Friday, April 29, 2016

Tim's Official Back Pain Prevention Guide - 1st Edition

It may surprise you to hear this, but over the years I have suffered more back injuries and dealt with more chronic back pain than I would even care to admit.  Well - knock on steel - according to my insurance records I haven't been to the chiropractor in over 16 months now, and I'm pretty sure my last visit was for minor shoulder and elbow issues.  Now I don't believe for a second that I'm going to "jinx" myself by saying that or talking about it, because we make our own luck in this world.  And also even if I get hurt tomorrow, I still had a pretty long run (for me at least) without any issues ... and for that I am extremely grateful.

As you know, I'm not a medical doctor, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, or a myofascial release specialist1.  I'm just a guy who has jacked himself up many times over the years, and learned a few things along the way.  And now I get to share those things with you.  Some of the aforementioned experts may scoff at any or all of what I'm about to say, but I don't really care because these are the things that I believe in and they have worked for me.  And as we've discussed on many occasions before, it's not a lie if I believe it.

I've put this list together with intention and believe that everything on here has contributed positively in some way, but realistically all of this has likely combined together in a giant cloud of goodness to help keep me healthy as of late.  However, I did my best to order it from what I believe is the extreme absolute most important down to the only very important.  And I better get started or this article is going to be long as hell.

There's actually lots of other fun stuff in the Cloud of Goodness, but I'll save the rest for another day.

1) Walking

Wait, what?  Like that thing where we stand up and put one foot in front of the other to move our body from place to place?  Yes damn it!  It turns out that the most important thing I've done on my way to a healthy back is also one of the absolute easiest and simplest things for most human beings to do:  walk.  It's worth mentioning that while a lot of my bullets today may not be typical things you'll find in a book or on the Internet, this one is.  Every chiropractor or doctor worth their salt in this world will tell you that walking is far and away the best thing you can do for your back.  What's the technique, the protocol though?  It goes a little something like this:  get up off your ass and move.  20 minutes is better than 0 minutes, and 60 minutes is better than 20.

The reality is that most of us spend the vast majority of our time hunched over behind a desk.  Then we come into the gym and want to do 75 power cleans, and wonder why our back aches the next day.  The body was not made to sit around all day trading stocks and planning widget shipments, plain and simple.  Create some new habits, go for a long walk or a bunch or short ones, walk in place in your office during a conference call, do whatever the hell you have to do.  This is a big one.  The biggest.

They say sitting is the new smoking, because apparently we can't make enough money hooking people on cigarettes and then getting them to quit anymore, so now we're selling books and gadgets to help us not be so lazy.

2) Strength Balance

For about 2 years I stayed away from doing heavy deadlifts.  I believed that they were contributing to my back issues and destroying my health.  This was very wrong.  And if they were contributing to my issues in the past, it was simply because my deadlift was WAY stronger than my squat, causing strength imbalances in my lower body muscles and eventually back pain and injury.  This is one of those times where a few of you inquisitive types may ask the question of WHY having a healthy balance of strength between all muscle groups keeps us healthy and reduces chronic pain.  And I will give you the most honest physiological answer I can muster:  I have no f*%king idea.  It just works.

This is one of those situations in life where I prefer to apply a nice smooth creamy layer of common sense.  Our bodies tend to function as one unit, which is the whole idea behind functional movement and CrossFit in general.  If we get one area really super strong (let's say our quads through squatting) and let another area get relatively weak (let's say our hamstrings by neglecting deadlifts) doesn't it just make sense that this will cause some issues eventually?  Maybe not, in which case I'll just leave you to enjoy your sciatica for the rest of your life.

So what to do?  Once again, it's pretty simple:  make sure you are doing a wide variety of movements, and not skipping the stuff you suck at or don't like.  I can tell you through personal experience and through watching it happen many times, if we continue to neglect one movement in favor of an opposing one2 , the train is going to fall off the tracks eventually.  It's not a question of "if" but "when."

3) Tempo

I separated tempo from technique for a couple reasons.  One is that I've come to believe for the moment that tempo is ever so slightly more important than technique.  Two is that they are both very important and should be discussed separately.

So what is tempo, for those that may not know?  Tempo is simply the speed at which we execute a given movement.  To keep things simple, almost every movement we do has a down portion (eccentric) and an up portion (concentric).  Tempo is the speed at which you execute these individual segments of the movement.

Once again, the rule is simple:  keep the down portion of the movement intentionally slow and controlled, and execute the up portion as fast as you are safely able to.  This means during a squat, we lower ourselves into the bottom with control, then once we reverse and begin standing back up we should be striving to speed the bar up.  Every single day I see somebody dive-bombing into the bottom of the squat or quickly lowering a deadlift out of control.  Unfortunately this a great recipe for an acute injury, and the risk can be lowered significantly by simply maintaining better control of the bar during the down portion.

Full credit to my coach at Strength Ratio for teaching me the importance of the last two bullets and the concepts behind them ... and a few other ones as well.  What's that, you've never read any of his articles?  Strange because I post them all the time ...

4) Technique

I view technique as a slightly different issue than tempo.  Technique is more about our positioning, flexibility, and executing the movement within a safe range of motion for our particular individual bodies.  Technique is keeping the back as flat as possible during a deadlift for example, and other such cues.  It is striving to stay in a solid, strong position throughout the execution of an entire rep or set of a movement.

There are an infinite amount of differing opinions and arguments over what constitutes proper technique.  I'm pretty sure by the latest estimates, 80% of the internet is porn and the other 20% is dedicated to arguing about the knees caving in during a squat.  Suffice it to say that we are all built differently and therefore all of our technical nuances are going to look a bit different, yet there are plenty of generic rules that we can abide by in order to keep us safe.  As a pertinent example here, the spine should probably not be flexing back and forth and changing position under a heavy load ... although I'm quite certain even that could be argued.

5) Stretching and Yoga

Yeah I know, most of us take a foam roller and smash our butt cheeks on it for 20 to 30 seconds or do a couple passes on our upper back after a 2-hour workout.  That's not what I'm talking about, because that's not actually doing anything.  I'm talking about taking the time every day to stretch and implement some simple yoga movements after our workouts.  Yeah, we didn't just add those strange holds into our classes for entertainment; it serves a very valid purpose.

Over the last 6 months, I've made a concentrated effort to get in at least 10 minutes of cool down and stretching after each and every session.  Usually I will do more if I have the time.  This is something I neglected and dismissed for a long time, and now I'm reaping the benefits.   You should too.

Wasn't just added to the class routine to liven up the scenery.

6) Cardio

Now we may be getting into the weeds just a bit, but I believe my increased cardio base has helped with my back issues as well.  Here's why:  as our cardio base increases, we recover faster between sets and between workouts.  Faster recovery means less accumulation of fatigue, and entering each workout in a more refreshed state.  In my previous 100% unconditioned state, I'm certain there are many times I would start a workout and still be under incredible tension from the workout (or workouts) before it.  So basically I would start the workout in an already compromised state, which would increase my risk of doing something stupid or causing a strain in one of those fun muscles right around my spine.

As is the ongoing theme here, the prescription is simple.  I'm not necessarily talking about increasing our ability to withstand blood-vessel bursting CrossFit workouts (although that's important too ... probably), but it's more about those longer, slower efforts.  Once or twice a week for 30-45 minutes at a moderate pace.

7) Assistance Exercises

I debated that this one should be higher on the list, and it probably should be somewhere right around #2 dealing with strength balance.  But I don't have all day to screw with the order, so here it is.  These are all the strength exercises that many of us view as pointless and boring filler:  Box Step Ups, Good Mornings, Farmers Carry, Suitcase Deadlifts, Split Squats, etc.  They actually serve several important purposes.  The first is that they shore up lagging muscle groups and unilateral (side to side) imbalances.  Perhaps our right quad is a lot stronger than the left, which throws our back into a nice twisting motion when we squat.  Well if we do split squats, the weak leg has nowhere to hide!  

Another (perhaps just as) important benefit is that all of these movements reduce the loading on the back while still maintaining the stimulus on our skeletal muscles.  For example we can't use nearly as much weight on a 1-leg deadlift as we can the conventional version, but for those of you that have had the pleasure of walking around for the couple days following a few sets of these, you know they have a very direct effect on the hamstring muscles.

Makes the quads grow AND spares the back ... What more could we ask for??

8) Nutrition

So I don't really have any direct "evidence" on this one.  I just threw it in because it's important overall and it improves everything else in life, so why would back pain be any exception?

9) Having Superior Genetics (sarcasm)

So that's the list.  I'm not saying that if we implement every single thing on this list to perfection, our back issues will disappear forever.  I'm just saying that I've implemented every single thing on this list - many of them being things I had never focused on before - and I've felt pretty damn good for the last year and a half.  The hope is that maybe this can serve to remind you of something that you may be neglecting, or have left out of your routine entirely.

It's also worth noting that I've been told on several occasions that my recent resistance to injury is actually due to my superior genetics3 .  If that's true, then it's only logical to assume that my proclivity to injury in year's past was due to my previously inferior genetics, and the implementation of the above methods has altered the sequencing and quality of my DNA.  And for the life of me, I don't understand why the world's most foremost scientists and geneticists are not banging down my door to study me and change the world as we know it.  So there.

Don't get all excited, this is not nearly as sexy as it sounds.

 As a general rule for the two movements mentioned here, the deadlift should likely be about 120-130% of the strength of the Back Squat across any rep range if you're looking for some hard numbers.  There are also a whole host of other ratios for every movement under the sun, and I'm happy to share those with anybody who cares enough to ask.

 I'll try to keep this rant short and sweet since it's a footnote:  99.999 times out of 100 when I hear someone cite genetics, luck, or other "uncontrollable" factors as the reason behind someone else's success, the person doing the bitching is the weaker of the two.  This could just be random coincidence or some sort of observational bias, but I personally find that statistic quite compelling.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Who To Blame ...

I've been in one car accident in my life.  I was still in high school, and it was the classic scenario of the driver in front of me slamming on his brakes because he was about to miss his turn for a gas station, and the world might come to an end if this moron had to go to the next stoplight and turn around.  So he locks it up, followed immediately by me slamming on my brakes.  Of course - because even as a teenager I was a superior driver, had been following at a safe distance, was paying close attention, and have also been blessed with a decent reaction time - I was able to screech to a halt about 4 inches shy of his bumper.  I'm pretty sure the jackass behind me didn't even move his foot off the accelerator.  Still to this day, has to be the loudest noise I've ever heard.

But one of the most memorable moments of that accident that left a lasting impression on me over the years was the reaction of the driver that slammed into me as he pushed away his airbag and stumbled out of his car:  he immediately started blaming me.  Of course he did.  Here you are, king of the dipsh!ts, that just slammed into the back of somebody else at 40 MPH, and it's certainly not going to be your fault.  Isn't this such a typical reaction?  He just screwed up royally, and the first thing he's going to do - before even checking to make sure everyone is okay and alive - is start pointing the finger.  Ah, humans1.

I read a book a while back called Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell.  The book is partly about our instantaneous reactions and how our mind is able to process information and react in fractions of a second.  It's also about how some of these momentary decisions and impressions are vital to our survival and may one day save us from danger or mortal peril.  But more importantly, he also talks a lot about how incredibly flawed our immediate mental reflexes may be, for a variety of reasons2.  So I've come to believe that numbnut's reaction after slamming into the back of my beautiful '89 Ford Taurus was pretty standard, and probably something that we all do on a regular basis:  take that first faulty instinct to blame somebody else, and run with it.

Malcolm is a phenomenal writer, but has he ever used the word numbnuts in any of his work?  I highly doubt it.

When I started reflecting on this a little bit, I realized that it's actually something I do quite often myself.  Of course, I'm talking about where it really matters the most: in the gym.  I started to think back on some of the injuries I suffered over the years, when I stalled out on my lifts and stopped making progress, or perhaps when I was just struggling for motivation.  What was the reason?  Of course, it was something external.  Surely it wasn't anything I was doing wrong.  It was the program, or the frequency of certain movements, my environment, my workout crew, or the coaching.  Essentially it was anything that would allow me to deflect responsibility away from the real issue:  me.

This is tough, and it's something I'm still learning how to fight.  Even now - in my infinite age and wisdom - I still pull this crap.  Just a couple weeks ago, my right knee started to ache.  And the first place my mind went was "well the volume of my program has just been way too high lately."  Now luckily I never said that out loud or voiced it to anyone ... because of course it was wrong.   The real problem was me, not following directions and not doing what was intended of the program, pushing it too far during times when I was supposed to be easing back.  The volume wasn't too high - I was making it too high.

I hear it all too often:  we suck at snatching because there are too many sumo deadlift high pulls in the program.  We got hurt because the coaches pushed us too far.  We're not showing up to the gym because our normal workout partners have been slacking or the class-time offerings are poor.  We can't stick to our nutrition plan because our spouse and co-workers are making it too difficult.  That's the beautiful thing about most excuses: they usually deflect the blame to an external factor, as opposed to facing the fact that our own behavior is currently flawed.

Sure thing Johnny Turtleback, it's certainly the program that's causing all those missed snatch reps ...

So is there a way to re-condition our brains and fight that initial reaction when something isn't going our way?  Of course there is.  We let that reaction happen - inside our head - and recognize it.  Then turn it around and point it in the other direction, and ask ourselves what it is that we may be doing wrong.  Now don't misunderstand me:  sometimes external factors certainly do contribute to our own failings3.  But way more often that not, I'd be willing to guess that if we weren't too distracted changing that CD while driving, we could have prevented the car accident in the first place - regardless of the actions of anybody around us.

Worth noting that I actually knew the guy who ran into me:  he was a kid from my high school, and at the time of the accident we had a class together and he sat right behind me.  However, he didn't even recognize me at the scene of the accident ... which should give you a pretty good idea about the cognitive abilities of this perennial "D" student.

 If you're interested in reading up on some cool psychological and neurological stuff that's written in an entertaining way human's can understand, I'd recommend picking this book up.  Or really anything Gladwell has written.

 An example of this would be those recent few years where I got really fat.  I blame the Internet.

Friday, April 15, 2016

HSPU Secrets Revealed

It turns out that in a lot of cases, what's good for the goose is in fact not all that good for the gander.  Setting aside the fact that I have absolutely no idea what a gander1 is, it's important to keep this simple fact in mind:  something that works for everybody else may not work for us.  Or something that works for us may not work for others.  It goes both ways.  However, it's also important to keep in mind that there are certain universal truths that can be applied when we're talking about making measurable improvements with high-skill movements like the Olympic lifts, certain gymnastics movements, and even things like Wall Balls.  There are movements we can always do to make these things better.

Did not become a great flyer by doing front-racked lunges.  Fact.  Maybe.

Now before I finally reveal my big secret that I believe has taken me from sets of 2-3 reps to sets of 5-7 reps on the HSPU (I know - holy crap, right?  See you at the Games b!tches) in a matter of weeks, there's a few things I need to clarify.  By the way, this trick has also helped me string together bar muscle-ups recently, and greatly improve my efficiency on large sets of unbroken Wall Balls.  Needless to say, I'm starting to notice an important pattern.  But I'm going to keep you in suspense for a minute.

One concept I want to discuss first is that of being a beginner.  When we are relatively new to working out, everything transfers over to everything else.  This is what makes it so much damn fun and gets us hooked.   Running makes us a better back squatter.  Front Squats improve our Ring Dips.  Kettlebell Swings make us better at holding a handstand.  It's fun, because every day we get a little better at pretty much everything by just doing anything - mostly because it's more than we were doing before (sitting on ass).

How long does this honeymoon phase of endless transfer last, and in what capacity?  Hell if I know.  It's different for everybody and depends on a wide range of factors which - as far as I can gather - range from things like workout frequency all the way to how much Vitamin C your mom had while you were in the womb.  So I wish you luck and have fun figuring all that out.

For most of us though, after 6 months to two years of consistent hard work we start to notice the transferability of certain things dissipate.  No longer can we go 3 months without doing a Clean and expect to hit a 30 pound personal record, and Wall Ball workouts still totally suck even though our Front Squat is getting stronger.

Another point to make is that I think there is also still a lot of transfer to be had when we are first acquiring a new movement - such as getting our first muscle-up or a handstand push-up - no matter what our training age.  This fits in with what I said about being a beginner because essentially in terms of that movement, we are still considered a beginner.  An example would be working on strict C2B pull ups so that we can get that first muscle-up or make them more consistent.

Okay, so those points are out of the way.  Now what?  What's the big secret if you want to go from 1 handstand push-up to 20?  How about from 1 muscle-up to stringing 9 together in a WOD?  Well here it is:  the secret to improving your handstand push-up is .... doing handstand push-ups.  The secret to improving muscle-ups is .... doing muscle-ups.  And you thought I was going to say Farmer's Carry, didn't you?  

That's mostly good for improving your general awesomeness as a human being.  Oh and pissing everybody off by using literally the entire gym's floor space for a workout.

Yeah, so that's the deal.  Once we've acquired a base level of strength and competency with a movement, the best way to make improvements is by doing that movement.  As much as possible2.  Now don't get me wrong here - I'm not saying the only way to improve is to do the same movement over and over again.  Far from it.  Some variety is massively important, and doing Good Mornings will certainly help improve your back and hip strength for the squat.  But if you want to get better at the back squat, you damn well better be squatting as often as possible.  If you want to be a better runner, you should be probably be running.  If you dread Wall Balls every time they're programmed and curse the Gods because you suck so terribly at them .... Well I think you get the point.

It's such a simple truth, but it is the truth.  And we all probably need a reminder once in a while.  In a world full of quick fixes and bullsh*t marketing, we always try to trick ourselves into thinking there's a shortcut or an easy cheat out there somewhere.  There's a trick that's going to make me awesome overnight, I just know it!  I just haven't found it yet.  Hell maybe it's just a little magic technique cue, and if I simply point my middle toe a bit more vertically during the first pull of the snatch I will add 30 pounds to the bar overnight.  This is honestly how I used to think.  A few years back, if I came across an article entitled "HSPU Secrets Revealed" I would have gotten all excited thinking that maybe I was about to finally find that one tip that was going to make them so much easier.  Then I would have been pissed off and disappointed when I actually read the article and discovered that the jackwagon author's solution is "do HSPU."  Eff that!

Wendler makes this point perfectly and simply in his 5-3-1 book in the Frequently Asked Questions section:

Question:  What are the five best exercises to increase my squat?
Answer:  Squats ...

Question:  What are the five best exercises to increase my bench press?
Answer:  Bench Press ...

Yeah, he goes on to list a few assistance exercises in each answer as well.  But the first one is always the actual movement.  Truth.

When the head that sits atop those traps talks, I listen.  Also Truth.

But on Instagram ... !  I know, I know.  Right now there is a video out there of some bro who hit a 400 pound clean and claims to have been doing cleans "like hardly at all man."  It's probably true.  But I promise you that said bro spent a lot of time over the course of many years doing a lot of cleans prior to that little stint which inspired a misleading post.

So in general, the message stays the same as it's always been.  If we want something, the real secret is to quit wishing and hoping, quit half-assing, quit blaming our build or genetics, and quit watching others do it on social media.  Get on the rings, get on the wall, get under the bar.  Get to the gym and get to work.  See you there.

I've been told a gander is a male goose.  However, upon doing some research I discovered the truth:  the gander is actually an evil doppelganger to the goose, much like Spider-Man when he was overtaken by that malicious black suit.

 I would be remiss if I didn't mention the caveat here that "as much as possible" means you don't destroy yourself in the process.  In the quest to improve the pull up, doing a session focused on pull ups once or twice a week will suffice for the vast majority of us.  Anything beyond that is likely to start causing some major problems, likely in the elbow nubbin region.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Complete Guide to Not Taking Supplements

Decades ago there was a wise old strength coach who longed for new and creative ways to get the most out of his athletes.  One day while visiting the local apothecary, he purchased several packages of Smarties for half a nickel each.  Later that night, he re-packaged the candy into an official looking bottle with words like "ripped" and "jacked" and "strength" on it.  The next day he handed it out to his athletes at the gym (for free of course - this time), telling them it was a new product designed to increased their strength and add layers of muscle to their bodies.  Much to his surprise, within weeks they were all hitting personal records and strength was heading through the roof.  He quickly discovered that these athletes were willing to pay a 700% markup for these re-purposed sugar tablets, and thus the supplement industry was born.

Of course this was in a time before Instagram so it was much harder to publicize all the #gainz.

Now the above story is completely 100% fabricated by me, but I imagine this is pretty damn close to how it all went down.  I could probably research it and find out, but that would be like researching whether or not the sun is going to come up tomorrow:  I'm already pretty sure I know the answer, and if I happen to be wrong we're all screwed anyway.  Regardless, supplements are one thing that I seem to get quite a few questions about, so today I'm going to try to lay out my belief system on the topic.  And like most of my belief systems, it's based on a convoluted trail of logic, common sense, mental trickery, and good old-fashioned self-experimentation.

The first and most important point I'd like to get across today is perspective.  Because I believe it is of the utmost importance in all endeavors to take that step back and ask ourselves the "big" questions.  For the sake of this argument, let's go ahead and pretend that we live in Oz and that every supplement that Dorothy sells us actually does whatever it is claimed to be able to do.  No false claims, no misleading advertising, no bad (or absent) science, and no flat-out lies on unregulated products.  Everything is exactly as it seems.  Even in THAT world - which hopefully you've gathered from my subtle context clues is a complete fantasy - supplements still represent maybe 1-2% of all the gains that are to be made for us humans from a nutritional and fitness standpoint.  Think of it like this:  let's say that at your full genetic potential you are going to back squat 505 pounds at some point in your life.  Doing everything else perfectly (diet, sleep, stress management, recovery, consistent proper training, etc) will get you to 500.  Supplements will get you to 505 ... and maybe 510 if you get the really expensive stuff!

Sad but true.  We can figure this out by investigating any marginally scientific literature on the topic.  Unfortunately the supplement companies and every CrossFit Games athlete on Instagram choose to neglect sharing this all-important information.  And if we're not being told something outright on social media, we may have to do a little digging and find it ourselves:

Nutritional Priorities courtesy of the RP Diet.  Worth nothing that they've since updated this chart to make sure that CONSISTENCY overrides all of it, and without CONSISTENCY we are basically at 0% for everything.

The point here is this: if your diet is a complete wasteland or you haven't been to the gym in two weeks, there are probably much better places to focus your time, money, and energy than some $40 bottle of what may or may not be Sweet-Tarts.

Now, with all that being said I personally don't squat anywhere near 500 pounds (yet) and I still take my fair share of supplements.  Why would a seemingly rational human being do such a thing, you might ask?  Well to answer that and to make my second most important point on the topic of supplements, I'm going to quote my old friend George Costanza:  It's not a lie, if you believe it.  

You may have caught in my earlier work of fiction at the beginning of this article that something very important happened to those athletes after their sugar infusion:  they started hitting PRs and gaining strength.  The placebo effect is a powerful and important aspect of pretty much everything in life, and we should take care not to underestimate it.  It works something like this:

If you really believe fish oil will reduce your joint pain, it likely will.

If you really believe that whey protein is making you stronger than some other protein, it likely is.

If you really believe that Magnesium is helping you sleep, it probably is.

It may seem like I'm being facetious here or leading into some long drawn out point, but I'm not.  If you wish it hard enough to be true, it will be.  Of all the research done on supplements and training over the course of time, this is probably the most consistent finding.  Our mind is the most powerful drug available, and whatever it takes to keep that train humming in the right direction is worth the price, I say.

There's no place like the squat rack, there's no place like the squat rack ....

And last but not least - because I'm certain that you would all really care to know - here's a detailed listing of everything that I "supplement" right now.  I've also included some commentary on why, and whether or not I actually think it's doing anything purposeful1.

Whey Protein

Basically I just think of this as another way to get protein and hit my daily macros.  I don't think it's doing anything magical, which is why when people ask me for a brand recommendation I generally say "whatever is cheapest."  Now, is there a chance that what's in the tub isn't consistent with the protein content on the label?  Absolutely, and some less-than-reputable companies have been caught doing this in the past.  But I buy my stuff at Costco, and Costco would NEVER steer me wrong.

Fish Oil

This is probably the most researched supplement out there along with Creatine (that's next).  For this reason, I take it.  At this point I just consider it one of those things that "they" say we should do to be healthy, so I do it.  Kinda like having friends or going out in the sun.


Again, it's been researched a lot and there seem to be some benefits.  I honestly can't remember what those benefits are off the top of my head, something to do with strength or endurance or general sexiness.  Either way, it's pretty cheap and easy to add a small teaspoon to my post-workout drink every day.  Bets hedged.


This is zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B.  I read some anecdotal evidence years ago that it helped people sleep through the night better, I tried it and I was hooked.  It's probably entirely in my head but now I can't get away from it.  Also, Jim Wendler recommended it in one of his books.  That alone is all I really need.

Glutamine and BCAA

I have taken these off and on over the last year.  I'm 100% convinced that they don't do jack sh*t, and now I'm just trying to run out the huge bottle that I initially purchased.  I only included them in the interest of full disclosure.  The BCAAs are also chewable and quite delicious, so now I just think of them as really expensive health candy.

So there you have it, a rambling and completely useless guide to supplementation.  I'll leave you with this:  when in doubt, try to find some research that doesn't come from the website of whatever product it is you're considering as a purchase.  Of course the Fish Oil guy is going to say we need more fish oil, just like the BCAA guy is going to tell us that BCAA pills are somehow better than the BCAA protein of the chicken meat from whence it originally came.

I'm simply including this here because I couldn't find a way to incorporate these creepy-ass dog-stealing flying monkeys into the imagery of this article.

It should be noted that all of this is subject to change in the next 5 minutes or 5 years.  But I guess I could add that footnote onto pretty much everything I write. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Find What You Love and Die Doing It

A few months back I read an article called Find What You Love and Let It Kill You.  It's a bit dark and sarcastic at times, but overall it's fantastic and definitely worth a read - once you're through with this article of course.  The title of that article has stuck in my head ever since I first read it.  However when I consider that phrase and how it relates to what we do, I think I want to reword the end of it.  That's because in my mind, letting something kill you implies that this something (let's call it exercise) is actually the thing that's killing you.  As if you're being beaten to death by Power Cleans until you need 17 surgeries and can no longer walk at age 48.  This is not the image I'd like to portray.  Instead, I'd like to envision us doing Power Cleans until we're 84 years old - at which point something else gets us, but not the Power Cleans themselves.

Perhaps instead it's dropping a super heavy snatch on my head, like I've always dreamed.

As I see it, there are two extremes that we can take as it relates to fitness and exercise throughout the course of our lives.  The first extreme is the aggressive approach, pounding ourselves into the ground in the hopes of gaining as much progress as we possibly can in as little time as possible.  Often times I think this approach is born from the mindset that we're not getting any younger, and if we're going to do something really awesome or accomplish our physical goals, it's now or never.  The interesting part is that we can probably get away with this ... when we're 15.  Not so much when we're 35+ .... or hell, even 25+ for that matter1.

The other extreme would be a slow 30-minute walk on the treadmill two or three times per week, at the exact same pace for the rest of our lives.  Or not exercising at all, because that sh*t's dangerous and bad for the spine.  I believe there should always be some level of seeking improvement from ourselves and our performance, no matter how small and how insignificant it may seem to us at the time.  If we're not moving forward at all, that might be just as dangerous as moving forward too quickly.  And it's certainly boring as hell.

I think the key to long-term success is finding the balance somewhere in the middle of these two extremes2.  And I think the best way to accomplish this is to realize that there is still a ton of awesome to be had, no matter what your age or experience level is.  And all of this awesome is in completely relative terms, based on our own individual experiences, capabilities, and interests.  None of this is set in stone, and always subject to change throughout our lives.  For example maybe we decide to finally dial in our diet later in life because we have a doctor visit or two that scares the living crap out of us.  Then we lose 30 pounds safely and slowly, and suddenly are hitting lifetime PRs in endurance and gymnastic workouts, and our strength is through the roof.

For me, I imagine the big breakthrough later in life will finally come when I get over my fear of taking steroids.

The CrossFit Open came to a close last week.  I know I already wrote about some of my feelings on the Open a few weeks ago, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  However, now that it's over, I can't help but look back and feel a bit inspired by what the members of our gym accomplished.  We had about 40 participants, all of different ages, capabilities, and experience levels.  I feel like every single person took away something of value from those 5 weeks of brutal workouts.  And it was done inside the healthy framework that I laid out above:  by focusing on small individual improvements and pushing our own individual limits, slowly but surely.  For some, it was the first or second time through this process.  For others - especially a few of our masters athletes - this Open was another step in what has been a process of self-improvement over the course of many long years.  And the incredible results in their age bracket demonstrated this.

So when I say inspired, I don't necessarily mean that I'm inspired to run to the gym today and do 14 max sets of muscle ups and push myself to new and incredible physical heights and levels of injury.  But I am inspired to keep the long term in mind.  I'm inspired to focus on small improvements in myself.  I'm inspired to want to compete at age 35, 40, 50, 60 ... or even 68.  I've found what I love, but I won't let it kill me.  I'll just die doing it.

Obviously there are genetic freaks and exceptions to every single "rule" out there.  But you and I are probably not among them.  You know how I know that?  Just a lucky guess. 

 I'm also finding as I go through life that moderation and the middle-ground seems to be the key to success in most endeavors.  It is incredibly annoying. ↩

Friday, March 18, 2016

Weight Loss Secrets

Everything I need to know about losing weight I learned in ... High school?  Yes, that's actually true.  About 15 years ago, I dropped 40 pounds.  Then I did it again (26, not 40) recently over the last 8 months.  I assume I'll have to do it yet again down the road, because I guess that's just what happens: we get soft, mentally and physically and we need a swift kick in the ass.  The funny thing I've noticed is that there are striking similarities between the methods 16-year-old me used, and the methods 32-year-old me is currently using.  As in, they're exactly the same.  Today I'm going to provide them in a handy reference guide format for you to hang onto for the rest of your life ... and as a reminder to 48-year-old me, if I somehow manage to live that long.

Uhhhh .... Exercise?

Yeah, it's going to be one of those posts.  Apparently, the more energy you expend exercising, the less energy gets stored on the body.  This might be one of those things that we think we know, but hopefully seeing it in writing really solidifies it.  So we know it's important, but then the big question becomes how much exercise and what type?  Long cardio, or interval training?  High reps with light weights, or heavy reps?  Well here's the good news:  it doesn't really matter.  The key is just MORE.  Ideally a little tougher and a little more frequent as time goes on.  In high school, my added exercise was playing hockey, long walks and jogs, and doing God-knows-what movements on the Total Gym in my parents basement.  Yeah, those all sound pretty stupid, but they were a lot more effective than what I was doing previously - which was playing video games.  This time around, I added in 3-4 conditioning workouts per week on top of my normal weightlifting routines, and Voila.

This doesn't have to be complicated.  Even something as simple as an extra 2-3 hours of walking throughout the week could make a huge difference in the long run, if all else is held equal.  Yes, I know we're all such high level athletes and taking a walk to burn calories is just sooo beneath us, but give it a try.  You might like it and it just might change your life.

Quit Drinking Calories

This advice is old as time for a reason.  Liquid calories serve no purpose other than to make us fat.  In high school, for the first time in my life I had unlimited access to vending machines filled with Mountain Dew.  And not that diet crapola, we're talking full calorie high-octane 20-oz bottles (AKA the Good Stuff).  And I took advantage, drinking 2 or 3 of these every single day.  When I decided to lose weight, this was the first thing to go and arguably the only thing I probably needed to do.  Fast forward 16 years, and the problem is exactly the same but in a slightly different form:  the 10-12 beers1 I consume every weekend.  The cool thing is that in both instances, I had deluded myself into believing that those calories somehow didn't count.  I think this is easier to do with liquids, because it doesn't really feel like you're doing anything when you're drinking them.  In high school, I never even considered that the extra 600 calories of Dew per day might be making me a fatty.  As an adult, I rationalized that alcohol was low in carbs and metabolized differently by the body, so I could pretty much drink as much as I wanted and not have to worry about it.  True story.  The lies we tell ourselves.

I think I also assumed that I was burning a bunch of extra calories by acting like a jackass.

Track Your Food.

Sorry if this pisses you off.  Sorry if you say "I can't do that" or "that's too hard."  Go home and cry about it.  Are there ways to manage body weight without tracking calories?  Maybe.  I just don't know what they are, they likely suck, and they won't work for long unless we're really lucky.  Not to mention that a little thing called science is having a hard time backing up the claim that calories don't matter.  In fact, there is a ton of "research" out there right now that you can read - entire books in fact2 - dedicated to the idea that calories aren't all that important when it comes to weight management.  After doing 16 years of research of my own, I've come to the unwavering  conclusion that this is all absolute horsesh*t.  And the practical application of such ideas (i.e. the Paleo Diet) is absurd for the vast majority of humans.  Although I guess one could argue the same thing about tracking calories ...

I've used this analogy before, but tracking your food intake is like the gas gauge on your car.  Can you imagine life without that little dial to tell you how much fuel you needed and when you needed it?  And what if there was no automatic shut off on the pump so you knew when to quit filling it up?  This is the absurd reality of trying to manage our weight without any freaking clue about how much we are eating.  It's just guessing.  Oh, it's a been a few days since I put gas in the tank, better stop and fill 'er up.  How much?  I don't know, some?  Maybe I'll just let it run until it overflows all over the ground?  Or maybe I'll just be conservative and give it a gallon or two and hope I don't breakdown on the highway tomorrow.  Good luck!

Back in high school, there were no fancy iPhones with bar-code scanners and apps like MyFitnessPal3.  I did things the old-fashioned way, by reading the nutrition labels or looking up the calorie and macro content on the internet.  Then I took a pen and paper and wrote down everything I ate every single day, and added up the calories and macros with a calculator (yes, we did have calculators).  I did this for years.  By now you might be wondering, what about eating out or stuff that didn't have a nutrition label or information available?  That was simple:  I didn't eat it.  Much like I don't eat that crap now.  Which leads me straight into my last and most important point ...

You Have to (Really) Want It.  (Really).

I mean, like really want it.  On the surface, I pretend to understand and empathize when I'm handed an excuse.  And part of me really does understand, I promise.  But there's also a bigger part of me - that I let simmer just under the surface like a dormant volcano - that doesn't understand why we would say we want something, and then proceed to fabricate 50 excuses about why we can't make it a reality.  It's actually quite perplexing.

Someday ... Soon.

I literally woke up one day about 16 years ago and said "F This."  I'm making a change to my life, and I will destroy anything and anybody that gets in my way.  I will endure incredible amounts of pain and suffering to get what I want, and I will not be broken.  I will not be swayed by temptation or other people's opinions and habits.  I will not let my own mind be a source of weakness.  I will not accept failure and excuses.  If necessary, I will leave a metaphorical trail of burning wreckage in the wake of my life in order to reach my goals.  Sounds difficult and extreme, right?  That's because it is.  Success comes a lot easier when we decide once and for all to stop half-assing it, and truly make our goals a priority.

Early last year, I was told it was a good idea to do a pre-marital counseling session4, because "everybody does it."  Somehow this very topic came up, and Bob asked me a simple question: "Why?"  Why did I feel the need to make such sudden and extreme changes?  I thought for a second, then shrugged and said something to the effect of "I don't know, I was just sick of it."  He slams his hand down on his leg. "Yes, SICK!  Exactly.  Sometimes that's exactly what it takes!"  

I thought at the time that this was a very strange interaction, and the conversation moved on.  But the more I thought about it afterwards, the more it was true.  I was sick of a lot of things.  Sick of being the slowest kid on the team.  Sick of not being able to do a push up.  Sick of being embarrassed.  Sick of being out of control.  I believe there is a switch in all of our minds, and all we have to do is flip it:  decide to continue making peace with not having whatever it is you say you want, or decide to get sick of it.

There's another side to this coin, and that would be those of us that say this type of mindset is crazy, extreme, and unnecessary.  I've even been told at many points in my life that I truly do have a mental disease (although never by a qualified professional).  And that's okay, because a lot people feel this way and really believe that it's impossible to live happily in this type of mindset.  But it's important to me that they understand this is exactly what holds us back:  an unwillingness to act insane.  Are we willing to change our job - our career - because it's sabotaging our efforts and slowly destroying our lives?  Are we willing to confront family members and loved ones who may be dragging us down?  Are we willing to end poisonous friendships?  Are we capable of taking a leadership role in our own damned lives?  Are we ready to endure a little physical, mental, and emotional pain for a greater cause?  The answer may be a firm "NO" to any or all of these questions, and that's perfectly okay.  That just means it's time to quit pretending that change is something we really want, and make peace with failure.

I may be under exaggerating just slightly here, but the real number is not all that important. 

 I own several of these books and have read them multiple times.  If you ever want to borrow one, let me know:  Two of the definitive ones are "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Dr. Gary Taubes and "The Paleo Diet" by Dr. Loren Cordain. ↩

 We also had to walk uphill both ways to get our macros! ↩

I know it's hard to envision me needing counseling.  But use your imagination here. ↩

Friday, March 11, 2016

Is That Your Ass or Mine?

Having your ass handed to you is definitely not fun.  But I do like the imagery that pops into my head.  I picture myself sprawled out on the floor after a workout that includes some heavily weighted overhead walking lunges or something equally as awful, and my butt has literally fallen off and is twitching on the floor beside me.  I look over at it, longing to pick up my own rear end and re-attach it to my body, but I'm too tired and still breathing too heavily to function.  So a good friend or loved one comes over, scoops it off the floor, and hands my ass to me.  I thank them, and cradle it in my arms.  

In case you're a bit confused or disgusted at the moment, allow me to provide you with Urban Dictionary's definition of what I'm referring to:

having your ass handed to you
Getting completely, utterly and totally beaten, defeated and crushed at a game, challenge or debate.

In this case, the "game, challenge, or debate" would be something such as a CrossFit Open workout, or perhaps a local competition that we decided to enter.  Maybe we fancied ourselves quite the athlete and that the time was just right to display all the hard work we've put in and the sacrifices we've made.  And there we lie, with our own asses in hand, wondering WTF just happened.

I'm not picking that up.  You pick that up.

Open season is in full swing right now, and we've already seen a few very challenging workouts thrown out.  In the interest of full disclosure, I was asked to write a post to promote the Open several weeks ago.  I tried, but couldn't do it1.  And the reason is ... Well, I don't really know.  I just couldn't.  It's not that I hate the Open.  I also don't love the Open.  I guess it falls into the same category as I've started to place many other things in life into:  I have mixed feelings about it.  In other words: meh.  There is good, and there is bad.  And which one we choose to focus on depends highly upon the context of any given situation.

Unfortunately (for you) it's not really in my nature to focus on the good.  This is something I'm working on, but at the moment I currently categorize the good as no longer pertinent.  It's done - it's been accomplished - so why would I continue to harp on it?  Obviously there is value in celebrating achievement and progress made, no doubt about that.  And damn it, I hope you know I'm proud of you - even if I'm not so great at showing it all the time.

Me inside, every time you PR.  As a side note, forgive me if the context is slightly off here.  I have no idea why the hell he's crying.

But today I'm going to touch on the bad just a little bit.  And one of the things that drives me the most insane - in a very bad way - about The Open is the following:  the rampant urge to compare ourselves to others.  Ugh.  All I get to hear for 5 weeks is how great so-and-so did and how much we suck in comparison.  And I don't blame anybody for feeling this way; for sh*ts sake the entire competition is set up to encourage such behavior!  There is a fundamental belief buried not so deep in the CrossFit community that comparing ourselves to others is a useful and valid method of motivation.  This may have benefits for some people and in some situations ... but on the whole for the majority of us it is a deeply flawed way of thinking.

So that makes this the perfect time for a few very important reminders.  The first is more of a symbolic one, and it goes something like this:  25 Toes-To-Bar is an absolute sh*t-load of Toes-To-Bar.  Let's think about this logically here.  The vast and overwhelming majority of human beings on this planet would be thrilled with being able to complete 1 rep of this movement in complete isolation.  Yet we're pissed off because we started to struggle during a set of 25 reps, with some highly complex jump rope and barbell maneuvers thrown in just for the hell of it and a clock running in the background.  Holy Hell.  Remember that these workouts are intentionally designed to destroy everything you hold dear2, and they are done so quite brilliantly.  It takes a truly unique and somewhat demented approach to even come up with some of this stuff.

Say what you want about this charismatic guy, but I give credit where credit is due.

The second reminder is that we are only competing against ourselves here.  Or at least, we should be.  There is science behind this.  The people that are able to motivate themselves internally - making small incremental improvements to their own performance - are the people who hang in there and end up successful.  This doesn't just work for fitness either.  Comparing ourselves with others eventually destroys us from the inside out, and it always finds a way to take its course.  Okay, so maybe we only got in 9 or 10 cleans at the first weight after the toes-to-bar and skip-rope.  But can we please take a moment to think back to last month when we couldn't even clean that weight before we get all down on ourselves?

There is some danger here beyond just the damage to our psyche.  Often times after a good ass-handing, something triggers in our minds that causes us to make drastic changes.  I've been guilty of this myself many times in the past, and I can assure you that it leads to nowhere good.  Okay, so maybe the C2B Pull-Ups need some work.  That doesn't mean it's time to throw everything we've been doing previously - which has incidentally been successful - out the freakin' window.  This information - "get better at C2B" - should be filed away in the mind as a long-term goal.  It's not a reason to abandon everything that we've been working so hard to accomplish otherwise.  And definitely not as a reason to make wholesale changes that are likely to wind up getting us more frustrated and possibly injured.

In a couple years "C2B" is going to stand for "Crotch-To-Bar" anyway, so I wouldn't waste too much time.  Also, just go ahead and start working on your triple-unders.

I've heard a lot of lamenting and complaints about Open performances already this year.  I won't stand for it any more.  Keep your head up and be proud of the progress you've made, and let's not be tempted to look outside of ourselves for validation of the hard work we've put in.  And rest assured that there are a lot of positive things that we will take away from this year's 5-week CrossFit Open competition.  Yes, there may also be some items to work on, but context is imperative here.  Let's keep our attention focused inward and continue to move forward from there.  And do your best to keep your ass attached as long as possible.

Worth noting here that as an extremely amateur writer that does this for pure enjoyment, being asked to write about something takes about 108% of the fun out of it.  I believe this is commonly known as "Dance monkey, dance!" syndrome.

 Target number one on the list of destruction:  any misconceptions that we may hold about how awesome we are at CrossFit.  Bye bye.↩