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Cramps can develop after a workout or run, and it is important to stretch and roll out the muscles used after the workout to help prevent cramps from occurring.
by Geoff Rand
With just a quick browse online or look at a few TV commercials, it is easy to see there are countless companies out there pushing pills claiming to cure this or lessen the effects of that, many for problems we may not even know we had. The drug industry is one of the richest groups of corporations in our country. That’s how they can afford all that advertising.
It’s always better to cure an ailment through a natural remedy, such as a diet or lifestyle change, than to take a drug. Who wants to have to deal with those laundry lists of side effects from those drugs in the commercials? You may not realize it, but you already have access to one of the best natural fixes for many health ailments, and it is free. Just look down at your feet.
It may seem surprising, but regular walking is one of the best and easiest ways to improve and maintain your health. One client of a personal trainer saw a decrease of 2% in body fat from doing nothing more than walking just under a mile a day. Some benefits, like increased calorie burn may be obvious, but there are many more benefits to walking.
Improved digestion and reduction in bloating is something to keep in mind with the holiday meals upon us. Take a brisk walk immediately after your meal to reduce the negative effects from it.
Brisk walking can also improve insulin sensitivity, reduce blood pressure, and lower your risk from stroke. Walking can also help aid muscle recovery from the increase in blood flow. Walking also improves recovery from Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Studies also show that walking can decrease joint inflammation and strengthen bones.
Regular walks can also prevent the development of varicose veins, as well as boost your mood and help you be more focused and productive. Walking can improve your sleep and give a boost to your immune system, which will help keep you from getting sick.
Former pro body builder, Stan Efferding talks about his walking regimen in this video.
Stan was able to lower his blood pressure and cholesterol and increase his insulin sensitivity, which resulted in a 50-pound loss in weight in just a few months. His method is to walk after breakfast, after a daytime meal, and before bed. He breaks his walking up into 10-minute walks, each done right after a meal and even does this after meals out. He finds that these walks after eating at a restaurant keep him from overeating or wasting time on his phone, and aid in digestion.
Stan talks about studies that show that we are unable to undo a day of sitting with just one exercise period, say, after work. Movement throughout the day is key to fighting the negative effects of sitting all day. Regular walks will help accomplish this.
Your walks should be brisk. Move at a pace that gets your blood pumping and makes it challenging to carry on a conversation due to your rate of breathing. Breaking your walks up into 10-minute chunks for a total of 30-40 minutes a day helps keep you focused and makes the task seem less daunting. Bring water with you and double up your healthy activities. You may be surprised to see how easy it is to improve your health if you Walk This Way.
by Geoff Rand
Sleep. It’s just as essential to life as food and water. We might be able to go for longer periods of time without adequate sleep, but eventually it will catch up with us, and there will be a price to pay for it. We all live busy lives, but it’s important to make time for sufficient hours and quality of sleep. In this series of articles on sleep, we will look at why the body needs sleep, the dangers of failing to get enough sleep, and ways to diagnose and mitigate sleep disorders.
The body uses sleep to restore energy supplies and perform critical maintenance to keep its systems functioning properly. During these rest periods, muscle damage and connecting tissue is repaired, and certain hormones are released that assist in recovery and building and repair of muscles.
If you are crushing it in the gym and just don’t seem to see the results you think you should be seeing, take a look at your sleep. Exercise without adequate recovery time in the form of quality sleep will not produce results.
So what is adequate sleep? The general guideline for all adults is 7-9 hours of sleep. Research has shown that those who are engaged in physically demanding work need more sleep than those performing intellectual work. It is important to stick to a sleep routine as much as possible, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day (even on days off). This helps the body establish natural recovery and activity patterns.
The environment you create to sleep in is just as important as the number of hours you devote to sleeping. Your sleeping area should be quiet and dark. Studies have shown that even small amounts of light, like those from an alarm clock, can be enough to disrupt sleep. Put your phone or other electronics in a different room where they won’t disturb you or tempt you to answer or use them. You want your sleep area to be clear of children and pets if at all possible. Use thick curtains to block out light if you are forced to sleep during non-standard hours due to things like shift work.
What happens if I don’t get adequate sleep? This is somewhat tough to answer completely because we don’t yet know all the effects sleep deprivation has on the body. We do know that lack of sleep causes high blood pressure, obesity, and an increased risk of development of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and some cancers. Lack of sleep can also cause you to be more susceptible to illness and take longer for you to recover from being sick. You are also more likely to injure yourself and you will take longer to recover from the injury without adequate rest.
Studies have shown that after being awake for just 17 hours your actions and reactions are akin to those of someone with a 0.05 blood alcohol content. States like New Jersey have enacted laws making it illegal to knowingly drive while tired. Numerous studies with military personnel showed rapidly decreasing ability to make sound decisions and to be effective on the battlefield as sleep deprivation increases and lack of adequate recovery and sleep time decreases.
Lack of sleep impacts your ability to remember things, can make you feel more negative, and can make you less productive and act less ethically at work.
With all this evidence, you may be convinced that you need to sleep more, but what about those who try to sleep but have physical impairments like sleep apnea that prevent them from getting quality sleep? In part two of this topic, I will detail my own experiences with sleep apnea and why it is so important to get checked out and treat it if you think you may have it.
But for now, rest up and we’ll tackle that topic next week.
by Geoff Rand
My first real lesson in hydration came at Fort Campbell, Kentucky at Air Assault School in 1994. The final graduation requirement was a 12-mile road march in full uniform with helmet, rifle, and rucksack. The 3-hour time limit was tough on my short legs, but the real challenge was to drink all the water they required. At several points along the course were hydration stations. At each one, we had to hold two open 1-quart canteens over our heads to prove they were empty. And we couldn’t just dump the water along the way. Spotters would disqualify us for a safety violation if we tried to spill it. After showing empty, we refilled them and continued on. I’m not sure how many gallons I drank during the 2.5 hours it took me to finish, but I would have exploded if someone kicked me in the stomach upon reaching the finish line. I definitely was not dehydrated.
While the Army’s safety regulations may border on the absurd at times, there usually is a reason. In this case, soldiers have died on this very course due to dehydration.
While potential for death is quite a motivator, there are other reasons you should be drinking water. Studies have shown that dehydration by a mere 2% loss in body weight can cause impaired performance. At 5% loss, capacity for work can be decreased by up to 30%.
Water has benefits for you even if you’re not engaged in physical activity. It aids in proper digestion, reduces chances of developing kidney stones, cavities, some cancers, urinary tract infections, and cataracts, to name a few benefits. Water is also crucial in flushing toxins from the body as well as assisting in proper blood flow and plays a key role in muscle repair because of these functions. You will notice more muscle soreness, cramps, and earlier onset of DOMS if you are dehydrated.
Drinking water before a meal can also help you feel full faster and consume fewer calories. If weight loss is your goal, consider drinking water as cold as you can stand. Your body has to warm it up to metabolize it, and that burns even more calories.
When should you drink? Early and often is good advice. If you wait until you feel thirsty, you are already playing catch up. Hydrate before, during, and after physical activity. If you want to freak out other people in the bathroom, take the below chart in with you and compare your urine color to it. Know that some vitamins and supplements can give you an artificially light yellow color even if you are dehydrated.
How much should you drink? We’ve all heard the 8 glasses of water a day as the accepted standard. However, it turns out this standard is not at all based on scientific study. Its origin has not been definitively determined, but generally the accepted source is a 1945 paper that suggested one ounce of water consumed per calorie of food consumed. On a 2,000 calorie diet, this translates to roughly 64oz., or 8 glasses of water. A better rule of thumb, often prescribed by Amanda, is to drink one ounce of water for every pound of body weight you have.
While we aren’t going to make you hold your water bottles over your heads, our coaches can tell when you aren’t drinking your water. It shows in your face and in your performance. So, do your body a favor, drink up now and keep drinking up throughout the day.
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
by Geoff Rand
September of 2003 is a month I’ll never forget. While at work, I ended up being T-boned by a vehicle that failed to stop at an intersection without power to its traffic lights. I wasn’t seriously injured, or so I thought, but after being cleared to return to work, I noticed that something wasn’t quite right with my knee. Standing, walking, and especially running on it became difficult. I could suffer through a mile run, but I was out of commission the rest of the day. Sometimes even driving was hard. I often had to resort to pushing down on my accelerator knee with my hand in order to drive with all the pain I was experiencing. Doctors told me nothing showed up on MRIs and that I should just take it easy, limit lifting anything heavy, and avoid squatting too deeply. I suffered for 9 years with that knee pain until a friend finally convinced me that even with an injury I could still workout, and maybe even resolve the pain through CrossFit.
I walked into CrossFit Frederick in 2012, skeptical, but willing to give it a try. Amanda and Dave asked me a bunch of questions about the pain I was experiencing and developed a mobility plan that consisted largely of rolling out my hamstrings. This puzzled me at first, as I had no pain in the back of my leg, but I started to see improvement after only a few days into their program. Gradually, the knee started to feel better, squats became not only possible, but felt good, I stopped wearing the brace I had on, and just a few months later, I ran my first sub 7 minute mile ever. Soon, I began to forget all about my “bad knee” and I now consider myself fully healed from that injury so long ago.
But why did loosening up my hamstrings assist with my recovery?
Our bodies are wonders of engineering and as you’ve seen through other Blog posts and instruction by our coaching staff, everything is connected to something else in the body. If we have weakness or limitation in one area, somewhere else compensates for it, but usually not in the best way for our health and fitness.
Likely, years of sitting in a police cruiser had tightened and shortened the range of motion of my hamstrings, and this, coupled with me avoiding working on that mobility issue after experiencing the trauma to it, along with avoiding any exercise that would potentially strengthen the muscles and tissues around the knee, caused the continued pain. Other muscles were forced to pick up the slack, and due to them not being the ideal mechanism to effect the movements they were being asked to perform, further pain and damage was caused.
You may not have experienced an injury due to tight hamstrings, but neglecting their mobility can lead to poor performance and eventual injury in other areas.
The hamstrings are made up of several muscles at the back of the leg that each have a varying length and angle as well as tie in points to different bones. These muscles attach to the hip, thigh, and glutes, and run down to the back and top of the shinbone. They are responsible for allowing us to pick up heavy objects from the ground, and function anytime we flex the knee or extend the hip. Strong and flexible hamstrings are essential to maintaining a strong and stable lower back and help form a solid base for many of our lifts.
One key reason to have flexibility in our hamstrings is the tendency to lose our lumbar curve in our squats due to hamstring tightness. When the hamstrings are tight, they pull your hip and back out of alignment and you lose the ability to maintain that flexible yet sturdy lumbar curve, causing the butt wink. Your chest also starts to drop, pulling everything else out of line. At best, this is going to limit the weight you can lift, and at worst, it is going to cause injury to your back and knees as they struggle to compensate.
Fortunately, the hamstrings are easy to mobilize. Here are a few movements to work into your mobilization/stretching routine.
1. Hamstring roll. Sit on a lacrosse ball on top of a box. Relax your foot and roll side to side from the crease of your butt to the back of your knee. If you find a particularly sensitive spot, spend some extra time there.
2. Good mornings. With a PVC pipe, and maybe eventually an empty barbell, lean forward at the waist with the pipe behind the neck and across the shoulders, keeping your legs and back straight. Stop when your back starts to round and return to standing upright. If you’re tight at first, limit the range of motion but move quickly up and down to warm up the hamstrings. Eventually they will start to loosen and you’ll be able to achieve more range.
3. Glute Ham Raises. You can do these on a GHD machine. These probably fall more into exercise than mobility, but they definitely target the hamstrings. This video shows how to do them.
4. Supine Hamstring Stretch. Lie on your back with one leg on the ground. Place a band across the middle of your other foot and pull back as you keep that upward leg straight.
The takeaway from my experience is this. Never assume pain is caused only by something local to the area in which you are experiencing it. Mobility and strength go hand in hand. Regular maintenance is essential to maintaining proper body function. And, even if, or more appropriately, especially if, you are experiencing pain, get your butt in the Box and talk to Amanda and Dave about it. You might be surprised at what they can come up with to fix you.
Stay on top of your hamstring mobilization and don’t ever leave the Box without stretching. They are such an important muscle group and keeping them happy will benefit you literally from head to toe.
by Geoff Rand
I’ve been fortunate enough to have never personally experienced Plantar Fasciitis, but I know people in and out of the Box who have, and I can tell you that it destroys you and affects every aspect of your life when you get it. Plantar Fasciitis sucks so bad that if we could weaponize it, we’d probably be dropping it on ISIS right now. In this article we’ll explore what Plantar Fasciitis is, what causes it, and some things you can do to get rid of it if you have it, or keep from getting it if you don’t.
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
The Plantar Fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the toes. I’ve talked about fascia in previous articles, and this fascia tissue is no different. It is susceptible to becoming inflamed and you need to give it regular maintenance to work out the adhesions and keep it pliable. The Plantar Fascia absorbs a lot of abuse as the entire weight of your body is stressing it with every move you make. If you have intense and chronic heel pain, especially if your foot feels excessively sore when you first try to walk after getting out of bed or when standing up after sitting for a while, you could have Plantar Fasciitis. PF is not something you get from a single intense or long run, rather it is a condition you develop over time.
Now as with everything in the body, everything is connected to something else. On the other end of the heel is the Achilles tendon, calf muscles, IT band, hamstrings, glutes, and quads. While those systems may seem distant from the foot, if you have weakness, tightness, or lack of mobility in any of those areas, they can affect the foot and can contribute to development of Plantar Fasciitis.
What causes Plantar Fasciitis?
Bad form while walking or running is a big culprit. Heel striking is especially damaging to the Plantar Fascia. Also, if you tend to pronate when you walk or run, which is when your foot rolls inward causing the arch to flatten out, that can lead to PF issues.
Another contributor to Plantar Fasciitis problems is footwear. Now, I’ve read conflicting information as to whether a minimalist shoe with little cushioning is better or getting a more “squishy” shoe and/or one with some arch support is better. The thought with the minimalist shoe is the lack of cushion will cause you to strengthen the foot since the shoe isn’t doing the work for you. The thinking with the support insert or shock-absorbing shoe is the construction of the shoe or insert is taking some of the pressure off the tender areas of the foot. I’m no doctor and I’m not qualified to make a ruling on which approach holds more merit. I’ll just say if you have Plantar Fasciitis, consider changing your shoes (and this applies to what you wear outside the Box as well).
Do I have Plantar Fasciitis?
Before you start a treatment program, you need to determine if you really do have Plantar Fasciitis. This likely means visiting a foot specialist, as not all foot pain is caused by Plantar Fasciitis. One test you can do is to try walking up on the tips of your toes. If this feels better, you may actually have a stress fracture of the heel or a bone spur since the Plantar Fascia is elongated when the toes are loaded and rebounding, and this position puts a lot of stress on the Fascia, and it should hurt if you have PF.
How do I treat Plantar Fasciitis?
If you are diagnosed with Plantar Fasciitis, figure out what is causing your issue and stop doing it. That could mean taking some time off from running and using the rower instead. This doesn’t mean short runs are ok. It means NO RUNNING! You need to give your feet time to heal. If you are runner or frequently experience foot pain after running, consider having someone video your running stance. If you are a heel striker, learn the Pose Method and adjust your stance so you lean into your run and land on the forefoot rather than the heel. If you are loud runner, stop stomping your feet down and land softly instead.
Taking time off from running is only part of the recovery equation. You need to do some mobility on the foot and surrounding areas. Roll and stretch out the foot. Start with the least tender areas and gradually increase pressure and move to the more painful ones. This chart shows some stretches to try.
Take a look at these videos for more explanation and some other mobility ideas.
In addition to rolling out, weighted calve raises will help strengthen your calves and may help take some pressure off your Plantar Fascia if this is an area of weakness in your legs. Remember that this mobility and strength work is not a one-time prescription. It needs to become your daily routine if you seriously want to recover from Plantar Fasciitis.
If doing mobility on your own isn’t producing the results you’re looking for, seek out a therapist who specializes in ART, or Active Release Technique. This is a more aggressive form of therapy that involves manual manipulation of the affected area and gradually increasing assisted stretching that has shown to be effective in treating many deficiencies of the body to include treatment of PF.
Dr. Josh Axe recommends taking 500mg of Magnesium before bed and vitamin B5 and fish oil to help relax the fascia and decrease the swelling through improved blood flow. Again, I’m not a doctor or nutritionist. You can research this for yourself or talk to a healthcare professional to see if taking these supplements is right for you.
It is said that treatment for Plantar Fasciitis starts in bed. If you sleep with excessively tight sheets at the foot of the bed, this can cause PF issues. Tight sheets can hold your foot in a position of Plantar Flexion, which is the position you would be in if you stood on the tips of your toes. In time, this causes a shortening of the fascia, which further stresses the area when you go to extend it, such as when getting out of bed. Given that we spend up to a third of our lives in bed, time in this position really adds up.
Your doctor may prescribe a night splint that will hold your foot in a neutral position while you sleep. This allows the foot to heal naturally. Know that this is not a quick method, and depending on the severity of your condition, you may need to use this splint for 6-12 months.
The final option is surgery. You don’t want this. It involves cutting the fascia to allow it to lengthen. It can cause permanent nerve damage and the foot will likely never be as stable as it was before surgery since the procedure is weakening the very structure that ties in major parts of the foot. The surgery may also fail to correct the pain. If not cut in the right area, you may heal, but still experience the same pain. And as if you needed another reason to avoid going under the knife, the recovery time is 6-10 weeks until you can walk without assistance and up to three months more before you can resume normal activity. Fortunately, 95% of those who have Plantar Fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatments.
In the movie Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel “Best defense, no be there.” Well, the best way to keep from experiencing Plantar Fasciitis pain is not to develop it in the first place. Don’t ignore the small aches and pains because they will turn into big ones. Your body is trying to tell you something. Whether you have PF or not, don’t neglect the other areas of the body that tie into the foot. Roll out and stretch and strengthen the foot and the areas that connect to the foot. Whatever you decide to do, stop heel striking. And keep an eye out for my Plantar Fasciitis rocket launcher, coming to Kickstarter soon.
by Geoff Rand
While we all could probably stand to floss our teeth more, today we’re going to look at a different kind of flossing.
You may have heard of the Voodoo Floss Bands created by Dr. Kelly Starrett. While the idea of wrapping and compressing sore joints and muscles is not new, Kelly has really put the technique in the spotlight and enhanced and modernized the method. For many years, athletes have been cutting up old bicycle inner tubes and using the rubber strips to make their own floss bands. The modern bands are elastic strips similar to our resistance bands, but are thinner and linear, not circular. To use them, you tightly stretch the band and wrap the injured/sore area. Then the fun begins. You then increase the tension applied by working the appropriate muscle for that area, which further squeezes the bejesus out of it.
I tweaked my patella ligament, right below my knee, when I let my knee extend too far over my toe on some goblet squats. This is a very tender area; one that I couldn’t roll out or apply electrical stimulation to. After several months of really intense wishing that the pain would go away, I decided to try flossing.
I found a Mobility WOD video that showed how to wrap the band above and below the knee, right over my sore ligament. You need to put some effort into getting the wraps tight. So how do you work the area around an injured knee with the Voodoo bands? You use the same exercise that injured it, squats.
You might be able to imagine the sensation of squatting with an already tight band on your knee and thigh. It’s pretty intense. It generated a good amount of heat, warming up the knee nicely. And with the band cutting off circulation, I could only tolerate it for a few minutes. Coach Dave recommends taking it off when your toes start tingling. I felt an immediate rush of blood to the area when I removed the bands.
We’ve talked about inflammation before, and I feel like the floss bands work by hitting the inflamed or injured area like a really intense foam rolling session, but in a way you couldn’t hit with a ball or roller. If you think of the fascia like a sponge, wrapping and squatting with the band squeezes blood and lymphatic fluid out of the area, and when the bands are removed, the rejuvenating blood returns. The compression also helps to break up adhesions that may have accumulated in the fascia layers. Kelly refers to it as getting rid of the “junk” inside there.
The cool part about flossing is that you are able to wrap up your problem area and use the band’s support to perform movements that were too painful or unstable to do before wrapping it. You should see increased range of motion and decreased pain after use of the floss bands. The bands can be used for both pre-WOD warm up and post-WOD recovery.
Wrists, arms, elbows, legs, knees, and ankles are all good areas in which to try the bands. You can also wrap shoulders, but you’ll need an assistant to get it on correctly. They aren’t going to be of any help on your torso and I shouldn’t need to tell you not to wrap elastic bands around your neck.
My knee is still a work in progress, but the bands are working. It just takes a few minutes, and honestly a few minutes of it is all you will be able to stand. If you have a problem area that isn’t responding to other active recovery methods you’ve been using, it might be worth giving Voodoo Floss bands, or one of the many brands of copies, a try.