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Archive for August, 2010

Brain Rule #3 - Every Brain Is Wired Differently

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010
Our brains are not quite so colorful

Our brains are not quite so colorful

Everybody has their own life experiences and therefore their own custom brain wiring. So not only what you know, but how you think fundamentally is unique.

“What YOU do and learn in life physically changes what your brain looks like. It literally rewires it. We used to think there were just 7 categories of intelligence. But categories of intelligence may number more than 7 billion - roughly the population of the world.
1. No two people have the same brain, not even twins. Every student’s brain, every employee’s brain, every customer’s brain is wired differently.
2. You can either accede to it or ignore it. The current system of education ignores it by having grade structures based on age. Businesses such as Amazon are catching on to mass customization (the Amazon homepage and the products you see are tailored to your recent purchases).
3. Regions of the brain develop at different rates in different people. The brains of school children are just as unevenly developed as their bodies. Our school system ignores the fact that every brain is wired differently. We wrongly assume every brain is the same.
4. Most of us have a “Jennifer Aniston” neuron (a neuron lurking in your head that is stimulated only when Jennifer Aniston is in the room).”

Ok, so that last one is a bit disturbing, but the point is that every single occurence in our lives leaves a physical imprint in how our brains are wired. This leads to an inconceivably complex structure. This is also why it is necessary for us to have a team of trainers/coaches at CrossFit Marin. Everyone is going to learn a little bit differently, and each of the trainers is going to have their own approach. What might work for one person, won’t for someone else. So we learn as many ways to teach the same thing as we can so that we can try to convey it to everyone, and if we can’t help, then hopefully one of the other trainers will say what YOU need to hear in another session. Just remember to keep in mind that you think differently than everyone else, and you may need to constantly make small modifications in your approach to optimize interactions with each individual you encounter.

Why Are You Here?

Monday, August 30th, 2010
Some of us have to be in good shape or we'd get killed at work.  What about the rest of us?

Some of us have to be in good shape or we'd get killed at work. What about the rest of us?

Crossfit is a pretty popular fitness program among the military, fire and LEO community.  That’s because people in those professions require an elite level of fitness just to survive their careers.  But for those of us who contribute to society in less dangerous ways, elite athleticism is still a viable goal.

I was talking to somebody the other day who suggested that working out was a waste of time.  They said, “You can work out all day, every day and randomly catch a bullet or get in a car crash and then what?  I’m not going to be crazy about food or working out because I want to enjoy my life.”  Well, aside from the fact that people in better shape have a better chance of surviving traumas like gunshots and car wrecks, working out and eating right actually help you enjoy your life more.

Study after study shows that eating right and exercising not only improves your lifespan and lowers your chances of contracting some of the less pleasant effects of aging, but helps you enjoy life more than if you were a couch potato.  Look at it this way, if you’re in good shape, you’re free to go hiking, backpacking, bicycling, climbing, surfing, skiing, swimming and so on.  Things that less capable people could only do for a short amount of time, and with a significantly greater amount of peril.  Not to mention, people who are healthy tend to be more attractive and have better sex lives.

So, next time somebody asks you why you workout so much or why you stick to your diet when you could be eating cheeseburgers and swilling beer, tell them it’s because you like being able to do fun stuff.  Or– to follow up on Roger’s post on Marketing Silliness– tell them that you are developing increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains… in bed.

Brain Rule #2

Sunday, August 29th, 2010
Not something that you'd want to see unprotected

Not something that you'd want to see unprotected

Part 2 in the Brain Development Principles series

“The brain is a survival organ. It is designed to solve problems related to surviving in an unstable outdoor environment and to do so in nearly constant motion (to keep you alive long enough to pass your genes on). We were not the strongest on the planet but we developed the strongest brains, the key to our survival.

The strongest brains survive, not the strongest bodies. Our ability to solve problems, learn from mistakes, and create alliances with other people helps us survive. We took over the world by learning to cooperate and forming teams with our neighbors.

Our ability to understand each other is our chief survival tool. Relationships helped us survive in the jungle and are critical to surviving at work and school today.

If someone does not feel safe with a teacher or boss, he or she may not perform as well. If a student feels misunderstood because the teacher cannot connect with the way the student learns, the student may become isolated.

There is no greater anti-brain environment than the classroom and cubicle.”

Community, confidence and activity. There are some real gems in there as far as understanding behavior. We thrive when our activities involve some risk. There is an enormous hormonal response when fear is involved. Getting through a scary situation releases endorphins. A huge take away is the last sentence. It’s been clear that people wallow when sitting stagnant for long periods of time, and yet we create our work and educational systems to force the great majority of us into this environment.

Brain Development Principles

Saturday, August 28th, 2010
Not the brain you want

Not the brain you want

Clearly the brain is a pretty important organ, and yet we generally don’t give it much thought on a regular basis. When you look at the information the health and fitness industry is pumping out you’d think the brain was inconsequential. In school we spend years learning how to learn, process information, solve problems and the like, but no time whatsoever is put into keeping your brain healthy. So neither the health industry nor our schools teach us anything about the physical health of our brain.

If we want our brains to function at full capacity we need to take care of our brain health. I will be posting a 12 part series on brain rules. Some fundamental principles to keep in mind when we’re talking about optimizing brain health. These rules are from the Brain Development Principles from Frank Sahlein. These 12 rules were written by Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant.

Rule #1: Exercise Boosts Brain Power

Well isn’t this interesting? His rule. A molecular biologist starts with exercise, and yet our schools have decimated PE departments, and generally what is in place is so sub-standard when it comes to exercise we shouldn’t accept what’s going on.

This ties in well with my post a while back Training Makes You Smarter

“The human brain evolved under conditions of almost constant motion. From this, one might predict that the optimal environment for processing information would include motion. That is exactly what one finds. Indeed, the best business meeting would have everyone walking at about 1.8 miles per hour. Researchers studied two elderly populations that had led different lifestyles, one sedentary and one active. Cognitive scores were profoundly influenced. Exercise positively affected executive function, spatial tasks, reaction times and quantitative skills. So researchers asked: If the sedentary populations become active, will their cognitive scores go up? Yes, it turns out, if the exercise is aerobic. In  four months, executive functions vastly improve; longer, and memory scores improve as well.

Exercise improves cognition for two reasons:
1. Exercise increases oxygen flow into the brain, which reduces brain-bound free radicals. One of the most interesting findings of the past few decades is that an increase in oxygen is always accompanied by an uptick in mental sharpness.
2. Exercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress.

Training in Trees…

Friday, August 27th, 2010

When I was a little kid, one of my favorite things to do in the “whole wide world” was to climb trees.  Looking back on it, the trees that I climbed were probably not all that tall, maybe 25-35 feet or so, but they sure seemed tall to me at the time.  I lived in “Park Merced” in San Francisco.  This beautiful little community next to Lake Merced is sprinkled with all kinds of pine, eucalyptus and other trees.  The condo-houses also make nice little rings around a common back yard and they’re attaced, making it very convenient if you wanted to get from one roof to another, so for a kid it’s pretty much a natural climbing playground.  A few weeks back, Rafe Kelley, founder of  ”Parkour Visions” and Seng from BAPK dropped by CFM on a Friday night just after OSTN.  We had an interesting conversation on training, the pros and cons of CrossFit, parkour, climbing, and training on trees.  I told themabout my injured knee and how lack of consistent rest has been keeping it from getting better.  Rafe and Seng seemed genuinely interested and concerned about my health and well-being.  I asked them about their recent training and they told me that they had just been in UC Berkley and that the trees there were amazing.  I asked about the trees and they told me that they had been doing quite a bit of their training on trees.  It’scurious to think of the evolutionary forces and implications of  developing competent movement on trees.  When we do pull-ups, muscle-ups, pull-overs, kips, swings, etc, on bars we’re really using an artificial imitiation of part of a tree or branch.  Pull-up bars and rings don’t occur in the natural environment, but trees do and although our recent evolutionary history  has us generally roaming on open grasslands, thus our bi-pedal abilities, supposedly displacement through forest and jungle foliage was part of that history, albeit a little further back.  I found this video of a famous traceur doing a little training on some pretty incredible trees.  If you go out and find a tree to climb or decide to scout out a bunch for some good parkour and functional movement training, be careful.  Remember that tree branches can break, especially rotten ones, and that you’re probably quite a bit heavier than when you were 8 years old.  (I know I am.)  Also, falling off trees is a great way to convert potential energy into kinetic energy, and as Jeff Jone’s t-shirt says, “It’s not the falling that kills you, it’s the sudden deceleration.”

Play to Practice, Practice to Play

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

In the wild, play is an essential element of development for most mammals. It spreads beyond a bit, but is more prevalent in mammals. Without play animals would not learn to hunt, find food, escape predators as well as many other critical skills. As humans we have a tendency to forget this. We have to work at skills, and often forget how to play. The video of the bear is a prime example of play resulting in a pretty unique skill.  This bear likely picked up a log and fiddled with it a bit. Over time he/she learned how to spin it a bit, and kept doing it and got better. Why? Because it’s fun. There’s absolutely no need for this bear to be doing this, but it’s fun. This trait in a captive bear isn’t really necessary for survival, but a wild bear could develop some pretty good coordination through this play that could come in handy. Now, a wild bear may not have as much free time to practice.

We need to remember that we can learn through play. Try to find ways of making everything you do fun. This isn’t always possible, but putting yourself in the right mindset and looking for other ways will make a huge difference. Our workouts are a twisted, intense form of play, but a lot goes into the programming to make it play. We will be throwing around large iron balls tomorrow. Strength building, hand eye coordination developing and FUN. What new skill have you learned purely through play? Find more.

The Fitness Trinity as a Venn Diagram

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

fitness_vennI’ve had several other posts on the importance of balancing the fitness trinity– nutrition, exercise and sleep– but I think this sums them up pretty well.


Swishing Carbs May Boost Performance

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010
Debbie working to get on the bar

Debbie working to get on the bar

If you are not well fueled before a competition you will not perform as well. This is well known. What’s interesting is there appears to be a significant neural/psychological cause as well. In most cases eating well before a competition or athletic endeavor is essential to maximize performance. There are times where this is not feasible. Allowing some time between eating and significant metabolic effort is necessary for some to avoid meeting our favorite clown. So, what is the best thing, if due to life circumstances you are unable to eat and you need to compete or work out?

According to a study swish and spit may be the answer.

With This Rinse, Performance Improves

We know that we are systemic beings. Our feelings and senses dramatically affect how we behave and perform. This also reinforces the studies that have shown an insulin response merely from the taste of sweet things with, or without caloric intake. Now, if you want to experiment with this idea yourself, please head over near the creek to spit.

Marketing Sillyness

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

ring_girlI always find it funny when marketing photos have absolutely nothing to do with the product. And in most cases the individual in the photo has no competency with devices they are photographed with. This example is of a girl who has likely never held a support on rings in her life. At least they are displaying a photo of my friend Tyler’s rings.

Other examples include folks holding musical instruments, implying they are playing the instrument. What’s often the case is they are holding the instrument incorrectly in a way that would make it impossible to play. Is it really that hard to learn how to at least hold the thing?

These kinds of things really bug me. If you really want a photo of someone using equipment, find someone that knows what they are doing. Otherwise, don’t. Marketers simply hop on the latest fad thing. I guess that’s why I’m not a marketer.

Stretching May Save Your Life

Friday, August 20th, 2010
Some movements just require flexibility

Some movements just require flexibility

Did I get your attention? We’ve constantly encouraged working on your mobility regularly. We’ve even adjusted the programming a bit (aside from this last week of long WODs) to allow more time at the end of class for stretching. Flexibility is essential for maximizing performance and fitness. There are now some strong indicators that flexibility is good for your heart and vascular system.

When I first started reading this article my first reaction was that this was not a causal relationship. It was just correlation. Generally those that are flexible are more fit than those that are not, so of course arterial health is better in flexible people. But then this paragraph caught my eye.

“What is surprising are some early indications that increasing your flexibility might somehow loosen up your arteries, too. That was the accidental and, as yet unreplicated finding of a small 2008 study at the University of Texas at Austin. The study was designed to examine whether weight lifting increased arterial stiffness. (It didn’t, at least on this occasion.) The control group consisted of people who stretched. They were not expected to show any change in cardiac function, but over the course of 13 weeks they in fact increased the pliability of their arteries by more than 20 percent.”

So, this is a pretty strong indicator that stretching directly affects arterial pliability. Now, this article frequently references touching ones toes as a marker of being flexible, but don’t be fooled. Not being able to touch your toes is abysmal and needs to be fixed. Touching your toes is just getting started. Palms on the bottom of your feet is well under way. We also need to look at general hip mobility, shoulder mobility and other points of flexibility. So, partner up, do your PNF sessions and let’s stretch some arteries.