Archive for the ‘General Posts’ Category

The Problem with the Body Acceptance Movement and How to Move Past It

By Erin Simmons


NOTE: Please read this with an open mind and do not immediately jump to the conclusion that this is some sort of “body shaming”. Quite the contrary, the point of this article is to talk about how to LOVE your body with a real, meaningful love that goes beyond words to action. This isn’t hate. This isn’t criticism. It’s a call to health. Please read it as such.


Chances are, you’ve heard at least one of the mantras of the body acceptance movement: “Love your body the way it is”, “Big is beautiful”, “Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes”. I understand the good intention behind the movement, and trust me, I’m all for encouraging self-confidence. It is important for people, especially young girls, to understand that the stick-thin body type promoted by the fashion industry is not the only form of beauty in this world, and that it may not be attainable through healthy practices. That message is great, but not when it swings to the other extreme. My problem with the body acceptance movement is that it celebrates another body type that is just as unhealthy, if not more so.

This isn’t hate. This isn’t criticism. It’s a call to health.

Before I go any further, please let me say that I wholeheartedly believe that real, true beauty is exclusively found on the inside, and that who we are as people is based on the condition of our soul and spirit. Whatever you look like on the outside, whatever body type you may have, does not change what’s on the inside. Your value as a person is unrelated to your appearance. People with beautiful souls do come in different shapes and sizes, but unfortunately that is not the message that the body acceptance movement has pushed.

Your value as a person is unrelated to your appearance.

The message we’ve been getting is that it is okay or even preferable to be overweight, that you should love your body no matter what. My question is this: how can you claim to love something that you do not take care of? Neglect is not a form of love. Disregard for health is not a form of love. Let’s look at it this way: let’s say you tell people – and even yourself – that you love your significant other, but you don’t contribute to the relationship. You don’t check in with them to see how they are doing. You don’t take care of them emotionally or physically. You don’t make any sacrifices or compromises so that they will be better off. You don’t spend money on them or quality time with them. How, then, are you expressing your love? Verbal expression has no true meaning without action to back it up. Chances are, if you acted how I described above, you could profess to all of your friends that you love this other person, but no one would believe you because there is no evidence of this love. You can tell yourself that you love this person, but deep down inside you know it just isn’t true. How is it any different with your own body? If you say you love your body, but you don’t check in with it, you don’t make any sacrifices so that it will be in better shape, you don’t spend any money on quality fuel for it, you don’t spend any time to keep it healthy and physically fit, then what evidence is there of your love for your body? Your words are meaningless; your actions have spoken for you.

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My issue with the current body acceptance movement is that it still promotes an unhealthy condition in a nation that already faces many issues associated with a staggering rise in obesity and obesity-related illness and mortality. Overweight has become the new “normal”. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) estimated that 33.9% of adults over the age of 20 are overweight, 35.1% are obese, and 6.4% are extremely obese (2). This is accompanied by a disturbing increase in childhood and adolescent obesity: 20.5% of adolescents (12-19 years), 17.7% of children age 6-11 years, and 8.4% of children age 2-5 years (3). While one might assume that the younger children will “grow into” their weight over the years, the obesity rate in adolescents poses the greatest issue. Unhealthy habits during these years will likely set up a lifetime of poor diet and lack of physical activity. Do we really want to send the message that this is an acceptable, even celebrated, condition? We are not doing young people any favors by pushing aside health in favor of acceptance, as evidenced by the lower life expectancy predicted for the current generation of children compared to that of their parents (6).

Overweight has become the new “normal”.

There is, however, a fraction of the population who are considered “healthy obese”, commonly accepted to constitute about 20% of the human population. Estimates of the percentage of all obese individuals who are considered “metabolically healthy” range from 10-51%, with higher rates in women and younger individuals (7). Essentially, these individuals have a genetic predisposition to have a higher body weight, but typically experience few adverse health effects associated with this additional weight. Unfortunately, it is also likely that many individuals who currently fall into this category are merely in a transitional phase and headed toward an unhealthy status, as long-term studies tend to indicate higher mortality risk in these individuals (5).

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Whether lean or overweight, fitness and metabolic health are the key factors determining the risk of adverse events and all-cause mortality (5). However, even healthy obese individuals are less likely to meet physical activity recommendations compared to healthy normal weight individuals, though they are more active than unhealthy obese (1). Even individuals classified as “healthy obese” have a higher risk for heart disease if they have low levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, while those with higher levels of fitness have risks similar to fit, normal weight individuals (4). “Fitness not fatness” thus remains the critical factor for health maintenance.

“Fitness not fatness” thus remains the critical factor for health maintenance.

It is important to remember that carrying extra weight is not the only path to unhealthiness. Those very thin fashion models often engage in unhealthy practices, such as binging and purging, obsessive/compulsive exercise, and starvation. Even fitness competitors and models often have an unhealthy lifestyle despite the “fitness” that they intend to promote. The point that we are all overlooking is the overarching theme of health. You cannot look at a picture of ANYONE and say that they are healthy. Skinny is not automatically healthy, athletic is not automatically healthy, and a larger frame is not automatically unhealthy. Our focus should not be on appearance or shape, our focus should be on how we live our lives, the dedication we have to our health, and the priority that we give our bodies. Instead of looking in the mirror, we should be reflecting on how we are striving to maintain healthy bodies and minds.

You cannot look at a picture of ANYONE and say that they are healthy.

So the bottom line and take home message is this: if you claim that you love your body, ask yourself how you are showing your love. Anyone can say the words, “I love my body”, but just as we have been told our whole lives, actions speak louder than words. Are you doing everything that you can to keep your body healthy? If you can honestly answer, “yes”, then lovingly accept your body at whatever shape and size it is. If the answer is, “no”, then start expressing your love by working toward health. I truly believe you will find such active love infinitely more rewarding than blindly repeating the mantras of body acceptance in an effort to believe them.


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References:

  1. Bell JA, Hamer M, van Hees VT, Singh-Manoux A, Kivimäki M, Sabia S. “Healthy obesity and objective physical activity.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 102, no. 2, 2015, pp. 268-75.
  1. Fryar CD, Carroll MD, Ogden CL.Prevalence of Overweight, Obesity, and Extreme Obesity Among Adults: United States, 1960–1962 Through 2011–2012.” Center for Disease Control, Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, September 2014. Web. August 7, 2016. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity_adult_11_12/obesity_adult_11_12.htm>.
  1. Fryar CD, Carroll MD, Ogden CL. Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 1963–1965 Through 2011–2012Center for Disease Control, Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, September 2014. Web. August 7, 2016. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity_child_11_12/obesity_child_11_12.htm>.
  1. Jae SY, Franklin B, Choi YH, Fernhall B. “Metabolically Healthy Obesity and Carotid Intima-Media Thickness: Effects of Cardiorespiratory Fitness.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, vol. 90, no. 9, 2015, pp. 1217-24.
  1. Lavie CJ, De Schutter A, Milani RV. “Healthy obese versus unhealthy lean: the obesity paradox.” Nature Reviews, Endocrinology, vol. 11, no. 1, 2015, pp. 55-62.
  1. Olshansky SJ, Passaro DJ, Hershow RC, Layden J, Carnes BA, Brody J, Hayflick L, Butler RN, Allison DB, Ludwig DS. “A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century”. N Engl J Med 2005; 352:1138-1145.
  1. Rey-López JP, de Rezende LF, Pastor-Valero M, Tess BH. “The prevalence of metabolically healthy obesity: a systematic review and critical evaluation of the definitions used.” Obesity Reviews, vol. 15, no. 10, 2014, pp. 781-90. [Note: There is a large variation in definition and estimate of what is considered healthy obese: overall, range of 6-75% prevalence of health obese within obese population, but studies with >=70% response rate estimated 10-51% prevalence.]

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How to Sleep Like an Athlete

Posted: August 22, 2016 in General Posts

Now that the Olympic Games have officially come to a close, you may be tempted to channel your own inner athlete. While many athletes are known for the hours they put in on the court, track, field, or weight room, one factor in their success that is commonly overlooked is sleep! Most athletes know that recovery is just as important as the workout, and the same is true for those of us who work out or compete on stages slightly smaller than Rio.

During sleep, your body repairs damaged tissues, your nervous system recovers, and energy is restored so that you can perform at your best every day! It is easy to get caught up in a busy schedule, but make sure you are planning appropriate time for sleep, which is 7-9 hours for adults on average. Don’t be surprised if you need more, though: average professional athletes sleep for 10-12 hours each night to accommodate the extra stress on their bodies and to allow their nervous system to be fully functional. Whether you’re involved in a sport or just working out for health, use this handy guide from Casper to help you get your best sleep for your best performance!

Quick Tips:

  1. Aim for 8-10 hours of sleep and keep a regular sleep schedule.
  2. Maintain a good sleep environment: dark room, supportive mattress, and cool temperatures.
  3. Take quick naps if you need to, even if it’s before a workout or competition!

*NOTE: While I very much support the message of appropriate rest and recovery that Casper has promoted, I have not used, owned, or tested their items and cannot speak to the quality of their products. The information they have put together, however, is very useful!

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I received quite a bit of feedback, both good and bad, on my last commentary on CrossFit. Some things I discussed with people one on one, some people trolled the page, and some people actually learned something new! However, there still seem to be some misunderstandings and misconceptions that I want to clear up. I have put together a list of some of the most common arguments, statements, and comments that I received on my position on CrossFit and I address them below.

But first, I’d like to quote Dr. Kenneth Jay, who received similar feedback from Crossfitters to some of his articles. His words of wisdom: “No emotional attachment.” As he reminds us, “[B]e willing to abandon your opinion—because in science, you are not entitled to your own opinion; you are only entitled to what you can argue for.”

Finally, my education levels and experience were called into question by numerous Crossfitters. Let me clarify: I have a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in Biology. I worked for the Department of Defense in a physiological laboratory for a military experimental unit. I am second author on a paper published in the Journal of Applied Physiology dealing with exercise performance, physiological responses to stressors, heart rate, VO2/VO2 max, and diving physiology. I am currently working on my Ph.D. in an integrated exercise physiology and sports nutrition program at Texas A&M. In addition to my own collegiate athletics career as a student athlete, I am starting my third year as a volunteer assistant coach for multi-year national championship track and field teams at A&M. I work with athletes in strength development, conditioning, rehabilitation, and event-specific training. I not only work with top-level athletes, but also with top-level, world-renowned coaches, doctors, and training staff. I know that I don’t know everything. I have a lifetime of learning ahead of me. But I’ve also been in great positions to absorb the knowledge of people who have already spent their lifetime dedicated to becoming experts in their respective fields. I’ve been able to read, discuss, assimilate, and synthesize their knowledge of exercise physiology, proper training techniques, injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, workout periodization, workout progressions, athletic training, and much more.

So without further ado, I address some common issues people had with my article:

It’s better than people doing nothing. Aren’t you happy to have them off the couch?

I love that CrossFit gets people excited about fitness. I love that it fosters a community of people working out together and motivating each other. Does that change my opinion about its programming (or lack thereof)? Absolutely not. The benefits of getting people off the couch are outweighed by the stress that is being put on their bodies. The potential for injury in CrossFit is drastically increased when newbies jump into it, especially if their coach’s certification and knowledge is questionable.

Let’s say there is an overweight person sitting on a couch. When they are sitting on that couch, they have lots of options they can take to improve their situation. If they jump into CrossFit and sustain an injury that puts them back on the couch, the options they have are now limited. For some people who have experienced extreme injuries like rhabdomyalysis or stroke, their lives may be drastically changed and they may never be able to exercise again. These are obviously extreme examples, but the concept is applicable to any degree of injury. There are far safer and more efficient ways to get people off the couch and work them into routines that will better target their goals than a cookie-cutter WOD at extremely high intensity.

I saw so much improvement from doing CrossFit. It changed my life!

Of course you did. If you go from doing nothing to doing something, you’re going to see results. Studies have shown that untrained individuals show favorable responses to nearly any protocol implemented, and their gains are often at a very high rate (6, 8, 12). You could have achieved this result from nearly any exercise program. Why did CrossFit work so well for you, then, when you didn’t personally see results from anything else you tried? The answer is found in the community aspect of CrossFit: you were accountable to someone, you had fellow sufferers, you had a community with which to compare your numbers and times.

The conclusion from this phenomenon, then, is that any benefits that you notice from CrossFit as a novice that you did not perceive in other training regimens is purely social and derived from a greater commitment to your exercise program. In the absence of that social factor, science tells you that initial physiological responses are essentially the same for any training program of choice (14). So why not apply that same commitment to one that is tailored to your needs and goals, while keeping safety a priority?

My gym is different. My coaches teach proper form and stop me if I’m doing it wrong. My gym has an intro program everyone has to go through before they can do the WODs. If you haven’t trained at my gym, you can’t comment. 

I can, because CrossFit has a very distinct style of training to which most gyms adhere. If you’re doing CrossFit then you’re doing the WOD’s, which are posted on the main CrossFit website each day, or something very close to it. I can make the generalization because CrossFit has key similarities in its workouts that make up its fundamental flaws: lift many times, lift quickly, don’t rest, keep going until you can’t anymore. This is totally encompassed in the CrossFit term, AMRAP: as many reps as possible.

While this may not be an issue for a minute or two of push-ups or pull-ups, it becomes a big deal when it’s Olympic or Power lifts. Why? Because, as Kraemer et al. (12) state, “total-body exercises such as the power snatch and power clean have been regarded as the most effective exercises for increasing muscle power because they require fast force production to successfully complete each repetition”. This means that these exercises require a great deal of force on each rep in order to perform them correctly, which cannot be maintained for high volume sets such as those listed below:

Example WODs (from 2014 CrossFit Games qualifying rounds):

WOD 1: Complete as many reps as possible in 8 minutes of (Men/Women):

135/95-lb. deadlifts, 10 reps

15 box jumps, 24/20-inch

185/135-lb. deadlifts, 15 reps

15 box jumps, 24/20-inch

225/155-lb. deadlifts, 20 reps

15 box jumps, 24/20-inch

275/185-lb. deadlifts, 25 reps

15 box jumps, 24/ 20-inch

315/205-lb. deadlifts, 30 reps

15 box jumps, 24/20-inch

365/225-lb. deadlifts, 35 reps

15 box jumps, 24/20-inch

WOD 2: 60 clean and jerks (135 / 95 lb.). Time Cap: 7 minutes

Workouts like those listed above are asking the body to try to hit peak force for more repetitions than what the physiology of the body allows. For example, Chiu et al. (5) found that subjects exhibited decreased movement velocity, decreased peak force, and decreased rate of force development after just four sets of five repetitions of speed squats. If your rate of force and peak force decrease after just 20 reps of speed squats, with rest intervals, how can you expect to maintain fast force production over 30, 40, or 60 consecutive snatches or cleans?

Another study by Skurvydas et al. (21) showed greater low frequency fatigue and subsequent reduction in optimal positions in subjects performing 100 drop jumps compared to 50 drop jumps, concluding that greater magnitude of exercises causes a deterioration in form and increase in muscle fatigue. Which means that if you’re doing the WOD, or anything like it, you are putting excessive stress on your body via sub-optimal form, accumulating fatigue effects, and lack of planned recovery time. While each individual is different due to genetics, such a workout scheme over time will cause the body to break down. The question, then, is not will it have an effect on your body, but rather how long will it take to have an effect on your body? You may bully your body through a battle or two, but it is a war you will ultimately lose.

People just need to be smart about how they do the CrossFit workouts. People should evaluate their gym and their coaches and make sure they know what they’re talking about.

When you have people who have perhaps not worked out their entire lives or who have been casual gym-goers, you can’t assume that they know the right questions to ask, the right way to warm up, how to recognize signs of fatigue, when their form has deteriorated, or the smart time to stop the workout. A good training method recognizes this and ensures that its instructors are adequately trained to educate their members on these subjects and assist them with applying these subjects to their training. A good training method meets people where they are and helps them get where they need to be without throwing them immediately into the deep end. Studies have shown that trying to do too much too quickly leads to fatigue and overtraining because the body is not able to physiologically adapt to the stress (4). The result is typically extreme soreness and/or injury (14).

Any good training method should be concerned with injury prevention and take measures to ensure that participants are properly evaluated before performing workouts to determine whether or not they are ready for the intensity of the prescribed workout. Any good training method should allow flexibility for those who have not yet adapted or adjusted. A good training method does not assume the participant knows proper progression. Successful training programs are dependent on program design, proper instruction, setting goals, evaluation, correct exercise prescription, and progression aimed at individual-specific goals (12). The general principles of progression are purposeful variation, specificity, and the gradual increase of stress during training, so that demands on the neuromuscular system are progressively increased and not immediately shocked and shot (12, 14).

Two predominant types of overtraining in resistance exercise are too high intensity and too high volume (15), which are both integral parts of CrossFit. Thus, there is no smart or safe way to do a CrossFit workout except to drastically alter it, in which case it’s technically not CrossFit. Classic CrossFit training is fundamentally wrong according to current scientific standards and methodology in the field of strength and conditioning. I have a really big problem with the above statements and the way that the CrossFit culture seeks to push all responsibility onto the individual members. They charge the average person with trying to find a good coach, asking the right questions about certifications, evaluating the workouts, evaluating themselves and their level of fitness, and evaluating the level of safety of workouts and boxes. Due to the multitude of information and misinformation in the fitness world, these are unreasonable expectations to have of the general public when their health is on the line.

There are good and bad coaches in every sport, not just CrossFit.

Well of course. I don’t deny that at all. But the “fad” aspect of CrossFit has allowed it to grow too quickly and has made it easy for beginners to start coaching beginners. The biggest barrier to entry into the CF world is not time or training, but money. I’m not saying there aren’t bad personal trainers, but a personal trainer is likely not teaching you to Olympic or power lift with large amounts of weight and/or for speed.

Kraemer et al. (12) points out that these lifts “require additional time for learning and proper technique is essential.” The exercises and workouts that CrossFit employs drastically increases the danger that comes with having a bad coach. The importance of having a qualified and knowledgeable coach is summed up by Pearson, et al. (14), who point out that “(t)he effectiveness of any training program is defined by the ability of the strength and conditioning specialist to effectively use scientific principles as the basis for making a multitude of decisions on a day-to-day basis as to the individual progression of a resistance-training program for an athlete.”

I understand that some coaches and boxes are better than others, but it should be a corporation-wide requirement with oversight that does not currently exist. CrossFit, Inc., in an effort to evade liability and allow “free market function”, has essentially said that this task is neither their problem nor their responsibility and that they will play no role in quality control. Instead, founder Greg Glassman has been quoted as saying, “Crossfit can kill you” as well as stating, “We have a therapy for injuries at CrossFit called STFU (shut the f*** up)”.

Such blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of Crossfitters is wholly inexcusable! Why let your body take the beating of being a cash-cow to a pyramid business scheme that ultimately does not have your best interest in mind? Why allow yourself to be taken advantage of in order to benefit others? The point to exercise and athletics is to achieve health, fitness, and performance; therefore any properly developed training program should be 100% based on a concern and care for the individual and should be carried out with a mindset of selfless service.

At the end of the day, it is the workouts that I am ultimately concerned with: lack of personalization, lack of programming, lack of progression, too high reps, too little rest, and a focus on speed of completing exercises rather than quality of the exercise. These types of workouts, coupled with the probability of a coach with a weekend certificate, make CrossFit particularly dangerous.

All sports and athletic activities have a risk of injury. CrossFit isn’t any different. So should we not play football or run either?

It does not mean that at all. Of course there is risk of injury in each sport, and even in the world of general fitness. However, you cannot compare apples and oranges by comparing CrossFit to athletics. In order to compare injury risks, you would have to compare the injury rates in the strength and conditioning training for those sports. Athletes in sports such as football or track spend time in the weight room and on the track or field practicing and training in order to prevent injury during their actual performance and cause neuromuscular adaptations. Strength training in athletic programs specifically targets weaknesses that lead to injury and underperformance. The difference is that CrossFit tries to make a sport out of this training, instead of viewing it as a method of injury prevention. By making strength and conditioning training into a competition of how many lifts you can do or how fast you can do them, CrossFit compromises these training goals and instead makes the participant susceptible to injury.

Additionally, athletes recognize the risk that comes with competing in their sport at a very high level. These people aren’t just trying to get “fit” by competing, they are trying to be in the top percentile of their sport and many times they are trying to earn their living by doing so. Are there very high rates of injury among football players? Absolutely. But I’m not taking an average person off the couch or out of the local gym and putting them in pads and sending them out into a game to get them in shape. I’m not going to grab a mom of three and put her in a track meet to run sprints or hurdles to get her to lose some baby weight. But CrossFit takes these people and puts them into high intensity programs with complex lifts and high reps of auxiliary exercises, whereas elite athletes develop over years and years of building on past progress while being guided by highly trained professionals. That’s the difference.

You said you can’t use weights to increase cardiovascular performance, but it gets my heart rate up so it has to help my VO2/VO2 Max!

In my first article I quoted a comment made by Dr. Kenneth Jay, a Danish neurophysiologist (I apologize, my first article said he was Dutch, which was incorrect; find his bio here), regarding lifting weights for cardio. He details his points further in the following posts on his website, Fast Force First (Part 1Part 2).

Essentially, yes you can get your heart rate up using weights. However, increasing your heart rate does not correlate directly to increasing your VO2 or VO2 max (3). If this was the case, Dr. Jay says he could “scare you into shape”! Lifting weights fast does not result in the same training effect as typical cardiovascular exercises such as running, cycling, or rowing. Pearson et al. (14) outline this concept as well, stating “resistance-training programs do not typically improve maximal oxygen consumption to the extent that other modes of cardiovascular training do”. In fact, it is possible to have detrimental effects from spending too much time under tension, such as during high volume weight training. Dr. Jay explains that, over time, the excessive contraction of the thoracic Vena Cava not only leads to a lower VO2 but can also result in the thickening of the heart wall and a higher resting heart rate. To quote Dr. Jay, “This is NOT healthy!”

You have no scientific evidence on which to base your opinion.

Quite the contrary. Just because there are few papers that address the specific term, “CrossFit”, does not mean that scientific evidence for the detrimental effects of CF doesn’t exist. When you break it down to the fundamentals of CrossFit, you see that the style of workout goes against basic principles of exercise physiology that have been around for decades. Few papers have addressed CrossFit specifically for two reasons: (1) it is relatively new and it takes time to put studies together and get them published, and (2) physiologists likely don’t see a need academically to specifically address CrossFit because there is already a great deal of work showing that the fundamentals of the workouts utilized by CF are detrimental and not ideal for proper training, especially for athletes.

Here are some basic training principles that are ignored or violated by CrossFit WODs and training methods:

Periodization

As Pearson et al. (14) state, “The essence of periodization is the variation in load, volume, rest periods, and exercises done in a consistent manner over time.” Many studies have supported the concept that systematic variation of volume and intensity is the most effective training protocol, and that periodized programs result in greater changes in strength, motor performance, total body weight, lean body mass, and percent body fat than non-periodized programs (6, 11, 12, 22). There is a need for variation in volume and intensity to increase fitness and minimize fatigue (4, 12). Fatigue after-effects are cumulative, so that stressful training without sufficient recovery results in systemic fatigue effects, especially in the immune system (4). Classic CrossFit does not periodize or strategically vary workouts, and does not trade off between volume and intensity.

Progression, Programming, and Individualization

The body must be given “appropriate” stressors in order for the neuromuscular system to adapt (3). What is “appropriate” varies for each individual, so that maximizing the effectiveness of a strength training program requires its individualization after performing a health screening and needs analysis. This analysis should include health/injury concerns, appropriate frequency, muscle group strengths and weaknesses, etc. (12). Proper resistance training involves the manipulation of variables both throughout each workout and over time, including: muscle actions, resistance, volume, exercises, workout structure, sequence of exercises, rest intervals, repetition velocity, and frequency of training (12). There is also an inverse relationship between volume and intensity, and it is better to use higher volumes at the start of a training plan and gradually modify (4, 12). It is also recommended that multiple joint exercises, such as snatch, clean, and push press, be performed early in a training session when fatigue is minimal (12). Classic CrossFit does not follow proper programming during workouts, implement progression over time, and does little to modify for individual needs, goals, or weaknesses.

Multiple Sets

With a goal of maximizing strength development, multiple sets per muscle group have been found to be superior to single sets (10, 11, 16, 20, 23, 24). During the first 6-12 training sessions (or 10 weeks), an individual may benefit from single-sets but multiple-sets are significantly superior thereafter. Additionally, no studies have shown single set protocols to be superior for trained or untrained individuals (6, 8, 12, 14). Greater magnitudes of exercises, which are common when performing single sets, have also been found to result in slower muscle strength recovery, taking 7 or more days after exercise to return to normal strength levels (21). CrossFit, however, utilizes single set protocols for multiple WODs, such as the popular “Isabel” as well as the workouts listed previously in this article. Such workouts do not allow for muscle recovery during or following the workout.

Rest Intervals

The ability to sustain consistent repetitions over consecutive sets in weight training is dependent on the length of rest interval, which must be long enough to recover ATP (energy) and clear fatiguing substances (H+) so that force production can be restored and maximum strength development is enabled (2, 9, 17, 19, 23, 24). Greater strength increases have been showing utilizing longer rest periods of 2-5 minutes as compared to 30, 60, and 90 seconds (12, 15, 18). The American College of Sports Medicine (1) especially stresses the need for rest periods in multiple joint lifts (i.e., snatch, clean, push press), for which 3-5 minute rest intervals are recommended. CrossFit does not implement specified rest times and often discourages resting by prescribing workouts that encourage as many reps as possible in a given amount of time, or by requiring lifts and ancillary exercises be completed in as little time as possible.

Training and Recovery of the Neuromuscular System and Avoiding Overtraining

While these concepts go along with periodization and programming, they are more specific to the neuromuscular system. Periods of reduced volume are necessary for neuromuscular system to recover and to avoid overtraining muscles (14). Following exercise, the body experiences both fitness and fatigue effects, each to varying degrees depending on the type of workout performed. Fitness effects following training allows for improvement and up-regulation of peripheral and central nervous systems; fatigue after effects are both neural (down-regulation of nervous system) and metabolic (depletion of energy sources – ATP) (4, 13). The fatigue effect accumulates over time, and as it increases, the adaptive ability of the individual decreases, resulting in overtraining (4). So what causes such a fatigue effect? According to Pearson et al. (14), too much volume for too long of a duration is one of the key factors in overtraining. CrossFit requires a large volume of lifts and exercises be done on a consistent basis, with no planned period for recovery. High intensity and high volume are staples of classic CrossFit, and both are scientifically shown to result in overtraining (14).

In conclusion, there has been much scientific work that addresses the fundamental flaws and resultant safety issues associated with CrossFit. From lack of individualization to overtraining, there is a scientific basis for the argument against CrossFit and its random, “one size fits all” methodology. Exercise physiology is a complex topic to which I hope I have brought some clarity for the readers of my initial article. My goal here isn’t to inflame people; my goal is to educate and to have a conversation about something that many people may not want to talk about. Many people don’t know the risks associated with CrossFit, and I want people to be able to make an educated decision. Ultimately, though, it is each person’s decision to make, and if the person accepts the risks and the stress that his/her body will have to endure, then that is the individual’s choice. I love that CrossFit has been able to forge a cohesive community that is excited about working out, however, we have to make sure that our desire to be a part of something does not overcome our powers of reasoned thought.

 

**I thank and acknowledge my fellow graduate student, Phillip Scruggs, for his help in assimilating papers, facilitating discussion, and providing helpful edits during my writing process.


 

 

Citations

 1. American College of Sports Medicine. Position stand: progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 34: 364–380, 2002.

2. Baechle, T.R., Earle, R.W., Wathen, D. Resistance train Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. T.R. Baechie and R.W. Earle, eds. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 395-425, 2000.

3. Brooks, G.A., Fahey, T.D., Baldwin, K.M. Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and its Applications (4th edition). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2005.

4. Chiu, L.Z.F., Barnes, J.L. The Fitness-Fatigue Model Revisited: Implications for Planning Short- and Long-Term Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning. 25(6):42-51. 2003.

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6. Fleck, S.J. Periodized Strength Training: A Critical Review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 13(1): 82-89. 1999.

7. Fry, A.C., Webber, J.M., Weiss, L.W., Fry, M.D., Li, Y. Impaired Performances with Excessive High Intensity Free-Weight Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 14(1): 54-61. 2000.

8. Hakkinen, K. Factors influencing trainability of muscular strength during short term and prolonged training. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal. 7:32–34. 1985.

9. Harris, R.C., Edwards, R.H., Hultman, E., Nordesjo, L,O., Nylind, B., Sahlin, K. The time course of phosphocreatine resynthesis during the recovery of quadriceps muscle in man. Pflugers Arch. 97:392-397. 1976.

10. Kraemer, W.J. A series of studies-the physiological basis for strength training in American football: fact over philosophy. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 11:131–142. 1997.

11. Kraemer, W.J., Ratamess, N.A., Fry, A.C., Triplett-McBride, T., Koziris, L.P., Bauer, J.A., Lynch, J.M., Fleck, S.J. Influence of resistance training volume and periodization on physiological and performance adaptations in college women tennis players. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 28:626–633. 2000.

12. Kraemer, W.J., Ratamess, N.A. Fundamentals of Resistance Training: Progression and Exercise Prescription. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 36(4):674-688. 2004.

13. Noakes, T, A St Clair Gibson, and E Lambert. “From catastrophe to complexity: a novel model of integrative central neural regulation of effort and fatigue during exercise in humans: summary and conclusions.”British Journal of Sports Medicine39: 120-24.

14. Pearson, D, Faigenbaum, A, Conley, M, Kraemer, W.J. The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Basic Guidelines for the Resistance Training of Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25(6): 42-51. 2000.

15. Pincivero, D.M., Lephart, S.M., Karunakara, G. Effects of rest interval on isokinetic strength and functional performance after short term high intensity training. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 31:229–234. 1997.

16. Rhea, M.R., Alvar, B.A., Ball, S.D., Burkett, N. Three sets of weight training superior to 1 set with equal intensity for eliciting strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 16:525–529. 2002.

17. Richmond, S.R., Godard, M.P. The effects of rest periods between sets to failure using the bench press in recreationally trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 18:846-849. 2004.

18. Robinson, J. M., Stone, M. H., Johnson, R. L., Penland, C. M., Warren, B. J., Lewis, D. Effects of different weight training exercise/rest intervals on strength, power, and high intensity exercise endurance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 9:216–221. 1995.

19. Sahlin, K., Ren, J.M. Relationship of contraction capacity to metabolic changes during recovery from a fatiguing contraction. Journal of Applied Physiology. 67:648-654. 1989.

20. Schlumberger, A., Stec, J., Schmidtbleicher, Single- vs. multiple-set strength training in women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 15:284–289. 2001.

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22. Stone, M.H., O’Bryant, H., Garhammer, A Hypothetical model for strength training. Journal of Sports Medicine. 21:342-351. 1981.

23. Willardson, J.M. A Brief Review: Factors Affecting the Length of the Rest Interval Between Resistance Exercise Sets. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 20(4): 978-984.

24. Willardson, J.M., Burkett, L.N. The Effect of Different Rest Intervals Between Sets on Volume Components and Strength Gains. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 22(1):146-152. 2008.

I get asked all the time if I’ve tried CrossFit, my friends text me without fail when the games are on and tell me I should be there, and I’m asked my opinion of it on a weekly if not daily basis. So I’m going to share that opinion with you. I know that a lot of people won’t like it, and Crossfitters may react quite negatively, but the goal of my page is not to simply go along with what is popular or to avoid tough subjects so that people won’t “unfollow” me. The goal of my page is to educate people about fitness and health and to warn against potentially harmful or unhealthy diet and exercise practices, and that’s what I’m going to do in this article.

I’ll start with a few personal anecdotes. When I first stumbled upon CrossFit, I was working on a Navy base and started working out with some of the guys there. CrossFit was just starting up and military guys were loving it. The first workout I did was a series of pullups, pushups, and dips, and I couldn’t move my arms the next day. No big deal, I’d been sore before. I did a couple more WODs (CrossFit-speak: Workout of the Day) that were these types of circuits and they were fine. But one of my friends later invited me to the gym she taught at and I jumped in on a WOD. First of all, I got there as people were attempting to do muscle-ups. No one was succeeding. The training they’d had in CrossFit really hadn’t prepared them to do this movement, so it was just a matter of attempting it over and over again. These were people who had been doing CrossFit for years at this point, and I’ve never gotten as many looks as when I jumped up on a pair of rings and pumped a couple out. What was my secret? How could I do this without having done CrossFit ever before? Well, I had trained as an athlete, lifted, and done many bodyweight exercises over my years as a collegiate athlete. CrossFit doesn’t translate into body control . Secondly, the workout was going to have deadlifts, which I had never done and to this day I still don’t do them (but that’s another post altogether on risk:reward ratios). Having never done deadlifts, I got less than 5 minutes of instruction before weight was piled on. Then, I got 5 minutes of instruction on the “kipping pull-up”, which I also refuse to do and that is a separate post as well. Then I got 5 minutes of instruction on kettle bell swings (yep, you guessed it, I don’t do those either because it is not a beneficial movement for the body and typically puts the back in bad positions) before I was given a 35 lb bell. Then the timer started. I was constantly yelled at to go faster, to take shortcuts, and to do movements that previous injuries precluded me from. It was a whirlwind and all I remember was stopping at one point and watching some of the bad form that people were using around me. And that’s when I started to worry. A few months later, a guy I was seeing tried to convince me to try CF again and I did a workout with him. He was pretty knowledgeable of form, but the workout we did involved thrusters, burpees, and kettle bell swings as fast as you could possibly go. I should have known better that the thruster combination of cleans and push press shouldn’t be done for speed/time, but I did it anyway. I was dead afterwards and incredibly sore the next day, with some aches and pains that didn’t go away for quite a while. I started doing some research and I’ve never done and will never do CrossFit again, and here’s why.

First of all, let me say that I have been an athlete for years. Let’s just disregard high school, and jump right to collegiate athletics. Never once, in the 5 years I was at Florida State University working out with a 3 time back-to-back national championship team, did my strength coaches give me a workout sheet that told me to do Olympic or Power lifts for time. Never once did they give me a workout that told me to do sets of 15, 20, or 30 Olympic or Power lifts. Never once did they tell me to do as many as I possibly could. Never once in the nearly 2 years I’ve been at A&M working for a men’s 4-time national championship track and field team and women’s 3-time national championship team, have these things occurred. Why? Because Olympic and power lifts are not meant to be done in sets of 30 or for time. They are extremely technique-oriented and are meant to be explosive and powerful over very short periods of time with plenty of rest. Subjecting your muscles to those movements continuously for time or for reps sets you up for injury. Every coach I’ve trained under has done one of two things: given a workout with heavy weight for low reps, or given a workout with lighter weight for higher reps. When I say higher reps, I’m only talking 10. Anything higher than that were ancillary exercises, such as abs, push ups, pull ups, and the like. But rarely were even these ancillary exercises performed for sets of more than 15 or 20. The point here is that subjecting your muscles to extremely high stress repetitively is not good. CrossFit seems to think that the more pain you are in, whether on that day or the days following the workout, the better. The more you disregard the pain and keep pushing through it, the “tougher” you are. But this is not true, and more importantly, it’s not healthy.

Secondly, CrossFit coaches are able to get certified in a weekend. The only real barrier to opening up your own CrossFit gym is how much money you have. Very few of them have any real knowledge of proper form, which is especially critical for Olympic and Power lifts. So on top of having an already overly-strenuous, very high intensity program that sets you up for injury to start with, most people are doing the lifts and other exercises all wrong and there is no one there to correct them. The strength and conditioning coaches that I have worked with as an athlete all have master’s or doctorate degrees in kinesiology or a related field. They have interned as graduate assistants for years. They have attended and presented at conferences, taken numerous certification exams, and have had to pass demonstration practicals in order to work with athletes in the weight room or on/in the field, track, court, or pool. These professionals have dedicated their entire lives to providing a safe and effective strength-training program for high caliber athletes, NOT a single weekend plus some cash. And not a single one of them recommends CrossFit. Not a single one of them has ever given me workouts that look like CrossFit WODs. Even athletic training staff (medical/PT/rehabilitation/chiropractors) that I have talked with have said that they would love CrossFit if they didn’t work with athletes, because they would always have people to treat. Translation: CrossFit means job security for medical professionals due to the high rate of injury among the ranks of Crossfitters. These same athletic trainers warn every single athlete against CrossFit and tell them the health risks of being involved in it. Kinesiology professors have told their students that they better never find out that they have anything to do with CrossFit. No entity of professional athletics promotes CrossFit.

With all of that said, one has to wonder why people still do CrossFit. Why would so many people ignore advice of professionals and risk injury? For the most part, I think people want a workout to follow, they want to be part of a gym, and they want fellow sufferers and coaches to motivate them. People think that hurting is a good thing, that pushing past your body’s limits means you’re getting stronger, and that not being able to walk the next day means you had a good workout. People should be properly educated on form, acceptable rep numbers, and the warning signs of when to stop. Until gyms step up to the plate and accept the responsibility to do so, there will be injury both now and in the future for CrossFitters.

Many articles have been written on the dangers of CrossFit, and I’ll share just a few with you here.

The following link describes some of the health issues with CrossFit, especially the extremely scary possibility of CrossFit’s unofficial mascot: Uncle Rhabdo. It also addresses the “don’t quit” mentality of CrossFit, which is a dangerous one to have in athletics. Huffington Post’s article shares the stories of Crossfitters who have pushed their bodies so far past their physical limits that they put their health and lives in jeopardy. The moral of the story: it’s just not worth the chance.

Even WebMD recognizes the risks and problems of CrossFit:
“be aware that the CrossFit coach may not have an appropriate educational background in sports conditioning. Strength and conditioning specialists spend years learning proper technique of explosive exercises and some have degrees in exercise science, biomechanics, or kinesiology.”

“CrossFit claims that the system is “empirically driven and clinically tested” which insinuates that the methods are scientifically supported. A review of the current scientific literature, however, shows no published studies about CrossFit in top-rated peer-reviewed strength and conditioning or exercise physiology research journals.”

“Not only are the exercises themselves risky, but performing them under a fatigued state, such as during an intense circuit, increases the risk of injury even further.”

The following article looks at the findings of a study by the Consortium for Health and Military Performance in conjuction with the American College of Sports Medicine. Dr. Michael Esco, associate professor of physical education and exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery, is quoted saying, “Even though you go to an affiliate, the coaches have a weekend certificate. I’m in a field of academics where we teach students; it takes years to learn the proper mechanics of an Olympic lift, for example, or a plyometrics exercise – far more than just a weekend certificate.”

I’d also like to highlight a quote from a Dutch neurophysiologist, Kenneth Jay, in regards to using weights for cardiovascular gains (this actually includes kettle bells as well):

“With an increased HR to VO2 relationship it will never be as good as typical cardio exercises. It is simple physiology really. Increased heart rate decreases the time available to fill the left ventricle of the heart, which means that the left ventricle will contain and eject less blood per contraction. This means that the “stretching” of the heart wall, which is necessary to increase your stroke volume and your VO2, does not happen. It’s the Frank-Starling mechanism in full effect and it’s basic cardiorespiratory physiology. Moral of the story: STOP thinking you can “get your cardio in” by lifting weights – no matter how fast you lift them!

Science of Running has posted a couple of great articles that show why CrossFit’s workouts and claims are invalid. The first article addresses why CrossFit seems to work for people, at least at first:

“in CrossFit’s key demographic, we see a lot of initial change. Why? Because it’s random highly intense exercise. For the unfit or formerly fit, this works great initially. People see results because it’s a very high stress workout. It’s why you see results when you do insanity or any of those workout videos.  It isn’t that the exercises are super awesome targeted muscle sculpting patented exercises. Instead, it’s that the people who generally do them weren’t doing anything before.”

And what happens when it’s no longer new?

“We get stale, we stop improving, or our body breaks down.”

The writer also makes a great point about the difference between variation in workouts, which is necessary for the body to improve, and randomness in a workout:

“Variation not randomness- Variation is good, but the direction you take that variation matters!”

Why is random variation bad? Because you don’t have a plan to progress, you don’t build on previous gains, and you don’t balance or strategically target your workouts:

“What’s worse is that there’s nowhere to go. When your bread and butter is randomized intensity, performed at near max or to exhaustion, you can’t just simply push beyond exhaustion to the next level. Once fitness gains flat line, no amount of pushing will create a new stimulus. You’re maxing out the intensity, and because you don’t believe in progressive, controlled, low-moderate and high intensity mixes, you’ve got to nowhere to go. There’s no way to progressively overload and create new stimuli and adaptation.”

The second article addresses CrossFit’s claims that it enables people to become better endurance athletes. If you’re an aspiring endurance athlete, you may want to read the whole article, but I just wanted to highlight a couple important quotes:

“if you’ve been in the coaching business long enough you know that hard stupid work doesn’t get you anywhere.  You can’t just do work that is painful just because it hurts and expect to get better.”

The goal of a workout shouldn’t be to hurt! I’m not saying that workouts won’t push you, or that you won’t ever hurt during a workout, or you won’t ever be sore the next day. I AM saying that hurt isn’t the goal. Just because you feel exhausted or your muscles are burning doesn’t mean it was a great workout. A great workout targets specific muscles, specific actions, specific and PERSONAL goals! Hence, the next problem with CrossFit, the lack of individualization:

“There is no individualization.  Workout of the day.  That’s the norm.”

Finally, Livestrong.com has a good article on the subject as well, addressing rhabdo and injury risk. Perhaps the best quote of the article is the last one: “while CrossFit motivates its followers to exercise, the growing fear is that the current model and lack of monitoring is more likely to build broken bodies than create a healthier nation.”

So my question to you is this: do you want a broken body? Or do you want to get fit in a healthy way? Do you want a coach screaming at you to finish the set even though your form has crumbled and you’re experiencing pain? Or do you want to train smart? Do you want to follow a coach that got certified in a weekend? Or do you want to rely on decades of research and training that strength and conditioning coaches have acquired?

I can tell you that I have worked and trained with collegiate athletes, national champions, world champions, and Olympians. The goal of these athletes is to challenge the body, but stay within their body’s limits. Pain is not gain for them, pain could mean injury, and injury means being unable to compete. Maybe for a season, maybe for life. These athletes must be smart with their training, and know when to stop before serious injury occurs. Coaches, athletic trainers, and other staff educate them on staying within these limits and developing their strength and athletic abilities safely. So my advice: don’t do CrossFit for weight loss, to get ripped, or to throw around heavy things. Train like an athlete, but train safely. Combine sprints/cardio with proper lifting and clean diet and that will get you where you want to be: fit and healthy!

Aside: I’ve showed this article to a couple people who have been in CrossFit for a little while, and I’ve noticed a slightly disturbing trend. There is a sort of “brainwashing” that occurs from the first time a person steps into a box (CrossFit-speak for “gym”) that creates an “us vs. them” mentality. Boxes have attempted to combat the bad reputation of CrossFit by saying that other gyms do bad stuff but their gym is different, their coaches know good form, their gym focuses on safety. This is simply not true and every single thing that I’ve posted in this article refers to EVERY SINGLE GYM THAT FOLLOWS CROSSFIT. There are no exceptions, if you’re following the WODs, it’s not good for you, it’s not safe, and you’re putting your health in danger. Take it for what it’s worth, but please believe that your box is NOT different, no matter what your coach says.

 

 

 

 

 

Last year around this time, I was working out with one of my old strength coaches from Florida State and he showed me his newest ab circuit: Ten Minute Abs. Three great things about this workout: 1) it’s very flexible and customizable, 2) it’s an ab killer, and 3) it’s only 10 minutes!

Basically, you do ab exercises for 10 minutes straight. Every 30 seconds, you switch to a different exercise, so you’re doing 20 different exercises. I’ve included some of my favorites below, so you can pick from the list below or come up with your own! I always love to start with a plank circuit, which I’ve separated into the top 9 exercises below, and then pick from the rest of the list for the second half of the workout.

Have fun with it, and enjoy your new abs 🙂

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TEN MINUTE ABS

-Plank

-Side Plank (Right)

-Side Plank (Left)

-Leg Lift Plank

-Side Leg Lift Plank (Right)

-Side Leg Lift Plank (Left)

-Plank with Alt. Hip Dips

-Plank with Hip Dip (Right)

-Plank with Hip Dip (Left)

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-Leg Lifts

-Right Side Crunch

-Left Side Crunch

-Left Single Leg V-up

-Right Single Leg V-up

-Straight Leg Russian Twist

-Scissor Kicks

-Bicycles

-Alternating Toe Touches

-Alternating Supermans

-Reverse Crunch

-Situps

-Crunches

-Sidesweepers

-Straight Leg Situps

-Wipers

-Deadbugs

-Toe Touches

-6 inch Hold

-Right Elbow to Left Knee Crunch

-Left Elbow to Right Knee Crunch

I posted a recent article about Spartan Race and some of the important lessons that can be learned from an obstacle course race. I also mentioned the new book, Spartan Up! that was written by the founder of Spartan Race, Joe DeSena. I reviewed the synopsis, but also asked Joe some of the questions I had after reading it. And, of course, ESF followers can find that interview right here! Enjoy!

1. You say in your Spartan Up! synopsis that “we believe that there are things we can do and things that we can’t, and we become conditioned to that distinction”. What moments in your life prompted you to write that? Was there ever something that you became “comfortable” not being able to do? If so, what did you do to break out of that comfort zone?

My dad had a construction business I worked for when I was in my very early teens or might have even been 10-11. I was working with the men every day of the summer on a large landscaping job. This will sound like an old fable but my dad asked me to move a boulder. I worked for about 3 hours trying to move that boulder. I finally became comfortable that it was immovable.

I approached my dad and said..”It’s stuck, it won’t move, we might need to keep it where it is” He responded with. No problem let me get someone who will move it.

That changed my life that moment. I realized you can do anything..and if you don’t someone else will.

2. You co-authored Spartan Up! with Jeff O’Connell, who has previously worked with Bodybuilding.com and Men’s Health. These two spheres of fitness seem to be at odds with the total-body total-mind challenge that Spartan Race touts. How did the two of you meet and collaborate?

Agreed. I believe there are iterations of healthy thinking and messaging. I am at the far end of what is lets call the “far right of the spectrum” in that I believe in hardcore healthy eating and training at an extreme level.

The other end of the spectrum would be on the couch with cigarettes and doughnuts. Along that spectrum from left to right sits bodybuilding, random supplements, men’s health etc. What was great about Jeff was that he wrote Sugar Nation..and really “got it” when it came to understanding what we were doing here.

He took my crazy language (I go a million miles per hour) and helped me turn it into digestible bite sized messages for the reader..we really collaborated well here.

3. You mention that lack of self-control and organization are two major obstacles to our success. What do you say to someone with these problems who might make the excuse that they don’t have time to train for your race or eat properly? How do you rip those people off the couch?

Everyone has more time that they believe. All anyone needs to do is write down what they do in a day or week. They will be SHOCKED at how much time they waste or how much time they actually have. Eating healthy and training can ALWAYS be fit into everyone’s life. You don’t get to put another quarter in the machine when your life is over to start over….you better make this game last.

4. What’s your most motivational story you’ve heard associated with the Spartan Race?

Todd Love…missing and arm and two legs…happy as can be..served our country and shows up and completes most Spartan races..now tell me you don’t have time to eat healthy and train.

5. You said in your synopsis that “you don’t parent differently or rethink your work process” as a result of completing endurance races like 10K’s or Ironmans. I understand that you may not have the same problem solving challenges to face as you would during an obstacle course race, but don’t you think that mental toughness is still developed? Don’t you think that the dedication to training and perseverance throughout the race still changes your thinking process in day-to-day life?

Yes I would say that is somewhat true..but what develops mental toughness and grit and the ability to understand and then apply the benefits of delayed gratification are the moments that nearly break us. So as long as the training you are asking about and those events are getting you to “breaking” points…moments where you cannot take another step and are so far out of your comfort zone you are seeing stars..then yes they will change your day to day thinking through a frame of reference shift.

6. You include a few quotes in your book synopsis, what quote has really stuck with you and why?

“When you’re going through hell keep going”- Winston Churchill. Because it says it all. It is our current problem in first world countries…it is too easy to quit at everything. Its never as bad as we think it is, there is always someone that has it tougher, and all we have to do is put one foot in front of the other.

7. You talk a lot about your successes, overcoming a rough childhood, working on Wall Street, starting Spartan Race, and running your own organic farm. However, you mention that failures as well as successes contribute to our mental resilience. What failures have you experienced and how did you learn and bounce back from them?

Failed relationships, failed businesses, failed endurance events. We will all fail that is guaranteed. It is what you do with that failure that makes the difference and weaves our character.

You learn most importantly that failure lasts forever..and that in many cases you didn’t have to fail..by paying more attention, by having more patience, and by just moving forward no matter how hard it was failure was not the only outcome!

8. It’s difficult for many people to differentiate between pushing the limits that they have in their own minds, and pushing their body’s actual limits. How would you explain the difference to them?

The body has at least 8 more days from when your mind says you cannot take another step. I know because I have been there many times. The only obstacle that will stop you is the one in your head. The human body has swam to cuba, run across america, climbed everest, been to the moon, the human body is capable of almost anything…the human mind however needs to believe it. This is why when a record is broken in sports it is immediately followed by the record being broken over and over.

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  For those of you who don’t know, I really enjoy doing obstacle course races. Not just any obstacle course race, mind you, but Spartan Race. These races are tough, challenging, and push you hard, but the best part is the amazing support system that Spartan offers. They post Workouts of the Day, Foods of the Day, motivational quotes, and offer practice sessions to “rip you off your couch”, as they tout in their slogan. They offer multiple races to target whatever level you may be at, with the Spartan Sprint (3-5 miles), Super (7-9 miles), and Beast (12+ miles). For the more adventurous, there’s the Ultra Beast (double the Beast course) and the Death Race. For the last two years, I’ve done the Texas Beast and plan on making it a yearly tradition, recruiting more friends each year to hit the course with me!

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  So are you ready to Spartan Up? Are you ready to get “ripped off the couch”? If you’re ready to challenge yourself to do things you never thought possible, whether that doing 30 burpees in a row or winning your age group, then you need to check out Spartan Up! Spartan Race founder Joe DeSena has collaborated with Jeff O’Connell on this brand new book. The book isn’t available until May 13, but you can check out the synopsis now and pre-order the book on Amazon. I read over the synopsis myself, and generated some questions for Joe in an interview that is coming soon! But I also wanted to share a few thoughts after reading the synopsis, so here are some of the main points I’ve identified as thought-provoking, interesting, and important:

Spartan Up! embraces three main concepts: Question your Assumptions, Less is More, Discipline is Everything.

Self Control

“Our self-control pales next to the Spartans. I’m convinced they would have looked at us with disgust and disbelief.”

People think they can’t attain lofty fitness goals, but anyone can IF they keep in mind that it is truly a “way of life”. So many people want results NOW. So many companies advertise the shortest amount of time to see results. Some companies advertise that you won’t even have to put work in. But a real athlete and competitor knows that it takes a LONG TIME of working REALLY HARD to reach your ultimate goals. That’s why I believe it’s important to set “stepping stone” goals along the way to keep you hungry and satisfied at the same time.

Learning from Failure

You won’t always have successes. Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, you will experience failures. How will you cope? Will you make it a learning experience or will you let it bring you down?

Importance of Obstacles

“As Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher king portrayed in The Gladiator, noted: ‘Fire feeds on obstacles…and inversely dies without them.'”

What can an obstacle course teach you? It can help you recognize your limits, learn when to hold on and when to let go, when to ask for help, how to be a good teammate, how to analyze a situation, and how to move on after failures.

Battle of the Mind

Spartan Races aren’t just for your body. You strengthen and quicken your mind as well. Decisions made in the mud, with barbed wire pressing into your back, in cold weather and cold water help you make decisions efficiently in other areas of your life.

“History’s elite warriors have known that to win on the real battlefield, you must first win on the battlefield of your mind.”

The Spartan Race is aptly named, and reminds us of the Spartan philosophy that to “win on the real battlefield, you must first win on the battlefield of your mind.” The Spartan Race makes you think. Makes you analyze your situation. Makes you doubt yourself at times. But ultimately, it helps you win, whether that’s your age group, your battle with weight, in the classroom, or on the job.

Perspective 

“If you find the prospect of navigating mud swamps, hill climbs and walls to be daunting, imagine tackling them from the confines a wheelchair. Yet Michael became the first paralyzed individual to ever finish a Spartan race.”

This shows us that everyone has a story. Everyone has their own personal obstacles. But seeing people like Michael help us put our problems, challenges, and setbacks into perspective.

Discipline

“If freedom is what you are after, it comes not from discipline, but through discipline.”

“Most people waste much of their days simply by not being organized and planning ahead.”

People often say they just don’t have time to workout every day, yet I’ve never seen a schedue that absolutely doesn’t allow it. If you are organized and driven enough, you wil make time.

Attitude

“Can attitude be taught? I believe it can. The way to create great attitudes is to push through adversity. Once you have seen the dark side, everything looks brighter.”

Is it your body that needs to be changed? Or is it your attitude? You may have to start with the latter first.

Fit not Fancy

“Our philosophy is that all you need to be fit is intestinal fortitude and a will, and that equipment shouldn’t be the difference maker.”

Many people think you can’t be fit without a gym, but that’s simply not true! The Spartan Race is an extremely challenging test of your physical fitness, and you can train for it anywhere. The necessary equipment for most of the Spartan workouts include your body and maybe a rock or branch to use for weights or pull up bars. Spartan workouts literally leave you with no excuses not to do them.

Life

“Why do a competitive race? Because you might be just dogging it through life.”

Finally, one of my favorite quotes from the article is the following, that “life was not worth living unless you were going to live it fully.”

So view the synopsis, grab the book, and sign up for a race. It’s time to get moving. Spartan Up!

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For those of you out there who recognize the benefits of sprinting as well as circuit training, this video is for you! This is a fast-paced sprint circuit that can be tailored to your fitness level simply by how many times you go through it! Beginners or advanced athletes on an active recovery day can run through it 1-3 times, while advanced athletes can get a great workout on a heavy day by doing this 6+ times.

So here it is:

50 yard sprint

10 pushups + 10 mountain climbers + 10 frog jumps

50 yard sprint

20 bodyweight squats + 10 reverse crunches + 20 lunge jumps

Rest 2 minutes, repeat!

To watch the video, check it out on my channel on YouTube:

Remember, today is the only day that matters. It’s not what you did yesterday, or what you plan to do tomorrow that counts. What will you do with your TODAY?

TODAY I will make a choice

 “Fitness Saved Our Lives: Two Sisters’ Journey”

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Elizabeth and Morgan have two powerful fitness journeys. Elizabeth has survived cancer while simultaneously dealing with military deployments, moving cross country, graduating top ten percent from Purdue, and placing fourth place in her first NPC competition. All the while, she has used fitness as an outlet to transform her life and create a stronger mind and body to help reach her goals. Her sister, Morgan, has a powerful story as well. Morgan has overcome anorexia and decided to regain her health through proper nutrition and workout regimen, changing her life completely. Living a healthy lifestyle has transformed both their bodies and minds.

The sisters are not your typical cookie cutter success story. Most of the magazines portray motivating stories of men and women’s weight loss journeys. Through Morgan and Elizabeth we can catch a glimpse of the other side of fitness that people may be afraid to talk about.

Everyday people are diagnosed with cancer and disease.  Morgan and Elizabeth are here to remind them that it is not time to quit fighting. It is the hardest times that will shape you into the stronger person who you have always wanted to be. When the sisters look back on their journeys they see pain, mistakes and even heartache but they reflect on their lives now and can see how their past has proved their strength, taught them how to live and cherish their health, and take pride in their bodies and minds while molding weakness into newfound strength.

The sisters, who are now athletes, fitness models, and motivational speakers and writers, are dedicating their lives to proving that stresses and challenges can be utilized as motivation to overcome one’s greatest fears.  This is an appropriate topic for readers because everybody has to deal with stress. We all have battles each and everyday that we are forced to tackle. Some of us revert to bad habits, which can often lead to a downward spiral. Instead, the sisters are sharing their stories in hopes to teach that mental will is like a muscle. When you practice being strong it becomes a new habit. In life, it is inevitable that change and stress will enter our lives at some point or another. After all, you can’t spell challenge without “change.”

“By sharing our stories we want to inspire people. We want someone to look at us and say, ‘Because of you, we did not give up’” says Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s journey began at age 20 when she married her husband who enlisted in the US Navy. Elizabeth began online classes at Purdue and moved to begin her husband’s career. During the next 3 years, she moved cross-country a total of 4 times! She was always interested in health and nutrition so she tried to make time to workout and eat healthy (so she thought). Elizabeth had always known that the gym and the workouts she had been doing were important but she didn’t really see the results she wanted.

“I thought since I had the time alone, I should really research how to better myself during that chapter of time instead of focusing on anything negative,” said Elizabeth.

Elizabeth decided to invest in a nutritionist and went from 24% body fat to 12% eating 5-6 healthy meals a day and learning the importance of nutrition. Her husband then left for his first deployment, leaving her a lot of time to focus on changing her body. So she did.

The past year she felt that she had really gained control of her life. She had learned the correct way to eat and workout and was doing exceptionally well in her classes, while her husband returned from the Middle East. It was too good to be true it seemed, as her advisor informed her that she had to return to Purdue for her last year of classes since she was running out of online classes to take. Elizabeth decided to move back home to finish her last year of college. She thought this was the last hard step she and her husband would have to overcome. They just went through multiple cross-country moves and we had gotten through his deployment, so they thought after graduation everything would start to become smooth sailing!

The week before Elizabeth was planning on moving home, she went to the doctor to get her yearly physical. Her insured doctors must be military based, so since she wouldn’t have them back at home, she thought it was important that she get a check up before leaving. That is where she found out she had melanoma. Since that August of 2012, Elizabeth has had 4 surgeries and 7 areas removed.

She moved home and began the classes like a normal student. Her professors and even her mother told her the best thing to do would be to drop the classes since she was flying to Florida to see her doctors every 3 weeks.

“I didn’t drop a single class. It was very stressful, time consuming and draining.  I remember sitting in my kitchen after I got off the phone with my doctor and I was so mad at my life and at God. I looked back and saw the past years of obstacles I’d had thrown my way and I just asked, “Why can’t I ever have a break?” said Elizabeth.

Elizabeth couldn’t relate to any of her friends or anyone who had these types of problems and felt it was unfair.  She really hit a low point in her life. On top of the cancer, Elizabeth was also told her husband would be sent for another deployment after she graduated in May.

“So the whole time I was home at school and having to go to all these surgeons and doctors left me no time to really be with him, and then he was leaving for another 6 months? It was a lot to take in.” says Elizabeth.

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I was at my lowest and I decided that all I could do was pray. I prayed to just be a stronger person to get through this and I put my life in his hands. I felt everything was so out of control that the only thing I could do was my best. I went from trying to control every aspect of my life to understanding that life can and will throw anything my way,” said Elizabeth.

She never knew what is coming next but she did know that she was going to handle it the best way she could. In the end she knew her trials were going to shape every detail of her.

“Resisting the inevitable, complaining and feeling sorry for myself did absolutely nothing, so I decided to simply change my attitude.  Presently, my husband just left for his deployment and my melanoma will be with me forever, but I have accepted it and how things are,” said Elizabeth.

Now, every two months she goes to the doctor for her exams, which consist of full body screenings, lymph node exams, and CAT scans to monitor everything.

“Life is too short! I really feel that my apparent obstacles are actually blessings in disguise and they have made me appreciate my loved ones, my life, and really focus on my health. I have learned to be the person I want to be.”

The two sisters believe living healthy and mentally changing how they view life, really made them both different people. You are going to be in your own skin until the day you die, so you might as well be comfortable in it.

“Just remember: you are capable of anything you put your mind to. Whether you think you can.. or you think you can’t… you are RIGHT,” explain the sisters.

Morgan’s Journey was a mental challenge as well. Morgan battled an eating disorder throughout her high school career. At the time her life seemed out of control. She was suffering from the stresses of failing relationships and a difficult family life. Morgan felt she had no control of her life other than what she put in her mouth. Unfortunately, she began to react to her problems by controlling every bite she took, causing her to lose over 30 pounds.

She went through a few years of family and friends trying to help her, and finally she decided she to ‘retrain her brain’ and create a short term goal then more short term goals and so on. These goals varied from calorie goals that she wanted to hit for the day, positive affirmations, and even researching a new nutrition fact, exercise tip, or physiological information that would help her work to become better and stronger than the average person going about their healthy lifestyle. She wanted to not only put this in her past, but also become better through it and she did.

Morgan now has more will power than one can imagine, more concern for others who are in such situations, and most importantly, she now cares for and values her body. She would not be where she was today without overcoming her problem.

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I feel that it is of upmost importance to address this issue as you will probably encounter people with a similar struggle more often than you may think.
 This is something that the average person does not want to make known to the public eye. This also is definitely not something one intrinsically knows how to fix or may even be at the stage where anyone’s help is welcomed. 
Because of that, it is important to understand the relevancy of this issue and that there absolutely is a way to surpass it, just as there is a way to surpass any obstacle you set your mind to,” says Morgan.

Morgan now has added over 30 pounds of muscle to her frame. She has a stronger body and mind. Her passion for health has also inspired her to apply for the IU nursing program. Morgan was one of the 90 students accepted out of over 1000 applicants to the program.  Morgan’s determination and passion for health has forever changed her life.

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Morgan and Elizabeth are now full time fitness models, NPC competitors, I DECIDE athletes, personal trainers, motivational speakers, and even created their own website and Facebook fan page to motivate and encourage others to live a healthy lifestyle. “What seems to be bitter trials are often blessings in disguise. We are happy when God answered our prayers but we are more thankful when God is letting us answer someone else’s prayers,” said Morgan.

“We are now living a life dedicated to helping and encouraging others. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”



A while ago, I posted about additional health benefits that can come to those of us who have the pleasure of having a pet in the family (you can see the article here). The health benefits apply to all animals, but none quite like those that come from a dog. A dog will get you outside to play or take you for a walk around the block. A few cat lovers may argue a bit, but I don’t think the mental health benefits from any other animal quite equal those from a dog. There’s just something about experiencing true unconditional love that warms our hearts and souls.

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” 
― Josh Billings

It’s with great pain now that I share a personal dog story of mine. Just last week, my dog Tex was hit and killed by a car. The person in the car didn’t even stop to see what they hit on a 30 mph road. Without even a second thought, someone left my best friend and my whole world laying on the side of the road. When I found out, it was like a part of me died with him. He had so much of my heart that the pain was unimaginable; I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe that he’s gone.

“Dogs, lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog, and there’s going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can’t support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and the mistakes we make because of those illusions.” 
― Dean Koontz, The Darkest Evening of the Year

Let me tell you a bit about Tex. I rescued him from a pound when he was just a puppy, maybe 6-8 weeks old. I’d been looking for a dog to adopt for a while, but just hadn’t found that right one yet. When I went into the shelter to look at a litter of puppies that had just come in, 6 other puppies swarmed me, licking, barking, jumping, whining, all little balls of fur trying to get my attention. But what really made me take notice was the gangly pup that was sitting up straight on the little puppy bed in the corner, quietly looking at me with bright eyes. As soon as I picked him up, he rested his head on my arm and took a deep sigh as if to say, “Ah, finally, I’m where I belong.” And he was.

“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” 
― Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red

Tex was perhaps the smartest dog I’ve ever known. He was house trained in a week and picked up new tricks in an hour. He would sit, lay down, stay, shake, give high fives, play dead after shooting him with an imaginary gun, talk (his “inside voice”), speak (his “outside voice”, and yes, he could tell the difference), roll over, and spin. He knew phrases like “load up” to get in the car, “go to bed” to go get on his bean bag next to my bed each night, and a variety of fun words such as dog park, beach, squirrel, bird, and his favorite: cat.

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.” 
― Milan Kundera

Tex was only with me for 4 short, beautiful years. The life of a dog is already short enough, and I had avoided thinking about the day that I supposed to be far in the future in which I would have to say goodbye to my boy. But in those four years, he helped me through tough times in school, break ups, moves to different cities and states, and transitions from school to work (and back again). He was always there, always my one constant in life, always ready to come put his head in my lap, look up at me, and tell me with those big brown eyes that everything was going to be okay. That’s something I just can’t say about any other person in my life.

“Dogs are minor angels, and I don’t mean that facetiously. They love unconditionally, forgive immediately, are the truest of friends, willing to do anything that makes us happy, etcetera. If we attributed some of those qualities to a person we would say they are special. If they had ALL of them, we would call them angelic. But because it’s “only” a dog, we dismiss them as sweet or funny but little more. However when you think about it, what are the things that we most like in another human being? Many times those qualities are seen in our dogs every single day– we’re just so used to them that we pay no attention.” 
― Jonathan Carroll

Tex was my roommate, my best friend, my child, my running buddy, my psychologist, my foot warmer, you name it. He filled so many different roles that his place in my heart was a big one, and one that won’t be easily filled. But even with all the pain now, I wouldn’t have traded those four years with him for anything in the world. I know that one day I’ll see him again, because if people can get into heaven, then I’m convinced that dogs must be there, too.

“Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” 
― Mark Twain

In closing, I just wanted to share a beautiful poem that I’d seen a while back. It makes me cry every time I read it, but the tears are happy and hopeful ones. It’s called The Rainbow Bridge (by Anonymous):

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

Tex, I can’t wait to cross the Rainbow Bridge with you. You will be in my heart forever and always.

 

 

 

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