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How Does Exercise Make Us Happier?

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

ropesFor many years, physical exercise has been touted to be a cure for nearly any ailment, from depression to Alzheimer’s disease to Parkinson’s and more.  What would you think if I told you it may even be possible to exercise to happiness?!  Physically active people recover from mild depression more quickly, and physical activity is strongly correlated with good mental health as people age ¹. You have probably heard this before, but in order to truly understand, I felt it was time to get specific and even a little scientific about how exercise affects our brains.

It’s fairly simple to recognize how exercise affects our bodies.  As we exercise, we build more muscle and/or stamina, two elements that are measurable and obvious.  Better fitting pants and heavier weights are clear indicators to understand how effective exercise is for a body.  But, recognizing the benefits of exercise to our brains is not as clear to identify.

What triggers happiness in our brains when we exercise? The short answer is based on the release of endorphins.  But what exactly does that mean?  First, a shallow dive into the science pool…

When we begin exercising, our brains recognize it as stress.  As the heart pressure increases, our brains think we are either fighting an enemy or fleeing from it, commonly identified as the fight-or-flight response.  To protect ourselves and our brains from stress, a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) is released.  BDNF is both protective and reparative to our memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. This is why after exercising, we often think more clearly and feel so at ease, even yes, happy.  This experience is by far my favorite part about working out.  That moment when the weight of the world has lifted off my shoulders and I know I can get through anything — even whatever crazy WOD Bo had programmed that day.  Endorphins, another chemical to fight stress, is also released in our brains at this time.  The endorphins’ job is to minimize the discomfort of exercise, blocking any sensations of pain that are even associated with a feeling of euphoria. Overall, during physical activity, our brains are considerably more active than when we are just sitting down or even concentrating mentally.

The important piece to understand is  how we can trigger these processes in an optimal and longer lasting way. Now this is where it all gets very interesting. A recent study from Penn State University found that the level of productivity and happiness on a given work day is based more on if you exercise regularly, and not just on that particular day.

“Those who had exercised during the preceding month but not on the day of testing generally did better on the memory test than those who had been sedentary, but did not perform nearly as well as those who had worked out that morning.”

To get the highest level of happiness and benefits for health, the key is not to become a professional athlete. On the contrary, a much smaller amount of daily exercise is needed to reach the level where happiness and productivity for every day life can peak. New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Reynolds has written a whole book about this subject matter, titled The First 20 Minutes. In the book she states, “The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20-40 minutes of being active.”  So really, you can relax and don’t have to be on the look-out for the next killer work-out.  (Although I do love them.)  All you have to do is get focused and get moving to gain the full happiness boost every day!

“On exercise days, people’s moods significantly improved after exercising.  Mood stayed about the same on days they didn’t, with the exception of people’s sense of calm which deteriorated.” (University of Bristol)

As a quick last fact, exercise and the subsequent increase of the BDNF proteins in our brains act as a mood enhancer.  So, at the beginning of exercise, the feeling of euphoria is the highest. This means that if you have never exercised before, or not for a long time, your happiness gains will be the highest if you start now.

Exercise and happiness are 2 immensely important things to me.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions too.

14.2… THAT was quick

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

My attempt at 14.2 only proved again what I already knew; The Cave has fantastic coaches and  my shoulder is weak.  I’m on re-entry from an injury, so I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to handle this one.  First I spoke with Bo.

“Bo, what do think I’m better off doing.  An empty bar for the overhead squats, or go for the Rx weight and just do front squats?”

“Well, it depends on your intent and how you are feeling.  An empty bar overhead might help stabilize your shoulder muscles and aid in recovery.  But if you want to experience the workout similar to everyone then stay with front squats.  How has it felt doing overhead?”

After a few more minutes of talking, Bo recommended that I stay with front squats, and I’m one who always listens to her coach.  I was thankful for the sound advice and I was ready to tackle my version of 14.2.

I filled Coach Anthony in on my plan. He advised me on how to warm up and a good strategy for my sets.  If you haven’t had a class with Anthony, you should! He has a great understanding of fitness and kept a close eye on my form.

Anthony set the timer and off I went.  The first set of ten squats weren’t a problem, the chest to bar felt good also.  I broke the kipping pull-ups into 2 sets and dropped off the bar once.  Shoulder recovery and kipping aren’t a great mix.  Out of the corner of my eye, I heard Coach Russ telling Anthony to watch out for my shoulder.  Another epic coach looking out for me.

I think that first set took me a minute, maybe 1:10.  Coach Anthony was giving me great encouragement, I was feeling good, I had lots of time and picked up my bar again.  I didn’t go as fast because I was thinking, “This is going to go longer than 3 minutes, I’ll make it to the next set and I should start pacing.” Squats were decent, I did them in sets of 5 and jumped right back to the bar, did 2 chest to bar pull-ups, and came right down.  My face said it all, and Anthony quickly advised me to stop kipping and do them one at a time.  It was sound advice and it went well, but slowly.  I was grateful for Anthony’s quick thinking so I didn’t have to fully abort, but I knew I was done after 3 minutes.  I went to run it off, and when I came back, Anthony was ready with numerous mobility suggestions and an alternative workout.  What a great coach!

Once again, the open didn’t disappoint.  Sometimes you learn about yourself, and other times you learn about who surrounds you.  This time it was about a deeper appreciation of the coaches and knowledge at my disposal and less about pushing myself.  That time will come… again.


Winter Camps

Saturday, January 5th, 2013
Great group at gymnastics camp

Great group at gymnastics camp

We just finished off The Cave’s first winter gymnastics and parkour camps. We’ve been asked to do this the last couple of years, but simply were not in a place to do them at the quality level we want to provide here ate The Cave. This year we were ready. With three coaches on the gymnastics side and 1 on the parkour side we peaked at 25 kids at gymnastics camp and 5 at parkour camp.

We all had a great time and the kids worked hard and learned a lot. By the end of Friday we had a large group of really tired kids. Hands were sore, and spirits were high. Attendees included kids from all levels in our program. It was great to let them all train and play together.

If you missed it don’t worry, this will definitely become an annual tradition and you can also be ready to sign up for summer camps.

Acro Yoga At The Cave

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

If you haven’t heard yet we are going to start offering acro yoga classes at The Cave in January. We are offering two separate classes that take different approaches to this discipline. Come to a therapeutic session to help increase mobility and improve recovery, or come to an acrobatic session to learn some great partner acro skills.

The classes will be taught by Crystal Hatzimichael and Kathy Gade (Seen in the video). This is a great opportunity to try something new and improve yourself. The classes start on Tuesday January 8th at  7pm. The 7-8pm session is therapeutic and the 8-9pm session is acrobatic. Try them out.

How Important Is Mobility?

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

So we are constantly reminding you all to keep working on your mobility. We tell you to stretch and move at the end of your workouts. We lead mobility sessions at the end of class when we have time in the programming. I can not stress how important it is to be disciplined about this. I am not naturally flexible. I’ve relayed this to many of you, but if you weren’t aware you might be surprised that at one time I couldn’t even come close to touching my toes. It took a lot of work for me to get flexible. If I don’t stretch regularly I loose quite a bit of mobility. It will never go back to the limited flexibility that I once experienced even if I don’t work at it because I have changed my base mobility. For me it took stretching 5 times/day for about 6 weeks to radically change my flexibility. It isn’t necessary to stretch that frequently to gain mobility, but it certainly goes faster that way. I had additional motivation to get flexible quickly due to collegiate competition.

There are a lot of resources on mobility. Read PNF Stretching from my DrillsAndSkills website as well as reviewing the catalog of stretches found there. Be sure to take the time to stretch. After workout is best. If you can find time at home, or elsewhere to stretch do so. Additional mobility will improve your performance and in some cases will enable you to perform movements you couldn’t do at all otherwise.

If you were not aware we are starting a mobility class. Our first sessions start Wed 8/1 at 10am. Be sure to check out these classes and drop on in. Your mobility is important. It will help in many aspects of life. Similar to how you discover great things about how you can feel when you make certain dietary adjustments, you will discover that certain things are just easier and more comfortable if you are more flexible. The new mobility classes will be a combination of yoga and other mobility techniques, designed with our programming in mind to optimize efficacy. See you in mobility class.

Tough Mudder Registration is OPEN!

Monday, January 9th, 2012
A Seriously Fun Event

A Seriously Fun Event

Registration for this year’s Northeren California Tough Mudder is open.   This year, the course will be at Diablo Grande, near Modesto.  So, it’s closer to us, AND it won’t be at elevation.

The course looks really good this year, with some exciting new obstacles that are sure to help you understand why this is branded as  ”probably the toughest event on the planet.”

Registration is open, and if you sign up before February 29, the cost is $95.00.  It goes up after that, so if you’re interested, you can register here.  I already have a team set up if you want to make sure that you’re running it with other people from The Cave.  The team name is “The Cave,” and the password is TM2012.  Or you can send me an e-mail and I’ll send you a team invite.

If you’re still not sure if you’re able to run the event, or you want to do some specific training for it, you can sign up for the upcoming Tough Mudder Prep Course and get your feet wet on some obstacles and challenges that are similar to what you’ll face on the Tough Mudder.  Registration forms for that will be in the gym soon, otherwise just fill out the interest survey so we get an idea of the best times to hold that course.

Finally, if you know you won’t be able to run, but you want to show your support, you can make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project in the name of an athlete running the event.

Let’s do this thing!

Monthly Challenge, Kids Judo, Tough Mudder

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
My old judo class.

My old judo class.

Happy New Year, everybody!

A couple of things.  First, our monthly challenge for January is Goal Setting.  Make a fitness goal for this year and post it on the board.  Make it something specific, such as “hold a 30-second free handstand,” or “do a 100kg deadlift.”  What challenges you and what do you want to overcome?  Check the board often and don’t be shy about putting 2-3 goals up.  Maybe you can find somebody else with similar goals to work out with.  Feel free to call people out, too.  If you know somebody in class who has been chasing a pull-up or a muscle-up for months, now’s the time to push them into doing serious training for it.

Second, I’d like to get a feel for interest in two possible new programs.

1)  Kids martial arts & self defense.  Age groups will be 7-9 and 10-13.  Possible class times are Tuesdays / Thursdays  at 3:30, 4:30, and 6:00.  Or Mondays / Wednesdays at 4:00 - 5:00.  If there’s enough interest from the home school community, we could also do a session mid-day, starting at 1:00 or 2:00 any two days of the week.  If you or someone you know is interested, please leave a comment, fill out an interest survey in the gym, or send me an e-mail.

2)  Tough Mudder Preparation Course.  Want to do the Tough Mudder this September, but haven’t gotten over your fear of heights or freezing cold water?  Maybe you don’t even want to do the event, you just want to try a couple of challenging workouts in extreme conditions, or learn strategies and skills for overcoming obstacles that we don’t face regularly in the gym, such as high walls, swimming, steep trail runs.  This workshop would be a series of 4-5 classes held at the gym and in off-site locations.  We’d probably do a couple of sessions of this class, more as we approached the event in September.  If this sounds like something that interests you, please leave a comment as to what days / times you’d be available, or fill out an interest survey in the gym.

There are some other exciting programs coming in the near future,  so stay tuned!

Zumba class on Monday @ 5:10 with Syleena Adams

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Hey Everybody,

Don’t forget that we have a Zumba class on Monday Dec. 12th from 5:10 to 5:55.  Syleena Adams which means it will be a lot of FUN!  Drop-in for the 45min class is $16.   It is an adult only class  (13 y/o+).  It will be a great workout and will help you loosen up after those vicious CrossFit workouts!  All levels of experience / coordination welcome.  Here is a little Zumba tutorial video for you to check out in the meantime.

Potential New Types of Classes at CrossFit Marin this Fall

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Hi CFM Crew,

   It’s the end of the summer, and for CrossFit Marin, it’s more like the beginning of a new year for a couple of reasons.  First, since the business was started on October 6th, 2006, that means our birthday is in the fall.  We may be planning some events around the weekend of the 7th, 8th & 9th of October so if you’re in town, you may want to keep those dates available.  Also, since we’re largely a community and family-centered operation and everybody gets back from summer travels and vacations around this time of year, for all intents and purposes we’re on more of a school-calendar year than the January-December type.  Now that we have a dance studio we may have the resources to start a few new programs this upcoming month.  We’d love to hear about what interest, if any, you or your friends may have for these. 

Pilates (Mat) classes.:  We’ve been planning on starting Pilates Mat classes taught by Kristen G.  Some of you may want to take a break from the heavy lifting and ultra-intensity of the CrossFit classes and do a little core work with the Pilates classes.  There may be some other CF Marin gymnastics and parkour moms that aren’t interested in the CrossFit classes but may find the idea of getting a pilates class in while their kids are training too tempting to resist.  These classes might be offered on Tuesday or Thursday mornings come September.

Pole Dancing Classes:  Rosanna S. has been asking us to look into installing the fixtures for a removable pole in the dance studio.  Pole dancing can be very athletic and artistic- it is quite incredible, and no, you do not have to take any clothes off while you’re dancing.  Please post to comments if you would be interested in taking such classes.  They would likely be offered late Tuesday or Thursday evenings.

Zumba Classes:  I recently took Jasmin to a Zumba class taught by a couple of girls that I know.  We were both rather blown away by the experience and we’re both pretty excited to bring a piece of their program in to CFM.  IF the logistics work out, we could have at least one class a week.  After, all, what good is fitness if you can’t shake it on the dance floor?  Please post to comments if you would have any interest in attending.

Modern Dance Class: Lindsey Herrera, our ballet teacher, has metioned several times that she would love to teach an adult modern dance class at CFM.  I only know a couple of CFM boys that would like to take that class.  If anyone else is actually seriously interested or knows someone who would be, please have them contact us to see if it would be viable to get such a class up on the calender!

Olympic Lifting & Stregth Training-  Specific class offered weekly or bi-weekly for Olympic Lifting and Strength Training.  We know that this one has been in demand for a while, and it’s more of an issue of staffing it than whether there is any demand for it, but if you’d like to see this added to the class offerings, please post to comments.  It would accelerate the process and ifluence any decisions made, ’cause after all, the squeaky wheel gets the grease!

Remember that part of the CrossFit fitness protocol is to constantly play and engage in new sports and activites.  Movement is life!

See you all in the gym,


New Gymnastics class at CrossFit Marin On Fridays

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Hey Crew,

   As many of you already know, CrossFit Marin has two scheduled weekly adult gymnastics classes on Mondays & Wednesdays at 7pm.  I’ve realized in the past few months that we have many members who would be interested in taking the gymnastics classes if they were scheduled at a different time, therefore, we’ve decided to open a new adult gymnastics class on Fridays from noon to 1:30pm (with an opitonal extra 15 minutes to stretch if you wish to stay and work on your mobility) starting Friday Sept 9th.  The class will be included in the unlimited everything & unlimited Parkour/Gymnastics memberships.  Otherwise, it is also open on a drop-in basis to anyone interested.  There are no pre-requisites or athletic requirements.  Noobies / Rooks / Intermediates / Advanced / Elite athletes all welcome.  Bring your grandmother if you want.  I’m excited, cause I might actually be able to take this one myself…  WOOT!!  =D

My favorite super-hero...

My favorite super-hero...

See you in the gym,


If you're doing gymnastics, you want this guy coaching you!

If you're doing gymnastics, you want this guy coaching you!