Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Post-Workout Recovery - Dealing With DOMS


I've been getting a lot of questions lately about recovery following a workout. This one pairs off pretty well with my Injury Prevention post because the best thing you can do to aid recovery is train intelligently and prevent injury. Thats number one. Preventing injury should be the highest priority of any athlete. It doesn't matter how much you can pull or how fast you can run a 40 if you have a blown out knee and a surgically repaired shoulder. I've seen promising collegiate athletic careers tossed out a window simply because a trainer pushed their client too hard and neither the client nor trainer had the good sense to say, "we should slow down."

I think the word "recovery" may mean different things to different people so I'm going to define it insofar as it will be used here. The question's I've been getting seem to deal mostlyl with pain management or the ability to ease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). If you've ever worked out with any kind of intensity you're probably familiar with DOMS. It can range from mildly annoying to almost paralyzing depending on it's intensity. Luckily, there is very little evidence to demonstrate that DOMS has any long term negative effects on your physiology. In fact, there's a fair amount of evidence that suggests that the intensity and duration of DOMS has almost nothing to do with any concurrent muscle damage. 

Yes, you read that right. Soreness is not an accurate indicator of muscle trauma. They've done studies where they ask people about their soreness and then evaluate actual muscular trauma either through a muscle biopsy, blood borne markers (creatine kinase and in extreme cases myoglobin) or some level of electronic scan and then statistically evaluate the link between soreness and trauma. The general consensus? There seems to be a positive correlation between soreness and trauma...and that's about it. Any good scientist knows correlation does not imply causation and as such the only real conclusion we can draw about DOMS is that if you feel soreness it's probably because you did some activity. Beyond that there is not a terribly large body of scientific work surrounding DOMS and it's significance or management.

I know that on initial reading it may seem that the only conclusion you can draw from this is that you're basically 'effed and you just have to figure it out. Fortunately, the truth is quite the opposite. I am going to offer you what I can in terms of methods to aid in recovery from a normal workout. It should be noted that I am specifically dealing with general recovery following an athletic event and not injury rehab. That is another topic entirely. There is some cross over, to be sure, but it would be highly unprofessional for me to hand out generic recommendations on how to rehab specific injuries. 


1) Nutrition - Too often these days the subject of nutrition is directly associated with weight loss. Whether we do it consciously or not, it seems that 90% of the people I know who attempt some level of dietary modification do it for the express purpose of losing weight. Now, that's perfectly acceptable for certain situations but let me offer you this metaphor to explain why, in terms of recovery, it is not always the ideal paradigm. 

Your body is a machine. Biological growth can best be defined as assimilation of organic matter. In other words, growth is taking in external organic building blocks and using them to improve the quality, function, and size of your machine. Weight loss generally requires a caloric deficit, you need to burn more fuel than you take in. The problem with this, in terms of recovery, is that if you are constantly at a caloric deficit, you have no calories left over for your body to use as repair materials. This is an incredibly general metaphor that does not deal with the purpose of different macronutrients in your diet but I think the general message still stands: If you are always burning more than you are taking in, you are always breaking your body down. Your body needs nutrients to recover.

-Guidelines for Eating for Proper Recovery-
-Protein Consumption - The recommendations for this are f*cking all over the place depending on who you ask. Registered Dietitians (RDs) tend to recommend 1g/kg of body weight which is in my opinion extremely low. I weigh about 190lbs = 86.2 kilos, so they would recommend 86 grams of protein per day. Honestly, if you are not particularly active and if you don't strength train this may be adequate, I don't know, I haven't eaten like that since high school. 
In terms of the fitness community and particularly in strength training circles the general recommendation is 1-2g of protein PER LB of body weight. That means I should shoot for 190-380 g/day. Now 380g may sound a little extreme to some people but it is the general consumption for a large number of strength athletes (olympic/powerlifters). If your main goal is not to get absolutely gigantic, then 2g/lb is probably a bit much. That being said, if you are an active person and you strength train it is my personal belief that you should get at least 1g/lb of body weight. You will recover faster and build more muscle. Plus, 1g protein is only 4 cals so 150g protein is only around 600 calories. It's really not as much as it seems.

 There is some indication that taking in a small amount of protein or branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) 30-40min prior to a strength workout will increase protein synthesis following training. In other words, taking a small amount of protein before your workout will improve both your post workout recovery and may lead to increased muscle gain.

-Carbohydrate Consumption- Everyone is carbophobic these days. We went from being terrified of eating fat to realizing all of it's health benefits and now it seems carbohydrates have replaced fat as the popular nutritional scapegoat. Saying that carbs are bad for you is like saying gasoline is bad for an engine. Well, if your engine runs off ethanol, sure, that's a bad idea; or if your gasoline is poor quality probably not too good for it either. 

The point is that carbs are not only okay, they are important and necessary. You just have to focus on what type of carbs you're eating. The amount of carbs you need is based heavily on what type of activity you're engaging in. If your exercise tends to be more on the hard and fast side, you could probably use a little bit more CHO to replenish your glycogen stores. Your best option for healthy carbs is produce. Fruit tends to be more on the simple carbohydrate side while a lot of vegetables tend to be more starchy (complex). Simple carbs break down quickly and are easily utilized, meaning they make a great pre-workout snack. Starches and more complex carbohydrates are better for replenishing glycogen stores and fighting hunger. They take a little while longer to break down so you feel full longer. Starches can be found in vegetables like potatoes. Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods. Ever. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) tend to be more fibrous. Fiber is an important part of your diet, but it has more to do with overall health and body function than workout recovery specifically. 

If you are predominantly an endurance athlete (triathlons and such) your primary fuel source is actually going to be fat. Interesting human body factoid - depending on your preferred activity your body becomes better at storing the required fuel source in your muscles - sprint athletes tend to have larger stores of glycogen while endurance athletes tend to have larger stores of intramuscular fat.

-Fat Consumption- See entry on carbohydrate consumption. Basically the same rules apply here. It's not about whether fat is good or bad, it's that there are good and bad fats. You should try to get most of your fat calories from healthy sources (walnuts, almonds, fish, avocados, etc.) rather than concentrated saturated fat (fatty cuts of meat) even though a little saturated fat in your diet is healthy. In terms of eating for recovery, you should be eating enough to replenish the fuel you burned.

-Micronutrients (vitamins) - If you eat a healthy, balanced diet that contains a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables and plenty of dark leafy greens you're probably getting the majority of your vitamin needs covered. Vitamins play a whole host of important roles in our body, from acting as co-enzymes in metabolic processes (b-vitamins) to aiding in proper function of your eyes (vitamin A). In terms of athletic performance, if you aren't getting the appropriate levels of these micronutrients you may have all the right fuels and building blocks but you may still be short circuiting the cellular processes that allow your body to use all that good stuff. Personally I'm a huge supporter of getting most nutrients (macro and micro) from natural food sources rather than supplements, but in a pinch a multivitamin and a shot of whey protein are acceptable. In general your body simply tends to absorb nutrients from real food better. (It's this thing called's...complicated.)
Obviously everyones nutritional needs are different depending on age, size, activity level and choice f activity. The take home message, however, is pretty simple. If you feel that you are not recovering or that your progress is beginning regress, take a look at your diet. If you take your training seriously you should have a good idea where your calories are coming from and how much you're consuming each day. Go through these suggestions and re-evaluate if your calorie and macronutrient allotments are where they should be. I would say that almost everyone I talk to who is a beginner to moderate exerciser (0-3 years of training experience) severely underestimates their protein needs. Start with that and readjust as necessary.

Post workout nutrient timing is also an important factor. Generally speaking you should take in some combination of carbohydrates and protein IMMEDIATELY following an intense workout. The ratios and amounts of carbs to protein is, again, somewhat under dispute, but a common recommendation is 2:1 carbs:protein. A pretty sound recommendation is 40g carbs and 20g protein, although specific needs have to be adjusted for specific situations. If your focus is fat loss you may want to limit or skip the carbs altogether, while if you are supplementing with creatine you may need to take in up to 100g of carbs. Fitness is a field of specificity permeated by generalities. I blame capitalism...and those damn kids...whoever they may be.

2) Post Workout Stretching -  Stretching may be one of the most highly debated topics in exercise physiology. The reason is because while it is one of the most common components of exercise programs, there is really no scientific evidence that it has any positive effect on injury prevention or recovery. There is even some evidence that it may hinder progress in strength training by neurologically preparing your muscles to relax rather than fire. 

I am referring specifically to static stretching; the type of stretching that involves holding the same position for anywhere from 15 seconds to a minute or two. There is a fair amount of evidence that dynamic/active stretching (warm up activities like  walking toe touches or butt kicks) may help prep your body for activity but seeing as how this post is about recovery I'm not really going to address that here. I just felt it was worth mentioning.

So, if stretching doesn't help heal or prevent injury, what is it good for? Fortunately it's great for specifically what we are discussing: pain management. Stretches are an essential part of most orthopedic rehab programs because stretching helps mediate pain. It also leads to increased range of motion and flexibility. Flexibility is a huge component of healthy movement and by ensuring you have a healthy range of motion in your joints you can set yourself up to avoid a whole lot of pain and injury.
In general static stretches should be held for 30-60s each stretch. If you're hurting following a certain workout check out for some stretches and get cracking. Or...stretching. Whatever. It may not help you heal faster but it won't hurt you and it may make you feel better. Far as I'm concerned that makes it worthwhile. 

3) Self Soft Tissue Mobilization (SSTM) -  In addition to our muscles and tendons our entire muscular system is surrounded by these sheathes called fascia. They have become something of a hotbed of scientific research of late as people realize how much the fascia plays into functional performance. There are large camps in both the fitness and exercise physiology world that believe "knots" in your fascia may lead to pain, decreased flexibility and ultimately decreased performance. The most common methods of SSTM are using a foam roller or a lacrosse ball and basically pressing on the knots; attempting to relax your muscle in a way that the knots "melt" away.

I put these words in quotes because I've had conversations with physical therapists that swear by foam rollers and myofascial release and I've had conversations with therapists who think it's all a bunch of hippie garbage. I read an article a week ago that claimed that our fascia is in fact so strong that attempting to manipulate it with anything short of a pair of forceps and a machine is pointless. Seems like a pretty extreme claim but apparently the guy making it runs a laboratory. Me? I'm just over here writing sh*t and yellin' at people. 

The point is that the body of science on this stuff is still very young which makes basing any claim about it on scientific evidence dubious at best. Failing the ability to provide you with a scientific basis, what I can offer you is my personal experience. I love my foam roller. I use it several times a week, sometimes multiple times a day particularly if my legs are sore. Sometimes I use it like a rolling pin, rolling back and forth to massage the muscle and sometimes I find a particularly painful knot and just hang out on it, pushing it into the foam roller until it starts to go away. I believe there is also some limited evidence that using it as a massage may help increase blood flow to the areas in need of repair, but I honestly don't remember exactly where I read that. I read a lot. Seems like a reasonable claim considering that most masseuses claim the same thing but I'm not positive about the science behind it. 

Does it make me heal faster? I don't really know. 
Does it make me perform better? Again, jury is still out. 
Does it make me feel better? Yes. Absolutely. Every single time.

I had a hip injury from kickboxing that plagued me for years. Every now and then it still flares up a bit if I'm not careful with my form or if I get a bit overzealous with my intensity. My foam roller has helped me manage the pain from that injury and in my opinion has contributed significantly to my recovery.
The reality, unfortunately, is that this is anecdotal evidence and therefore may be complete bullsh*t. That being said, I love my foam roller and I would recommend it to anyone. It may not help the way we currently think it does, but it's not going to hurt you and once again, it is definitely useful for managing pain. 

4) Temperature Therapy -  This is a fairly broad category that includes the usage of both hot and cold packs, whirlpools, ice baths and contrast therapy. Luckily this is one subject to which there is a fairly substantial amount of scientific evidence so I can rattle off to you what works and how fairly quickly. Lets do this.

-Ice packs- Ice packs are great for managing pain. They also aid in the reduction of inflammation and swelling. I wouldn't necessarily recommend using them just to deal with sore muscles, but if your DOMS has become so intense it's affecting your routines of daily living it's not the worst thing you could do. In general, however, ice packs are best for injury. They may help you feel better but if you are feeling stiff and achy, the cold temperature is only going to make the joint or muscle more stiff because it causes the tissue to constrict. While this is actually precisely why it helps with swelling and inflammation, it can be counter productive in terms of restoring lost mobility. 

-Hot packs- Hot packs, and I guess this is probably obvious, basically do the exact opposite of what Ice packs do. While they are not the best for intense swelling and inflammation, they can be useful in aiding mobility. The heat causes vasodilation which increases blood flow and theoretically helps bring nutrients to the area that may aid in recovery. On a much more surface level, warm tissue is more pliable and therefore easier to move and stretch. I don't particularly like hot packs myself, but that is entirely out of personal preference. 

-Ice Baths- One of the most common recovery methods for professional athletes. I can not say this any louder, this sh*t is f*cking stupid. It is dangerous and in some extreme cases it can f*cking kill you. I don't care who swears by it I did my research and I was unable to find any scientific evidence supporting the benefits of an ice bath. Well, actually it can be useful in cases of extreme fever to help lower the body temperature but that's not really what we're talking about here now, is it? Just think about this logically for a second. You just went and worked out. Your body temperature is elevated as is the activity of your cardiovascular system. Your vasculature is dilated and blood is pumping through your muscles. All of this is aided by your elevated temperature (that's why it's called WARMING up.) Now tell me, do you think it makes sense to then go jump into an ice cold water bath? You are basically giving your body an environmental stimulus that has the exact opposite effect of working out and it happens in a much faster, much more punctuated manner. It can cause dangerous fluctuations in heart rate and blood pressure and may lead to a cardiac event. Also, at what f*cking point were we able to convince ourselves that hypothermia is good for you? Hm? Where did we get that idea? I don't get it. If you want to join a polar bear club as an expression of your personal bad-assery, have at it hoss. Just don't tell yourself that you're doing it for your health, because you aren't.

-Contrasts Baths- Contrast baths/therapies are modalities where you alternate between periods of high and low temperatures. In general contrast therapy is performed on specific body parts rather than on your entire body but as far as I can tell from the research this is more a matter of practicality than efficacy. It's easier to submerge your hand in two different buckets than to set up two different temperature baths. 

Now I know what you may be thinking. I just told you ice baths are bad for you. I'm not retracting my statement. The difference here is that when alternating between hot and cold you are causing alternating vasoconstriction and dilation. There seems to be some evidence that this alternating "pumping" action helps to alleviate pain and speed recovery. Apparently it helps move metabolic garbage out of you muscles and lymphatic system by indirectly massaging your physiological plumbing. Kind of strange and in my four years in a clinic I only saw it used twice, but it seemed worth mentioning at the very least. 

5) Active Recovery -  This is exactly what it sounds like. There is a large body of evidence that one of the best ways to speed recovery is to keep moving. We see it in injury rehab with maintenance of range of motion (if you stop moving following surgery, you may permanently lose range of motion due to scar tissue formation) and we see it in athletics with what's called the Repeated Bouts Effect. It may be a little counter intuitive but the basic principle is very simple. So your legs are sore from those squats you did yesterday? Go do some squats today and you'll feel better.

I know. As I said it may sound like the opposite of what you should be doing but the point is not to do the same workout, it's to put your body through similar movements. If you squatted 315 for sets of 5 on monday, you shouldn't do the same thing on tuesday. It may, however, be beneficial to do a couple of bodyweight squats or sets with a lighter weight. Basically what happens when you do this is some combination of a lot of the stuff we've already covered. You are doing active stretching and mobility by repeating the movement through the full range of motion. You are warming your muscles up and enhancing their ability to stretch and move, you're just doing it with activity rather than temperature therapy. On top of that, you're also doing a lot of what contrast therapy does the difference is that instead of vasoconstriction/dilation, the alternating flexing and relaxing of your muscles is causing the pumping effect.

6) Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) - I'm not a doctor and therefore I am not comfortable recommending the use of any pharmaceutical substance for any reason. It really just isn't my place. What I would offer you instead is some research I've seen regarding the use of NSAIDs as a recovery aid. It seems in most cases, while they are useful for managing pain, they may actually blunt the training response. In other words, NSAIDs may negatively affect your gains. Working out causes trauma to your body on a microscopic level. In general, where there is trauma, there is inflammation. It is a natural part of the healing process. The theory is that by blunting the inflammatory process, you may actually be blunting the healing process and therefore reducing muscular recovery and growth. The exact mechanism for this is still not understood as far as I know. 

Curiously enough, in older adults (50yrs +) NSAIDs actually seem to have the opposite effect. Unfortunately this was only seen in one study, and again, the mechanism proposed was highly hypothetical. 

Personally I try to avoid NSAIDs as much as possible to deal with workout soreness. I prefer to use drugs when absolutely necessary, not just when I'm slightly uncomfortable.

7) REST (***SLEEP***) - This may seem obvious but apparently it just isn't to a lot of people. If you are working out twice a day, 6 days a week and wondering why it is that you're perpetually sore maybe you're just doing too much. I know that's not what you want to hear but tough. It's the truth. Your body needs periods of rest to recover and progress. If you aren't resting, not only are you impeding your individual workouts, you are severely impeding your overall progress. Physiological changes occur by and large when your resting, not when you're at the gym. Spending more time away from the weight room floor might do your body good. 

It's also important to note that if you are highly active you need to get regular sleep. In some ways Sleep may be the most important variable in your recovery. Everyone has different requirements for sleep but in general if you're active you should be shooting for 8-10 hours of sleep a night. I know it seems like 6 hours isn't that much of a difference but I guarantee you your body will notice. If you rain hard and only sleep for 6 hours a night for weeks on end eventually the neurological fatigue and physical strain will catch up to you. Get your sleep. No excuses. In terms of progress sleep is every bit as important as proper programming. Every. Bit. Think about that. 

8) Appropriate Training Volume - This is pretty directly related to rest but not quite the same thing. Training volume can be looked at on different time intervals - hourly, daily, weekly etc. One of the most common causes of inadequate recovery is having far too much volume. It may be that you're doing too much every week, or it may be that you just spend too much time in the gym every time you're there. You don't need to be in the gym for 2 hours pretty much ever. You just don't. Athletes may train for several hours a day every day but that training includes skills practice, strategy sessions, running plays and gameplay fundamentals. They aren't working out for four hours a day and you shouldn't be either. 
9) Supplementation - Personally I hate this subject. It's not that supplements don't work nor that they don't have their appropriate place in a training program, it's that far too often people imbue supplements with a power they simply do not have. No magical pill or powder exists that you can just go to the store and chug down tonight then wake up tomorrow morning in perfect physical condition. The closest thing I can think of is HGH and not only is it a controlled substance, but even HGH won't solve your problems overnight. I like whey protein because it makes life easier and BCAAs seem to be all the rage in supplementation these days but you guys should all realize something. As long as there is a demand for something, people will try to sell it to you. Whether or not that thing actually exists is completely irrelevant. Just because some tub at vitamin shoppe has post workout recovery plastered all over it doesn't mean it's going to turn you into the hulk. Look at the supplement facts...usually those supplements are some combination of vitamins, protein and carbohydrates. If your nutrition is on point you don't need supplements. 

I'm not saying you shouldn't ever use supplements. Like I said before, I know a fair amount of people who really like BCAAs. Whether or not those aminos are really helping them recover faster, these people are feeling less sore and more energized for their workouts. The placebo effect can be a beautiful thing. All I know is that BCAAs are expensive as hell, and I'm not about to recommend an expensive dietary supplement that is essentially fancy protein. If you want to give it a try by all means be my guest, but don't let anyone tell you you need it, 'cuz you don't. 

A lot of times when people ask m about recovery it seems like they're looking for a magical solution. They want some supplement, some powder or pill that they can just go and buy and chug down tonight that's going to solve all of their problems. Or they want some series of exercises - 1 series of exercises for everyone and every body - that's going to alleviate all of their pain and soreness. I'm sorry guys but this sh*t doesn't exist. If it did and I had it to offer you I wouldn't be writing blog posts in my underwear.

I mean...from my office in my fancy under armor workout gear. Yea...

Well, there you have it. The most important aspects of post workout recovery to the best of my knowledge. I'm happy to answer any questions or respond to any comments you guys might have. You know where to leave 'em.

As always, good luck and good lifting.


Todays Workout:
Power Cleans
5-3-1-1-1-1-1 maxed at 205 (new PR)

Deadlift 245x5/Pushups x10 - 5 sets

175lb clean/3 burpees EMOM 10 minutes.

Fall over and vomit. Repeat. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Injury Prevention

Injury prevention and rehabilitation is by no means my area of expertise. This is not because I do not have extensive experience with it. I've spent the last four years of my professional life in a managerial role at a high volume outpatient orthopedic rehab facility. I've actively participated in the rehabilitation of everyone from athletes and the elderly to a twelve year old child who was run over by a tractor. The purpose of telling you that I'm not an expert is not to undermine the advice I'm about to give you; it's to highlight the importance of a simple truth. Injury prevention and rehabilitation is an incredibly complex, multifaceted topic.

It's complicated for a number of reasons but the main one is fairly straightforward. Everyone's body is different. While there are established movement patterns that tend to be the best for certain exercises and tasks, ultimately every individual's ability to adhere to that strict pattern is going to be different and for some extreme cases, outright impossible. This principle applies to both rehabilitation and general fitness. While there are gold standard exercises, everyones tolerance to and individual benefits from each movement are going to be different and any proper program design should reflect this.

The way I see it there are two ends to the spectrum of human performance. On one side we have the rehabilitation and return to baseline. On the other side we have baseline into athletic performance enhancement and development. A confusing phenomenon is that on a very surface level the foundational principles of each side appear to contradict with one another. Rehab involves a huge amount of single joint, single muscle group isolation exercises where most athletic performance programs focus on training muscle groups and energy systems together. Of course, the more in depth your understanding becomes the more you realize that ultimately both modes of though can benefit from the other when applied in the appropriate situations. I'm going to do my best to synthesize my knowledge of both sides to provide you guys with some reasonable and easy to follow advice on how to avoid injuries and deal with minor setbacks along your path to becoming invincible.

Because Batman and rings. 
Guidelines for Injury Prevention 
 Keepin' it Proper

1) Proper Technique: I think I've gone over this multiple times but it absolutely bears mentioning here. Practicing and using proper technique is quite literally the most important aspect of injury prevention. If you are sacrificing proper form for increased weight or duration of an exercise, you're f*cking up. In training terms muscular failure is not meant to be considered the point where you can't move, it's the point where you can't complete another repetition with picture perfect form. This sh*t is not negotiable. Your form needs to be on point, always. If you aren't sure, find a professional who can help. In fact, if you send me a picture or video of your form on ANY exercise I would be happy to give you pointers, free of charge.

2)Proper warm up: This is probably another one that you've been told a thousand times but my guess is unless you're a competitive athlete you probably don't pay much attention to it either. Your body needs time to shift into gear before it can perform optimally. Fighters literally spend 30 minutes to an hour warming up before an actual bout. Now, if someone on their physical level still needs a warm up, don't you think you might too? It really doesn't matter if you are lifting weights, playing a sport or going bouldering blindfolded; your body needs to warm up. 
You need 5-7 minutes of a general warm up first, this is basically to raise your body's temperature and get your muscles moving. This could be anything: jumping rope, jogging in place, doing bear crawls or shooting a few hoops for example. The key is to start slowly and gradually increase until you're warm but not exhausted. After that you need 5-7 minutes of a specific warm up. If you're preparing for a sport, this portion of the warm up should involve sport specific movements and drills. If you're running, you should run. If you're going to be lifting weights, the best warm up is to do a couple of sets or even a circuit of the exercises you'll be doing with a lighter weight than your work weight. This will prep both your muscles and your nervous system for oncoming activity. When your muscles and connective tissue are warm they're more pliable and resistant to tear. When your nervous system has been activated it fires more efficiently and provides more consistent control of your body.
Sometimes selling people on a warm up to prevent injury is difficult so I'll tell you why I do it: it makes you stronger and better at whatever you're doing. If you warm up properly, you should be able to run faster, lift more and perform at a higher level in every way. A good warm up really is that effective.

It's important to note that what constitutes a good warm up is incredibly individual. What is a light warm up to some may be a moderate to intense work out for others. Proper care should always be used when selecting appropriate warm-up activities.

I'm starting to sound like a textbook. F*ck.

3) Proper training progression and periodization: Some of the most common injuries in sports are not related to a specific incident. They're overuse injuries; the result of too much training or repetition in a certain movement without enough recovery or cross training. Shin splints, tendonitis and recurring irritation or inflammations of that nature are some of the most common examples. There is a more sinister side to overuse injuries, however. 
When your body is injured or inflamed, you will typically have some type of concurrent performance loss (when your sh*ts fucked up, you don't do things quite so good as you used to). Our bodies are performance machines so they like to help us cheat. The result of these two things is that when you begin to have trouble with a certain movement, your body will attempt to cheat by altering the pattern in such a way that the task becomes easier and therefore doable. There's all sorts of biomechanics and complex physics having to do with moment arms and levers and sh*t but on a primal level you guys should all know what I'm talking about. Inflammation can lead to creation of unhealthy movement patterns that lead to further complications. They may even lead to a real, now-you-f*cked-up kind of injury where you need to have someone cut your sh*t open and sew it back together. The point is overuse injuries are very bad. They are also incredibly frustrating for us professionals because they are fairly easily prevented with proper training programs. 
Periodization is yet another complex topic to which many people have already dedicated gigantic, cryptically worded tomes and therefore something I can't do any real justice here. What follows is what I think are the most important considerations in terms of programming for preventing injuries:

-Focus on form FIRST- If you are doing any new exercise or a new routine, your ONLY focus should be on hitting the movements with absolute mechanical perfection (to the best of your ability). Increasing weight and intensity will come soon enough. First things first. 

-Increase weights/intensities at a steady but REASONABLE rate- Once you've got your form down you can focus on upping your intensity but this is the most common place where people lose focus. We all want to go harder and faster (...) and our bodies are excellent at cheating our way to it. Don't do that.   While your muscles may be getting bigger and stronger the support structures don't grow at the same rate (your tendons grow at about 1/10th the speed of your muscle fibers). You need to give your body time to catch up and maintain its structural integrity. The most common recommendation I've heard is the 10% rule. You should not increase your total workload by more than 10% a week. That means if you run three miles this week you shouldn't try to run more than 3.3 next week. It's important to note that this increase is per WEEK, not workout. With lifting I would be a bit more conservative, sometimes as low as 5% per week. Think about it; if you are benching 150, should you really try to go up to 165 next week? Maybe more importantly, if you're already a beast and way up at 300, do you think it's reasonable to shoot for 330 when you were struggling with 300 only a week ago? Starting Strength which is a really popular and well regarded strength training program recommends adding 5lbs a week to each major lift in their program. I am a big fan of this approach for as long as it remains effective. It may not sound like a lot, but if you are consistent you can go from squatting 185 to 315 in about sixth months. That's really not so bad. 

-Variety- This is where true periodization really comes into play. If you are doing the same rep scheme and the same exercises day in day out for several months you are putting your body under basically the same stress in the same patterns. Not only will this hinder your progress as your body becomes more efficient and you hit a plateau, but it is basically the exact formula for an overuse injury. You're doing the exactly the same sh*t over and over. Stop it, now. This doesn't mean you can't hit the same exercises with a high frequency, they just can't be exactly the same. I squat 2-3 times a week, but I rotate between front, back and overhead squats so I almost never hit the same variation twice in the same week. Most core lifts have similar variations (think rows, presses, lunges, deadlifts, etc.)
In terms of training for a specific sport, you may not have as much freedom with this particular rule. There may be movements that are prioritized in your training as a result of the sport you're training for. This is understandable and can still be done safely but extra care should be paid to the athlete during the lifts. Pain, inflammation or discomfort that may be insignificant in other scenarios should be given priority because the athlete is not getting as much time to recover.
This is also where cross training is really important. Spending too much time with a single set of movement patterns makes you strong in all of the related muscle groups. If those are the only groups you focus on you can end up with muscular imbalances. Guess what those do? It's probably got something to do with improper movement patterns and injury. Just..guessing...

-Proper Recovery- Take some time off now and then. If you are in the gym every single day you are f*cking up, unless two or three of those days are very light, active recovery days. Don't do more than one max per week, regardless of the body parts. This can lead to nervous system fatigue - your muscles may be recovered but your nervous system is harder to gauge. When your nervous system isn't firing efficiently it can lead to -yep, you guessed it- improper movement and injury. 
There's a couple of different ways you can monitor nervous system fatigue but one of the simplest, cheapest and best guidelines I've come across is using your resting heart rate. Start taking it in the morning at around the same time when you wake up. Keep a record so you can establish an average value. If you wake up and your heart rate is significantly higher than normal (eliminating all confounding factors such as medication, alcohol, sleep deprivation etc.) then it is likely your nervous system still has not recovered completely. 
Once you are a fairly well trained individual you might be able to max more than once a week without significant CNS fatigue, but unless you're a competitive powerlifter or olympic lifter there really isn't much reason to. 

-Movement Selection- I touched on this a little bit when I mentioned cross training above. Movement selection is important for a number of reasons, sport specificity and functionality being two of the biggest. It is also incredibly important in terms of injury prevention. Unfortunately it's also something that I can give nothing other than a broad overview of in this post. If you are a healthy individual with no outstanding injuries or anatomical curiosities then most movements are acceptable. You may need to work on your flexibility and mobility in certain joints in order to hit the movement properly, but that's no big deal. I had quite a bit of work in hip flexibility and thoracic extension in order to squat properly and honestly most people do. It's ok. What I'm talking about here is modifying exercises for people who are injured or the structure of their body is different in some way. Some stuff is simple, if you have hardcore scoliosis you probably shouldn't do heavy deadlifts, but that's not what I'm talking about. More than anything the main point of this is that you should be cleared for all movements by a qualified professional before attempting them. I know that's annoying, but I guarantee you it's nowhere near as annoying as having to swap your workouts for physical therapy sessions 3 times a week. 

-Don't do stupid sh*t- This is one that I think a lot of people straight up miss out on. I don't give a sh*t what your trainer told you and I couldn't care less what your bootcamp instructor said. It's not that there aren't qualified professionals out there it's that if you are doing these things and your defense is someone told you it's ok then that person is an idiot and you should be smacked for swallowing their bullshit. So, how do you know if you're doing stupid shit? It's pretty simple. I'm gonna get Jeff Foxworthy on this b*tch.

Does your exercise have a name that's more than two words? Then you're probably doing some stupid shit.

Example: Single leg kettle bell deadlift to press on a bosu. Individually a lot of this stuff is good. Single leg- good, kettle bell - good, deadliest-awesome, press-fantastic! Now why the f*ck do you need to do them all at once? You're not being efficient. You're not creating or emulating a beneficial pattern. You are too unstable to get the maximum benefits of any individual exercise and you're wasting everyones time. Stop. Now.

Does your exercise involve more than a single piece of equipment? Then you're definitely doing some stupid shit.

You can get sick fit with just your own bodyweight, doubly so with just a barbell and a squat rack. If you are holding one kind of weight in one hand, a different in the other while standing on something, you're f*cking up. Badly. 

Does your exercise have a straightforward purpose that can be explained in a sentence or two? If not, you're doing some stupid shit.

Take the single leg kettle bell deadlift to press. What the f*ck is the purpose of that? "well single leg improves balance" Sure, but you can just stand on one leg. In fact there's a growing body of evidence that standing on destabilized surfaces only increases your ability to stabilize yourself on an UNSTABLE SURFACE. In other words, unless you plan on living your life standing on a boss, it's probably not doing much for your functional fitness level. Why do you have to do all that other stuff with it? You don't and you shouldn't. Exercises should be specific to their goals and they should not, in most cases, be blended. 

Did you get your workout routine from a magazine with a glossy cover? Then you, my friend, have f*cked up and you are the current king of stupid sh*t. I used to read a lot of Men's Health back in the day and the reality is that from time to time they did have some solid information. The problem is that their main motivation is not your health, it's selling articles. They have a monetary incentive to keep providing you with new, interesting, exciting information and workouts pretty much irrespective of their level of bullsh*t. It's not so much that these magazines have nothing to offer, but you should understand their place in the hierarchy of things. Basing your entire workout around an article you read in Muscle & Fiction magazine is like basing your entire financial life around an article you read in Entrepreneur. Would you do that? Please say no.

4) Understand Pain - I think these days too many of us have the attitude that we should work through pain. In the interest of embracing the suck, I would frequently agree. In the realm of injury prevention, however, there are certain types of pain that are glaring red flags and should signal the end of a workout or at the very least the end of a particular exercise if the pain does not go away. They are:
-Sharp, Stabbing Pain- I'm not talking about the kind of deep burn you get in your muscles when you're Anchorman-ing your way through your 1000th rep. I'm talking about feeling like someone just stuck a f*cking knife into you. If you feel pain this intense, stop what you're doing.
-Numbness - If you feel some type of pain followed by persistent numbness, stop. This could be an indicator of some type of nerve damage or nervous system malfunction.
-Burning - Again, I'm not talking about that deep burn. If you have a sensation that feels like someone just put a soldering iron up to your skin, stop. This is also typically an indicator of some type of nervous system damage/involvement. The same goes for tingling or a cold/wet feeling that has nothing to do with the presence of something cold or wet. 

When i set out to write this post about six hours ago I was originally going to include some stuff on proper recovery because recovery and injury prevention are pretty inescapably intertwined. Recovery is going to have to wait until tomorrow because it's almost 9:30 and I still need to hit the gym myself. The reason I dropped this picture of my buddy Maximus here is this: The truth is that injury prevention is incredibly simple. Warm up properly, progress in a measured, intelligent manner and don't do anything really f*cking stupid. It really is that simple. The problem is that no one f*cking does it. Warming up and progressing slowly isn't exciting and in your face. It's tedious and so most people just skip it altogether because who gives a f*ck if you can walk when you're fifty if you're pretty at 30? Am I right guys? Guys...?

If you're looking for a magical set of exercises that will make your body bulletproof there isn't one, well, not exactly. All of my talk about movement patterns? That's how you become invincible. Developing healthy, proper movement patterns will improve performance and prevent injury. Obviously some of us need help with those patterns. Without doing an in person evaluation it's really difficult and frankly unprofessional to prescribe corrective exercises. 
That being said, if you're anything like the average American you probably have tight hips, tight shoulders and sh*tty posture. It's cool. Happens to the best of us. If I get enough responses I'll try to do a work up of some basic exercises to combat those really common problems. Check back tomorrow for an equally intense post on proper recovery and how recovery can help prevent injury. Until then, do yourself a favor and check out You can use the search function there to find mobilization and rehabilitation exercises for pretty much every joint in your body. I will warn you, a lot of them are pretty painful but all the ones I've tried (particularly the thoracic vertebrae mobilization with lacrosse balls) are very effective.

Until next time guys and dolls. Good luck and good lifting.


Todays Workout:

Dynamic Warm-Up 10-15min

Met Con Circuit

400m run
3 Pull Ups
6 Burpees 
9 Dips
12 Kettlebell Swings (24kg)
15 Squats

 4 rounds for time

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fat Loss Through Intermittent Fasting

It's that time of the year again. Bathing suits, beaches and barbecues abound. Personally my favorite aspect of the summer is sitting outside and searing dead animal flesh with an open flame, but all the extra sun light and the opportunities to go swimming outside really don't hurt. 

Of course whenever summer comes around everyones workout tends to shift in the same direction. It's bathing suit season folks, which means every fitness outlet and article is going to try to sell you some super secret fat loss method so you can feel better in your bikini. Now I don't have any secret to offer you nor will I ever attempt to sell you on some bullsh*t, but I figured in the spirit of the season, I'd give you my take on something that has become a popular topic in the fitness field over the last year or so. It's also something that I've experimented with so at the very least I can give you some limited anecdotal perspective, for whatever that may be worth to you. 

Obligatory CrossFit Chick 

During the course of one of my varied adventures into the seedy underbelly of the internet I came across this blog: It's run by a guy named Martin Berkhan, a self-proclaimed expert on getting lean who, according to his blog, lists several oscar winning actors as clients. Obviously he can't share their names so I can't really speak to the authenticity of that statement but you can tell just from the picture on his welcome page: this dude is shredded as f*ck. 

So, what is intermittent fasting? There's a couple of different formulations of this idea that are popular at the moment.  In it's most basic form, intermittent fasting (IF) is cycling periods of fasting and feeding. Fasting means you don't consume anything caloric (typically water, tea and black coffee are acceptable) and feeding feed.

The main variation between different philosophies on IF is basically different fasting/feeding ratios. The cycle on the leangains page is 16/8 hrs fasted/fed. You have an 8 hour feeding window each day in which to consume your entire day's calories. It's honestly one of the most straight forward diet plans I've ever come across. He advocates building your meals around your workouts and making your first meal of the day your pre workout meal. It should contain about ~30% of your total macronutrients for the day, with a focus on consuming the majority of the simple carbs (read: sugars as opposed to starches)for the day in this first meal. Your post workout meal should be the largest of the day and contain around 40-50% of your macronutrients. Your third and final meal should then contain the remainder of your macronutrient needs. That's it. 3 meals, done.

Of course you can't just eat whatever you want for those 3 meals. You should be getting the vast majority of your calories from clean food, the more natural the better. He also emphasizes that you should still adhere very strictly to whatever your macronutrient requirement breakdown is in order to ensure the best results.  Honestly, that's pretty much it.

One of my favorite things about this program is that it is based on a principle that is directly contrary to what is considered the most popular opinion or "fact," regarding personal nutrition. But, we're all supposed to eat 5 or 6 meals a day, right? Each meal should be small and balanced and about four hundred calories, right? Everything is supposed to be low carbohydrate because we want to prevent insulin spikes, right? RIGHT?!?

I wrote a post a while ago about breakfast. Yet another thing we've been told since the advent of the fitness magazine: breakfast is the most important meal fo' yo' gainZ! It's Science! Turned out that this claim was at best highly suspect and at worst a flat out lie. It all goes back to an optimal hormonal environment. 

When you wake up in the morning you are typically in a fasted state (unless you're a sleep-eater, I know you people are out there.) The main reason breakfast isn't so great is because (as the name implies) it breaks your fast. In a fasted state your insulin levels are suppressed and certain hormones that lead to fat loss and muscle gain are increased (HGH/IGF-1/Glucagon).  These are all good things. When you break your fast you throw this hormonal environment off, whether it's with your breakfast or your 4th cutely apportioned, tupperware sealed paleo meal of the day. 

I know, I know. I've heard it too. We've all been told that fasting is bad for your muscles and will lead to muscle loss and fat gain as your body goes into survival mode. The thing is as far as I know, most of the studies and situations that indicate this biological behavior are referring to starvation, not fasting. What I'm saying is that long term fasting can definitely have some negative effects on your metabolism and physiology but long term means several weeks, not a day or two. The more I read into it, the more I'm not entirely sure where the whole multiple small meals thing came from. Again, I'm not saying it's a terrible idea and if it works for you you should still immediately give it up; I'm simply pointing out that the science isn't really there to the extent that we've all been led to believe. At the very least, a lot of the science that has been used to back these arguments is based on loose interpretation of nebulously worded studies. Just because some study appears to show a correlation does not mean it conclusively shows any type of causation. All real scientists should know better. Problem is that there's money to made on selling this brand of truth. Unfortunately capitalism isn't the pursuit of scientific perfection.

 Go figure.

Anyway, basically what intermittent fasting does is maximize the hormonal and nutritional benefits of both states. You get to load your body up with all the proper nutritional building blocks and fuels during the feeding state, then you get to maximize the fat burning and muscle building effects of a fasted hormonal state. If I sound like an infomercial I apologize but if the theory behind this stuff is true, it's pretty incredible. 

Those are the basics of IF and how to do it. Insofar as my personal experience, I can tell you the things that I really like about it.

-Simplicity. I'm not a big food person. It may sound strange but I find eating tedious at times. I love working out and crushing myself in the weight room but when it comes to proper nutrition, which is in a lot of ways more important, my discipline can have a tendency to lag. Paying attention to and pre planning six meals over the course of a day is annoying and I hate doing it. With IMF I don't have to and frankly, that's pretty awesome.
-Hunger/appetite control. The handful of people I've told about this approach have all asked the same thing: aren't you hungry? And the truth is honestly? No, not really. When I was eating smaller meals I never felt completely satisfied by any of my frequent squirrel grazings. I was always left wanting more and as a result I felt perpetually hungry throughout the day. Now when I eat, I eat a lot and I'm very rarely left hungry. 8 of the 16 hours im fasting I'm asleep, and then fasting for 4 hours on either end of an 8 hour feeding frenzy really isn't terribly difficult. 
-Efficiency. I'm in the early EARLY test phases of this but as far as I can tell this sh*t works. I've lost a lb every two days for the last week. I have changed nothing but the timing of my meals. That is it. 

-Gorging - eating 1200-1500 calories of non-calorically dense food in a single sitting can be trying, especially when your stomach has adapted to smaller volumes of food. It took a few days to get used to but it's fine now.
-Honestly that's really all I've got for the moment. My limited experience with IF has been entirely positive and the more research I do on fasting and a fasted state the more I become a believer. This stuff is pretty phenomenal.

The one caveat I would mention is that this particular type of IF is focused on getting lean and staying lean. Berkhan states very clearly that he is an expert on getting lean, not an expert on sports training or strength and conditioning. First, I appreciate that kind of honesty, especially in someone who is trying to make money on their knowledge and therefore has an incentive to bullsh*t. Second, this is important to note if you are an athlete or you have specific dietary needs of any kind. IF would not be a great decision for a distance runner or triathlete, for example, because those types of athletes require a more steady stream of carbohydrates for their training. The type of workouts Berkhan advocates are focused around strength and power; compound lifts of heavy weights. It's pretty standard stuff as far as that goes but those types of workouts typically require fewer carbohydrates as a fuel source, and that is reflected in IF.

In addition to his website, which is actually a very solid source of information once you sift through the douchebaggery (what can I say, he's a blogger after my own heart), there are a few really good books on the subject available. Eat, Stop, Eat by Brad Pilon is the one the site references. It also mentions The Warrior Diet by Ori Hofmekler. I've never read either of these but I have read Maximum Muscle Minimum Fat by Hofmekler which is another book he wrote on IF. Hofmekler's method is slightly different in that it is not true fasting because you are allowed to snack very lightly during your fast. It falls into the same scheme because ultimately the goal is the same, to maximize the positive effects of a fasted hormonal state. I did this diet for a while last summer and got the leanest I've been in a very long time. It wasn't until recently that I realized I'd essentially been doing intermittent fasting.

So that's it for today kids. If you're looking for something new to try check out IMF, it definitely gets my seal of approval. That being said, remember to consult your health professional before beginning any type of diet or fitness program, because I'm supposed to tell you that. So you don't die. Which would make me sad.

That... escalated quickly.

Good luck and good lifting.


EDIT: Found a pretty solid video that outlines the negatives of fasting and debunks them one by one with studies. Watch it HERE.

Todays Workout (Courtesy of my friend Katie)

Dynamic Warm Up 10-15 min

200m sprint
15 kettle bell swings (32kg)
15 Pushups

4 rounds for time

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Realities of Crossfit - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I stumbled across CrossFit about five years ago. I was taking Krav Maga classes at this run down warehouse gym in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Turns out it was also a CrossFit Box. One day when I showed up for class a little early I saw this group of people plowing through a hellish workout that involved kettle bells and gymnastics rings. The participants varied in size and appearance but it was pretty clear they were all in sick shape. Not to mention the fact that the instructor looked like a greek statue that had just finished it's fourth cycle of growth hormone. I was immediately intrigued.

I was also pretty heavily involved at MMA at the time and as it turned out a lot of the pro fighters were starting to use CrossFit for their strength and conditioning programs. The more research I did the more my curiosity was piqued. As I've said before, intensity is king and when it comes to intensity you would be pretty hard pressed to find a fitness philosophy more intense than CrossFit.

A lot has changed in the last five years. CrossFit has gone from an underground movement for fitness fanatics to borderline mainstream. They have their own sponsors, their own clothing line and their own televised national championships (If you've never heard of the CrossFit Games they're coming up soon, regionals are this weekend. Keep an eye's like a combination of strong man and the olympics, pretty wild stuff.)  The number of CrossFit boxes has increased exponentially to the point that there's almost one in every neighborhood of every major metropolitan area and suburb.

As with anything as popular as CrossFit there is a gigantic amount of hype surrounding it coupled with a fair amount of misinformation. I am not personally associated or affiliated with the organization in any capacity, professional or otherwise. I just happen to be a huge fan of their training methodology and an occasional frequenter of a few of the boxes in my area. I'm going to do my best to give you an unbiased perspective on the reality of CrossFit in the hopes of helping you to decide if it's for you.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: CrossFit Edition

The Good

-INTENSITY - As I mentioned there are really only a few types of training that come close to CrossFit's level of intensity. They focus on keeping their workouts short and fast, typically involving a great deal of maximal or close to maximal effort bouts of exercise. There's all sorts of research relating to the benefits and efficacy of this kind of exercise from improving your anaerobic threshold and improving your cardiovascular system to burning fat and building muscle. Yea, it's really that good.

-FOCUS ON TECHNIQUE- One of my favorite things about CrossFit is that they build their programs around movements rather than muscles. They use a decent sized pool of exercises but when it comes down to it they are all variations of  upper body pushes and pulls; squats, lunges and deadlifts. They do a lot of olympic lifting and a lot of gymnastic/calisthenic movements. This might be my favorite aspect of CrossFit. I know I'm repeating myself but the foundation of fitness is proper technique and healthy movement patterns. CrossFit emulates and reinforces this principle in a way I've never seen in any similar fitness "trend."

-VARIETY OF EXERCISE - We all know (or at least we should at this point) that when it comes to fitness, repetition is bad. That's how you plateau and kiss your gains goodbye. While most of CrossFit's movements do come from a small-ish pool (the organization claims to use 9 foundational movements) the number of ways in which you can combine these movements is enormous. Then throw in varied loading schemes and time intervals and you have the basis for an almost infinite number of possibilities. Workouts rarely repeat themselves within the course of six months unless they are done so intentionally.

-COMPETITION & PROGRESSION- One of the largest arguments against CrossFit is that they don't have particularly strict loading paramaters and as such it makes it difficult to scientifically gauge progress. Frankly, this is kind of crap. While the loading parameters are not quite as specific as a bodybuilding or sports performance program might be, workouts are scaled to the athlete performing them.

Most workouts are done with the aim of hitting as many repetitions or rounds of a circuit as you can within a certain time interval or accomplishing a set repetition/circuit scheme in the shortest amount of time possible. They also do olympic/powerlifting which has pretty standard weight progressions.

So, how do they measure progress? It's pretty simple. There's a bunch of benchmark workouts. You do them when you start and then you just keep working out. Every few months you try one of the benchmark workouts again and you compare scores. You are competing with yourself on a daily basis with the idea of pushing yourself to go further and harder. One of the cool things about the standardized workouts, however, is that you can meet someone from the other side of the state, country or even world and you might be able to compare a scored workout with theirs. It's always fun to put a little competitive spin on working out and CrossFit seems to have found a pretty brilliant way of doing so. Which brings me to my next point...

-COMMUNITY- This is probably one of the greatest aspects of the CrossFit Community - it's a community. When CrossFitters meet other CrossFitters its a unique (and at times humorous) bond. In my experience the vast majority of the community is incredibly positive, friendly, motivating and welcoming to quite literally everyone. In some way they are the hyperbole of the stereotypical fitness nut, always happy and smiling and full of energy and looking for new physically challenging tasks to accomplish. They're kind of like a bunch of golden retrievers...only instead of chasing tennis balls they work out. They can be annoying when you don't want to play, but it's kind of hard to not be engaged by how friendly they are towards everyone. Additionally the community is full of all sorts of experts in just about every athletic field from professional athletes and gymnasts to self defense and sports/orthopedic rehab clinicians. It is an incredibly diverse, wildly passionate and highly educated group of people. If your goal is extreme fitness, they are some great friends to have.

The Bad

-NOT FOR EVERYONE- Contrary to what the organization would have you believe, CrossFit is absolutely not for everyone. It's a nice idea, kind of like Communism, but in reality it just isn't practical. This image, my friends, is Pukey The Clown, one of CrossFit's unofficial mascots. He was created by the community as a bit of a joke due to how frequently athletes retch during their daily excursion to the box. That should tell you something about these people. They think it's funny to vomit from working out, and not just like, kinda sorta funny; they think it's f*cking hysterical.

 Personally I agree. I've vomited and made myself bleed from working out on more than one occasion and every time it has elicited borderline maniacal laughter from me and somewhat concerned but mostly frightened looks from the other patrons in the vicinity. When I said CrossFit was all about intensity I meant it. Go hard or go home is not just a saying to them, it is quite literally the epicenter of their training philosophy. If you are not trying as hard as you possibly can through every workout, you are doing it wrong.

I appreciate this level of dedication and intensity but the reality is that not everyone wants to push themselves like this nor do they have to. You can get fairly significant benefits from exercise without killing yourself every time you go to the gym. It's just fun for some of us.

-INCIDENCE OF INJURY- People get hurt doing CrossFit. Some of them get hurt pretty badly, like, surgically badly.  It's unfortunate but true. This is one of the most frequently referenced "problems" with CrossFit. Here's the reality, this isn't so much an issue with the philosophy as it is with the practitioners. Everything done is CrossFit is not only safe, but capable of being rehabilitative and useful for creating healthier movement patterns for everything you do. Here's the crux of it - it's all about proper technique.

The CrossFit certification gets trashed a lot by the wider fitness community as being a bullsh*t ploy to make money. Honestly it's one of only a handful of certifications I'm aware of that actually physically requires you to learn and demonstrate every lift used in the system. Even the NSCA-CSCS, which is the gold standard strength cert and what most college strength coaches have, doesn't require anything more than a computer based multiple choice test.

What I'm saying is that the professionals in the community know proper form and teach proper form. Unfortunately, at some point, the individual athletes need to become accountable for ensuring that this proper form is maintained throughout the workout. Even the best instructors in the world can't keep track of a twenty five person class. You could argue that the classes should be smaller or there should be more coaches which is kind of valid. Honestly though, it is my firm opinion that if you are performing any movement it is YOUR responsibility to make sure you do it properly. The whole point of training functional movements and creating proper movement patterns is that the benefits extend beyond the training floor, and your coach isn't going to follow you everywhere you go.

When you combine a competitive nature/atmosphere with high intensity and technical movements, one could say you are creating a recipe to have people sacrificing form to get those new personal bests. That's bullsh*t and we should all know better. If you are sacrificing form for the sake of a number you don't deserve, that's your fault and so is the injury. Don't blame the methodology because you couldn't swallow your pride. However, if you are not someone who thinks they can maintain proper form or cares to learn how to do it in the first place, then no, CrossFit probably isn't for you.

-COST- While in a lot of ways CrossFit is a philosophy, the organization is a business with a bottom line. In my experience the average membership is between $120-$175/month which is not completely outlandish but compared to the average full service gym that charges $20-$50/month, the difference is pretty steep. If you are motivated and educated enough you can follow a lot of the CrossFit workouts which they give away on their website for free daily, but the problem is that if you aren't experienced you might not know how to scale the workouts for your individual fitness level. Sometimes it's as simple as lowering a weight, sometimes it's a bit more complex.

 Personally, I think if you have the money to blow it is absolutely worth the investment hands down. That being said, it is a fair amount of money to spend every month for a gym membership when the entire movements philosophy is to get away from all the frilly extras and bullsh*t offered by big corporate gyms.

The Ugly

-LACK OF SPECIFICITY- Ultimately one of CrossFit's biggest pluses is simultaneously it's largest flaw. CrossFit is excellent for overall fitness because of how varied the workouts are. That being said, if your goal is just to get more fit and look better in general, CrossFit is perfect. The problem starts as soon as you have a goal any more specific than that. CrossFit is not the best way to accomplish anything, other than becoming better at CrossFit. That might sound stupid, but it is something the vast majority of the community frequently forgets, unfortunately.

What I'm saying is that if you are an athlete looking to improve athletic performance, you are going to need some sport specific work. CrossFit would provide an excellent foundation, but if CrossFit was the best way to get in shape for everything it would be the only workout used by professional athletes and guys like me would be out of a job. Luckily it isn't. Remember when I said a lot of MMA guys were doing it a few years ago? Very few of them are still doing it now because it has pretty much been demonstrated to be inferior to more sport specific conditioning programs.

Sometimes the community forgets that ultimately CrossFit is glorified cross training. I mean, come on, it's part of the freaking name. What was the purpose of cross training when it first came about? To increase performance in a certain sport or event by utilizing training methods from other sports and events. Did this mean that the athletes no longer performed their sport specific training? No, it just meant they did other things as well. CrossFit can certainly be a part of an athletes sports training regimen, but it should not be the only component.

This also applies to the average every day gym goer. If your goal is that you specifically want to change the shape of a certain part of your body, bodybuilding might be the best way to do it. Not everyone wants to look like a CrossFit athlete. If all you want is to be thinner, then maybe running is what you should go for. Every different type of exercise is a different tool and they all serve specific functions. CrossFit is kind of like the bastard child of a swiss army knife that banged a multi-attachment power screwdriver. It's versatile as f*ck, but you still can't use it to paint a wall.

-FANATICISM- Now this is something that you may or may not care for because with I'm sure you will find that this exists with just about anything. One of my biggest pet peeves about CrossFit is the random dbags in the community who forget or refuse to acknowledge all of the negative aspects that I just brought up. They go around proclaiming they are the fittest people on earth and the fittest people in history and someone needs to smack all of them because they're making the rest of us look bad. CrossFit is amazing for the right group of people and it is certainly one of the most positive trends in fitness in a very long time. That doesn't make it the ultimate of ultimates, and it sure as sh*t doesn't make you intrinsically better than anyone for doing it. One of the mainstays of the community is supposed to be humility, not condescension.

So, there you have it. Sorry for the wall of text but this isn't really a simple subject. I could probably go on about CrossFit for another couple of pages but I'll spare you the pontification. Time to go outside and enjoy some of this gorgeous weather. Hope you guys are doing the same, wherever you may be.

Good luck and good lifting.


Today's Workout:
Dynamic Warm Up - 10m
TRX Circuit - Row-Squat-PushUp-Bridge
1 of each 1st round, 2 of each 2nd round, 3 of each 3rd round etc. for 10 rounds

TRX Tabata Workout
Tabata Intervals of(20s on 10s off 8 rounds)
Squats - 144
TRX Row - 108
Burpees 86
TRX Suspended Chest Press 113
(Full 8 Rounds Each - AMRAP ea. round)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Posture Up

Stand up straight. Sit up tall. Don't slouch. Keep your head up. How many times have people told you throughout your life that you have bad posture? Maybe you're lucky and you're just one of those people who carries themselves perfectly at all times. Head up, shoulders back, walking confidently unto all challenges with which life may present them.

I am not one of those people.

I was a fat kid when I was little. Sick and fat. I did not go outside very often and I spent far too much time in front of a television, smashing a controller and shouting when the computer would kick my ass. Honestly it was kind of funny in hindsight but that's not the point. Sidetracked.

The point is that a lot of the activities that we chose to occupy our time with contribute negatively to our posture. It's not that I couldn't sit in front of the television with absolutely perfect anatomical positioning,  it's that I'm fighting a giant f*cking dragon spirit that shoots lasers out of it's face and if I need to roll up into a tightly packed ball, lay upside down or run in place with my face half an inch from the television that's what's gonna happen because that motherf*cking dragon is going down.

Passive posture is a dangerous thing. It's the term for the anatomical positions we leave ourselves in for extended periods of time: when we sit in front of the television, when we sit in front of the computer; honestly sitting in general tends to be pretty bad for most of us. Again, it's not so much because we can't maintain good posture while doing a lot of these things, it's just that we don't.

So, why does this matter? I've spent a lot of time talking about proper technique and highlighting why it's important. It plays a huge role in everything from making progress to preventing injury. Technique is the foundation of any proper workout and good posture is the foundation of proper technique.

 In Brazilian Jiujitsu a very common cue you'll hear is "posture up." What they're doing is telling the fighter to sit up straight with their head tall and their shoulders back. My professor used to tell us, "sit like little string is pulling your head to ceiling." The point of posturing up is to put your body into a position where it's difficult for your opponent to exert control over you and therefore set you up for an attack.

Following the same principle, you should always remember to do some form of "posturing up" before any of your lifts. I understand there is a significant difference between several hundred pounds of iron and an active, resisting opponent but the point is still the same: you need to set your body in the optimal position to perform and succeed.

Posture is incredibly important when squatting and deadlifting. If your shoulders are rolled forward and your body is hollowed out there is a really good chance you're going to hurt your back or your neck. Even beyond that, one of the things that I learned from watching the therapists and the patients at the clinic I used to work at is how incredibly important posture is for proper form of any upper body exercise. They would constantly be cuing for proper posture, telling the patients to keep their heads up and their shoulders back. Your body wants to help you and if you are struggling with any exercise, your body will find a way to cheat. This is even more evident in athletes with injuries. Your body will try to find a way to do what you're doing, but if you let it cheat you are doing a host of negative things for yourself. You are reinforcing improper movement patterns and exercising the wrong muscles. Ultimately, you are not strengthening what you're targeting, and you're setting yourself up for injury. Again. Sound like fun?

So there you have it. Posture isn't just the realm of grade school disciplinarians and angry nuns. Posture is important for maintaining strength and the structural integrity of your body and your joints. It is the foundation on which proper technique is built and you can't build an invincible house without a solid foundation.


Today's Workout:
Strength Day:
Deadlift 5x5
Front Squat 3x5
Bench Press 3x5
Pull Up  (strict form) 5x3