Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Do, or Do Not. There is No Try

I'm telling you, the older I get, the more I realize that some of the lines and philosophies in the shows and movies I grew up with actually had true merit. I don't know why I wouldn't have thought so in the first place... maybe because I knew Yoda was a puppet, that he had a hand in his head to make him move...maybe just the cool-sounding, but ultimately disappointing (for not existing) teachings about the force made me tune him out in general. For whatever reason, I never really noticed the salience of this rebuttal of Luke's half-hearted "Well alright, I'll try."



"No! Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no 'try.'"

I was reminded of this during a recent podcast with Jon Andersen, a guy I hadn't really heard of, despite his successes in professional wrestling and strongman competitions. (I haven't followed wrestling that closely since being a kid in the 80s, and never really knew most of the strongman competitors on ESPN beyond Bill Kazmeier and Magnus Magnusson...so I might actually have been seeing him compete and just didn't know it.) He recently dove headfirst into bodybuilding (definitely not my cup of tea) and got his IFBB pro card in just two shows. Apparently, that's pretty impressive.

But beyond his professional credentials and experiences, he talked about a philosophy of attacking life and goals that really resonated with me. He talked about making decisions and sticking to them. Letting those decisions actually guide your actions. One of his examples was the decision to go to the gym. You could either say "I'm going to try to start going to the gym more," or "I'm going to the gym more." One has wiggle-room, escape clauses built in. One lets you get away with failing to follow through. The other is just a stated fact. The first, you still set your alarm at night, but when it goes off in the morning, you lie in bed, considering whether you're really going to try to get up and go to the gym or not. You have an out, conveniently built in. The second, the alarm goes off, you get up and go to the gym, because you ALREADY decided to do so.  There's no extra work to do, no thinking or considering needed. Alarm goes off; feet hit the floor.

It borders on splitting hairs, but its become a very obvious difference to me. Since hearing that, and processing it, I find it much easier to get out of bed at 4:50 in the morning and just go. I've made the decision, I've set the goal, its just time to go do it. I'm not making that decision at 4:50am, when the bed is warm and comfy, and the pillow is perfect, and my wife is sleeping soundly, and it would be so nice just to curl up next to her and go back to sleep. My decision has already been made. Its just a matter of following through. Its not a matter of "trying" to go to the gym. Its a matter of doing it.

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

This obviously has affected other areas of life, as well. Rather than putting together a list of things I'll try to get to in a day, I put together a list of things I'm going to do that day. Then I start hacking away at it, finishing up one thing and moving to another. Decisions have already been made, priorities are fairly obvious, and when they're not, doing everything at a certain priority level ought to do the trick. I don't try to get anything done. I just get things done. Simple.

Great summation from DFHobbs.
EDIT: This is what I get for writing this at night. I forgot some of the main points I was going to tie into this.

Whenever you see a kid (or even an adult) who is preposterously excellent at something, its easy to just shake your head in awe and write it off as a fluke. I submit to you that you're seeing someone who decided to be the best at something. Not to try to practice, or to try to improve, or to try to be the best. Just to BE the best. 

Look at the highest level athletes. While the talking heads on TV and the armchair analysts go nuts comparing their performance and discussing who's trying to win, every truly great athlete is just out there doing their best. They're NOT "trying to give it 110%, Coach!" because, at the very least, that implies they were really only giving it about 91% before, and are now nearing 100%.  Nope, you watch Olympic swimmers or sprinters or weight lifters or whatever, they're not doing enough just to try to win... they're digging deep and giving it everything they have. They are just DOING. Not trying. Doing. Trying is easy. Doing is MUCH harder. But ultimately, so much more rewarding. 

So the next time you look at an awful WoD on the board, don't think (you thought positively) "I'll try..."  That's just leaving off the "...if I can, I guess..."  Think "I'm doing this."  EVEN if it DOES chew you up and spit you out, at least you hit it with everything you had, rather than with the mental parking brake on, wondering why its just so damn hard.  Now, it might be hard, and you still might fail. Hey, it happens. Sometimes, someone else is doing their thing a little bit better than you (consider the Olympic example: every athlete who gets a Silver Medal is still better than literally 99.9999999999999...of all other humans in all of history. But not on that day. It happens.)

"Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Not even just 'Frenemies?" CrossFit and the NPGL

The teams of the inaugural season of the NPGL. (adapted from NPGL.com)
You ever notice how there are those combinations of things that just ought to be GREAT, but ultimately, just fail to stick together? Vinegar and oil. Mentos and Diet Coke. [Insert some trendy celebutant] and [Insert some other celebutant]?!


Who are these people?! (Just kidding, Ozzy rules!!)

I'd have thought, after 10 years of steady growth, of really enjoying the thrill of kicking pretty much the entire fitness industry in the collective nuts (1), CrossFit TM would enjoy a new bit of friendly competition. It certainly gives another aspect into the dominance they have over the performance fitness universe they ultimately built from the ground up (2). Or, given that seemingly 90+% of their on- and off-Grid talent is coming out of the CrossFit community, the NPGL would be eager (or at least not reluctant) to name what appears, at least for now, to be the very best way to get in shape for their new sport!

Instead, we get this weird radio silence. Which isn't EVEN as good as if there were outright hostilities, so at least we'd all know where we all stood. Nope, this is like when parents are fighting, but the shouting has stopped... and the house is now icily quiet. Every one keeps their heads down, tries not to drop anything, or in any way add to the tension...

I've watched two 2-hour NPGL competitions so far. Wall-to-wall in CrossFitters. I literally JUST watched some of them at the CrossFit Regionals this year. They interviewed them. The C-word never ONCE came up. I can ONLY assume they've been banned (or at least strongly warned) against using it, but why? Marcus Hendren is on the DC Brawlers, who just edged out the NY Rhinos (still not sure about the name, kids). Why do I know who the goober with the iffy hair who exercises really well is? CrossFit. His interview? "I'm here with the team, we're gonna try to work together, communication, Grid, opportunity, Grid, Brawlers.... blah blah blah." Not one mention of "I came in fourth place to some seriously god-like MFers at the Central East Regionals, which means *I'm* pretty much god-like, and I'm gonna rip some shit up and show people what CrossFittians can do!! Hendren SMASH!! "

"Hendren SMASH!!" If he didn't yell that, it was a missed opportunity. (carrotsncake.com)

On the other hand, the NPGL commentators were reduced to having ***NOTHING*** to talk about. Where did all these ridiculously fit young (and slightly older) fitness athletes come from? Apparently vomited forth from the Grid itself, given there was NO background given for anyone. There was much talk about "generalists" vs. "specialists," which *I* know meant "well-rounded CrossFitter" vs. "powerlifter/gymnast specialist." Which again, would be OK if there was enough discussion of that actually means, in other words, who's made what trade-offs in their training. 10 heavy deadlifts coming up? Gimme a cockstrong deadlifter who can lift 10x as much, so can bomb through them! Need someone to knock out 20 bar over burpees? Apparently (according to the DC/NY match) a gymnast is what you need to bomb them out in 20 seconds... but WHY is that the case over a generalist? You know, and *I* know, but to whoever might be discovering the sport on their own... there's just NO background, no discussion....

"So, this guy comes to us from... uh, whatever. You know? Just... whatever, man. You're not my dad." (shutterstock.com)

From the other camp, CrossFit has seen fit to try to hype up EVERY big name convert to the sport.... but to very little effect, so far.  Footballer Discovers CrossFit. Basketballer Discovers CrossFit. Opera Singer Discovers CrossFit. Oddly enough (as awesome as each of those stories was), there's never any follow up. Why? Probably because when someone from an EXTREMELY skill-based sport, which is also EXTREMELY competitive just to make it to the highest levels, who has already completed 99.9% of the work to be at the top, adding in some CrossFit to the mix won't make that much difference.(3)

Granted, the CrossFit influence on the world of Olympic weightlifting have been (and will continue to be) massive, with record-breaking attendance numbers and participation... and some pretty impressive numbers being posted by CrossFitters in their debut meets. And NO ONE shies away from saying what gym a competitor lifts at, CrossFit or not.

But NOW, here's an entire sport LITERALLY grown out of the fertile land Coach Glassman tilled and sewed with his free online workouts for crazy people. (OK, can you have a *literal* metaphor? Bah...)  Nearly every single competitor is from a CrossFit gym, and if NOT, *that's* interesting, too. Who ELSE is creating athletes good at this? Don't we want to know? I do!! Are ALL former-college gymnasts bound to be good? Former collegiate football players? Some sub-set? Where do they train? How do they train? Maybe its just me being a coach and all... but to me, the training is as exciting as the final competition. Maybe even more so. That one-second fault for a bad tag doesn't mean as much if I don't have a good feel for which team seems like they *ought* to win, based on training and experience. Which means constant and repeated mentions for various CrossFit (and other) gyms. Which means free advertising for the Mothership. But I guess that's a... bad thing? Also, athletes being paid to be athletes, which is a model CrossFit has never once even dabbled with, so does it still count as competition? Again... is that a bad thing? How many professional "CrossFitters" are there? Rich and Samantha clearly made good cash last year... how many others made enough to live on? Any?

I guess when I started writing this, I was sort of hoping I'd stumble into some sort of epiphany about why things are the way they are between CrossFit HQ and the NPGL. (For the record, every time I use both names in a single sentence, I get a thrill of excitement. I sort of assume I'll get a letter from the Russels or mocked by Drywall. This paragraph is made of pure internet win... and or fail. We'll see.) In the end, I don't know. I just don't know. How is Crossfit not a sponsor of the NPGL? Is Reebok planning on swooping in? Their CrossFittian shoes ought to be just as stellar for Grid workouts, no?

Oh, Flying Spaghetti Monster, my eyes, MY EYES!! Somewhere, Coach (Baby) Mark just started giggling and he doesn't know why. (pfitpfun.com review of the Reebok ATV 19x, and they apparently LOVED them... oof. My eyes.)


In the end, I got nothing. I ought to have two things to really like, without worry that, like bickering parents, there's suddenly going to be an all-out war and eventual divorce... which would suck for everybody involved.

Notes:
(1) Yes, for all the powerlifters and bodybuilders, and basically everyone else who ALREADY had a gym obsession, CrossFit has been and always will be stupid to you, because it doesn't meet your goals. That's perfectly OK. In the same way that doing the same three lifts (and an infinite number of accessory lifts) and wearing 3-ply canvas underwear is stupid to me (it really is), that doesn't mean that what powerlifters do in pursuit of a 1,000# squat is any less valid. Its my opinion. Yours is yours. Opinions are like assholes. Mine smells like roses.

(2) Yes, some other names helped build the foundation and provided competitive support along the way. This isn't about them, and not having TV, I don't have to hear their annoying-as-crap infomercials anymore, so I can't even remember the names. Q-80-Z? Linsanity? Was that a thing?

(3) Now, those kids we're building from the ground up with massively improved General Physical Preparedness and solution sets... gonna be monsters. Go google the Martin kids from CrossFit Brand X. MONSTERS.

Friday, May 9, 2014

My Story

Before stumbling into CrossFit, my entire life had been a long journey spent doing nearly everything possible wrong. My sport of choice as a child was soccer (one of the most dangerous sports, measured by injuries per hour played), leaving me pretty tyrannosaurus rexish (all leg, no arms). Numerous knee and ankle tweaks later, my legs were also prone to injury, despite their size. I compounded that with ultimate frisbee in college, more running (and shin splints, and twisted ankles, and sore knees)! Let's not even begin to talk diet. I ate like a power-lifter trying to pack on muscle, but without doing any of the work.
Mmmm.... nom nom nom. Sta-puft marshmallow man lurvs ice-cream cake!
I made excuses for myself, that although I was heavy, I was strong. And while that was true, it didn't make me feel any better about my body. I couldn't hang with the team when they went on their warm-up runs, and whenever the shin splints acted up (almost constantly), I was relegated to the sidelines, calling out plays, maybe subbing a point or two to let someone in better shape catch their breath. That point's worth of play would usually leave me panting for 15-20 minutes...

Out of college, responsible for my own shopping and food intake, I ballooned up to 230+ pounds. The one upshot was that I was still pretty strong, especially through the legs. Need someone to lug the drummer's bin of hardware into the club? I got it. Need someone to dance and jump around playing bari sax? I got it. At least for one song... However, I was even MORE unhappy with how my body looked and felt.

My first attempt at fixing the mistakes of the past was to go on Weight Watchers. In fairly rapid order, I dropped about 40, maybe 50 pounds (from 230+ to 180+), but again, without doing any work in the gym (or at home). I shed fat, and for damn sure I shed muscle. By the time I was done, if I ran into someone I hadn't seen in a while, the question I was asked was "Wow, have you been ill?" Yeah, that was the goal... The weight went right back on when I fell off the wagon.

Skinny sax man. Strong? Kinda. But not as strong as yesterday... 
I was finally introduced to CrossFit around 2008 or so. I started picking and choosing workouts off the main site WoDs, eventually bringing in CrossFit Football and Endurance WoDs that looked fun, or (more usually) played to my strengths. However, as the workload increased, so did my food intake. I got stronger, I got faster, but I also got bigger. I tried to eat clean, but was nowhere near what could be called "paleo." Pasta was still a staple, milk still made its way into my smoothies (which were based on whey protein anyways...). I also learned that programming is an art, both for a single workout AND in the log term. I co-created, with the guy who introduced me to CrossFit, a plyometric-based Tabata workout we ended up calling 'Beef Tips Gone Bad.' A funny reference ('Friends') for a workout that basically crippled me with a scorching case of Patellar Tendonopathy (or patellar tendonitis... I never had it officially diagnosed... I just had a lot of trouble walking up and down stairs for about a year...)

After a stressful move to Connecticut, which involved LOTS of time in the car on weekends, time away from my family during the week, the utter inability to find a move-in-ready house in a good school district (with one daughter prone to allergen-triggered asthma-like symptoms, and another little one on the way, there was NO thought of a fixer-upper)... I joined Elm City CrossFit, and have never looked back. Suddenly I had coaches fixing all my self-taught stupidities. Suddenly I had a given WoD to do, and couldn't pick what I wanted from the past week or so. Suddenly, I started seeing real improvements in my strength and endurance. Both are still completely shot from the Weight Watchers era, but they're coming along...

 Along the way, my wife has joined the box and fallen in love with CrossFit, both with the exertion AND the community; my daughter is a constant at the Elm City CrossFit Kids classes, which I co-run and co-coach; and the littlest one, now nearly 2 years old, runs around the gym with a 1# dumbbell throwing down squats like a champ. I've started trying to shed my multiple layers of accrued insulation, and trying to regain the strength I so casually took for granted in my youth.

In the run up to the 2014 CrossFit Open, ECC provided programming specifically designed to make us bigger, stronger, and faster. Opting into the program meant I was at the gym nearly twice as much for my own workouts, not even including coaching the Kids classes. Instead of a few hours a week dedicated to my own fitness, it was nearer to 10+ hours a week. More strength work, more olympic lifting, more endurance, more of everything. I tried to maximize rest time as well, but that part was harder with the kids and work schedule to work around. No child cares how much time you put into the gym that day, or how much rest you need, when they wake up from a nightmare at 3am. And neither do you... until the real alarm clock goes off, and its back to the gym, this time on 3-4 hours of sleep, rather than the intended 6-7 (which would still not be enough...)


The Open came, and for each workout I tried to map out a goal (with good, better, and best outcomes included) for each. I surpassed many of my own goals, got crushed on at least one workout, and in general felt better than I have in years. I certainly look better than I EVER have. Its nice to finally have pecs, rather than moobs (man-boobs), pushing out my shirts. I very nearly have abs showing, so THAT'S exciting. I don't think I've ever had visible abs! The weights are still going up, the cardio/endurance capacity is still inching up little by little. All in all, its been a good ride.

Additionally, the gym also hosted a Paleo eating experiment: three months of strict paleo, requiring food logs, before and after pics, benchmark WoDs, the whole nine. While I most likely would have fallen off the wagon pretty quickly left to my own devices, I managed to sign the wife up for the challenge, too. She was absolutely my salvation. When the smoke had cleared and the final scores were tallied, we had tied with another couple in a four-way tie for 2nd place! I can't speak for too many other Epic Eating Experiment participants, but we've kept our diets as clean as possible, and are continuing to see Epic results. I just recently bought a few new pairs of shorts, as the potato sacks I *had* been wearing were getting to the point of looking ridiculous. With a waistline reduced by three inches, and still setting PRs in all the major lifts, and just getting stronger and healthier, I'm in better shape in my late 30s than I was in my teens and 20s!

The upshot of the early part of that story is this: I own every part of my fitness now. The coach isn't responsible for my gains or struggles, I am. The person doing the programming is doing it for the entire gym population, not just for me. If I have a weak-point (goat), its up to me to address it. The complaints about CrossFit are myriad, and some actually carry a fair amount of water...if you're lazy and just do what you're told to and don't bother to take responsibility for your own goals and performance. You have to take responsibility for your own rest and recovery. You have to make sure YOU'RE feeding you enough calories so that you're building (or at least preserving) muscle while burning the fat. It all comes down to you. The best program in the world won't work for someone who doesn't OWN the process... and someone who
OWNS even the worst program will probably still get solid results out of it. Its all down to you, just as its all down to me.

No one can make you do it, and no one should waste their breath trying to make you. Either you're happy with your life, or you need to work to improve it. Everything else is inertia, self-deception, and laziness.

What's it gonna be, punk. Do you feel lucky?

Recommended reading:

Other crucial authors: John Welbourne, Martin Rooney, Zach Even-Esh, Robb Wolf, Greg Everett, Tim Ferriss, Kelly Starrett, and probably a BUNCH more I should be including here.



Thursday, May 8, 2014

Epic Eating Experiment Results Are In!

Well, after 12 weeks of a very strict Paleo diet (with the occasional break), including extremely strict holiday feasts, the results of the Elm City CrossFit Epic Eating Experiment are in: My wife and I found ourselves in a 4-way tie for second place! The other two co-seconders were a couple, too! The guy who took first did an amazing job, trimming down and going full beast mode in his workouts. Huge kudos to him, as well as to all my second-place co-winners!

In the aftermath, we've decided to maintain the changes we made, at least for the vast majority of them. Gluten is completely out, dairy is completely out (though we are maintaining the exception made during the entire EEE: full fat cream for coffee. Mmmmmmm....), grains are out, sugar is out, probably a few more things I'm blanking on.

I've experimented with a few things in the aftermath. The fried calamari at my weekly Monday night gig knocked the crud out of me (but then again, so did a completely paleo-ified bunless, cheeseless burger, so maybe its just the food there. Corn tortilla chips appeared to be perfectly fine. Beer was consumed at the closing party, and I did ok. Not looking to add a ton back in, but good to know its there. Legumes, or at least peanut butter, will probably reappear, since its so dang versatile. I just want the chance to test it before wasting money on a jar of something that I won't be able to eat.  Popcorn was ok. I put a lot of cayenne and Old Bay on it, and if nothing else, the resulting salt content is a bit high, so that'll need to be tweaked.

The other part of re-adding food is this: It will be in strict moderation. Even if popcorn and peanut butter are ok, I don't want them to become staples of my diet. Those would be my once a month (or so) treats, not something to "cheat" with on EVERY meal (not really a cheat then...).

The before and after pictures are pretty revealing (unable to get a copy of the worst before picture... the front view...):
Before: (Official weigh-in = 220#)






















After: (207#, down 13 pounds in 12 weeks!)




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

(Source: crossfitkids.com)

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.