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.


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.]

Technical Hires

Back in the 1990’s, during the first internet bubble, there was a real divide in the startup world between the ‘tech people’ and the ‘business people’. Sure, you needed the tech people to actually build the products you were selling; but everyone knew that tech people couldn’t run companies. (The old joke: how can you tell the engineer you’re talking to is an extrovert? He’s looking at your shoes.) That’s why you needed to hire a recent b-school grad, with marketing experience and good hair, to lead the charge.

As early 2000’s stock market returns attest, that didn’t turn out to be a great long-term strategy. Which is why, in the tech world of today, there’s a bias towards founder-run startups. Using lean methodologies, the guys who actually understand what they’re doing build the companies, with little initial capital, retaining control, and growing based on traction with customers and real results. The tech team rules, and smaller-scale acquisitions are even valued by the number of engineers on staff.

In that light, the parallel growth of CrossFit makes a lot of sense, as the affiliate model similarly puts domain experts in the driver’s seat. Consider a Globo Gym, the soul-sister of the failed late–90’s big tech startup: an executive team, bolstered by a ‘coffee is for closers’ sales staff, run the show, while the trainers are treated roughly akin to the cows at a dairy farm – the core leveragable asset, sure, but certainly not a voice at the table. Then along comes CrossFit, with what’s essentially a lean startup approach to the gym business. With a few thousand dollars, an excellent coach can open a garage gym and build organically from those humble roots, keeping technical concerns (ie, good training) at the forefront and making more money (with more autonomy and control) than she did in the Globo world.

But here’s what’s interesting to me: in the tech world, companies like Facebook and Google have grown to huge sizes, while still keeping the technical talent at the forefront. A Google gig post-graduation is a big win for a computer science grad. Yet nothing similar exists in the fitness world. There’s no large-scale company that puts coaching first. There’s no opportunity at an Equinox that looks better than starting your own CrossFit Box.

In fact, even in the CrossFit world, there’s really no long-term career path aside from starting a box of your own. For some people, that’s a great choice. But many others don’t want to deal with running a company – they just want to coach. Much as more top computer science grads choose to take jobs at Apple, Google or Facebook than choose to go it alone and start their own company. So how come there’s no Apple job for the best CrossFit coaches in the world? How come there’s no place for them to get respect, autonomy and control, along with stability, great compensation and long-term career growth propsects?

I’m betting that, if such a place existed, it would quickly attract the very best coaches in the CrossFit world. And, because a gym is only as good as its coaches, that place would quickly clean up. Let’s see what happens.


A few years back, Jess was working as the CMO of a women’s shoes and accessories company that had a store on Elizabeth Street in Soho. Across the way was a store for Terra Plana, a minimalist shoe company that made Paleo-friendly, barefoot-mechanics-inspired footwear.

Philosophically, I loved Terra Plana; I was certain that shoes with a zero-drop, ultra-thin, flexible sole and a toe box wide enough to allow toe splay, would have huge positive health effects on feet, ankles, knees and hips.

But it took Jess just a quick glance through the window to form an even stronger counter-argument: the shoes looked like crap. There was no way I could wear them to work, she declared, and I certainly wouldn’t be wearing them out anywhere with her.

That’s why I was particularly excited to meet Jeff Mroz a year or so back. A fellow Yalie who played football for the Cowboys and the Eagles before heading back to b-school at Wharton, he was working on a handful of interesting projects. Among them, a line of barefoot shoes that actually looked good.

After a year of hard work, the result is Altum, which miraculously appears to be succeeding on both the fashion and function fronts. They’re taking pre-orders now for their first run, and I’d strongly encourage you to check them out.

Flip Flopping

While we’re talking about things to avoid overusing this summer, here’s another for the list: flip-flops.

Sure, they’re lazy, comfortable, and a perennial summer classic.

But they also lead to changes in gait pattern, and screw up the Windlass mechanism of the foot. In turn, that douches up your plantar fascia, and can cause a slew of other potential problems up the kinetic chain (cf., knee pain, hip pain, low back pain). (And if you don’t believe me, listen to Kelly Starrett, the smartest physiotherapist I know, saying the same thing.)

So trash the thongs, pick up a pair of these guys instead, and enjoy summer strolling without paying for it painfully the balance of the year.

Connecting Dots

  1. All of the blood in your body circulates through your eyes about 8 times an hour.
  2. A cutting edge medical treatment involves extracting patient’s blood, and irradiating it with UV light before reinjecting it, to take advantage of UV’s powerful anti-microbial effects.

So what are the odds that wearing sunglasses all summer long is actually short-circuiting an ingenious aspect of your evolved immune system?


Speaking of fitness magazine content, one question I get pinged about a bunch by editors is: what’s the best way to eat for fitness results?

Obviously, that’s a deep rabbit hole, filled with layer upon layer of nutrition science, and wildly extensive protocols designed to juice the last percentage points of performance or appearance by elite competitors.

For most people, however, the answer is simple: PB6, or Paleo Before Six (O’clock). Standing on the shoulders of countless experts much smarter on nutrition than me, this approach synthesizes a whole lot of best practices into a single, easy to implement yet highly effective approach.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Skip breakfast. Have some coffee instead. (If you’re really feeling saucy, you can put butter and/or coconut oil into your coffee.)
  2. Eat strict, low-carb Paleo for lunch and any before–6:00pm snacks. That means meat, seafood, green vegetables, seeds and nuts. If you can tolerate it well, full-fat dairy is good, too.
  3. 3–5 times a week, do a CrossFit workout late afternoon / early evening. Go hard.
  4. If it kicked your ass (i.e., you have the post-WOD shakes), drink some chocolate milk immediately after.
  5. Stuff your face with whatever you want for the balance of the evening.
  6. On the days that you didn’t do a WOD, keep eating low-carb Paleo for the rest of the night.

That’s it.

(And, yes, this is similar to aspects of Leangains, the Warrior Diet, the Renegade Diet, Carb Backloading, the Paleo Diet, eating Primal, etc., etc.)

Do this for a couple of months, and you’ll gain muscle and lose fat without hating your life. It’s not rocket science, but it works.

Lifts for Ladies

Though I don’t often link to them here (as the articles are tough to find online), I sometimes end up sourced as a training expert in publications that range from Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness to Shape, Self and Seventeen.

Usually, what ends up in the magazine is just a few pull quotes, and a workout pictorial based on my recommendations. So I realized I might as well also start cataloguing my full responses to magazine requests here.

Find below, at the request of Health magazine, “seven lady-friendly moves for the weight room.” One great way to learn all seven is to join a CrossFit gym. (I can recommend one!) But if you want to work out at home, or in a gym to which you already belong, the below can certainly get you started.

As is pretty much always the case, these lifts for ladies are also great lifts for guys. If you don’t currently use any of them in your workouts, try them out!


Below, find seven lady-friendly moves for the weight room. I tried to focus in on movements that are easy to learn and to perform safely, but that pack a lot of fitness punch.

In my experience, most women don’t want to look like bodybuilders, so a lot of dude lifting classics (cf., the bicep curl) aren’t great choices. Instead, they’d rather look like athletes, so they should probably train like athletes. Hence the seven movements here, which are core choices I’d use in training someone like a triathlete or pro volleyball player.

Unlike the bicep curl, which is an ‘isolation movement’ (it hits just one muscle), all seven of these are ‘compound movements’, which use a bunch of muscle groups at the same time. Those movements are more effective for building strength that transfers out of the gym and into the real world, and they’re more efficient, as you can get a full-body workout with less movements and therefore in less time.

According to the exercise physiology research, if you’re using weights heavy enough to be safe yet challenging for these moves, you could even do just a single set of 8–10 reps of each movement, two to three times a week, and see solid results.

To the movements!

  1. Goblet Squat. The squat is the king of lifts from an athletic perspective, and there’s no faster way to strengthen and tone your upper legs. Barbell squats (what you normally see in the weight room) are a great movement, but they require real coaching to safely master. The goblet squat is an easy to learn alternative, and can be done with less equipment (either a single dumbbell or a kettlebell), yet still packs a serious punch.Here’s a good article on form.
  2. KB Deadlift.. If the squat is the king of lifts, the deadlift is the queen – and it’s probably the best booty exercise there is. Like the squat, this also hits your upper leg, and it works the muscles in your back and core. Here, too, the barbell version of the lift is a great choice, if you have some good coaching and instruction. However, a kettlebell, or a dumbbell stood on its end (you can hold onto the top of the weight, rather than the handle ), makes an easy to learn but equally effective movement.Two good videos, here and here.
  3. DB Press. To rock a tank top, you need to hit your shoulders and arms, which means pressing. Instead of a bench press, I’d recommend an overhead press, as it’s a much more functional, athletic movement – you’ll be set the next time you’re on a flight, and need to put your bag into the overhead bins!Video.
  4. KB Swing. Kettlebells have become increasingly popular of late, and for good reason: they build explosive athletic power, in a way that transfers to a lot of sports. Done well, a kettlebell swing is about driving with your hips, not about pulling with your arms, so it’s also a great way to work your glutes. And done at higher repetitions, it’s a pretty blazing cardio workout.

    my buddy Tim teaching form.
  5. Pullup. Women tend to psych themselves out about pull-ups, probably because of terrible memories from high school gym class. But, really, women can do pull-ups. We have literally hundreds who can bang out full sets of them at our gym in NYC, and virtually all of them came in the door unable to do a single one. The best way to get pull-ups is: practice doing pull-ups. To make that possible, all you need is a little assistance. If you loop a stretch band (you’ll see these at most gyms and physical therapists’ offices) over the bar, then put stand on the end of the band, you can use it to help boost you up over the bar. Start with as thick of a band as you need, and over time move towards smaller and smaller bands. Soon enough, you’ll be able to rock them without assistance.A good video (with an awesome Australian accent).
  6. Wall Ball. The wall-ball is a fun but deceptively tough exercise: take a medicine ball (in CrossFit workouts, experienced women usually use 14 pound balls, with beginners using 6 or 10 pounders), squat down, and then drive up to throw the ball at a 9-foot-tall target on a wall. Catch the ball, and drop down into a squat to repeat. There’s a great CrossFit workout, named “Karen”, based on simply timing how quickly you can finish 150 wall-balls. (The best women in the world can do it in about 5:00 minutes.)Here’s a classic CrossFit demo video.


  7. Box Jump And, finally, the box jump. This is another great athletic movement that works the muscles of your legs, builds explosive power and provides real cardiovascular challenge when strung together for multiple reps.

    Learn the form here.

As above, you can these as the basis of cardio, not just as strength training, by mixing and matching movements, and then trying to move through them quickly.

For example, set a timer for twenty minutes, and see how many rounds you can do of 10 KB Swings and 10 Wall Balls in that time.

Or start a stopwatch, and see how fast you can do a workout like:

50 Goblet Squats
40 KB Deadlifts
30 Box Jumps
20 DB Presses
10 Pull-Ups

Bam! Fitness!

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.