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!

It's All in the Wrists

by Grace Lin

How’s your rack?  Front rack, that is.  Get your mind outta the gutter!  So, do you have trouble with the front rack position?  What about holding weight overhead?  Or handstand holds?  Do your wrists get achy often?  I would guess that the majority of people answer ‘yes’ to at least one of those questions.  After all, we do perform a lot of wrist-intensive exercises in CrossFit.  They take a beating, and if they aren’t fully mobile, then that will cause a lot of discomfort and pain.

The wrist is comprised of the carpus (or carpal bones), ligaments, connective tissues, muscles, and nerves.  It can undergo many ranges of motion, including flexion, extension, adduction, and abduction.  That’s a lot of motion, so a lot could go wrong.  If we lack any sort of mobility in the wrists, our bodies will try to make up for it at the elbows or shoulders.  Conversely, if we lack shoulder mobility, our bodies will make up for it at the elbows or wrists.  All of it is connected, so if you have wrist issues, you probably also have shoulder mobility issues (and vice versa).  If your elbows are in pain, then you should pay more attention to your wrists and shoulders (and everything in between).  You will often find that the source of the problem is either upstream or downstream of the actual joint/area that is in pain.

The wrists are the transition area between your hands and your forearms.  That means grip strength can be affected by your wrist health.  The wrists are used in a myriad of movements we perform.  All overhead movements require wrist strength and mobility.  Anything that involves the front rack position, like cleans, front squats, and thrusters.  Many gymnastic movements, including handstands, push-ups, ring dips, muscle ups, and more.  As you can see, the wrists are extremely important in CrossFit.  So, it is imperative that we take care of them – meaning we keep them mobile and strong.

Mobility Drills

Banded Distraction – We have performed this several times in the gym.  Take a band and attach it to a pole at the very bottom.  Then place your hand through the band so it sits at your wrist joint, palm is on the floor.  Get some tension on the band with your fingertips pointed away from the pole.  From here, move your forearm back and forth, so you are opening and closing the angle between your forearm and the ground.

Forearm Smash – This can be done with a lacrosse ball or a barbell (the barbell is more aggressive).  Essentially, take your implement of choice and wedge your forearm between the floor and your implement.  If you are using the lacrosse ball, this can be done on a table or desk (hint hint: do this at work!).  Give your forearm a nice smashing to break up all that gunk.

Flexion and Extension – The most common drill we have done at the gym.  Get on all fours (hands and knees) and place your palms down with fingertips pointed toward your knees.  Then lean back as far as you can, aiming to get your shoulders behind your wrists, as long as you can keep your hands flat on the ground.  Similar to the banded distraction, you are trying to close the angle between your forearms and the ground.  Then flip your palms up and do the same.  With the palms facing up, you can also have your fingertips pointed toward each other and slowly move your hands apart, trying to get as far apart as possible while the back of the hands remain completely on the ground.

Wrist Rotations – This is very basic and can be done anywhere.  Wrap your fingers together and move your wrists around in every possible direction.  If any position feels tight or tender, then stay there for a few seconds before moving on.

For more drills, here is a fantastic wrist mobility warm-up from Catalyst Athletics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7k8KLQ_-jAI

In addition to working on mobility (which always comes first), you can also add in some exercises to build wrist strength.  These can include any sort of static holds (handstand, plank, ring support), front rack holds, wrist curls, and wrist push-ups.  Start small and build when doing these exercises.  If you need to start with a 15 second hold, that’s fine.  Start there and slowly build up to a 60 second hold.  

None of this stuff comes overnight.  It takes time, patience, and consistency to create change.  Once the change has taken place, then you also need to put in work to maintain it.  Keep at it every day!

Buck Furpees

by Grace Lin

The infamous slogan that is plastered on fitness enthusiast apparel, Buck Furpees.  For some reason, burpees are the exercise everyone loves to hate.  Personally, I think burpees are under-valued and have been given an unjust reputation.  They are a simple, full body movement, which is what makes them so incredibly effective.  Fall down and get back up.  Of course there are some efficiency tips in there, but that’s the core of it.  Touch your chest on the ground and get back up.  If you are one of the burpee haters, here are some reasons to give it some love:

Simplicity.  I mentioned this before.  The burpee is simple.  You don’t need any equipment (unless you want a weight vest).  No bars, no kettlebells, no pull-up bar.  All you need is yourself.  And do you know what that means?!  You can take it ANYWHERE!  Yay!  Now there is absolutely no excuse not to get a workout in if you can’t make it to the gym. 

Functional.  The burpee is a total body movement.  Pretty much every major muscle group is used during this movement: arms, chest, quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs.  They can be programmed at high reps in a workout, which means high load because you are moving your bodyweight over a large amount of repetitions.  This results in increased muscle endurance.  It’s also good for life.  We all need to be able to get off the floor as long as we’re alive, and the second half of the burpee is just that.  Finally, it’s great for sports – for example, getting up quickly from paddling to standing position on a surfboard, or snapping back onto your feet after diving for a ball in any ball sport.

Weight loss.  As mentioned before, the burpee is a full body exercise.  It recruits all the big movers in your body, which elevates the heart rate.  Elevated heart rate results in calories burned.  And similar to most of the other exercises we do at CrossFit, you will continue to burn calories long after your burpee-filled workout is finished.

Versatility.  They can be added to pretty much any movement!  You know how we like to keep it constantly varied.  Well, adding a burpee can drastically change any exercise.  Just think of the difference between box jump overs and burpee box jump overs.  Game changer.  The same can be done to other exercises, like burpee pull ups, burpee muscles ups, burpees over the bar, and the list can go on.

Mental toughness.  This is my faaaavorite reason to love the burpee.  IT BUILDS MENTAL TOUGHNESS.  Why?  You have 2 options when doing burpees in a workout: Keep moving or stop moving.  And the only reason you stop is because you want to, not because you need to.  You will never fail a burpee.  You can always fall down and get back up.  You’re only stopping because it’s uncomfortable.  Well, pushing through that uncomfortableness is what builds mental toughness.  You can always, ALWAYS keep going.

People can hate on burpees all they want, but I enjoy them and I hope you will too.  They really are a great exercise, physically and mentally.  So the next time you see burpees on the board, think about these reasons why they deserve all the love and enjoy your time with them!

Gym Ettiquite

by Grace Lin

Etiquette – the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.

Throughout our lives, we have been taught proper etiquette in different situations by our parents, friends, relatives, teachers, etc.  Most of these rules are unwritten.  For example, you stand up and sing during the national anthem as a sign of respect for our country.  The rules for proper etiquette differ in different environments or groups.  And the gym is no exception to etiquette.  

At CFCH, we have House Rules that we expect all members to respect and follow.  On top of those House Rules, there are also general unwritten rules that help make everyone’s experience more enjoyable at any gym.

Respect the “zone” – This mainly refers to Olympic lifting.  Did you catch any weightlifting events during the Olympics?  Well, for those who didn’t get a chance to watch, there is a platform on the stage where all the lifts are performed.  Every time a lifter came on the platform and set up to the bar, the crowd went silent.  This is common practice for any weightlifting competition, local or Olympics.  It’s a sign of respect.  A similar protocol is called for at the gym.  If someone is setting up for a big lift, please do not walk in front of their line of vision or make a loud/distracting noise.  Please be courteous and wait 5-10 seconds for them to perform their lift before crossing their path.

Spatial awareness – As our classes grow, space becomes a bit less for each member in class.  Please be aware of your surroundings, especially in large classes!  This is crucial for safety purposes.  Please make sure you give athletes enough space during class so each person can move freely.  We move a lot of heavy weight, and sometimes a movement doesn’t go our way.  You don’t want to be in the line of action if a kettlebell, dumbbell, or barbell is accidentally dropped.

When in doubt, leave the chalk – I don’t know about you guys, but I love chalk.  It’s a great tool to keep the hands dry for high volume bar work.  But, please, leave the chalk where it belongs – in the bucket.  Don’t take chunks out on the floor to use during the workout.  I have seen these chunks lying around after class, or even worse, CRUSHED!  What a waste!  Believe it or not, chalk ain’t cheap.  So please, leave the chalk in the buckets, and, for the love of God, leave the buckets inside the gym.

Clean up correctly – This is an addition to House Rule #11 (clean up when EVERYONE is finished with the workout).  Cleaning up includes wiping up sweat, blood, tears, spit, etc. off ALL of the equipment.  Let’s be sanitary, guys.  Cleaning up also includes putting the equipment back WHERE IT BELONGS.  This means organizing it!  So many times I have seen abmats just thrown on the shelves, towels laying on the floor, 25# plates in the 15# plate pile, dumbbells piled incorrectly, and kettlebells lazily placed near the shelf instead of underneath.  It takes an extra 2 seconds to properly put the equipment back and doing so helps the other classes find equipment more fluidly.  And if you happen to find a rogue piece of equipment out that isn’t yours, please pick it up.  Think of it as your good deed of the day ☺

Give your undivided attention – It doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing CrossFit for 1 week or 5 years, please pay attention when the coach is giving instruction.  It’s disrespectful to have your own private conversation or do your own thing when the coach is trying to inform the class about the workout.  Maybe you know how to perform the movement already, but not everyone else does.  So, please be patient and quiet to let everyone absorb the coaches’ knowledge.  And who knows, you might learn something new that may have gone missed.

Class takes priority – Extra skill or strength work is great!  But remember, class takes priority.  So if the class needs space or equipment, always yield to the class’s needs.

Proper Practice

by Teresa Trojanowski

Imagine that you'd like to learn to play the guitar.  Where would you start? Would you choose a song and try to start playing the entire thing right off the bat? Probably not. Because first, you'd need to learn how to hold your guitar. Next, you'd have to learn how to play your first chord...and then your second, and so on. You'd need to practice different strumming techniques. You might play the chorus of the song over and over until you've mastered it, before moving on to learning the verses. 

Makes sense, right? So then why do so many of us operate differently at the gym? Take, for example, the person who wants to get their first muscle up. They jump up on the high rings, try it unsuccessfully, and walk away thinking, "well, I guess I can't do it yet," hoping that they'll try again later and something will have magically changed. Or perhaps they continue to jump up and try that muscle up unsuccessfully, thus "practicing" the movement incorrectly over and over.

Whether you're learning a new skill that that you've not successfully completed before, or trying to perfect an existing skill, remember that PROPER PRACTICE INVOLVES PRACTICING THE PIECES (check out that alliteration :)) Just like you can't learn to play an entire song on the guitar before you've practiced each individual chord, you won't learn the muscle up as effectively without practicing your kip, doing drills on the low rings to practice your hip pop, and jumping muscle ups to quicken your sit through. You'll be better served at improving your snatch technique by doing drills that focus on one or two aspects of the lift at a time (think: snatch drops, high hang snatch, snatch pulls, pause snatch deadlift). 

Stop trying to tackle the whole thing at once, and determine if you're practicing properly and efficiently by focusing on the pieces in addition to the whole. You coaches are here to help you if you're not sure where to start, or Catalystathletics.com and crossfitinvictus.com are great resources for drills! 

Flex Your Brain

by Grace Lin

“Class starts in 2 minutes, make sure you have met everybody!”

You make your way around the room and introduce yourself to new faces, while also saying hi to familiar faces.  The coach signals the class to head out on a 400m run, and you head out the door.  After passing the Spec’s sign, you realize you don’t remember a single name of those you just met a minute ago.  Slight panic sets in as you continue to run, and you think to yourself, ”Shoot! What if I get called on for the name game?!”

Trying to go unnoticed by the coach, you scramble around to ask your classmates who the new faces are.  And for a brief moment, you even consider asking the coach.  “No, too risky.  It might backfire, and I will definitely be called out.”  So, you continue to stress throughout the warmup with the unidentified names occupying your focus, instead of the actual warmup movements.

Has this happened to you before?  If the answer is yes, don’t fret.  It happens to most people.  I mean, let’s face it… the majority of us suck at remembering names.  I was terrible at it before I started coaching and it became part of my job to remember all the names.  But just because the majority of people are not good at remembering names doesn’t mean we should be bad at it too.  That’s why we come to the gym day after day, right?  So we can be better, NOT mediocre.  One of the simplest ways you can make someone feel recognized is to remember their name.  And let’s be honest, it’s embarrassing to blank on someone’s name, and borderline rude, especially when you’ve just been introduced.

Research has indicated that memorization of any kind is becoming a lost art due to our increasing reliance on the Internet as a substitute for flexing our memory.  It’s a catch 22 situation.  The Internet is wonderful, but it comes at a cost.  We rely on it for so much, it’s hard to imagine life without it.  Instant gratification has become the norm, so who would need to remember anything if they can just look it up within seconds?  Bottom line, it becomes a habit to not remember things.

Well, let’s break that habit!  And form a new one – a better one.  Here are some tips for remembering new names.

Repeat, repeat, repeat!  This is something I do automatically now.  Once I meet someone new, I immediately repeat their name in my head at least 5 times to make it stick.  It’s something that takes very little effort, but you need to make a conscious decision to do it.

Spell it out.  If it’s a simple name, then you can spell it out in your head.  If it’s a unique name or one that could have various spellings, you can ask them to spell it for you.  I will often ask someone to spell their name for me if it is uncommon, just to make sure I get it right (and so I spell it correctly on the whiteboard).  But try not to make a weird face while you’re spelling their name out in your head ☺

Word play or association.  Rather than just introducing yourself to a new face, mix it up and have a full conversation with them.  This gives you opportunities to associate their name to some type of personal detail specific to them.  Or maybe, when you first meet someone, there is a certain quality or physical attribute that sticks in your mind.  Use that as a trigger to remember their name in the future.  You all know I notice people’s shoes… well, this came especially in handy when Libby, Kourtney, and Maureen first started at the gym.  For the first couple weeks, I had to look at their shoes to get their names right.  (Don’t worry!  Now I know your names without looking at your shoes!)

Make connections.  This is similar to the previous tip.  Make connections between the new face to someone you already know.  Maybe your new friend reminds you of someone else who also has the same name.  Use that history to your advantage.

This last tip is the most important.

CHOOSE TO CARE.  This is the bottom line, guys.  There can be all the tips and tricks in the world to get you to remember someone’s name, but the crux of it is caring.  Psychologists and memory experts point out that one of the main reasons we forget someone’s name is that we aren’t really focused on learning it in the first place.  Choose to be intentional when meeting someone new and make the conscious effort to remember their name.

If you take anything from this post, take this: The first step to remembering names is to decide to care.  Genuinely take the time to learn your classmates’ names because you should care about the people you meet.  You’re working out with them every week.  And each member of the gym is part of our family.  So make the decision to care and learn those names!

Mobility is King

by Grace Lin

If you’ve been coming to the gym consistently for the past month, you may have noticed that once a week, we have been dedicating the first half of class to mobility.  What’s the reasoning for this?  Well, simply put, mobility is king.  I would argue it’s the most important element of CrossFit.  Yes, intensity is important, strength is important, and technique is important, but how can you maintain those elements if you cannot move properly?  90% of the time, mobility is the thing that is holding people back in CrossFit.  Someone can be super strong, but if they can’t fully extend their arms overhead, then what good is that strength?  What’s the point of having strong legs if you can only squat halfway?  You cannot maximize your athletic performance until you have proper mobility.

What is mobility?  By definition, mobility is the ability to move or be moved freely and easily.  It’s a concept that comprises of joint range of motion (ROM), muscular tension, soft tissue and capsule joint restrictions, adhesions, tendon resilience, neuromuscular coordination, proprioception, the biomechanics of positioning, and knowledge of the proper form for a movement.  There is a difference between mobilization and stretching.  According to Kelly Starrett,”Stretching only focuses on lengthening short and tight muscles.  Mobilization, on the other hand, is a movement-based integrated full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance including short and tight muscles, soft tissue restriction, joint capsule restriction, motor control problems, joint ROM dysfunction, and neural dynamic issues.  In short, mobilization is a tool to globally address movement and performance problems.”

Proper mobility can prevent injury.  Since the majority of people have some sort of limited mobility, their bodies will naturally adjust to try and perform the movements we do in the gym.  So, instead of working on shoulder mobility, you arch your back to get that weight overhead or you overhead squat on your toes.  Instead of working on hip and posterior chain mobility, you turn your feet way out during a squat.  Instead of working on ankle mobility, you dive your chest forward to prevent from falling backward during a squat.  

You see, poor ROM = poor movement.  The better your mobility, the easier the movement will be.  Once your mobility improves, then you can really start focusing on increasing strength and efficiency.  But without proper mobility, there will always be a ceiling that you will hit because your body simply won’t be able to handle heavy weights in an incorrect position.  You’ll either plateau on strength or you’ll get injured.

The two largest problem areas I see with mobility are the hips and the shoulders.  Why?  Sitting.  With the invention of computers, the majority of people are sitting in front of a screen for 40+ hours a week.  Kelly Starrett puts it into perspective when he states “the ‘smoking’ of our generation is sitting.”  There really is no remedy for this problem, other than not sitting.  A treadmill isn’t going to solve the problem.  Going to the gym for 1 hour a day isn’t going to solve the problem either.  Go invest in a standing desk and maybe a barstool that you can lean on.  Please reference the posture post for more information about fixing postural habits.  There is even a link in there to make your own standing desk.

All this information is great, but it doesn’t mean anything if there’s no action being done.  So here’s your call to action:

Spend at least 10-15min every day on focused mobility.  Do some research or ask your coaches on your specific problem areas and focus on those.  This does not include laying on the foam roller!  Really put some effort into creating a routine that addresses your specific ROM needs.

A usual good rule of thumb is 2min on each side.  Mobilize until change is made or until you stop making change.

Spend 30-40min on mobility during your rest days.  Take that time you would normally dedicate to working out and spend it on focused mobility.  You can divide it into upper and lower body, and thoracic spine.

Test and re-test!  How do you know if it works if you don’t test and re-test?  Find the drills and techniques that work for you.  Everyone responds a little differently from the various types of mobilization drills out there.

Fix your posture.  If the majority of your day is spent in a bad position (slouched/hunched forward), then how do you expect to be able to move in a proper position?  Be serious about fixing your posture and build good habits.  Again, reference the posture post for more tips on building better posture.

Working on your mobility is not glamorous, but it is necessary for your success in the gym and your quality of life outside of the gym.  If you want to stay injury free and continue to hit PRs, then you need to be working on your mobility!

Abs of Steel

by Grace Lin

What comes to mind when you think about a strong core?  Does an image of Rich Froning’s perfectly chiseled 8-pack pop up?  Or do you think about the ability to stabilize your midline under load?    Most people will probably think of the former over the latter.  However, just because someone has visible abs does not necessarily mean they have a strong core (NOTE: I am NOT saying Rich Froning doesn’t have a strong core – that would be a terrible lie).  The definition of a person’s abdominal muscles largely depends on genetics and body fat percentage, not necessarily strength.  So, what does it mean to have a strong core?

Well, according to Greg Glassman, “Lack of movement around that line while engaged in functional movement is core strength.”  The line he is referring to is the midline – a line that can be drawn through the integration of the pelvis and spine.  CrossFit is all about constantly varied functional movements performed at a high intensity.  Well, in order to perform these functional movements safely and effectively, we need to be able to stabilize our midline.  One of the concepts taught in the CF Trainer’s Guide is core to extremity.  What does core to extremity mean?  It means that before we do ANY sort of movement, we need to tighten up our core first.  Everything starts from the core and moves out from there.  Think of your core as a bridge between your upper and lower body.  If it’s not tight, then there is a kink in the chain.  We don’t want kinks.  They lead to poor, inefficient movement and, eventually, injury.

Now, I’ve mentioned “tightening up your core” a couple times in this post.  Let me elaborate on that.  When you hear a coach say “keep your core tight,” “tighten up,” “stay tight,” or “squeeze,” we mean that you need to squeeze your glutes, squeeze your abs, and keep your ribs down.  This is how every athlete needs to get organized before performing any sort of movement.  Getting your core set can be the difference between a PR and a devastating injury.

So we all agree that having a strong core is important, right?  Great, let’s talk about some ways to increase core strength and stability.  Of course, one of best ways is to perform functional movements under load like back squats, front squats, overhead squats (everybody’s favorite!), cleans, jerks, snatches, deadlifts, etc. you get the point.  There are also a myriad of accessory exercises you can do before/after class, or even at home.  These include:

Planks – So many variations here, including, hand, elbow, Chinese, weighted, and hand-to-elbow to name a few.

Turkish Get-ups – Great exercise that also involves overhead stability.

Hollow and Arch Rocks/Holds – You can never do too many hollow rocks.  There are a lot of ways to do it incorrectly though, so make sure you’re cognizant of your position.  If you’re not sure how to do these, ask a coach.

Shoot throughs – These are done on parallettes and are a good dynamic core exercise.

Ab roll-outs/V-outs – Roll-outs can be done using a loaded barbell.  V-outs are an analog that can be done on low hanging rings.  Only go as far as your body will allow on these.

Strict T2B – Self-explanatory.  Get your toes to the bar without kipping ☺

L-sit – Probably one of the hardest ab exercises and one of the best.  These can be done hanging from a pull-up bar or in support position on parallettes, dip bars, or rings.  You can scale by slightly bending your knees, keeping your legs straight but slightly below parallel, or holding one leg up at a time.

GHD Sit-ups – A great dynamic exercise that takes the trunk from hyperextension to full flexion.  If you have never done a GHD sit-up before, PLEASE ask a coach for assistance first.  There are many ways to do a GHD sit-up incorrectly.

TIME!

by Grace Lin

How many times have you witnessed this scene?  Everyone in class is gathered around an athlete as he/she finishes the last round of the workout.  We aren’t exactly sure how many more reps the athlete has left, but we know he/she is close to finishing.  Words of encouragement are shouted out from all directions as the athlete takes a short break from the barbell.  Everyone continues to encourage the athlete get back on the bar and finish.  The bar is picked back up and the cheering continues.  Then the athlete drops the bar, looks at the clock, and backs away to breathe.  There’s a moment of confusion… Is he/she done?  Or are there a few more reps left?  Is this a break or is this the end?  Then the coach asks, “Time??”  And the athlete nods.  The workout is done.

How anticlimactic!!  If you have been coming to the gym for at least a week, then you know we tell everyone to yell “time” after finishing a task priority workout.  However, I’ve seen a trend of people not calling “time” upon finishing, unless we bring special attention to it and remind the class to do it before starting the WOD.  And even then, there are still some who do not yell “time.”  Yelling “time” should be automatic.  We shouldn’t need to remind you to yell it loud and proud when you finish.

But Grace, what’s the point?  Isn’t it all the same if I just look at the clock and tell you my time at the whiteboard?  I mean either way my score gets recorded, right?  Well, guess what, it’s not about you.  Here is why we yell “time.”

It keeps the intensity of class high.  When you’re in the middle of a workout, and you hear people around you calling “time,” it gives you a sense of urgency to finish.  This is part of the reason we workout in a class setting, so we have people around us to push each other to do the best we can.  When you yell “time,” it gives others who are still working incentive to move a little quicker to finish, and vice versa.

It lets the coach know the class progress.  As coaches, we are constantly taking in data from the class, like how athletes are moving, how certain movements are affecting people, which part of the workout seems the toughest, etc.  When athletes start calling “time,” it tells the coach that people are starting to finish the workout.  With that data, we can increase the atmospheric intensity for an extra push for those who are still working.  Again, it goes back to keeping the class intensity high during the workout.

You need to be proud of your time.  Be proud that you finished a hard workout!  Don’t be that person who whispers “time” when they finish, or worse, doesn’t say it at all.  You should be very proud of yourself for the effort you put forth and what you accomplished.  These workouts are not easy, and we should celebrate every time we finish one.

It doesn’t matter if you are the first to finish or the last to finish… yell “time” no matter what!  Be proud of your work and your fitness.  And remember, it’s not about you.  It’s about everyone else.  We are a community, a team, a family.  So, yell “time” for your CFCH family.

Proper R&R

by Grace Lin

What’s your reason for coming to the gym?  Maybe it’s to get stronger and faster.  Maybe you come to get leaner.  Or maybe it’s to gain some muscle mass.  Whatever your reason is, one key component of a successful training program that often goes overlooked is recovery.  The workouts only provide the stimulus for change.  However, that actual change itself takes place during the periods between workouts, AKA recovery.  Let’s say the average person spends about 4-10 hours per week working out.  That means the rest of the time, which is the majority, is spent in the rest and recovery phase.  Training is only as good as the recovery, so we need to spend this time wisely.  

Have you ever walked into the gym and felt like your feet were dragging?  Kind of like you didn’t want to be there, but were making yourself do it?  Have you ever felt unmotivated or apathetic toward the workout?  If so, then chances are you were under-recovered or over-trained, most likely the former.  This is a result of insufficient rest and recovery.  How quickly an athlete is able to completely recover is the result of many factors, including nutrition, sleep, age, stress level, and hydration.  Being under-recovered leads to plateauing or worse, decrease in fitness and strength.  Just like working toward a new 1RM back squat or a faster mile time, recovery must be trained.  Here are just some of the many components to proper rest and recovery:

Nutrition – We’ve heard it all before, but you are what you eat.  If you fill your body with junk, then your workouts will be junk, and your recovery will also be junk.  Everything you put into your body has the ability to heal it or poison it.  Which will you choose to do?  (I hope the choice is obvious).  I get it, it’s not easy to eat clean all the time.  And, frankly, sometimes it’s a pain in the butt.  But just like with anything else, this is a skill that needs to be trained.  It takes discipline, will power, and planning.  Honestly, the first step is to plan out your meals.  It’s the hardest step, but once you plan everything out, nutrition becomes a cake walk (no pun intended, please don’t go eat cake now).  Alcohol and processed foods contain toxins, which are harmful to the body.  A good rule of thumb is to stick to whole foods.  And if you decide to indulge in something, keep it in moderation.  We can talk about more specifics of pre/post-workout nutrition in a later article.

Sleep – This is the most important time to recover.  Last week we talked about the importance of sleep, and how it affects us mentally and physically.  In short, we need at least 8 hours of sleep to maintain mental and physical health, hormonal balance, and muscular recovery.  Please refer to the article for more details and tips on how to get better sleep.

Hydration – Life gets busy and sometimes we may forget to drink enough during the day.  This is detrimental to your body because it needs water for pretty much every cellular process.  Please refer to the article about hydration for more information on how to stay hydrated and why it’s so imperative to health.

Mobility/Stretching – As you all know, we are currently in a cycle where we have one day a week focused on mobility for the first half of class.  The reason for this is because mobility is king.  Limited range of motion (ROM) is weak range of motion.  We are always working toward full and healthy ROM for all joints.  Taking an extra 5-10min after your workout to stretch will do wonders for the recovery of your muscles and joints.  And make an extra effort to stretch/mobilize on your rest days!  That 1 hour of the day you’d usually spend at the gym can be spent on thoracic, upper, and lower body mobility drills.  If you need any assistance with finding drills, check out Kelly Starett’s MobilityWOD.  Another source that is gaining popularity is ROMWOD, which gives you a different video to follow along with each day.  As always, feel free to ask a coach for help too!

Posture – Possibly one of the most overlooked components to rest and recovery.  Think about how you spend most of your day – are you sitting at a desk?  Hunched over a table?  Leaning to one side while standing?  All of this affects the way your muscles recover.  Most of us have desk jobs – it’s just the world we live in today.  Make a concerted effort to maintain good posture throughout the day.  This means sitting up tall, keeping your shoulders back and down, and head in a neutral position.  Please refer to the posture article for more details and tips.

Bodywork – Sometimes stretching and mobility drills aren’t quite enough.  It’s a good idea to get a licensed professional to help you out every so often.  This can include deep tissue massage, acupuncture, active release techniques (ART), Graston, and chiropractic care, to name a few.

Heat/Ice/Compression – These techniques are used more for recovering from injuries or extremely stressful training, like competitions or races.  These could include cryotherapy, contrast showers, ice baths, etc.

Mental Restoration – In other words, stress management.  Life happens and it’s usually out of our control.  Take time for yourself each day to really settle down, rest, and reset your mind.  This could be a nightly ritual to relax your mind and body before going to bed.  Taking just 5-10 minutes each day may be enough to keep your mental health in check.  Start small and work up to an hour of “me time.”

All of these components factor into proper recovery.  And, to be honest, it’s a lot to keep track of.  Recovery is something that needs to be practiced.  A good way to train your recovery is to keep a journal, just like your WOD journal, that tracks your state from day to day.  Jot down how you’re feeling, energy levels, mood, and stress levels each day.  Most of us aren’t in-tune with our bodies enough to know when we are under-recovered, so monitoring is the first step to being aware and able to identify insufficient recovery.  As I mentioned before, training is only as good as the recovery.  So train hard, and recover harder!

Get Some ZZZ's

by Grace Lin

We all know that nutrition and exercise are vital to living a healthy life.  But one aspect that usually flies under the radar is sleep.  When life gets busy, sleep usually gets the short end of the stick – it’s one of the first things to go.  It’s interesting when people seem proud of how little sleep they can get by with (or so they think).  But, just like nutrition and exercise, sleep should be a priority.  We put enormous stress on our bodies every time we workout, and this stress needs to be remediated with proper rest and recovery before it’s repeated again.  If not, then it will eventually lead to injury.  Recovery is only one of the many benefits of sleep.  Here are some of more benefits:

Healthy Brain Function – While you are sleeping, your brain is forming new pathways that help you learn and retain information.  This is especially important for children and teens, as sleep helps support brain growth and development.  Studies have shown that a good night’s sleep (8+ hours) improves learning.  It also helps you be more attentive, decisive, and creative.  Military research has shown that sleep-deprived soldiers demonstrate decreased ability in judgement, marksmanship, and overall performance in mental and physical tasks.  Just a loss of 1-2 hours of sleep per night over several days can hinder your ability to function, as if you haven’t had any sleep for 1-2 days.

Emotional Well-Being – I’d like to think everybody wants to be a pleasant person to be around… right?  Well, for me, if I don’t get enough sleep, I get pretty grumpy.  Nobody wants to be around Grumpy Grace.  And I’m pretty sure the same can be said for the majority of people.  Studies have shown that sleep deficiency alters activity in the brain to the point where you may have trouble controlling your emotions and behavior.  Sleep deficiency has also been linked to depression, suicide, and risky behavior.  People who do not get enough sleep are often more irritable because of the change in brain activity.  Apply that to an athlete, and you have an irritable athlete who is not positive, which negatively impacts his/her mental toughness.

Physical Health – As mentioned before, sleep is critical to proper recovery after workouts.  Deep sleep triggers the release of human growth hormone (HGH), which promotes muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues (AKA gainz).  In addition to getting your gainz, you need sleep to stay healthy, meaning not sick.  Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy and functioning, which may be linked to the release of prolactin during sleep.  Ongoing sleep deficiency can alter the way your immune system responds to its environment.  People who do not get enough sleep are more at risk for obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other metabolic and endocrine disorders.

Weight Maintenance – Let’s face it, most people workout to look good.  I’d like for that mentality to shift toward working out to be strong and functional, but that’s just the world we live in.  Well, if you want to stay lean, then you need proper amount of sleep!  It sounds silly, but many of the hormones that are related to hunger and fat deposition are linked to sleep.  For example, sleep maintains a healthy balance of the hormones ghrelin and leptin.  Ghrelin makes you feel hungry (like a gremlin) and leptin makes you feel full (like Lipton iced tea).  When you don’t get enough sleep, your levels of ghrelin and leptin get jacked up.  The ghrelin goes up and leptin goes down, so you feel hungrier when you’re tired than when you’re well rested.  Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin.  Insulin is the hormone responsible for controlling your blood glucose level.  Sleep deficiency can lead to insulin resistance, leading to a higher blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes.  And finally, inadequate sleep affects your cortisol levels.  Cortisol is the infamous stress hormone.  In this technologically advanced generation, people are exposed to artificial light well into the night after the sun sets.  Being exposed to light (mainly blue light) late at night keeps cortisol levels higher than what they should be, and so the body starts sending signals for food.  Hence, late-night snacking.  This high level of cortisol also messes with your natural circadian rhythm, which can lead to grogginess during the day and insomnia at night.  

Okay, now that I have bombarded you with the nerd facts on why sleep is so important, here are some tips to getting sufficient sleep.

Commit to a target number of hours.  It is recommended to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.  So 8 is the minimum, but it’s best to block out 9-10 hours for sleep to account for outside factors.  If that’s too big of a commitment, then take baby steps.  Start at something manageable and work your way up.

Set a schedule and stick to it.  Have you heard of the proverb: an hour before midnight is worth two after?  Well, there is validity to it.  Research consistently shows that you should be in bed by 10PM.  It’s not just the length of sleep that matters, but when it happens as well.

No blue light.  Exposure to light (especially blue light) suppresses the secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone.  Put the cell phones, laptops, and tablets away.  Turn the TV off.  Make an effort to keep the screens away at least 2 hours before bed.  Get some blackout curtains and unplug or cover up anything that emits lights (e.g., alarm clocks, night lights, etc.).  

Create a night time ritual.  This could include meditation, reflection, or reading.  Pick something that relaxes you and does not involve a screen.

Take some Magnesium.  Mg is crucial to proper function of GABA receptors, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in switching the brain “off.”  Many people like to take ZMA as a supplement, which is a combination of Zinc, Magnesium, and Vitamin B6 (but it may give you crazy dreams).

If you have the luxury to nap, do it.  But try to keep it to 10, 30, or 90+ minutes.  10 and 30 minute naps are great because they don’t disrupt your sleep cycle.  90 minute naps are typically the minimum to get a full sleep cycle.  Hit anything in between and you run the risk for feeling groggy the rest of the day, and possibly not sleeping well at night.

I hope this article has shed some light on how important sleep is for all of us.  Please make it a priority in your life!  And if you want to continue getting faster and stronger, then it needs to be a priority.