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.

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.

Sleep Better

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Quality sleep is essential for peak mental, emotional and physical health. Sleep deprivation raises cortisol and insulin resistance. High cortisol and insulin levels are linked to belly fat, diabetes and lots of other bad things that will eventually kill you. Additionally, quality sleep increases your GH (Growth Hormone) and testosterone which are essential for lean muscle growth and repair. Aside from the neuroendocrine benefits, high quality sleep is just fun. Who wants to toss and turn all night and then stumble out of bed feeling like a troop of monkeys has been tap-dancing on your head? Here are a few sleep techniques you can use to silence the monkeys.

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Dark Room – there’s a difference between just turning out the lights and creating a truly dark environment. Some studies suggest that even a small amount of ambient light prevents your pineal gland from releasing melatonin – the hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm. To create a dark room, just drape opaque cloth across all the windows and doors. If you’re afraid of the dark, sleep under the bed so the monsters can’t find you. This solution is easy and cheap and you’ll be astonished at how much your sleep quality improves.

ZMA – this is a commonly available supplement composed of Zinc, Magnesium and vitamin B6. This stuff is supposed to cause deeper sleep with increased levels of testosterone as a desirable side effect. I tried this for a few weeks and did indeed experience very, very deep sleep. However, I stopped taking it because I was having some really wacky dreams. Incidentally, the scientific studies on ZMA do not seem to support the claim that it increases testosterone levels. But most seem to agree that ZMA works as a sleep aid.

Eliminate Caffeine – of all the strictures of the Paleolithic diet, this is the hardest to abide. For me especially, a day without coffee is like a day without sunshine. However, if you do manage to fully wean yourself from caffeine, after the initial grumpiness and headaches subside you will sleep like a log. You will wake up refreshed and alert, rather than groggy and confused. Even if you are already sleeping well, it’s good to eliminate caffeine because coffee raises cortisol which increases body fat.

It amuses me that CrossFitters are up for any mind-bending challenge – but if you try to convince them to do something easy like sleep, their faces go blank and they immediately lose interest. So rather than talk more about the health benefits of good sleep I will close thusly: if you want to reach peak performance in your WODs and smoke every gym record and finish Fran in under 3 minutes you have to improve your sleep! Out of everything we do in CrossFit, this is the only easy thing. Maybe that’s why so few of us bother doing it!

One Step At A Time

10422080_942381635780033_319106715722349795_nOf the people who submitted their goals for the New Year, 20% of you eluded to wanting to improve your body composition. Countless others have mentioned wanting to improve their body comp in class and one-on-one meetings.

For those of you not doing the Eat Well Challenge, what is your game plan? Do you have one?

Does losing weight, increasing lean muscle mass, decreasing body fat, or whatever your specific goal, really matter to you?

Or was it just a logical goal to put down that is more wishful thinking than anything, and if you happen to stumble across it through 2015 it would be a job well done?

One month of the year is already past us, some who started off on the right track have now resorted to their old ways because it is comfortable common ground that they have to put very little time and energy into doing.

If you haven’t read coach Kayser’s blog post from last week, do so. To echo what he is saying in four words, “nothing good comes easy”.

Isn’t that true for anything that you have accomplished in life? Don’t you feel great when all of your hard work has paid off and you achieve what you put so much effort in to?

Sure we all want to win the lottery, but you have a better chance of being struck by lightning, so why not have a backup plan.

Whatever your goal is around body composition, does it seem like an insurmountable mountain to climb? Does the thought of it alone just depress you or make you nervous to even take the first step?

One of the great life lessons that I have learned from this Eat Well Challenge, is just that- you need to take the first step. Personally speaking, and you can ask my wife or any of the coaches how nervous I was to begin this challenge, I was actually more scared of doing this challenge than taking a step into fatherhood, which is now around five weeks away.

How foolish! Looking back the thought of not being able to order that pizza or grab a fresh pack of Swedish fish whenever I wanted was terrifying! I now know how stupid I was for saying and thinking that way.

For the past five weeks, I have told myself just to keep taking that next step; keep putting yourself in smart situations; keep your eye on the prize.

I can honestly say that I feel the best that I EVER have! Not only because of my physical health, but because I have done what I said I was going to do. I did not take the easy way out. Mentally I feel as strong as ever, because I know how hard I worked in just this short amount of time to get to where I am. I would not have changed a thing!

What is holding you back from getting started on your pathway to achieving your body compostion goals? Fear, procrastination, laziness? Ditch your excuses and get a game plan together.

If you need help with putting together a plan or being held accountable, hit up your personal coach.

Take the first step towards climbing that mountain in your life. Don’t look back; keep taking those small steps, all while keeping your eye on the prize!

Healthy Eating: All It Takes Is Discipline And A Game Plan

foodHere’s the deal: eating well is not that hard. It just takes is a bit of discipline and planning.

Leading up to our Eat Well Challenge, my diet was absolute crap. I’m talking cake, ice cream, cookies, and burritos regularly. It’s no surprise that thinking about cleaning up my diet and eating cleanly made me anxious.

But after waiting for that “hard” part of cleaning up my diet to kick in during the first week of our challenge, and then the second week, it never came. This barrier that I thought I would have to get over never ended up presenting itself. I am not saying that this is always the case, but for me it was. If you hit that barrier, dig deep and bust through it. You are strong enough!

Not once have I craved sugar, pizza, or anything I’m not allowed to eat during this challenge. This isn’t due to luck or superior will power, it’s because I came up with a game plan and then executed the plan. It is that simple. The reason I’m not ordering Chinese food in a pinch is because I have a refrigerator stocked with good, nutritious food.

Every Sunday night we meal plan and make a grocery list. This usually gets us through Wednesday when we make another list and go to the store. Is game planning and going to the store a hassle? Sure, it is a little time consuming and puts a dent in the wallet, but to me it’s worth it. Since I started eating to fuel my body rather than just feed it with whatever food was available to me, I feel fantastic. You can’t put a price on that.

I get it, you’re busy. So if making two weekly trips to the store isn’t feasible, then invest in a meal plan from a company like Origin Meals to get you to your goal of maintaining a healthy diet.

My number one piece of advice to make this work is plan ahead. One of our members has spent two weeks of our six-week challenge on the road. He did a little research before his trips and found that the two cities he would visit, Boston and Dallas, had companies like Origin Meals that would deliver his meals to his hotel.

We are all busy. We can all come up with ten excuses as to why we can’t make a healthy diet a priority. But let’s face it, excuses are a way to justify our weakness. I know; I was that guy four weeks ago. I’d make every excuse in the book to justify making poor food choices. This is why I can tell you that if you really want to dial in your nutrition you can. Suck it up, make sacrifices, and get it done. Don’t be weak. You will feel better, sleep better, and perform better in the gym.

It comes down to whether you want it or not and whether or not you are willing to work hard to attain your goal of maintaining a healthy diet. Commit to your goal and stop making excuses.

Hip Flexor Health

1507563_934326269918903_4151410308638686184_nWinter in Minnesota tends to bring out the demonic behavior in our hip-flexor or iliopsoas muscles.

Where is that located and what am I talking about?

The iliopsoas muscles originate from the lower back and pelvis and insert into the thigh bone (femur). The iliospsoas is the main mover in the hip flexor region.

Winter sports that can enflame or aggravate this muscle region are hockey and cross-country skiing due to the repetitive strides an athlete takes.

Also, in the winter the couch tends to hold us hostage more than in the summer months, causing us to tighten up more or to not take the appropriate time to loosen up before exercising.

Personally speaking from having such tight hip-flexors in my hockey playing days that could pop out or strain from something as silly as sneezing, this is not something to mess around with.

Injury to your hip-flexors aren’t of the excruciating variety, but more of the constant, annoying type that take forever to heal. And just when you think you are in the clear not having had any flare ups, BOOM, there you go and re-aggravate it and you are back to square one.

If you are a desk jockey in your life away from the gym, then listen up to what this article from physioadvisor.com had to say. When you are seated, your knees are bent and your hip muscles are flexed and often tighten up or become shortened. “Because we spend so much of our time in a seated position with the hip flexed, the hip flexor has the potential to shorten. Then, when you are in a hurry because you are running to catch a bus or a plane, or you trip and fall, the muscle could become stretched. Here’s this stiff, brittle muscle that all of a sudden gets extended, and you could set yourself up for strain or some hip flexor pain.”

Ways to stay away from the buzz-saw of this injury are to stretch regularly, especially if when you get out from your desk and you feel like a nursing home patient walking over to the water-cooler. Here are a few awesome videos from our friend Kelly Starrett:

Extension of a Psoas Flavor

Don’t Go In the Pain Cave

A few quick and easy ways to warmup before workouts:

- While walking pull one knee to your chest and hold for a one count, keep alternating legs from one end of the gym to the other.

- While walking from one end of the gym to the other, march your right leg up in front of you to ninety degrees and then swing it out to your right ninety degrees. Repeat on your left side and so on.

- While kneeling, stretch your right foot out almost as far as you can, and then drive your left hip to the floor, while trying to work your right shin to come to vertical. Rinse and repeat.

This is the only body that you are going to have, so you might as well take care of it!

Choices

stressA couple years ago I saw Chris Kresser talk at PaleoFX. In a panel about adrenal fatigue he mentioned that he deliberately chose to reduce his patient load as a way to manage stress.

As a child of immigrant strivers, this was mind blowing. Let’s just say that in my family culture, self-compassion is not valued.

But one of the great privileges of living in America is that we have choices. Grind, or unwind. More health, or more wealth. In the abstract, the choice is easy, but in practice, not so.

Here’s the thing, and pay attention paleo dieters. Your gut is responsible for getting nutrients into your body. Fatigue and stress severely compromise gut function. So eating nutritious food is only part of the battle. If your gut can’t absorb nutrients you will never be truly healthy.

Unfortunately you can’t buy gut health at the organic grocery. Which brings us back to choices. What’s it going to be today? Are you going to skip your lunch so you can wolf a muffin at your desk?  Skip your workout so you can work late? Get up before the crack of dawn to joust with psychos on the freeway? Where does it end?

Career is important, but I am here to tell you that career success is a booby prize if you feel like crap all the time.

More health or more wealth? That is the question.

Creamy Spiced Kale

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Tired of eating the same old chicken breast, wishing that you had a great side dish to compliment it?

Say no more.

Try this tasty kale dish that takes less than ten minutes before its ready to devour.

Ingredients:

- 1 large bunch of kale

- 2 teaspoons Ras el Hamout (bunch of spices thrown together- look below)

- 2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed

- pinch of salt

- 1 teaspoon coconut oil

- 1/2 cup coconut milk (make sure to buy a brand without guar gum in the ingredients)

- (optional for more spice)- 1/2 jalapeño pepper finely chopped or 2 tsp crushed red pepper

Ras el Hanout- This is good to have on hand for different dishes that you make. Combine all spices and herbs together and mix. Store in airtight container.

- 2 tsp salt

- 2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp powdered ginger

2 tsp ground black pepper

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Directions:

- Wash kale and remove large stems. Tear into smallish pieces. Don’t dry off leaves before cooking. Wet leaves are good for steaming and softening harder greens.

- Over medium heat, toss in half the kale and stir until it begins to wilt and then throw in the remaining leaves. Cover with lid.

- In a small bowl mix Ras el Hanout, garlic and salt. If you chose the optional jalapeño or crushed red peppers, add them in.

- When leaves are dark and have begun to wilt, remove the lid and slide the kale to the side of the pan.

- Now add coconut oil to the pan and pour spices directly into the melted coconut oil.

- Lastly pour in the coconut milk and stir until everything is mixed evenly.

This was an instant classic at our house and probably will  be in yours too!!!

Three Tips For Paleo Noobs

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Here are three unobvious tips for Paleo noobs.

1) You need more carbs. Most people source carbs primarily from bread, pasta, and other starchy foods. When you eliminate those things from your diet, you can unintentionally find yourself on a carb-restriction diet. Pretty soon you will go into ketosis which is usually accompanied by fogginess, fatigue, sleep disruptions, and other unpleasantness. This can be easily avoided. Rather than eliminate carbs, replace them with fresh squashes, root vegetables, and maybe a little fruit. At my house we like to bake sweet potato fries, which have a lot of carbs and a very favorable nutritional profile.

2) Turn off the TV. According to the Yale Rudder center kids watch about 14 food advertisements per day and most of those ads are for junk food. Psychologists know that television advertising “primes” eating behavior. That’s a fancy way of saying that watching television makes you eat more crappy food. Eating clean is hard enough without being constantly blasted with imagery of hot-fudge brownie bowls. That toxic nonsense does not belong in your brain or your body. Do yourself a favor and turn off the tube.

3) Get to bed early. The reason ice cream shops and bars are open late is because night time is when people make the worst decisions. This happens because of “decision fatigue”. At the end of the day you are so depleted from making decisions that you are more likely to break down and do something self-destructive. Like a werewolf, you know what the full moon brings, but you don’t need to lock yourself in a cage. But do be self-aware. Understand that feeling tempted in the evening is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you’re human. Short-circuit poor decisions by climbing into bed early.

Be strong, and remember, you are not alone!

Why I Eat Rice

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I can’t help but laugh as I write this. It’s ok if you’re laughing too. Let’s face it. Asian people eat a lot of rice.

But for me it was not always thus. When I first discovered the Paleolithic nutrition plan, I was neurotically strict.

No grains means no grains, right? I was so strict that I would discard the rice bowl at the Korean BBQ. I was that guy.

But something always bugged me about the eliminationist aspect of Paleo. Ethnic differences are a matter of evolutionary forces. I don’t look like other people. Maybe I shouldn’t eat like other people?

It’s not so far-fetched. Geneticists know that most Asians lack the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol. (Which explains the red, puffy faces you see at the karaoke bar) If most Asians don’t tolerate alcohol is it so unreasonable to think that most Asians do tolerate rice?

My theory was put to the test the first time I visited my mom after going Paleo. In my mother’s house you do not refuse food. So I ate the rice she put in front of me, convinced that I would be convulsed and retching into the toilet within minutes.

Lo and behold, I was fine. I did not get a headache and drive my car into a tree. My butt didn’t explode. Cool.

In the ensuing months I learned something very important. Rice doesn’t make me sick but it does make me fat. I eat rice sparingly now, primarily in the context of a recovery meal, when I am very motivated to get my insulin levels up.

The main point I want to make here is that I only made this discovery because I started from a clean slate. I knew what it felt like to be on a clean diet so I had a point of reference when I started to introduce a questionable food.

If you want to learn how to thrive; if you are sick of one-size-fits-all diets, join us in our Eat Well challenge. The challenge is six weeks long. The first four weeks will be a reset where we rid our diets of foods that are known to be problematic (think processed foods). During the final two weeks we will systematically reintroduce the foods we eliminated to see how our bodies react to them.

It’s going to be awesome. Register here.