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Archive for May, 2011

World’s Healthiest Foods, Part1

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011


This week I’m starting a series on recipes for the planet’s healthiest foods, beginning with the goji berry. Unique in being the only fruit containing all 8 essential amino acids required by humans (i.e.,the building blocks for complete protein), goji berries are also higher in vitamin C than oranges, high in vitamin E (rare for fruits usually being found primarily in grains and seeds), and the list goes on. Consuming these ultra-nutritious treats can be as simple as a delicious handful out of the bag (I buy mine at Whole Foods), tossed in a salad, or added to a glass of water, soaked for a bit, drunk as juice and then consumed as plump prizes at the bottom. Or they can provide exotic seasoning along with an amazing nutritional boost to more complex dishes as in the soup that follows:

Goji Berry Soup

3 Tbs olive oil
2 leeks, including tender green portions, thinly sliced
1 lb carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small sweet potato, peeled and coarsely diced (about 1 to 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup goji berries
2 tsp. grated orange zest
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

Place goji berries to soak in the orange juice. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until just slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots, potato and ginger and sauté until the vegetables are just softened, about 5 minutes more. Add the stock, cover partially and simmer until the vegetables are completely softened, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the rest of the ingredients (goji berries, orange juice, orange zest, coconut milk and seasonings). Let cool to handle transferring the soup in batches to a food processor to puree until smooth. Return the soup to the stove to heat before serving.

SPEAR Review

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, we had SPEAR drills as our skill work.  SPEAR is a self defense system that develops the primal and protective human instincts to maximize your chances for survival in a violent situation.  The system is based on the following premise:

Most fights are won or lost by surprise– the sucker-punch or ambush.  When humans are surprised, a couple of things happen: the startle-flinch (the primal reaction), then threat assessment followed by an attempt to push the danger away (protective reaction).

Startle-flinch in action.  Except for the guy who wasn't paying attention.

Startle-flinch in action. Except for the guy who wasn't paying attention.

The signature “move” of the system is development of the startle-flinch and protective-push into a configuration that keeps you from getting hurt and has potential to hurt the bad guy.

You can get a good sense of the primal and protective response from this picture.  Look at the woman to the left of the guy who got nailed by the bat.  Hands are up, shoulders are shrugged to protect the head– a great startle-flinch.  The person above and right of the unlucky guy noticed the bat a split second before and has switched to a protective response.  Notice the splayed fingers and arms configured to push away the danger.

And here’s a video of Tony Blauer explaining some of this stuff at a recent camp.  Contains some bad language.

Removed… Sorry. Autostart was annoying.

In the future, we’ll have more self-defense skill work.  Until then, feel free to talk to me about it anytime.  Stay safe!

Bending and Twisting of Space/Time

Sunday, May 29th, 2011
Rendition of earth causing a bending and twisting of nearby spacetime

Rendition of earth causing a bending and twisting of nearby spacetime

As the Mythbusters would say “Warning: Science content”.

So Einstein pretty much turned the Newtonian view of gravity around a bit and instead of things pulling on each other, he proposed that objects with mass bend space, and that bending of space is what we feel as gravity. This model of gravity has very well predicted the behavior of large objects in the cosmos, and allowed scientists to very accurately predict events, even to the degree of using gravitational lensing to drastically improve our view of staggeringly far away objects.

A piece of his theories was that if an object in space with mass was also rotating it would pull spacetime with it, effectively twisting space as well as bending it. This piece of his theories has not really been testable (so not truly a scientific theory) until very recently. NASA just got the results back from a very precise measurement of the orientation of space around the earth. Take a look:

NASA Announces the Results of Epic Space-Time Experiement

Keeping Things in Perspective

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

So, here at CrossFit Marin it can be difficult keeping things in perspective. This place can be intimidating for new folks. I often have to talk people through that first step of getting involved. They come to check out the gym and see a group of our regulars during a class/workout. Their immediate response is that they can’t do what these people are doing. Many of them think that they will never be able to do what the class is doing. I then point out that several folks in the class have only been coming for a few months. The response is generally along the lines of “oh, well they must have been really athletic coming in”. Ok, yes that is true in some cases, but more often it is not the case. So, the new people sign up, get through foundations and start training. In two months they are at a point where they intimidate the new people. This makes it appear like we have no beginners. The rapid progress is great, but it does have an impact on the phyche of anyone wanting to give it a try.

I also have to be careful to not let my perspective shift with the progress of the gym. The median for performance keeps going up. We have more people who have been training with us longer and shift things upward. So if I just go by what appears to be “normal”, I start expecting a little too much from the “average” person. This is a great problem to have. It is just important for me to keep things in perspective.

This capacity of the average CrossFit Marinite can also have a negative impact on even some of our more experienced members. This happened a few days back with Marcia T. I got to post a video of her first pull up in Marcia Hits a Pull up. We were doing a strength day with leg lifts. She was there at 9am and struggling with the leg lifts. She came to me to question why she was unable to get her feet to the bar. It didn’t really phase me because this is a tough movement and most people can’t do it correctly and a LOT of people can’t do it at all. Marcia then pointed out that everyone else in the class could do it. Sure most were not with totally locked legs, but sure enough, everyone else in the class was able to get their feet to the bar. So Marcia was feeling bad because the perspective was messed up. Because the rest of her class could pull this thing off she felt that she ought to be able to do it as well. Now, had we had some other random folks off the street in there that couldn’t even get their legs to horizontal (which is a more accurate average), her perspective would have been more realistic.

So, keep things in perspective. Sure you may get beat by folks in the gym, but the median in our gym is a pretty high bar to try and match. Strive to get there, but do not get down on yourself if you are not able to do what the other crazy freaks in our gym can do. BTW, yes, this video is of a new guy. However, he has a gymnastics background… Perspective.

Skills from Complex Movements Translate Better to Simple Movements than Vice Versa

Saturday, May 28th, 2011
The movements and strength from the butterfly stroke should traslate to bicep curls better than the other way around.

The movements and strength from the butterfly stroke should traslate to bicep curls better than the other way around. (Picture from

     When I was down at the American Ninja Warrior tryouts I had the pleasure of engaging Rafe Kelley, one of the founders of Parkour Visions, a non-profit Parkour gym in the Seattle area, regarding training protocols and techniques.  While we were discussing CrossFit, he summed up nicely something we were both commenting on.  He indicated that skills and strength from complex movements translate better to simple movements than skills from simple movements do towards complex movements.  One of the examples that Rafe gave to clarify his point to a couple folks who were listening in was that gymnasts who typically have never touched a barbell can usually dead liftwell over 300 lbs on their first try.  ( Such was the case with me.  When I competed in the CrossFit Total in the 2007 CF Games, I scored 335 in the dead lift, but only because I didn’t know how much to lift since I had never maxed out on a deadlift before.  My max was actually about 365 to 375 at the time.  My background was some gymnastics as well as track, soccer, and climbing)  Another example was that if you have a planche, chances are that your bench press is pretty good whereas if you have a descent bench press, it doesn’t necessarily translate as well to a planche.  I want to indicate that both the dead lift and the bench press are also compound movements and they do loan themselves to other skills effectively, or at least a lot better than “muscle isolation” exercises do towards other activities.  Both the dead lift and bench require control and balance. 

      CrossFit provides an excellent base far superior to nautilus and other exercise machines and the Olympic Lifts require true athleticism, speed, and coordination.  Nevertheless, there are many other complex movements and combinations of movements that if you only do CrossFit workouts as they are commonly thought of, you will be depriving yourself of.  There is also an elements of “play” that is missing from the common CrossFit protocol.  In parkour, martial arts, rock-climbing and ball sports, and even gymnastics you get to experiment, explore,  and use your creativity.  That’s why the CrossFit prescription as it was originally intended encourages participation in other sports and constantly varied activities.  If you do Fight Gone Bad, chances are each Sumo-Dead Lift-High Pull, wall-ball, etc, won’t be that much different from all the other ones, (with the exception that they may progressively hurt more) whereas if you are wrestling with an opponent, playing soccer, or navigating a line of obstacles in parkour, you constantly have to react, assess the situation, and use your creativity to overcome the challenges at hand.  So, in my opinion,  there is a hierarchy of complexity at which the common CrossFit protocol is not at the peak, but more in a median position, when compared to other movements. 

     An interesting fact is that on Tuesday May 24th, 2011, the workout on the main page was comprised of 50M swim and push-ups.  This immediately brings up a couple of questions I think should be obvious to ask given several assumptions.  The first assumption(s)  are that swimming must be a valuable, and complex skill and an excellent exercise for a workout.  I’m not going to make a supporting argument for that claim in the interest of brevity.  Secondly, I’m going to assume that swimming is dangerous in certain situations because someone who is not a good at it or who finds themselves in a strong current can end up drowning.  So my questions are a) why haven’t we seen swimming prescribed previously on the CrossFit home page before (at least not in the last few years) if swimming is, as assumed, a valuable skill?  Secondly, why only 50M at a time?  My guess is that it has to do with the safety of the activity and the liability that CrossFit Incorporated exposes themselves to when prescribing something like swimming as a component of “Fitness”.  A fitness protocol where people end up dying from drowing, falling off a cliff while climbing, or breaking their back from a parkour fall leaves itself exposed to lawsuits in our hyper-litigious society.  Complex skills and movements aren’t any less a part of functional fitness than work capacity in simpler movements.  On the contrary, they may be more pertinent to fitness if looked at from a practical survival and skill based point of view, albeit they carry with them increased possiblities for injury.  But if you are willing to take that additional risk, participating in activities such as self-defense, parkour, gymnastics, climbing, swimming, skiing, surfing, ball sports, paintball, Ninja Warrior, etc, can be extremely valuable and mentally engaging, which leads to having more fun, which is directly related to what is, in my opinion, the most important and often over-looked element of fitness- happiness! 

Is this kid engaged in fitness??

Is this kid engaged in fitness??

Don’t forget to mix it up, CrossFitters!


Training Your Extensors for Performance

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Flexion and extension is pretty simple terminology when it comes to the human body. If a muscle is closing a skeletal joint, that muscle is causing the joint to be in flexion and is called a flexor for that particular joint. Extensors on the other hand cause a joint open, or increase the angle of the joint. The bicep muscles are elbow flexors since bicep contraction causes the elbow angle to decrease. The tricep muscles are elbow extensors.

One of the interesting patterns that arises when we look at society and human movement is that over time we become strongly biased toward flexion. Picture yourself standing up tall and straight with your head back, chest tall and back flat. In this position, the knees, hips, lower back, neck, and upper back (slightly) are in extension. This ideal posture can be difficult for people to hold for any extended period of time. This is because gravity is always pulling our bodies more or less towards flexion. If you let everything go limp slowly from this standing position, feel how your head drops forward (neck flexion), your upper and lower back round, and you slowly sink to the floor as your knees and hips go into flexion. Eventually, you’ll end up curled in a ball on the ground in complete flexion if you don’t actively resist it. So another way to think of extension is your ability to resist gravity (or any other force like a barbell) pulling you into flexion.

Think about how this tendency of gravity to pull us towards flexion affects people in their daily lives. Time spent at the computer, driving cars, and sitting on the couch without consciously thinking about your posture can severely bias you into flexion. One of the unfortunate causes of this constant state of flexion is that the flexors get extremely short and tight while the extensors get long and loose. And by the process of reciprocal inhibition, the tight muscles on one side of a joint can cause very poor activation of the loose muscles on the other side of the joint. This is why we constantly see people who have very tight hip flexors and quadriceps with corresponding weak and inactive glutes and hamstrings. The same is true of the upper body where the trunk flexors, the pecs and abs, are very tight while the upper back extensors are loose and inactive. All of this is furthered by the fact that most commercial gym goers do flexion dominant movements like bicep curls, bench presses, and sit ups more than anything else.

The reason programs like CrossFit and other quality strength and conditioning programs are so effective is because many of the movements we do involve training the extensors to resist flexion. The weighted back squat is one of the most widely used exercises in all of athletics for developing strength and muscle. One of the reasons for this is because it involves full body resistance of flexion. Coming out of the bottom of a heavy squat requires a massive amount of force to extend the hip and knee, while also fighting hard to maintain low back, upper back, neck, and overall trunk extension. Developing this ability to resist flexion under a heavy load has proved to be highly transferable to sports and life in general. If your extensors are powerful enough to move large loads in a back squat, it will be that much easier for you to resist flexion in everyday life.

It’s important to realize that just working out will not totally reverse orthopedic dyfunction like tight hips, rounded shoulders, and a weak upper back. Every minute you sit during the day is another minute that your flexors get tighter and extensors get weaker and more deactivated. Try your best to find some time to really focus on these areas before or after class. Feel free any time to ask me or email me about good mobilization exercises. Typically they are the things we know work well, but we avoid them because they can be painful. It’s easy to go through the motions with PVC shoulder roll throughs with a wide grip, but a whole other story to do them slowly with a closer and closer grip so they become effective at retracting your shoulders and tightening up your upper back. The same is true of hip flexor stretching. Doing the couch stretch or wall stretch that I put a video up for a few weeks ago is extremely effective at loosening your hip flexors and quads, but it can be very painful. The key is to make it a habit of doing stretches like this every day. They require no equipment and can be done in ten minutes total.

Great job on the CrossFit Total today everyone and I’ll see you in the gym!


Almost Paleo Cognac Sauce Fillets

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

I don’t think cognac is Paleo, but this recipe is so good, so easy and so fast to make that I just had to post it. It only takes 10 minutes but serves with the quintessence of an anniversary dinner.


  • 3 to 4 four ounce steak fillets, aprx 1 1/2 inches thick, sprinkled with 1/8 tsp salt (top sirloin works, too; I’ve found the fillets at Trader Joes to be good and not too expensive)
  • 3/4 cup low sodium beef broth
  • 2 Tbsp cognac plus an additional 1/2 tsp
  • 1 tsp low sodium worcestershire sauce, or Paleo worcestershire
  • 1 tsp butter or ghee
  • fresh ground pepper
  • handful of parsley, chopped

Place a skillet (preferably cast iron) on top of stove with heat set to high. When pan is hot, add steaks and cook 2 minutes on each side. After this, lower heat to medium and cook an additional 2 minutes on each side. Meanwhile, mix together beef broth, 2 tablespoons of the cognac, and the worcestershire sauce. After steaks have cooked, remove from pan and set aside. Still on medium heat, add sauce mixture deglazing the pan and reducing the liquid to about 1/4 cup. At this point, turn heat off and add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of cognac and 1 teaspoon butter or ghee. Pour sauce over steaks, sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper, a dash of chopped parsley and serve. Steamed Kale is especially nice with this, picking up the sauce flavors from the plate.

The Cult

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

“CrossFit is a cult.  It’s a good cult, though.”  I have my doubts about this whole cult thing, though I’ll admit that the perception of us as a cult gives us more ideas for clever T-shirts.

Just like this, only with barbells.

Just like this, only with barbells. as cult as meaning:

1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers.

We do have classes on Sundays, but I’ll leave it up to you to call that “religious worship.”  The second definition might be close, if you consider the ideal to be fitness.  I think that most of us hold a “great veneration” for being fit, but that’s kind of a vague definition.  Usually a cult needs to have a charismatic leader and they need to exploit their followers by taking their money and controlling their lifestyle.

Now, I’d hardly call what we do at the gym to be exploitive and controlling, but where CrossFit differs from many other fitness protocols– and I think the origin of it being called a cult– is that it promotes a lifestyle.  We encourage people to engage in certain activities and avoid others, to subscribe to a strict diet and to get plenty of sleep.  Other types of exercise, like joining the local softball team or hitting a regular gym, don’t try to inject themselves into the rest of your life.

We’re not pushing that lifestyle because we believe that it will purify you and only the pure will survive the coming apocalypse (though if you’re fit you might be better prepared for the zombies).  We encourage it because there is a growing body of research that suggests that such a lifestyle will allow you to live a longer, happier, healthier life.

It’s true because The Leader said it’s true.  So leave your worldly possessions behind, come to the gym and drink the Kool Aid.

Quantities of Sleep for Top Performers

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011
Most of these kids get enough sleep

Most of these kids get enough sleep

Sleep is essential. We all know how important sleep is. Virtually every parent in the gym does everything they can to ensure their kids get enough sleep, because its clear how much their behavior and performance is impacted by limited sleep. So why do we adults so often skimp on sleep? I am not speaking from a position of great success in this area. I struggle to get enough sleep. If I were coaching myself, I would see my sleep patterns as the first thing I need to fix to see significant gains in health and fitness. I could make all the excuses about, well I own a small rapidly growing business, I have young children and a wife that actually wants to spend time with me. Ok, so to keep all of this going, I am willfully sacrificing my health to sleep less than I should.  This is something I need to work on.

Rich L. sent me a great post on the sleep habits of some top performers.

How Sleeping Like a Pro Can Boost Your Game

Be sure to click on the graphic of the chart to blow it up. There are some very interesting results from sleep studies with athletes and other individuals on there. Also, not that Tiger Woods only gets 4 hours of sleep/night. I wonder if that has anything to do with his recent performance slip. He’s certainly running his cortisol levels too high recently.

So, stop reading the blog and go get some sleep!

Telemeres, Telemores, DNA and Aging

Saturday, May 21st, 2011
Our life

Our life

Before I get into today’s blog I want to give a quick shout out to Noah G’s new venture. Take a look over at:

He has a lot in the pipeline as well. Ask him about it in the gym. CF Marin members get a 20% off through June 30th using coupon code CFMARIN. Check it out and support our fellow CFMariner.

So as a chemical engineer, looking at life processing is pretty boggling. Here’s an incredibly complex chemical system that is able to take in energy from its surroundings and actually build on and repair itself, keeping itself running for around 100 years provided nothing too major happens to it. From a purely chemical perspective this is unheard of. Trying to do this with most reactive processes simply doesn’t work. Entropy gets in the way and things come to a grinding halt very quickly. Significant work is required to keep inputting energy into the system, ensuring your reactive agents are kept pure, side reactions are minimized and filtered out when they occure, etc.

So then, if this process works so well, particularly in the first 20 years of human life, why then does it seem to turn around and suddenly go downhill. There has been a lot of research into this, because, well human longevity is a big deal. It all comes down to what happens when DNA replicates itself. Just that the process does what it does is a major deal, but that the process can do it as many times as it does is staggering. Unfortunately the process is not perfect. Replications are not ideal and over time DNA changes. Take a listen to this podcast to get a quick view of what’s going on with the chemicals in your body. This is part of why nutrition, limiting exposure to environmental toxins and other lifestyle choices can have an impact on how quickly, and how well you age. The damage that is done to your DNA can be reduced, or increased by many factors. Lets try to keep our DNA replicating as well as possible for as long as possible.

Truth Calkins discusses the amazing world of Telomeres and Telemores