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Archive for September, 2010

More Big Numbers On Heavy Days

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

So Monday was heavy clean and jerk day. Everyone is getting much more efficient in their movements. And we’re seeing significantly larger loads going overhead. Highlights of the day include Gabe T. setting another PR by hitting 110kg overhead. He was able to get under the bar at 115kg, but got stuck in the bottom of the front squat. The big female number of the day was Karen L. with 55kg. She’s up there with all of our heavy lifters. Pretty scary when you have someone that can lift heavy, run fast, and go long. Carlos E. and Matt M. just barely missed 100kg and we had a lot of other PRs.

Carlos just needed to get his elbows around a smidge faster to make this clean. He’ll be there soon.

Sarah W. with her first heavy clean and jerk day hitting 45kg. Bodyweight clean and jerk is just around the corner.

Gabe T with 110kg. Pretty solid mechanics and form. The jerk was rushed, but got overhead no problem. With a little more speed he’ll make a 120kg jerk.

Johnnemann has improved his first and second pull tremendously. Watch up until he finishes his second pull, then avert your eyes because it gets ugly after that.

The Value of a Good Imagination

Monday, September 27th, 2010

We all know that we can use our powers of visualization to help psyche ourselves up before a workout or a competition.  But when the challenge is unknown and unknowable, this becomes slightly more difficult unless you have a good imagination.

For the person concerned with self defense, it is important to imagine a variety scenarios and visualize how you would deal with them.  In science, this would be called a thought experiment, but in the world of self defense I call it the “what if.”  It can be as simple as “what if somebody tried to punch me” or some elaborate situation involving banks and armed gunmen.  Of course, you’re never going to be able to think of every situation that you’ll find yourself in, but even the most chaotic events contain elements and patterns that you can use to your advantage if you are prepared.

Here’s a good example of a “what if.”  Tony Blauer details a good defense against a potential mugging at an ATM.  The important points here are to pay attention to your surroundings and your gut, to devalue the bad guy’s target, and to avoid the fight before you get into it.  Oh, and be warned that Tony, for all his knowledge and fighting ability, doesn’t use family friendly language.

I’ve heard some people say that they don’t want to learn about self defense (or read the news!) because they don’t want to live a paranoid life.  They don’t want to walk around all day thinking, “what if that guy tried to mug me?  What would I do if that guy charged at me with a knife, etc.”  But it’s important to understand that paranoia is at one end of the awareness continuum, obliviousness is at the other, and somewhere in the middle is preparedness.  Being prepared is like having a good insurance policy– it may be pricey, but it’s worth it if you ever need it.  And even if you never use it, it still gives you something useful: peace of mind.

Brain Rule #10 - Vision Trumps All Other Senses

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

visionVision is an essential sense for humans. We are exceedingly visually based creatures. This is something we should always keep in mind when learning and teaching. This is an area I struggle with when putting together materials for the gym I tend to put together a whole bunch of text, and how it looks and is presented is secondary. My mind goes to getting the information across immediately and “pretty pictures” isn’t necessary. Well, that’s wrong. Informative pictures will help get the information across faster, and people will remember the information better.

Here are a few key points.

“1. We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.
2. Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us. Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time.
3. Why is vision such a big deal to us? Perhaps because it’s how we’ve always apprehended major threats, food supplies and reproductive opportunity.
4. Toss your PowerPoint presentations. It’s text-based (nearly 40 words per slide), with six hierarchical levels of chapters and subheads - all words. Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images. Burn your current PowerPoint presentations and make new ones.”

This is why the trainers at the gym demonstrate whenever possible. We’re putting together better media to help facilitate coaching. Seeing the right way to do things, and even seeing yourself doing it correctly, or incorrectly will help you learn.

So keep these things in mind when developing teaching and informational materials. Try to build pictures into what you’re learning to help yourself remember. Use important visual cues whenever possible.

Fight Gone Bad 5 Complete

Saturday, September 25th, 2010
Jean Luc on box jumps

Jean Luc on box jumps

Fight Gone Bad 5 was today and was a great success. A lot of athletes participated in the fund raising efforts. As of this printing CrossFit Marin has raised $5,411. This is with a few more checks to be processed. The goal was $5K again this year so we made it. A HUGE thanks to all of the fund raisers. Additionally a lot of folks got through the workout today. A bunch of PRs on the workout, and others that performed a harder scale of the workout than ever before.

Here are a bunch of photos from the event. We’re proud of everyone.

Erin finishing a push press. Jared, that bar will not lift itself.

Erin finishing a push press. Jared, that bar will not lift itself.

Karen working the 20" box

Karen working the 20" box

Jared, I don't think you're working hard enough...

Jared, I don't think you're working hard enough...

And this is the normal post-FGB posture.

And this is the normal post-FGB posture.

Sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got: Reminisce of 2008 “when snow is all you’ve got,…”

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Sometimes you have to make due.  You have to work with what you’ve got.  What if all you had was snow?

This video caught my attention because of the protagonist’s attitude towards the day.  He could have stayed at home and convinced himself that it was too cold to go outside and do any training.  What can you do in  the snow anyways?  It’s uncomfortable and dangerous!  Well, sometimes opportunities present themselves as challenges.

We have a pretty nice place now.   A few weeks ago we acquired a couple more landing mats.  This enabled us to cover more floor area and move the beam out from underneath the high bar, which was sharing a landing mat with the beam.  On Monday at 4pm we had the following classes running at the same time:

  2 Pre-school gymnastics classes

  1 Kid’s gymnastics class

  1 Kid’s parkour class

  1 CrossFit class

and we had 5 coaches teaching all concurrently.  There were between 30-40 people training at once and we even had a good line of parents and au-pairs sitting in the “waiting area” watching their grommits do rolls, swings, and beam-walking.  We now even have a front-desk person, Jasmin, in the gym 3 days/week.  And has anybody noticed that there is a scaffold in the gym?  What kind of weird little gym has a scaffold for kids to play and practice on in a gym?  This is a far cry from early 2008 when we were homeless after getting kicked out of Novato Gymnastics by the City of Novato and I would call up our clients and a handful of them would show up at Piper Park  in Novato after Neal Cordova (aka “Street Rat”), and I would load up my van, drive over to the park, unload, set up, and wait for everybody.  Then we would teach two concurrent classes in the soggy January grass and hope we didn’t get rained on.  Neal would often use the tombstones up on the little hill next to the park itself to teach some of the parkour movements- (sshhhh… don’t tell anybody about this!).  We also had access to a conveniently angled tree that was adequate for wall runs, or, I guess, tree runs.  Of course we had to take advantage of the playground structures all while trying not to send any of the little pre-schoolers flying 20 feet by accident.  In the meantime, I would have a few of the parents running around the big lawn circle, farmer-walking while pinch-gripping Olympic lifting plates, jumping rope, doing burpees, jumping squats, thrusters, and whatever other devilry I could come up with while their kids vaulted or rolled over the soggy equipment.  It would take hours to just drive up their and perform the setup and the tear-down, not to mention coaching the classes.  If there was any money at all left over after paying Neal, it was considered a good day.  I could have been getting paid more than twice as much working minimum wage at a burger joint.  At least we had a faithful few that followed us to the park or anywhere else we would take them.  During our so-called “free time” we would shop for our own place to lease so that we could resume “regular” operations.  We finally cut a deal with Bob (the owner of Pyramid Gymnastics) in April of 2008 so that we could sub-lease his gym for a couple of hours on Mondays & Wednesday nights to hold CF & gymnastics classes.  The hourly at Bob’s was costly enough to the extent that after paying Russell for coaching his class and paying Bob, we would be in the hole anywhere from $10-$60 for the day without even paying ourselves, let alone setting anything aside for re-occuring costs, such as our insurance.  Bob would sit at his desk most of the time supervising us to make sure that we did not use the equipment in any way that would make it deteriorate… at all.  Needless to say, we did not have any parkour classes there.  Those were still run at the park, but now at the Corte Madera town park.  In late August of that summer, we were finally going to move in to our big facility in ”De Luca Place”.  It was about 5k square feet and we would be able to have our CF, gymnastics & parkour classes andmaybe even fit a climbing wall too!  Of course, instead we found out by way of the “Conditional use Permit” which took us months, thousands of dollars, and a couple of public hearings to obtain, that the place needed to be sprinklered and  that it would cost on the order of $75k,  +/-  $25k.  The owners, of course, wanted us to pay for it.  We walked.  So in the meantime, we get kicked out of Pyramid Gymnastics because Bob’s insurance wouldn’t allow him to sub-lease to us even though we had our own insurance.  Good times.  ( It is important to note that if it hadn’t been for Bob letting us use his facility, we would have been in even worse straights that we were, and we may never have ended up at this location.  I still feel grateful for his hospitality, despite the idiosyncracies of the arrangement. )  We moved over to 412 Tamal Plaza, a little itsy-bitsy, tiny 450 sq foot warehouse space about 50feet away from Pyramid’s front door.  (Thanks to me because I twisted Roger’s arm, telling him that we should rent it on a month-to-month basis in case we didn’t get the place in San Rafael and as a potential 2nd location even if we did.)    Ok, so at least we didn’t have to have all the classes at the frick’in park again, although the parkour and pre-school gymnastics classes would continue to be at the park, (where we would talk to families and offer classes to anyone who would give us half chance, slowly building our clientele and spreading the word about the gym).  The tiny warehouse was simply way too small for parkour and pre-school, but at least we had our tiny warehouse, our own little space (with the uncertainty but flexibility of a month-to-month lease) Woo-hoo.  We actually had adult gymnastics classes on the pommel horse, parallel bars, support rings, and two panel mats that we would lay out end-to-end in the parking lot.  The CF classes would be largely on the pull-up bars and the parking lot and running trails.  Here’s a video taken just before the April 2009 remodel that merged the little warehouse with the little studio.  Notice that the classes I’m talking about in the fall/winter of 2008 took place in just the little warehouse.  We didn’t have access to either of the studios.

Asphalt works fine for Olympic lifting, after all, althoughone week in a span of about 5 days we found out that the same asphalt slowly scraped all of our jump ropes into two pieces.  Weird.  At least we got most of our crap out of storage and into the tiny warehouse.  Then it started raining- often.  Well, how about having the gymnastics and CF classes going on concurrently indoors in 450 sq feet.  What’s wrong with that?  I mean other than people falling out of handstands on top of Olympic-lifting CrossFitters?  So that was about the worst of the dark year, 2008.  ( I mean other than Jasha Faye’s lawsuit and Neal turning his back on me.)  In December of 2008 we sub-leased the little studio month to month and designated it as the gymnastics area.  Shortly thereafter the tide turned and the subsequent series of expansions, marketing & networking campaigns, referrals, computer and groundwork finds us where we are today.  (If you are interested in the subsequent history and expansions of CrossFit Marin, here’s a post that I wrote when we signed the lease to the big studio back in April of 2010.)  The warm and fuzzy parts are boring anyways.  I’d rather complain, whine and boast about how we weathered the tsunamis.  Sometimes it gets to me when I think that things are better now and I’m a little more comfortable.  Maybe I’m a little bit softer.  If everything fell apart and we had to start from scratch again, like in December of 2007, would we have the obsessive conviction and determination to rebuild- again?  Would I walk away and not care, or would I just shrug my shoulders and start holding classes at the park out of my van, knowing that we’ve done it before?  I hope I never have to find out.  What we do know for sure is that things are always changing and that there will be new opportunities and challenges every day, whether they are minor ones or big deals.  We have to stay alert and flexible and thankful to all of you, our clients, for giving us a great opportunity to have this awesome gym that we can all enjoy.  CrossFit Marin’s birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks.  On Oct. 6th, 2010, we will be 4 years old.  I was 31 and Roger was 34 when we started this madness.  We may be getting older, but at least there is a lot to be proud of!  Where do you all think we will be six months from now?  How about a year from now, when CFM is 5 y/o?  We still don’t have a climbing wall.  It looks like we don’t even have space for one!  Do you have any stories about when all you had was snow?

Brain Rule #9 - Stimulate More of the Senses

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010
Sound, a very important sense

Sound, a very important sense

So setting up our study stations in a quiet sterile environment does NOT help us learn. In fact it dramatically reduces our ability to learn. Associated stimuli in all senses will help with retention and recall. It also keeps us focused because the environment is more interesting. Recent studies have shown that studying the same material in multiple different environments help retention more than repetition of the material in the same environment.

Many people study better with music in the background. This is a tough one for me because I can’t just have any music playing. It needs to be pretty simple stuff, or music I’m very familiar with. Otherwise my mind is drawn to analyzing the music. It ends up shifting my focus away from what I’m trying to learn. There’s a whole list of material on what music to play when trying to accomplish different tasks. A very interesting topic for later discussion.

As many people know smell is VERY tightly tied to recall. How many times has a smell caused a distant memory to come flooding back. If I step foot in Golden Bear Gymnastics the smell of the place brings me back to when I was 15 and first walked in their and was totally enthralled and intimidated by the place.

A few key points from this brain rule.

“1. Our senses work together so it is important to stimulate them! Your head crackles with the perceptions of the whole world, sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, energetic as a frat party.
2. Smell is unusually effective at evoking memory. If you’re tested on the details of a movie while the smell of popcorn is wafted into the air, you’ll remember 10-50% more.
3. Smell is really important to business. When you walk into Starbucks, the first thing you smell is coffee. They have done a number of things over the years to make sure that’s the case.
4. The learning link. Those in multisensory environments always do better than those in unisensory environments. They have more recall with better resolution that lasts longer, evident even 20 years later.”

The Intense Fitness Bandwagon

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

In part due to the wild success of CrossFit, there has been a flood of so-called intense fitness programs out there.  It’s good to know that at least part of the CrossFit prescription is being accepted by the mainstream– the part about intense exercise.  But sadly, myths still persist.


If you think this is insane, you should try a hero workout.

A couple of the more notorious fitness programs out there that follow the intense model are P90X and Insanity.  Go on, watch the videos, you know you want to.  They and their clones suffer from the same problems, which include lack of vision, lack of definition and poor business model.

Vision.  What’s the point?  The point of these programs is to “get ripped” and “look great.”  It states no real-world benefit except vanity.  Of course, there may be beneficial side-effects, but they are an unintended consequence.  CrossFit’s vision is to create elite athletes who are capable of performing well at any task.  We want to make better human beings, not just prettier ones.

Definition.  Ask Shaun T to define “fitness” or “intensity.”  How does P90X calculate “results?”  What is the difference between “strength” and “stamina?”  These are buzz words in the fitness industry.  They mean different things to each person and are used to sell a product, nothing more.  But if you have no solid definition for the terms you use, how can you claim any honesty?  We put it right up front.  Fitness: increased work capacity over broad time and modal domains.  Intensity: power output, expressed as F x D / T.  Strength: productive application of force.  Etc.

Business model.  These programs exist only to provide their creators with an easy buck.  Though they probably are a bit more noble than gimmicks such as the Shake Weight (oh, you have to watch this one), the bottom line is that you must buy the DVDs and the accessories du jour if you want to do the program.  CrossFit has prided itself on providing its fitness for free and open source.  Of course, you can pay money to join an affiliate, but this doesn’t give you exclusive access to the program– it gives you coaching,  feedback, and–most importantly– community.  Working out in the company of your tribe adds a level that can’t be gained by “less than an hour a day in the comfort of your own home.”

CrossFit isn’t the first and won’t be the last intense exercise program.  It also isn’t the king of fitness programs, or even the only thing we train in our gym.  But we’ve got things that so many other intense programs lack.  We care about and are invested in the betterment of everybody who comes to our gym.  That’s something you’ll never get in any DVD.

Brain Rule #8 - Stressed Brains Don’t Learn the Same Way

Sunday, September 19th, 2010
Notice that peak performance is beyond your comfort zone

Notice that peak performance is beyond your comfort zone

Stress is a regular part of our modern culture. Some people are more affected by it than others. Our crew is a very type A bunch and we see the whole range of stressers and how people react to these stressers.

This is an area that I feel very fortunate. If you haven’t noticed, I don’t stress much. It’s part of who I am. I get this trait from my dad. Whether it’s genetic, or because I grew up watching it I don’t know. The only thing that generates genuine stress in me is when my actions and choices negatively impact others. This happens at the gym from time to time. My decisions directly impact clients and staff. Sometimes I have to make choices that hurt some individuals. This gets to me. Situations themselves don’t stress me out. I’m very good at accepting what I can do/fix and letting things beyond my control be as they are.

Here are a few key points about stress and brain function.

“1. Your brain is built to deal with stress that lasts about 30 seconds. The brain is not designed for long term stress when you feel like you have no control. The saber-toothed tiger ate you or you ran away but it was all over in less than a minute. If you have a bad boss, the saber-toothed tiger can be at your door for years, and you begin to deregulate. If you are in a bad marriage, the saber-toothed tiger can be in your bed for years, and the same thing occurs. You can actually watch the brain shrink.
2. Stress damages virtually every kind of cognition that exists. It damages memory and executive function. It can hurt your motor skills. When you are stressed out over a long period of time it disrupts your immune response. You get sicker more often. It disrupts your ability to sleep. You get depressed.
3. The emotional stability of the home is the single greatest predictor of academic success. If you want your kid to get into Harvard, go home and love your spouse.
4. You have one brain. The same brain you have at home is the same brain you have at work or school. The stress you are experiencing at home will affect your performance at work, and vice versa.”

Number 3 is fantastic. This is something that we in Marin miss. We have a 75% divorce rate. There is significant turmoil in families. The impact that this has on our kids is enormous. Create a stress free environment at home as much as possible.

Also note that in the stress response curve a level of stress is beneficial. We need a stress stimulus to induce change. Our training is all about inducing a physical stress that must be adapted to. When talking about physical stress exceeding the peak of that curve is when you step into overtraining. When we’re dealing with more cognitive stress it’s when the stress goes on for long periods of time that we see the declination in performance. Learning how to handle stress and relax can shift the tipping point to the right.

Stretching in the Shower

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

You know how some people sing in the shower?  Well, I recommend stretching in the shower.  As long as you’re taking a nice warm shower as opposed to a contrast or cold shower, your body is going to be a little more relaxed and responsive to stretching than usual.  This may actually be your ticket to finding an extra “5 minutes a day”.  There will often be a little ledge along the end of the walls in most showers that will be convenient for a cat stretch.  You can also (if you have good balance, footing and coordination) put one foot up on the wall and stretch out your hamstrings or grab your foot behind your butt and do the runner’s quad stretch.  As long as you’re soaping up your back, why not try to see how close you can get your hands behind your back with one coming down from your shoulders/behind your neck and the other one coming up from under your lats/mid-back?  If you can already touch your hands, then try to overlap your fingers or hands as much as you can.  One of my favorites, if you have something anchored that you can hold on to, is doing the stretch where you open up the back of your shouder, lats and back where you step across your body in front of you with one foot, while holding on to the anchor point with your opposing hand as you lean back and kind of twist to lengthen the line from your anchored hand to your hip.  I’ll post a picture of this later to illustrate, but not in the shower. 

Some of the hazards involved in stretching in the shower may include, but are not limited to: slipping and getting hurt, tearing the shower curtain pole along with the shower curtain off of the wall and creating a mess as well as a time-consuming repair job, taking longer in the bathroom and making your roommates/family-members angry, increasing your energy & water bills, contributing to California’s water shortage and drought issues, and of course, having a very embarrassing story to tell the paramedics or your friends when they need to come get your clumsy-ass off of the bath tub after you got hurt.  Nevertheless, barring any slips or injuries, you may be able to get considerably better range of motion  for many exercises and your CrossFit coach might stop yelling at you to go deeper in your squats.  If you’re really concerned about the water, energy conservation, and contributing to the earth’s engergy problems, you can always just try stepping up on the sink counter with one foot while brushing your teeth if the counter is secure and sturdy enough.  This will loosen up your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. 

That’s it, folks.  If you REALLY want to, go ahead and post some pictures of yourselves doing various stretches in the shower.  Knowing how reserved and polite everyone here at CFM is, I’m sure no one will gossip, make fun of you, or copy the pictures and put them on FaceBook or anything like that.

See you in the gym,


Paleo in a Nutshell…

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

This video has been featured in other CF Affiliate blogs and I thought it would be useful to share it with you guys.  Nutrition to me has always been similar to what working-out hard is to Russ.  I didn’t feel that I had to pay too much attention to it because I seemed to already have desireable results, so I was a little lazy about it.  My parents raised me to eat meats and vegetables,  although we also had plenty of starches .  I stopped drinking sodas on my own when I was a teenager,  (they didn’t really seem all that healthy to me although Pepsi was one of my favorite drinks).   Instead, I chugged down milk like I was a newborn calf all throughout my teens and twenties and never payed any attention to the “low fat” fads of the nineties.  I’ve always had (at least since college, when I got into gymnastics and soccer and stopped getting sick from parasites when traveling to Venezuela) what people considered a “nice body” so it didn’t seem like I needed to go on a diet.   In hind-sight, I often had irritated bowels, which I thought was just genetic and but probably was due to excessive dairy, which I now only have in moderation.   I imagine that cleaning up my diet further would have had a positive effect on my joint health, athletic performance, and perhaps even energy levels, although I do not know to what degree.  For the last year or two I’ve been fighting that laziness and trying to be more serious about nutrition.  I’ve even gone as far as to often have spinach or broccoli with my eggs for breakfast instead of bread, although I admit that there is often ice-cream lurking in my freezer.  (We’ve also gotten Russ to start working out harder and more consistently- sort of.)   I know that a lot of you have gone paleo and some of you have even zoned with stunning results.  Please comment on what changes you’ve made and how it’s affected your fitness, energy levels, and how you feel about your body.