Make Meaning

“How did you do that?”

On one of the first warm days of the year I came home with a little light left in the day and got to play catch with my son in the back yard.

Slowly it dawned on me that he was throwing overhand…very well. Moments later he picked up a 2×4 and beckoned me to throw him a pitch. He smashed it over the neighbor’s fence.

It took me a second to scrape my chin off the ground.

“Daniel,” I asked, “who taught you how to do that? How do you know how to throw and swing?”

“Grandpa taught me!” he replied.

That was the moment I decided to sell TwinTown Fitness.

Being That Guy

I realized that I had become “that guy”: the dad who isn’t around much; and when he is physically present, he’s not engaged, forever twiddling on a smart phone, ignoring his family to attend to business.

“That guy” is happy to outsource his parenting responsibilities to grandpa and grandma, or whomever really.

Yes it sucks but it’s temporary because he’ll have more time “later”, and then “that guy” can be the dad he really wants to be.

But what if “later” is too late?

I am who I am. And I’m not that guy.

What’s Next?

Peter, Kayser, and Brock are the new owners of TwinTown Fitness, and I cannot imagine a better outcome.

Each of them has earned my gratitude, not through loyalty to me, but through their devotion to you, the athletes of TwinTown Fitness.

They are servant-leaders in the truest sense of the word.  I have no higher praise.

Thank You

It has been my very great privilege to accompany you on your journey over the last five years. Our paths were destined to intersect, for reasons I scarcely comprehend, but I know that I am the richer for it. Thank you.

Manage Your Allergies Without Drugs

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Spring is awesome. Unless you have hay fever. A constantly runny nose is not awesome at all.

You know what else isn’t awesome? Allergy medication. I hate anti-histamines. They make me feel like my face skin is being stretched against my skull. Not cool!

All my adult life I’ve been resigned to miserable seasonal allergies. Then the strangest thing happened. I went paleo and my symptoms became much, much better. I still have sniffles during allergy season but I can actually function like a normal person. What’s up with that?

I think my allergies improved for two main reasons. First I became a teetotaler at around the same time I went paleo. I didn’t make the connection at the time, but it turns out that alcohol can aggravate hay fever. Histamine is produced by the fermentation process and histamine triggers allergy symptoms. So there is an upside to abstention from alcohol: no more sniffles!

In trying to adhere to the paleo diet, I also eliminated grain from my diet. That one dietary change had incredibly deep and far-reaching impact on my health. My cognition improved and I became less depressed; I lost an enormous amount of belly fat; I stopped getting sick all the time; best of all, my seasonal allergies improved dramatically. It turns out that many hay fever sufferers are sensitized to proteins commonly found in grains.

Allergies are like grime on a mirror. They may not kill you in a sudden or dramatic way but they take away your shine and make life harder. Giving up grains was a very small price to pay to get back a little of my shine.

Three Reasons I love Boot Camp

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I love coaching Boot Camp. Three times a week I get a charge you wouldn’t believe. My wife noted that I seem happier when I come home from Boot Camp and I started wondering why that would be. Here are a few reasons.

1) Cooperation over Competition

From warmup to cool down everything in Boot Camp is a cooperative, goal-directed exercise. In other words, the group has to work together to achieve something that would be impossible as individuals. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs a sense of belonging is a more fundamental need than self-esteem. Being the alpha who crushes a WOD in a CrossFit class may be great for your self esteem, but it’s also inherently isolating. In Boot Camp we cooperate and succeed together, rather than isolate ourselves through competition. That’s why Boot Campers smile and laugh, even in the middle of a workout – a deep emotional need is being met.

2) It’s a Real Team

If you’ve ever played a team sport you know what it’s like to hang with the same training cohort week after week. You become bonded with your team in a way that is frankly impossible to duplicate in a casual training environment. We never do introductions in Boot Camp because we all know each other. We have a level of familiarity which you can only get through continuous experience with a bonded training cohort. Why does this matter so much? Because as humans we are wired to show compassion and empathy to those with whom we are very familiar. Think about how powerful that is in a training environment!

3) It’s Different Fun

Because barbell competency is not a priority we are free to incorporate movements that don’t exist in the CrossFit movement pool. I can tell you after 7 years in the CrossFit trenches that wall ball never becomes fun. But it is an essential part of the canon which you must practice constantly. In Boot Camp we do things like the Bulgarian split squat, the badonkadonk, foot-hand crawls, etc.. I draw from MovNat, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Yoga, CrossFit, gymnastics, RKC, and more to make a training experience that is truly varied, incredibly challenging, massively rewarding, and fun.

We have just a few spots left in our April 14 Boot Camp. If you want to get in on this, sign up here.

 

When the student is ready…

Renzo Gracie may not be familiar to CrossFitters but he is a legendary Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teacher and competitor. In this video he is talking about his student John Danaher. John Danaher is grappling coach to UFC champion George St. Pierre and widely recognized as one of the world’s best grapplers.

Many are familiar with the saying when the student is ready, the teacher appears. This kōan is usually interpreted from the standpoint of the student. i.e. what qualities does a student need before she can appreciate the teacher?

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I like this video because it shows the qualities that a teacher needs to truly appreciate the student. And as Renzo shows, one of the most important qualities a teacher can possess is patience.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears – he was there all along.

Is the handstand important?

10629348_915660018452195_1740050043360976357_oA very high level gymnastics coach told me once that if you walk into any gymnastics gym, the athletes with the best handstand will also be the best overall gymnasts. He went on to say that the handstand is to gymnastics what the squat is to CrossFit: a foundation skill which forms the basis of almost all other skills.

I get his point, but I think there is another reason why great hand-standers are great at everything else.

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Namely, when you are balancing on your hands you have to get the little things right. You are working within extremely narrow tolerances with almost no margin for error. This is different than other CrossFit elements. With the muscle-up for instance, a very strong person with very poor technique can still get on top of the rings. Not so, the handstand. A physical brute with poor emotional management will never get the handstand.

Remember that when we talk about “skill transfer” we refer to both physical and emotional skills. Of the two, emotional skills are more important, as they transfer to everything else in your life, in or out of the gym. If you can commit to something; if you get the little things right; if you fight for position and pick yourself up when you fall down; doors will open for you in mysterious ways.

Gratitude And The Main Metric

ipadOne of the rules of product design is to focus on a Main Metric. Using this approach, a design team will isolate a single measure of quality or fitness and continually assess the product against that metric throughout the product’s life cycle. The benefit of a Main Metric is that it tends to focus your efforts which results in a more coherent product. A good example of this would be the iPad. The iPad is only good for one thing, but at that one thing the iPad is truly remarkable.

Here’s the important bit. The designers of the iPad were not focused on aesthetics as the main metric. Nevertheless the iPad is quite beautiful. How did that happen? The iPad is beautiful because its designers carved away everything that didn’t support the main functional metric. Imagine what the iPad would look like with a CD expansion bay, or even a USB port. The iPad is such a uniquely satisfying user experience because it doesn’t try to do everything.

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In the context of fitness isolating a main metric is quite tricky. What is that single measure which can justify the sweat and tears you shed in the gym? What is that unique point of satisfaction that keeps you coming to the gym, even when you’re sore and tired?

In my years as a trainer I estimate that 90% of my clients start with a goal of body composition. In other words, for that 90% the initial main metric is primarily aesthetic. However not a single client has ever thanked me for losing weight or leaning out or fitting into smaller pants. When clients thank me, it always goes to something deeper: a stronger connection to their body; being a better parent or partner; longer life; a bigger lift; a higher jump; a marathon PR, etc. In their gratitude, these people have identified their main metric.

How To Wake Up

lightFor the millennia before electricity, humans woke up to the gradual light of sunrise. Our brains thrive in this environment. Our circadian rhythm, cortisol cycles, and sleep health are all evolved for dawn stimulation.

Somewhere along the line things got twisted. Instead of waking up with the sun in a relaxed and energized state we now lurch awake, in the dark, to blaring alarm clocks. This means that your first waking experience is a fight-or-flight response with your stress hormones going through the roof. It’s not a great start to the day. And unfortunately, long-term activation of your body’s stress response can cause heart disease, obesity, depression and general misery.

Speaking as someone who hasn’t slept past 4:00AM since 2009,  I feel like I have unique insight into how lame an unnatural wake pattern is. (very lame) After years of torment I finally decided to make a change so I got a wake-up light. I bought a Phillips model, because it was the cheapest, and it’s turned out to be pretty much the shizzle.

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It works by gradually lightening until it reaches a level of brightness similar to sunrise. Then it makes a chirping bird noise, just in case the light wasn’t enough to wake you. I’ve been using this thing for a couple of months and only once have I needed the bird chirps to wake up. Usually by the end of the lighting cycle I’m awake and coherent.

The wake-up light is not a quick fix for a crummy lifestyle. But I’ve found that starting the day off with healthy hormone levels makes me more effective and less stressed throughout the day. I also think I fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply through the night.

True, waking up to a light bulb isn’t quite as good as waking up with our big yellow friend in the sky, but I’ll take it any day over a blaring klaxon and flashing LEDs.

Help! My shoulders are leaking!

scapYour shoulder is made up of three bones: the humerus (upper arm), clavicle (collar bone), and scapula (shoulder blade). The humerus connects to the scapula via a ball and socket joint called the glenohumeral joint. So any articulation of your upper arm will involve your scapula to some degree.

The funny thing about the scapula is that it’s not directly attached to your skeleton. It is held in place by muscles in your back. If these muscles are loosey-goosey when you try to push something heavy over your head, the scapula will sag and you will be leaking energy out of your shoulders. The heavy thing is likely to bonk you on the head. If the heavy thing is your body, and you are doing a handstand, you might bonk your head on the ground.

Before you press overhead you should give yourself something solid to push from by engaging your shoulder blades. But how can this be accomplished? Most of us are very “connected” to our front sides, probably from years of navel gazing and minute examination of our abs in the bathroom mirror. How are you supposed to connect to some weird bone in your back that you can’t even see?

Here’s a drill that I will freely admit I stole from Pavel. Stand with your back against the wall with your knees bent. Walk your shoulder blades up the wall in a R-L-R-L pattern until your knees are straight. Strive to move each of your scaps independently and really reach with each. Now work your way back down. Repeat!

Running isn’t free

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One of my talking points about CrossFit is that it is a skill-intensive training paradigm. I like to trot out “Nancy” as an example. Nancy is one of our benchmark workouts consisting of five rounds of a 400 meter run and fifteen 95 pound overhead squats. Nancy compels you to perform a technical skill under duress which is how you know that you really own your technique. Any knuckle head can overhead squat 95 pounds fresh. But if you can do it fifteen times after sprinting 400 meters and then repeat that couplet four more times…well then maybe you really know how to overhead squat.

But there is a hidden presumption inside of this. Namely, we often fall into the trap of thinking of a load-bearing element (OH squat) as the high skill element in a couplet. That means that running or other forms of locomotion are seen as low skill elements whose sole purpose is to create duress. After all, everybody knows how to run right?

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Pop quiz. Given two athletes who finish Nancy with identical scores; Athlete #1 has very high parity across her 400 meter pieces with no more than 5 seconds divergence; Athlete #2 has low parity across his runs; he finishes his third 400 meter piece 30 seconds slower than his first. Which athlete is more technically proficient as a runner?

Duh. Obviously Athlete #1 is a more technical runner because she is able to perform consistently under duress.

Now here’s a more interesting thought experiment: which of these athletes do you think is more likely to finish the Twin Cities Marathon without injury?

The answer to this question is obvious, but non-trivial because it goes against the long-slow-distance paradigm that drives mainstream endurance training.

By progressively uploading training volume without ever actually developing running technique, most endurance athletes are “repeating wrong” in higher and higher doses. This is why there are so many running-related injuries every year.

Running isn’t free. It is a skill and skills are sharpened with focused training and directive coaching. Skill is blunted by repeating wrong.

Nothing in life is free

Marc Armbinder had a fascinating article in the The Atlantic. The article is wide-ranging and thoughtful. The author makes many good points particularly on the subject of national health policy.

I agree with many of Armbinder’s points. However, he poses a thought experiment which I can only characterize as irresponsible. He says:

armbinderThere is a way to beat obesity. But it is radical and expensive. No other diet or weight-loss approach is remotely as effective as bariatric surgery….The only way to cure obesity is to radically rewire the relationship between the stomach and the brain. Diet and exercise can’t do that as quickly or as well.

This perspective troubles me deeply and illustrates the vast gulf separating the CrossFit community from everybody else. Here are few thoughts:

Bariatric surgery might make you thin, but can it make you do a pullup? Body mass is an important corollary to good health, but so is functional capacity. Having a stomach the size of a walnut won’t help you do useful things with your body.

Anyway, who says being healthy should be quick and easy? The consumerist mindset that makes us think we shouldn’t have to get out of our car to eat a hamburger is the same mindset that makes us think we should be able to buy our way out of obesity.

The notion that our stomach/brain circuitry is responsible for obesity is too slick for me. We’re not robots guided by microchips. We make choices. Yes, the agribusiness lobbies make it harder to eat healthy, but YOU are the one holding the fork, and wielding the pocket book.

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As a former obese person, I have great empathy for Marc Armbinder. When you’re fat, the world around you feels like an obstacle course devised in an evil lab by a bunch of hateful thin people. I know this.

Who knows, if I hadn’t discovered CrossFit I might have tried bariatric surgery. Luckily for me it didn’t come to that.

The Summer I started CrossFit I had a 44 inch waist and weighed about 240 pounds! Desktop1After about eighteen months of CrossFit training three times a week I weighed 160 pounds. (Today I walk around at 170.)

But body mass is only part of the health picture. Let’s look at functional capacity.

I’m 43 years old. I snatch 205 and dead-lift 415. I’ve done 10 consecutive muscle-ups. I run the mile in 6:00 flat. Those are respectable numbers for a twenty year old. They are very good numbers for a 43 year old. Would bariatric surgery or fad diets have given me the physical abilities I have today? Not a chance.

Working on myself has not been even remotely easy. After a fifteen hour work day I want to eat Ben & Jerry’s and Doritos in front of the TV just like everybody else. Many days, working out and eating healthy food is a struggle. But I refuse to be part of a culture that is pathologically devoted to convenience and quick fixes.

Nothing in life is free. I learned that in CrossFit.