Monthly Mindset – August 2020

How do you measure Improvement?

This may seem a little silly, as you may think this is a pretty obvious question. You see improvement when your lifts and reps go up or your times go down. If you answered like this you would not be wrong, but you are also approaching the question in a very black and white fashion. What happens when the question is no longer black and white, but is more of a charcoal, or pewter, or graphite, or smoke? I know I could have just said gray, but listing colors is more fun.

Let me explain a scenario to you. Roughly five months ago you did Fran at the gym. Let’s say that you logged an Rx time of 5:34. Last week you did Fran again to check your progress, and you logged an Rx score of 5:40. Did you improve? If we go by the classic definition of improvement stated above, then no. But we need to look deeper into the specifics of your situation to determine if that is actually the case. The main component that is often overlooked is how did you feel? And don’t just say terrible. I know that already, no one feels good after doing Fran.

If, on the first attempt, you felt like you were going to die and failed several pull ups and your thrusters were iffy on depth, but on your second attempt all of your reps were solid, and you were walking around pretty quickly after completing, then you likely improved. Your technique was better and you had no failed reps, so you likely are stronger now, more skilled, and have a better idea on how to pace yourself and save your muscles from fatigue.

Another marker is heart rate. If your first attempt had you at 180 bpm and about to have a cardiac event, and your second event was a much more manageable 140 bpm, then you are more fit as well. You did the same amount of work, in basically the same amount of time, but were more efficient from a cardiovascular perspective. This is improvement!

You should also consider body composition as well, especially since this a bodyweight workout. One thing people tend to overlook is how much you weigh with regards to completing benchmark workouts. A couple further scenarios:

  1. You gained 15 pounds of muscle between the two Fran workouts. The second time you completed the same amount of work at a heavier body weight (which makes bodyweight movements more difficult). That would be an improvement!
  2. You lost weight between the two Fran workouts. Now based on the first scenario you may think that this would result in a decrease in performance, and that may be the case. But in this case you need to look at the weighted movement. You will hear me say “mass moves mass,” and what this means is that larger people tend to lift heavier weights (just look at Olympic Weightlifting). If you lost weight, but were still able to do the thrusters at the Rx weight, you may in fact be fitter because it is harder to move that load at your lighter bodyweight. For a purely weightlifting workout (say DT), maintaining a similar time with a lighter body weight is an obvious improvement.

What all of this goes to show is that there really isn’t a clear definition of how we measure improvement at the gym. We have some pretty decent guidelines, but it really comes down to a case by case evaluation of the specifics of the two performances. Your mindset this month is to focus on these more obscure definitions of improvement. Try to notice and quantify the little improvements on your day to day workouts, because with time, they will add up to large improvements in your fitness.

Muscle of the Month – August 2020

Gluteus Maximus

Let’s talk about butt stuff! No, that’s not what I meant, get your minds out of the gutter. We are talking about the glutes, everyone’s favorite muscle group! The gluteus maximus, or glute max, or plainly referred to as your butt, is the largest and heaviest muscle in the body. Due to its superficial positioning over the other two gluteal muscles (we’ll meet these guys next month), it makes up a large portion of the shape and appearance of each side of the hips.

In resistance training, the main goals for training the glutes are generally grouped into one of two categories: aesthetics and function. Everyone wants a good butt, and if you tell me you don’t care, you’re lying. There are entire workout programs and fitness trends dedicated to helping you make your glutes bigger and better looking. While aesthetics are important, we in the Crossfit community generally care more about performance (function and force production), although a nice caboose is a great side effect.

The gluteus maximus’s size allows it to generate a large amount of force. As the main extensor of the hip, it is used in pretty much every exercise we perform and has the ever important, and under-appreciated job, of allowing us to stand up unlike many of our primate cousins. The glute max also laterally rotates the thigh at the hip (turns your feet and knees out), and abducts the thigh at the hip (lifts your leg laterally away from the body).

To train the glutes you will want to perform squats, deadlifts, box step ups, running, and incorporate isolation accessory exercises like the glute bridge, banded walks, donkey kicks, good mornings, etc. The list is long as I mentioned before that we use the glutes for pretty much everything in some way or another. If you are looking for a great burner to test your glute strength, try doing 2 sets of 5 reps of glute bridges with a 30 second hold at the top without any rest in between the reps, and only 30 seconds of rest between sets.

Monthly Mindset – July 2020

Positive Attitude.

Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right – Henry Ford.

I am sure that you have heard this quote at least once in your life. And if you tell me that you haven’t I won’t believe you, as I have said it many times at the gym, probably in a class that you attended. The meaning is pretty obvious right? Our mental state affects our physical state. What this means for us in the gym is that we need to come in every day telling ourselves that we are strong, we are fit, and that we are going to have fun. Crossfit is 80% mental, 50% physical, and like 30% pain (you do the math, I’m not an engineer anymore), and I cannot stress enough the importance of attitude when it comes to training.

If you look at the top competitors in any sport, not just Crossfit, you will see the same thing – a positive attitude and the mental toughness to approach each new day/training session knowing that they can accomplish what they need to do. There is no doubt in their minds that they are capable of success. And while none of us are elite Crossfit athletes, we can still adopt this mindset to make ourselves the best that we can be.

How we come into the gym has a huge affect on our performance that day. If you come in with a negative attitude and in a grumpy mood, I can pretty much guarantee that you are going to have a bad workout. However, if you come in happy and excited and knowing that you are going to do great things, you will. I mean the workout will be horrible, but you will feel better after. On the plus side, you will also have more fun, and will generally be a more likeable person to be around.

I am reminded of The Office (big surprise there, right?) Season 9, Episode 20 when Jim and Pam have a talking head after going to couple’s therapy:

Jim: Oh, we’re supposed to call everything we don’t want to do “opportunities.”

How we approach things that we don’t want to do tells a lot about who we are as people. Yes, no one wants to ride the Assault Bike, but you know what? It’s a great opportunity to test your fitness and your mental strength. You know it is going to suck. But you are going to do it anyway because you know it will make you a better person. Small things like that add up and eventually we are no longer thinking “wow this is heavy, I don’t think I can lift that,” but instead we are thinking “I totally have this lift, I got this.” The mental dialog we have with ourselves is crucial for success, and continued practice of positive self talk will help to remove doubt.

Our main goal is to make you healthier, happier people. This includes training your mind, and not just your bodies, to become stronger. Your mindset this month is to adopt a positive attitude and come in everyday knowing that you will take full advantage of every opportunity we give you to be a better athlete.

Muscle of the Month – July 2020

Biceps

Let’s see if you were paying attention last month. Test: what does the literal translation of biceps brachii mean? If you guessed “two-headed [muscle] of the arm”, then you were right. If not, well… I got nothing.

This month’s muscle is the biceps brachii and it is one of the main muscles of the upper arm which acts on both the shoulder joint and the elbow joint. If you recall from last month, only one of the three triceps acts on the shoulder.

The biceps are responsible for flexing the arm, albeit weakly (think lifting your entire arm with the elbow extended), flexing the forearm at the elbow (think your classic curl motion), and supinating the forearm at the elbow (think twisting your forearm from the palm facing down to facing up, leading with the pinky). Not bad for a muscle that many people think is just for aesthetics, right?

To train the biceps, you will want to engage in any number of curl variations or chin ups. Use dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells and use wide or narrow grips, but always have your palms facing up (supine grip). You may have heard me say from time to time during “Bro Accessory Time” to twist your pinky towards your shoulder when doing curls as this will engage the forearm supination aspect of the biceps function in addition to the flexing of the forearm. It’s all about maximizing the pump, amiright?

Monthly Mindset – Coming Back From Quarantine (June 2020)

Coming Back From Quarantine Mindset:

March 16, 2020 we closed our doors on the order of our Governor. Since then, a lot has changed in our lives, hopefully in some cases for the better. Now that we are able to be back in the gym I have some important truths to tell you, and a mindset to practice.

Truth number one: You may not be as fit as you were in March. I have spoken with some of you about this and the concerns that I hear the most is that “I feel I have stopped making progress,” or “I feel like I am losing strength.” Unfortunately, this is most likely true, and it would be irresponsible to assume otherwise (unless you had access to a full gym). We have been focusing on bodyweight movements or DB/KB work, which while effective, does not provide the same stimulus that heavy, weighted barbells, or complicated gymnastic movements do. As a result you have most likely entered a “detrained” state, resulting in a loss of strength, and to some extent progress. You may see, however, that your bodyweight movements have improved, so be careful before you state with certainty that you have lost progress overall. 

Truth number two: You have not lost your skills. Whether it be pull ups, double unders, or hang power cleans, you still have that skill. It may be rusty and out of practice, but it is still there. Instead, what you have lost is the capacity, strength, and endurance in the tissues used when doing those movements. The good news is that your proficiency with these skills and movements will come back, and fairly quickly. The simile “like riding a bike” definitely applies here, however:

Truth number three: You will be very sore. Do you remember your first Crossfit workout? Do you remember how sore you were the first month of Crossfit? Expect that again. For all intents and purposes you are starting over as new athletes – even those of you who have done something every day and joined us for classes (thanks by the way!). You will be performing movements that you haven’t touched in over two months, and will be using weights that you haven’t felt in a while. The barbell will even feel rough on your hands. Expecting to be able to lift the same amount, or perform the movements with the same efficiency is a recipe for injury. This will be a rough time for everyone as we get accustomed to Crossfit again, so make sure you are taking care of yourself (re-read the Recovery blog post if you need to).

Truth number four: You now have a higher risk of injury. The deconditioned athlete is the group most at risk for injuries in Crossfit. Not the new athletes, or even the already injured and recovering athletes. It is the athletes that know what they are doing, have a taste for intensity, and want to push themselves, but don’t have the structural or muscular capacity to perform at the level that they used to be at before they stopped. What used to be a routine stress for our bodies two months ago will have a drastically different effect on your tissues now. Think “use it or (temporarily) lose it.” Our bones, tendons, and ligaments increase in strength when they are placed under loads/stresses over periods of time, and conversely decrease in strength when these loads are removed for a period of time (Wolff’s Law for those interested). The good news is you can get this strength back, but it is going to take some time for these physiological processes to occur, which means that yes, you will have to go lighter than you did two months ago, and progressively (not vigorously!) increase load and intensity. Movement based injuries tend to occur when you do “too much too soon, after too little for too long,” which exceeds our tissue’s capacity. For example, loading too much weight on the bar too soon could potentially lead to stress fractures or throwing yourself into kipping pull-ups when you haven’t supported your body weight on a bar in months can lead to ligament tears in your wrists, elbows, or shoulders. If you approach your workouts when returning to the gym with the mindset of “protecting your bones and joints”, you’ll be making efforts for the longevity of your body in CrossFit!

Truth number five: You will be observed carefully and coached critically. You may think, “well duh, that’s what I am here for – coaching!” And you would be right, but you have not been critiqued in person in a long time. Even those of you that have joined us for Zoom classes, it is not always possible to observe movement and provide feedback in real time over the internet. Over time, without constant correction, there is a tendency for movement patterns to become lazy. Moving forward, expect to get a lot of cues and movement corrections from your coaches, and please be open to it. We are not picking on you, we are just trying to make sure that you are moving well, for all of the reasons mentioned above.

Truth number six: You will have fun! Starting fresh in a brand new space is going to be both fun and exciting. You will also be able to get back to a new normal schedule and see your friends face to face for the first time in a long time. As a result, we will be looking to build camaraderie as a gym that has survived a very rough patch. It is usually the difficult situations that tend to bring us closer together, and I expect us to be stronger as a community moving forward. Plus, you will be able to relieve a bunch of built up stress at the gym by finally picking up some heavy weights (once you are ready of course).

All of which brings us to our mindset: focus on fundamentals. While we are not back at square one, most of us will be in a deconditioned state as mentioned above. This is a perfect chance to make sure that we are moving properly and with the correct range of motion. Prioritizing movement quality and building a protective workload will allow the body to progressively respond to the stress of being back in the gym, and will be the safest, most effective way to increase your fitness. How are we going to do this? We are going to make sure that you do everything perfect. Have a hard time squatting below parallel? Guess what, you will not be adding weight until you can. Can’t lock out your arms overhead with a barbell or do a weighted overhead squat correctly? Guess what, we’re going to work with a PVC pipe until you can. By loading poor positions when you don’t have the proper flexibility, mobility, or stability, we open ourselves up to injury and prevent maximal fitness gains. Going back to truth number five, we are not picking on you and we are not trying to be mean. In fact, we are doing this to make you better. This is just a perfect time to relearn proper movement before we start loading weight or intensity. Remember, you have had over two months away from the gym, we want to make sure that you are safe as we ease you back into Crossfit!

 

Muscle of the Month – June 2020

Triceps

The triceps, or triceps brachii, is the muscle located on the back of the arm. Brachii is a latin word meaning “of the arm” and triceps means “three-headed.” All of this gets us a literal translation of “three headed [muscle] of the arm.” Man, those three years of High School Latin really paid off.

Because of this literal translation we would expect there to be three different muscles that make up the triceps. Those three muscles are: Triceps Brachii Lateral Head, Medial Head, and Long Head.

 

 

There is some pretty interesting research out there as to which head of the triceps is more dominant during which movements, and their individual muscle fiber compositions, but for our purposes just know that three muscles work together to extend the forearm at the elbow – think straightening your arm. And since these muscles are opposite the biceps (foreshadowing) they are said to be antagonistic, and will help stabilize and slow down fast curling motions so that you don’t smack yourself in the face when doing bicep curls. I also want to point out that the long head is the only tricep muscle that acts on the shoulder joint and is one of the 17 muscles that connects to the shoulder blades that I mentioned way back in February.

To train the triceps you will want to use movements that work to extend the elbow joint, whether they be compound movements or isolation movements. Classic compound movements that we use frequently are the bench press, dips, overhead pressing, and push ups (both the regular and the handstand type). Isolation exercises are great for specifically targeting the triceps, and these movements are generally reserved for accessory work: tricep extensions (banded or with cables), skull crushers, DB kickbacks, and to a lesser extent, DB pullovers.

Monthly Mindset – May 2020

Get Outside!

The snow is [mostly] gone, the sun is [usually] out, and the temperature is [slowly] improving. Yes we are going to start running more in workouts, but that is not what this month’s mindset is about. What I mean when I say Get Outside, is literally that. Get. Outside. We live in one of the most beautiful places in the United States (my personal opinion) so get out and enjoy it! Especially now, seeing as the gym is closed due to the pandemic.

We used to spend a lot of time in the gym to improve our fitness. We lifted weights, we ran and biked and rowed, and we got stronger and faster. But what is the point of going to the gym if you are not using your fitness for what is really important? Living life and playing with your friends, family, and loved ones. Yes, we all miss the gym, and it is important, but life is about so much more than your Fran time and how much you can back squat.

One of the tenants of Crossfit is to regularly learn and play new sports. This is a great reminder to get out and try new things, especially now that the weather is improving. Go for a run, or a bike ride, or play some socially distancing appropriate games with friends. Or just do something as simple as go for a walk during the afternoon with your dog or kids. Just being active outside is such a critical component of health for us, that many people do not take advantage of, with our typically sedentary (and mostly indoors) lifestyle.

One of the big benefits of being outside is the exposure to sunlight and the creation of vitamin D within our bodies (which then makes us feel so good – look it up if you don’t believe me). We have just survived another long winter and our bodies are starved of vitamin D. Coupled with the mental stress of being cooped up inside for several weeks, we need to incorporate all of the health benefits (mental and physical) of being outside in nature. Take your workout outside and enjoy the sun – and remember to wear sunscreen!

Your goal for this month will be to get outside at least once a day and do something active. Again, this could be as simple as taking a walk, or as complex as going for a run/bike/outside workout. But get outside and enjoy the weather!

Muscle of the Month – May 2020

Subscapularis

The subscapularis is a large triangular muscle found on the inside of the shoulder blade. It is the last of the rotator cuff muscles, and is the only rotator cuff muscle that attaches to the lesser tubercle of the humerus (a slightly smaller knob below the head of the humerus). And now that we have identified all of the rotator cuff muscles, we can introduce a handy acronym to remember them: SITS. Supraspinatus. Infraspinatus. Teres minor. Subscapularis.

The subscapularis is the only rotator cuff muscle that performs internal rotation of the shoulder. But it also helps during abduction and adduction; and when the arm is raised, it helps to pull the humerus down and forward, keeping the shoulder socket stable.

In order to target the subscapularis, we should generally perform internal rotation exercises, much like mentioned before. You will notice that most movements of the shoulder will work one or more of the rotator cuff muscles, so by incorporating a few of these each week, you can effectively train all four. Of particular interest for the subscapularis will be keeping the shoulder socket stable (avoiding shrugging) during any overhead movements, whether with a barbell or dumbbells (or even kettlebells, why not?).

Monthly Mindset – April 2020

Recovery

I have been doing Crossfit for a long time, not the longest mind you, but long enough. And as I am sure you have heard me say at least once that I have been sore since I started. I mostly mean this as a joke; to make light of the fact that everyone is hurting and it never gets better (wow, that got dark…). But there is some truth to the matter. I really have been sore since I started Crossfit, and that is the beauty of it, and what really drew me to it in the first place. The constant variation means that you are constantly working different muscles and gives you a workout that is like no other resistance training program. One thing that took me a while to understand, and even longer to appreciate though, is the importance of recovery.

The biggest takeaway here is that muscles are built outside of the gym. In the gym we actually cause damage to our muscles. As we exercise, we stretch, contract, and apply force to and with the muscles, and we cause little micro-tears of the muscle fibers as a result. After the exercise is done, the body goes into a state of remodeling in which the muscle fibers are repaired with proteins and grow in number and in size. With time, the muscle itself will get larger and as a result will be able to produce more force – but only if we give it enough time and fuel to do so.

This is where recovery comes in. I’m sure many of you have been very sore before, or have come in for 10+ days in a row, or done multiple workouts in a day for several days in a row, and have just felt bad. Like zero energy, tired, cranky bad. This is called overtraining and is detrimental to our health and athletic performance. Basically, it means that your body is not able to recover quickly enough from your last exercise session to prepare you for your next. Over time, this leads us to feeling burned out and results in poor performance in the gym. Our goal is not to get to this point.

Instead, focus on proper nutrition and getting enough sleep so that your body can recover. This is not the place for nutrition and sleeping advice as those are very individual specific, but the gist of it is: eat enough food, eat the right foods, and make sure you get enough sleep. Food is where we get our energy to exercise, but it is also where we get the building blocks to build bigger muscles. Sleep is where the body repairs itself and recharges your “battery” for the next day. If you are not eating enough protein, your body will not be able to make bigger muscles. If you are not eating enough carbs, you will not have enough energy to workout. If you are not sleeping enough, you will not recover completely or have enough energy for your day. It’s not rocket science, but it is biology science, which some might argue is more complex.

Your mindset this month will be to focus on recovery, and eating and sleeping enough. Recovery occurs outside the gym, and conveniently enough (inconveniently? Depends on how you look at it I guess) we are forced to be out of the gym right now. Use this time to practice and build good habits so that moving forward you are able to recover optimally once we do get back into the gym!

Muscle of the Month – April 2020

Teres Minor

The teres minor is the smallest of the rotator cuff muscles and is narrow and elongated in shape. From Wikipedia: “the muscle originates from the lateral border and adjacent posterior surface of the corresponding right or left scapula and inserts at both the greater tubercle of the humerus and the posterior surface of the joint capsule.” Everyone understand that? For those without a college level understanding of anatomy, the teres minor attaches on the back edge of the shoulder blade and connects to the big knob of the humerus and the back of the shoulder joint (see the picture below).

The primary function of the teres minor is to prevent the shoulder socket from sliding up as the arm is lifted (i.e. keep the shoulder down as you raise your arm), and help with adduction of the arm (bringing it towards the body). It also helps to rotate the humerus laterally/externally along with the infraspinatus. In fact, the teres minor often blends with the infraspinatus.

To target the teres minor, incorporate external and internal rotation exercises with abduction. These can be done with either dumbbells or bands and in many different body positions (prone, back lying, or standing), but since the teres minor is smaller, keep the resistance light. Additionally, you will want to focus on keeping your shoulders down and not shrugging during the movement.