Watch This

After eleven years of CrossFitting, it’s rare for me to find some genuinely new, extremely thought-provoking ideas on improving programming. If you’re a CrossFitter, you should definitely be following Julien Pineau of Strongfit. His two-part interview on Barbell Shrugged is more than worth your time:

165

Over years of running CFNYC, we discovered that, on average, our members attended the gym about 2.8 times a week. Talking to coaches at other CrossFit boxes, to yoga, pilates and spin instructors, and to private trainers, that seems about par for the course. In a committed, workout-attending population, people seem to hit the gym about 2.5-3 times a week.

And, indeed, that’s great. If you’re smart and focused, that’s often all the gym time you need. Though that depends, entirely, on what you do with the other 165 hours of your week.

There’s an old fitness maxim: you can’t out-train a bad diet. You also can’t out-stretch days full of sitting, standing and moving in terrible posture. You can’t out-caffeinate a lack of sufficient, high-quality sleep. And your three hours at the gym are only enough if they’re just the far end of the power curve – the small percentage of time you move at high intensity, paired with the large percentage of time outside the gym in which you’re still moving, albeit at a lower pace.

The problem is, gyms aren’t really set up to address those other 165 hours. Sure, trainers and coaches will sometimes give homework; but we know from research on adherence in physical therapy that people just don’t do their fitness homework, even if it’s literally hurting them not to.

Which, I think, is an opportunity for technology. Pair a great in-gym experience with a well-crafted app that extends that experience to guide the other 165 hours of the week, while still tying back to the expert accountability and community support you have in the gym, and you’ve got a far more effective way to help people make positive change in their lives.

Manly Stanley

Coming down the home stretch of hockey season, I just wanted to pause to respect the underlying level of athleticism that hockey elites display. Sure, they make look like a bunch of toothless mooks when interviewed post-game. But they’re in amazingly, terrifyingly good shape.

In most sports, there’s a single athletic test that correlates to high-level performance. If you excel at that underlying skill, you likely excel at the sport overall. In the case of basketball, for example, it’s vertical jump. In the case of football (at least for several key positions), it’s time on the 40-yard dash.

In the case of hockey, however, the single best correlate is actually body fat percentage, above a BMI threshold. Great hockey players require a large amount of fat free mass (i.e., muscle), alongside very low levels of fat. In other words, they need to be totally jacked, more so than similarly ranked players in almost any other sport.

Watch the Stanley Cup, and show those players some respect. If not for their crazy levels of fitness, then at least for the fact that they’re literally willing to beat each other bloody for our entertainment. Now that’s commitment.

[And speaking of both violence and fitness, it’s also worth noting that the only other fitness-marker-to-sports-performance correlate I know of is between wrestling success and anaerobic power output. Which also probably explains why wrestlers have had such a great run in the CrossFit world. Kind of a consolation prize for the years we spent wearing spandex body-suits in front of high school peers.]

Supple

I’m a big fan of the Mobility WOD, Kelly Starrett’s smart and innovative approach to mobility, recovery and maximizing athletic performance.

Kelly kicked off the MWOD back in 2010, posting more than a year of short daily YouTube videos, each prescribing ten minutes of exercises to do that day. Whether stretches, rolling on lacrosse balls, or repositioning joints using plyo-bands, the stuff didn’t look like anything I’d seen, and it worked.

Using his material at the start of CrossFit classes, we managed to get people with tight shoulders into overhead or front rack positions they’d never achieved, managed to get tight-hipped folks squatting to full depth. And following Kelly’s advice myself helped me quickly rehab both a minor meniscus tear in one knee (athletic injury), and a broken bone in the other (subway accident injury).

Still, I always had difficulty recommending the MWOD, or Kelly’s subsequent book, Becoming a Supple Leopard, as a resource to people without a substantial kinesiology background. Kelly provided a lot of tools, and a lot of high level theory, but rarely straightforward solutions: ‘in case of problem x, do y and z.’

That’s why I’m particularly happy to see his newly-released Becoming a Supple Leopard 2.0. It completely reorganizes the content from his prior book around seven archetypal positions as the goals for good mobility, and lays out clear pathways towards achieving those goals, as well as clear options for addressing pain or injury at a given muscle or joint.

Alongside the release, he’s also put out a ’14 Day Mobility Challenge’, with two days of prescription each for the seven archetypes. If you’re a CrossFitter, an athlete in general, or just want to move better, check it out. In fact, you could probably get several months of progress just by repeating that two week cycle a few times through.

Thereafter, get the book. It’s a great resource, and an even more accessible one in version 2.0.

Good Day Sunshine

A weekend of summery weather, and suddenly New Yorkers are outside in droves getting skin cancer.

Or at least that’s what my mom (and much of the US health establishment) would have you believe. UV rays are carcinogenic, so you should slather on sunscreen, wear a hat and stay inside. But like many health questions, the full story of sun exposure is more complicated than the basic soundbite.

For example, on the one hand, childhood severe sunburns are associated with an increased risk of melanoma. On the other, people who work outside with a lot of sun exposure (like farmers or fishermen) actually have lower melanoma rates than indoor workers, and better prognoses when they do have melanomas.

You can find a bunch of similar evidence in both directions, because there’s an inherent trade-off in staying out of the sun. UV rays damage skin cells’ DNA, making cancers more likely. But they also help your body create vitamin D, which protects against cancer, and is hugely important to your health in a slew of other ways.

Being healthy, then, involves a Goldilocks approach to sun: not too much, but not too little, either. And in recent years, the pendulum has swung far into the shade. Enough so that scientists behind a recent literature review concluded that we need more UV:

“The overall health benefit of an improved vitamin D status may be more important than the possibly increased [melanoma] risk resulting from carefully increasing UV exposure.”

So what should we do? According to the research, being tan is healthy, but getting tan is less so, and getting sunburned is terrible. So ease yourself into the summer. You want small, regular doses of sun initially, so you can begin to tan slowly and as safely as possible. Then make sure you’re out in the sun consistently throughout the summer. Use sunscreen and cover-ups sufficient to make sure you never burn, but not so much that you reach fall as pasty-white as you doubtless are right now.

Keep Lifting

Every night, I do the dishes. And every night, I think about the Sisyphean nature of the task: no matter how well I scrub the current pile, by tomorrow a whole new stack will have accumulated nonetheless.

A lot of things in life have that ‘treading water’ quality. You do them consistently, in part to make things better, but in equal part just to keep them from getting worse. And, indeed, working out sometimes feels that way. Even as you hit a consistent streak of attendance, start to see real results, you know it’s just a matter of time until life and work and family and whatever else rages out of control, forcing you to take weeks or months off, backsliding to where you started.

Except that’s incorrect. According to some awesome new scientific findings, coming back to the gym after a hiatus is far easier than starting from scratch. Working out generates new nuclei in your muscles (called myonuclei) that help coordinate repair and growth. The new research indicates that, even if those muscles atrophy, the new myonuclei stick around for an extended period. So when you do return to the gym, you can regain strength faster than when you started out, back when you had fewer myonuclei.

Combine that with what we already know about the durability of neurologically-driven strength gains, and you have a pretty good argument for hitting the gym, as hard and as consistently as you can, even if you know you might end up with unexpected breaks in your future.

Buy a Journal

Helpful tip for new CrossFit (or other fitness regime) devotees, learned the hard way over a slew of years:

Do: keep track of your WOD, and of what you eat.

Don’t: do it on Facebook.

In the immortal words of Bill Murray, “unless you fell off the treadmill and smacked your face, no one wants to hear about your workout.”

Long Haul

I did the CrossFit workout Fran today, and discovered that, by chance, I had done the same workout on the same date exactly ten years ago.

At that time, I was fairly new to CrossFit, just a couple years in, having before then jumped around between all kinds of approaches to working out. I remember, back then, wondering if I’d still be doing CrossFit a decade later, whether I’d still think it was the single best approach to building an exercise practice, the single most intelligent framework for defining and pursuing fitness in the gym and the real world.

Apparently, yes. After twelve years of CrossFit’ing, I’m still loving/hating every WOD, still making progress, and still thinking about the ever-longer list of skills I need to work on over the next ten years ahead.

If you don’t do CrossFit, you should. Whatever your level of fitness, you can jump right in. Seriously. Find a box near you, and go change your life.

CrossFit Open

We’ve learned that harnessing the natural camaraderie, competition and fun of sport or game yields an intensity that cannot be matched by other means. The late Col. Jeff Cooper observed, “the fear of sporting failure is worse than the fear of death.” It is our observation that men will die for points. Using whiteboards as scoreboards, keeping accurate scores and records, running a clock, and precisely defining the rules and standards for performance, we not only motivate unprecedented output, but derive both relative and absolute metrics at every workout.

– Greg Glassman

CrossFit Open, 3.2.1.go.

Sited

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And, still on the Northstar front: we have a new website up that explains a bit more about what we’re up to.

[Relatedly: if you’re an awesome CrossFit coach, or know one, point them to our hiring page. It’s an excellent gig, and we’re staffing up fast.]