Friday, February 14, 2014

External Validation (or "Why Are We Here?")

Sometimes, both as coaches and parents, I find it helps to have some external validation for why we do what we do. Sometimes, just the sight of obvious improvements is its own reward. Other times, when the going gets tough, its awesome to hear that other people see movement and health through the same lens we do.
"All this conversation is going on about cognitive development, but we've forgotten the child's body... The amount of physical activity since the turn of the century has declined seventy-five percent; children are not playing, and through play a great deal of active learning takes place. Children used to play in natural ways, with kids of different ages, outside, basically unsupervised by adults.  Visual and auditory attention, bodily coordination--all were gained through that kind of play. This physical learning must take place before children start dealing with abstractions; it doesn't happen if children don't have those experiences."
- Phyllis Weikart, 1987, 'Round the Circle: Key Experiences in Movement for Children'
"The ability to perform gross motor skills is related directly to physical fitness. A competent mover will gladly keep moving; he or she will engage in such activities as dancing, jumping rope, and hanging and swinging on the playground equipment. A child who feels physically awkward and uncoordinated is going to avoid movement. Such a child isn't likely to take part in an after-school game of tag  or hopscotch or to climb the monkey bars during recess. Since poor movement habits tend to remain from childhood into adulthood, a physically inactive child is likely to grow up to be an inactive adult. Considering the health risks for the unfit - obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other risks - teaching children motor skills is indeed just as important as teaching language skills...The most important thing you can do is to give children the time, space, and opportunity to move."
- Rae Pica, 2008, "Learning by Leaps and Bounds: Why Motor Skills Matter," Beyond the Journal, Young Children on the Web


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Elm City CrossFit's Epic Eating Experiment

90 days. Full paleo. No sugar, no grains, no breads, no legumes. No beer. Nothing.

One hour in:

This was basically me the day before the Epic Eating Experiment started:

But replace the (not horribly unhealthy) butter with beer, ice cream cake, more beer, and some chips and pretzels.

Woke up feeling like death, and ready to actually try to tackle this thing like a boss. First challenge? My weekly gig at a seafood and burger place, where we get free drinks and food (under a certain price). My go-to meal for over two years is a burger platter (sweet potato fries and cole slaw) and a couple beers. This week? Turns out the only option (with protein) under the $10 limit was a crappy salad with some chicken on it. Ugh. May have to go for the bun-less burger next time. Replace the fries with... even more cole slaw?! No, it probably has sugar in the sauce. Damn. I tried a NorCal marguerita, which is just tequila (silver, since it has less sugar) with seltzer and lime juice. Damn... that's a tasty beverage. Not a great choice, but not a terrible one either (compared to my usual gluten-bomb beers, at least.)

So, the upshot of an eating challenge? First of all, I have team-mates to not let down. I have coaches keeping an eye on my food choices. In all, it feels like this:

But in a really nice kind of way. Alons-y!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Elm City CrossFit Kids: Resources for Parents

While the role of the CrossFit Coach in a young athlete's life and development is important, it doesn't hold a candle to the role played by the parents (inclusive of all legal guardians, etc). To help supplement the ideas that we send the kids home with, I've tried to pull together some resources from around the web, blogosphere, and podcast universe. All items should be considered required listening/reading for Elm City CrossFit Kids parents. Bear in mind, this being the wilds of the internet, there may be language and intensity, especially in the first two links. You've been warned.

1. Attitude Nation podcast with Martin Rooney

Martin Rooney (author of Training For Warriors) discusses the importance of NOT pushing kids to specialize in sports too soon. The more you want Jimmy to be a star football player, the more you need to support him by having him play other sports, learn other skills, and increase his internal solution set, so that when he DOES get on the field, he's not just another over-specialized, injury-prone has-been.

2. EliteFTS/Underground Strength podcast with Dan John

Dan John, a VERY well-regarded strength and conditioning coach, has his own spin on youth sports, but ends up at the same place: Early specialization is a one way ticket to injury. Siting the recent, massive increase in teens requiring multiple Tommy John elbow surgeries (baseball), multiple ACL surgeries (football, basketball), Dan also makes the case for multi-sport, well-rounded young athletes.

3. Paleo Solution - Robb Wolf's podcast - Episode 103 (question 5, Kids on Paleo) 

(link leads to show page with question text. You can either listen to the mp3 recording or read the pdf of the transcript. Either way, question & answer #5)

The following links were also listed on the Paleo Solution forums for further reading on the topic of kids and paleo eating. I haven't read all of them yet, so if you see something silly, let me know and I'll happily adjust the list.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

13-06-15: Increasing the Solution Set

CrossFit Kids: How getting fitter increases your "solution set"

It's easy to break life into separate categories, "work," "family," "gym," "sleep." It's easy to forget that skills gained in one area can easily transfer over into another. Improving negotiation skills at work can have surprising impacts on our family life. Improving our attitudes at the gym can have impressive carry-over into our work and family life, most likely improving sleep, too! All of this takes place in our younger athletes, too.

However, there is another more immediate benefit to be granted by having children participate in CrossFit Kids: while increasing the number of options physically available when presented with an obstacle, we are also augmenting mental problem solving skills, as now there are multiple solutions to choose from. Improved body control, upgraded mental toughness, increased experience in varied environments... all of these serve to enhance a child's (or grown adult's) ability to cope with whatever life manages to throw at them.

When first encountering a new obstacle, there are those elements that are fixed: usually the environment (classroom, park, playing field) and the nature of the obstacle itself (tests, jungle gyms, coaches/teammates). The variables are mostly contained in the person facing that obstacle, their strengths, their experiences: their innate possible solutions to the problem to be overcome. A stronger child, with more experiences, more awareness, more capabilities will obviously have an easier time dealing with the obstacle than a child lacking those improvements. Whether those obstacles are artificial (rope climbs in gym class), recreational (climbing a tree with friends), or serious/real world (climbing down a rope ladder in a home fire drill) in nature, extra skills, extra strength, extra mental fortitude will ALL come into play.

After only a few months of working with us, our athletes MORE than held their own at a CrossFit Kids Throwdown at a neighboring box. With family and coaches supporting them, they dug deep and showed what they were truly made of, and it was EPIC. ( and
Like everything in CrossFit, everything is infinitely scale-able. Regardless of the size of the 'Original Solution Set,' improvements can always be made. The smaller the original skill set, the greater the gains to be made. Factor in an atmosphere where those who complete a task first immediately start helping everyone else, through support, cheering, or even tips, and we end up with the ultimate win-win situation. Everyone improves, and everyone has a great time. As the solution set grows... so too does the enjoyment of trying to tackle new obstacles, or old obstacles in new ways. Body weight exercises, gymnastics, external weights, running, jumping: These are just a few of tools at our disposal as we work to increase the solution set of every athlete who enters into our gym.

Monday, February 18, 2013

13-02-06: Why CrossFit Kids?

13-02-06: Why CrossFit Kids?

In February of 2013, Elm City CrossFit joined the ranks of CrossFit gyms providing Kids courses to children of all ages. Given the reputation CrossFit has for extreme intensity and, occasionally, poor decision-making skills (google "Drywall CrossFit" or "overhead squat baby" and have a great read...), is it really smart to try to introduce children to this? Alternatively, is a CrossFit box really the best place to run a day-care? The answer to both questions is actually a resounding "no."

The goal is NOT to try to make children into mouth-frothing psychopaths, nor to baby-sit them. Like a lot of people, I came to CrossFit as a broken-down adult. (See an entire blog post basically called "Everything I've  Ever Done Wrong"). One of the main goals of a CrossFit Kids course has to be helping children (and the adults they will grow into) to avoid going down this path. What if, rather than hitting their 30s, and wondering what they did wrong, they hit their thirties and just kept improving? What if, to play the sport of their dreams, or to do any activity they wanted, no extra work was needed, because it had already been done?  
With the PreSchool age group ("Elements"), we have the chance to slowly and safely start introducing not just the basic skill set, but also the idea that "fitness" can be fun. Instead of going to the gym to "workout," they're going to that place where they get to run around, play dodgeball, and oh yeah, spend a few minutes each session learning how to perform the various squats, deadlifts, push-ups, etc. We have YEARS of encouraging sound mechanics and discipline before we ever consider loading them up with weights, and years of encouraging consistency of movement before we ever consider upping the intensity to anything that looks like "stereo-typical CrossFit." And the best part? At this age, we'll still actually see huge gains in strength, not because of increased resistance or anything like that, but because their brains are building the neural pathways, and reinforcing them, and recruiting muscle groups with increased efficiency... and all while they're just having fun.

In the Elementary school age group ("Foundations"), we can start adding in either unweighted or very low-weighted implements. Those overhead squats where the kids used to pretend to push up the sky? Yup, they've graduated to pvc pipes or 1# dumbbells. As they master the ability so show perfect form while being coached, we begin to emphasize their ability to replicate that movement every time. Remember those strength gains from when they were in the Elements/PreSchool class? Same thing applies, and we will still see huge gains from low-weight resistance. The games get more complex and competitive, and if anything, we'll see ourselves having to start reining the kids in. (Side-note: In one of our first days, we did team shuttle runs, boys vs. girls. We started seeing them fatiguing as they neared the finish line... then instantly perk back up and return to the line to wait their next turn. When adults would have been pulverized, they just kept going, and we ended up cutting it short, with them asking if they could do more running. Read that again, and compare it to the last time you did sprint work in an adult class. Not very likely.)

In the Teens classes, it finally becomes time to start adding weight and resistance. If the athlete started with us in the Elements/Preschool class, they'll have been doing these movements and slowly refining them for somewhere between 2-*10* years. Squats? Like clockwork. Really efficient, safe clockwork. And the weights will definitely be the carrot we use to continue to get perfect form out of them. You want an Olympic bar? Your squat better bring tears to my eye about how good a coach I am (or how gifted an athlete you are in spite of me!) if you want me to let you start adding weight. It's also the stick: Improper form under weight will result in a warning to improve on the next rep, with the result being a stripping of weight if form doesn't improve. Why?

At this age (and even in the younger age groups), the child's body is going through massive changes, some good, some downright confusing. Say you've got a 14 year old boy, been in the box for 8 years. He knows his movements in and out. Squats like a champ, deadlifts like a budding power-lifter. Suddenly, over week or so, he has a growth spurt, and now his legs are an inch longer than they were (I might be overstating the difference, but since it feels like you grew a foot, I'll allow it), while his arms haven't changed the same amount. Every angle in the deadlift and squat has changed. What felt like simplicity itself a week ago is suddenly a mystery. For both safety's sake, and for the athlete's, the only proper call is to back off on the weight, re-grease the grooves, relearn the movements in the new and improved body, and continue working from there.  There is NO expectation of steady, perfect strength gains, just an understanding that a changing body is like adding in random accessory work, requiring time to learn and perfect form... again and again.

Eventually, when enough maturity and skill has been demonstrated, the teen may be invited to join the Teens Weightlifting Class, and start moving some serious iron. However, this is not to be mistaken for a "male body-part" measuring contest. As with all things CrossFit, the real competition isn't fostered between athletes, but between the athlete today and what she was doing yesterday, and what she wants to accomplish tomorrow. Gains will always be incremental, in the smallest jumps possible. How much more awesome to have a teen who PRs *every time* shee walks into the gym, than one who (like me, more than once) added 35# to a lift, only to find herself getting crushed every time she needs to move a percentage of that weight for reps. By this point, it's assumed these athletes will be finding sports to participate in, if not the Sport of CrossFit, and our job will be to complement what their coaches and trainers ask of them. Even in a "they're wrong, we're right" scenario, we're not making the final choice on who gets cut and who starts: Our job is just to help, and to stay out of the way, provided there are no safety issues with what the school/local team is asking of the athlete.

The pyramid above actually illustrates a concept that interests me greatly as a coach: The idea that, in order to have an impressive pyramid, you have to have an equally impressive foundation. The human body is much more like a pyramid than a sky-scraper (though top-level athletes successfully hide that fact). In order to perform at a pinnacle of success, a massive base of experience, strength, heart, and determination has to support it. CrossFit Kids is not about the pinnacle, but about laying the foundation. What the athlete does with it down the road? Only time will tell.

So "Why CrossFit Kids?" Instead, the question is actually "Why NOT CrossFit Kids?!"

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

13-02-06: Nope, not dead yet

Just a note to say I'm not dead... I just haven't had the time to write anything. Lots going on, no time to organize thoughts, much less write 'em up in blog form!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

12-07-31: Manmaker or man-breaker

Elm City CrossFit WoD for Tuesday, July 31st

WoD: 3 Rounds For Time
  • 10 Dumbell Man-Makers @ 35#
  • 20 Toes to Bar
  • 1 Gym Loop of Crab Walk
3 Minutes after completion of the above, athletes will complete:
2 Rounds For Time
  • 20 Wallball with Pushup
  • GHD Hip and Back Extension 
  • Dumbell Man-Maker is initiated from the standing position. Athlete hits the deck with dumbells in hand, similar to a strict burpee. Athlete performs a pushup on the dumbells, dumbell row with each arm, another pushup on the dumbells, then returns to the standing position. Dumbells are then cleaned to shoulders and pressed or push pressed overhead. This cycle counts as 1 rep.
  • Wallball with Pushup is initiated with a standard Wallball shot. After athletes receive rebound, they will put ball on the ground, and perform a pushup on the unstable ball. After the pushup, athlete will reset and initiate the next rep with a Wallball shot.
  • Setup for GHD Hip and Back Extension is with athletes hips in front of the GHD pad. Athletes will then complete a standard Back Extension ["cat back"], with the movement finishing in full extension of the spine.
This one ended up being a war of attrition. I came into the workout with insanely sore and tight triceps, which were making my elbows and upper forearms ache too. I tried to roll and SMR some life back into them, but it didn't really seem to do too much. Then it was time to work.

The man-makers were ok for the first few, then became awful (picture burpees with even more work...), the toes to bar were bad when I was on the bar, but tolerable once I went over to pike sit-ups to avoid tears on my hands, and the crab walks were absolute torture. The worst part? Even after slowly slogging through all of that, there was MORE work to do. 

This was my first time attempting wallball push-ups. Because of the size of the ball, they end up being very tricep-centric. Seeing as how I was already 60 push-ups into the workout as a result of the first couplet, this just became slow and painful. After grinding through 20 reps, it was time for the GHD machine Hip/Back extensions. Comparatively, these were pretty easy, though as usual, I ended up feeling like my head was going to explode about 10 reps in, so I had to break these up, too.  Then it was back to the wallball push-ups, as the next class was coming in and starting to get warmed up. This set took longer than ever... but eventually... finally... it was done. Just a few more hip/back extensions more I would finally be done. 

I seriously thought I was going to DNF on this one, and it turns out the Coach nearly offered to cap me at 30 minutes, but because I just kept gutting through, he let me keep going. I think that's a good thing. I think. :S I ended up taking nearly a week off after this workout, because the additional stress on my triceps led to my elbows and forearms becoming even more sore.