoot.  This is also a place to rest during a thruster.  If a fully locked out overhead position is difficult for you to hold, then shoulder and overhead mobility is going to be key in improving your thrusters.  You need to be comfortable holding weight overhead in a good position to improve your thruster game, especially since this becomes a resting position during high volume thrusters.

The transition.  Many people may lose efficiency during the transition portion of the thruster.  I’m talking about the portion when transitioning from front squat to overhead press.  Some athletes aren’t aggressive enough in the drive up (not enough speed through the middle).  Some perform the movements out of order, like pressing the bar up too early.  During the thruster, the bar should be resting on your shoulders during the entire front squat.  The transition begins during the second half of the thruster ascent.  Once you pass parallel on the way up, you must drive up FAST.  This creates power and momentum for the bar to “pop” off your shoulders before the punch overhead.  The concept is the same as a push press.  You’re generating power from your legs first (leg drive) and then your arms finish the move.  The legs are much stronger than the arms, so use them as much as possible in your thrusters!

Keep these tips in mind the next time thrusters come up in class!  And stay tuned for the next post on tips for cycling thrusters!

Are YOU Ready for the 2017 Open?!

by Grace Lin

By now, y’all have heard talk about the CrossFit Open.  If this is your first time ever reading about the Open, please read the previous post before continuing.  The Open will be upon us in just a few short weeks, and it’s not too late to get yourself dialed in for this year!

If you’ve participated in the Open during previous years, then you have an idea of what to expect.  If this is your first year competing in the Open, then think of this as a guide for focus points from now until the Open.  So, what should you guys be focusing on during the next month?

Skills and Weaknesses.  We know there are movements that are notorious for showing up in the Open.  Double unders, toes-to-bar, chest-to-bar pull ups, overhead squats, burpees, wall balls, ring or bar muscle ups, cleans, snatches, deadlifts, and thrusters have shown up in every Open.  So, it is safe to assume they are likely to show up in this year’s Open (along with handstand push ups).  These are skills that you can practice before or after class.  Skills don’t just happen overnight; they take dedicated and consistent practice over time to build.

Barbell Cycling.  High volume, lighter bar work often shows up in the Open.  Learning how to cycle movements like power cleans, snatches, and clean and jerks will be extremely beneficial to your success when they show up in the workouts.  This will allow you to learn your rhythm and how to breathe efficiently during the exercise.  This is also the time to learn which weights you can efficiently cycle, and which weights you’ll be more efficient doing fast singles with.

Conditioning.  Build your engine!  There is usually one (or more) longer duration workout that shows up in the Open.  So, really focus on honing in your conditioning!  Along with that, learn what pacing strategies work for you.  Workouts will range from 5 to 20 minutes, and these all require different pacing strategies.  Not everyone will use the same pacing strategy, so figure out what works best for your abilities and strengths.  Practice strategizing during class when performing the class WOD.  Sure, we tell you a general way to approach the workout, but try doing it yourself too!

Find Your Limits.  Figure out how far and hard you can push yourself in a WOD.  The PERFECT time to do that is during class.  It’s the best testing grounds for discovering how far you can push.  Go to that dark place!  Redline, so you know how far you can push before needing to pull the throttle back.  And then apply that knowledge during the Open!

Build Your Mental Game.  Do you know what the difference is between a good athlete and a great athlete?  Mental toughness.  Great athletes know how to push past that level of uncomfortableness and keep going.  They know it’s going to hurt, but they also know it’s temporary and their body is capable of more than what the mind thinks.  Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  It’s not that bad and it will be over soon, so push past it.

Nutrition.  Hone in your nutrition practices now, so they become second nature during the Open.  Figure out what works best for your pre- and post-WOD nutrition.  Maximize it so you’re energized and prepared coming into a workout, and know how to recover properly after the workout.  Cut out alcohol and added sugar NOW.  Eat to perform, don’t perform to eat!

Gear.  The best investment you could make between now and the Open (if you don’t already have these items) is a pair of good shoes and a jump rope.  For more information on CrossFit-appropriate shoes, click here.  And click here for further information on great jump rope options.

Focus on these things for the next month to prepare for the Open!  Dial it in now and you will reap the benefits come the Open workouts.  If you haven’t registered for the Open yet, please register here!  These are all great things to focus on, but above all, HAVE FUN during the Open!

Open Season! Get Signed Up!

The 2017 CrossFit Open is upon us!  If you are new to CrossFit, you may have heard some buzz around the gym about something called “The Open” and wondered, “What the heck is it?  And what’s the big deal?”

The Open is an annual worldwide, online competition and it is the first stage to advancing toward the CrossFit Games (the official CrossFit competition – it’s like the Super Bowl of CrossFit).  Anyone age 14 and over can participate.  The Open takes place over 5 weeks, with a new workout announced each week.  Once announced, athletes have 4 days to complete the workout and log his/her score.  It is, by far, the largest CrossFit community event of the year and tons of fun!

At CFCH, we have a tradition of holding Friday Night Lights (FNL) during the Open.  This year will be our 3rd year.  Every Friday night during the Open, instead of having afternoon classes, we open up the gym for a competition-style workout.  The workout performed is the Open workout announced the night before.  Heat sheets are placed in the gym and members sign up for their desired heat time.  Each member gets their own judge and scorecard for the workout.  FNL is a great opportunity to meet people from other classes and hang out with our CFCH family.  We’ll have a DJ spinning tunes every week and a food truck for your post-WOD fuel!  The atmosphere is incredible and people always surprise themselves with what they are capable of in the FNL environment.

The first step to participating in the Open is to sign up!  Registration is now open, so go to games.crossfit.com to register!  Get excited for the Open and stay tuned for tips on preparing for the Open!

Gym Goals

by Grace Lin

It’s a new year.  It’s a new you, right?  I bet many of you have made New Year’s resolutions that you desire to achieve in 2017.  A New Year’s resolution is basically a goal; one that we set at the beginning of the New Year and hope to conquer throughout the year.  Setting these goals is great and I highly encourage you to set some if you haven’t already.  These goals can apply to different aspects of your life, including personal, career, finances, health, or relationships.

Goals are extremely important for forward progress in life.  And as humans, we have an inherent drive to continue progressing and growing.  Without goals, we are just wandering around aimlessly, with no sense of purpose.  Here are some benefits to setting goals:

  • Goals give you focus
  • Goals help measure your progress
  • Goals help overcome procrastination
  • Goals hold you accountable
  • Goals give you motivation

This year, I challenge you to set fitness goals for yourself.  Be intentional about your fitness.  These are just as important as your career, personal, or educational goals.  Many people have the mindset of coming into the gym just to get a workout, like it’s an item to check off the to-do list.  By setting fitness goals, I am challenging you to add purpose to your workout.  With this purpose, you will gain more satisfaction and fulfillment from your workouts.

These goals can be anything!  Just make sure they are measurable.  Some examples are:

  • Achieving a certain weight for 1RM lifts (e.g., back squat, strict press, dead lift, snatch, clean and jerk)
  • Conquering a gymnastics skill (e.g., unassisted pull ups, T2B, muscle ups, handstand push ups, double unders)
  • Movement goals (e.g., squat below parallel, 20 unbroken wall balls at prescribed weight)
  • Time trials (e.g., sub 8-minute mile, sub 2 minute Fran)
  • Better mobility (e.g., dedicate 10 minutes of mobility before and after every class I attend)

These goals can be as big or small as you’d like, they’re your goals!  When setting these, just make sure it’s something that you can measure, that way you can hold yourself accountable.  I also encourage you to share these goals with a friend (or two) at the gym!  I guarantee that you will feel more fulfilled from your workouts by setting goals for yourself.  They will give you a sense of purpose in the gym, just like life goals give your life purpose.  So, this year I challenge you to workout with a purpose!

Technique, CONSISTANCY, Intensity…Applies to Nutrition too?

by Phil T

Heres the thing…I hate nutrition challenges! 

Don’t get me wrong, they're not ALL bad.  Heck, for the last 3 years we’ve participated in the Whole Life Challenge.  Some have seen some great results too…DURING the challenge.  

Then slowly, over time, MOST people seem to dwindle back to their old, bad habits.  Usually, after The CF Open, after school lets out, or summer rolls around, people start letting loose. They go to pool parties (I love pool parties) and on vacations.  

Before you know it school is starting up again.  You try your hardest to get into a routine, but workouts seem harder than usual, you've gained a few pounds back since April, and the days seems so full of bussiness! 

Just about the time you start to get it all on track…

OH CRAP, it’s thanksgiving in 3 weeks, and then Christmas…UUUGGHHH, I'm going to eat so much…oh well, I’ll start fresh in January!!!!  Maybe this year the Whole Life Challenge will work for me….or maybe not.

The only thing consistent about this is inconsistency.

I believe that the CFCH Nutrition Program is the answer.  Monthly presentations of what CONSISTENT nutrition looks like, and how to identify QUALITY food. Templates to find the QUANTITY of food YOU need each day, and how to break down the TIMING to maximize YOUR performance. 

Lets finally follow a CONSISTENT nutrition program that will help keep us on track forever!

This Thursday, January 12th @ 6:30…..I’m FIRED UP!

Turmeric

by Grace Lin

Natural plant products have been used throughout human history for many different purposes.  Many of these have pharmacological or biological activity that can be used in pharmaceutical drug delivery and design.  In fact, medicines derived from plants have played a pivotal role in the healthcare of many cultures, both ancient and modern.  Ayurveda (the Indian system of holistic medicine) and traditional Chinese medicine are a couple of medicinal methods that use natural plant-based drugs to treat ailments.

Turmeric has had a long history of medicinal use, dating back nearly 4000 years, and now it seems to be catching the eye of the mainstream public.  Turmeric root is a deep orange plant that also displays golden hues.  You may most commonly encounter it in Indian and Asian cuisine – it gives curry it’s signature golden color and unique taste.  In the past 30 years, modern medicine has begun to recognize the importance of turmeric.  In fact, over 3000 publications have come out dealing with turmeric.

Curcumin is responsible for the golden color of turmeric, and it is the key player in all of the benefits that turmeric provides.  Let’s dive into some of those benefits:

Anti-Inflammatory Agent

The root of a number of chronic illnesses that plagues the majority of our population is chronic inflammation.  These illnesses include heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and Alzheimer’s to name a few.  However, not all inflammation is bad.  Acute inflammation is beneficial; it is the body’s response to protecting and localizing an infection or injury – or in our case, muscle repair after working out.  But if inflammation is chronic due to an autoimmune reaction, allergy, or other health complication, then it can cause long-term problems.  Too much of a good thing turns into a bad thing (pretty much a golden rule to live by).

Curcumin has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation in the body.  In fact, its anti-inflammatory effectiveness matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs (without the side effects).  It has also been used in a variety of treatments for arthritis because the anti-inflammatory properties help with the joint inflammation that causes arthritis.  

Antioxidant

Antioxidant has become a popular buzz word to throw around in the health food industry.  Many people will say the word without really knowing what it means.  Well, in order to know what it means, we must first understand what oxidation is.  Oxidation is a chemical process that involves the loss of at least one electron when two substances interact.  During oxidation, free radicals (highly reactive molecules with unpaired electrons) form.  And when this happens in the body, the free radicals can react with fatty acids, proteins, or DNA – not good.  Oxidative damage is believed to be one of the mechanisms behind aging and many diseases.  

Enter antioxidants.  You guessed it, just like the name suggests, antioxidants protect our bodies from free radicals.  Specifically in turmeric, curcumin has been found to be a potent antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals, and even stimulate the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms – so it’s a 2-for-1.  A buy one get one free!

The Heart and Brain

Some other benefits of turmeric (or the active ingredient, curcumin) include heart disease prevention and increased brain function.  Curcumin has been shown to boost levels of the brain hormone, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which increases the growth of new neurons and fights various degenerative processes in the brain (e.g., Alzheimer’s).  Additionally, increased BDNF levels has been linked to reversing depression. 

Curcumin also plays a role in heart disease prevention.  It’s been shown to improve the function of the endothelium (the lining of our blood vessels), which aids in the prevention of clotting.  Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as stated earlier, also aid in heart disease prevention.

Cancer

Finally, many studies have been conducted to show curcumin’s aid in cancer treatment and prevention.  It has been shown to reduce angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels in tumors.  It can also reduce metastasis (the spread of cancer) and even contribute to the death of cancerous cells.

Curcumin is poorly absorbed in the blood stream by itself, so it’s best to consume turmeric with black pepper.  Black pepper contains piperine, which enhances absorption.  Curcumin is also fat soluble, so adding turmeric to a fatty food would be ideal.  The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends the following daily dosages for adults:

Raw root: 1.5-3 grams // Powdered turmeric: 1-3 grams // Curcumin standardized powder: 400-600 mg, three times a day

Many times when an ailment, like inflammation, strikes, people automatically reach for a quick fix by means of aspirin or ibuprofen.  These are temporary fixes that come with side effects and, with long term use, may create a host of other health problems.  Try to shift from a treatment mindset to a prevention mindset, and add some turmeric to your diet on a regular basis.

If you’d like a nice, calming drink that contains turmeric, try this recipe out! Golden Tea

Stimulus Part 2: Metabolic Conditioning

by Grace Lin

In Stimulus Part 1, we talked about workouts geared toward increasing strength and taxing the central nervous system.  In this installment, we will be focusing on the second category: Metabolic Conditioning.

What is metabolic conditioning?  Metabolic conditioning refers to structured patterns of work and rest periods to elicit a desired response from the body, usually to maximize efficiency of a particular energy system (or metabolic pathway).  These are the types of workouts that test how much work you can do in varying time domains, from 20 seconds to 20+ minutes.  The purpose of metabolic conditioning is to build upon both muscular and respiratory endurance.  There are three metabolic pathways we target in CrossFit.

 

Phosphagen (Anearobic): High Power, Short Duration – This energy system is the meat and potatoes to CF athletes – it’s what most people crave.  Within the phosphagen pathway, we focus on short bursts of explosiveness through high-powered workouts.  The activities in this domain require maximal effort and are very short in duration (about 12 seconds, max).  These would be short sprints, 1-3RM lifts, etc. 

Glycolytic (Anaerobic + Aerobic): Moderate Power, Moderate Duration – In this pathway, we focus on moderate-powered activities that last several minutes; this occurs after the phosphagen pathway has been expended.  These would include workouts that last around 2-5 minutes.  Using this type of energy allows our bodies to work in increased time domains, while keeping intensity high.  Some examples of workouts that fall into this pathway are Fran, Grace, and Isabel.

Oxidative (Aerobic): Low Power, Long Duration – This is probably the most dreaded pathway for the majority of CF athletes.  In this pathway, we focus on low-powered activities that typically last several minutes or even hours.  Long duration or endurance workouts are geared toward training this system.  The most famous example (in CrossFit) would be Murph.

Training within all of these domains is imperative to increasing your overall fitness and health.  Dwelling in only one or two of these systems will create holes in our fitness.  The CrossFit methodology is about being well rounded in all aspects of fitness, so that we are prepared for any situation.  That means being able to move heavy weight AND also running 5K.  So if you know you favor one or two of these systems, then make an effort to train that third system.  Working on weaknesses will always increase overall fitness.

Nutrition, Performance and Results

Heres the thing...We can do better!

Don't get me wrong, we have definitely given you nutrition advice, let everyone know where we stand on the issue, done things to motivate you to do better, but all of this with limited success. 

As a community, I'd say we have less than half of our folks that CONSISTENTLY eat clean and have committed to proper nutrition.  That doesn't cut it!

YOU CANNOT OUT TRAIN CRAPPY NUTRITION!!  Proper nutrition is more important to maximizing your performance and your results than anything else you can do.  Without it you are a mere image of the athlete you could be.  You produce a sliver of the total performance you could have.  And you are NOWHERE NEAR the results you could see.     

So without further ado, we'd like to introduce: CFCH Nutrition

This is a work in progress and will grow exponentially over the next year, but it just can't wait any longer.  It will start with a monthly seminar and check-in to equip you with the tools you need to be successful.  We’ll go over WHAT to eat, HOW MUCH you should eat, WHEN you should eat it, how day to day nutrition differs from competition day strategies, and give a few options on models to choose from.  We will also be giving advice on how to choose from one of these models to maximize the results you’re looking for.   

Details for the first seminar are to follow shortly.  It will be in early Jan, and will likely be in the evening.  

We could not be more excited about this!  We believe this is the answer to long term nutrition changes that will help everyone succeed.

-CFCH Team

Stimulus Part 1: Do you even lift, Bro?

by Grace Lin

One of the aspects people love about CrossFit is its constantly varied workouts.  Often times you hear us talking about what the intended stimulus is for the prescribed workout of the day.  Sometimes it’s high volume with light weight.  Or it may be quick burst sprints.  Or it might be low volume with heavy weights.  The combinations are many and vary from day to day.  This is what makes CrossFit work so well.  It tests our bodies over broad times and modal domains.  This methodology covers all the bases for strength and conditioning, which is why it works so well for general physical preparedness (GPP), and, in general, for life.

I am going to group the stimuli we typically see in CrossFit into 2 categories: Strength/Central Nervous System (CNS) and Metabolic Conditioning.  Both are extremely important to have in a successful, well-rounded strength and conditioning program.  In this article, we will be going over the strength/CNS stimulus.

These typically look like lifts or single movements of 1-1-1-1-1, 3-3-3-3-3, or 5-5-5, etc.  They can be deceiving at first glance.  They don’t look like that much work, but if done correctly, they are HARD and should leave you out of breath.  Not out of breath in the sense that you want to throw up or are on the floor gasping for air, but you should feel extremely taxed mentally and physically (maybe even seeing some stars).  The purpose of this stimulus is to tax the central nervous system and stimulate strength and muscle growth.  With this, you are typically trying to move LARGE loads in a SHORT amount of time.

Here are a few examples of strength/CNS stimulus workouts:

Back Squats x 2-2-2-2-2, building to a heavy double

Weighted Pull-ups x 1-1-1-1-1-1-1, building to a heavy weight

15 minutes to establish a 1RM Snatch

Deadlift x 5-5-5 @ 80-85% of your 1RM

Not every workout needs to have you on the floor gasping for air at the end.  These strength/CNS-focused workouts are extremely effective in building strength and improving conditioning.  Stay tuned for next week’s post diving into the second group: Metabolic Conditioning.

Scap Jacked

by Grace Lin

Shoulder injuries are one of the most common to occur in our sport.  With any sort of exercise, comes the risk of injury – that’s just the nature of any type of exercise.  Most people have dealt or are dealing with some sort of shoulder dysfunction (e.g., muscular imbalance, pain, limited range of motion).  This dysfunction cannot be masked with pain killers or K-tape.  Well, it can, but only for so long before the issue becomes more serious.  The root of the problem must be found.  Any sort of shoulder dysfunction needs to be fixed via increasing shoulder mobility and activating/strengthening the dynamic stabilizers of the shoulder complex

Enter Crossover Symmetry!  The Crossover Symmetry (COS) system is designed to improve shoulder health and fix shoulder dysfunction.  To understand how it does this, we need to understand how the shoulder and the surrounding muscles work.

Shoulder

The shoulder is comprised of three bones: the clavicle, the scapula, and the humerus.  The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint, similar to the hip, where the humerus meets the scapula.  The joint is stabilized by the rotator cuff.  During full range of motion, the rotator cuff keeps the ball of the humerus (the humeral head) in the shoulder socket.  If any of the muscles in the rotator cuff are weak or fatigue occurs, the humeral head will often move upwards excessively and close off the subacromial space, which causes pain and/or impingement.  COS improves muscular endurance of these stabilizing muscles so the humeral head stays centered in the socket during repetitive overhead movements, which is very common in our sport.

Deltoids

The deltoids are involved in elevating the arm overhead.  It moves the ball upward in the socket, which is balanced by the opposing pull of the rotator cuff muscles.  Crossfit involves a lot of dynamic overhead movements, like handstand push-ups, snatches, jerks, presses, pull-ups, etc.  These exercises place a large emphasis on deltoid strength, which may cause the deltoid to develop more than the rotator cuff.  This, in turn, can lead to muscular imbalance which may lead to impingement in the shoulder because the subacromial space will decrease.

Scapular Muscles

The upper traps, lower traps, and serratus anterior work together to rotate the scapula upwards, allowing the arm to move overhead.  A trend we typically see in Crossfit athletes is over-developed upper traps, compared to lower traps.  If the upper traps are over-developed, there will be a muscular imbalance which can cause limitations in the ability to rotate the scapula correctly when going overhead.  In addition, research has shown that the risk for shoulder injury is increased when the upper trap is significantly stronger than the lower trap.

Posture

It always seems to come back to posture.  And it only makes sense, because the 1-2 hours per day we spend in the gym is not going to correct the 14+ hours we are roaming around with poor posture (not including sleep).  A poor posture lifestyle (e.g., shoulders rounded forward, head tilted downward) results in tight chest muscles, weak upper back muscles, and poor thoracic spine mobility.  All of these alter proper movement of the scapula, which reduces the subacromial space during overhead movements.  And as we have learned by now, that causes pain and/or impingement.

The COS programs are meant to regain balance in the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint.  There are 4 programs: Activation, Plyometric (Activation+), Iron Scap (Strength), and Recovery.  Each of these serves a particular purpose, and all are great for shoulder health.  The Activation program is meant to be done pre-workout to connect the nervous system to the musculature, get blood into the tissues, and get the muscles firing in the correct way.  The Plyometric (Activation+) program is similar to activation, but focuses on prepping for higher dynamic movements (e.g., snatch versus strict press).  The Iron Scap (Strength) program is designed as its own workout – it’s meant to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder.  And finally, the Recovery program focuses on eccentric loading in order to move extra blood to the muscles and tendons after a shoulder intensive workout to speed up recovery.

These 4 programs are designed to get the shoulders moving in the way they are intended to move.  It’s a simple principle, but can be dangerous if not done correctly.  If you already experience shoulder dysfunction in some way, then you are probably not moving your shoulders correctly, and moving them correctly is the crux of the COS system.  So, start light and make sure your movement is correct.  Also, grab a coach or a member who is experienced in COS to watch you as you do the exercises.  You should always be focused on shoulders back and down, rib cage down, and belly tight.  If you are not doing these things, then you are at risk for moving your shoulders incorrectly, which would defeat the purpose of the COS exercises.

Crossover Symmetry is a fantastic tool for shoulder health maintenance and rehabilitation, BUT only if it is done correctly!  So, the next time you grab those COS bands, take the time and effort to perform the exercises with proper mechanics.  Your shoulders will thank you in the long run!