My Top 5 Favorite Posts of 2011

Here is a collection of my favorite posts of the past year in chronological order. We're gonna go VH1 Storytellers on this one and get some of the back story on the best of 2011.

This was my Swan Song. My walk-off homer. I should've quit while I was ahead. 10 Tips For Success was probably my strongest writing (and most widely read) of the year and it was the first thing I wrote for CrossFit Delaware Valley. Rob Miller (the owner of CFDV) had approached me about writing a series of articles for beginners, several of which I still need to write, and this was the first in that series. On the morning that it posted the initial feedback was positive and I asked Rob if he could pass it along to the CrossFit affiliate page, in the hopes that maybe they would repost it later in the week. They did one better and shared it on the CrossFit HQ Facebook page. Within hours it exploded. There was something like 70,000+ page views by 6 pm that evening. I had made a dent in the CrossFit community, although no one really knows who I am. Twelve months later and it's still getting reposted and shared on other CrossFit affiliate websites all over the world. I'm kind of a big deal in Canada and Scandinavia.

Is paleofication even a word? It is now. I can conjugate anything. From a nutrition standpoint I think this one really hit home with a lot of people new to paleo or struggling with the transition.

3.) Early Adopter, Late Bloomer
Every superhero has an origin story. Here's mine.

After covering the 2011 Mid-Atlantic Regionals for the CrossFit Games site, I was asked to do a follow-up article leading up to the CrossFit Games about one of the three teams that were going on to California. Since I had spent most of the weekend talking with the athletes of R.A.W. Training I already had an idea for a story and all I really needed was a few follow up questions. There were two interesting notes to come out of this article and are the reason I chose it for this list. The first is R.A.W.'s 35 Skills list. For anyone who read this article I think there was a ripple effect in how individuals and teams approached their training. The second was Molly Tuman's quote, "There is no off season." This response I think really impacted the CrossFit community. Ever since this article posted I've seen lots of tweets with hashtags saying something to the effect of #nooffseason or #2012startstoday. Where the idea of "no off season" had a positive or negative effect is up for debate, either way it made its mark.

5.) Why You Need to Get Stronger
Why? Because I said so. But seriously, I felt this needed to be said yet again. It'll help you in CrossFit as well as life. 

My 2011 Reading List

While most of the stuff I read this year was nutrition-related material, and not always in book form, I was able to sneak in a few other things along the way. Here are a list of books that I've read over the past year that I would recommend. All of these books can be found in my Amazon store if you're interested.

If you have any book recommendations, please leave them in the comments below. I'm always looking for new and interesting reads. Thanks.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (read for the second time)
The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb
Rework by Jason Fried (read for the second time)
Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes

Repost: Why You Need to Get Stronger

This is a repost of an article I did for CrossFit Delaware Valley back in October. 

"Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.” ~ Mark Rippetoe

There are plenty of good reasons to get stronger: a faster metabolism, stronger immune system, decreased fatigue, increased bone density and self-confidence, just to name a few. Chances are you’re not doing enough strength work each week. How do I know? Because most CrossFitters are addicted to the big sexy metcon and neglect overall strength development. Why is that? Weightlifting is uncomfortable. Metcons are uncomfortable but it’s a different kind of uncomfortable. In weightlifting, the barbells are heavy (as they’re supposed to be) and looking at a barbell with lots of plates on it can be intimidating. Why would anyone ever need to squat that much? What’s the benefit to putting that much weight overhead, or pulling such large loads from the ground?

Put on your learning pants, kids. It’s time to discuss some common misconceptions about strength training.

Won’t I get bulky if I lift heavy weights? This is one of the first misconceptions you hear out of people opposed to weightlifting. It’s damn near impossible for women to get crazy bulky, even if they wanted to, simply because women have about 5% to 10% of the testosterone that men have. You certainly can get bigger if you want to, but that’s mainly determined by the kinds of food and quantity you’re putting in your mouth hole. You can just as easily lean out as you can bulk up by lifting heavy weights. Martin Berkham has plenty of documented cases over at LeanGains that show how one can have a lean physique by only lifting heavy. A quick Google image search of Olympic weightlifters in any class under “heavyweight” will show dense, strong, toned physiques. And I’ll bet you Tom Cerecedes’ creepy doll collection they aren’t doing wall balls. As all the trendy CrossFit shirts say: Strong is the new skinny, and strong is sexy.

Not only is this kid stronger than you, he dresses nicer than you too.
I just want a toned {insert body part here}, so I’ll just stick to bodyweight movements and light weights for high reps. And I just want a pet unicorn. Bodyweight movements have their place in overall fitness and strength, but to truly get stronger you need to apply force and stress from an external load; in this case, heavy weights on a barbell. This will get you stronger.

But what about gymnasts? They’re ripped and all they do is bodyweight movements. They also can fit inside my pocket. If you trained for multiple hours everyday since you were 6 years old, you’d be a bodyweight beast too. And since my time machine is at the body shop right now, you’ll have to settle for getting strong the old-fashioned way, and barbells will allow you to get stronger faster. Getting stronger leads to more muscle, and more muscle means less fat. Getting toned just means getting lean and strong. Want an ass you can bounce a quarter off of? Make sure to squat and deadlift every week. Not only is this kid stronger than you, he dresses nicer than you too.

What about the long metcons? I don’t feel like I’m getting much of a workout if I don’t get my heart rate up. Just because you’re not doing a 20-30 minute metcon doesn’t mean you’re not getting a great workout. Do a legitimate cycle of strength training from something like 5/3/1, Texas Method or the Greyskull linear progression and tell me you’re not completely spent after one of those workouts. If you’ve hit a plateau in your weight loss or changes to your body composition, a cycle or two of strength-biased training with shorter metcons could be just the thing to reboot your system.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You want to know how to become a better CrossFitter? How to start destroying WODs in leaps and bounds? It’s real simple: Get stronger – both physically and mentally.

Look at the top CrossFitters and you’ll see a common thread running through the majority of them: they’re all really strong. You too could have a sub 3-minute Fran time if a 95 lb thruster feels like you’re using a pvc pipe. The people who crush CrossFit workouts do so first and foremost because the weights feel light to them. So, if you want your metcons to suck less, get stronger.

CrossFit aside, do you think you possess the speed and strength to get yourself out of a life-threatening situation? I’m not talking about being cornered in the tunnel of a sports arena by 100 ninjas. That’s ridiculous. Ninjas don’t watch sports. I mean would you be able to sprint into the street in time to scoop up your child from being hit by a reckless driver? Or, when you’re older, have the strength to pick yourself off the ground if you were to fall? These are real life situations that people deal with. Chances are you’ll never find yourself hanging over the side of a cliff by one arm while holding on to Brandon Walsh and trying to pull him up to safety, but wouldn’t you like to know that you could?

2011 Holiday Gifts for Mobility Mavens

Looking for some gift ideas for the CrossFitter, Powerlifter, Strongman, or Endurance fanatic in your life? Here are a few relatively inexpensive gifts that will have a huge impact on recovery and mobility.

Ice/Heat Therapy
I've had the same set of these bad boys since 1995. The gel packs have come and gone but the wraps have held up. These are great for icing your knees, shoulders, and back. For more acute pain or injuries the Cryocup Ice Massage is a better fit.

Rogue Mobility Pack
I'm a big fan of mobility work and recovery. If you were going to purchase one of the Mobility Packs Any of those Mobility Packs would be a good choice. Mobility Pack 2 will have a heavier band than 1, or you could get #3 which has both bands, but don't add in the rumble roller. Instead, get the next item.

Trigger Point 'The Grid' Foam Roller
What's nice about The Grid is that it's a PVC pipe core but with three different densities of padding on the exterior. PVC is nice for rolling, but it's a little difficult to use for rolling your back. Plus, this roller is small enough to travel with.

From Russian Kettlebell Swings With Love

Allow me to make a case for the Russian kettlebell (KB) swing and why it should replace the American swing in CrossFit.

In CrossFit, when a KB is used, 99% of the time it is used for swings - particularly American swings. An American swing is where the bell travels overhead. With a Russian swing, the bell only needs to travel to chest level. Bigger isn’t always better.

In a CrossFit competition the standard for a KB swing has been to finish with the bottom of the bell facing completely upward and directly overhead, which can cause quite a debacle. This movement has digressed the swing to a two-armed snatch, and takes most of the hip snap out of the movement. The whole point of the swing is to use that hip snap to drive the bell up and build power in the glutes, hamstrings and hips. A Russian swing is not an arm movement. The American swing is a partial arm movement. The CrossFit Competition Swing (CCS) is mostly arms. Does CrossFit need yet another overhead movement? I’m going to have to say Hell Nyet.

Another factor is the safety issue. Going overhead with the American swing can get a little dicey especially as the weight gets heavier. Add in the strict judging standards of the KB swing in CrossFit competitions and the CCS becomes a shit show. Whatever it has become - an upright row to a snatch - it’s no longer a KB swing.

The second safety issue is that a lot of people tend overarch at the top of their swing, some even come up onto their toes, and all the while putting unnecessary stress on the lower back by compressing the spine. Whereas if you stuck with the Russian swing, you can stay rooted in your heels, with your ribs down, and your trunk tight. This is a much safer position for the back and shoulders, and you actually get to take advantage of the power in your hips during the movement.

Take a look at the picture to the right of the guy in the blue t-shirt. Now, I don't know who this guy is and I'm not trying to make him look bad. I found this image on a Google search and it just happens to fit with what I'm trying to explain. As you can see in the image, the bottom of the bell is facing up to the ceiling, directly overhead. If this were in a CrossFit competition we could give this guy the rep. Now, back to the safety concerns. His back is arched putting the discs in his lumbar spine (low back) into a state of compression. He does appear to be firmly footed with the weight in his heels. So he's got that going for him, which is nice. But he's pushing his head forward under load and straining his cervical spine (neck). Compare this to the picture below of Lance Armstrong doing a Russian swing. His ribs are down so there's no arch in his back, and his head is neutral so there's no strain on his neck. The bell is at the peak so no need to worry about damage to the shoulder girdle. The bell stays out in front of him where it belongs, keeping this a hip-dominate movement as it was intended. 

Other than the practical reasons of safety and maintaining proper form, by switching to the Russian swing you get to use much heavier weights. And isn’t that what it’s really all about?
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