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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!

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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!

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How to pick the right gym for you. (The athlete)

In order to be athletic you have to train athletic. Training at or near your 1RM all the time doesn’t develop explosiveness or athleticism.   While maximal strength is important and is a prerequisite for power as an athlete I would not stay in that phase for too long. Instead spend a good amount of time around 60-80 % of your 1RM and think about exploding out of the amortization phase of a lift into the concentric phase. I would also choose exercises that allow you to display athleticism in a coordinated manner. Things like cleans, snatches, kettlebell swings, box jumps, plyometrics, agility work, and clapping pushups allow you to be fast while using your body in an efficient and coordinated way. These exercise because they are fast and explosive also require a great deal of core stability, which translates into on-field movements.

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As an athlete I would look for the following things when choosing a gym.

  1. Open Space: The more cluttered the gym is with fixed range of motion machines the less likely it is to produce any sort of athleticism. You are not in physical therapy. You are training for sport performance. Agility work is a skill that can be taught and developed and you need space to work on it.
  1. Qualified coaches: CSCS is the top of the line when it comes to programming and exercise selection. Pick up any magazine or read any article on sports performance and the writer is most likely to have the CSCS credentials after his name.
  1. Bumper plates: In order to attempt cleans and snatches you have to be willing to fail at an attempt. If you are always worried about dropping the weights you will never get out of your comfort zone and never grow.
  1. Kettlebells: The Kettlebell is one of my favorite pieces of equipment. Give me a kettlebell and I can give you a total body workout that will have you out of breath and lying in a pool of your own sweat.
  1. Energy: If the gym feels like a place where people are miserable you don’t want to be there. The gym should be fun. People should be pushing themselves and each other. There should be music and there should be a palpable energy inside the walls.

Is Crossfit the best way to train for your sport?

Let me start by saying that this is not an article bashing crossfit. If you want one of those there are plenty online for you to find. I love crossfit. I do crossfit. I think crossfit has upped the game for the average Joe who wants to bring his or her fitness to the next level. No other fitness movement has gotten so many people to train with high intensity like crossfit.
This article is about training for a sport and why you need a qualified strength and conditioning specialist. Crossfit sells Constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements. Those are great attributes for your average person who wants to get into the best shape of their life. I can honestly say that since I started crossfit I am stronger than I have ever been.
My point is that crossfit is not for athletes. People who do crossfit do crossfit to get better at crossfit. Crossfit will even tell you that it is not a workout but a sport itself.
When you are training for a sport you have to consider things like metabolic conditioning. Would a golfer really benefit from crossfit? The workouts would be too high intense while risking injury so the risk vs reward just would not be there. Another thing that you need to consider when training for a sport is when your season is. A qualified CSCS will emphasis the proper phases of training so that you peak going into your season. Typically there will be a strength – endurance phase, a strength phase, a power phase, and a tapering period. Crossfit kind of throws all of those phases into all of their workouts. If you do 4 crossfit style workouts then you probably will develop all of those aspects in a short amount of time. The last thing that you need to consider is which exercises are contraindicated. Every athlete is different and every sport is different and every position within that sport is different. Without considering the individual you can’t program properly for him or her. Crossfit creates programs for the masses. Don’t get me wrong, thee are quality coaches within crossfit that can help you scale down but at the end of the day you are doing the same workout as everyone else that day. Rule number one of being a strength coach is keep your players on the field. Because of that the industry has shifted towards injury prevention with screening like FMS and corrective exercises to alleviate imbalances and asymmetries. The last thing a strength coach will consider is the player’s sport. A baseball players because of the overhead throwing will have a vastly different workout program than a lets say a football linemen.
In the end training is supposed to help you perform on the field. The field is not in the gym. As it said it last month’s Men’s Health, “big biceps don’t mean better trainer.” Go to NSCA.com to find a trainer near you. Then when your playing days are over join crossfit and maybe I’ll see you at next year’s open!

My Top 100 Diet Tips

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Here are my top 100 Diet and Nutrition Tips.  Some are thing you should never eat like fried foods and bagels.  Some are my top supplements for a healthy lifestyle like fish oil.  Some are things you should add to your diet like spicy foods and sweet potatoes.  Some are just general tips for weight maintenance and metabolism like get 8 hours of sleep a night.  How many of my top 100 do you currently follow?  Let me know in the comments.

 

1.  What can you add to your diet not what you can subtract
2.  Read Labels!
3. 5 ingredients or less
4. Organic fruits and veggies
5.  Eat for fuel 80 percent of the time and for fun 20 percent.  80/20 rule.
6.  Only eat foods you like
7.  No processed carbs.  Bread, pasta, 
8.  Fats are your friend
9.  Eat for your activity level
10.  Vegetables should be 2/3 of your plate
11.  The more colors the better
12.  Buy in season fruits and veggies
13.  In season Fruits and Veggies are cheaper
14. Learn how to cook
15.  Only Buy what you need for the week.
16.  If it’s not in your house you won’t eat it
17.  Sugar is the enemy
18.  Use spices not sauces for flavor
19.  Salsa is a the king of all condiments 
20.  Food is fuel
21.  Beware marketing claims.  Fat Free does not mean healthy
22.  If it has a label it’s a product and not a food
23.  Real Food goes bad
24.  Spicy food helps your metabolism
25.  1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.  No questions
31.  Order salad dressing on the side
32.  Always leave something on your plate
33.  When you are done eating cover food with a napkin
34.  Drink lots of water
35.  Always have Protein for breakfast
36.  Supplement with Fish Oil
37.  You don’t need Milk
38.  Fresh Juice only
39.  Don’t drink your calories.  Shoot for less than 200 calories a day from drinks.
40.  Eat Slowly
41.  Fruits in Moderation
42. Drink coffee
43.  Don’t drink Lattes or cappuccino’s
44.  Eggs are not bad for you
45.  Eat foods in their natural state.  Whole eggs and not just egg whites
46.  Mustard instead of Mayo
47.  If a label has ingredients you can’t pronounce then don’t eat it.
48.  No Diet Cola
49.  Low Calories doesn’t mean healthy
50.  Protein shakes are for after workouts
51.  Never diet at parties or holidays
52.  Eat at home most of the time
53.  Never eat in your car
54.  NO FAST FOOD.  EVER!
55.  Try everything
56.  Read Health magazines
57.  Follow healthy people on Instagram and Twitter.  Twitter.com/JoeLopez55
58.  Eat for health and not looks
59.  Educate yourself
60.  Love Food
61.  Be prepared to spend extra money
62.  Don’t eat fried food
63.  Never go grocery shopping hungry
64.  Shop the perimeters of the grocery store
65.  Choose Oils wisely
66.  Darker is better than lighter
67.  We are all habitual eaters.  Learn your habits
68.  Don’t eliminate food groups
69.  Eat.  Don’t Diet
70.  Just because meat is on sale doesn’t mean you should buy it
71.  Once a month don’t eat meat
72.  Think Natural.  Ice Cream not frozen yogurt
73.  Have a go to snack
74.  Plan.  Don’t improvise
75.  Fat, Protein, and Carbs at every meal
76.  Drink a large glass of water first thing when you wake up
77.  Avocados are a great snack
78.  Almonds can compliment almost any sweet
79.  Not all veggies are created equal
80.  Weigh yourself in the morning
81.  Don’t eat cereal
82.  Light doesn’t mean healthy
83.  Know the difference between being full and being not hungry
84.  Mix up your proteins
85.  Eat for variety to satisfy your senses
86.  Leave the candy for the kids
87.  Set short and long term goals
88.  Buy fresh as much as possible
89.  Grill meats to save calories
90.  Don’t eat bagels
91.  Prep meals on the weekends
92.  No cream based soups or sauces
93.  No appetizers at restaurants
94.  Beware of hidden sugar
95.  Sweet Potatoes are the ultimate carbohydrate
96.  Be creative with your protein shake recipes
97.  Do your own grocery shopping
98.   Vitamin D supplement in the winter
99.  No artificial sweeteners
100. Get 8 hours sleep a night 

Spartan Race World Championship

We are seeing the race world evolve in front of our eyes. For years there were 5k’s, half marathons, and marathons to test our endurance and stamina.  But why are people putting in hours at the gym just to see the benefits go to waste.  Yes some of us work out for aesthetics but that can only take you so far or motivate you to do so much.  Some of us work out to feel accomplished and to feel able.  We are able to lift things.  We are able to climb things.  We are able to throw things.  We are able to prove our endurance at the same time as proving our strength and at the same time as proving our mental toughness.  The reality is running for 4 hours straight is not a useful skill that we can use.  In real life you will need endurance, strength, stamina, and the ability to use your body in every way possible.  If the shit hits the fan so to speak and the zombie apocalypse is upon us obstacle races are your battle field.  Ok so maybe the zombie apocalypse is a stretch but if you want something awesome and badass to train for to get a feeling of accomplishment like you have never had before start training for a Spartan Race today.

 

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Many of you know that I started doing Crossfit almost a year ago.  Crossfit defines itself as High Intensity, Constantly varied, Functional movements.  Basically there are no single joint isolated movements.  Instead of machines your body is the machine.  This is how our bodies move in the real world.  Never in life will you have to extend your knee without also extending your hip. Our bodies move as a unit and not as a series of isolated muscular contractions.  The Spartan Race is Crossfit brought to life.  Taking all the skills and improvements that you have made from Crosffit and utilizing it in an obstacle course setting.  If you want to add motivation to your workouts try signing up for a Spartan Race.  I would suggest doing it with a group of friends.  Many Spartans work together as teams to get through the course.  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.

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.  If any JerseyStrong subscribers are interested in doing a Spartan Race use this link to get a 15% discount http://bit.ly/spartanwarrior.

To see the Spartan race course in all it’s glory then tune in on December 7th on NBC sports to see the Spartan Race world championships.  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.  Watch with your friends or Crossfit buddies then sign up for your own race using the link above.  

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As an added bonus for JerseyStrong subscribers anyone who comments on this blog post will be entered into a raffle to receive a FREE entry into a Spartan Race in 2013-2014.  That is a 95.00 value for FREE just for commenting on this blog post.  I do ask that you also share this with any friends you think may be interested. Retweet it or e-mail it a friend and don’t forget to watch the World Championship Spartan Race on December 7th. 

 

My Summer in Health and Fitness

It’s back to school time for this teacher.  We started today with an in-service for all teachers so I thought I would recap my summer in health and fitness.  As always I am up to something and always trying to improve my overall health and fitness lifestyle.  This summer I added two new things into my fitness routine.  One was biking.  The other was CrossFit.   I also made a few dietary changes that I hope I can continue into the school year.   

Biking was so much fun.  I just really enjoyed getting on my bike and exploring new streets and riding through town and just enjoying being outside on a summer day.  My longest ride was 20 miles but I found that a nice 10 mile bike ride is just a nice and comfortable distance for me right now.  I am sure next summer will include more biking but with my marathon training it made it tough to not overdo it.  I also learned that I need to monitor my tire pressure so that I don’t get flats.  That probably would have been useful information ahead of time but live and learn.  

CrossFit has been great as well.  By great I mean that most days I leave there feeling like I am just useless.  For me I like having a goal or something to train for so when I am not good at something or not one of the better ones in the classes I enjoy it.  I do have to say that I have gotten slowly better and more comfortable with the workouts.  I incorporated almost all of the movements and lifts into my previous workout routines but not at that high repetition rate or that high intensity.  I really can’t wait until after the NYC Marathon to see what I can do when I completely throw myself into CrossFit and not try to serve two masters by running a marathon at the same time as I am cross-fitting.  

Other things I tried to improve my overall health were quitting certain foods. Since losing close to 100 pounds 8 years ago I kind of adopted a eat this not that philosophy.  I am always looking for small switches that I can do to improve my diet.   Perhaps the biggest was diet soda.  For everyone who knows me they know I was for years a diet coke guy.  Yes I always drank plenty of water but I had to have my diet coke with a meal.  I would maybe drink two or three a day.  I went cold turkey and to be honest I don’t even miss it.  Even though there are no calories in diet coke there are just too many studies that show how bad it is for you.  I do wonder how I will keep that up after going back to work and losing out on the caffeine.  My beverages now include coffee, water, iced tea, and beer and thats about it.  

The other things I did this summer was try to eat clean.  Or at least an 80/20 rule for eating clean.  I still have my mandatory cheat meals which are usually Saturday night dinner and one meal on Sunday.  By eating clean I mean nothing out of a box.  I grilled some meat almost every day for dinner and ate plenty of vegetables.  A typical day of eating for me this summer went something like this:

Snack 1:  (night time eating)  Don’t ask!  I have a disease.  Grapes or almonds or whatever I had in the fridge.

Breakfast:  6 eggs and an avocado sliced

Dinner:  8 ounce steak with spinach sauteed in butter and garlic

Snack 2:  Tomato sliced with salt and pepper

Snack 3: on lifting days Protein Shake on running days a sweet potato with butter

Snack 4:  Protein Shake.

This diet usually was about 40% fat, 30% protein, and 30% carbs.  My goals were to stay within my calorie allotment which for me is about 2200 calories a day while also getting close to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight which for me is at least 155 grams or 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of overall body weight on days where I did crossfit which is about 190 grams.  

Things I no longer eat at least during my 80% of the time are:

 Cheese, Milk, or any Dairy.  

Bread

Peanut Butter

Potatoes

Protein Bars or any Snack Bars

Anything out of a bag or a box.

High Starch vegetables.

Processed meats such as sandwich cold cuts.

Results:  I am about 8 pounds heavier than I was at this time last year but my body fat is down about 2%.  That tells me that I have more muscle now and have not added any fat.  I have to admit there are times when I look at the scale and see 196 and it bothers me not being at 188 like I was last year but I have to remind myself that the eight pounds gained is mostly muscle.  Although I am 8 pounds up I have had multiple people ask me if I lost weight which tells me that I look more lean despite being up 8 pounds from a year ago.  I attribute this to the fact that I am consuming more protein and the Crossfit workouts in particular the heavy leg work.  

So what can you do today to improve your health and fitness?  We are all a creature of habits.  Nothing is more habitual than food and exercise.  Look into your habits and routines and try to replace one current habit with a new one.  If you always stop at Dunkin Donuts for a coffee on your way to work try a lower calorie option off the menu.  If you have a sandwich with cheese leave the cheese off and see if you miss it.  If you always drive around the parking lot looking for the closest parking spot just park on the far end and walk.  One little insignificant change right now leads to another change down the road.  Health and Fitness is a continuous lifelong process.  One of those changes will be the tipping point that leads to a healthier you. 

What changes have you made lately from your regular habits that have led to improved diet or fitness?  

 

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.

CrossFit

ImageAfter my two weeks and four intro courses of CrossFit I can say two things for sure.

1.  I am going to be really sore for a while

2.  Overall they do a nice job teaching the movements.

I joined CrossFit to see what all the hubbub was about.  I have always wanted to give it a shot because I did admire the shear intensity of the workouts that I saw posted on their website.  www.CrossFit.com. I have also seen the CrossFit games on TV.  Everyone I see who does CrossFit seems to be in incredible shape and something has to be said for that.  In the end I was curious and just needed a change of pace.  I like to be challenged physically and this seemed like the place to do that.

When you sign up for CrossFit they require a two week and 4 classes intro class.  I attended the past two Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m.  Each class follows a simple format.  Explanation of the workout of the day.  They use a white board to explain what the day’s plan is and how it is going to be done.  They might mention a few keys to look for or a tip of the day regarding nutrition.  Then a warmup which might be a dynamic warmup or a mobility drill but most likely a little of both.  Then the W.O.D. which is the Workout of the day.  The actual workout is usually short but quick and high intensity.  Their mantra is Constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements.  They openly tell you that if you do CrossFit you will be good at everything but great at nothing.  It is a well rounded fitness program.  You will develop some speed, some strength, some endurance, and some power.  There is nothing that you will not be able to do.  Climb a mountain?  o.k!  Run a 5k?  no problem!  Hop a fence?  easy!  Kill Zombies?  Any day!

The four workouts that I did lasted no more than 10 minutes each.  They said that 85% of the workouts are between 5-15 minutes but some go as long as 40 minutes.  When the workout is done there is a cool down and a recap.  You always write your score or time on the white board when you are finished.  It feels like a community but there is also competition which I like.  It is so different from my old gym where I would put my headphones and and do my own thing.  Here it is like everyone is suffering / achieving together.

My workout of the days were as follows:

Day 1:  Kattleball swings and box jumps timed.  You had to complete 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 of one alternating with 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 of the other.  I completed the workout in 5:16 seconds and I was more winded and more sore than I had been at my own gym in months.

Day 2:  Thrusters and jumping pull-ups.  A thruster is a front squat into and overhead press while a jumping pull-up is off of a box and jumping up to the bar and fully extended the arms each time you come down.  The workout was to do 5 rounds of 10 Thrusters and 10 pull-ups.

Day 3:  Deadlifts for 5 reps. 10 Burpees and 250m Rowing.  As Many Rounds as Possible in 10 minutes.

Day 4:  OverHead squats for 10.  Pushups for 5 and full range sit-ups for 15.  AMRAP in 12 minutes.

The coaches are there the whole time coaching technique and stopping you to correct and teach if needed.  The technique and the range of motion took priority over the workout.  All workouts could also be modified or scaled as they called it to fit your needs.  If you couldn’t do a full pushup you would drop to your knees or add a pad under your chest to decrease range of motion while still working on technique.

The 4 days were very logical and sequential.  They went with a top down approach which I would always recommend.  They started with Overhead squats which led to Front squats, High Pulls, Jerk snatches, Hang Cleans, and eventually Deadlifts.  Every movement was taught with an excellent sense of functional anatomy and how the body was designed to move.

If you were teaching these movements to High School kids or really anyone you could no doubt spend more than 4 days drilling them.  Some people spend years trying to perfect their technique.  But you have to remember that everyone comes in at different skill levels plus the fact that people joined a gym because they want to work out so you can’t keep them out of the regular classes forever.  I commend them for making everyone attend the 4 intro classes before entering the regular gym atmosphere.  From all the negative things that I heard about CrossFit I have to say that my experience at Guerilla CrossFit in Morristown, NJ has been overall positive so far.

There are a few negative but not from a standpoint of coaching or knowledge or anything like that.  Just the programming risks.  I still feel that plyometrics and olympic lifts are not meant to be endurance lifts.  They are meant to develop power which is a combination of strength and speed.  When you make these lifts endurance based people can easily lose their technique due to fatigue or just the pounding on the body can result in injuries even if technique is sound.   If the coaches are willing to stop and correct during the actual workouts like they were for the intro workouts than I think this problem can be negotiated to an extent.  The one thing I am not sure of is how many coaches are on the floor during a typical session.  In the intro classes we had a 5 to 1 ratio.  If it is a 20 to 1 ratio then that might be risky.

Bottom line is if you are an athlete who needs a programmed sport specific workout for your sport then I would NOT recommend CrossFit.  There are just too many programming flaws and too much variety to really develop sport specific power. There are risks involved in all activities and if you think of CrossFit like a sport then you realize that no matter what you do there are risks involved.  If a football player gets fatigued in the 4th quarter and lowers his head then he runs the risk of having another player hitting him in the back of the head and possible breaking his neck.  CrossFit is the sport of fitness so If you want to get into great shape and really challenge yourself in all aspects of fitness then I WOULD recommend CrossFit for you.  I know I am going to have a blast with CrossFit and I can’t wait to experience the community of CrossFit and really suffer / achieve together.

CrossFit. Is it for you?

CrossFit has received a lot of attention from the public as a whole.  Their marketing campaign is the sport of fitness has arrived.  For a few years now I have been intrigued by CrossFit.  I have seen the nationals on TV and the Reebok commercials.  I have also spent time googling Crossfit people and looking at their bodies and trying to determine if it is the workout itself, the diet, the A Type personalities, or a combination of all of the above.  I mean who would not want to look like this?       images-2

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Then I wondered if these types of people were just athletes who no longer had a sport.  Maybe former gymnasts or other college or even pro athletes who just loved fitness.  After that I realized that was me.  I am a former athlete who has run Marathons and tried different things mostly because I no longer had an outlet for my competitive side.  On top of that fitness and working out is my only real hobby.  It’s what I love to do on the weekends.  Go for a run or hit the gym for a pick up game of basketball.  I have done yoga, swam laps in the pool, played flag football, taken different cardio classes such as spinning but eventually most of them bored me.  I even did Muay Thai for two years. I don’t run marathons because I think I will lose body fat.  I have written extensively on this blog about how slow long distance running does not mean less body fat,.  I run marathons because I like the competition.  I compete with myself for my personal best and I love the journey of training for a race.  I love following a plan over the course of 16 weeks and seeing it come to fruition at the end.  So why can’t I do the same things with CrossFit?  I lift weights. I lift weights a lot.  I have missed an entire week at the gym once in the last 12 years and that was because I hurt my knee.  But as you get older “how much do you bench?” becomes less and less important.  Combine that with the fact that I can’t bench nearly what I used to when I was 290 pounds I was benching around 325.    Now I weight 190 and I bench around 245 for a max.  Pound for pound it is very similar but when I lost 100 pounds 8 years ago I decided that being strong has never really done anything for me.  I want to be able to move, to be powerful, to be coordinated, and to be able to react to any situation.  I tell people if Zombie apocalypse happens would you rather be able to run or bench press twice your body weight.  I think CrossFit might be the type of well rounded workout that provides all of those qualities.

I tried doing the Workout of the days on my own but at a commercial gym it just isn’t possible.  Number one when no one is looking it is just too hard to push yourself.  In a class setting  here you have others suffering with you and pushing you through it creates a bond similar to being on a football team or in the military.  I wanted that feeling of we are in this together.  The other things is at a commercial gym if you were to work out with the intensity of a Crossfitter you would look like a complete nut.  I am starting to get bored with my usual routine of Chest / Tri’s Back Bi’s, Shoulders and Legs, and Abs and cardio on the weekend.  Lifting slowly with too much rest in between might make you look bigger but is that what I really want.  Cartoon muscles that can’t perform with power and precision in a coordinated manner?  Do I want to be fat, slow and strong or do I want to be lean. quick, and powerful like a cheetah.

Unknown    As a strength coach and a CSCS I also know there is a lot of haters on the Crossfit movement and I have also been one of them at times.  Olympic lifts are meant to increase power and not endurance.  No-one should clean for 1 minute straight because their form might slip and create problems.  Plyometrics are about quality and not quantity.  To amplify the stretch shortening cycle you should focus on a quick spring like effect and not on the number you can do in a given time.  The stretch shortening  But if you are an NFL Lineman your body has to adjust on the fly for a bullrush or a speed rush.  Our bodies ate adaptable and that is our greatest gift that we can achieve and overcomes physical, mental, or social obstacles.  Maybe we can have it all.  I think my knowledge of the olympic lifts will only help me on the CrossFit journey because I can recognize problems in the kinetic chain and correct them quickly.

I don’t know if I am going to like CrossFit or not but I am attending a free class this weekend at Guerilla Gym in Morristown, NJ.  I am interested to see how much instruction there actually is on some of these lifts.  Of Course I am not going to tell them I am a cscs because I want to see what I can pick up from them in my pursuit of knowledge. I can say that as a strength coach I would not recommend CrossFit for any athlete who wants to train for their sport.  There are just too many risks and there is no single energy system that CrossFit trains you in.  But as a personal trainer and fitness enthusiast my curiosity got the best of me and  I am going into this with an open mind.  When I started this blog I said let me be your guinea pig so here it goes.  Maybe I will love it and it will be a new passion for me similar to running.  Now I just have to work on those stupid kipping pull-ups that I can’t seem to get.  Stay Tuned for more details on my CrossFit experience.