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Archive for March, 2011

Chris Kresser’s Guide to Health

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Chris Kresser is a doctor in Berkeley who writes an excellent blog called The Healthy Skeptic. He recently did a series called the 9 steps to perfect health. I’m usually leery of using the word ‘perfect’ for anything, but nonetheless, the series has some excellent, clearly written information that would be very educational for most people to read. Here are the links to the posts:

  1. Don’t Eat Toxins: This might be the best of the bunch. Chris talks about the the big four that we should avoid: gluten grains, industrial seed oils, processed fructose, and soy. These items are ubiquitous in our food system, so it takes purpose to avoid them on a regular basis
  2. Nourish Your Body: This is an excellent primer on the different types of fats: Long chain saturated fat, medium chain triglycerides, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat (including omega 6 & 3). All fats are not created equal, and this article will give you the knowledge to know the difference.
  3. Eat Real Food: This one’s pretty straightforward
  4. Supplement Wisely: A good rundown of the important vitamins and minerals
  5. Heal Your Gut: Probably the second most important article in the series. Most people are not up to speed on the importance of healthy gut flora for digestion overall health.
  6. Manage Your Stress: The jury is still out for me how important this is. I think it all depends on your own experience with it
  7. Move Like Your Ancestors: You can probably skip this. Nothing you haven’t heard before
  8. Get More Sleep: This is a big one. Probably as important as healthy gut flora and avoiding the big 4
  9. Practice Pleasure: Enjoy your life!

Despite all this great information, there really is no such thing as perfection. We all need to make sacrifices and enjoy our small vices in life.  However, I’m a firm believer that ignorance is NOT bliss. If I’m at a friend’s barbecue and I’m eating factory farmed beef, I take pride in knowing the unfortunate things that happened to that burger on the way to my plate. Same goes for the effects of processed sugar or soy. I let myself cheat occasionally, but I always know the ramifications of what that stuff can do to your health.  And that keeps me honest in the long run.

Asian Turkey Wraps Go Paleo

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Since getting this recipe from my brother-in-law last summer, I’ve made it just about every week. Traditionally served as a lettuce-wrap appetizer, I serve it instead over shredded lettuce and spinach as a main course. It’s one of those addictive foods I can’t seem to get enough of, and low and behold, it’s Paleo! To make it a quick meal for subsequent preparations, I quadruple the sauce and keep it in the fridge and chop and freeze extra ginger.

3 Tbsp low-sodium tamari
2 Tbsp low-sodium chicken broth
1  1/4 tsp arrowroot
1 tsp sugar (omit if you’re going for pure Paleo)
1 to 1.25 lbs. ground chicken or turkey
2 Tbsp walnut oil
2 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 small to medium red bell pepper, small dice
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1 Tbsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Combine tamari, chicken broth, arrowroot and sugar to make the sauce. Place meat in a bowl, separate into a half dozen or so chunks, and pour in sauce mixture. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large, deep skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add walnut oil, swirl to coat, and then add ginger, garlic, and red bell pepper. Cook about 1 minute, stirring often. Add meat, crumble, and spread evenly along cooking surface. Cook 1 minute or until meat begins to brown. Turn to cook similarly on other side, breaking meat up further as you go.When meat is cooked through and very crumbly, add green onion, sesame oil, and cilantro. Mix well.

Serve over shredded lettuce which can be combined with spinach chiffonade. Great with pan-seared asparagus.



Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Music is a great addition to a hard workout.  It can help you focus on something other than the discomfort you feel, get you pumped up and psychologically prepared for the effort, and even help you keep your timing and pace.

mixing-desk2 I’ve received a lot of positive feedback on the musical selection that I play during classes, but I wanted to hear some more opinions.

What kind of music do you prefer to have blasting in the background when you’re racing the clock?  Rock?  Metal?  Techno?  Classical?  What is your favorite workout song?  Or do you prefer silence?

All feedback and suggestions are welcome.

UC Berkeley’s Home Meet 2011-03-25… Possibly the last?

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

In A Sad Day In Gymnastics I talked about the cutting of the UC Berkeley gymnastics program. This program has been around for a very long time and has produced many fantastic gymnasts. I started training at the Golden Bear facility while I was in high school and had the privilege of being coached by some of the UC Berkeley team. This last Friday was the last home meet of the season. The video is the last routine of the night. Kyle Bunthuwong (who trained with our very own Gabe T. when he was in high school) ended out the meet. Unfortunately he peeled mid-routine. Otherwise finished out strong. The meet was fantastic with Stanford beating out Cal in the end.

There is a glimmer of hope for the team. The athletic department supports the team’s efforts to fund and be re-instated. This is a big step in the right direction, where previously they were told that even privately funded the team would not be able to continue. Please visit Cal Gymnastics Forever for more information, and to find out how you can help.

Games Update Week 1 Again

Saturday, March 26th, 2011
Jill in the stadium team WOD at the 2009 games

Jill in the stadium team WOD at the 2009 games

So, is anyone else tired of this double under snatch WOD yet? We have a few more people to do the workout, but I am really looking forward to the next workout. I’m curious how many double unders have been performed in our gym in March. Between the max double under challenge and the first games WOD running for two weeks its been double under central. On the bright side, a lot of people have improved their double unders significantly. Amazing what a huge volume of practice will do.

Currently we have 35 athletes registered, and the majority have posted scores. A few have not, if this is you get your score posted. If you still need to perform the workout you better get in tomorrow and get it done. We have strong showings from a lot of athletes. Many of our athletes are in the top 25% of our region, some in the top 10%. I can’t tell where our team stands currently because the games site is broken. Bill B. is still in the top 20 in the world which keeps him in qualifying position to the games.

I’ve been really impressed by all of you that are participating. Its been great to see how everyone has approached the workout. Some have just joined in for fun. Some just want to see how they do against other athletes from around the world. Some are gunning for top rankings. Some just want to be a part of the team. Whatever the reason, we’re having a great time and it has set goals in peoples minds. We’re always working toward improvement, but these type of events help push us to the next step. Keep it coming and we’ll support your efforts!

Front Squat Technique- Old CrossFit Video

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

Hey Crew,

    This is an old CrossFit video that was made way back when at the original Santa Cruz gym, likely by Tony Budding.  The split frame is very useful because it shows the body positions from a diagonal as well as a profile view.  Front squats are a crucial exercie for Olympic lifting, especially cleans.  Any serious Oly lifting program is going to have a lot of these and relatively frequently, after all, if you can’t front squat a certain weight, you’re probably not going to be able to squat clean it either!  (Overhead squats are for snatches what front squats are for cleans.)  Here is the fun, but enlightening video:

Notice how you’re supposed to keep the weight as close to being over your heals as possible to keep your balance.  Remember that when you do wall ball or thrusters, the bottom portion of the movement should be done exactly like a front squat.  Don’t round out, go all the way down, keep the writsts back (on the wall-ball) and the elbows up!   Try to sit back on those hamstrings and go all the way down with your femurs below parallel.  Squat as deep as you can without rounding out your back as long as your knees and hips don’t hurt.  It’s ok to go deeper than necessary if you don’t feel any injury paid.  This will work your range of motion and get you feeling a lot more comfortable at the bottom of a clean.

Hope it helps!


Reversibility in CrossFit

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Elite Athletes

Again I’m inspired by a post from Todd Hargrove this week. Like my post on stacking the bones last week, this post is about improving efficiency during your workouts. According to Moshe Feldekrais, reversibility is the capacity to stop a movement at any point and go in the opposite direction with minimal hesitation. This concept is very closely related to balance, agility, coordination, and posture (as Nick mentioned in the comments last week). We see an extremely high degree of reversibility in elite athletics. Take a look at this short clip of Roger Federer playing a point in slow motion.

Notice the interrelation of bone stacking and reversibility. Throughout the entire video, Federer’s head is directly over his center of mass regardless of which way he’s moving. His torso is vertical, his knees are only slightly flexed, and he has a wide, solid base of support. These are perfect body positions for moving effortlessly in all directions at a moment’s notice. There is also a tight, springy look to his movement that indicates his body is very well connected. When changing direction, a recreational tennis player might let their torso go slack or lose their balance on one leg, drastically reducing the efficiency of redirecting their body through space. I’ve seen Federer play intense 5 set matches over the course of 4 hours and hardly break a sweat. He has such efficient reversibility and bone stacking on the court that he’s actually doing much less muscular work than other players.

Application to CrossFit

While I’m by no means saying we should all be able to move like one of the best tennis players in history, there are some valuable lessons we can learn from Fed’s movement. Watch the clip again and try to feel how softly he’s landing every time he changes direction. When moving around on a tennis court or doing a CrossFit exercise, you’re not simply dealing with the static force of resisting gravity with your own bodyweight or the weight you have to lift.  An additional force that comes into play any time you stop, start, and change directions is the force of inertia. Anyone who has ever done the ‘Karen’ workout understands the concept of inertia without the need for a scientific explanation. A 20lb medicine ball may not seem like much, but once you get it up to speed with wall ball shots, it can be a potent workout stimulus.

The additional force of inertia can have a powerful impact on how (in)efficient your movement is during a workout. In athletic movements (including the exercises we do), there’s an ideal middle ground for how fast you should change directions to maximize efficiency. Think of it like a Goldilocks Speed. If you come in too hot and fast, the force of gravity combined with the weight you’re lifting is going to make it incredibly hard to reverse the motion, which will use up huge amounts of energy (like flaps trying to stop a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier). But if you come in too cold and slow, you don’t take advantage of preloading, which is the stretch reflex in your muscles that allows you to quickly reverse direction (think about the difference between jumping flat footed versus taking a step or two into your jump with a slight knee bend). The most efficient speed is right there in the middle, where you have enough momentum to take advantage of the stretch reflex, but not so much that you hit the ground before you pull the rip cord. One of the best movements for dialing in this speed is the back squat. Next time you’re squatting, try to find that perfect speed on the descent where you can take advantage of the stretch reflex in your glutes and hamstrings to pop you back up again.

Alignment and Balance

In addition to the correct speed, two crucial components to reversing a movement efficiently are alignment and balance. Reversal requires overcoming the additional force of inertia, as I mentioned before. This additional force will tend to throw anything slightly out of balance way out of whack. Anyone who’s ever struggled waterskiing or wakeboarding will understand this. If you’re unbalanced in the beginning when the tow rope yanks you out of the water, you don’t have a prayer of staying up. However, once you’re up and don’t have to worry about the rope pulling on you from a dead stop, you can get away with a few balance checks. An example from the weight room is overhead squatting. This movement puts the body and the bar in a very precarious position in terms of balance and alignment.  I’ve seen dozens of cases (myself included) where a heavy overhead squat feels good on the way down then inexplicably gets lost forward during the reversal at the bottom due to the slight imbalance and alignment of the bar and body. And even when these lifts are saved and completed successfully, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to finish the lift. Any effort spent trying to bring a weight back into balance (including your bodyweight) will be energy lost during the workout. We always harp on about bar path, and the moments of reversal is where it becomes crucially important.

Here is a clip of Matthias Steiner, the gold medalist in Beijing, demonstrating excellent balance and alignment of the weight he’s lifting. Notice how the bar is perfectly balanced over the center of his mass during moments of reversal; the bottom of the squat and the initiation of the jerk:

Always remember that there’s an upper limit to the improvements you can make to your cardiovascular system and your muscular size. The significant improvements that you’ll see in your CrossFit performance will come from improving your technique and efficiency. A balanced body and a balanced bar are easier to move.  Just ask Federer and Steiner.

See you in the gym!



Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

pepitasThis week’s recipe is simple, fun and will disappear faster than a dime on a sidewalk. Well, almost. Pan roasted pepitas (raw, hulled pumpkin seeds) can be roasted in a few minutes on the stove or oven-baked for a condiment that is fantastic in salads, a nice crunch on top of steamed veggies, great on-the-go food, and a hit in school lunches. And they are high in iron, zinc, and omegas 3 FAs.

Buy them at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, or just about anywhere. Look for raw, hulled pepitas/pumpkin seeds with a healthy green color.

Throw a couple handfuls into a frying pan set to medium high heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon. After a few minutes they will begin to jump around, crackle, pop, and brown. Let them get a nice roasted color, but be careful as they can over-roast quickly. Transfer to a bowl to cool. You can add a few shakes of salt as you cook them but they really don’t need it.

1 1/2 cups pepitas
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt
3 to 4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice

Place everything into a covered plasticware container and shake until well mixed. Spread evenly onto a baking sheet and bake at 350 for 12 minutes stirring occasionally.


Getting the Most from Going Heavy

Monday, March 21st, 2011

We frequently have heavy lifting days in the gym.  There are different strategies to pace met-con workouts and similarly, there are different strategies to tackle heavy lifting workouts.  Here’s a few things to consider.

He lifts things up.  And puts them down.

He lifts things up. And puts them down.

Establish a 1-rep max.  If you don’t know what you’re capable of lifting, you’ll never know what you should lift or if you’re getting stronger.  If you haven’t hit a max in a long time– or you never have– take the opportunity to figure out what the most weight you can lift is.  You can then use that to determine what weight you should be aiming for in a workout.  A rough guideline is that you should be aiming for 90% of your one-rep max for sets of 1-2 reps, 80% of your max for sets of 2-4 reps and 70% of your max for 3-6 reps.

Figure out your timing.  There’s two ways to time heavy days.  I recommend that most people take 2-5 minutes between lifts.  This allows the maximum amount of time to replenish muscle fuel, without giving enough time to completely cool down.  The trick here is to be strict with the amount of time you take.  Set your watch, or look at the clock so you don’t cheat because you will feel recovered before you actually are.  The other way to time heavy days involves setting up your area ahead of time and speeding through.  You’re still going to give yourself some recovery time– say 30-seconds to a minute– but the goal is to do the lifts explosively to maximize your power output.  The tricky thing with this method is that you have to know what you’re going to lift and realize that you’re not going to attempt a max.  When the weight gets so heavy that you slow down the lift, you stop increasing the weight.  To get the most out of this method, you have to have a solid understanding of what you’re capable of lifting and you have to have really good technique.

Light and full range of motion vs heavy and partial range of motion.  There’s a place for both options.  If you have poor flexibility or problems with range of motion, you’ll get more out of going with lighter weight and focusing on your technique.  But if your problem is raw strength, you could get quite a lot of benefit from putting lots of weight on the bar and training partial ROM or the eccentric portion of the lift.  The stimulus that you get from just holding a heavy weight can do wonders.

Remember, our prescription is constantly varied functional fitness.  If you always do your lifts in the same way and similar weight, you’re going to adapt to it and get stuck on a plateau.  Mix it up and you’ll see better results.

Games Update

Saturday, March 19th, 2011
Tom in the middle of 500m row, 30 burpees, 10 push jerk at 165lbs

Tom in the middle of 500m row, 30 burpees, 10 push jerk at 165lbs

We’ve had a lot of athletes complete WOD #1 in the open competition of the 2011 CrossFit Games. It’s been a ton of fun so far. A lot of people have stepped it up with their double unders to improve their scores on this thing. Nothing like a little competition to step up your game.

Some scores have been recorded. Here are some standings of note as of last night (Leaderboard is currently broken)

Bill B. #9 IN THE WORLD!! in his devision.

Jill Sprague #14 in our region in the open devision

Tom W. #48 in our region in the open devision.

With the thousands of athletes competing, and the general caliber of the folks in this community just being in there is quite a thing. I love that this open qualifier allows so many to participate. If you haven’t signed up yet, you should. We’ll keep doing what we can to accomodate everyone doing the workouts. Our team is getting established nicely. Can’t wait to see what the next workout is.