Hey all I’m back on my soap box again (for all 10 of you that read this). Just got back from the RP Diet seminar and I have to say it got me thinking a bit more in depth about some of things I was going to talk about here. I’d like to address a few things I’ve noticed over the years especially as it pertains to people’s viewpoint of what ‘fitness’ means to them and getting over the body image barriers that some of you might have in your subconscious due to the media barrage all around us. Hopefully this puts some myths to rest and makes it easier for you to focus on what’s really important as we march into 2016.
“I need to lose 5 pounds for my cruise”
Too often I hear statement like “I’d really like to be 145 pounds” or “ I just need to cut 20 pounds and then I’ll be good”. When I ask where these folks get their figures from they tend to look at me with a dumbfounded face and reply with an unsure shoulder shrug (not the barbell type either). Other peeps tend to tell me “well that’s how much I weighed when I was in High School/College” (insert any other periods in your life when your metabolism/body composition was completely different). I’m going to reveal a secret the coaches have been keeping from you all this time: If you have been hitting the box regularly 3-5 days a week for a good 2 years straight, your biological make up has changed a bit. You have added more lean mass, legs and arms growing in diameter and maybe even a thicker trunk from all the core stability work you have done while lifting weights. Expecting to get back down to a body weight that you assumed pre training when you’ve gained significant muscle mass as well as a decade or two of a slowing metabolism is just unrealistic and dangerous.
I going to use an example from my own experience to showcase what I mean. I wrestled in high school. If I weighed in at a soaking wet 160 pounds my senior year, train for the next 10 plus years and end up gaining a good 60 pounds in the process of strengthening my body as well as developing into a mature adult male it’s safe to say I won’t be seeing 160 again unless I’m captured by an invading army and sent to a labor camp with little to no food for a good year or so. At best I could maybe wrestle at a 215 pound weight and still maintain my strength without fainting during a match or having chronic nose pleads. I know because two years ago I almost tanked during a weightlifting meet foolishly trying to stay at 207 pounds when I knew damn well the other athletes my height were competing at 231 and up. Getting down to that weight wasn’t difficult however staying there and maintaining strength was near impossible. My elbows and knees started to ache, wrist pain I had never had before, as well as dizzy spells during heavy squat training were plenty of evidence that staying at this weight class and a deficit of calories was a no go and I am now a much happier athlete that is able to train with more vigor and intensity as well as handle more work volume (sets/reps in a day/week).
Circa 2008 at a very soft 190lbs
December 2015 at 225lbs with about 20% body fat
Another great example is everybody’s favorite person. Coach Allie has been with this gym since the beginning. She got to where she is at by doing CrossFit, not by overloading herself with endless conditioning work. For the last several years she has done little more than the class WOD and maybe some extra skill work on the weekends. It’s my opinion (for what that is worth to you all) that she is a great example of what is a realistically attainable fitness and overall health level because she follows the plan and watches what she eats nothing more nothing less. Will her body change as she ages, sure, but I doubt that is going to be a major issue as long as she continues doing what she is doing. What she is doing is CrossFit. What is CrossFit? CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at intensity coupled with a diet based on lean meats, healthy fats and carbs, some fruit, little starch and NO SUGAR.
“4 years ago i was 100-105 lbs. Skinny, stick figure. Now 130….that would freak most people out, but you and I both know that my weight means strength in numbers. I’m not going to lie, it was a hard pill to swallow at first. But, I learned, I feel far more nourished and stronger than I did before.”
Circa 2007 just over 100lbs
2013, She’s even more jacked now!
“I need more Ab work”
Where did her quads go?
This is probably one of my least favorite statements I hear and some of you probably have already seen me cringe when it happens. First off, the reason we do so much full body movements, aka CrossFit, is because they inherently challenge and engage the core-to-extremity model as well as the entire Central Nervous System (CNS) and therefore already target those areas you are concerned about. You can do planks and crunches for ions but you will never come close to the same stimulus as a heavy Turkish Get-up or Front/Overhead Squat. A possible reason you may feel like you aren’t getting enough “abs” is because doing real abdominal work not only strengthens but also thickens your midriff/trunk area. Let’s not freak out now! Also doing excessive crunch and sit-up abdominal type movements tend to cause a bit of a bulged look for the pyramidalis (that little triangular thing towards the mid center of the stomach) when you ignore or neglect the rest of the abdominal wall (obliques,transverse, rectus). The people on the covers of fitness magazines look the way they do for a reason. Assuming these folks have not undergone any plastic surgery and haven’t taken illegal supplements, the picture you see before you is still not how they look day to day. They are typically at a huge calorie deficit for weeks and purposely dehydrate themselves for the camera/show to look as lean as possible. It is not a sustainable lifestyle 365 days a year. Add photoshop and airbrushing and you are really giving yourself some majorly unrealistic goals. Also how many sessions/hours do you think these folks spend at the gym per week. They are not in there for fitness, they are striving for a certain look within a very subjective sport (bodybuilding/physique) You have to be reasonable about your overall goal for yourself and realize most of you are not training to be swimsuit models or to be Mr Universe, rather to be fit and healthy well into your twilight years and have fun doing it in the process.
“I need more cardio”
Sometime I’m not sure that people know what they mean by this. Usually what they mean to say is they think longer workouts with senseless movements will somehow equate to a better physique/scale number. I’ll tell you why this is false:
No traps, biceps, deltoids or lats sold here…
- For many of us if not all of us this is just not the case. Most of us aren’t nearly disciplined enough in our daily nutrition to suggest that more work load is actually needed. Usually the real answer is being more dedicated and consistent with monitoring your caloric intake and macro-nutrient ratios.
- Excessive aerobic or “steady state cardio” conditioning can actually have a negative effect on your progress and hold you back to the point of lost strength through not ingesting enough calories while adding volume of work that has no rhyme or reason. Excessive cardio can also reverse the effects of the strength training you did that day to the point of ZERO ADAPTATION, meaning you did all those squats and presses for nothing basically. Unless you are of the particular category of obese this kind of workload probably isn’t needed or healthy and even if it is, I strongly suggest a slow work up in volume rather than jumping in and killing yourself. Slow progress is healthy progress.
- Is the number or physique you are chasing reality or is it something you put on yourself through a self image problem you have from your past? Maybe you were fairly overweight at some point in your life, maybe overly skinny? Maybe you got teased (kids are mean) when you were an adolescent. I got crap for being a twig all my teen years until I finally developed and I still feel inadequate most days. The fact that some women out there snatch my Clean and Jerk doesn’t help matters. However, sometimes you just have to LET GO!
- Any significant strength/gains go hand in hand with gaining a slight percentage in body fat. You can try all you want to up your squat and bench while cutting weight but unless you are overweight, you are going to find this highly difficult and SUPER SLOW. Why retard your progress when you can sacrifice your belly for 10-12 weeks in exchange for some major strength gains? Not to mention once you have gained that lean mass it’s far easier to cut back down your body fat to your desired percentage. That’s largely the reason we train in blocks of focused work, moving slowly from a strength phase over to a fat burning/conditioning phase. It’s just how the body works, and if you haven’t noticed we have moved to that model lately in preparation for the CrossFit Open.
“I need more strength work/When are we going to deadlift/bench again?”
Some folks have voiced concerns in the past about lack of strength work during certain periods. It’s all apart of the plan peeps. Sometimes in order to keep an even keel we need to back off of certain exercises in order to ensure we are as well rounded as possible. Not all CrossFit gyms practice this method but I am a firm believer in not only constant variance but PLANNED VARIANCE. Variety is great but without a plan it’s doomed to failure. Some recipes just work. I don’t head over to my dad’s house and screw with his spaghetti sauce when I know it’s amazing. I have had it before, it’s always good. Would I change it just to change it up? No of course not. The point is that regardless of what you might think, the workouts throughout the year have a specific goal in mind, specific stimuli in mind during specific months of the year. Ultimately it would be impossible for you all to do every movement in the book and be in peak strength levels, and be in peak conditioning shape year round. That’s why elite athletes have periodized blocks of training as well as scheduled off seasons and breaks from training. The body just doesn’t work like that and neither does strength and conditioning. Did you hear that? “Strength and Conditioning”! You do one before the other for a reason and sometimes emphasis the focus in certain areas more than others in order to produce a certain result while doing your best to maintain some level of adequacy in the other domains of fitness. Some of us get bummed about not hitting back squat PRs every time we walk in the gym and others could give a hoot if they ever see a barbell squat of any kind again. However, we all have to do them just as we all have to do kettlebell work, running, rowing, jumping, and anything else. You all had a general ed class you loathed in college but you had to do it in order to get that bachelor’s degree. Now if your goal is to be ridiculously strong and care about nothing else, then CrossFit may not be for you but good thing we have a weightlifting club! Just remember that the barbell strength is a process as well and doesn’t come easy by any means.
“But that girl in the last class used the same weight as me (male voice)”
This athlete may be out snatching some of you men, but you must remember it probably took her hours of extra coaching on the lift, not to mention she is in her 20’s and doesn’t appear to have much mobility problems. There is ALWAYS a girl that is better than you at something out there somewhere. Just accept it gents.
We all need to stop using unhealthy comparison of ourselves to other people. Checking your Wodify update to see if you beat that guy who is of similar size and age is totally okay and healthy. Being emotionally distraught over being dead last on a WOD or lift that you have a hard time with is not. One of our female athletes recently was able to perform overhead squats with weight for the first time. It was a huge success and it would have been a tragedy to overlook it just because she didn’t use the same load as another female athlete 10 years her junior. Its also important to remember that even if you are an ultra competitive athlete it’s not healthy for other folks to hear you bitching about not hitting a PR Snatch or openly calling your own performance “pathetic” or “crappy”. The person next to you may have been feeling good about their session beforehand, but now they just heard your negative talk about your performance when they might possibly look up to you as an example. “If he thinks his snatch is awful then what does coach think of mine?” I have been guilty of throwing tantrums over missed lifts, but I try not to do it in front of others. Kevin had a really good point in our last blog about not being 25 anymore. It’s true. None of us will ever be as young as we were the day before. It’s the way of life. But that is the beauty behind this journey. However, we can be healthier each day and we can be comfortable with who we are and what we look like but we don’t have to put away our swords just yet. There are local competitions, the CrossFit Open, Olympic weightlifting meets, 5K races, marathons, fun runs, Spartan races and other obstacle challenges any week in this country. Even if that’s not what you are looking to do there is still work to be done in the gym. Why be content with just 5 strict pull-ups when you could PR with 7? Why settle for pull-ups when there are muscle-ups, legless rope climbs, and strict hand stands? You will never beat CrossFit. That is the whole point behind this training program. There is always a way to make the WOD more challenging. There is always another movement to achieve, a lift to perfect, a PR to be had.
Its important to remember that these athletes are at the peak of there game. If you are past this age you don’t have to give up, but you can’t put unreasonable pressure on yourself. You only be as good as YOU can be. and you have to be okay with that. The fastest/strongest 50 year old in a small gym in Pennsylvania is better than the 50 something on kidney dialysis and a hip/knee/shoulder replacement around the corner.
“There are no shortcuts”
30 day challenge this and 100 burpee challenge that. Sometimes they can be great tools to spark the community to get out of a rut and get back in the gym. Motivation is good but it’s important to realize that they are no short term solutions for long term problems. Crash diets, 20 day cleanses, juice fasts, it’s all a gimmick/hoax unless you are willing to make long term commitments. Fix your mobility issues! If you work on that you can better focus on your movement quality, that will lead to better reps, which leads to more reps in a shorter amount of time (increased work performance). Add this and a focus on a steady clean nutrition plan and you will get better results. I love seeing everyone pushing themselves to be stronger, more flexible, and all around well rounded athletes rather than chasing a ‘look’ that might never be achievable for the long term. I think we all need to remember the end goal for your training is not always how you look in the mirror or what the scale says and should be more about your accomplishments, where you’ve been, and where you are going. After all we are not bodybuilders in this gym. CrossFit is supposed to be a broad and inclusive fitness, not magazine abs and crash diets.
In closing we all need to buckle down, look in the mirror and ask ourselves why we think the way we think. What is it about ourselves we aren’t comfortable with and why is that? You are either ready to take the plunge into slow, steady, but healthy progress or you are doomed to be troubled with short lived successes followed by terrible a big crash. Jumping into diets without guidance from a coach who knows your daily exercise routine inside and out isn’t the answer and neither is taking fitness advice from “experts” who have cheated by starving themselves, abusing diet pills, and taking injections of anabolic steroids. These folks have thrived on the shortcut to success and their health will ultimately suffer because of it. Remember the kind of example you want to project into your household as the young minds under your roof begin to shape their own self worth and independent ideas.