Sporting Life

One year in high school, I worked as a little league umpire. The kids were great; the parents, terrible. At least every other game, we had to throw a parent out of the park. Swear at me all you want, but swear at a ten year old and you’re gone.

At CFNYC, I get to see grown-up versions of those kids. Some had great experiences, come in the door as competent athletes. But many more show up convinced that they’re just not good at sports at all. Which, invariably, isn’t really the case. After a few weeks of coaching, they start to realize they’re capable of things they never imagined, begin thinking about themselves in totally different ways.

One of our coaches told me that when she went home for Christmas not long after we hired her, she spent most of her week trying to help her confused family make sense of her new job. “I don’t understand,” they’d say. “You coach at a gym? Where people work out? Doing exercise? You?” But, indeed, she does coach at a gym. Very well. And despite growing up believing she was hopeless at anything physical, she’s on her way to becoming a formidable CrossFitter and a competitive Olympic lifter.

The thing I hear most from those athletes, the ones who surprise themselves and everyone else, is that they wish they had figured it out sooner. That they missed out on all kind of experiences, tormented themselves needlessly along the way with that wrong sense of who they were and what they could do. And if you press them a bit further, you can usually trace things back to a handful of bad early experiences. A couple of missed soccer goals with embarrassed parents shaking their heads from the stands.

I thought about that, and about my high school umping experience, when I saw this great article from the Fuller Youth Institute.

As they put it:

Based on psychological research, the three healthiest statements moms and dads can make as [kids] perform are:
Before the Competition:
Have fun.
Play hard.
I love you.
After the competition:
Did you have fun?
I’m proud of you.
I love you.

Along with this gem:

researchers Bruce Brown and Rob Miller asked college athletes what their parents said that made them feel great and brought them joy when they played sports. Want to know the six words they most want to hear their parents say?

“I love to watch you play.”

Great advice for parents and coaches at any age. But an especially good reminder for anyone working with kids in sports, or anyone with kids of their own. It’s all too to easy to forget that what you say and do really can have a lifetime of impact.

Give it a Rest

At an intuitive level, most people assume that if doing something is good, doing even more of it must be better. But when it comes to human bodies, at least, that often doesn’t hold. Taking two Tylenol will cure a headache; taking the whole bottle will kill you. Similarly, doing more and more exercise doesn’t make you more and more fit; at some point, it overtrains you, and instead progressively drives you into the ground.

That’s often difficult for new CrossFitters to grasp, because the total amount of workout time in even a heavy CrossFit training week probably pales in comparison to the amount of hours of working out the same person did pre-CrossFit. Certainly, if you can get on the elliptical for an hour, six days a week, you should be able to do six short WODs, right?

Turns out, you can’t. The very high intensity level of CrossFit WODs necessitates much more recovery time than from more traditional workouts, and there really is a hard limit to how much most people can do each week while still making positive progress.

How much is right for you? Here’s the back-of-the-napkin calculation I use:

Start with 8 WODs a week, which appears to be the upper limit of training for Games-level CrossFit athletes. Then subtract HALF a WOD for each item if you:

  • Don’t sleep 8-9 hours a night in perfect darkness.
  • Don’t eat a 100% clean diet.
  • Have had a drink in the last two weeks.
  • Have taken off time in the last two years due to injury.
  • Have any job stress.
  • Have any personal stress.
  • Have been training CrossFit (without a break) for less than three years.
  • Don’t have a powerlifting and Olympic lifting background of at least five years pre-CrossFit.
  • Are not on steroids.
  • Are over 25.

By these calculations, I should be doing 4 WODs weekly. Which, in fact, is about the number I can sustain for months at a time while still making gains. Try the calculation yourself, and be guided accordingly.

And, as ever, let common sense be your guide. A few years back, a now member of our competition team had been pushing herself very hard for several months straight. One day, she took a bar off the rack, and put plates on the bar. And then she sat down next to it and started crying hysterically. You don’t want to reach that point. If you think you need to take a day – or a week – off, you’re almost certainly right.

By Any Other Name

I was at a breakfast meeting recently with a handful of American colleagues and some visiting Italian investors.

In lieu of bread, the restaurant we ate at served a basket of little blueberry muffins.

“What’s the word for muffin in Italian?” an American colleague asked.

“We don’t have a word for it,” one of the Italians replied.

“Then what would you call this?” she persisted.

“Well,” the Italian said, “I think we would call it ‘cake’.”


Over the past week, several dozen friends and colleagues have asked about my thoughts on “CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret”, a Medium article by Eric Roberston (later republished on HuffPo) about the dangers of rhabdomyolysis in CrossFit.

In short, rhabdo is actually the exact opposite of a ‘dirty little secret’ in CrossFit. Even though it’s a remote possibility, it is a possibility, so CrossFit at a national level, and we at CrossFit NYC, emphasize prevention in all aspects of training and coach certification. More broadly, we (like any responsible gym) cater our beginner classes in every way possible to reduce the chance of injury of any kind, whether it’s a pulled muscle, rhabdo, or even a heart attack.

I also believe the HuffPo article is a bit lacking on broader medical perspective. Rhabdo exists on a spectrum, from minor to serious. And while there have been incidents of rhabdo in the CrossFit world, it is actually much more prevalent and severe in many other workout settings. For example, one study of early stage military recruits (Olerud, et al., “Incidence of acute exertional rhabdomyolysis”) showed that more than 40% have evidence of rhabdo. Another (‘Myoglobinaemia and Endurance Exercise”, American Journal of Sports Medicine) showed that more than half of the finishers of a medium length triathlon had rhabdo, too.

Ironically, it looks like CrossFit’s attempt to educate about and prevent the problem is exactly what got us in trouble. As Robertson points out, “the coach was unusually familiar with what is normally a very rarely seen disorder.” I don’t find it unusual at all that his coach was prepared for even an unlikely problem; I just think that’s what it means to be a professional.

“EMPLOYEES of Neverware, a small tech start-up company in Manhattan, agree that CrossFit reinforces workplace cooperation. “When we were spotting each other on squats, we literally had each other’s backs,” said Daniel Ryan, 22, a software developer and Princeton student who was an intern at the company last year.

Until recently, the Neverware team worked out three times a week at CrossFit NYC. The workouts took place around 3 p.m. — the hour when employees had begun to nod off — and offered a much-needed interruption in 12- to 15-hour workdays. Jonathan Hefter, 27, the C.E.O., said he expected his staff members, then all men, to participate.”

-“We’re One Big Team, So Run Those Stairs”, The New York Times


Recently, I was tapped as the celebrity trainer for an upcoming issue of Seventeen magazine.

As that’s already slightly creepy, I figured I might as well go full out. For the requisite headshot, I grew a child-molester mustache:


Great success!

Congrats Mallory!

Even if you don’t have to wear a swimsuit on national television, you can still get in shape like CrossFit NYC member and newly crowned Miss America, Mallory Hagan.

For anyone dismissing her win strictly to genetics, here’s Mallory two years apart, winning Miss Brooklyn in 2010 and winning Miss New York in 2012:

Turns out, working out works.


[Relatedly, as per the NY Post:

“Mallory was really dedicated. She just decided to get healthier,” her boyfriend, Charmel Maynard, 28, told The Post yesterday. “She did it the right way.”

While she dedicated herself to becoming thinner, she made sure to not set a bad example by getting the waif look through starvation diets, her boyfriend said.

“She did not want to be rail-thin,” Maynard said. “She did it the right way: She did a lot of CrossFit, and she just ate a lot better.”]


When Bob Harper is in New York, he works out at CFNYC. So I turned on Biggest Loser tonight, to see him in action. Hilariously, though Planet “No CrossFitting” Fitness is this year’s sponsor, Harper still managed to sneak in an array of Rogue Fitness equipment, and even wore a Rogue t-shirt for much of the episode. Undercover CrossFit!

But while I enjoyed watching a WOD go down on major network TV, I was more than a bit shocked to see what Harper and the other trainers (particularly Jillian Michaels) put their trainees through for a first workout. Minutes in, several contestants had passed out, vomited or fallen repeatedly off treadmills.

Obviously, that makes great television. (Look! It’s a fat guy being fat!) But it’s a terrible example for people looking to get in shape in 2013.

Over the past eight years of building the country’s largest CrossFit gym, I’ve seen a huge number of people resolve to lose weight. I’ve seen a lot of them pull it off, and I’ve seen a lot disappear, presumably reverting to their old habits. The difference, invariably, is that the people who succeed start slow, and focus all their energy on sustaining their efforts over the long haul.

As I said a few days back, building a habit is about consistency before intensity. If you’ve started out doing two workouts a day, seven days a week, you’re not going to make it to the end of January before you fall off the wagon, no matter how much New Years resolution piss and vinegar you’re full of. Instead, twelve months from now, it’s the people who have found a way to get to the gym three mornings a week, every single week, come hell or high water, who will be forwarding around a picture of themselves standing inside their old, now oversized pants..