Update + Book Recommendation: Inside the Box

I’m proud to say that since I started my CrossFit journey a month ago I’ve received several emails from people saying I’ve inspired them and my wife and a good friend have both started CrossFit workouts, too. That’s so cool!

One of the things that really solidified my decision to bite the bullet and start working out was T. J. Murphy’s book, Inside the Box.

This is an easy read that I found extremely informative into what CrossFit is all about both in its principles as well as the “cult of CrossFit” from an insider’s viewpoint (don’t worry, it’s not a cult and there is no Kool-Aid offered).

It distills a lot of the principles of CrossFit into an entertaining read (not that some of the original articles from The CrossFit Journal aren’t really good, but they are pretty lengthy and technical and dry) and helped me think about what to expect.

One thing that is VERY true of CrossFit is the “cross” part of it… you get better at things you aren’t even doing. For example, my last story was on Annie and Death By Pushups, with Annie being TONS of situps. In the month I’ve done CrossFit I have not done a single situp, but EVERYTHING is based on an engaged core.

I did some 75 situps or so in the WOD that day and thought I’d be DEAD the next day. First, I was absolutely FLOORED I could do that many situps. Second, I thought I would be doubled over for days in pain. I was halfway into the day on Saturday when it stuck me that my abdomen felt fine. Sure, I was supposed to go for 50 + 40 + 30 + 20 + 10 situps and I only did 75 before the coach timed the WOD out, but that ain’t bad considering I haven’t done a single situp in years, right? I couldn’t have done one more if I’d wanted to on that Friday’s workout, but I survived and next time I’ll be able to do even more, and then the next time, even more, etc.

Pretty cool result considering we hadn’t done them even once, and that same crossover principle applies to a LOT of things. Get good at squats and your thrusters will be better, your box jumps will be better, etc etc etc.

Annie? Death by Pushups? WTF?!

I knew today’s WOD was going to be tough going into it. There are a few things I’ve learned pretty quickly in CrossFit. One of them is that if a WOD is named after a girl, then prepare to get your ass handed to you.

The WOD, Annie, is named after Annie Sakamoto and it’s simple. It is 50-40-30-20-10 of sit-ups (we all know what those are) and double-unders (jumping rope in which the rope passes under your feet twice for every one jump).

And, as you probably guessed, this numbering scheme means you do 50 double-unders and 50 situps, then 40 DU’s and 40 sit-ups, then 30 DU’s and 30 sit-ups and so on and so forth. We went for 12 minutes and you stopped wherever you were at.

I can’t do a double-under to save my life, so it was enough for me to work on just regular jumping rope and I threw in some plyometric style jumping bringing my knees really high. DU’s require speed and a lot of coordination and they are a goat (something you suck at and hate to do) for many CrossFitters, both Clydesdale and regular.

The sit-ups surprised me. I knocked out 25 with relatively little effort and unbroken, just boom, boom, boom (x 25). Then I hit a wall. #26 was tough, and then each one was exponentially tougher after that. I managed the rest of the 50 in groups of 5, but still surprised myself that I could actually do 50 sit-ups in a short period of time. Keep in mind this is the first time we’ve done sit-ups in a month.

That being said, EVERYTHING you do in CrossFit requires an engaged core, so you are always working your abs and you may not realize it. That also being said, engaged core ≠ sit-up, so I will be surprised if I can get out of the fetal position tomorrow. If I’m not EXTREMELY sore I will be INCREDIBLY surprised and pleased.

And then there’s Death by Pushups for the “finisher” as if Annie was just a warm-up. LOL This was my first Death by… workout, but even I’m smart enough to know that a workout with “death” in the name is going to be bad.

This is one of those “Gee, that doesn’t sound too bad” workouts. A friend of mine who is a longtime CrossFit athlete said told me when I first started, “If you ever have the thought that something is going to be easy, you’ll see just how wrong you were…” I’ll tell you my own story about my “aha” moment concerning this, but Death by… workouts are many others’ intro to this principle.

Here’s why: Death by Pushups (or whatever other exercise you do a Death By… with) is just one rep in the first minute. Then you add a rep each additional minute. So, for the first 60 seconds of the workout, you do one pushup. Then in the next 60 seconds you do two pushups. In the next minute, you do three pushups. You have the whole minute to spend, so you can space them out, knock them all out at once and get a good rest, etc. As you can see, your reps keep increasing and your rest time keeps getting shorter. I lasted six minutes and then my arms fell off.

But, Death by Pushups is a better way to go out than Death by Donuts, and you know I’m right.

Practice DOESN’T Make Perfect

One of the things that all of us newbies in the CrossFit world, especially the more deconditioned we are, experiences is the fact that our bodies don’t know how to move the right way. It sounds weird, but trust me, as a professional I spend a large portion of my day looking at how people move and it’s easy to understand that people just stop moving properly.

So, part of getting the body back in shape is not only getting tougher, developing muscle, losing weight and all that tangible stuff we can really see, but it’s also about neurologically re-learning (or in some cases learning for the first time) movements that are fundamental to other movements. The other really important aspect of this is that if you can’t do the full movement a certain way in CrossFit we SCALE the movement (lighter weight, an easier version of the movement, etc). The critical thing is that the scale has to use the same pattern of movement or it will create fundamental flaws in all the movements the basic one builds upon.

This video is a great illustration of this concept. Kelley Starrett of Mobilitywod is explaining something as “simple” as a pushup and what to look for when coaching and performing one, as well as why a common scale for the knee pushup (what most of us referred to as “girls’ pushups” because PE teachers always seemed to tell girls to do this, setting them up for subsequent failure) should NOT be done.

This is five minutes LOADED with great information and I know I have a lot of work to do on my pushups now (even more than I did before I watched this video)!

FAQ’s About CrossFit

CrossFit began largely as an online community of people who wanted to pursue fitness that goes beyond what you can do at Globo Gym and they remain true to that original spirit by maintaining an incredibly informative website. Their rather large FAQ can be found here, but I wanted to pick out some of the links that I think are particularly important for newbies and my large-scale brothers and sisters, so here you go!

Also, it’s important to note that a quick Google or YouTube search will 99% of the time give you plenty of links to official CrossFit articles and/or videos on exercises or very high quality stuff that others have made. Of course, ANYONE can put ANYTHING out there that they want, so once you recognize whose information you trust, bookmark them and visit often. YouTube is particularly helpful for scaling exercises, especially this ABSOLUTE MASTERPIECE on how to scale and learn the skill set needed for handstand push-ups:

Additional FAQ goodness from the CrossFit website:

Now that I trashed my ankle in yesterday’s Fight Gone Bad WOD, I will definitely be taking advantage of alternatives to running for warm-ups, can’t do any jump rope, any plyometrics, etc. Luckily the kettlebell workouts I’ve done over the past few weeks have shown me that you can get a DAMN good cardio workout without your feet having to move, so there is plenty of work to do even with a bum leg.

Fight Gone Bad, literally

Today was an exciting day at CrossFit I-35 because it was the first time we were doing a “benchmark” WOD (a classic, popular workout that is used to gauge your performance gains… Fran is another very popular benchmark workout, for example) called Fight Gone Bad.

10 years ago or so MMA fighter BJ Penn asked CrossFit founder Greg Glassman to design a workout that would mimic the physical demands of a MMA fight without the added stress of having your teeth punched down your throat and Greg came up with this workout. The first time BJ did it, he said, “That was like a fight gone bad” and the name stuck.

The Shin/Ankle-Killer

This WOD has a few variations. It consists of five exercises: wall balls (20 pound), sumo dead lift high pulls (75 lbs), 20″ box jumps, push presses with 75 lbs and rowing machine.

We did each exercise for as many reps as possible for 1 minute per exercise. No break in between exercises so you move stations as fast as possible and just keep cranking. You do one whole round, then get a minute break, then repeat for a total of three rounds. You count up your reps and that is your total score.

I was having an out of body experience by the time my 3rd round started and I was on my box jumps, the station I had started on. The clock was down to a couple more seconds for that exercise and I wanted to knock out one more jump, caught my foot on the bottom of the frame (we use the dangerous, old school open-framed shin and ankle killers) and came down with my left foot catching the bottom of the box frame, causing my ankle to roll outward and “pop!” another inversion sprain on my left ankle.

Somewhat Friendlier Alternative

I rolled that ankle BADLY in July 2012, and thought it was all rehabbed, but not anymore. 😦 I will have to be modifying a lot of my workouts for the next week or two while it heals again and I do more rehab on it, but I WILL NOT skip any workouts.

A Word About Eating

This is NOT a “how to do everything” blog, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other side of the working out coin, which is eating.

I’ve been pretty lucky to have been born with a good BS meter, and my educational background has given me more than enough tools to understand biochemistry and diet, so I have steered WELL clear of fad diets and such in my life. That being said, I can eat well for relatively long periods of time, or work out relatively regularly, but in the past I’ve never seemed to be able to sync the two things up very well because I get so hungry when I’m boosting my metabolism.

I’m also adept at the justification approach to diet, which most of you are familiar with, too: “Oh, I worked out today. I can eat like a pig now.” Well, if you burned 500 calories in a workout and ate 1,200 calories as a “reward” you didn’t accomplish much, did you?

We’ve been doing a basic “slow carb” diet from Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour BodyI know it sounds incredibly gimmicky and Tim Ferriss is one of those guys you may want to take with a grain of salt with some things, but this is a good book and the information is sound.

There are multiple approaches in the book depending on what you are trying to accomplish, but we do the basic one: protein, unlimited veggies (no starchy stuff like potatoes), no fruit (because it has a lot of sugar), nothing processed. We get one cheat day per week where we can eat as much as we want of whatever we want.

So, worst case scenario is that you’re never more than six days from being able to eat whatever you are craving. Honestly, after you pig out on your cheat day, you aren’t going to want anything like that again until mid-week at the earliest, anyway, so I don’t even start thinking about what I’m going to eat on Saturday until about Thursday.

I’ve noticed that as we’ve been doing this longer, too, what we pig out on has changed, too. This is Restaurant Week in Kansas City (which is a sleeper food town with TONS of awesome restaurants) so we’re going out this Saturday for a good meal, and we’ll have some cookies and I have a big potato craving right now, so I foresee fries or tater tots (or both! I can do whatever I want on Saturday!) in my not-too-distant future. But last week we did pretty well and made a huge fruit salad because that sounded AWESOME! Greek yogurt on cheat day? Yes please!

I have been getting more cravings, and more powerful cravings, this week and I think it’s because I’m not eating enough. To save time in the AM I am pounding a protein shake (protein + water) in the morning and then I don’t eat anything until lunch, usually 12:00-12:30, then nothing again until dinner around 6:30-7:00, then nothing again until the next protein shake at 6-7AM.

With the high intensity CrossFit workouts I think my blood sugar is dropping a little and making me food crazy.

As inconvenient as it is, I’m going to need to start chopping up lots of veggies, hard boil some eggs, etc and bring mini-meals to work with me. I should be doing one mid-morning and another mid-afternoon. Maybe even two in the PM as tonight I work until 5:30 and then have an hour long Kettlebell class at 6:30, so it’ll be 8:00PM by the time I’m eating dinner. Eight hours after lunch? No thanks!

Anyway, diet IS important when CrossFit. First of all, it will make you feel good if you do a good diet. Secondly, you’ll lose weight faster (but not too fast. You NEED a certain number of calories. Don’t do that HGH crap with a 500 calorie diet!), and you’ll start to power your workouts and recovery with food, which makes a BIG difference.

The Paleo diet, which is BIG BIG BIG BIG in the CrossFit community, is similar to what we’re doing, but we eat a lot of beans and those aren’t Paleo. Otherwise, they’re almost the same.

WOD 1/16/13

Today was tough, but they are ALL tough! Warm-up followed by some skill/strength work.

Today’s strength skill was doing more breakdowns of the power snatch and overhead squat lift. Here is a video of a guy doing it. He isn’t perfect (neither am I), but this at least gives you an idea of what we were doing:

So, we did 5 sets of three reps each of the main movements that make up the overall lift: 3 liftoffs, 3 power snatches and three overhead squats. Rinse and repeat five times. I was doing 75 pounds including the bar weight.

There is a TON TON TON of technique in these Olympic lifts, so it takes a LONG time to get the hang of it. Don’t get discouraged.

For the actual WOD we did a 7-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of a “doublet” consisting of 10 hang power cleans and 10 burpees. The dreaded burpee. Ugh!

I did the girls’ Rx weight of 95 pounds (including the 20kg/44lb bar) on the cleans and my lovely 250 lb ass for the burpees. This is where being small and light has HUGE advantages in CrossFit. There is a girl in my class who is probably 5’0″, maybe a bit shorter and probably weighs 95 pounds. I have to move 2.5 times as much weight in the bodyweight exercises like burpees.

As my dad would say, “It builds character.”

Here is a video of the hang power clean Olympic lift. This girl is badass:

I eked out 2 full rounds plus one set of the hang power cleans and I was trashed. Those burpees make EVERYTHING after difficult!

Since we weren’t explosive enough as a group on the hang power cleans, too, Scott gave us more workout after the WOD. 5 rounds of loading up the hamstrings as if we were doing the liftoff part of a lift, then jumping explosively straight into the air. 30 seconds of jumping, 10 seconds of rest, rinse and repeat five times. Ouch!

Workout Scaling – You MUST Read This

Don’t worry, my round friend, scaling may not be what you think it is. It doesn’t have anything to do with standing on a scale in front of the rest of your CrossFit class and weighing in. No way.

Scaling is ESSENTIAL to CrossFit and it’s something über-important that you need to have an understanding of.

Every CrossFit WOD (Workout of the Day) is expressed as an “Rx” or “prescribed workout.” It gives jump heights, weights to be used, etc. Think of the WOD Rx as an “ideal” workout, like, “This is what we WANT you to be able to do, but we know you all can’t actually do this.”

Enter scaling.

Scaling works in two directions. Most of us think of scaling down WOD’s, but if you’re a beast you can also scale them up. Get this through your skull right away: IT IS NECESSARY AND “OK” TO SCALE. Scaling is pretty easy to do in some instances and a little tougher to do in others. There are some differing opinions of theory about scaling, and I’ve included some articles that are good further reading. Your coaches should know how to scale everything and should be able to help you with this, but some are more hands-on while others leave it up to you a lot more.

The bottom line: PUSH YOURSELF, BUT NOT SO FAR OR HARD THAT YOU HURT YOURSELF.

Remember, CrossFit is based on three principles in this order: form, repeatability, intensity. If you can’t squat with proper form, then why ramp the intensity up with a lot of reps and weight? That would be training a bad pattern of movement and that is just stupid.

The two basic theories on scaling are sort of divided along the same lines. One school of thought says to go for the Rx’d reps (repetitions) of the exercise but scaled to what you can handle. An example is if you’re supposed to do 10 squats at a certain weight, you do 10 with the weight you can that doesn’t break your form or injure you. On the other side of the coin is the idea that you generate more power with more weight, and so this group would rather have you do fewer reps but use more weight while still maintaining your form.

This gets into pretty advanced theory, and quite honestly if you’re reading this you aren’t there yet.

The most important things about scaling, in my opinion, that you should be aware of early on and work with your coach on are:

  1. Whatever the scaling, it needs to work for you. It WILL be tough. It will ALWAYS be tough (that’s the point), but it doesn’t pay to lay you up with an injury.
  2. You and your coach need to be tracking your scaling and always looking to push it toward the Rx. So, yeah, you aren’t going to be swinging a 24kg kettlebell in your first kettlebell class, but two months in if you’re still on the 16kg one, you’re not being pushed hard enough. You will never become a comrade that way. If you EVER walk away from a CrossFit exercise or workout thinking, “That wasn’t too bad” or “I could’ve worked harder” then you made a mistake with your scaling, ciccio.
  3. The scale should mimic what the unscaled exercise will look like as much as possible. CrossFit isn’t just about power, it’s about mobility. Some things are really easy to scale, like the Olympic lifting, kettlebell work, etc. Just do the same thing but with no weight to get your form, then progressively heavier weight as you improve while keeping good form. Other things are tougher, like handstand pushups. If you can’t stand do a handstand, you can’t do handstand pushups, can you? I substitute regular (and I even scale those right now) pushups, but the range of motion and muscles worked in handstand pushups is completely different, so is that a good scale? I’m not too sure about it.

Here is a GREAT video of how to scale a handstand pushup, working through a progression of getting you able to do a handstand, first, then the pushups in that position second. As an added bonus, the athlete demonstrating the work is not tough on the eyes, but don’t lose sight of the point of the video, people! Anyway, this is scaling brought up to an art form, in my opinion, so do some additional homework and reading and MAKE YOUR COACH DO THEIR HOMEWORK, TOO. If they act like they don’t know how to scale things, then hold them to the fire, because as CrossFit affiliates they are supposed to know this stuff. If they are UNWILLING, then get a new coach or switch boxes, period.

Articles:

Kettlebell Hell

Scott from Crossfit-I35 is RKC (Russian Kettlebell Certified), so we do a lot of kettlebell work in our CrossFit routines. I also do one kettlebell class every week to mix it up a little bit. They’re fun, cool and, to quote Pavel, the guy who started RKC, “They’ve been training weakness out of the Russian people for centuries.”

Today’s workout was hardcore. All of our workouts start with a warmup, which alone leaves me sweating and breathing plenty hard, then we go into skill/strength work for a while. Today we were doing kettlebell presses in sets of three repetitions.

I managed to get up to 24kg on the right arm and 20kg on the left. We did a good 5-6 sets of these, so that’s a good workout in and of itself! LOL

The actual WOD was a 10 minute AMRAP (this is cool CrossFitspeak for “As Many Rounds As Possible”) of:

  • 16 kettlebell snatches (videos and articles at the end of this post) 32/24 (prescribed weight of 32kg for men and 24 for women. I did 16kg)
  • 12 kettlebell thrusters 32/24 – again I did 16kg
  • 10 burpee box jumps 24/20 (24″ tall box for men, 20″ tall for women) – I did 20″

Wow. I mean, really?! I did my 16 snatches on my left arm, as well as my 12 thrusters, thinking I would do round 2 with my right. LOL There WAS NO ROUND 2!

The burpee box jumps are a killer. I was gassed. Moving 250 pounds from standing, to prone on the ground, back up and then jumping 20″ as fast as possible is quite a feat. It was a KILLER. I did one full round and then I knocked out 15 of the kettlebell snatches for the beginning of round 2, so I had 1.33 rounds in 10 minutes.

And then the bonus! It was “only 6:30” when we finished the WOD so Scott let us get our breath, THEN we did a Tabata round of kettlebell swings! I used a 24kg KB for this one. I think Tabata is Japanese for “ass-whooping.” You do swings for 20 seconds, then you have a 10 second break (that is the fastest 10 seconds of your life), then you swing for 20 seconds, break 10, etc. You do this for 8 repetitions.

I was already gassed at the start of that. By the end of the Tabata round people were screaming and yelling and it was all very primal. I don’t know what I was doing because I was having an out of body experience by this time.

But, I survived and I went home, had a protein shake and a cup of Earl Grey and started typing this, so all is well.

Videos:

OnRamp = “Why don’t you just quit now, fatty?”

Most CrossFit gyms (or “boxes” as they are lovingly called, because they tend to be a big warehouse box full of medieval torture implements and Olde Tyme-looking strongman shit) begin the process with a class or series of classes called OnRamp classes.

Why OnRamp? My guess is because “hazing” was already taken.

CrossFit I-35’s OnRamp was 90 minutes. I figured it’d be a lot of demonstration, some practice movements, things to avoid if you don’t want to have surgery, and the like.

I arrived 15 minutes early along with a bunch of other nervous and scared looking people, many of whom were in FABULOUS shape compared to me. There was hardcore, and I mean HARDCORE rap blasting through the stereo system and I felt a little more at home knowing someone at the place likes NWA. 🙂

The OnRamp class began with, “OK, guys, let’s warm up a little. Take some laps.”

Great. Running.

Of all of life’s activities, I hate running the worst and I knew I was going to embarrass myself. We took several laps around this big warehouse space (which is cool because it houses a pole vaulting school. What a beautiful sport to watch up close and personal!), doing dynamic stretches, sprinter skips, knee-ups, high kicks, etc. I was literally about to implode after the warm-up, then it was 90 more minutes of squats, bridges and all kinds of other stuff.

I was beat after OnRamp, but so was everyone else, so I thought, “OK, this is it.”

More importantly, I survived.

I was SORE AS HELL for two days after, walking with a stiff, bilateral peg-leg sort of gait (don’t remember seeing that one in any of my gait analysis textbooks), but again, I lived.

Here’s something important if you’re a detrained slob like me: it is going to hurt at first. It is. I wish I could sugarcoat it, but I can’t. You got yourself where you are, just like I did, so you have to pay the piper, my fat friend. And he doesn’t accept donuts.

Here’s something else important to know: it’s going to hurt longer the more time you take off. Because of the holidays I had to take two days off. I was dreading that first real workout after the OnRamp, but this is how I justified it: it’s going to hurt no matter what I do, so I might as well get a workout in.

Based on previous experiences with exercise, I knew that moving and getting blood going was going to be a lot better than couching it and being sore for a week. And I was right.

I was pretty sore that first week and my hamstrings still don’t love me today, two weeks into it, but it gets a lot better, quick. Just keep moving (within reason), and if you aren’t on what is essentially an anti-inflammatory diet of good clean protein, lots of veggies, very little fruit and nothing else, you should be. It will help a lot. Oh, and get yourself a 32oz Nalgene bottle and drain it at least 2-3 times per day.