Friday, January 30, 2009

Intensity And Form: When To Draw The [Fine] Line While Continuing To PR

"My deads and push-ups were STUPID ugly but I KILLED my last PR!"

We all love the "for time" aspect of CrossFit: it gets us fit, it makes for a more challenging and fun workout, and the convenience factor is great. I mean, who wouldn't want to be in and out of the gym within as little as half an hour?

When your trainer belts out the word "Time!" the first thing you want to do is run over and see how you did; you want to know if you beat your previous time or added on to it - and you obviously hope for the former. But what we all need to know and understand is that time, aka your level of intensity, shouldn't outweigh technique and form. There needs to be a balance: technique and form get the first class ticket.

There was nothing more rewarding for me than seeing those extra few seconds shaved off of a workout, because that meant I was closer to getting that "sub" number that all of us CrossFitters strive for. But for some of my workouts, as well as for many other peoples', I'd sometimes forget to focus on the other two factors. The fact was I knew that my form sucked, and I knew that Eric and Mark knew: they wouldn't count my reps unless I was "chin over bar." Jerks! But it all makes sense to me now. I realize that that extra few inches on each rep meant a HELL of a lot more work for me, and those inches of work sure do add up.

Now that I had form covered, and my reps were looking a lot better, I began to lack intensity. On a workout like Grace, I was focusing way too much on making my reps look 'pretty' as opposed to just ripping the hell out of the reps while, of course, maintaining decent form. I would get yelled at - and sometimes still do - to go faster and to just throw the weight down after locking out. This is an area of weakness I am currently working on, especially because I want to qualify for the '09 games.

Finding a balance is the key. Focus enough on technique so that you are efficient in your workouts, and focus on form, but not so much to the point where your intensity goes down. It may be difficult to find that balance at first, much like how it is difficult at first to stick with your diet, but eventually you will find that sweet spot and there will be no stopping you. Time is definitely an important factor when it comes to CrossFit training, but not to the point where it is the only factor you are concerned with while training. Your focus must be on time, and technique, and form.

Here is a great article that Doug Chapman,
HyperFit USA affiliate owner, wrote and so cleverly titled, "Clock Whores." I'm sure you will all enjoy this read!

Learning To Come To Terms With The Term "Non-Rx'd"

First off, I would like to announce that I did my first Elizabeth as rx'd yesterday. VERY proud of myself! Although it took 34:41, It was a monumental achievement. Ring dips and push-ups have always been a huge weakness for me, and I have made an honest attempt at ameliorating these weaknesses by using resistance bands and working on push-ups every day, making sure I get full ROM. Those greasy bastards at the globo gym were teaching me wrong that whole time, using dip machines and what-not! As Neil and JJ would say, "Sons 'o bitches..." Nonetheless, I managed to work on my weaknesses - though it took some time - and can only improve from here on in. This brings me to the next blog topic:

"There's no point in me doing this WOD if I can't do it as rx'd!"

In a perfect world, all of us crazy CrossFitters would be natural born firebreathers, able to tackle any WOD in the most extreme conditions; a genetic code of some sort. But alas, our world is far from perfect, and thus we need to haul ass and build coriaceous callouses on our own. Got to start somewhere, right?

Well, some have a hard time coming to terms with not being able to do the firebreather WODs right off the bat, "as rx'd." Speaking from my own experiences, when I began training back in December 2007 I wanted to learn everything and perform well at everything all at once so that I could do all of the workouts as rx'd; but that ended up causing a lot of frustration which resulted in me feeling discouraged (my own fault). I would come into the gym with the attitude of, "Well, I don't want to do Elizabeth because I can't do the cleans or the ring dips as rx'd. I would rather do Annie because I can get a good time on that kind of WOD." This attitude is WRONG to have in the CrossFit world. There was no way I could work up to getting those cleans and ring dips if I continued only doing WODs that I was "good" at.

Coach Glassman says that we should always be prepared for the unknown and the unknowable, and he's absolutely right. I was, in essence, preparing for the known and the knowable. What is the sense in that?

Scaling and modifying workouts is the best way to work up to doing any WOD as rx'd. It could take a while for you to get there, but you will sure as hell be on your way a lot quicker if you do. For example, if you haven't got a muscle-up, a good way to work towards getting one is by doing 2 chest-to-bar pull-ups and 2 ring dips for every one muscle-up. Any time a muscle-up WOD comes up on the main site this is exactly what I do; and on other days I try to work on my false grip, kip, transition, and dip. I've gotten pretty close to getting one already, and now all I need to do is zero in more on the technique.

So remember: you're not a pussy if you can't do it as rx'd; you're a bonified firebreather if you work up to it.

Learn it, earn it, add the weight and burn it!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Overtraining: How It Affects Us And How To Avoid It

"Rest?! Who needs rest! I work through the pain!"

The first three months of my training I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was overwhelmed with variety and wanted to try a million workouts all at once. If there was something I wasn't so strong at, I'd fixate on it for a while and learn it until I was at least good enough at it to be able to incorporate it into a workout (you are now looking at the double under queen!). But eventually, it was getting to the point where I was doing more than one workout a day with no rest days in between. I'd do our gym's WOD in the morning, for example, and a few hours later decide to do Grace. Don't get me wrong, I was getting fit, but at the same time I was unknowingly breaking down.

In February/March I had completed the 300 workout and decided to go immediately into working on handstand push-ups. This is where everything went downhill. Something in my right shoulder went wonky, and when I stood up from the handstand position I was unable to lift my arm past my hips. All I thought was, "That's it, I'm done." Doing any kind of overhead work was out of the question, including pull-ups. I quickly realized that the last three months of overtraining and lack of proper rest were the culprits. I skimmed through my journal out of curiosity to see how many days I had trained in a row without rest: 44! I remember I had even written down "Rest Day" on the pages for the days they were required, but written below would be a workout that I had done, and the time/max load completed. I was super pissed at myself, to say the least, and now I had to suffer the consequences.

Even though I wasn't training as much, I'd still go in to the gym to cheer people on, or see what kinds of numbers people were putting up, but it frustrated me because I wanted to join in on the workouts so badly; sometimes I would even say, "Ah, to hell with it," and give the workout a go, but was quickly stopped by the shooting pains in my shoulders. At some points it was too upsetting for me to even be there to watch others.

It took a while to finally come to terms with the fact that I needed proper rest, and I think part of the reason why is because I was afraid of reverting back to my old unhealthy lifestyle, and also because I had worked so hard at getting to the point where I had reached - endurance-wise, intensity-wise, strength-wise, etc. I finally got used to resting more often and was on the road to recovery, because I learned to understand these important points:

How overtraining affects us:

  • Lack of intensity - there is a difference between waking up fresh after a rest day and waking up after training five days straight and going in to hammer out another WOD. "Strong like bull" or not, your intensity is on its way down the shooter. Proper rest (three on, one off), along with sleep and dieting, will ensure that you get the full recovery that you need; and more likely than not, your times will be better and you will also be much stronger on heavy days.
  • Injuries - your muscles need time to recover, and the best way to do that is, you guessed it, resting! Injuries occur when the body becomes weak; and when it's weak it lacks proper form on workouts, which is then followed by injuries. By taking proper rest you have less of a chance of running into any problems - simple as pie.
  • Progress - CrossFit is all about smashing your old PRs, but a sign of an overtrainer is someone who isn't improving on their workouts. Refuel, re-energize, and most of! Believe it or not, doing nothing all day will help you improve on your workouts - even doing nothing for an entire week.

How to avoid it and still continue training

  • Bodyweight workouts - If you feel as though you can do some light work, bodyweight is a good option. Push-ups, sit-ups, and if knees aren't an issue, air squats are a great choice, as well as running and sprinting. Avoid using heavier weights as much as possible.
  • Mark off your rest days ahead of time - Go through your journal (and for those who don't have one yet, get one!) and mark off every third day as a rest day. Treat it like a work schedule: would you go into work if you weren't scheduled? Didn't think so! So Don't train when you're scheduled to rest.
  • Exercises that prevent injuries - Rotator cuff exercises are a great way to strengthen your shoulders; this link will explain a bit on rotator cuffs and show you three easy exercises you can do to help prevent rotator cuff injuries. This link will show you how to exercise your IT band.

If you haven't jumped on the 3:1 wagon yet, get on it now!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Let's Talk About Zone, Ba-by!

Zone: the best way to get fit, but not always the easiest!

After attempting to dial in on the Zone a countless number of times, I think I've finally got it by the balls. And I say that with every proud muscle fiber in my body!

When I first started training CrossFit back in December of 2007, I was advised by my very knowledgeable trainers to change up my diet if I want to make awesome gains; I did not hesitate one bit. Luckily, 7 months prior to CrossFit when I had begun shedding off those 37 pounds I had gained, I cut out alcohol, grains and starches. This helped give me a great head start on learning to cut back on what Zone calls 'unfavourable' foods. Now all I had to do was cut out juices, milk products and some fruits and I was good to go! Easy peasy, right?!

Well, it wasn't that easy at first, unfortunately. You get this overwhelming feeling of hunger, like you are depriving your body of it's bare necessities. I felt like a heroin addict in withdrawal! There were times where I thought, "Jeez, is this what REAL dieting is like?!" But I still hadn't had it down right just yet, I was not completely dialed in. There were missing parts of the equation:

1. Hydration

2. Timing meals
3. More measuring, less eyeballing

I was never a huge water drinker for pretty stupid reasons - one being that I didn't want to look bloated. How stupid is that! That's girl mentality for you. I realize that it wasn't the water that was bloating me, it was the foods that I was eating. I'd begin a workout, and less than 5 minutes into it my mouth would be dryer than the Sahara desert - talk about cotton mouth! Now I drink the equivalent of 8-12 bottles of water a day - that's 1-1.5 gallons - and I can still fit into my smallest pair of jeans - go "figure!"

Timing my meals was hard because I lacked hydration. My stomach was only ever full of food and never water, and my workouts were effected because of this. Sometimes I would plan to go in and do a workout for 5:00pm and eat slightly prior to this time so that I would have fresh fuel in my body; but sometimes I would get held back at work or school and not be able to get there until later. What I did in this case - and what I most definitely should not have done - is wait to eat until after my workout, no matter how long the wait was. Essentially I would starve myself because I didn't know what time I'd be in to work out. What I did to correct this is, no matter what, I eat every three hours, right on the third hour. For example, last night I went to the movies, and right at 11:40, I cracked open my Tupperware of chicken, my 6 almonds, and my nectarine. I get weird looks all the time, but I'd rather get weird looks for eating healthy any day than get weird looks for smoking cheap crack!

Measuring is so important, I can't stress that enough. My first few attempts at Zone I measured only about 50% of the time, and the results were just the same: half-assed. It's kind of like math - it is math. If you constantly practice you will memorize the equations and steps to the point where you don't need to refer to the text. It takes about two weeks to dial in on the measuring, but I would suggest sticking to it for twice as long, just to really hammer it into your brain; that way, you'll ace it every time.

Now that I am a certified level I CrossFit trainer I have taken on the responsibility of teaching myself - and it's very rewarding to be able to take the knowledge I have acquired through reading, watching videos and reading peoples' comments on the main site, as well as learning from Eric, Mark and Dave, to name a few, and apply it all to my own training.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Five Reasons Why CrossFit Works

"I use my "Six Minute Ab" DVD every night before bed and I still look fat! What gives?!"

I'm sure many of you can relate when I say I have tried many different forms of conventional fitness - mostly because a), from one to the next they are simply ineffective; b), I would see results in one area, but I would be lacking in others; and c), I was simply desperate to look good in a bikini!

In no particular order, because they are all AWESOME reasons, I have put together five reasons why CrossFit works, not only for athletes and the elite, but for anyone and everyone regardless of age, gender, and level of fitness.

1. We look DAMN good, but more importantly, we're strong as %*#$!

The difference between conventional forms of fitness and CrossFit is that in the former you 'look' strong, fit, lean; but in the latter you ARE strong, fit, lean. For the first seven months, CrossFit Mississauga was operating out of a globo gym, and we all got to see the same people day in and day out exercising on the main gym floor, and day in and day out we saw the same people doing the same exercises on the same days of every week: weights first, then elliptical, or the chest and back combo. The list goes on. What was interesting to see was people from the main floor come in, check out what we had going on, and say with confidence, "Yeah man, I train 7 days a week, I can handle this," or, "I run everyday on the treadmill for an hour," and actually putting them through a workout and seeing the look on their faces afterward: priceless. Sure, they looked great! Hell, some of them looked better than any of us, but the strength was simply not there. CrossFit enables people to get that strength, along with the other nine principles we adhere to, and still manage to look great and feel great.

2. Zone, zone, zone.

Many of these alternative forms of conventional fitness, just like CrossFit, are accompanied by a dieting program to help you shed the pounds and look lean; and I'm sure that if you do stick to the program results will show. It's all scientific. But for CrossFit, the Zone is where it's at. From my own experience, I have noticed that cutting out all grains, starches, refined sugars, dairy and alcohol has helped increase my performance all across the board. Eating clean is the key to success, so if you want those PRs, get cracking on the Zone: it works!

3. It's not only for the young and the vivacious! And it's definitely for chicks too!

There is a wide age range that CrossFit appeals to which I believe is a great advantage to this type of training program; and along with the age range, it is equally as beneficial for men as it is for women. Since everything is scalable there is no room for feeling any sort of discouragement. What one person can do at 135 pounds, another can do at 45 - it's that simple. And simple modification is what is key to appealing to the general public. They want to be able to do the same workout that the biggest and strongest guy or girl in the room is doing, and even though they may not be at the same strength level [yet], they know that if they continue working hard they will get to that point. Old or young, male or female, CrossFit is for you!

4. Confidence: wear it like it’s going out of style.

I'm not the first to say just how much my lifestyle has changed since I began training. If you read the entry prior to this you will know exactly what I am talking about. Nobody likes to feel crappy about their selves, it's not fun! Anyone who is a CrossFitter can agree when I say that when you get that awesome PR on a clean, a squat, or one of the benchmarks like Fran, you walk into rooms feeling MUCH taller than you really are. I've gone into the gym after having a bad day and left feeling like I had the best day ever. Nothing can compare that feeling; and it carries throughout every other aspect of your life - at work, at home, at school, and with relationships.

5. Community is the key to success.

After having the chance to visit a number of different affiliates, I notice one thing in common. One of the most important components of a gym: a sense of community. Time and time people have experienced being pushed through workouts literally by strangers - I including - but there is an instant bond made through watching each other work through the pain. When we see a fellow CrossFitter pushing through a workout, we feel that pain he is going through, and we know that that extra push from someone makes all the difference and gets us those PRs we want. We feel proud of each other and share enthusiasm, which is very unique and special; and there's nothing like looking up on that whiteboard and seeing your pal reach that number one spot he has worked his butt off for. Not once in my own experiences have I not been able to walk into a CrossFit gym and feel like I’m walking into my own home. You can’t get that anywhere else.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How Did CrossFit And I Meet?

Let me start off with saying I'm NOT an athlete.

I have never been part of any kind of team, whether it be a soccer team or a baseball team - hell, even a chess team - but all I know is the day I discovered CrossFit, my entire lifestyle changed.

In December 2007, I made my way to my local gym to embark on yet another 30 monotonous minute workout on the elliptical. After completing this portion of my workout, I began to scan around the gym to look for my weight training buddy Mathew, but could not seem to find him anywhere. Peering down a hallway on one end of the gym, I saw a light on and thought he could be lurking back there. Sure enough, there he was in the room with a bunch of dudes: Eric Vandermeersch, owner of CrossFit Mississauga, being one of them.

The exact words translated between Eric and me:
Melissa: "What the %*#$ is this?"
Eric: "This is CrossFit."
Melissa: "Well what the %*#$ is that?"
Eric: "Do a workout and you'll see."
Melissa: "Well, I already worked out."
Eric: "No you didn't, that was just a warm-up."

I had no idea what was about to happen, no idea that I was about to endure the most pain in a workout - good pain, of course - that I have ever experienced. I had been tested to my absolute limit, and all the training I had been doing for the past seven months had all of a sudden felt inferior to the 10 minutes I had just endured.

In April of 2007, I had reached a critical point in my health where I knew that the only way to feel good about myself again was to start exercising and get back to the 'old' Melissa. In May of 2007 I had weighed in at 167 pounds - the most I had ever weighed - and I had fallen into a deep depression. Friends and family were beginning to notice a change in me, wondering where the 'old' Melissa went, and that's when I realized it was time to change and time to get out of the rut I was in.

That very month of May I gave myself a good old slap in the face and told myself to smarten up and get my %*#$ together, and that's exactly what I did. I began running everyday, and had managed to work my endurance up to running as much as 10k three times a week, including 5k runs in between; I changed my diet completely by cutting out alcohol, which was a huge culprit in my weight gain, as well as all starches and grains. The pounds were coming off and I was feeling great about myself again.

All summer I had focused a lot on cardio, with minimal use of free weights; and though I was a lot smaller, weighing in at 130 pounds, I was beginning to feel like my routine was too repetitive. I feared that I would lose interest and consequently gain all the weight back. That's when I discovered CrossFit.

Though my first workout, Cindy, only lasted half the amount of time it is required to, I was gassed beyond belief; but even though I felt like absolute crap after the workout, it made me feel like I accomplished something big. It was enough to get me back in the very next day to take on another workout and see what new limits I could push myself to next, and to this day that aspect of it hasn’t changed.

From my own experience, what has changed the most personally is my confidence. As I previously mentioned, I had gone into a deep depression, but CrossFit helped me regain my confidence and helped me push myself to get back the 'old' Melissa; and most of all, it helped me harden the %*#$ up!

I know that confidence is the foundation of one’s personality, and I hope to help those out there who have lost their confidence regain it in exponential form. I know what it’s like to lose it, and I know that CrossFit will help others just as much as it helped me, if not more.

I’d like to thank the two people who have been there as trainers and as friends for me from the very beginning: Eric and Mark Vandermeersch. They are the most compassionate people I have ever met, and are examples of true outstanding dedication. You guys ROCK. Thank you for continuing to not give up on any of us and for continuing to be amazing role models to our community.