Maximizing Your Amplify Experience

Part 3: “Going Strong”
The Smart Approach to Strength Work

We got you started with preparation tips from Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, so now it’s go time.

Let’s look at how to approach any barbell lift (or even gymnastics skill focus).

First, understand there are quite a few styles of strength programs out there, with various macro- and micro-cycles to their name. Many have worth in any given fitness regimen, depending on desired goals and as long as the athlete is dedicated in following the progression.

In the CrossFit world, we want to build strength and skill while maintaining cardiorespiratory conditioning, so we put to use a generalized preparation program. Ultimately, let the coaches balance consistency and variance while you put in the work.

You’ve got your eyes on the prize, which is of course gains in muscular strength and endurance, so here are a few pointers that should allow you to ring that bell as you test your strength.

BEGINNERS:
Hurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up! Test your strength!
Make sure to simultaneously develop range of motion as you develop strength. Take the muscles through proper ROM so that each joint gains stability at beginning and end range. Connective tissues like tendons and ligaments need to become resilient while the muscle fibers grow in number and size, so it should all go without saying: strength takes time. You’re in this for lifelong fitness. Keep that in mind.

1.) Mechanics
Watch videos, pay attention to demos, and listen to cues. Be vocal with questions for clarification. Coaches will focus on the basics of the movement, then a few specific points during the exercise, then back to the large movement pattern. (Globally, then locally, then globally again.) Keep the form early for gains in the long run.

Mechanics Example: heels down, knees out, chest up during Back Squats.

2.) Consistency
Find and focus on the cues that seem to help– without overthinking the lift or skill. Move with solid mechanics every time, not just once in a while.

Consistency Example: stay smooth through the shoulder joints on kipping Pull-ups or Toes to Bar. Work strict pulls with sound form, then kip through the midline, not just legs, so multiple reps are clean.

3.) Intensity
If, and only if, a barbell lift or gymnastics skill is consistent in mechanics should we look to increase intensity. Be willing to reel yourself in during heavy 1rep tests or during a MetCon if your movement pattern is ever lost.

Intensity Example: are elbows dropping and lower back losing stability on high rep Cleans? Quite possibly an ego check is in order. No shame here; there’s no crowd of onlookers egging you on to swing the heavy mallet. Either slow down, drop the weight, or both.

VETERANS:
Big gun, coming through! No Rube here. Roll up the sleeves and give ‘er a whirl!
Don’t neglect the above. Check form first, then ramp up and attack the rep sequence of the day. And have fun! This is a great time to socialize between lifts. Give some kudos to the new kids on the block– they look to you for social cues. Plus, seeing others move, efficiently or not, can help with your own body awareness.

1.) Keep the Rep Scheme
Sometimes, the programmed sequence doesn’t seem like enough. Do not unnecessarily max out on a lift. Let the progression work for you. The No pain, no gain philosophy is short-sighted. Be smarter than that, and reap the benefits when it’s time. Likewise, try to hold on during the tough days. Those are on purpose, so only give in to keep safe or prevent from overtraining.

Strength Example: Snatch work calls for 5 sets of 3 at 65%, touch-and-go. You feel good and increase the weight, but have to drop in between reps. You missed the concept of barbell cycling here, and the purposeful lighter load to achieve the desired stimulus. Can’t complete more Snatch reps in a different part of the workout or on a different day that week? You missed the target completely. No prize for you.

2.) Know Your Body
Are you the type that needs a solid warm-up on the barbell before getting into the working sets of the day? Or do you tend to fatigue early and need to make bigger jumps in weight? We understand our tendencies better with experience, so let’s use that knowledge to get the most out of the strength session.

Strength Example: Deadlift options. 1) extended warm-up at #135/95 for 5 reps, then 5 more at #185/125, then 5 more at #225/155. Or, 2) quicker jumps with 5 reps at #135/95, 3 at #225/155, heavier singles up from there.

3.) Be Ready to Fail
How can you know what’s possible if you don’t test your physical threshold? Failure means we’ve tested the upper limits of our capabilities. The overload principle causes breakdown of the muscle by placing it under load, and the body rebuilds to resist future stress. We just want to safely find that failing point, and correctly do so periodically in programming, so we can approach our threshold again– whether it be in power lifts, Olympic lifts, or gymnastics movements like pull-ups and handstand push-ups. So, embrace the failure in order to succeed. Then ring that PR bell loud and clear and claim your oversized stuffed animal. Don’t worry– you’re strong enough to carry it.

Strength/Skill Examples: Strict Pull-ups to failure. Testing a 1rep Front Squat. Working on extra dips and transitions on the rings to finally achieve a Muscle-up.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Giving Up
Information on how to correctly fail by dumping a barbell.

Dedication
Hard work is never easy. Work, build gains, and work again. Check tips on how.

Movements
Click each link for pics, video, and other details.

 

This is part three of a six-part series entitled Maximizing Your Amplify Experience. Stay tuned for more.

– Scott, 7.14.2017

Maximizing Your Amplify Experience

Part 2: “You Are Here”
Upon Arriving at Amplify

You made it. You prepared with tips from Part 1 of this series, you’re off the couch, and you finally have pants on. Plus, there’s that unique mix of dread and excitement setting in for another Amplify workout.

Wait, you arrived more than a minute before class starts, right?

As coaches, we’ll get you warmed up– but keep in mind it’s a generalized warm-up before any specific workout preparation for the hour. This usually involves large muscle group movements followed by some quick drills, but you can get moving even before that. Yes, you’re in the gym, but now the work begins. If showing up is half the battle, there’s still more distance to cover.

Let’s map out some items for you to do in the minutes before class.

BEGINNERS:
To gain your whereabouts you need a zenith, since it’s easy to lose your bearings once inside the Amplify doors. Generally, there is a lot going on; often times several classes are occurring, the music is bumping, and of course there’s that whole sweating and grunting and dropping weights thing. So, let’s get you pointed in the right direction.

1.) Timeliness
Early on, we know you look to the coaches to tell you pretty much everything to do. But, surprise! You actually know your body better than anyone. Yes, even those of you with awful, *ahem*, developing body awareness. So, do you need more than 5-10 minutes preparation? Get here earlier, and follow #2 and #3.

2.) Blood Flow
Foam roll with a purpose. Rolling out increases circulation, breaks down soft tissue adhesion, and provides myofascial release. If you haven’t been shown how yet, grab a coach! A good start is to hit back and lats, quads and hammies, and calves/achilles. You can also warm up with simple PVC pipe movements or our crossover symmetry bands. Those are the elastic bands over in the corner, hanging from the wall. We have diagram details of exercises to do as movement prep there. We even have mobility posters on the wall. Still feeling lost? Don’t be stubborn– ask for directions!

3.) Socialize
Connect with our community. You won’t be disappointed. Drop any stress of the day and build your social health while developing your physical well-being. Not a social butterfly? No problem. Buddy up with just one or two other newbies you recognize. There is power in numbers, after all, and sharing accountability with another newcomer can set a grid of consistency on your fitness journey.

VETERANS:
As experienced athletes, your internal GPS is now preset– you have specific places you like to go upon arriving at Amplify. Your meridian, if you will. This is fine. Here are some reminders in case you’ve found yourself zoning out or losing sight of your surroundings.

1.) Know the Workout
Some check the WOD the night before, others like to find out upon arrival. Both for mental reasons; we get it. Either way, by the time your class starts you’ll benefit from knowing what movements are coming your way. It will help with warm-up and also any gear you may need (shoes, jumprope, wrist wraps, etc). Come with any questions to help clarify the expectations for you and other members.

2.) Movement Prep
Are you guilty of camping out on a foam roller? Don’t just sit and take in the scenery– get yourself moving so you’re not cold or stiff heading into the first portion of class. This might also be a good time to get extra weakness work in. Mobility/PVC drills? Kipping? Handstands? Even an easy barbell lift to activate the CNS might be worth your while. It’s your gym. Put it to use.

3.) Be a Leader
Give encouragement to the previous class as they finish their workout. Introduce yourself to any members you haven’t met. Build our community. Remember being a newcomer? Help guide our Intros or Elements participants. Develop comfort within our doors; everyone benefits. It isn’t just the coaching staff who open Amplify as a second home. You are here. Help make the most of it!

RECOMMENDED READING:
Warm-ups
Workout preparation and awaking the CNS. What works?

Range of Motion
Need work on mobility? Cutting your ROM in a workout? Check out these tips and videos.

Attitude
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t– you might be wrong? Check out how.

 

This is part two of a six-part series entitled Maximizing Your Amplify Experience. Stay tuned for more.

– Scott, 6.30.2017

Maximizing Your Amplify Experience

Part 1: “Cleared for Arrival”
Before Entering Amplify

Prior to setting foot in the gym, some items need to be in place to ensure success with any fitness program. For us at Amplify, we pride ourselves in understanding that the development of the whole person is the ultimate goal; we always want to consider the entire spectrum of health and wellness: a balance of physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being.

This means we should first acknowledge time outside of the gym in order to help facilitate personal progress in your fitness journey and in life.

To start, here are some “to-do’s” before coming to class.

BEGINNERS:
First off, welcome! You’ve taken control of your fitness journey, and in looking for a safe and reliable place to land, you decided on us.

Some newbies come to us with absolutely no fitness background. Others are athletes looking for the next step in life or have been in and out of other programs before settling on Amplify. No matter what, no matter how intimidating it may feel, and no matter how much turbulence life has had before now, we are here to make that transition as smooth as possible. We’re glad you landed on Amplify.

1.) See the big picture.
Strength and conditioning takes time. Fitness is both a journey and a destination, although in this analogy we never really “get there,” we just arrive at layovers– short-term benchmarks where we refuel and reenergize to keep working our way towards the next goal. Keep in mind, it doesn’t all have to happen in one workout. Set a one month goal. Set a summer goal. If you want, set lots, aim high. But see them through. How? Write them down. Tell other people. Amplify coaches are here to help, so ask questions!

2.) Plan ahead.
We already set the daily workout, so that’s easy. But by planning your set days each week, checking the workout and any related videos ahead of time, and coming in with a plan of action, this not only shows true commitment but it’s also mentally easier once you set foot in the gym. And no extra baggage! Work around your career and social calendar, just for an hour. Allow yourself that. Let the only weight on your shoulders be that of the barbell, and the only stress be that of the MetCon.

3.) Hold yourself accountable.
While it’s okay to miss workout days, it’s not okay for it to become a habit. You didn’t register as an Amp member to stay home. We host nutrition challenges, so become involved! Use Wodify or a personal journal as a workout log to see your progress. Need more help? Find a copilot. Connect with a buddy in the same class hour as you and create weekly check-ins.

VETERANS:
Thanks for continuing to fly the friendly skies with Amplify. You are the heart and soul here, so your preparation is not to be neglected. Even after months or years at the gym, we could all use refocus and reminders.

1.) Don’t become complacent.
No recycled air here. If you haven’t felt stagnant, good on you. However, if you think your fitness journey is now an overcrowded flight circling the runway, then we need to find new motivation. How? See #2 and #3.

2.) Revisit goals.
It is just as important to examine your own goals as it is for a beginner. Life changes, and so should your outlook on approaching your fitness regimen with fun and fury. You know how exciting it is to have small victories or PR after years of hard work, but also remember to smile at life’s setbacks. That’s just headwind, after all, so set a new standard and attack. Change your altitude to improve your attitude.

3.) Maintain priorities.
Family and friends matter. Put those life essentials on level with your personal health. Along with social health development should be your physical well-being, and vice versa. After all, you can’t be there for loved ones if you literally can’t be there because of a lack of wellness. There’s always a big picture involved; invest in yourself in order to invest in others. Adjust for heavy winds, and keep navigating.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Goal Setting
Simple tips on how to plan your summer workouts and reap the benefits come fall.

The Fitness Equation
Things can look so simple on paper: fuel, work, rest, repeat. So where do we go wrong? Check out the basic recipe for success in physical fitness.

Cherry Picking
Why shy away from the very workouts you need? See recommendations on how to avoid laziness.

 

This is part one of a six-part series entitled Maximizing Your Amplify Experience. Stay tuned for more.

– Scott, 6.16.2017

Words of the Week

ramboDedication

In a time where the world seems to have one giant attention deficit issue, loyalty is hard to come by.

After any setbacks, any wane in motivation, any results not experienced quickly enough, we see people jump ship. Abandon their fitness routine, sometimes after just a few short months, and try the next big thing. A perennial search for the new what-next in exercise and nutrition, looking for that quick fix like the cheap thrill of an action movie. Lots of excitement, absolutely no substance.

Spoiler alert: hard work is never easy. The path of least resistance, on the other hand, is.

Not just that, it’s also the bounce around that can affect progress with personal fitness. Switching from one style of programming to another, then back again, never settling in to give the body a chance to adapt and benefit.

Even within CrossFit, consistency is key. Variance will get results, but consistency is the glue that can make those results optimal.

Work, benefit, build gains, and work again. Slow and steady, bit by bit. Like a good movie unveiling its plotline, the molding of you takes time.

Thumbs-And-Ammo-Pulp-Fiction

What’s the difference between dedication and stupidity?
It’s been another summer of hard work. Another summer of blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We put in some dedicated time at the gym, seeing major fitness benefits through the hot summer days. Being persistent isn’t stupid, as long as a negative impact doesn’t arise. It’s definitely a fine line, however, between being determined and being stubborn.

Let’s clarify, then. Determination is not just a degree of stubbornness, it showcases tenacity, purposeful fixation, and the will to fight adversity.

Devotion to a program is often the best effort you can give to fitness. One day does not make or break the man. One day does not make or break the woman. It’s a series of great things in life that leave the lasting effect. A lifetime of devoted physical movement and nutrition outside the gym matter as well, even with lazy days and cheat meals, or sneaking treats and dietary lapses… you know, the stuff that keeps us human.

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Where does dedication fit into the process of progress?
Many of us are in a constant fight with ourselves, yet it could be we’re in search of something we may not realize we’ve already obtained. Maybe we have our sights set on a great body. Maybe instead of aesthetics it’s a PR on a barbell lift or an addition of a certain gymnastics skill. But remember to take compliments and realize if people notice your progress enough to make a comment then that’s direct feedback you’re on the right track.

Stay dedicated. Celebrate the little victories and inspire the future you.

With all the push forward, with all the drive to become better than yesterday, we sometimes forget to look in the mirror to realize how awesome we already are.

Yes, our fitness journey is ever-present, and as a writer I constantly push readers towards the next piece of life… what will you do this year? Where are you going? What will you be? But it’s also huge for our self-esteem and our overall wellness if we realize that once dedicated, we’ve actually started to do exactly what we set out to do. This doesn’t mean we should become complacent. It just means the process is well underway.

And if it isn’t? Okay, well, start today. Set a goal, dedicate yourself to a program, and move ahead with a plan of action.

Thumbs-And-Ammo-Big-Lebowski t9 A Christmas Story (1983)

Is there a sure-fire way to remain dedicated to physical fitness?
The short answer? No.

Through the ups and downs of motivation, determination, and commitment, anyone’s dedication can falter. In particular times of stress or busy personal schedules, our workout routines are affected; we can lose focus or time or energy. It is often easier to go into binge fits with comfort food or beverage indulgences or veg outs on the couch instead of creating time for exercise and healthful meals.

There are some tips, however, to both staying committed and knowing when to change loyalty, if needed. Here are the takeaways I leave to you at the end of each summer.

Recommendations:

  • Be patient.
    Progress can come in waves, like a fury of new turns in the storyline of life. Delays in start times; skips in the film. Use these as reminders that nothing comes without hard work. Stick with it.
  • Be persistent.
    Consistency pays off in the long run. Quality time spent pursuing your fitness goals will allow your body a chance to see results and your mind to benefit from the experience. This is a potent combination, and strikes a confidence in oneself that only fuels more progress.  Feed the fire.
  • Know when to quit.
    Here’s the plot twist. If a lifting session or some post-workout skill work aren’t going well, then a new PR or your first muscle-up probably won’t happen on your 50th attempt. Remember, being persistent is one thing, being stupid is another. Too many issues with the program? Dedicated time spent still didn’t produce rewards? It is indeed time to cut your losses and find a new focus. Live to work another day.

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So, that brings the Words of the Week articles to a close for another summer. As always, I wish everyone the best in becoming better than yesterday in all that you do. Stay at it, remain dedicated, and good things will come… even if it’s little by little.

If life is a movie, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Thanks for taking the time to read, this summer and always.

– Scott, 8.18.2015

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Words of the Week

Muscle-Up-BiathlonMuscle-ups

Another milestone worth highlighting, the muscle-up is a particularly challenging movement for those in the CrossFit world who lack any previous gymnastics background.

It’s easy to explain why people like them, though; once witnessed, why athletes who first step into a CrossFit gym set their sights on accomplishing a muscle-up.

Plain and simple, the muscle-up looks cool.

Muscle-ups are like that middle school crush– attractive and popular and seemingly unattainable. And a lot like that fleeting feeling of teenage turbulence, if ever attained, muscle-ups can confusingly become more work than ever believed. It’s because we’re always wanting more, always striving to be better. One muscle-up is never enough, we want to string multiples together… and efficiently.

Keep these off the hot girl/hot guy pedestal, however, because a muscle-up is just like any other difficult movement in the gym. And there are plenty of those in the fitness sea.

So let’s jump in head first to battle this beast from the depths of gymnastics lore and bring the muscle-up progression to light.

Gymnastic-Rings

What prerequisite strength exists for a muscle-up?
Similar to our previous focus on pull-ups, let’s clear up some prerequisites for strength and skill before looking at specific drills in the developmental progression of a muscle-up.

Naturally, we’ve come to realize the online hate of the gymnastics kip often utilized in CrossFit. “Cheating,” it gets called. What’s interesting is that we rarely see the sport of gymnastics get bashed for using momentum in competitive programs or in the Olympics every four years.

There’s a reason for this: gymnasts, both men and women, have a baseline of muscle strength that allows them to safely use body momentum in their movements and routines.

Pull-ups
Compared to a kip, strict pull-ups are a safer movement for a beginner. A strict pull-up helps develop muscle strength in the latissimus dorsi, the biceps, and to some extent the rhomboids and trees major in the back. These are similar pulling muscles involved in both the bar and ring muscle-up, so therefore it makes sense that a prerequisite for any muscle-up training is exactly that: a pull-up, both strict and kipping.
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The movement of the gymnastic kip can be taught on the pull-up bar simultaneously as the strict movement to help embed the concept through routine, yet this involves some quality coaching. While upper body strength is acquired, so is the idea of generating momentum. Proponents of kipping cite the athleticism it requires and develops; coordination is necessary for hip recruitment in order to use swinging momentum correctly. The kip fosters a body awareness akin to other muti-joint movements we see in Olympic weightlifting or sport-specific actions like throwing or jumping.

Kipping practice can be done before or after a workout, although afterwards would generally mean a person works while fatigued. This is not immediately unsafe, but overtrain while already muscle fatigued and that’s a recipe for potential disaster.

Just remember that kipping without at least some basis of strength is not productive.

Ring Dips
If a CrossFit athlete has a kipping pull-up, the next requirement for the muscle-up is a ring dip. While box dips and stationary bar dips are all well and good, the rings obviously throw a snag into things because of the multiple planes of movement that the gymnastics rings allow. This stabilization is what we are seeking; that shaky movement will eventually tighten up.

Strength development tends to take time for the dips, plus, these are stereotypically quite difficult for women because of the necessary upper body control.

Shoulder Mobility
The transition from the pull-up to the dip portion of a muscle-up requires stable but mobile shoulder sockets. Because the ring dip out of the muscle-up is initiated in a deeper starting position than usual, new athletes whose pull is not as experienced and therefore not as high up on the rings tend to struggle to turn their pull over for the transition.

Check mobility videos to maintain a healthy and prepared shoulder. It is an absolute necessity in the grind of a muscle-up; a stable shoulder is needed to turn through the very strength-intensive transition.

The Ring Muscle Up

What progressions will help acquire a full muscle-up?
Getting the most from your work in the gym means being smart about what scaling options you have and how to correctly move up a progression to the real thing. This holds true with the muscle-up, both of the ring and bar variety.

Below are some options for strength and skill development:

Ring Rows: A great start for the absolute newbie.  The more horizontal the body, the harder the ring row, but also be careful to try and emulate a more upright pull-up motion to work the lat muscles correctly.

  • Do keep the core tight and complete the full range of motion for best results.
  • Don’t think these are for wussies. Ring rows can be brutal, even for the experienced.

Hollow Body Position: Underrated, at least on the pull-up bar, and usable not just as an exercise in itself. As a good counter balance, the hollow position builds core stability while keeping posture, on the bar in particular. This transfers to many other aspects in gymnastics and CrossFit.

  • Do practice hollow rocks on flat ground and apply it to your starting position at the bottom of the muscle-up. A tight midline aids the stretch reflex during the loading phase of a kip as well.
  • Don’t get frustrated. Hollow positioning is not easy. (Unless you grew up a gymnast… lucky.)

Gymnastics Kip: A kip can be small or big in terms of the swing, and therefore can be used to eke out just one additional rep on a set of muscle-ups until failure or during a first muscle-up attempt with a humongous “load-up.” Hips are essential, whether on rings or on the bar.

Working on stringing more consecutive bar muscle-ups?  Remember to push away at the top to use a bigger “chest through” load-up swing in the later rep numbers as you near your max. On the rings, work neutral grip and allow the body to swing with hands pushed forward/out slightly to help a full kipping motion for success.

  • Do generate power from the hips to get them up and turned over.
  • Don’t worry if you get a muscle-up, or multiples, and then “lose” them for a day or more.  They come and go quite often. Stay at it.

pull up kip hollow

Transition Work: A few options exist in working the transition of the muscle-up. A common one involves dropping the rings down to ring dip level or below, and allowing the feet to assist in getting from a ring row position to the bottom of the ring dip. See a video here for quick tips.

  • Do work over time on using less legs will develop strength in the turnover. This is definitely different than a free-swinging kip to transition, however, so use this in conjunction with the next drill.
  • Don’t stay put in this drill from the ground. Full hollow body extension on the rings or the bar is quite a bit different and where you want to go with your progression.

MuscleUpDev

Assisted Muscle-ups: A coach or partner can be a huge help in assisting that last portion of the pull to get on top of the rings/bar in the transition. This is great when the kip looks good and the ring dip out of the muscle-up can be obtained but it’s that pesky transition that is holding everything back.

  • Do keep the rings in tight to pull them along the chest to directly under the armpits. Shoot the chest through and look at the toes, if that helps.
  • Don’t pull to the bar or the rings, pull up and over.

Muscle-Up-3

Multiple Reps: Once one muscle-up has been achieved, obviously efficiency with multiple reps is the next goal. Kipping out of the bottom of the dip can happen with the legs behind a bit to continue to use momentum. A typical knees to chest kip for the dip can be utilized for those a bit slower and at the starting level of linking muscle-ups together.

  • Do work on maintaining a tight midline and great hollow position to maximize hip drive for consecutive reps. At the very top, lean back and fall into the next forward swing.
  • Don’t get anxious. Be patient for the right time to pull on consecutive reps.

Strict Muscle-ups: In need of a whole other challenge? Dead hang muscle-ups are strictly for those ready. Pun intended. Use a false grip to help the wrist on top of the rings and get a big pull before working to crank the elbows back and chest on top of the hands.

See videos here and here for great visuals on the body positions needed to complete this huge piece of muscle-up extra credit.

FalseGripMuscleUp-582x319

 

Now you’ll really impress the popular kids.

Get a video so you can see yourself move, ask for coaching cues, and then celebrate your success with the public. This is one feat that deserves bragging about. No fish tales, however– be honest, be persistent, and good luck!

– Scott, 8.11.2015

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Words of the Week

band-aidInjuries

You could get injured doing CrossFit.

You could get injured doing Olympic weightlifting, kipping pull-ups, or handstand push-ups.
You could get injured while running, biking, swimming, or rowing.
You could get injured doing bench press or bicep curls.
You could even get injured during a yoga session on your living room floor.

You will NOT get injured if you are sedentary.

Without physical movement, you will be safe from any trauma of muscular exertion and metabolic work. Your body won’t ever experience workout fatigue, oxygen debt, or delayed onset of muscle soreness.

No activity, no injuries, no worries.

At least temporarily.

Instead of injury, of course, you may lose longevity and livelihood. Illness or disease could set in. These aren’t immediate injuries, per se, but are instead quite a bit more devastating.

No activity, no injuries… no benefits.

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What issues currently plague human health?
For starters, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year— that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. (1)

Each year about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 515,000 are a first heart attack and 200,000 in people who have already had cardiac infarction. Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States $108.9 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity. (2; 3)

Secondly, diabetes is so prevalent now that 1 in 3 Americans born after 2000 will develop Type 2 diabetes. This is directly related to poor diet and lack of exercise. 29.1 million people in the U.S. currently have diabetes; this equates to 9.3% of the population. 21 million people are diagnosed; 8.1 million people are undiagnosed. This results in 27.8% of people with diabetes being undiagnosed. (8)

Finally, obesity rates are alarmingly high in America. No state in the U.S. has a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. This means that more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese— 78.6 million Americans, or 34.9% of our population. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. (9)

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Are there concerns over the safety of physical activity?
Healthy lifestyle habits, including nutritious eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing lifestyle related diseases. We’ve known this for decades.

Obviously the goal is to be as safe as possible while being active. And further, if you believe CrossFit, or any method of fitness, increases the likelihood of being unsafe, then you should find something active that lowers your perceived risk. But if perfect safety is really a concern, then running, weightlifting, and quite a few other modes of exercise should be checked off your list. While we’re at it, be wary of playing pick-up basketball with friends or running around with your kids in the backyard. While these injury rates are often unreported, it’s definitely viable that weekend warriors and Turkey Bowl heroes have an increased risk of injury equivalent or greater than weekly fitness grinders.

The safety first philosophy is always a good one, but major concerns over physical activity, namely CrossFit, are seemingly cloaked in something else entirely. Ego? Ignorance? Misunderstanding?

Fitness professionals and physical therapists ultimately want what’s best for the health and well-being of the general public. This is great and never an issue. The pursuit of safe movement is valid and necessary in any athletic endeavor. Bad form, incompetent trainers, ego over safety? By all means, critique and strive for change. Still, ever see the CrossFit “fail” videos? Much of what gets shown and laughed at isn’t even from a CrossFit gym.

So what are accurate injury rates as we compare methods of training? Let’s check the stats below.

up-down-graph

What is the statistical risk of physical training?
If we look at the statistics of workout injuries across any fitness regimen, we see a large discrepancy in what gets reported. We have an issue with what is argued as truth versus hearsay.

Yet while some items remain debatable, all legitimate data gets compiled in reference to number of injuries per 1,000 training hours.

Let’s look at some common exercise and movement trends and their injury rates. References are noted.

  • Running & Triathlons:
    There is a prevalence of somewhere between 5.5 to 12.1 injuries per 1,000 hours of training in running and triathlons. (Korkia, 1993; Zwingenberger, 2014)
  • Gymnastics:
    Injury rates range from 3.5 to 22.7 injuries per 1,000 hours of training at the club level to college gymnastics. (Mahler, 2008)
  • Bodybuilding:
    45.1% of the test subjects reported some symptoms of physical injury while training, but the overall injury rate reported was 1.0 injuries per 1,000 hours of training. (Siewe, 2014)
  • Power Lifting:
    43.3% of tested Powerlifters complained of injury-related problems during workouts, however the injury rate reported was 1.0 injuries per 1,000 hours of training. (Siewe, 2011)
  • Olympic Lifting:
    In an incorporated investigation of the incidence and prevalence of injuries among both elite Olympic weightlifters and Powerlifters in both 1995 and in 2000, in both sports and across both time periods, the tested subjects incurred 2.6 injuries per 1,000 hours of training. (Raske and Norlin, 2002)
  • Strongman:
    There is a rate of 5.5 injuries per 1,000 hours in Strongman strength training. In terms of region of injury, the most common locations were lower back (24%), shoulder (21%), biceps (11%), and knee (11%). Researchers observed that strongman athletes were almost two times more likely to sustain an injury when using strongman implements than when using traditional resistance-training methods. (Winwood, 2014)
  • CrossFit:
    CrossFit has an injury rate of 3.1 injuries per 1,000 hours of training. (Hak, 2013)
    CrossFit has an injury rate of 2.4 injuries per 1,000 hours of training in regards to true incidence versus prevalence. (Giordano, 2015) In both reports, zero cases of rhabdomyolysis were reported.

falling

Is CrossFit dangerous?
There are quite a few online articles criticizing CrossFit for being dangerous; criticism exists in everything from small blogs to the Washington Post, CNN, Men’s Health, Huffington Post, Breaking Muscle, and ESPN.

The most recent ado in the CrossFit injury debate is the information released from an Ohio State University study performed in 2013. The study, entitled CrossFit-Based High-Intensity Power Training Improves Maximal Aerobic Fitness and Body Composition, included 54 original participants, of which 43 completed the 10-week CrossFit exercise program challenge. The results were subsequently published in the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

The conclusion? Participants burned fat and expanded their VO2 max (volume of oxygen uptake).

The kinesiology doctors of the research study inferred from their data, “a CrossFit-based high intensity power training program can yield meaningful improvements of maximal aerobic capacity and body composition in men and women of all levels of fitness.” (11)

However, the study also reported that 16% of the 11 participants who didn’t finish the 10 weeks cited “overuse or injury” as their reason for failing to complete the study. The authors also called into question “the risk-benefit ratio for such extreme training programs,” even cautioning that the measured improvements from CrossFit training “may not be worth the risk of injury and lost training time.” (11)

At which point, CrossFit Inc. fired back at what they called “junk science” with a full lawsuit, and in turn incited much of the internet public to label this move as bravado… as well as some other choice words. The issue that CrossFit Inc. stated through Russell Berger, a head trainer and legal advisor, was that “overuse injury” wasn’t a defined term by the Ohio State associates, but more so, when questioned, the nine subjects that the NSCA/Ohio State Devor study claimed were injured have all sworn to the court that they were actually not injured throughout the course of the program. (12)

Confusing? Definitely. Yet rightfully questionable on a few angles. Is CrossFit Inc. in fact a bully, or alternatively, did CrossFit simply stand up to the fitness scene with confidence?

The decision lies within.

So as we conclude, indeed, there is an inherent danger in physical activity, and yes, you could get injured doing CrossFit.

Of course, there’s always the contrary to consider.

– Scott, 8.4.2015

 

References

  1. Murphy SL, Xu JQ, Kochanek KD. Deaths: Final data for 2010. National vital statistics reports. 2013; 61(4).
  2. Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Blaha MJ, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics — 2014 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2014;128.
  3. Heidenreich PA, Trogdon JG, Khavjou OA, et al. Forecasting the future of cardiovascular disease in the United States: a policy statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2011;123: 933–44. Epub 2011 Jan 24.
  4. Heron M. Deaths: Leading causes for 2008. National vital statistics reports. 2012; 60(6).
  5. CDC. Disparities in Adult Awareness of Heart Attack Warning Signs and Symptoms — 14 States, 2005. MMWR. 2008;57(7):175–179.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State Specific Mortality from Sudden Cardiac Death: United States, 1999. MMWR. 2002;51(6):123–126.
  7. CDC. Million Hearts: strategies to reduce the prevalence of leading cardiovascular disease risk factors. United States, 2011. MMWR2011;60(36):1248–51.
  8. CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States, 2014. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2014.
  9. CDC. Obesity prevalence across states and territories. Prevalence of Self –Reported Obesity Among U.S. Adults by Race/Ethnicity and State, BRFSS 2011-2013.
  10. Beardsly C. Which strength sport is most likely to cause an injury in training? Strength and Conditioning Research. 2014.
  11. Smith MM, Sommer AJ, Starkoff BE, Devor ST, et al. Crossfit-based high intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: 2013:27(11):3159-72.
  12. Berger R. NSCA “CrossFit Study” Fraud? The CrossFit Journal: 2013.

Words of the Week

chalk board huge equation

The Fitness Equation

Things can look so simple on paper: fuel, work, rest, repeat.

In reality, we mess this up quite a bit.

If life were a math test, at best we’d earn a C. Maybe a C+. Deserving, since we zone out during most lectures, only hearing half of each life lesson. We probably fell asleep on our proverbial desk a handful of times, and we definitely asked to see a friend’s homework more than once. Plus, we never show our work.

And it’s extremely likely we ordered ourselves a pizza at one point or another.

spicoli pizza

Pay attention.
We live in shortcuts and half-truths, cutting corners when possible. It catches up quick, in terms of lifelong health and well-being.

But we also try to make up for our fitness shortcomings, often compensating by overdoing. It’s like cramming for a test the night before.

We’re slackers, and we should just pay attention already. Class is always in session.

Einstein_tongue

In months and years past, topics within the fitness equation have received article attention. We recently focused on nutrition and using food as fuel, we previously examined sleep and soreness, and we constantly look into the wide spectrum of exercise movements and related aspects of physical work. But just because we examined one piece of the puzzle doesn’t mean we solved all of our problems.

There’s a big picture present, and in fitness it involves plenty of real math. VO2Max, caloric intake, metabolic rate, power output, and so on.

To err is human.
It’s not hard to make mistakes in our training equation, though. In fact, if we’re honest, we all do. Or at least anyone pursuing physical fitness has.

It wasn’t necessarily a huge error, but something has gone wrong at one point or another, right? Simply because we’re human. We’re not perfect. Maybe it was moving incorrectly, with sloppy form. Maybe it was overtraining, putting our body through too much for one day, one week, or one training cycle. We’re not talking about a life-threatening mistake, necessarily; these minor issues just prove our training is in a constant flux. It’s a learning process through each and every week as we work out and advance in this fitness journey.

It’s not hard to make mistakes in nutrition either. I mean, come on… some of these issues aren’t even accidental. Because, donuts… that’s why.

Purposeful cheat meals are actually a usable tool for some people, and a personal belief that, for many of us who won’t spiral out of control, it keeps us sane. Yet nutrition is very often a missing piece of our equation, like a little mathematic misstep that takes us further away from the correct answer as things get complicated.

And what about recovery? Well, if it was possible to mess up something as simple as doing nothing, leave it to us humans. But we get impatient sometimes, neglecting to take rest days. Or else we use too much time off, starting over almost from square one each time. In addition, we might not even know what to do with the recovery time that is taken, or how to use activity in the correct way on rest days to stay loose and maximize physical gains.

Passing this test called life.
Follow the fitness equation. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as we sometimes make it.

1. Fuel up, primarily for function.

  • Eat. Don’t be afraid of food. It is our energy source, after all.
  • From Food = Fuel: “Our brain runs on carbohydrates. Our muscles do the same, and replenish with protein.  Our body systems use fats in so many ways… it’s unfortunate they get such a bad rap. [1]  These are our calorie providing macronutrients, and with help from vitamins, minerals, and the almighty water, our day to day tasks can be completed.”
  • Know your body and find out what works both before and after your workouts and competitions.

Calorie-Balance-Image

2. Correctly use the progressive overload principle.

  • The body systems respond to work. But they especially adapt when overloaded. Use the overload principle by placing your muscles and cardio system under duress yet within an exhaustion level that doesn’t cause degenerative tissue breakdown. This will be noticed with overuse injuries, longer recovery cycles, and/or immune system weakness. A bit tricky, yes, but that’s why you don’t go run a marathon every day or attempt to deadlift a car just for fun. [1] [2]
  • From Scaling: “Keep the body adapting to new stimulus. Your muscles, connecting tissues, energy systems and central nervous system will thank you because you’ve improved. CrossFit doesn’t really get any easier, you just become fitter. This allows more workload to occur.”

progressive overload

3. Follow up overload with recovery.

  • Healthy food can be put on the table. Strength and conditioning work can be done. Mobility issues can be addressed. Weaknesses can be attacked. But sore muscles should receive rest days as well as sleep and replenishment.
  • From Sleep: “We may spend an hour in the gym each day, but it’s the 23 hours spent recovering where you make actual gains in your fitness. We do work and our cells adapt. The body rebuilds. Muscle cells, connective tissue, and cardiovascular efficiency all improve to resist future stress. During recovery, there are a series of natural hormone responses to the work that has recently been completed; growth occurs with your central nervous and endocrine systems as well.”
  • Actively recover by using movement to stimulate repair. Our body can do its inherent job after a stressful workout or competition with mobility exercises and self-massage, aiding in recovery. But rest days are used for just that– rest. So doing as little physical work as possible will help. It’s tough, but try not to get roped into another hard workout, even if it sounds awesome. See the bigger picture.

stress-recovery-cycle

4. Repeat.

  • Cycle through these steps in an effort to be consistent, while still using variance. But remember, variety is not the same as being random; follow a program for maximal results.
  • Fuel up, work hard, rest when needed, and reap the rewards.

 

Alright, nerds, don’t even ask if this will be on the test. Of course it will. This is the test.

– Scott, 7.27.2014
nerds!

Running, Part 3: Workout Programming

track cross country scenery

Running

In the last of this three-part series on “Running,” we’ll examine workout programming.

Part 1 looked at shoes & footwear, and Part 2 checked out mechanics with a quick checklist for form & efficiency.

This is meant to serve as a starting point in all three facets of running; obviously it doesn’t encompass everything in the running world, but provides a little insight and aims to provoke thought for beginners and experienced runners alike.

 

Untitled

Part 3: Workout Programming

Running can be fun. If you’re good at it.

We looked at this a bit in Part 1 and Part 2– running as a skill. Improved mechanics can increase speed and endurance. Just get good, right? Then you’ll be on your way to the future… over the hills and far away from the land of bad habits where you once ran. Because excelling in something challenging like a sport or physical activity has its rewards. In the case of running, it’s also the gain in fitness that people shoot for.

But even as a running and endurance coach, I will be the first to admit that in the 2oth and into the 21st century we have taken this concept a bit too far. The idea that if some is good, more is better. Well the cardio craze is a thing of the past– the 8 Track tape to today’s digital age. The old school mentality of fitness that never progressed. Marathon after marathon, endurance event after endurance event creates that type of high mileage, repetitive cardio that may negatively impact joint health and/or muscle development. Especially if other aspects of fitness are neglected.

That’s why CrossFit makes so much sense. At least for the unspecialized athlete. And why cross training is of the essence as an avid runner or endurance athlete.

Oxidative training got a little focus in a previous Words of the Week article entitled MetCons. Quick review: While physical activity can be addictive, specifically metabolic conditioning, it’s the type of conditioning you use and the frequency at which you use it that matter. High volume training is not the same as overtraining. If you train smart by providing enough stimulus for progress, but not so much that you overtrain, any oxidative stress from your training will not damage your health but instead will help your gains on the road to fitness.

For running programming, it’s important to briefly cite a few schools of thought on speed and endurance development. Then we can examine the best way to incorporate running into a fitness program specific to CrossFit or for an athlete looking for overall fitness. Training an Olympian or collegiate runner is a different story in regards to programming. But in the general fitness pursuit, we can and should still borrow from the leading research and publications for elite level runners in order to keep up in this fast-paced world.

So let’s hit the starting blocks…

Starting-Blocks2

Leading names and companies in the world of running this century include, but are not limited to:

Competitor Running
Competitor Magazine has been a go-to for runners and triathletes everywhere, and has an excellent article on the 8 Basic Types of Runs. Simple and easy to understand, they list the following as a good explanation of styles of running workouts:

  • Base Run – a moderate-length run taken at a runner’s natural pace.
  • Recovery Run – a shorter run performed at an easy pace.
  • Long Run – a base run that lasts long enough to leave a runner moderately to severely fatigued.
  • Progression Run – a run that begins at a runner’s natural pace and ends with a faster segment.
  • Tempo Run – a sustained effort at lactate threshold intensity, which is the fastest pace that can be sustained for one hour in highly fit runners and the fastest pace that can be sustained for 20 minutes in less fit runners.
  • Fartlek – a Swedish word meaning “speed play,” where the runner mixes a base run with faster intervals of varying duration or distance.
  • Hill Repeats – repeated short segments of hard uphill running used to increase aerobic power, high-intensity fatigue resistance, pain tolerance, and run-specific strength.
  • Intervals – repeated shorter segments of fast running separated by slow jogging or standing recoveries.

 

Runner’s World
Boasting a wide resume of great runners as writers on their staff, Runner’s World has been a front runner (pun intended) in helping beginners with training regimens for quite a while. Like Competitor Magazine, Runner’s World has even published articles regarding CrossFit, as seen below.

 

Jack Daniels
Not the drink, but the exercise physiologist. (The drink is for after the workout.) Publishing his book, Jack Daniels’ Running Formula in 1998 and refining it in 2004, Daniels has provided the quintessential look at Cross Country and Distance Running. He provides data driven explanations and leading training advice aimed at different running abilities.

Daniels is a perfect starting point for any pure distance runner and provides workouts that advance as you do.

 

Others
There are also a slew of 5k/10k/Marathon programs set up by successful distance runners that emulate their personal training. The bad news is their workout programming (including weekly mileage, styles of runs, and strength work) was set up for their bodies, not the public. If there’s a sure fire way to get hurt quickly it’s by following mileage or intensity you can’t handle.

Workout-Types-and-Percentages-of-Max-450

Typical Distance Running Program Percentages

 

Most of the running programs out there are all aimed at the running specialist, which most readers here are not. If you stumbled upon this write-up, chances are you are interested in running as a supplement to your CrossFit workouts, or vice versa.

Therefore, the best CrossFit/Running hybrid would take on its own look.

Just like any specialist athlete, a running specialist looking to supplement their sport with CrossFit will not dive in as deep into the variance. In turn, a CrossFitter will not put in as many straight running workouts each week.

So, taking a nod from CrossFit Endurance, we can use the mentality of keeping intensity and anaerobic training in the forefront while borrowing from the expertise of leading running gurus. Anerobic training has been documented in claims to have a positive effect on aerobic capacity, but the inverse does not. However, constant aerobic training can have a place, even in a CrossFitter’s repertoire, and especially for athletes looking to gain running capacity or those toying with endurance races (5k’s, Half Marathons, Mini-Triathlons, etc.).

A few sample weeks from yours truly are found below. This is a very simplified look and not one-size-fits-all; it leaves out progression in fitness or the possibility of races or other competitions. It also assumes the athlete can handle 6 days of exercise, many coming from intense CrossFit WODs. If this is not the case, then the sample weeks would not apply. A newbie would take an easier approach according to ability and fitness level.

SAMPLE WEEK 1

MONDAY

CrossFit Workout

TUESDAY

CrossFit Workout

WEDNESDAY

Easy Base Run

THURSDAY

CrossFit Workout

+

Tempo Run

FRIDAY

CrossFit Workout

SATURDAY

Long Run

SUNDAY

Recovery Run

or

Rest Day

SAMPLE WEEK 2

MONDAY

CrossFit Workout

TUESDAY

Fartlek Run

or

Hill Workout

WEDNESDAY

Recovery Run

THURSDAY

CrossFit Workout

+

Short Intervals

FRIDAY

CrossFit Workout

SATURDAY

Long Run

SUNDAY

Recovery Run

or

Rest Day

 

Specifics of the workouts themselves have been left out for the sake of coaching preference and focus of the athlete.

Also realize the best plan must be set for you, and you alone. This is what one-on-one coaching would provide, from a trusted coach and programmer. The best training plan would be one that is individualized, or at the very least geared towards the wants and needs of the athlete.

If you have just taken the step towards minimalist footwear and better running mechanics, it would be smart to drop down the mileage (if you’re currently running) so fatigue doesn’t just cause you to revert to old habits. If you consider yourself prepared and an experienced runner, supplement the running work with CrossFit, or your CrossFit workouts with running, in terms of one or two double sessions a week. Yes, even if you’re busy.

In general, CrossFit during the week and hit running intervals that are short and sweet with great form. If you are a distance competitor, run your long runs on Saturdays. Let the rest fall into place with the help of a coach and a steady plan for nutrition and recovery.

 

So away you go. Your running future awaits, with lots to consider for footwear, mechanics, and workouts.

Stay healthy and run fast, my friends.

– Scott, 8.11.2013

Running, Part 2: Form and Efficiency

runners-form

Running

In this second of a three-part series on “Running,” we’ll examine form & efficiency.

Part 1 looked at shoes and footwear, and Part 3 will discuss workouts and programming. The goal is to skim the surface of running culture, and especially to provide a starting point for beginners or those who have been facing nagging injuries (or a lack of success).

badrunning

Part 2: Form & Efficiency

While running, only one thing has contact with the ground at any given time. Your foot. Just one foot, otherwise we’ve got more to work on than form and efficiency. It’s this bipedal movement that sets us apart from four legged animals, so it made sense to focus a bit on footwear in Part 1. The next natural topic to examine would then be the best and most efficient way to move quickly while running.

To correct bad running form, sometimes we put the proverbial cart before the horse.

We worry about little things instead of major items. It’s backwards thinking. We can’t worry about a leaky sink if the house is on fire.

If anything, people say things to each other like “use your arms” or “keep the knees up.” Both coaching cues are generally useless, unfortunately. It’s like an inexperienced coach telling people to look up while squatting. Maybe it works… most likely it doesn’t. We want the chest and torso up during a squat, not just the cervical neck. To fix the form of movement itself, we need to address the root of the exercise. “Globally” and then “locally,” as termed by exercise physiologists like Kelly Starrett.

The same applies for running.

Funny enough, our bodies can actually find the most efficient way to move fast on our feet with extended exposure to the movement. Especially as a developing child. The more a person runs, the more their gait fixes itself, in a way. The body needs to process oxygen and cellular energy in the form of ATP, and also limit the impact of landing with gravity by absorbing that force through the foot into the leg. The two concepts in play here are running economy (oxygen uptake) and running efficiency (movement of the body).

In basic terms, if the body is spending extra energy or feeling the negative impact of running, it usually adapts.

Economy is developed with metabolic conditioning. While running economy requires a specialized development that a person can acquire through running workouts, conditioning can also be achieved in many ways besides just running. This will be discussed in Part 3.

With all this said, let’s dive in to the smoke-filled world of running efficiency. Hardhats on. We’ve got some fires to put out.

goodrunning

Included below is a quick checklist; coaching is never one-size-fits-all in its philosophy. Just like a person’s Clean & Jerk might look different in set up and form from their training partner, the same can be said for running. So let’s understand that this is a simplified start. PLUS, the flipside and confusing part of this checklist is that there are many elite endurance runners who in fact have tendencies contradictory to these recommendations that wouldn’t otherwise be taught or work for most runners out there. This just proves the point that each person is slightly different and in-person coaching is necessary.

Top 5 checklist that will set any runner off right:

1. Posture

  • Stay tall. Focus your gaze straight ahead as much as possible.
  • Keep your head at a steady height. This will help lessen the impact of landing. If we look at a runner’s head and draw a line following the top of the head over a certain distance, is shouldn’t travel up and down much at all. The term for this is oscillation.
  • Keep the arms high and tight, but relaxed. Unless you are all-out sprinting, close the angle of the bent arm to less than 90 degrees.
  • Watch so that the arms don’t cross your midline, causing unnecessary action in front of the body. You don’t have to move your arms as much as most people think… especially during longer runs.

2. Fall

  • Bend at the ankle, not the hips. Keep the midline as intact as a Deadlift… pubic bone to sternum distance really shouldn’t close too much while running.
  • Use gravity. Let the biggest force in effect here work for your benefit.

3. Pull

  • Pull the knee in front by using the hamstring. But only pull the foot under the butt high enough to make the next landing under the hips. (See #4.)
  • Relax feet at the ankle joint. They should not point, and definitely should not pull up toward shin.

4. Land

  • Run light. Avoid pounding or loud feet.
  • Instead of reaching out in front of you, which ends in a pretty gruesome heel strike that travels through the knee to the hip, keep a steady running cadence with feet under the hips.

5. Cadence

  • Aim for a running cadence somewhere around 180. To find your cadence, count the number of one foot strikes in 20 seconds and multiply by 6.
  • Avoid taking strides that are too big. This is a misconception for more speed.

Footstrike11

 

Other resources for good running form include Chi Running, Pose Running, and CrossFit Endurance.

While we’re at it, we might as well break down the door to a few common running injuries. Axe in hand, let’s very quickly address the burning issues some runners experience.

Crash course on running injuries, as they relate to mistakes in form:

• Get shin splits?
Might be because you flex your foot up at your knee for miles at a time. That can fry out your muscles/connective tissue at the front of your lower leg.

• Get knee pain?
Might be because you heel plant or your IT bands are tight. Get a foam roller on your IT’s as much as you can. Check here for ideas.

• Get achilles pain?
Few things: Might be you’re scared to heel plant and have now started tiptoe running or you forefoot land too much. Or else your tight calves have transferred pain to the tendon. Or you just started into minimal footwear and went too drastic, causing a stretching of the achilles your body wasn’t quite prepared for.

And so we have it. Running. All in all a much more enjoyable experience once you gain speed and endurance and can run injury free. We called the fire department to put out those blazing problems and can now get to fixing the little things. Next steps: learn more about yourself and what works and doesn’t work, find an experienced coach to help, or contact us for a running analysis if you’d like.

Be sure to check out the “Running” finale in Part 3, where we’ll focus on workout basics and programming quality runs into your week.

Then you’ll be off and running like your hair is on fire.

– Scott, 8.4.2013

Running, Part 1: Footwear

Running Wrong

Running

Running is a skill.

Something inherent to our nature, it oftentimes gets neglected in terms of form and efficiency. Just run, right? Put one foot in front of the other and go. But like any physical movement, there is an efficient way to run.

Funny thing is, we have enabled ourselves to become bad runners.

With the development of flashy running shoes and fancy adjustable treadmills, ironically we’re going no where fast. Sure, we have the toys, but they’ve made us soft. We’ve become virtual thumb-sucking, spoiled little kids, crying for more dessert. In the last 100 years especially, we have put more cushion to our running than anything we’d truly come across in nature. A nice silky blanket for our feet. Which means as 21st century adults we run slower than diaper-butt toddlers.

No wonder people hate to run.

It comes out at times with a whiny tone and a pouty face. When pushed to run fast or in finding out that running is part of the daily workout: “Ohh… I hate running.”

I generally shoot back, sarcastically, “That’s probably because you’re not good at it.”

Nine times out of ten, this is true. Yeah, sure… there are people who are naturally talented runners and still don’t like it very much. But in general, if you hate a physical movement it’s because you don’t excel at it.

Despite all the hatred, somewhere around 36 million people run every year. 40-50% experience at least one injury. So what’s to blame?

In this three part series on “Running,” we’ll examine footwear, form & efficiency, and programming.

common-running-injuries

Anything sound familiar?

Part 1: Footwear

If we first look at evolution, running was highly necessary to stay away from predators or in the hunt for food. Centuries after that it became a means of transmitting valuable information when animals weren’t available. And now, centuries after that, it is merely part of sport and competition, or a means to stay fit.

Most recently in that evolution, we decided to pad our precious feet for protection.

Sticks and stones may hurt my feet, but shoes will always haunt me.

Because, with the push for fitness, jogging became a craze. At least in America. Interestingly, many civilizations of the world haven’t actually experienced the issues with running like some of the developed countries. They’ve been endurance running as part of life for generations with very little injury or overtraining. Think about it… “Jogging” as a term even denotes slow, methodical running. More on this in Part 3.

For Americans, it wasn’t just Track or Cross Country competitions like we saw for years in the Olympics or in high school and college sports. This was now for prolonged exercise. Aerobic training for the masses. And the footwear prompted by this movement allowed people to do things while running that no person could ever do barefoot.

Heel plant. Land heavily. Shock the joints with shitty form. This making sense?

Shoes allowed many things to remain less than ideal: muscle imbalance, poor landing, inefficient stride… all to never improve.

No pain, no gain, right? Wrong. Just as bad as work shoes, running shoes were now changing our natural mechanics too.

barefoot-running-research-2

In essence, the absorption of force sounds scientific and useful, but has ruined our innate development as human runners. Well, that and the fact that after not running for years, many adults pick it up without that inherent development at a weekly mileage that causes overuse injuries. And then people either look for more padded footwear or stop running altogether.

Since realizing this, the running society has moved back towards a shoe structure that mimics barefoot running and natural physical movement. In fact, Google search barefoot running, minimal footwear, or even CrossFit, and you’ll get a slew of brand names that will put you closer to the ground. “Zero Drop” is a hot term right now, which you may already know. But going barefoot or wearing a zero drop shoe probably isn’t the best for a runner putting in even just a few miles each week if they haven’t been truly running like that since childhood.

This is why footwear begs to be discussed, at least briefly, in looking at the topic of running– because of its impact on efficiency.

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The bad news: going into minimal footwear after years of cushioned running shoes can be equally problematic. It will be shocking to the system, so a gradual move is smarter. If you switch from a supportive shoe to a minimalist shoe and keep running like nothing has changed, you’ll probably just get hurt. This is where Part 2 and Part 3 will come into play.

The good news: it really isn’t that complicated to find a shoe that works. If one doesn’t feel good, move to another. Read up, take advice from people who are runners (not just salesmen pitching the most expensive shoe on the market), and test them out.

While there is not one perfect shoe or brand name that I can suggest to everyone in internetland, here are a few places to start. From a more cushioned shoe to a very minimal one, at least at this point in time. These are just links for pictures and quick write-ups, not necessarily the cheapest deal out there. And who knows how long the links will be active.

Minimalist Running Shoe Options:

Nike: Believe it or not, the Nike Free is actually one of the more cushioned “minimalist” shoes out there. They’re just great at marketing. Men’s. Women’s.

Newton: A more expensive product, Newton boasts less overuse injuries with their patented technology. However, these are still very cushioned. Men’s. Women’s.

Reebok: Typically more of CrossFit shoe, the Nanos offer a little more cushion than the shoes below but do have a small heel drop in comparison to their “normal” running shoes. Men’s 2.0. Women’s 2.0. Men’s 3.0. Women’s 3.0.

Inov8: Marketed as more of a cross trainer, these came out with critical support especially in the CrossFit community and are an option when running too. Unisex sizing. F-Lite 232. F-Lite 195. Bare-XF.

New Balance: A great go-to for minimalist shoes, they developed their Minimus and improved it over the years. Generally a place I send people who are looking for a natural shoe, there are quite a few choices in terms of style and heel drop. Road Men’s. Road Women’s. Trail Men’s. Trail Women’s. Zero Drop Men’s. Zero Drop Women’s.

Merrell: Similar to the New Balance, Merrell offers a minimalist series they call “Barefoot.” Road Men’s. Road Women’s. Trail Men’s. Trail Women’s.

Vibram: Those ugly toe-shoes that make people stop and stare, Vibram hit it big and then went through lawsuits for unsubstantiated claims. These are extremely minimal; basically rubber socks, and prove the answer isn’t to go completely “barefoot” because that can be injurious itself.

 

Of course this is not an exhaustive list. Check hundreds of reviews at the NaturalRunningCenter.com and BarefootRunningShoes.org for more extensive listings, including other brands not mentioned above. Plus, many experts and running organizations provide info that may be worthwhile in articles such as “Should I Run Barefoot?” and “How to Prepare for Barefooting.”

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Barefoot vs. Shoes

 

So there you have it. An initial look into the footwear of the old yet ever-evolving sport of running.

Looking ahead to “Running, Parts 2 & 3,” we’ll examine common mistakes and technique fixes in form & efficiency and then implementing running workouts in programming.

In other words, we drop the pacifier, learn how to run, and have some fitness for dessert.

-Scott, 7.29.2013