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Archive for January, 2011

The Case for Going As Rx’d

Monday, January 31st, 2011

There’s definitely something to be said for scaling and progressions, especially if your technique isn’t really good.  But one of the things we’re trying to do is build everybody up to the point where they can do all the workouts as prescribed.  There’s a couple of reasons for this.

No scaling allowed here.

No scaling allowed here.

First, it’s easier for you to track your progress if you do the workout as prescribed.  If you scale it down but get a better time, does that mean that you’ve improved or not?  What was the scaling for the last time you did it?  Is it more or less work done in more or less time?  If you only do the workouts as prescribed, you will only have a couple of numbers to compare.  If your time went down or your reps or loads increased, then you improved.

Along these lines, performing the workouts as prescribed allows you to better compare yourself to other athletes.  This isn’t about ego so much as it is about motivation during the workouts.  Having friendly competition in class helps you give that extra push, but this is diminished if everybody is doing essentially a different workout.

Another reason to practice as prescribed is for competition.  Sure, most of us don’t want to go to the Games, but there are lots of other friendly competitions and events that many of us will attend for fun– and a lot of those events don’t have options for scaling.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, the prescription trains your weakness.  It’s easy to find the motions in a workout that you aren’t good at or don’t feel comfortable with and scale them down.  But that doesn’t help you get better at those movements, it only trains you to avoid your weaknesses.  If you suck at something, you should do more of it, even if it increases your time.

So, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that scaling is bad.  Scaling is quite necessary at times.  But you should strive to do every workout as it is prescribed.  If you can do a movement safely, there’s no reason to scale it down.  If a workout doesn’t suck, you’re probably not doing it right.

Gymnastics Seminar at Lalanne Fitness

Monday, January 31st, 2011
Jack Lalanne

Jack Lalanne

I just got back from running a seminar at Lalanne fitness in the city. I’ve worked with Chris and his crew several times before and have always had a great experience. They are fantastic hosts and eager to learn. It is clear these folks have a focus on helping their clients succeed.

If you were not aware Chris is the great nephew of “the” Jack Lalanne. Chris carries on his uncles legacy by running a CrossFit affiliate in the city. As was all over the media this last week Jack passed away on January 23rd from respiratory failure due to pneumonia. He always said “Dying would be bad for my image”. Well Jack, in this case you were wrong. He lived a healthy and active life right up to the end. He has exemplified healthy living. No image has been tarnished by his passing.

New Kids Classes

Saturday, January 29th, 2011
Kids learning gymnastics... or hiding in a red box

Kids learning gymnastics... or hiding in a red box

Due to a large influx of new families we are going to be adding a lot of new classes. Starting Feb 1 (yes, this coming Tuesday) we are adding several preschool (ages 3-5) movement/gymnastics classes. Starting February 15th we will be adding “mommy and me” classes for 2-3 year olds. Even though they are generally called “mommy and me”, daddys are perfectly welcome and encouraged to bring their little ones and participate.

Here is the list of preschool classes starting Tuesday 2/1

Tuesday 9-10am, 10-11am, 2:30-3:30pm

Wednesday 10-11am, 2-3pm

Friday 10-11am, 11am-12pm

Monday 11am-12pm, 2-3pm

We also have several other time/day slots available but need a few more sign ups to flip the switch and start the classes. If you are interested in these or other class times please call/email in and let us know.

Useful Olympic Lifting Videos: 2 Favorites

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Here are 2 of my favorite Olympic lifting videos.  They are very different, but they are both very educational and I think everyone in the gym should get to see how they are performed.  If you study them carefully, they can improve your understanding of the movements, form and technique.  I believe that I’ve posted both of these at times past, but it’s been years, and they definately deserve a re-post, so here they are.  Enjoy!:

Heavy Musings by Iron Maven:

The CrossFit Games Open & Affiliate Team Format are out

Friday, January 28th, 2011
Bill Berry & Tom Woodward on Workout "A" in the 2009 CF Games Nor Cal Sectionals

Bill Berry & Tom Woodward on Workout "A" in the 2009 CF Games Nor Cal Sectionals

The CrossFit Games will use an “Open” format this year.  As of March 15th, there will be a weekly workout announced each Tuesday that must be completed and scores recorded by 5pm PDT by the following Sunday at an affiliate or by video submission.   The results are going to be compiled at a centralized CrossFit Games website.  The first phase of the Affiliate Cup will follow a similar structure with the top 3 male & Female scores counting towards the Affiliate Cup rankings.  The great news is that everyone can participate and there are prizes for the affiliate team with the most participating team members!  The top 30 teams from each region will be invited to their regional competition and it only costs $20 to register an affiliate team for the first part of the competition.  Here is the complete scoop with a great many FAQ’s:

Individual Open:,1012/

Affiliate Open:,1017/

So get ready!  I was a little disappointed when I heard rumors about the “video submission” thing instead of sectionals, but this format with competition at local affiliates actually sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun!

What To Do When You’re Burned Out

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Every one of us has experienced burnout in our lives.  Whether it’s from exercise, lack of sleep, stress, or all of the above, burnout can rear it’s ugly head quickly and make it difficult to function optimally everyday. In alternative medicine circles, burnout is often referred to as adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands regulate a number of our circulating hormones such as cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. The adrenals act as the first responders to any stressful situation and will turn on our ‘fight or flight’ response by increasing adrenaline, cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure. Cortisol, also called the stress hormone, is very important to natural function and serves to keep us alert, mobilize fats and proteins to be used as energy, and maintains heart rate and blood pressure.

The adrenal system has evolved to act instantaneously and last only a short duration (picture running away from a bear). The burst of cortisol and adrenaline we get from a well functioning adrenal system could mean the difference between life and death 10,000 years ago and today could mean the difference between a make or a miss on a deadlift PR. What the adrenal system was not evolved to handle is the chronic, long term stress that people are faced with daily in our society. Daily elevated stress levels coupled with inadequate sleep and poor nutrition can lead to chronic elevations in cortisol levels, which can wreak havoc on the body. Some of the effects of high cortisol include: reduced muscle mass and bone density, increased fat gain, weakening of the immune system, low energy, and impairment or digestion, mental function, and hormonal function. If you think you might have chronic adrenal fatigue, there are a few steps you should take to remedy this:

Sleep - One of the most important things to do when you’re burned out is sleep naturally. It may be difficult if you have a busy life, but do everything you can to improve your sleep quality. Buy a more comfortable matress, use a sleep mask, wear ear plugs, get a noise machine, or take a natural calming supplement like melatonin or Natural Calm tea. Another supplement that I really love for pre-bed (and building strong bones) is zinc magnesium aspartate (ZMA). You’ll feel much more refreshed if you can wake up without an alarm, so try to time your sleep cycles if possible. Each cycle is about 90 minutes long, so shoot for either 5 (7.5 hours) or 6 (9 hours) cycles and try to wake up naturally. If you have spare money lying around and want to look really geeky while you’re sleeping, check out the Zeo. It’s possible my girlfriend will break up with me if I buy this.

Reduce Stimulants - Sleeping more and waking up without an alarm should set you on the path towards doing this. Coffee, Red Bull, and other stimulants are designed to take advantage of the adrenal response and give us more energy and make us more alert.  When you do this repeatedly in an unnatural way, you will be continuously spiking your cortisol, leaving you prone to the effects I discussed earlier. Cutting down stimulants and sleeping more soundly with have positive feedback on each other. If you can cut out all coffee after noon, you’ll sleep better and will further reduce your dependency on coffee by doing so.

Eat - As I mentioned earlier, chronic elevations in cortisol can take a serious toll on digestion, immune function, and hormonal activity in your body. In order to restore healthy metabolic function, it’s crucial to eat a lot of quality food in order to help your body recover from adrenal fatigue. This means healthy protein to rebuild muscle, healthy fats to rebuild other cells, and a heavy dose of vitamins and minerals from vegetables and fruit. To aid in rebuilding your digestion, it may be wise to use digestive enzymes (I like now foods superenzyme) as well as getting good probiotics with active cultures in the form of a supplement or fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut.

Moderate Exercise Intensity - Long duration exercise, whether high or low intensity, will cause a hefty release of cortisol. Doing this type of exercise at high frequency week after week can contribute significantly to adrenal burnout.  Combine this type of exercise with poor nutrition, poor sleep, and high stress, and you have a potent mix of factors that will shoot cortisol through the roof. If you feel that you’re completely burned out, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is take an entire week off from high intensity effort. Since adrenal fatigue impairs your body’s recovery ability, continuing to train hard will only dig you into a deeper hole. Take a week to work on technique and mobility. Go for a few walks or a light jog.  Play an easy set of tennis. By the end of the week, you’ll be chomping at the bit to get back in the gym and your body will be fully recovered by the time you do.

As strange as it sounds, most of the improvement you make in the gym is not because of what you do in the gym.  The way you sleep, eat, and take care of your body on a daily basis will ultimately govern the rate at which you can advance your fitness. Remember that improvement is based on supercompensating to the stress you impose on your body in the gym.  If your adrenals are too burned out to let your body recovery and adapt to your training, your progress will stop abruptly.

Train hard, sleep soundly, and eat well!


Kale is Awesome

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

kale_chartKale. The list of its virtues is practically endless; eat it and you will live forever! Ok, not quite but almost. Kale can boast having the greatest antioxidant capacity of all fruits and vegetables (New York Times, Recipe for Health: Kale). It is an amazing source of vitamins K (over 1,300% DV/cup), A (close to 200%), C (88%) E, and the Bs, as well as manganese, dietary fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, protein, calcium, iron and potassium. Kale also contains important carotenoids which help keep UV rays from damaging the eyes and causing cataracts. All this combined with over 45 flavonoids adds up to give kale unparalleled anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and cancer-fighting power. So what better way to start the new year than with a few kale recipes! Kale can be eaten cooked or raw, although 5 minutes of steaming increases kale’s cholesterol-lowering capacity.

Kale Salad (raw)

4 cups kale, finely chopped or slivered (about half of a 3/4 lb. bunch stemmed and washed)

2 T coarsely chopped toasted almonds

1 sweet or semi-sweet apple (e.g. Fuji, Gala, Braeburn) cored and cut in 1/4 inch dice

1 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, cut in 1/4 inch dice

salt to taste

2 T fresh lemon juice

1 very small garlic clove, very finely chopped

5 T extra virgin olive oil

2 T freshly grated parmesan

Combine kale, almonds, apple and cheddar in a large bowl. Whisk together lemon juice, salt, garlic and olive oil. Add to the salad, and toss well. Sprinkle with parmesan and serve. Best prepared 15 minutes prior to serving; kale will soften and absorb flavors in the dressing. (To make this pure paleo, omit the cheddar and parmesan, or substitute nutritional yeast for the latter)

Basic Steamed Kale with Hollyhock Dressing

1 bunch kale

1 cup olive oil

1 cup nutritional yeast (can be found in bin section of United or Whole Foods)

1/3 cup tamari (gluten free)

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup water

Wash, stem and steam kale for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine all other ingredients in a blender and process until dressing is smooth. This makes enough to last a long time, need not be refrigerated and is fantastic on any vegetable as well as salmon and other fish. (My family puts it on just about everything except ice-cream and even that has crossed our minds.) Serve kale drizzled with Hollyhock and enjoy!

Functional Movement and the Weakest Link

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

We talk a lot about functional movements, but what are those?  Typically, we think of a functional movement as having some application in the real world and this is partially true.  But there plenty of movements that we use every day but that that we never train in the gym because they aren’t “functional.”  Bicep curls are a perfect example, for those of you who have ever lifted a bag of groceries onto the table.

Squats are functional movements.

Squats are functional movements.

But CrossFit defines a functional movement as any movement that is capable of moving a large load, a long distance quickly.  That is, movements that generate a high power output.  Of course, those terms are relative to other exercises that utilize similar muscles.  We don’t do curls because we do pull-ups; both activate the biceps, but the power output of a curl is much less than that of a pull-up because the pull-up moves a larger load a longer distance faster.

You might also notice that a curl is an isolation  movement, it focuses on just one muscle, but the pull-up uses most of the muscles in your arms and back, more if you kip.  This is also an important concept in understanding functionality: functional movements are compound movements.  If we want to maximize load and distance while minimizing time, we’re going to have to use more than one muscle and typically multiple joints.

Another way of thinking about this is to consider all the muscles and joints needed in a movement to be a chain.  You won’t be able to do the movement  if you have a weak or broken link in that chain.  This is the basis of the breakdown of form with the increase of intensity.  It’s also the starting point of a lot of injuries.

Since our curriculum consists primarily of compound movements performed at high intensity, we need to make sure that every link in our chain is strong.  If you lack hamstring strength and flexibility, you need to work on that before you go crazy with squats.  If you have tight shoulders, you need to stretch them out before you start doing heavy squat cleans.  In short, learn what you aren’t good at and do what is needed to be good at it.  Take time before and/or after class to stretch and do mobility exercises and concentrate on proper movements during the workouts.

Gymnastics Seminar at CrossFit Marin

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011
Jan 22, 2011 Gymnastics Seminar

Jan 22, 2011 Gymnastics Seminar

Saturday we had a fantastic group of athletes and trainers from around California come and join us for one of our one day gymnastics seminars. It was a great group of people. All eager to learn, and adventurous in trying new things. We had a couple first muscle ups made (including our own Amanda N., as you knew from yesterdays blog post). Several folks did standing back tucks just because its fun. A ton of key CrossFit gymnastics elements were delved into and a broader view of gymnastics elements discussed. I am always impressed by the caliber of people that come through our doors from the CrossFit community. Keep posted. The next seminar will be sometime in early March.

PRs in Gymnastics Means New Skills

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

So when we’re weightlifting a PR means adding a bit more weight to a movement. In gymnastics it means the next step in a progression, or a completely new skill. It is a blast to acquire new skills. I get just as excited when one of you make something new as when I do. The good thing about that is I get to experience it all the time. The last couple of weeks have been ripe with new achievements.

Sarah W. came in the door with a decent handstand and quickly improved it with some basic tips. I told her that she needed to work toward a free standing handstand push up, and a press handstand. She appears to have taken this challenge seriously. Here she is making her press to handstand. No small achievement for anyone, much less a non-gymnast.

Kerry C. and Bo W. have been racing to see who was going to get their muscle up first. And the winner is!!! Bo. But only by about 2 minutes. Unfortunately since Bo wasn’t able to make a second one right after the first I didn’t get it on video, but I did get Kerry C’s first. This was an act of sheer will.

So today we ran another trainer’s gymnastics seminar and Amanda N. was on hand to help coach. During the muscle up segment she got a little tip from Jill S. and this was the result.

And, to not leave Bo out of the videos. Here’s Bo making a glide kip in the first session working on it.

What a week!