Posts Tagged ‘health’

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.

5. Chiu, L.Z.F., Fry, A.C., Schilling B.K., Johnson, E.J., Weiss, L.W. Neuromuscular Fatigue and Potentiation Following Two Successive High Intensity Resistance Exercise Sessions. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 92: 385-392. 2004.

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.

21. Skurvydas A, Brazaitis M, Venckūnas T, Kamandulis S. Predictive value of strength loss as an indicator of muscle damage across multiple drop jumps. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 36(3):353-360, 2011.

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.

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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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 “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.

“
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.

“
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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By popular demand, here is the first of several “inventory” articles that I will post. Keep in mind that this is a snapshot of what is in my fridge/freezer/pantry/fruit bowl at one given moment. This does not mean these foods are all that I eat, it is just to give you an example of what is regularly stocked! So this first post will focus on the refrigerator. Keep in mind that you can also view my meal plan in addition to checking out these inventories!

  • Whole milk (that’s right, WHOLE milk has all the good stuff…)
  • Chocolate milk
  • Stonyfield organic yogurt
  • Brown Cow all natural yogurt
  • 4% Milkfat cottage cheese
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Cantaloupe
  • Power Greens salad mix
  • Carrots
  • Onion
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Green beans
  • Nectarines
  • Aged white cheddar cheese
  • Brisket
  • Hummus
  • Steak pinwheels
  • Bison top sirloin
  • Mashed sweet potatoes
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole

Tune in next week for Part 2: The Freezer!

I know I’m not the only one who runs short on time some nights. You know, that feeling you get when you’re in the middle of doing something or you just walked in the door and you look at the clock and realize it’s 8:00pm and you haven’t had dinner? Well here is a quick yet well-rounded (and even kid-friendly!) meal to help you win the healthy-meal-in-a-time-crunch battle.

What you’ll need:

Sweet potatoes (1 for each person you’re feeding)

Wheat bread

Reduced fat cheese

Ham or turkey

Broccoli or carrots

Reduced Fat Ranch

Grapes or other fruit

No sodium butter

Brown sugar or honey

Reduced fat milk

 

Start:

Minute Zero: Wet sweet potatoes and put in plastic produce bag with twisted top, put in microwave for 5 minutes on 70% power (you can also cut sweet potatoes into chunks and boil, but this takes slightly longer).

Minute 1: Heat pan with small slice of butter, slice cheese (or use pre-sliced cheese).

Minute 2: Put cheese and ham/turkey on bread and put in pan.

Minute 3: Cut broccoli off stalk and wash.

Minute 4: Wash grapes.

Minute 5: Flip your sandwich.

Minute 6: Take sweet potatoes out of microwave (using pot holders or dishtowel), let cool for one minute.

Minute 7: Turn heat off on sandwich but keep it in the pan so that it stays warm.

Minute 8-12: Cut sweet potatoes in half and use spoon to scoop insides into a bowl. Add milk and 1/2 tablespoon of butter and mash. Stir in tablespoon of brown sugar or honey.

Minute 13-14: Put broccoli on a plate and add ranch, take grapes off stems and put in a bowl.

Minute 15: Take sandwich out of the pan, cut it if you wish, fill up a glass of water and enjoy!

Anytime you have this many colors on one plate, you know it has to be a great, healthy meal (unless of course, you have a plate full of M&Ms, then maybe not so much). Get your protein, carbs, fiber, and a ton of vitamins with this plate full of balsamic chicken with sweet potatoes and veggies. Here’s how:

Easy Balsamic Chicken: 

Cover the bottom of a pan with a thin layer of olive oil.

Add a half cup of balsamic vinegar (add another 1/8 of a cup for additional chicken breasts).

Add any seasonings you like (I sauteed with chopped garlic, rosemary, and oregano).

Once the oil and vinegar is simmering, add desired number of chicken breasts, chopped into bite sized chunks.

Let one side of the chicken cook then flip the pieces.

Sweet Potato Slices:

Wash sweet potatoes, but don’t peel. A lot of the vitamins are in the skin!

Cut desired number of sweet potatoes into slices.

Add to a pot of boiling water with a small amount of olive oil and salt.

Once sweet potatoes are soft, drain water and add olive oil and either cumin, Greek seasoning, or just salt and pepper, and toss.

Veggies: 

These are the easiest! Just grab a steam-in-the-bag pack of mixed veggies at the store and pop in the microwave.

And here’s the colorful masterpiece you’ll have when you’re done:

Happy eating!

Give your dog an extra hug today if you have one, because this review of past studies found that pet owners (and especially dog owners – take that, cats!) are physically healthier! While there have been many studies that have shown the positive psychological effects of interactions with animals, this review also highlights improved physical health benefits, which are mostly linked to cardiovascular health, as well. So if you have a pet, thank them for helping to make you a healthier person. If not, maybe you should check out your local shelter, keeping in mind that not only will you be helping an animal but they will also help you in return!

Find a local shelter with PetFinder.

The Study:

Title: Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk reduction: Supporting evidence, conflicting data, and underlying mechanisms. 

Authors: Arhant-Sudhir Kanish; Arhant-Sudhir Rish; Sudhir Krishnankutty
Source: CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL PHARMACOLOGY AND PHYSIOLOGY  Volume: 38   Issue: 11   Pages: 734-738

“It is widely believed that pet ownership is beneficial to humans and that some of this benefit is through favourable effects on cardiovascular risk. In the present review, we critically examine the evidence in support of this hypothesis and present the available data with respect to major cardiovascular risk factors.

There is evidence that dog owners are less sedentary and have lower blood pressure, plasma cholesterol and triglycerides, attenuated responses to laboratory-induced mental stress and improved survival following myocardial infarction compared with non-pet owners. However, conflicting data exist with regard to the association between pet ownership and each of these risk factors.

Numerous non-cardiovascular effects of pet ownership have been reported, largely in the psychosocial domain, but the relationship is complex and can vary with demographic and social factors.

A unifying hypothesis is presented, linking improved mood and emotional state to decreased central and regional autonomic activity, improved endothelial function and, thus, lower blood pressure and reduced cardiac arrhythmias.

Overall, ownership of domestic pets, particularly dogs, is associated with positive health benefits.”