The Blog Has Moved

For a while now I had been wanting to make a change with this blog but didn't quite know how to do it. So, a fresh start seemed in order. This blog will remain up, because I wouldn't want to deny anyone the Paleo Breakfast Casserole recipe, but all new content will be posted at my new blog.

You're Not Supposed to Bend That Way

CrossFit is not yoga. I don't think anyone would argue otherwise. You can incorporate yoga into your training, and I would definitely recommend you do so. There is a time and a place for being bendy, but this really isn't the forum for that subject matter. When it comes to lifting heavy things, or performing movements at a high intensity, this would not be the time to be hyper-mobile.

Let's look at three common movements: a handstand/handstand push up, an overhead press (strict, push press, or jerk, doesn't matter), and an American kettlebell swing. All three movements should look the same in the locked out position, except for the handstand which would be inverted like Maverick and Goose's 4g negative dive with the MiG.

Look closely at the body positioning of each of those movements. This is how they should look. What is similar about all three people? Each of them are strong and solid like a column. Phallic in nature, yes, but it shows that the finishing position is the same in all three. In each movement you see a tight midline, the rib cage stays down, and the spine stays neutral.

I've talked about this concept before in From Russian Kettlebell Swings With Love. Backbends have their place in yoga, but not under a heavy load or a repetitive high intensity movement. Save your spine by keeping your rib cage pulled down. There should be little to no hyperextension of the spine during any of these movements, or during the pull up for that matter.

Arching back during a press does not feel good. Keep doing it that way over and over again, week after week, and you're going to run into problems. If you're not able to keep your rib cage down and your spine straight during these movements then you may have some combination of chest, shoulder or scapula mobility issues. Get out that lacrosse ball and get to work. You may also be lacking in general core strength and stability, so you might need to dust off that 7 Minute Abs video while you're at it.

Let's look at one more movement: the coveted kipping pull up. Every new CrossFitter can't wait to get their first kipping pull up. I think it may be the defining movement of CrossFit. The problem here is that most people can get a kipping pull up before a strict pull up because it does not require as much strength to execute. This is problematic because when you have a person who isn't quite strong enough doing monster kips, and making a C shape with their spine as seen to the right, you're repeatedly putting the spine in a bad position at a high intensity.

I'm not the first person to dissect this woman's form, but let me reiterate what others have already said. If you need to have a kip that big to perform a kipping pull up, then you're not strong enough to do a kipping pull up.

So what do you with this information? Take a video of yourself from a side view doing all four of these movements. Watch it carefully frame by frame. If you find that you've been doing these movements incorrectly, tell your ego to shut the f*ck up and go back to the basics. Decrease the weight and practice the movements slowly but correctly. You'll be better off down the road.

7 Things to Talk About With Other CrossFitters Besides CrossFit

It doesn't matter where you are: a happy hour, wedding, or funeral, CrossFitters will find each other and inevitably talk ad nauseam about CrossFit. It's kind of like when you go out with your coworkers and you end up talking about work. You don't really have much else to talk about so you revert back to what you all have in common.

To make you appear as a more well-rounded and functional member of society, here are some topics of discussion to get you started.

Sports (other than CrossFit)
You remember sports, right? Those activities you used to do before the Fitness consumed your life. Yay sports! Greg Glassman's mission statement for CrossFit - World-Class Fitness in 100 Words - ends with a commonly overlooked, but critical, piece of advice: Regularly learn and play new sports.

Get out there. Learn a new sport. Tell your friends.

Mythical Creatures
Unicorns, Trolls, Centaurs, etc. Discuss the magic and wonderment. Try not to go off on a tangent and debate how much Bigfoot could deadlift. I'll save you some time, it's a shit ton.

Books, Music, Movies, Art and Culture
Pick one of these, or all of them. Have you read anything good lately? Your local CrossFit gym's blog doesn't count. Your own blog doesn't count either.

Have you seen The Dark Knight Rises? Holy crap it was awesome! Did you see it in IMAX? No? F'ing go back to the theater and watch again. Then come talk to me.

F*ck, Chuck, or Marry (also played as F*ck, Kill, or Marry - if you have psychotic tendencies) 
Pick any three people, it doesn't matter who, and decide which one you would do naughty things to, which one you would get rid of, and which one you would marry. This game has endless possibilities. Real and fictional, everyone and anyone is fair game. You can even group it into categories such as 80s sitcom stars, cartoon characters, or fine I'll give you this one, CrossFit celebrities.

Current Events
It's a big world out there and there's a lot of crazy and interesting things happening. 3, 2, 1...Discuss!

The Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse
Come on, you know this is the real reason you do CrossFit. What's more functional than surviving a Zombie Apocalypse? Wait, this isn't the reason you do CrossFit? New training goal.

Some Crazy Ass Shit You Saw on the Internet, or Even Better, in Real Life
Hopefully you have a life outside of the gym, have been places, seen things, and have experiences of your own that you can share, and more importantly, that are interesting enough for others to hear about. If all else fails, just end your story with, "...and then I shit my pants." Guaranteed winner every time.

Paleo + (Insert Dealbreaker of Choice)

I get asked the same questions a lot. "Is (insert craving of choice) Paleo?" Or, is (blank) okay to eat? The short answer is usually no. But, the slightly longer answer is a little more diplomatic and leads to a greater rate of success in the long term.

Everyone has their food and beverage dealbreakers. We'll define a dealbreaker as any particular item(s) that if I said you could never have again you would tell me to go pound sand (or something else a little more colorful). 

The most common dealbreakers are beer and peanut butter, and with very good reason because there really isn't a good substitute for either item. I have yet to find a gluten-free beer that is not disgusting, or that remotely tastes like the style of beer it is trying to imitate. (Note to any brewers out there, sorghum is not the answer. Find a different grain, perhaps buckwheat, or remove the gluten from barley).

And let's not kid ourselves, almond butter is bullshit. Oh my gosh, this almond butter is so good. I can eat jars of it. Calm down. Stop trying to convince yourself that it is good, because it's not. Sunbutter sort of tastes like peanut butter, but by that point you might as well have the real thing.

For some people if you're going to make a dietary lifestyle like Paleo sustainable for the long haul, you're going to need a little wiggle room. It doesn't matter whether something is Paleo or not. What matters is if that item is good for you as an individual. If you repeatedly have a bad reaction to a particular food or drink every time you have it, you may want to avoid it. 

My approach to Paleo is to use it as a general framework to find out what works best for you. As far as physical health goes, beer and peanut butter are not going to get high marks. But as for your mental well being, if that's what you need to keep everything else in check, and you're still obtaining your goals, so be it. Just don't over do it. 

The 23:1 Rule

Author William S. Burroughs is said to be the first person to believe in the 23 enigma, which refers to the belief that most incidents and events are directly connected to the number 23. There was a Jim Carrey movie called "The Number 23" based on this theory. I didn't see it. I don't think a lot of people did.

When it comes to The Fitness, the number 23 has some significance. Even Jack Bauer only gets 24 hours in a day. If you spend one hour on exercise, that leaves 23 other hours to F up any progress you made in the gym with poor quality and/or not enough sleep, eating junk, eating too much, not eating enough, chronic stress, not foam rolling, not stretching, excessive alcohol or worse.

Be smart. You can't out-train a crappy diet and lifestyle.

Don't Train Failures

Photo credit: Benjamin Von Wong

You've probably been in this place before. You're working up to a heavy single or maybe even a one-rep max, and perhaps the lift is something technical like a clean or a snatch. In your pursuit of The Fitness you begin adding more and more weight to the bar until you get to the point where you miss the lift. So you try again. And you miss again. And you try again and you miss again. Perhaps this goes on for 15 minutes. Missed lift after missed lift. You're getting pissed but you keep trying and keep failing.

Finally a coach or someone with a little bit of experience, tells you what they're seeing, gives you some advice and a cue or two. If it's a glaring breakdown in technique, maybe that person even suggests you drop the weight back down to work on your form, and then make your way back up. Has this ever happened to you? If not, you've probably at least seen something similar in your own gym.

Does the person listen? Sometimes. But CrossFittters can be stubborn individuals and they want to PR every damn day. So they won't accept a missed lift. They'll keep failing over and over again because that shows heart, determination and guts, right? Wrong. That's stupidity and thickheadedness. That's a good way to get injured. That's a great way to reinforce bad form and mechanics.

Training failures (not to be confused with training to failure, that's entirely different), as in not learning from your mistakes and continuing to try over and over again after repeated missed lifts is not helping you get better. I think Einstein said it best, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." This is not to say that if you miss one lift that you shouldn't try again. But if you missed it 7 times in a row. Maybe you should drop the weight down, make the lift and end on a high note. Instead of beating yourself up for failing, praise yourself for doing it right. 

Are We Overcomplicating Things?

Holy crap, a blog post! I know, I'm as shocked as you. It's been a while. It's not that I haven't had anything to write about. I have a list of topics on my iphone that I haven't gotten to yet.  With the growth of the Lean Out Club that I started at CFDV, I haven't had the time to dedicate to writing. A poor excuse I know, but I couldn't come up with a better one. I'm still not crazy about the name Lean Out Club, but I'll keep it until I either come up with a better one, or, until the Zombie Apocalypse. Whichever comes first. Now, onto the blogging.

I've been messing around with the weights for around 20 years now. It's crazy to think it's been that long. I've been reading about health and nutrition for probably 25+ years. Supplement catalogues and wellness magazines made up a lot of my bathroom reading as a kid. Too much information, or great insight?

Anyway, I remember seeing a video in the early days of CrossFit with Coach Glassman and Nicole Carroll demonstrating the medicine ball clean. Whether a medicine ball is an effective tool for teaching a clean is not the point, what I remember sticking out from that video was the emphasis on the shrug.

I learned how to power clean in high school and I never remember hearing anything about a shrug. My initial impression was, "That's not right. You don't shrug with a clean." You may physically shrug as an afterthought but it's not a conscious effort. Were my teachers and coaches wrong? Was Glassman right? Was everything else I'd seen and read over the years missing a critical step? As time went on I assimilated into the CrossFit style of teaching cleans and had forgotten that it may be an unnecessary step and queue.

When I began coaching I found the power clean to be the most difficult move for most beginners to grasp. There's all these foreign phrases like "tight midline," "second pull," "fast elbows." I found most people over-thinking the whole process and ending up with a reverse curl. But, if you tell a person whose had very little exposure to barbell lifts to jump the barbell up to your shoulders, they can usually pull off something that looks close to a power clean on the first try. It may not be textbook but if the weight is light they can go through several reps of practice without destroying themselves.

Let me also take a second to clarify my queue of jump the barbell up to your shoulders. You don't have to physically leave the ground. The only time the feet would move is if you were going to split clean, split snatch or split jerk.

As the weight gets heavy I see a lot of people doing power cleans like the guy in the picture, which just looks painful. If you're just doing a traditional power clean, you can come up onto your toes but the feet shouldn't shift to the side at all.

The prerequisites for learning a power clean are competency in the deadlift, and the establishment of a good front rack position. Ultimately the limiting factor in a beginner is their level of coordination and mobility. If a person doesn't have the flexibility and mobility to get into a front rack position, do they really have any business spending time on the power clean? Or would their time be better spent focusing on mobilizing their lats, scapula, chest, wrists and forearms so that they can achieve a proper rack position, and less likely to injure themselves when they join the main class and mob mentality takes over.

I like to take a minimalist approach to group instruction of movements and then give each person individual queues to correct the most apparent technical flaw I see. Once they correct the biggest offender, I drill down from there. If Johnny has three glaring problems with his power clean, I can't give him three separate things to fix all at once. It will be paralysis by analysis. He'll over-think every single thing he does, and probably reverse curl the bar, rather than turn his brain off and just let the movement happen.

If I take the biggest problem first and have Johnny go really slow as he learns to correct his form, then take the second biggest problem and work my way down from there, Johnny will be a power cleaning machine in no time. Simple is better.

Beef 101

Check out this great infographic on beef from Frugal Dad.
  Beef Infographic
Source: FrugalDad

Just Because It's Gluten Free Doesn't Mean It's Not Crap

I'm not singling out this particular brand or cereal manufacturer, but when Kara brought home a box of Marshmallow Pebbles the other week I was less than pleased.

I get it. She grew up eating cereal. So did I. So did most of America. But if you're jonesing for some cereal, there are better options out there. Read your labels.

"But it's gluten free," she said. As if it would sway me in the least.

Just because something is gluten free, doesn't mean it's still not a big ol' pile of crap.

In the image to the right you will see the ingredients for Marshmallow Pebbles. First off, you can't honestly think something with the word "marshmallow" in the title is not going to be considered junk food; even if the marshmallows came from Bedrock. The rest of the ingredients read more like a chemistry experiment than a recipe. This should be a red flag for anyone. It may not contain wheat, rye, or barley, but it definitely contains some scary shit.

Leave a Little in the Tank

Photo Credit: Benjamin Von Wong

This past weekend I kept my workouts on the lighter side in terms of weight, volume and (more importantly) intensity. At the end of both workouts I noticed something - I felt good. I didn't feel wiped, starving, or a drop in blood sugar. I felt like I could have done more, but I didn't.

There's something to be said for a 50-60% percent effort. Sometimes you need an easy day. You can't give a 100% or 110% (that's just silly) every day. If you go out there with the mentality that you're going to punish yourself every day, you're going to either get injured or crash and burn, Mav. You can't "compete everyday." That's ridiculous. Your body and your hormones can't keep up at that pace or intensity level over the long term. It's simply not sustainable. 

I've come and gone with CrossFit over the years and my reason for burnout in the past was because I didn't cycle my training. I didn't think far enough ahead to give myself scheduled deload days and deload weeks, to take vacations from metcons, or to scale back the intensity.

There's a difference between training, testing and competing. In CrossFit that line has gotten blurred, especially by those newer to it who are still in the honeymoon phase. I've been around this stuff for the better part of a decade so for me the honeymoon is over. I know what to expect. I know how most workouts are going to feel. I know how to game them. But most importantly, I know the difference between training, testing and competing. 

Training is your day-to-day sessions (metcons, strength, skill work, etc). You want to get a good workout, achieve the desired stimulus, work on the things you need to work on, and then go home and recover. You work hard, but you don't need to keep peeling yourself off the floor each and every training session.

Testing is doing a benchmark workout (or something in a similar vein) for the second, third, or 50th time in the hopes of improving on your previous best effort (which hopefully wasn't done yesterday). This would also apply to strength lifts where you might do max reps of a given weight on your last set. Pulling your previous one-rep max for two or three reps means you had a good day, it's not a max effort PR. There's a difference. 

Competing is a completely different mindset. Whether it is a competition like the CrossFit Open or some locally held event with multiple workouts in a day, or even a CrossFit, Powerlifting, or Olympic total, those are the times where you find that extra gear, you dig a little deeper and you truly test yourself. You can't max out every day.

You have maybe 12 of those efforts in you in a given year. There needs to be periods in your training where you go at 50-60% to deload the body and the mind. Sometimes less is more. Leave a little in the tank. 

Paleo For Vegetarians

There seems to be a common misconception that the Paleo diet is a diet heavily based on meat. While most people who follow the Paleo diet eat meat (beef, poultry, pork, seafood, eggs and wild game), it's not to say that you couldn't eat only a small amount of meat, and still apply the basic principles of the Paleo lifestyle to your own.

This post is not intended to be a daily meal plan, or even a recommendation on macronutrient percentages. All of that is going to depend on the individual, their activity levels, and their goals. This is merely a simple guide on how to take a Paleo approach to a Vegetarian lifestyle. I use the word lifestyle  because just like Paleo/Primal, Vegetarianism is a lifestyle. You choose to eat and live a certain way in accordance with a particular set of beliefs. If you're a Vegetarian considering incorporating the principles of Paleo into your lifestyle, I think this is very doable.

The Paleo Framework Applied to Vegetarianism
Using the general framework of Paleo, let's start with the typical protocol of foods to eliminate: grains, dairy, legumes, seed oils (soy, corn, canola, vegetable, peanut, sunflower, safflower, cotton, etc), and refined & artificial sugars.

Regardless of whether or not a caveman or cavewoman did or did not eat those foods is not the definitive reason for modern day humans to eliminate those foods. The biggest reason is that those foods play a big role in modern disease due to large amounts of anti-nutrients (such as lectins, phytates, & gluten), unnecessary amounts of omega 6s (which lead to inflammation), and large spikes in blood sugar and insulin.

If you are a Vegetarian and looking to incorporate the principles of Paleo into your dietary lifestyle, here is what I think would be your best approach.

Let's assume you eat either eggs, fish, dairy or some combination thereof as a means of protein. Since you're probably not spending a whole lot of your food budget on protein, I would allocate a little more toward higher quality protein sources: pastured eggs, wild-caught seafood, and grass-fed dairy are the keywords you want to look for with each of those foods. Grass-fed butter or ghee (clarified butter) are great sources of vitamins A, D, and K, and Paleo or not, this is real food and should be consumed as long as you don't have any adverse reactions. If you are someone who has problems with dairy, give ghee a try and see if you still have those same issues.

If you do consume dairy I would also suggest supplementing with a grass-fed whey protein that has little to no fillers (I like Stronger Faster Healthier's Pure Whey). Granted it is a processed food, but this will help ensure you're getting more protein each day, and it's a better option than your standard whey protein powder.

If you consume fish, getting four ounces of wild-caught salmon twice per week will ensure you're getting a  amount of omega 3 in your diet. If you're not into fish, supplementing with a teaspoon of fish oil, or fermented cod liver oil a couple times per week will help with that omega 6 to omega 3 ratio.

Grass-fed butter and ghee (as mentioned above), coconut oil, olive oil (as a salad dressing only), and macadamia nuts. You'll want to avoid cooking with olive oil as it has a low smoke point and can oxidize easily even at low heats (meaning it can cause free radicals and inflammation in the body when consumed). The reason I only list macadamia nuts and no other nuts is because macadamia nuts have the lowest levels of omega 6 compared to all other nuts. You could have other nuts but I'd keep it to very limited amounts.

Beans are pretty popular in the Vegetarian communities as an alternative protein source. I personally consider them more of a carb than a protein source, but that's a different discussion. Legumes are not considered Paleo because cavemen probably didn't spend a whole lot of time digging around in the dirt trying to find beans to eat, so they weren't a staple of their diet. Maybe they did eat a lot of beans, maybe they didn't. Who cares.

The problem with beans is the high amounts of anti-nutrients that can irritate the intestines and exacerbate autoimmune disorders. That being said, the lentil appears to be the least problematic of the legumes. If you do choose to eat legumes do your best to properly prepare them by soaking for a long time (upwards of 24 hours or more) and cooking the hell out of them. This will help to mitigate a good amount of the anti-nutrients.

There's really no good reason to ever eat grains other than they're a cheap source of calories. If you're going to eat grains the least offensive appear to be quinoa and white rice. As with legumes you should  do your best to properly prepare the grains through soaking, sprouting and/or fermenting.

Fruits and Vegetables
I don't recommend that anyone go crazy on fruit. There may be nutrients and antioxidants in there, but it's still sugar. Have at it with the veggies, and make sure to get a wide variety of color. If you're going to be eliminating grains (and with that eliminating a large source of cheap calories), you'll need to replace those calories with starchy tubers like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and all the various squashes.

I'd love to hear from any Vegetarians out there who have tried Paleo (or are thinking of trying Paleo) and what they thought of it. Leave your comments below.

The Health Benefits of Grass-fed Beef

Today we have a guest post from Megan Bucknum of Philly Cowshare discussing the benefits of eating grass-fed beef. In this post, Megan will give a little bit of background on her organization and what they do, as well as the differences in production and health between a grain-fed cow versus a grass-fed one, and why grass-fed meat costs so much more.

I have been a customer of Philly CowShare for almost a year and what initially drew me to order from them was that their beef was not only grass-fed, and humanely raised, but also grass-finished. That's the important point to make here. In the greater Philadelphia area it's hard to find grass-fed meat in the grocery stores; let alone 100% grass-fed meat. Whole Foods has a decent selection, but even their grass-fed meat is still grain-finished. Cows were not meant to eat grains and even a little bit of grains into their diet produces unhealthy animals.

I will buy an eighth of a cow comes at a time which comes as two boxes (roughly 40 lbs of meat total); which fits neatly into a standard size freezer when unpacked. One box is made up of ground beef and burger patties. The other box is roasts and steaks. These orders have been done as part of an entire cow purchased with seven other people at CrossFit Delaware Valley.

Included in the total order, we usually get an extra box of organs, bones and fat - if you're into that sort of thing, and I am - that is free for the taking. Liver from a grass-fed/pastured animal is probably the most nutrient-dense animal protein you can find. The bones are great for adding to stews, using to make stocks or bone broths which are also rich with minerals and collagen.

Enter Philly CowShare

Greetings from Philly CowShare!

Philly CowShare connects the local community of responsible farmers and butchers, with the urban community of people who want to simply eat well. We sell bundles of grass-fed beef, called CowShares, including cuts from across the cow. Our beef is dry-aged for 2 weeks and is free of hormones and antibiotics. Our cows are raised on healthy pastures within a reasonable drive of Philadelphia. 

Sharing the yield from an animal with people you know is an old-fashioned way of buying meat, but until now was not very accessible to people who live in urban communities. Whole animal distribution allows for a transparent and communal buying experience with less waste. Our shares come in 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and whole cow packages and whatever size you decide this bulk buying method can make this delicious product more affordable than buying a cut at a time from a grocery store or butcher. You may be asking yourself how does grass-fed beef differ from conventional grain-fed beef?

Cows are ruminants, which means they are designed to eat grass, plants and shrubs – all high in fiber.  This diet differs greatly from the starch-heavy, fiber-low grain-based diet that is fed to the majority of commercial cows in feedlots. Changing the way nature intended cows to grow invariably has affects on the nutritional quality of commercial feedlot beef. 

Grain-fed cattle eat mainly corn and soy, allowing them to get to their ideal weight very quickly through gaining fat in their muscles. In addition to grain, feedlot cows are given hormones to assist with rapid weight gain, resulting in additional muscular fat content. Grass-fed cattle are not exposed to this kind of diet, so they are on average 25% lower in fat than their grain-fed counterparts. 

The green plant based diet of grass-fed cows has positive affects on grass-fed beef, such as being higher in Vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and potassium and lower in saturated fats linked with heart disease.  Allowing animals to go back to their natural diets also allows for a healthy ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3, as well as a higher occurrence of conjugated linoleic acid, which has been found to reduce high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and insulin resistance. 

So why is pastured grass-fed beef more costly than conventional grain-fed beef?

In order to produce healthy grass-fed beef in harmony with the land, cows are raised on pasture where they can graze, fertilize the land and increase the soil health. Grass grows on land and land can cost a lot of money! 

In the conventional method, the food is brought to the cows rather than the other way around. Cows are placed in a central feedlot (i.e. CAFO) and cattle feed comprised of corn and soy are shipped in and rationed accordingly to promote rapid weight gain. In a grass-fed system, the grass stays put and the cows are rotated from pasture to pasture eating the tops of the grass stalk where the most energy is stored. Eating just grass and forage takes longer for the cow to gain enough weight for market, 18 – 24 months versus 12 – 15 months in a feedlot. In addition, the number of cows per acre is significantly lower than in a feedlot system. The cost of this land, more time needed to raise cattle and the reduced number of cattle per acre all increases the cost of producing grass-fed beef and therefore final price tag. 

Is there a way to make this great product more affordable? 

Yes!  Philly CowShare’s transparent approach to purchasing beef allows consumers to understand exactly what they are paying for and buying bulk decreases the overall price of the beef. Let’s face it; it’s not common practice to add up the amount of beef you buy over a year or how much you’ve paid for it. Buying a CowShare puts this information front and center. You pay one flat price for all the cuts and eat it slowly over time.   

Our shares come in 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and whole cow packages and no matter the size, buying meat in bulk makes this delicious product more affordable than buying beef cut-by-cut at a grocery store or butcher.  Additionally, our business model returns 50% of the food dollar back to the farmers who produce the meat, this figure is 40% higher than commodity beef figures. Buying grass-fed beef from local farmers is good on your wallet, your plate, and your community.

If you're interested in being a part of a CowShare, please visit Philly CowShare.

How To Deal With Food Cravings

Here's a common scenario: You're feeling stressed from: work, family, school, friends, life - pick one, or all of them. With that stress comes a need to make yourself feel better, usually with food. And what are you craving? Probably the worst possible thing for you. Typically, the most unhealthiest foods are the ones we crave the most. Damn that Colonel Sanders.

It might be a cookie here and there, a slice or two of pizza, a few gulps of soda. A few hours go by and you realize you've had an entire sleeve of cookies, a liter of soda, an entire pizza. Do you even remember eating these foods? Did you enjoy it? Do you hate yourself now?

Food is not a reward or a punishment; it's simply food. In the most basic sense food is fuel, and to run optimally you want to put the best possible fuel into your body. If you pour sugar into the gas tank of a car, the engine will break (unless it's an 85' Delorean with a flux capacitor and a modified Mr. Fusion in the back). If you keeping pouring sugar into the gas tank that is your body, it too will break. 

A big trigger of cravings is stress, and when you're feeling highly stressed and overwhelmed you'll seek out some form of comfort food to ease the pain. But instead of opening your desk drawer and pulling out the M&Ms (you know they're in there), take 10 minutes to de-stress - drink a glass of water, take a lap around the block, and see if you still have that craving.

Just because you have a craving does not mean you have to indulge yourself. You're all big boys and girls, wearing your big boy and girl pants. If every single person acted on every single impulse they ever had, society would collapse. Restraint (and opposable thumbs) is one of the many things that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

When it comes time to deal with and manage your cravings do so in a controlled manner. Be MINDFUL of your food. Enjoy it. Savor every bite or sip. Don’t over do it. Eat or drink only as much is needed to satisfy the craving.

If there is a gluten free/paleo version of what you’re craving, eat the gluten free/paleo version first. If that doesn’t satisfy the craving, try the real thing.

If what you’re craving is your grandmother’s homemade apple pie, there's no substitute for that. Eat one or two small pieces. Take your time with it. Tell her it was delicious, and say thank you.

Eat or drink something because it’s special to you, because you really want it, not because it’s simply in front of you.

It all comes down to: Is It Worth It? Ask yourself if what you’re about to eat is going to absolutely wreck you for the next one to three days? Yes? Maybe? I don’t know? Is it still worth it? Is this one little cookie going to lead to an entire bag? Is it worth it? Is that bag of cookies going to keep you from obtaining your goals? Is it still worth it?

The point of managing your cravings is not to cram as much crap in as possible. It’s to acknowledge your cravings, be present and mindful in what you’re eating, address the cravings in a controlled manner, and ask yourself: Is It Worth It?

Defining Happiness

“I have decided to be happy, because it's good for my health.” – Voltaire

For the past five weeks I've been running a challenge at CrossFit Delaware Valley called the Body Composition Challenge (BCC). It's a different take on a traditional Paleo challenge in that there are two criteria for scoring: Before and After photos and a short written self-assessment at the end of the challenge.

Over the past five weeks I've given a weekly talk to the BCC participants, covering various topics of health and wellness and how they relate to body composition. Last night was the final meeting and the topic was on happiness. I drew the flowchart pictured above on the board and went through the exercise with the group. I told them to take a moment and evaluate different areas of their life: family, personal relationships, work, and your life as a whole, as it relates to the flowchart. 

It's a pretty simple but effective sequence; if you're truly happy, keep doing whatever you're doing. If you're not happy, change something.

I recently had lunch with Stephanie Vincent who told me about her weight loss experiences. During our lunch she said something that really stuck with me. She said that you have to at least like yourself. If you don’t like yourself, how do you expect to take care of yourself? Nobody wants to take care of someone they don’t like. 

The crux of my talk last night was that over these past five weeks one of the indirect goals was not so much losing weight or inches, but in gaining happiness with yourself. I tried to define what happiness might look like in broad strokes, but defining happiness is going to be different for everyone. 

I presented the following list in no particular order:
  • Living a long, healthy, active life
  • Giving and receiving love from a companion
  • Doing work that is fulfilling and that makes a difference 
  • Financial freedom and independence
  • Surrounding yourself with people who support you/Avoiding toxic people
  • Expanding your scope of the world through travel, learning, food, and culture
  • Spending the majority of your time doing the things you enjoy
I think the last one may be the most important of them all. However you decide to spend the majority of your day it should be spent doing the things that you enjoy, that are important to you, and that matter to you. On their death bed, no one ever said that they wished they spent more time in the office. If what matters to you most is doing something that gives you a sense of fulfillment be it raising a family, building a community, or exploring the world, then own up to it and embrace it.

Your time is just as important and valuable as anyone else's. If you're spending the majority of your time doing things you can't stand, change something.

The quote that started this post sounds a bit metaphysical but it's dead on. You choose to be happy, just as much as you choose to be sad, angry, depressed, or frustrated. If you're not happy with your situation, change something.

Convenience is Toxic

This is a story about coffee, but it applies to all foods and food choices we make on a daily basis.

I like coffee as much as the next person, but I'm not crazy about it. It's good, but I can just as easily drink tea if I want a caffeinated beverage. I'm impartial. I like them both equally, as friends.

Last weekend I went to a local coffee shop that I had been to once before and had been meaning to go back to. This place is a coffee snobs mecca - very limited menu with no prices, top of the line espresso maker, Hario V60 kettles and drip cones to serve the single origin, hand ground beans in a very calculated, laborious, slow process to make a single cup of drip coffee. I wouldn't call myself a coffee snob but I'm pretty good with Google.

My order - a 12 oz cup of coffee - took about five minutes to make. And I'm not just saying that as a gross exaggeration. I didn't time them but it was probably in the neighborhood of five minutes. Compare that to the turnaround time for Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks and it would probably feel like a week to some people. Good thing I wasn't in a hurry.

The coffee was good. Real good. Good coffee doesn't need anything added to it. It's just good by itself.

Starbucks coffee tastes burnt to me and it's a bit overpriced for what I consider a shitty product. Dunkin' Donuts is decent for what it is: cheap and fast. You get what you pay for. When it comes to coffee, it should come from a single origin source (No blends. Blends are bad.) from either a wet (washed) or natural process. This will give you the best quality, and best tasting coffee, with the least amount of toxins. Quality matters.

Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks are convenient. Not having to get out of your car to get that cup of coffee is convenient. Buying prepared food is convenient. A sandwich is convenient. Convenience is easy. Easy is lazy. Lazy gets you into trouble. Convenience is toxic, and not in the Britney Spears sort of way. Convenience is killing you slowly.

A cup of coffee that came from a blend of beans from who knows where, sprayed with who knows how many chemicals, sitting in a coffee pot for however long doesn't taste nearly as good (or make you feel as good) as a clean sourced bean that was ground in front of you, carefully and perfectly prepared with craftsmanship. That's art. That's worth the extra couple minutes, even if you're in a hurry. Convenience is toxic. Quality takes time.

A Double Dose of Reading Today

I've got two articles up today, but neither are on this site. 

How To Keep a Workout Log is up on CrossFit Delaware Valley.

Mother First, Athlete Second: Tanya Wagner is up on the CrossFit Games site.


Deconstructing the Rule Book for the 2012 CrossFit Games Open

After a month of radio silence I'm back. Over the past week I've been simmering on the Rule Book that was posted for the 2012 CrossFit Games Open. There's a lot of interesting additions for this year's Open like approved clothing and tattoos, and disqualification for unsportsmanlike conduct, but that's not my initial focus at this point in time. I am only going to focus on one section in particular (based on how I am interpreting this Rule Book) and what it means for this year's competitors.

I'm keeping this post confined to just one section as it pertains to the Open, because honestly, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Only a small percentage (of what will probably be a much larger pool of participants compared to last year) will actually make it to Regionals. 

The first few pages of the Rule Book are standard, but the shit hits the fan on page 7. In my opinion, this is the most important and significant part of the Rule Book.

Item 4: What to Expect - Part D, sections iv-vi. 
iv. Some workouts may have time penalties. Failure to complete a workout in the designated time may result in a one second penalty for each repetition not completed and/or cause the Athlete to not advance to the next workout, regardless of overall rank. 
That's interesting. So, if there's a time penalty that would mean that the workout is For Time. Definitely a change from last year. But let's keep reading further, shall we?
v. Some workouts may have a minimum amount of time, repetitions, weight, or rounds required in order to advance. Any such minimums will be announced as part of the Workout Format. Failure to reach a minimum will cause the Athlete to not advance in the competition. 
I read this as everything is on the table. So, we're looking at workouts for time, AMRAPs, and most likely a max effort. With that being said, I also interpret this to mean that there will be time caps on the workouts and if you're not finished within the designated time limit then there will be a penalty, or elimination from the Open. For a max effort workout, that would mean a minimum weight lifted or a heavy designated weight at a minimum number of reps. My guess is that it would be a 1- or 3-rep max lift in a pretty short time frame with a fairly aggressive cut off weight. Or, it would be a heavier AMRAP with a short time limit and minimum number of reps needed to move on in the Open. Something like a 3-minute AMRAP of deadlifts at (315/205) and the athlete must complete at least 10 reps within the time limit to move on.  
vi. If an Athlete does not advance to the next workout for any reason (DNF, injury, disqualification, etc.) they will be ranked below all competitors who started that workout and are not eligible to advance to the next stage of competition.
Ok, now we're getting somewhere. So, you're saying there will be cuts, and that they could be early on in the competition. Interesting. My guess is that we'll see cuts being made around Week 3. Didn't get the workout done within the time cap? Sorry, but the Open is over for you. Sure you can still do the workouts "for fun" but your scores won't count.

If this is in fact a correct interpretation of the Rule Book, I like it. By having cuts and incorporating all elements of possible CrossFit workouts (For Time, AMRAP, Max Effort), it does a better job of weeding out the weaker competitors and sandbaggers. This won't effect the individual competitors as much as it will the affiliate teams trying to qualify for Regionals.

For individuals, this year's competition is looking for a more well-rounded athlete. Last year's AMRAPs were great (and easy for scoring purposes) but it's not a complete picture of fitness.

From a team perspective, I think a lot of teams qualified for Regionals last year because they had the entire box register and had certain individuals crush particular workouts that played to that person's strengths. This is what I mean when I say "sandbaggers". Bring out the beefcakes for the 165 lb squat clean to overhead to boost your team up in the rankings, and let the little body weight ninjas handle the other workouts. I'm guessing a good number of teams that went to Regionals weren't necessarily the powerhouses they appeared to be. All of that gets sorted out in the wash, but the fact is that some teams got an opportunity to compete that they may not have deserved because the team they sent wasn't necessarily the team that qualified.

So here is what I'm foreseeing for this year's Open: more skill-based movements, heavier weights than last year, aggressive time caps (whenever they are enacted - probably Week 2 or 3), and a max effort lift around Week 4 (to avoid skewed results from the sandbaggers eliminated in Week 3).

What do you think will be thrown at us this year? Post your thoughts to the comments.
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