Category Archives: CrossFit

The rise of boutique fitness classes and gym culture.

As a CSCS I am good at what I do which is prepare athletes for their sports. I know what progressions need to happen for youth athletes and I know what programs need to be implemented for older athletes.   That doesn’t mean that I am not still learning and implemented new principles as situations arise. It also doesn’t mean that I am not open to new ideas and suggestions. As a fitness enthusiast I have run several marathons, half marathons, obstacle races, and the like. I have done kickboxing, yoga, and boot camp classes. I currently do CrossFit and enjoy it quite a bit. I love the fact that there are so many classes for fitness enthusiasts such as myself to choose from.  However, as a strength and conditioning specialist all of these specialty classes that keep popping up create mixed messages for athletes.   Sometimes the messages come from YouTube and social media where everybody is an expert. Sometimes the athlete’s parents go to a class and love it so they influence their children to attend. We happen to live in an area where there are lots of high process fitness optons. Things like Barre Mathod, Bari, Soul Cycle, CrossFit, SLT, OrangeTherory, Pilates, PowerFlow Yoga,, and the list goes on and on. I am not saying these are not great classes for general fitness. I am saying that they are not for athletes. Athletes need to train for a purpose with a specific goal in mind. Most often that goal is a combination of strength and/ or speed. Strength and Speed are the two most important factors in determining overall athleticism. At Inception not only will they get the program in place to help them reach their goals they will also get a program that reduces injuries. If an athlete is not on the field then nothing else matters and with the rise of year round sports injures happen at a higher and higher rate among youth athletes.   There are things that can be implemented to help reduce that risk. I incorporate ACL tear reduction drills as part of my warm up for all my athletes.   When baseball players come in I always work on arm care. The shoulder is such a complicated joint that you need to give it specific attention in order to reduce the chances of an injury. The one thing that the entire specialty classes have in common is they are group classes. When you have a group setting you automatically will not get the attention you need because everyone in the class is doing the same thing. It doesn’t matter if you are a baseball player, a soccer player, or someone coming off an injury. If you are an athlete it is in your best interest to find a qualified CSCS to work with to get better for your sport and not just rely on general fitness classes or personal trainers.

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Spartan Race Super Mountain Creek, NJ

I just ran the Spartan race super at Mountain Creek in Vernon, NJ and it was every bit the challenge I was expecting and more, I am not sure what I was expecting considering it is a race on a ski slope called MOUNTAIN Creek but I have to admit there were times I thought it was too difficult. But at the end it was exactly the physical challenge I wanted and often need to prove my fitness level.

Spartan Race

The race was very well run. When I got o Mountain Creek I had no problem finding parking and there were plenty of buses to take me immediately to the starting area. If I do have one complaint it is that I it was so well organized that I didn’t need to be there an hour and a half before my race time like the website suggested.   After getting there I checked my bag, which was 10 dollars and enjoyed the atmosphere while the opening climb just past the starting line taunted me. There was plenty of water for the racers and bathrooms as well. The area was very muddy but I suppose that can’t be helped because of the downpour the day before. During the race there were plenty of people guiding you where to go and sometimes how to complete an obstacle. I maybe could have used a few more water stops but there were at least 4 on the course. When the race ended it was a smooth finish when I got my medal, my t shirt, and of course my free beer and then was directed to the hoses to hose myself off from all the mud and filth I had gathered on the course. At the festival areas there were cool spots to take pictures, plenty of reasonably prices Spartan race apparel, and food and rink to go around. It was the easiest and stress free obstacle race I have done from an organizational standpoint.

The race itself was anything but easy and stress free. But before I get into the course itself let’s talk about my preparation. I signed up for this race probably about 6 months ago. I always like to do a fall race because it allows me the summer to train. Then a few months after signing up I kind of forgot about it. The friends and co-workers who were thinking of doing it with me bailed out one by one so I kind of put it on the backburner.   Not to say that I was out of shape. I just didn’t directly train for a Spartan race. Although looking back now I am not sure anyone can train to conquer the terrain that Mountain Creek provided.   I decided my summer was going to be spent following Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 program plus doing CrossFit a few times a week. t did increase my squat by 15 pounds, my deadlift by 25 pounds. and my bench by 10 pounds.     That is quite a lofty workout regimen but doing a max squat or deadlift doesn’t exactly help me climb a rope or scale a wall. I like to think I am always in pretty good shape. In fact, the last two challenged I have done I didn’t really train for. Last October I ran a half marathon with zero to no training. The Spartan race if you don’t know is a 8.8 mile trek through rough terrain with obstacles along the way. The ideal Spartan racer is probably lean, quick, and able to cover ground quickly but also is very strong particularly in his or her upper body compared to their body weight. Think Ninja Warrior with much better cardio. Pretty much all my weak spots when I do CrossFit. I am a heavier guy who struggles with the rope climbs, pull-ups, muscle ups, and things like that.   But, as I preach to my athletes you can’t just accept the challenges that you are good at. You have to be able to attack and conquer your weaknesses as well. So I went for it.

The race itself was very challenging particularly the hills and the rough terrain. The very beginning of the race there was a hype guy who got us all pumped up and we ran through smoke to start the race and I ran about halfway up this giant mountain then it hit. The walking begins. The run turned into more of a hike. The fact that it poured the day before probably didn’t help. To be honest there wasn’t that much running throughout which kept the race quite slow. The uphills were too daunting to run and the downhills were just as steep with rocks and mud that you couldn’t really run those either. There was one long section of some good trail running which was challenging but manageable and that was actually quite fun. I haven’t trail run in a while but it reminded me of Lewis Morris Park in Morristown where I used to trail run all the time. It was up and down with rocks and tree roots Trail running has a totally different style than road running. You can never zone out or you might find yourself face first in a pile of mud and rocks.   There were probably 5 severe climbs where running was not an option except for the elite’s I suppose. Let’s put it this way, I didn’t see anyone running around me. The obstacles themselves were challenging in their own right. Some of them I surprised myself with how well I did it. The traverse rope I have never done before so being able to do that with no problem was a lot of fun. I went for the supine approach. Then there was the typical scaling of different sized walls. Some were harder than others. On one of the bigger walls a fellow Spartan helped me get over by letting me use his knee to get a boost. Being only 5’9 and my shoes and socks weighed down with mud and water didn’t allow me to get the vertical enough to get up and over the large wall.   There were several mud pits culminating in one where you had to go under a wall underneath the mud which of course they had a photographer waiting as you popped up on the under side. Smile!

Spartan 5

There were carrying challenges as well. The atlas stone carry was a fun one where you had to pick up an 80 pound atlas stone covered in mud then carry it about 15 yards. Do 5 burpees and repeat. The Log carry was similar but more challenging. I noticed some of the logs had holes cut out for grips and some did not. Of course mine did not. Mine was also a lot thicker rather than longer which didn’t allow me to put it on my shoulder like some other people did. It wouldn’t fit. I had to carry this heavy ass log in front of me fatiguing my biceps the whole time. Of course right after the log carry was the sandbag pulley. Those two directly after each other was cruel and unusual punishment. I attempting the pulley but with the combination of my hands being wet, my grip and biceps being shot I couldn’t quite get it up. I teamed with another Spartan who as a team we were able to get the sandbag all the way up and down. Thank God Spartans stick together. The two consecutive obstacles right after each other seemed to be a theme for this course because another extremely challenging set happened earlier ion the race. The first was the stone carry. Basically you had to fill up a large bucket with stones. Had to be above the holes punched on the top inch of the box they said. Then you had to carry the bucket up a large hill and turn around. This was extremely difficult. I was forced to put the bucket down several times.

Spartan Race

At the bottom of the hill you dumped the bucket out back into the pile with your forearms and hands throbbing they sent you right to the vertical rope climb. Not only were my hands dying and my arms shot but now we immediately had to jump into waist deep water and climb a rope. I can do a rope climb no problem. This rope even had knots in it which made it much easier. But again the course got me here. Jumping out of water to climb a wet rope was just too much. I actually got about halfway up but just couldn’t go any further. If I had sat there for 10 minutes or so I could have gotten it but I didn’t want to hold everyone up who was waiting behind me. So I jumped out of the water, did my 30 burpees and moved on. Just when I thought it was time for a little running to give my hands a rest next up was the true Ninja Warrior special. Climbing horizontal on a wall with little sections for your hands and feet. Think rock climbing wall but instead of moving up you are moving sideways. I took about 4 falls on this one but since there weren’t a lot of people behind me I eventually got it. I was pretty pumped because I surprised myself on this one. Once that was over my hands felt like curled up balls on knotted muscle.

Spartan Race 2

There was one more obstacle again where I surprised myself. It was a large up and over wall. The bottom section was a flat wall then above that there were horizontal beams. I knew I could get up and over the beams but the wall was high and at this point I wasn’t sure I had the energy or the grip strength to get up there. I sat for about 2 minutes watching others then finally made my jump and on the first try got up and over. I was pumped about that one. That’s why these races are so much fun because you get challenged and end up doing things you didn’t think you could. There were a lot more obstacles and stumbles along the way. Of the 25 obstacles I was unable to do 4 of them and on two others I got help from another Spartan. The 30 burpee penalty for each failed attempt was not fun but sometimes saved me time. The last major uphill then down was soul crushing. It ended basically where the ski lift drops off skiers. This ended up with the best view of the course. I actually stopped for a second partly because I sucking wind but also because I wanted to take in the view from the highest part on the course and enjoy it for a second. That last downhill was brutal. It was a decent of loose rocks and gravel, which made my quads burn like never before. I saw several people wipe out and one man actually just take a seat. After all that there was only about 50 yards on crawling under barbed wire on mud and more rocks down another hill to get to the finish. Of course there was the last obstacle of the hanging rings, which I got two rings deep and had to bail out. 30 burpees later I was able to jump over the fire logs and pose for my picture as best I could and it was over.

Spartan 4

The course took me 4 hours and twelve minutes. If you had told me before it started that the 8.8 mile Spartan race would take more almost 20 minutes longer than it took me to run the New York City Marathon I would never have believed it. I might not have taken on the challenge. However, sometimes that’s where greatness lies, going into all challenges blindly and dealing with the next obstacle in front you one at a time until you are finished. Would I do it again? I don’t think I would attempt it again without training specifically for it. I feel like I could do the sprint but as I sit here two days later with my entire body still sore I wouldn’t say I would attempt it again in such a manner. Is this my last Spartan Race? Absolutely not!   I now have a base of knowledge and know what it takes. I have a time to beat and a goal for next time. I will be back! Arooo!

Spartan 10

Spartan Race

Many of you know that I started doing Crossfit almost two years ago now and I love it.  It’s totally addicting and fun and it pushed me to where I would never quite be able to push myself on my own.  Some of you might also now that I have run three marathons.  Baltimore 2012, New York 2013 and 2014.  Well if you’ve never heard of a Spartan race it kind of marries those two passions of mine.  It is a race but it is much more than a race.  It involves treacherous obstacles that challenges you physically, mentally, and spiritually. If Crossfit is the sport of fitness than a Spartan Race is it’s proving grounds.  Yes Crossfit has the Crossfit games but that is the elite of the elite.  Anyone can sign up for a Spartan Race and really see what you are made of.  From the average Joe to Navy Seals there is a Spartan Race for you.  In Fact, I will be doing my first Spartan Race Super in two weeks at Mountain Creek, NJ  Look for more  to come when I recap that event in two weeks.  Back to the Spartan Racing series.

The Spartan race was voted the # 1 obstacle race by Outside magazine. In a Spartan Race you can expect running, rope climbs, crawling, tire flips, mud, ponds, mud, hills, scaling walls ala Ninja Warrior, mud, carrying sandbags, mud, inverted wall climbs, barbed wire, fire,mud, and just general cool shit.  It’s an adult playground to say the least.  For some people this sounds like hell on earth but for people like me this sounds like a day full of fun.  Where else can you challenge yourself to these extremes and put yourself in real world situations at the same time creating a bond with a group of friends that will last a lifetime.  There is a saying that those who suffer together bond together. CrossFit does that for a lot of people and so does the Spartan Race.   Get out of the gym and complete a Spartan Race with your buddies.  Right now on the Sparta Race website they are offering a 15% discount with the code LABORDAY.  If this video doesn’t get you inspired I don’t know what will.

 

Spartan race is also trying to promote a few upcoming events.  First is the Spartan Race world championships which take place in Killington Vermont on September 20th.  This will air on NBC Sports.  Look on your channel guide to find an airtime near you.  This is the extreme version of what you and your buddies will be doing but many of the same obstacles but done at a ridiculous pace and with more severe consequences.  If you want to see some of the world’s most well rounded athletes doing crazy stunts while tackling a 14 mile course with elevations of 12,000 feet then tune in.

unnamed_1 World-Championship-A-Frame

 

The other cool thing that Spartan Race is trying to do is a Spartan cruise.  If you’re like me and fitness is your passion and your lifestyle than maybe you would want to go on a fitness based vacation.  This cruise leaves out of Miami and you will most certainly have the experience of a lifetime.  Anyone who is interested in the cruise can fill out the form below and you will be entered into a raffle for a free cruise with airfare included courtesy of Jerseystrong and Spartan Race.  http://bit.ly/spartancruisegiveaway

 

 

What I Eat Now

The one thing that people ask me the most is what I eat.  The last time I wrote a post about what I eat was over a year ago.  I often will look for ways to improve my diet or make small changes to hopefully create some big results.  In the past year I quit drinking Diet Coke completely and I have adopted a “eat real food” mentality with my diet.  In my last post. Things I Eat,  I spoke about how I really monitor my diet during the week and then on the weekends I let go a little bit.  I still do that.  Before you all think that I am crazy I am a man of habits and almost every Saturday morning you can find me at the Swiss Chalet in Morristown having coffee and donuts before I go for my run.  I also have dessert with Saturday dinner most weeks. However, monday-friday I adhere to a strict calorie allotment and then Saturday is a cheat day and often Sunday Dinner is a cheat meal as well.  I try to eat for fuel 80% of the time and eat for enjoyment 20% of the time.  That being said I never eat anything that I don’t like.  I look forward to eating and I really enjoy everything I eat but I save the things like sweets for my cheat days.  One of the differences between what I eat now and what I ate then is my focus on eating real foods.  Nothing from a box or a bag.  Basically my motto is if it has a label it is a product and not a food.  In that previous blog I listed things like frozen meals, fast food items such as Dunkin Donuts egg white sandwiches, chips and salsa, greek yogurt, and many other things that I no longer eat.  My old mind set was that as long as I stay under my calories the food doesn’t matter.  Now, I don’t think of food as a diet but as fuel for my lifestyle.  I work out quite a bit and without proper nutrition that would not be possible.  The other switch that I have made is my protein requirements.  My goal is one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. When I wrote that last article protein wasn’t really a concern.  Since I ran the NYC Marathon in November I have cut down on the running quite a bit and been focused more on CrossFit. I still run on the weekends but primarily focus on speed and hill work rather than distance. Nutrition is about abundance and not deprivation.  In order to fuel my current workout style the protein is a major concern as well as good carbohydrate options around my workouts.  Things that I have cut out of my diet completely (Monday through Friday) are cheese, milk, soda, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and anything processed.  Because of my extremely busy schedule and time constraints I do buy frozen vegetables and pre-cooked proteins but I make sure to read the labels.  Frozen spinach needs to have one ingredient only.  Spinach!  Not all of them do.  There are a few items I will also buy in jars and boxes but I have a 5 ingredient rule.  If it has more than 5 ingredients I don’t buy it.  Another rule that I have is that I use spices to flavor food and not sauces.  Sauces have excess calories and are often heavy cream or flour based.  StoneWall Kitchen has a great Salsa Verde that I use a lot on all types of meats.  It has only 4 ingredients which is a much better option than Tostitos salsa.  Basically it is tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro pureed.  Just how you would make fresh salsa at home.  I buy Organic produce whenever I can and I am not afraid of fat.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter (JoeLopez55) you know that I often write about how sugar is the enemy when it comes to diet and health and not fat.  The worst thing for dietary fat is that it is called fat and people associate it with body fat.  I eat butter and eggs every day and steak and avocados once a week.  When I make vegetables I often cook them in bacon fat or use butter to flavor them.  My macronutrient goals are 40% fats, 35% carbohydrates, and 25% protein.  I am up 10 pounds since I ran the marathon on November 3rd but my body fat percentage has stayed the same.  I want to lost about 3 percent body fat so I am in the process of making another adjustment and experimenting with some other diet changes but more on that another day.

Here is a sample day of eating for me:

Breakfast:

5 eggs, 3 cups Kale, 3 slices Bacon, One Sweet Potato, 2 pats Butter, Double Espresso, Stevia

Lunch: 

Protein Coffee courtesy of Sparta Nutrition Store.

Dinner:

Grilled Salmon no skin 8 oz, Salsa Verde, 1 cup of Spinach, 1 cup of pureed Winter Squash, 2 pats Butter, Double Espresso, Stevia

After Dinner: 

Homemade Chia Bar, Protein Shake 2 scoops Optimum Nutrition, 1 Orange.

Totals:

Calories                          2,283

Carbohydrates            175 grams

Fat                                   98 grams

Protein                        189 Grams

Fiber                             42 grams

Sugar                            59 grams

 

 

 

Marathon training week 3

This was a strange week. First of all a heat wave hit NJ.

As you can see this heat wave was no joke. 95 degrees every day with high humidity. My strategy was pretty simple. Drink abnormal amounts of water all day long. Run at night usually around 7:00 p.m. When running I make sure I bring water with me. I love my handheld amphibian water bottle. It cradles my hand and I don’t feel like I am going to drop it. My other secret weapon is my cool towel. You may have seen this towel advertised on TV. You wet it, rinse it, then snap it and it cools around your neck. I just tucked it into my neck under my shirt and it was nice and cool on my neck.
For two of my runs on the hottest days I went to Loantaka Park which is a paved trail with a lot of tree cover. That kept me out of the sun. My times were pretty good considering the heat. I made a point to run flat routes this week. It also helped me that this was a scale back week. For my long run I scaled back after two weeks of progress. Last weekend I did 7 miles and this weekend only 5. What does everyone else do during a heat wave? Tell me in the comments.

Monday: Crossfit
Tuesday: 3 miles easy pace and 9 mile bike ride.
Wednesday: 4 miles
Thursday: 3 miles and Crossfit
Friday: 15 mile bike ride
Saturday: Off
Sunday: 5 miles

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Marathon Training week 1

Week 1 of 16 weeks of training was interesting to say the least.  Of course we are in the middle of a heat wave here in NJ so 95 degree temperatures with 80% humidity felt like a kick in the stomach.  I am loosely following Hal Higdon’s marathon program.  When I first looked at week 1 my thoughts were this is going to be easy.  I am in pretty good shape after having never really stopped running since last year’s NYC Marathon was canceled.  The only thing I need to start doing is log more miles and run more often.  In the “Off-Season” I typically run once or twice a week and usually on the weekends.  With this program the miles and the pace don’t scare me but the 4 days a week I need to get used to.

The plan:  Week 1:

Monday.  Crossfit

Tuesday 3 miles easy pace. 8:40 a mile. This turned out to be no problem.  The heat wave didn’t kick in at this point yet.

Wednesday 3 miles easy pace. 8:41 a mile.  Crossfit at night. Again no problems here.

Thursday.  Bike ride 12 miles

Friday was supposed to be another 3 miles run but I ended up not doing it.  My wife misplaced something which led to a 4 hour search that ended at 9 oclock at night but that’s a story for another day. Turned out to be an off day.

Saturday was where things got dicey. The heat wave kicked in.  Even at 9 a.m. it was already hot and very humid.  I decided to join the Morristown Running Company’s group run.  I have done this in the past and enjoyed it.  They do a 5 miles run and my plan was to do another mile on my own after for the 6 I was supposed to run.  Keep in mind I just ran 7 miles last weekend at about an 8:30 pace no problems.  At about mile 3 I literally felt like I was going to puke.  It was a brutally tough run.  All types of things are going through my head now.  Things like I am too heavy.  I am 8 pounds up from this point last year.  CrossFit and biking is just too hard on my legs.  I was able to gut out 4.5 miles at a 9:30 pace but I had some thinking to do.  I can’t remember the last time my pace was over 9 minutes a mile.  Maybe Mile 23 of the 2011 Baltimore Marathon.

Sunday.  3 miles still super hot and humid and I finished at a 9:04 minute a mile pace.  That is still slow and my legs felt heavy but it wasn’t quite as bad as the day before.

All in all I am going to forget about week 1 and chalk it up to unusual heat.  I went back and looked at last July when I was training for NYC and it seems like I ran at night more often.  7 or 8 o’clock right before the sun goes down so I may try that for some cooler temperatures.  Week 1 is in the books and already the mental battle begins. But I still have a smile on my face because it is summer and most of my days are spent like this.

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CrossFit Transformation.

I am now 6 weeks into CrossFit. I decided to take measurements before I started which would help me determine just how effective CrossFit was for body composition and overall fitness. While I knew that CrossFit felt different than what I was previously doing I didn’t quite know how much change would occur in just 6 weeks.
CrossFit preaches a Paleo diet which is the eat like a Caveman approach. All organic meats and fresh veggies and fruits only. No processed foods, no carbs, no sugars, no beans, and no dairy. I didn’t quite adopt the Paleo diet completely but I am slowly trying to get there as much as possible. What I have done is increase my protein intake dramatically. I was always focused on just the number of calories that I eat and trying to keep that number to help me maintain my weight. I wasn’t necessarily focused on what foods I was putting into my body. This diet helped me lose 90 pounds and it also helped me maintain that weight loss for 7 years. However, in the last 6 weeks I have been attempting to get a good 40,30,30 split. 40% protein, 30% carbs, and 30% fat. My goal now is to get 200 grams of protein a day and also particularly after a CrossFit workout to have a a protein shake with 40 grams immediately after. I stopped eating cheese, yogurt, and bread which were staples of my diet for a while. I still use Saturday and Sunday Dinners as cheat meals. I allowed myself to to eat whatever I wanted on these days. I used to eat a lot of fast food which was light on calories. I often ate dunkin donuts flat bread egg whites and things like that. Now, I am basically eating salads, chicken, eggs, vegetables, and a lot of Think Thin protein bars which I love. I also eat edamame and dried peas and lots of fruit.
My workouts these days are CrossFit twice a week, one other day a week at regular weight room which is mostly abs and core and 2 runs a week consisting of 3-6 mile runs. In about another month my runs will becomes more frequent and also more intense as the weather gets better. I am running the NYC Marathon this year so I decided to only do CrossFit twice a week so that I have enough time to train for that.
So just 6 weeks into CrossFit at only twice a week:
My weight went from 188-192. I gained 4 pounds. If I was just using a scale as my measuring tool I would not be happy. But let’s look at my other measurements.
My neck went from 15 to 15.25
My waist went from 37 to 35.5
My Hips went from 40 to 39.5
My Body Fat percentage went from 22-20%
My Chest went from 44 to 42.75
My Chest and Shoulders went from 52 to 52.5
And the most amazing number is my thighs went from 18 to 22.5.

I gained 4.5 inches in my legs in 6 weeks. Wow! I knew Crossfit was very leg heavy and I could feel my legs becoming stronger but to gain 4.5 inches was crazy. If you look at all of my numbers everything went down but my shoulders and my legs went up. This is reason number one that you can’t just use a scale as your measurement tool. I can’t wait to see how these numbers continue to change as I get more and more into my CrossFit workouts and also as I start to run more in preparation of the Marathon. The latest research shows that CrossFit increases Vo2 max which will help my oxygen uptake and I think if I take care of my body and recover properly I expect great things from my marathon times. So far CrossFit is a success and I am very happy with it.