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

10896831_322584677936751_5858363420822951479_n
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.]

In the Mood

We’re gearing up for some Northstar build-outs, designing spaces that live up to the coaching, community and the broader member experience we’ve been developing. To that end, some mood boards we’ve pulled together:

Reception:

RECEPTION

Locker Rooms:

LOCKER ROOMS

Workout Space:

GYM SPACE

In short, we’re shooting for ’boutique hotel’ in the entrances and bathrooms, while keeping the WOD spaces to a gritty, industrial, authentically CrossFit feel. Looking forward to seeing them done!

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.

Altum

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.