Getting All Wrapped Up in Compression Gear

by Geoff Rand

Compression clothing claims to cause increased performance and speed recovery.  These garments have appeared on many athletes in the CrossFit Games, but does compression clothing actually offer any benefit to their performance or recovery?

Compression technology is not a new concept.  With its roots as medical devices, compression stockings and socks have been used to promote better circulation and reduce fatigue in patients with lower leg ailments and poor circulation.  Always in search of a competitive edge, athletes adapted compression gear to their sports and eventually companies began producing shooting sleeves, compression shorts, calve and thigh sleeves, compression socks and even full-body suits.

Several studies have been conducted on athletes in many sports to include endurance running, cycling, bodybuilding, basketball, and others.  In these studies, varying physiological measurements were taken and test groups were given compression clothing, placebo clothing, or normal clothing to wear during exercise.  Some studies also compared the recovery characteristics of compression clothing to traditional recovery methods like stretching and ice baths.

The results of the groups measuring performance seemed to indicate zero to minimal increased performance by the test subjects wearing compression gear.  When you wrangle on a sleeve or a pair of tights, you may feel like the sensation of everything being pulled tightly together is going to help you run faster or jump higher, but the study results don’t support this.

The data from the recovery studies pointed to the conclusion that compression clothing does have a positive impact on recovery.  This seems to be supported by a significant number of people who report a measureable reduction in pain or fatigue following certain workouts in which compression is worn compared to the same types of exercises performed without compression.

Even with these studies, compression technology is not fully understood and more studies need to be conducted to determine if there is a benefit to wearing compression clothing during a workout versus only wearing it after a workout.

So, if you are expecting to jump higher or lift heavier just by pulling on some tight piece of lycra spandex, think again.  But if you suffer from chronic calf cramps every time you run, they might be worth a try.  Just know why you are wearing them.




Forging New Habits

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by Geoff Rand

With the healthy eating challenge over, I took notice of some of the comments people were making in the Box and on Facebook in reference to their successes and failures they experienced.  I was happy to see a good number of people were happy with their experience and plan to continue on with the program and build upon the good habits they developed.

It’s no secret that making healthy changes part of your daily routine is the way to stay on track to a lifetime of health and fitness, but just how long does it take to make a new way of doing something become habit?

You may have heard the saying that it takes 21 days to develop something into habit. Unfortunately, this isn’t completely accurate and it seems over time, the original meaning was lost.  Here’s how it happened.

In the 1950s, plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz noticed there was an adjustment period for his patients to become accustomed to their new look.   He commented that “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell. ”

That quote, and Dr. Maltz’s other thoughts on behavior change were published in 1960 in his book Psycho-Cybernetics.  The book went on to sell 30 million copies and suddenly every self-help guru and their mother was quoting Maltz.  Over time, the minimum part of the 21 days was dropped, and 3 weeks became the standard for developing something into habit.  The problem with Maltz’s observation was that it was nothing more than an observation he made, not a tested fact.  But, with his misquoted statement being repeated over and over again, it became the accepted truth.

Later, scientific studies showed that the time period varies from person to person in how long it takes something to become habit.  On average, it takes 66 days for someone to develop a new behavior into his or her routine, however, this time can be obviously longer or shorter depending on a variety of factors.

Bringing all this back to our healthy eating challenge, the challenge was 8 weeks or 56 days.  We’re a little short of the average time it takes to turn those changes we made into habits.  One could surmise that those who had success during the challenge were quicker to adapt these changes into their daily routines, and those who weren’t as successful maybe just needed some more time to develop those same habits.

It doesn’t matter if the change you’re looking to make is eating better, drinking more water, attending more CFF classes, or stopping the biting of your nails, the path to change follows the same guidelines.

Know your why.  Have a clear reason for making the change.  It could be as simple as wanting to look good for a reunion, or as serious as a doctor’s ultimatum.

Take one day at a time.  Instead of being overwhelmed by a long journey to change, look at what you can do today and tomorrow to better yourself.

Take small bites.  Look at small changes you can implement.  I have a friend who decided to eat better and to work towards that goal, he would eliminate one poor food choice and replace it with a healthy one each week.  One week, he’d cut out ranch dressing, the next, breads.  He continued on like this until his nutrition was nearly optimal, and his performance in the gym was greatly improved.  Breaking your trek up into smaller, more achievable goals helps keep you motivated and moving in the right direction.

Don’t sweat small setbacks.  It’s inevitable that you will experience failures during your quest for change.  Whether it is because of work, family, or other events, things don’t always go to plan.  Don’t let a day of poor eating choices, or schedule conflicts make you totally abandon your goal.  Get through the day and get back on track tomorrow.

Make it easy.  Set that water bottle out where you’ll remember to drink it.  Schedule reminders on your phone.  Put a Post-It note on your steering wheel.  Do whatever works for you to keep that good behavior in sight.

Stay accountable.  Having a partner or even a whole family working towards the same goal as you is a huge motivational booster.  Commit to attending class, prepping foods, etc. and expect your partner will do the same.  Call each other out on social media to keep each other honest if that works for you.

Don’t wait for the perfect time to start.  Life is full of obstacles and putting off starting to make a change because of upcoming holidays, family or work events, vacations, etc. will just delay you reaching your goal.  Start today and stay with it.  In time, your newly developed habits will allow you to roll right over these barriers and get on with your life.

Above all, be patient.  It would be great if we could flick a switch and make instant changes stick, but it doesn’t work that way.  You’ve likely been reinforcing the bad habit for years so don’t expect change overnight.  Give it time and the new practices will begin to set and become part of your daily routine.





Weighing In on the Weigh-In

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by Geoff Rand

When I first entered the Army, one of my earliest challenges was the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), consisting of timed pushups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run.  Sounds simple enough, but there’s a second portion of it, not widely advertised, the height and weight and body fat percentage standards.  You need to pass the APFT and height and weight.  If you don’t meet the height and weight standards, you get taped to measure your body fat. 

Unfortunately for me, the Army is slow to change and was still using height and weight charts from the 1940s when I was in.  The beanpole physique that seemed to be adequate for storming the beaches of Normandy was at odds with a mid 1990s diet and lifting regimen not to mention the strength needed to carry the amount of gear we were issued.  So, I became very familiar with getting taped after every PT test (more on this later).  The trick was to get your neck to be as close in circumference as your waist, as those were the only two areas they measured for males and the difference in the two measurements was what factored into the official body fat percentage calculation.  To assist me in passing the tape test, I received great advice, such as don’t drink or eat anything for 24 hours before you get taped.  Of course, no food or drink for so long before any physical activity is horrible advice.

There seemed to be a stigma attached to the ever-increasing number of us failing to meet the height and weight standards and thus needing to be taped.  I always made my body fat percentage, so it wasn’t a huge issue for me, but those of us who had to get taped, even if within body fat percentages, were looked at in a negative light.

The Army’s height and weight standards just don’t take body composition into account and are unrealistic for many people who lift.  And whether it’s outdated thinking or just being uncomfortable with having a stranger pinch your belly fat, I think a lot of regular people tend to place too much emphasis on the scale’s reading, and not enough on their body fat percentages and measurements.

What does the scale tell you?  It really is just a measurement of the force of gravity acting upon your body, whatever your body is composed of.  The scale does not take into account your muscle mass or body fat percentage.  And, with it being very possible to gain or lose 2-10 pounds in a single day depending on diet, fluid intake and retention, hormones, activity level, your elimination schedule and a thousand other factors, the scale falls short if you are looking for a complete picture of your level of health or fitness.  While your weight measurement is needed for most body fat calculations, your measurements are what you should really be paying attention to, not the scale.

For those people finishing up the most recent nutrition Challenge, those continuing to follow a nutrition/workout plan, or for those just monitoring their day to day health, here are some tips to get the most out of your weigh-ins and measurements.

Be consistent.  Weigh yourself at the same time of day each time you weigh-in.  One of the better methods is to weigh yourself right after waking up and after using the bathroom, and before eating or drinking anything for the day.  Wear the same type of clothing each time you step on the scale for the best results.  Because of weight fluctuations throughout the day, compare day-to-day weigh-ins to other measurements taken at that same time of day.  The same goes for measurements.   Get measured at the same time as previous measurements to have an accurate comparison.

Don’t cheat.  Your most accurate results will come from you centering yourself on the scale.  Most scales will give a lower weight measurement if you stand more towards the edge of the scale, but you’re only lying to yourself if you do this.  Stand on it properly and accept the truth.  The same goes for your measurements.  Sucking it in only creates a false result.

Position the scale on a solid, flat surface that has no give to it.  Hardwood, vinyl, or tile floors are best.  Don’t put it on carpet with padding underneath.

Don’t weigh or tape yourself after a big cheat meal.  You know the figure is going to be an anomaly, and you’re just torturing yourself by looking at the higher than usual numbers.  Most foods prepared in restaurants or that are prepackaged are high in sodium, which will make you puffy by causing you to retain water.  Get back on track and check it a few days later.  And, it does take a few days after a large meal for everything to return to normal, so keep that in mind before you decide all is lost and rob Georgetown Cupcakes.

Remember how the Army did my taping after the PT test?  Yeah, don’t do that.  By working out or even just stretching or warming up before measurements, you’re potentially getting a “pump” as the muscles respond to activity by drawing water into them, and this will artificially inflate your measurements.  So don’t do any activity prior to getting measured.

What about electronic scales?  I have one of those electronic scales that supposedly measures body fat in addition to weight.  But, I found my numbers to be all over the place day-to-day and even hour-to-hour within a day.  Other users and studies show the same.  What’s up with that?

These scales use Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) which is a fancy way of saying it sends a low voltage electrical current through your body and measures the resistance.  It relies on the fact that muscles contain a lot of water and fat tissues contain very little water.  Water’s conductivity is a known factor, so a reading can produce a theoretical body fat percentage.

However, if you are dehydrated, you will get a higher than actual body fat percentage result since there is less water to conduct the current.  Also, if you downed an electrolyte drink right before stepping on the scale, your internal conductivity will be increased and a lower body fat percentage will be shown.  Even factors like body temperature can affect readings.  For these reasons, the body fat calculation on your scale can fluctuate greatly and it is a poor way to measure body fat and lean muscle mass percentages.

Your best practice is to continue your normal course of hydration and eating before your weigh-in or measurements.  Don’t starve or dehydrate yourself.  Your body will naturally eliminate fluids and nutrients it doesn’t need, so don’t do anything to interfere with a properly functioning system.  Eat a small meal with water before a weigh-in or having measurements taken.

Opinions differ on how often to weigh yourself.  Some schools of thought say weigh-in everyday so you can see how differences in diet and exercise affect your weight.  Others say that once a week is sufficient.  The problem with daily weigh-ins is a lot of people start watching their weight like the stock market.  Weekly weigh-ins only capture a snapshot of where you stand on that one day.  If you were on the high end of the curve that day, it’s going to make it look like you blew the whole week.  A more accurate method would be to weigh yourself daily, but average the numbers for the days of that week and record that average figure.  This eliminates many of the variables and gives a truer picture of your progress.

My advice is to check your weight maybe a couple times a month just to see where you are, but get measured once a month if you have a specific goal you’re working towards.  Everyday, think about how you feel, how your clothes fit, and your performance in the WODs and record it.  As things change, good or bad, try to figure out what caused the change and either incorporate or eliminate the stimulus for that change.  It’s important to look at changes over time.  Don’t go and stop a certain activity or immediately make a drastic diet change because of a short spike in weight gain or loss.  A food or training journal can assist with this.

Now I’m not saying toss your scale in the garbage, but just understand the limited information it can provide.  Place heavier importance on the results of your body measurements, your performance, and how you feel.  Don’t get so wrapped up in the fluctuation of a few pounds that you let it derail your progress.

Amanda offers private nutrition counseling and can discuss rates and what you can expect from the program.  It might be a good follow on program for anyone who wants to continue towards their goals post challenge.






Take it With a Grain of Salt

by Geoff Rand

Our bodies are wonders of engineering, more complex than any robot or computer we could build.  Just like computers, our bodies sometimes send warning messages or set off alarms to let us know something isn’t functioning properly.  The trick is to figure out what is causing the alarm or effect, and that’s not always easy.

One area of concern in which I recently took notice was thyroid function.  If your thyroid isn’t happy, it lets you know by mucking up your energy levels and limiting glucose consumption, leading to fatigue and weight gain.  Now, thyroid malfunction isn’t the only thing that can cause fatigue and weight gain, but it’s simple enough to figure out if you aren’t giving your thyroid what it needs through either medical tests or analysis of your nutrient intake.

A properly functioning thyroid determines how your body uses energy, makes proteins that affect growth and development, helps control glucose consumption, regulates blood lipid levels, and controls body temperature.  To do all this, the thyroid needs to be supplied with sufficient levels of iodine.  It is recommended that average adults consume 150-300 micrograms of iodine daily.  My measuring spoons don’t go down to micrograms, so to put this in better perspective, one teaspoon of iodized salt contains about 400 micrograms of iodine.

Iodine is naturally occurring in saltwater fish, seaweed, shellfish, cheese, cows milk, eggs, frozen yogurt, ice cream, soymilk, soy sauce, yogurt, and some breads.  Unfortunately, many of the foods on this list are not the best choices if you are looking for optimal fuel and nutrition.

In the early 1900s, there was a pronounced iodine deficiency in certain regions of the U.S., mainly those that had limited access to seafood.  In 1924, the Morton’s salt company began adding iodine to their table salt, which made great strides towards combating these iodine deficiencies.

Another source of iodine used to be wheat flour.  Bread used to be made with iodized flour, however, today’s breads are made with flour processed with bromide, which does not have the same beneficial effect on the body as iodine.

Check your labels carefully.  Many brands make iodized and non-iodized versions of their salt.

Check your labels carefully.  Many brands make iodized and non-iodized versions of their salt.

With gluten fears on the rise, less and less people are eating bread anyway.  Another issue is food labels don’t list whether or not their products are made with iodized salt (they’re usually not).  With many diets proposing reduction in salt intake, along with non-iodized sea salt being so popular, iodine deficiencies are back on the rise, with some estimates putting 74% of Americans suffering from iodine deficiency.

Another contributing factor in which active people should take notice is iodine is excreted through sweat, so it is important to replenish iodine after exercise. 

If you feel like your energy levels are off, or you have weight that just isn’t dropping even with a proper diet, take a look at your iodine levels.  It is an easy adjustment to add a little iodized salt to your food or water.  Give it a few weeks and see if it improves things.  You can also have your doctor check your iodine levels with a urine test.

If you were looking to increase your iodine intake solely through eating ice cream, it’s possible, but not recommended.  Two scoops of ice cream contains about 10 micrograms of iodine.  If you can eat 30 scoops of ice cream in a day, you likely have much bigger problems than iodine deficiency.







Suck it in: Developing Your Secret Abs

By Geoff Rand

It just takes a quick look at all the fitness gimmicks promising to give you abdominal muscles, and it’s easy to see we have an obsession with that slim waistline or those 6-pack abs.  You’d be hard pressed to find many people who are satisfied with the current state of their midsection.  But those ab crunch machines, electric belts, 8 minute videos, and continuous wishes just aren’t going to get you where you want to be.

This might sound like the opening line to another infomercial, but what if I told you that doing just one exercise for only a few minutes each day could help flatten your tummy, strengthen your core, improve your posture, and take pressure off your back?  Research and many real life examples show it works.

Most of us are familiar with several areas of our abdominal muscles, such as the rectus abdominis (the six-pack portion of the abs) or the internal and external obliques.  But have you heard of the transverse abdominis?

The transverse abdominis (TVA) is sometimes called the corset muscle.  The TVA runs under the obliques and a portion of the rectus abdominus.  Its fibers are unique in that they run horizontally and they don’t connect to and move bones closer together like many other muscles.  Instead, the TVA acts like a belt that helps to increase intra-abdominal pressure and helps to stabilize the spine while holding our stomach and internal organs in place.

As you might guess, tightening and strengthening this muscle can lead to a smaller waistline.  The problem lies with the location of the TVA.  Since it is underneath several layers of abdominal tissue, it isn’t easily activated by traditional abdominal exercises.

To really hit the TVA, you need to suck it in.  No, really.  It’s called the stomach vacuum.  This is best done on an empty stomach, and some find that incorporating it into their daily routine first thing in the morning before they even get out of bed works best.

This video probably explains the technique better than I can in words.

Here are some tips for those starting out with the stomach vacuum.  Start off lying down.  Having your back supported by the floor, mat, or bed helps you to concentrate on proper breathing.  Move to hands and knees or seated position as you progress.  Make sure you completely empty your lungs as you pull the belly button towards the spine.  Start off shooting for 10-15 second holds for 5 repetitions.  Work up to 60 second holds.  Don’t let lack of oxygen mess up your holds.  Take small breaths if you need to, but maintain the contraction.  Eventually you might progress to being able to do the stomach vacuum at work or even while stopped in traffic.

This guy is an extreme example of what is possible with several months of stomach vacuum training.  You can skip to the 2:00 minute mark if you can’t stand how he talks.

The stomach vacuum might not fit the traditional mold of what many of us think of in ways of working our muscles, but this exercise has been in use for a long time and results have been seen by bodybuilder competitors looking to emphasize their features, moms working to get back to pre-pregnancy form, and average people, just looking to develop a strong core or slim down their waistline.  Like any exercise, it doesn’t work if you don’t do it.  And your results will be better when it is paired with a consistent exercise and proper eating regimen.

Having a strong transverse abdominis will help improve stability in your lifts, which translates to more weight you can move.  But, I suspect most people would be completely happy with achieving just the cosmetic benefits the stomach vacuum can provide.  By sucking it in, you might get to the point where you don't feel the need to have to suck it in.





Pump Up Your Lifts With a Belt

by Geoff Rand

Hopefully I’m not dating myself too much here, but the Saturday Night Live skit of Hans and Franz ranks as one of my all time favorites.  These two meat heads hosted an informative exercise show where they would call people “girlie man” in their Schwarzenegger voices all while flexing and posing in their grey sweats and lifting belts, proclaiming “…and we are here to pump you up!”

While this may be the image many think of when looking at people wearing lifting belts, it’s not always the case.  Just like any other piece of equipment, the belt is a tool, that when used properly in the right situations, can help prevent injury and increase the weight you can move in your lifts.

Let’s get some myths out the way here.  The belt is NOT a brace that supports your torso so your core muscles don’t have to.  And, it does NOT contribute to weakening of core muscles.  In fact, the opposite is true.

Lifting belts should be adjusted so they are tight around the core, but not so tight you cannot breathe.  When you inhale deeply, your abdominal muscles and lower back muscles attempt to push outward, but the belt limits them.  The effect of the core attempting to push against the belt is that the forces pushing off the belt stabilize the spine.  It is a combination of proper breathing and proper positioning of the belt that makes lifting belts effective, not the belt alone.

If you remember from several blog articles ago, we talked about the Valsalva maneuver as it pertains to breathing and lifts in this post.  In short, the technique involves exhaling against a closed airway, which generates pressure in the core and stabilizes the spine.  When you breathe this way, the belt actually amplifies the inward stabilizing pressure, making your lifts safer and more effective.

You need to position the belt properly so that it doesn’t get stuck in your hip crease when squatting or push up against your rib cage.  For tightness, make it tight, but make it so you can still slide a hand between it and your body.  Adjust as needed.

One tip with the belt is to wear the metal buckle slightly offset so you don’t scrape the bar against it during cleans or snatches.

I’ve noticed the belt also functions as sort of reminder to keep the core stabilized.  You can’t inhale deeply without feeling your core push against it, and it just reminds me to focus on spinal stability, which I often neglect when thinking about all the other parts of a complex lift.

Belts can be worn for any lift that involves the need for spinal stability, which is pretty much all of them.  However, you should be developing the ability to stabilize your core by itself, without the need for a belt, for all but your heaviest lifts.  A rule of thumb is to keep the belt off until you get to about 85% of your one rep max.  You should be increasing the weight you can lift without the belt over time, so this 85% number will need to be adjusted periodically.

So if you are noticing back pain in your lifts or have been stuck at a plateau weight for awhile, a lifting belt might be for you.  Try one out and see if it helps to pump up your lifts.  Grey sweats and fingerless gloves not required.




What's That Smell?

by Geoff Rand

Several months ago I caught a nasty whiff of something foul before the WOD at the Box.  It sort of smelled like a wet dishrag left inside a plastic bag in a dark cabinet for a month.  I changed positions to get away from it and it followed me.  I quickly determined the source was my polyester moisture wicking shirt.  I apologize to anyone who came in contact with me that day.

After the WOD I rushed home and changed.  I checked several other clean, recently laundered polyester shirts and they had a similar odor.  I started to gather up all my Under Armour and similar shirts to throw them into a bonfire, but I quickly realized this would amount to nearly every undershirt and workout shirt I own.

I wear Under Armour every day.  For anyone who wears body armor, you know what a lifesaver wicking shirts can be.  They aren’t perfect, but they're 100 times better than cotton shirts.  I wasn’t about to ditch my UA shirts, so I had to figure out the source of the problem.

Pinterest, of all places, yielded the answer.  Hey, there’s some good stuff on there.  Don’t judge.  I also found 62 plans for furniture I could make using recycled pallets, at least 29 Paleo pancake recipes, and a way to lose 22 pounds in 2 weeks with some sort of lemon diet.

Apparently, the fatty oil secretions in our sweat get trapped easily in synthetic fabrics, and bacteria feast on it.  Their waste is the odor we smell.  Normal washing methods and detergents have a tough time getting the oil and bacteria out.

If you suspect the WOD is following you home from the Box, here’s what you need to do.

First, to be completely sure you get rid of the odors, you need to start with your washing machine.  Buy commercially made washing machine cleaner tablets like those made by OxyClean or Affresh and follow the manufacturer's directions to disinfect your machine.  I found the Affresh tablets worked well.

You can also use a homemade mixture of ¼ cup baking soda and ¼ cup water, putting that mixture in the dispensing cup and 2 cups of white vinegar into the drum.  You then run the cycle on high heat.  You may need an additional rinse cycle to get the vinegar smell out.  Alternatively, you can fill the dispenser with bleach and run the cycle as described.  Whatever your method, clean your washing machine once a month.  Safety tip:  Never mix bleach and vinegar unless your goal is to make chlorine gas.

The reason your washing machine may stink, especially if it is a high efficiency front load machine, is that it is designed to run using less water than conventional machines and is made to use special high efficiency detergents where you are also using less soap than you would with a normal machine.  The problem starts when we use the wrong soap or use too much soap.  Since there is less water in the machine, the extra detergent doesn’t rinse thoroughly and this leaves a residue inside that becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, only made worse when you are washing sweaty synthetics in it.  Not leaving the door open to dry the inside also feeds into the musty smell.  Hard water can also contribute to odors forming. 

With the washing machine clean, you can now wash your clothes.  There are several detergents on the market made specifically to combat odors in synthetic fabrics.  Sport Wash, Hex, Win, and Sport Suds are a few.  I tried Sport Wash and liked that it didn’t really have a detergent smell, just a fresh, clean scent.  Per Pinterest’s suggestion, I teamed it up with a scoop of Twenty Mule Team Borax, a detergent booster, to really hammer the odors.  I ordered the Sport Wash and Borax from Amazon.  I know I've seen Hex and a few other sports clothes detergents at Wegmans.  Hex also has a gear wash and gear spray where reviewers state it gets the odors out of protective lacrosse and hockey gear, which I know can develop some really bad smells.  It might be something to check out for items that don't normally go in the wash.

It is also recommended that you don’t use fabric softener or dryer sheets with synthetic fabrics because the softener decreases the effectiveness of the wicking material and can help hold bacteria in.

Another method to kill odors is to hang your synthetics on a clothesline to dry in direct sunlight.  The sun apparently kills the bacteria as well.  I don’t know too many people who still have clotheslines outside, and who really has time for this?  But, it’s an option.  Other recommendations are to not leave sweaty clothes balled up prior to wash and to immediately wash your synthetics when you take them off.  

It’s been about 6 months since I first cleaned the washing machine and tackled the shirt odor.  I’m happy to report that even though I’ve slipped on cleaning the washing machine each month (I actually haven’t cleaned it since the first cleaning), the Sport Wash + Twenty Mule Team Borax is still keeping everything smelling fresh and clean.  I had actually read that the Borax keeps you from having to keep using the washing machine cleaner tablets, and I believe this to be true.

Maybe I’m late to this party, but I never knew you had to clean a washing machine or treat various fabrics differently from one another.  Mind. Blown.

Now that my shirts are again clean and fresh I’ll have time to catch up on cat memes, choose one of 20 Paleo breakfasts that doesn't include eggs, or figure out what Disney character I am. 






Learning From Bob Harper

By Geoff Rand

When fitness celebrity Bob Harper suffered a heart attack on February 12, the news and social media were abuzz with many people questioning how this could have happened to a person many considered the epitome of health and fitness.  The 51-year-old host and trainer of The Biggest Loser is a CrossFit coach, yoga instructor, and healthy eating advocate.  I don’t know his personal medical history, but there were no reported warning signs leading up to his heart attack during a workout at a New York City gym.  Fortunately, a doctor happened to be on site and was able to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) along with CPR to keep him alive long enough to get Harper to the next level of care.  He is now recovering at home.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, with 1 out of every 4 deaths attributed to heart disease.  While the following symptoms may be present leading up to a heart attack, often the first sign of a pending heart attack is the heart attack itself.  As you can see, many of these symptoms could be difficult to differentiate from what you may experience in an everyday WOD.


            Chest pain or discomfort

            Upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach

            Shortness of breath

            Nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats

Many people tend to normalize what they are feeling instead of recognizing it for what it really is, thinking it is indigestion or soreness from an activity.  If you feel something unusual or persistent, that is the time to get it checked out.

Those who have any of these risk factors are at an elevated risk of experiencing a heart attack:  high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, family history, diabetes, overweight/obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use.

The big variable in all this is heredity.  Bob Harper’s mother died of a heart attack.  He is proof that you can do absolutely everything right in the gym and eat healthy everyday and still develop heart disease if genetically you are predisposed to it.  Whether you have a family history of heart disease or not, your best chance of an early warning is regular medical screening.

Harper after release from the hospital.

Harper after release from the hospital.

I don’t know anyone who enjoys their medical check ups, but they are important to have done in order to monitor your health.  Often, if detected early, many ailments can be treated and corrected before they become huge problems.

My job requires us to have regular physicals at a frequency depending on our age.  If you are unsure where you fall or what tests you should be having done, this page has a chart detailing when and what you should be doing based on age and gender.

This periodic screening can also have benefits for you in the Box.  In your blood tests, you may discover deficiencies in certain nutrients, which could be the cause of a difficulty in putting on muscle and burning fat, for example.

While some may see Harper’s incident as a reason to not work out, Neel Chokshi, medical director of the University of Pennsylvania’s sports cardiology and fitness program, disagrees.  He says, “The long-term benefits of exercise outweigh the slight increased risk during acute exercise.”  He adds that, “If you do exercise and have a heart attack, you are more likely to bounce back and less likely to have complications.”

We care about your health and want you around to complete as many rounds as possible.  See your doctor for regular periodic screenings and tests.  And, while we hope we never need it, we have an AED on site and all of our coaches are trained in its use and are CPR certified.  While these devices are becoming more commonplace, they are not everywhere.  If you are at elevated risk for heart disease and are travelling, you may want to ask if your drop in Box or gym has an AED, just as an added safety measure.





Fighting Through

by Geoff Rand


For those who completed or attempted Open WOD 17.1, you certainly expected the physical aspect of it, but were you prepared for the mental part of it?  In any WOD, but especially the Open WODs, you need to convince your mind that you’re not done; that you have more in the tank to keep on pushing when that little voice in your head starts trying to convince you that you can't go on.

Your mind works in some ways like a muscle, and it can be trained to become stronger and tougher.  If you look at some of the training our special operations forces go through, they all start with a grueling physical component designed to weed out those who tend to mentally give up.  Those who make it through have trained their mind to fight through the physical pain and focus on completing the mission.  This never quit attitude is what makes our elite warriors so successful on the battlefield.

Here are some tips to help you get over that mental wall that you might experience in the next Open WOD or really any WOD.

Clear your mind.  I like to get to the Box 20 minutes early every day.  I do extra mobility and warm up during this time, but it is also my time to let go of any thoughts that I might be dragging along that would be counterproductive to the WOD.  Be it bills to pay, a bad call I went to at work, or unfinished tasks around the house, it all gets left at the door.  This pre-WOD time gets my head in the game to focus solely on what is to come.

Don’t psyche yourself out.  If you look at 17.1 as 150 dumbbell snatches and 75 burpee box jump-overs, of course it sounds much worse this way.  Instead, focus on the positive.  Maybe the positive is the WOD is only 20 minutes long.  Whatever you do, don’t start the WOD off with a negative thought.

Strategize the WOD.  Before you begin, come up with a plan.  Maybe you plan to break up the rounds by a certain number of reps, or you decide to work at a steady pace, but not go all out until you get closer to the end.  Figure out what your strengths are and where the challenging parts of the WOD will be.  Determine how to overcome those challenges.

Don’t watch the clock.  In a difficult WOD, time is going to seem like it’s moving very slowly.  Seeing that not as much time has elapsed as you thought is very demoralizing.  Instead, focus on what you are doing, and concentrate on getting your reps in.  The only time I’d suggest glancing at the clock is to establish your time in your first round if your strategy is to attempt to keep the same pace for all rounds.  Other than that, let the coaches call out the times and keep your eyes off the clock.

Be efficient.  When you start to fatigue, you’re going to want to drop the bar, stop moving, etc.  But all that extra movement needed to pick the bar back up is wasted energy and extra reps you’re doing.  Instead, find natural places to rest, like in the rack position or behind your neck (depending on what the movement is), at the end of a round, or while transitioning between movements.  Also, being efficient means maintaining proper form.  When you get sloppy, you get no-repped and that's just more wasted effort.

Breathe.  One thing I’ve learned from yoga is that when we encounter challenging movements or poses, our breathing becomes shallower and more rapid.  Yoga teaches us to become aware of this and to concentrate even stronger on our breathing to overcome the challenge.  If you lose your focus, start to get lightheaded, or just missed your box jump, take a step back, regain your focus, settle your breathing, and get back in.  Be careful not to take too long, however.  I like to set a number of breaths, like 3-5 during this momentary break and then get back to work.  This keeps me from losing too much time.

Silently compete with someone.  This can be a powerful motivator.  Many times I’ve competed with other athletes in the Box without them ever knowing we were racing against each other.  Out of the corner of my eye I might see them moving on to the next piece of equipment when I’m catching my breath and that is a strong kick in the butt to get myself moving again.


While every WOD is challenging, the pain and discomfort is always temporary.  If you can overcome the doubt in your mind, you might be surprised how much your body is capable of.  Never quit; always find a way to fight through.





Fight Adaptation

jill chin.jpg

by Geoff Rand

Whenever I’m watching TV these days, the same commercial keeps coming on, the one for the Simply Fit board.  If you’re fortunate enough to not be familiar, this device looks like someone left a skateboard in hot car and it got all warped.  You’re supposed to balance on this thing and twist your way to a fitter you.  You can watch the ridiculousness here.

Like many commercials for exercise equipment, the statements in the ad seem to be in contradiction with reality.  One of the testimonial users says, “It’s so fun I don’t feel like I’m working out.”  And the financial backer, Lori Greiner of Shark Tank says, “I like being toned, but I’m not big into working out or sweating.”  If it doesn’t make you feel like you’re working out, you probably aren’t.  My initial reaction was that this is just another piece of junk fitness equipment praying on the false hopes of the uninformed.

Now I’m not going to knock the efforts of someone who is going from sitting on the couch all day to doing some kind, any kind, of activity.  Perhaps that sedentary person would see some results from the Simply Fit board, just like they would from any increase in their level of activity.  However, they can only expect to see positive changes for a limited time with a device like that because the body will eventually adapt to the new stresses being placed upon it.

One of the reasons the CrossFit formula works is that it involves constant change.  Changes in type of exercise, duration, tempo, and load all keep the body from getting used to any one thing.  Our coaches take care of the programming for us, so we don’t need to think about it, only show up.

We do need to be a little more mindful of the workout when it comes to the strength portion where the loads are up to us to choose.  We all have certain loads that we are comfortable with as it pertains to various lifts, but you want to avoid being comfortable.  If you routinely grab a bar at the same load, say for hang power cleans, eventually your body is going to adapt to that weight, and you will stop seeing gains because your body is no longer being challenged.

You should be tracking the amount of weight you’ve done in your lifts along with the number of reps and any other variables in your day-to-day workouts.  Use that information to know where to start and strive to increase load once you’ve been successful in a given movement, in proper form, at that load.  Failing a lift is actually a good thing.  It tells you what your limitations are and gives you a target to work towards.

Strap on a vest or become pregnant to make your workouts more challenging.

Strap on a vest or become pregnant to make your workouts more challenging.

One of the benefits of strength training is that the body continues to burn calories at rest to maintain that muscle.  Having muscle also helps replace our jiggly areas with firmness. 

I know some people have concerns about becoming too big or too muscular from lifting heavy, and I’ll tell you this.  I have a co-worker whom I’ve worked with a long time who competes in physique competitions.  In between competitions, she maintains a strong, fit look, nothing too crazy.  When she gets into preparation mode for an upcoming competition, she changes her diet to a precisely calculated and timed number of meals, calories, and nutrients, and adds a daily intake of supplements she hauls around in a divided container that rivals some fishing tackle boxes I’ve seen.  She also takes time off from work and works out more frequently under close supervision from her trainer, focusing on nothing other than preparation until the competition .  The result is she does look pretty muscular during this preparation time, but once the competition is over and she goes back to her normal eating and workout routine, she returns to her lean, yet somewhat muscular, more normal look.  Her competition physique is just not something that's easy to maintain.  So know that if you are worried about turning into Arnold Schwarzenegger from lifting too heavy, unless you are following a super strict fitness and diet regimen, you won’t.

So continue to challenge yourself in your lifts.  Get used to being uncomfortable.  Strive to hit failure.  Don’t let your body adapt.  And know that we'll always make the workout fun, but we will never let you feel like you’re not working out.