Give your Hands a Hand, Part One

by Geoff Rand

This week's blog is a rerun of an article that appeared last year in our old printed newsletter.  I'm sitting here looking at my rough hands and calluses from the past week and thought it was a fitting reminder of the maintenance we all should be doing.


We’ve all seen or experienced, ahem, first hand, what it’s like to tear open a hand during a WOD.  Some consider bloody hands a CrossFit badge of honor, but really it is more like a billboard advertising that you have poor technique or didn’t take the time to care for your hands.  Think about it.  Sure you may have ripped a hand while crushing that WOD.  But now what?  That injured hand is going to limit everything you do, in and out of the Box, until it heals.  Not so heroic now, is it?

How it Happens

Tears are caused when your calluses have raised and/or uneven surfaces that rub and catch on the bar you are using.  These raised surfaces eventually will blister and then tear away from your palm, often taking live skin with them.

Hand Maintenance

You prevent tears by shaving or sanding down the rough surfaces.  You want the calluses to be tough and thick, but smooth.  If you can pinch a raised edge of the callus, or catch an edge with your fingernail, it needs to be smoothed down.

You can smooth the calluses by sanding them down with a Dremel tool or pumice stone.  If using a Dremel, use a fine grit sanding wheel, and for sanitary reasons, don’t share sanding wheels with others.  Set the Dremel on a low setting and gently grind them down, keeping the wheel moving over all the calluses to avoid heat build up.  Don’t overdo it and check your progress frequently until you get the technique down.  Coach Dave May prefers this method and can tell you all about it if you need help.

You can also shave the calluses down with a disposable razor or callus scraper (available in the foot care section of drug stores).  It is best to use these tools before you shower when your hands are dry.  Don’t apply too much pressure and be careful not to shave too deep.  Again, take it easy until you learn how much is too much.  Arch your fingers backwards when you use the scraper to really get your palm to push those calluses out.  Then, using short strokes, gently scrape away the skin, starting at the base of the fingers.  It’s not rocket science, but you might want to check out the YouTube video: What To Do About Calluses, or ask Coach Amanda if you are new to callus scraping.

Just like you should be doing mobility and rolling out sore muscles, you should be smoothing your calluses periodically throughout the week.

Don’t forget to keep your hands moisturized.  Remember, soap, chalk, and Liquid Grip, dry your hands out, so apply moisturizer as needed.  Coach Amanda uses Aquaphor nightly.  My favorite is O'Keeffe's Working Hands, and guys, you can pick it up at Home Depot.  Bonus.


Proper Grip

Preventing tears also means gripping the bar properly.  When working with a barbell or pull-up bar, many people are inclined to grip the bar across the middle of their palms. This, unfortunately, squishes the fleshy pad below the base of your fingers against the bar, causing discomfort, added friction, blisters, and worse.  A better way to go is to grip the barbell across the base of your fingers.  This grip will require more strength in your hands, fingers, and forearms, but you’ve read the Get a Grip article and are working on turning apples into applesauce with your hands, right?  Good.

Hand maintenance and proper grip will go a long way towards preventing tears, but tears may still happen.  In part two of this article, we will look at what to do if you do happen to tear your hands.

By Geoff Rand




Putting a Spin on Salad


By Geoff Rand

One of the consequences of eating healthy is the higher cost of food.  It’s a fact; the stuff that’s better for you just costs more.  So with that being the case, we need to make smart decisions and avoid wasting these costlier purchases.

I’ve thrown out way too many food items, often due to poor planning or being too ambitious about my ability to consume them.  Often, they go bad before I can use them.  No food that I buy gets thrown out more often than salad.  It just seems to get fuzzy before I can use the whole container.  But what if there was a way to extend the life of the salad you purchase, and thus save money?  Well now there is.

I credit all the information in this article to Annie.  She recently clued me in to a trick she uses to keep her salads fresh, extending their life, and avoiding tossing out what would have been good food.

Annie uses a salad spinner, not just for washing the lettuce, but also for removing the moisture from prepackaged mixed salads, and then for storing them.  She reports that even spinning prepackaged salads in the spinner helps prolong their life.

I had to try this for myself.  First I dumped a package of salad into the spinner.  A couple pulls of the lawn mover-like cord was all it took.  The inner basket holds the greens and the walls of the outer bowl collect the moisture.  A quick dump, rinse, and wipe down of the bowl, and it was good as new.  Now you just replace the basket of salad and lid and store the salad in the fridge like normal.

The lettuce leaves were drier, but not bone dry, which I think will only help preserve them, while keeping them crisp.  I expect to get several additional days beyond the normal spoil date with this method.

I purchased my spinner, the Progressive Prep Works Salad Spinner for $9.99 from Bed Bath and Beyond.  So far it seems like a quality item.

So if you are finding you throw out more salad than you eat, give the spinner a try.  And thank Annie for helping us all to save a few dollars.



Stretching: The Truth

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by Geoff Rand


Thinking back to my lacrosse days, it’s a wonder I didn’t tear something with our totally inadequate pregame routine.  A quick jog around the field, some jumping jacks, and then about 5 minutes of various stretches, held for about 10 seconds each, some with bouncing.  Then, we went right into the game.  And we did nothing post game.  Completely wrong, dangerous, and ineffective.

For stretching to be effective, you need to do it right.

Static stretches are done while the body is at rest.  The goal with static stretches is to gradually elongate the muscle to the point of discomfort and then hold that position.  Always warm up before attempting static stretches or better yet, save them for after the WOD.  Attempting static stretches without warm muscles will result in injury.  The seated hamstring stretch is a static stretch.

Dynamic stretching involves activating certain muscles or muscle groups, most often the ones you will be using in the workout.  By moving or holding a position during the stretch, you are increasing range of motion and warming up the muscles at the same time.  It is a highly effective form of stretching.  A good example of a dynamic stretch is the Samson Stretch.

When we are exercising, we are contracting our muscles.  Stretching is a way to counter that contraction and return elasticity to the muscles by loosening them up so they are elongated and prepared for further activity.  Failing to stretch can result in weakened muscles that are tight and have poor range of motion.

Modern research has shown that to get the most out of your stretching, you need to ease into the stretch, and hold for 1 to 2 minutes.  If this is too difficult to hold, hold for as long as you can, briefly come out of the stretch and then ease back into it, attempting to push further.  Short duration stretch holds have shown to have little benefit.

So to improve range of motion in a stretch, we just need to push harder, right?  Not really.  Let’s use our hamstrings as an example here.  I sit in a car for up to 10 hours a day.  You might be stuck at a desk.  Both positions are killing our hamstrings.  Over time, the hamstrings shorten and become tight due to the daily memory if you will, that they develop due to what they are being asked to do, or not do, during most of the day. 

Say you attempt an assisted seated hamstring stretch with the goal of increasing range of motion.  This is where you sit with legs together and fold and reach forward with someone pushing on your back.  You’re going to go through several stages of sensation, maybe like, “ok I can feel this”, “all right this is starting to get tight”, “ok you can stop now”, “holy cow that’s too far”, and “my leg just snapped off.”  Somewhere in the vicinity of “ok you can stop now” your nervous system kicks in and puts the brakes on any further progress you can make.  It does this because the nervous system decides what is safe or not for you to do and wants to avoid injury.  It puts limits on the amount of elongation it will allow because it doesn’t want you to hurt yourself.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to pick up an unconscious person you’ll know they are like a wet noodle.  You could practically tie them into a pretzel.  This is because their nervous system is offline.  As soon as they come to, their flexibility limitations return.

Short of asking someone to bonk you in the head before stretching, there’s not much you can do to override your nervous system.  But you can do two things to help maximize your stretches and increase range of motion.

First, really concentrate on achieving a deep stretch, held for a full two minutes, every time you stretch, for each stretch.  We all want to talk about the WOD we just crushed, but stretching should require a considerable amount of effort and focus to be truly effective.

Second, look at what you can do outside the Box to improve your range of motion.  In my case or the office worker’s case, we could get out and walk around or take the stairs.  Sometimes rethinking your type of footwear outside the Box can help with lengthening your muscles if whatever you’re wearing is placing you in a position that is encouraging shortening of the muscles.

The trick to help increase range of motion is to figure out what is holding you back in your daily life outside the Box, correct it, and put in a focused, solid effort in your stretches after each WOD.  Going to mobility or yoga classes certainly won’t hurt either.



Input from Coach Amanda May



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.