CrossFit: The good, the bad, and the ugly

I have been avoiding this post. The thought and energy that I have put into this is exhausting. But time and time again:

Is CrossFit a good choice for me?

99% of the time my answer is NO! My intent is to educate and inform – including the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My need for answers and information

I am a person who needs answers. I need to approach a topic from all perspectives and angles before I make a decision. (I come across as highly opinionated, but I am also highly informed and I therefore have great confidence in my opinion.)

Given my need for information, I decided that I needed to seek out scholarly and scientific support for CrossFit – as if I wanted to promote it. I spent endless hours searching for anything peer-reviewed. I was searching for legitimate research for the CrossFit model. I sought the input of colleagues and exercise physiologists – do they know of any research?

Nothing.

I did come across a study that measured the energy expenditure of CrossFit workouts versus other high intensity workouts. I do not question that you expend energy, so this study was less than helpful (not to mention had only 40 participants). Beyond this, there was nothing scholarly. The health and fitness journals will not publish anything that lacks validity and reliability.

My thirst for reliable data and research was unfulfilled.

Been there, done that

I also participate before I draw a conclusion. I have been to a half a dozen CrossFit gyms – some in large metros and others in small town nowhere. Only one had reasonably qualified staff (St. Louis Park, MN). At each location, I was able to experience their ‘introductory’ class. Each class was taught a little different. At one location, we performed rowing, air squats, pushups, situps, and pullups. At another, the same workout but without the pullups. Each facility had large groups of prospects – there was no health history, no experience questionnaire, no technique instruction. You just went at it and completed the workout for time.

THE GOOD

I want to start with the good – because there are some good aspects. CrossFit thrives on building a community. Many joke about CrossFitters who have “drank the Kool-Aid” and the reality is that they have bonded with others. These social bonds – developed during times of vulnerability (most everyone has a certain level of vulnerability when trying to completely, physically exhaust themselves) – are meaningful and difficult to match. The support, accountability, and empowerment cultivated by the group dynamics is the #1 reason many individuals are attracted to CrossFit.

I must commend CrossFit, as many do require fundamental classes prior to graduating to full WODs. The only draw back to something like that is someone like me – new to CrossFit but not new to working out or the exercises – would be forced into those courses without the opportunity to bypass or test out if I can prove I have the ability and know-how.

Another good aspect is the use of workouts to measure improvements. This provides something tangible and quantitative to work towards. It is important to direct individuals away from weight-specific goals, so a goal to improve the time it takes to complete a workout is ideal. I do something similar – but different – for myself and my clients.

THE BAD

Not based on science

CrossFit is not based on the basic scientific principles established and continually tested by exercise physiologists. I did a scholar article search, looking for research that supports CrossFit – and I came up empty. The majority of articles that support CrossFit are written by Greg Glassman – who by the way quotes himself (big no-no).

I have asked CrossFit trainers and enthusiasts time and time again to show me the science from which the CrossFit model was designed – or the science that it follows. No one has been able to do this. Is it new science that has yet to be proven? The human body has not changed in over a hundred years – there is nothing new and the same principles apply today as they did then, and 50 years ago, and 10 years ago.

Wait a minute!

An interesting side note: Glassman – CrossFit founder – does not do CrossFit WODs. (Most say he suffered an injury that prevents him from participating. He does have a limp.)

I could not find a biography for Glassman. As far as the general public knows, he has no education nor credentials. If I had to guess, I would say that he has a marketing degree because he has done well in that respect.

Not ACSM’s Top 20

Here is food for thought, brought to my attention by a fellow exercise physiologists: CrossFit has never made it onto American College of Sports Medicine’s Top 20 Fitness Trends – a list they publish annually.

Why?

Because ACSM would never promote a program that so blatantly contradicts science and research.

THE UGLY

So there is good and there is bad. The same can be said for anything, right? But what is the ugly?

Injuries

SERIOUS and non-serious injuries persists. Yes, there is an inherent risk of injury to all physical activity. Yes, weight lifting has some of the lowest risk of any sport or activity – WHEN DONE PROPERLY. CrossFit is not known for proper form and technique – and watching it makes most professionals cringe.

Watch the CrossFit Games on ESPN – all of the top competitors are wearing kinesiology tape (a tool developed for physical therapist to use with clients through the therapeutic process). Kinesiology tape IS NOT something that makes you look cool. I used kinesiology tape after my knee surgery and through physical therapy to aid with the reduction of inflammation. It worked, I did my therapy, and I stopped wearing it. The use of kinesiology tape is indicative of impaired movement, muscular imbalances and weaknesses, poor quality of movement or mobility, etc.

You could argue that this is not a serious injury. Let’s think critically. How many of these athletes will compete for the rest of their lives? How many will have to give up some exercises completely because they lose mobility in their shoulder after working through this ‘non-serious’ injury?

Pain is NOT good and it is NOT something to work through. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong, “STOP.”

Threatens lifelong health and fitness

As mentioned above – how many athletes can sustain this level of training for a year? Two? Twenty? If an exercise causes injuries – whether it be traumatic or overuse – then it does not promote lifelong health and fitness – nor longevity.

Ask yourself, can you sustain this for the long term?

If an activity results in a chronic ailment that prevents you from living pain free – then it has negatively influenced your quality of life. Is that the goal of working out?

The bottomline

CrossFit is a workout for athletes. It claims to build athletes – but it does not train individuals to athletic fitness or using the basic scientific principles known to work – and known to reduce risk of injury along the way.

Is CrossFit all bad? No. Does the good outweigh the bad and the ugly? In my educated opinion – no. Plus, you can get a similar workout – with health and fitness benefits and greater concern for safety – from a functional fitness training facility with qualified trainers and staff.

p.s. Not one of my colleagues – most with master’s degrees, PhDs, and endless certifications – would workout at a CrossFit facility themselves. We are some of the fittest and most athletic individuals I know. We see the scientific flaws and prefer to train in safe, effective, and efficient manners. One has been a CrossFit Competition Champion 3 years running – never training ‘CrossFit.’ Something to think about.

p.p.s. Ask a medical professional – such as a chiropractor or orthopaedic surgeon – if he recommends CrossFit. Most will avoid a direct answer, he knows the inherent risks but it puts more money in his pocket.

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Attacking life as an obstacles course

Last week, some friends, strangers, and I completed an obstacle course workout at TNT Fitness. Amazing! Looking at the obstacles from a distance was a bit daunting. My heart raced. I was concerned that my knee, hip, and shoulder would inhibit my ability to successfully complete some of the obstacles. I worried that I was not strong enough to conquer the obstacles ahead.

photo (37)

Strong – there is no other choice

I did not feel strong enough for the obstacles laid out before me. I did not feel equipped.

As usual, I put my game face on and I prepared for the obstacles. Do not think, just DO IT!

Those who know me personally, know that I overthink. I was thinking about the hip that was sore. I was thinking about the calluses that I had recently ripped off my palms. I had to center myself and stop thinking. When I find this space of not thinking is when I find my strong. photo (38)

Not traversing the wall was not a choice. Not flipping the tire was not an option. Skipping or avoiding obstacles was not an option. Digging deep and being strong was the only choice. And we worked as a team to help others get up and over – sometimes lending a helping hand and often cheering and encouraging one another. My strength came not only from digging deep within myself, but also from trusting others.

“Mini Mt. Everest” was a mental challenge for me. I was afraid that I could not do it. My friend Mo went first – and he stood at the top waiting for me to come. I was confident that if I did not make it, he could reach for my arm and help to pull me up and over. The best part, this gave me the confidence to do it.

With my physical strength, I managed to overcome that obstacle alone. But I drew my confidence and mental strength from others.

Translating this strength onto life’s obstacles

My life has changed pretty significantly these last few weeks – in positive ways. But there have been numerous obstacles. One after the other. And there will continue to be one after another.

Just like last week’s obstacle course workout, not attacking those obstacles is not an option.

I have a vision for my life – my personal and professional endeavors. I have a rough timeline for where I would like to see myself in 5 or 10 years. There are education and experiences I desire to obtain. But God and friends have a different plan and timeline for me. The vision, the same, but put on fast forward.

I do not feel strong enough. I do not feel equipped. These are the same thoughts I experienced prior to the obstacle course workout.

The bottomline

Life is an obstacle course – and I need to learn to treat it like the one that I recently conquered. I conquer fears one at a time, and I suppose obstacles in life are to be overcome in much the same manner.

Much like the obstacle course workout, I have friends who are reaching out to grab my hand – ensuring that I do not fall or hit my face. The faith others have in me today, helps me to build my confidence and push forward with determination. The obstacles are inevitable, but I know that the hands are there to grab onto.

I am ready to attack this life as the obstacle course that it is!

Are you with me?

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Finding more on a weight loss journey

A dear friend shares her journey and her heart.

To love yourself right now, just as you are, is to give yourself heaven. Don’t wait until you die. 
If you wait, you die now. If you love, you live now. – Alan Cohen

Often times, when we discuss love, it is in relation to our connections with others.  We give love anthropomorphic tendencies, describing its ability to create harmony, whether through our own personal connections or a universal exchange (that links all persons in a global community).  Discussions regarding self-love are relegated to conversations relating its pertinence in the face of limited self-worth.  The implicit necessity of loving one’s self is paramount in establishing worthwhile connections with others. 

Since this blog is about health & fitness, I will tailor this entry, relating self-love to my weight loss journey.   

Last summer I began a journey towards health & fitness, though my immediate goal revolved around losing a tremendous amount of excess weight, my exigent goal was to learn to love myself.  My excess weight was a reflection of my inner turmoil, my struggle to find acceptance (a struggle I presumed to be externally founded…. thereby, extrinsically resolved).  I assumed that loving myself would be a natural effect of changing the way I looked physically.  By changing my appearance, I would become more acceptable to others, allowing me to become more acceptable to myself.  This change would provide an avenue for me to establish connections with others (at that point I was socially isolated, spending tremendous amounts of time alone with limited social interactions) and increase my self-efficacy (believing I could accomplish the many goals I had set for myself).  To a degree these presumptions were accurate.  I have changed the way I look, I am more appealing to others and have a greater sense of comfort in my physique, but that has not translated itself into increased self-worth. 

There is still a sense of lacking and deficiency.  As I strive towards attaining what I believe to be the “perfect body” (for myself), I constantly have to face the impact of my limited self-worth. I am faced with the unhealthy habits I’ve developed, as I strive to love myself . . .. having formerly “loved” myself with food.  I developed a reliance on food to cope.  In the absence of self-acceptance and social relationships, food became an ally.  In losing weight, the foods I formerly relied on for comfort have become an enemy.  They no longer provide me with the same semblance of peace or “happiness”.  I have come to realize that my perception of myself is highly correlated to all of my struggles, I have to resolve my intrinsic feelings of worth, so that I may find the acceptance I long for.  The lack of connectedness I feel with others is greatly attributed to the lack of connection I feel with myself.  Changing my physiognomy has not changed the pertinence of answering these issues. 

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I have to learn to love myself, to be comfortable in my own skin, to appreciate who I am.  I have to become whole.  I have to learn to live, because I’m tired of feeling dead to myself . . .. not knowing or appreciating the characteristics that make me a worthwhile individual.  It’s exciting, this concept of self-discovery.  But this undertaking is by no means easy.  This process has been laden with valleys and peaks.  It requires changing my mind, literally.  Reframing thoughts, addressing hurts, and examining fears.  Exchanging unhealthy behaviors that were once associated with loving myself for behaviors that truly reflect love for myself.  In doing so, I am hoping to experience the tranquility that comes with loving one’s self.  Partaking in the ubiquity of love, as it connects me to those I care for. 

I am grateful for those who are willing to love me along the way, as I learn to love myself.

What has your journey shown you that you did not expect?

Do NOT tell me I can’t

Do not tell me that I cannot or will not do something. You are only asking to be proven wrong. This is particularly true when it comes to physical feats. I take great pride how far I have come and what I can do. I spent years training a body to do things that most individuals do not even think about – and I had been told I could not do them. So do note tell me that I can’t. I have asked my friends never to tell me that I cannot run a marathon, because I do not want to have to do it. (I will never run a full marathon, that is just silly!)

I spent years visiting doctors, being poked and prodded, trying different treatments. Pain in nearly every joint was depressing and at times overwhelming. Not that I would let it stop me – but I wanted answers. But the doctors did not want answers as much as I did. Several of them shrugged their shoulders and handed me a prescription. The rheumatologist told me not to exercise and to lose weight. The orthopaedic surgeon told me that he had done all that he could (after my second surgery on my right knee) and that I would never run, squat, or jump. The chiropractor (also a CSCS and brilliant) told me to avoid overhead movements (e.g., shoulder presses, overhead squats, snatches), barbells on my back, heavy weights, jumping, and the prone position (e.g., pushups, mountain climbers). The combined opinion was that I would need to manage my pain – most prominent in my knees, hips, and back – by decreasing my scope of activity and taking pain medication and/or experimental drugs.

Between the activities that the surgeon told me I would never do again and the recommendations of exercises to avoid, the message was clear: STOP EXERCISING. Stop exercising? Ha! Fat chance of that one. Sure, I could build workouts around that list of no-nos, but that would have been boring – little variation and little fun.

Proving them all wrong

Mind you, the chances are – having dealt with chronic pain for most of my life – that my pain tolerance is higher than most. Nothing about what I have accomplished was easy. Nothing was pain-free. I have endured some pain – and maybe too much in some instances – in order to prove them wrong. But in the long term, my pain is better and well managed.photo (8)

No squats – I managed to max out at 300 pounds in 2010 and have set a goal of re-achieving this in 2013.

No jumps – I jump all the time. For fun. For exercise. I just like to jump. Sometimes, like yesterday, I even jump with a barbell on my back.

No running – since my last surgery in 2008, I have run countless 5Ks, two half marathons, and numerous relay marathons – including a Ragnar relay. I will attempt my 3rd half marathon this May.

No overhead movements – well, let’s just say that I take some risks here…but I listen to my body and I stop if I need to. I can do 54 pound single-arm kettlebell snatches. Weighted overhead squats tend to be a different story. So I listen, and I stop when m y body screams.

No barbells on my back – clearly I ignore this. BUT! I use progressions to warm up. And I have definitely cut back my everyday weights to reduce painful aftermaths. Again – body smart!

No heavy weights – I don’t know what that means. Friends do not let friends use light weights. The fastest way to fat loss is with heavy weights. The easiest way to weight maintenance is heavy weights. The fastest way to sweating is heavy weights. The best way to cardiac fitness is heavy weights – – – need I go on?

No prone position – I enjoy pushups and planks. Back/hip flexion is actually what gives me the most difficulty so I tend to avoid the dynamic movement (yeah, no burpees).

Inspirational transformation

My story is mild in comparison to many. Arthur Boorman completed an inspiration transformation:

Overcoming obstacles

What are your obstacles? Which are excuses and which are real? Just because it is difficult does not mean it is not possible. I know this because I have lived it. I know this because I have watched others live it. It is not going to be easy. It will not happen overnight. But are your obstacles worth tackling? One day at a time! Just like Arthur, you might fall down. But do not you want to get back up?

Exercise is medicine

There are days when my body aches. There are days I experience superficial burning in my thighs because my nerve is impinged. There are days when my knee buckles and clicks. Some of these days I rest, but more often than not I exercise. Exercise IS the best medicine. Exercise releases adrenaline – the natural pain killer. Being body smart, I use corrective exercise techniques to work with and around my disabilities. These are not the days for barbell complexes nor running. But these are the best days for building mind-body connections. These are the best days for being body smart.

The bottomline

You tell me I cannot do something and I will do everything in my power to prove you wrong. I can do ANYTHING I put my mind to. And so can you!

Lose the excuses. I know pain, I live pain – pain is an excuse not to exercise and eat well. When exercise and eating well are the cure for pain. You see, I am off all maintenance pain medications. I found the best treatment – so maybe all those doctors knew what I needed to hear after all!

Did Arthur have a right to excuses? Doctors told him that he would never walk or run. And look at him now.

What is your excuse? And what things will you never do?

If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.  ~ Hippocrates

My gym is my church

Please walk with me, while I describe my church to you. This is real. My gym IS my church. From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

photo (2)CHURCH noun
1: a building for public and especially Christian worship
2: the clergy or officialdom of a religious body
often capitalized : a body or organization of religious believers
4: a public divine worship
5: the clerical profession
I have not found a ‘home’ in a gym that was not built on a foundation of Christian principles. My
 gym is where I feel most comfortable and where I am able to be me. My gym is where I fellowship. My gym is where I disciple. My gym is full of respect. The truth is – most gyms are judgement-free zones (not just Planet Fitness!). My gym is intimidating to the outside – aren’t most churches? My gym is an organization of believers, working towards a common goal and helping one another. We lift one another up. We encourage. We inspire. My gym is a positive place – yet a place of chosen suffering!
My gym is where I break myself down in order to build myself up. My gym is where I am vulnerable and quick to display weakness. As a personal trainer I often say, “My job is to make you feel weak while your here so that you can walk out of here stronger.” My gym is where I utilize the passion that has been placed on my heart. I use cues like, “lift your heart to God,” and “lift your arm out strong, as if you were to shake hands with God.”
My sweat is my prayers

I embrace sweat. At UFF we tagged, “Sweat is Sexy – because sweat makes sexy people.” True! But it’s far more significant than this. Sometimes my sweat is bloody – a quality deadlift or torn calluses to thank. When I am sweating, I have no worries of the outside world. I am moving from one exercise to the next, digging deep for strength and courage. I am building the best me possible.  And I am completing the seemingly impossible to get there. I pray for strength, focus, safety — for protection, love, success. I reach a level of mind-body connection that is unattainable in any other setting (for me) — with no distractions and no worldly concerns. It’s me, my body, and God.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13

My sweat is representative of how I care for myself – as one part of His body. Each workout is a personal worship and praise for Him.

My strength is my salvation

photo (3)SALVATION noun

1: a : deliverance from the power and effects of sin b : the agent or means that effects salvation c Christian Science : the realization of the supremacy of infinite Mind over all bringing with it the destruction of the illusion of sin, sickness, and death

2: liberation from ignorance or illusion

3: a : preservation from destruction or failure

: deliverance from danger or difficulty

I am strong. Physically, I am stronger than the average woman. Mentally and emotionally, I am likely stronger than the average person as well. Exemplified in my resilience. I didn’t just walk up to the barbell one day and pick it up. Deadlifts – a barometer lift for strength – are my nemesis. I have acutely injured myself on numerous occasions, attempting a deadlift. But I let my body rest, and then I picked myself up and attempted it again. I still have anxiety with deadlifts – and that is when I need to dig for my inner strength and not rely on the physical to get me through.

Where is your church? Is it a cathedral? A cove? A small coffee shop? Yes, I attend a church, where I worship and love on the Lord. But MY church at my gym, that is where my heart is and I know God is right there with me!

My precious calluses

As of current, I’m physically deconditioned. Among other activities, I have not done kettlebell training, olympic lifting, or serious pullups in nearly nine months. As a result, my calluses are gone. Like pain, calluses are protectors. I have added some Olympic lifting to this week’s training. Before my first attempt, I sought out the smoothest bar I could. You see, most bars have a roughness that assists with gripping. To the deconditioned hand – this can mean anything from cuts and scrapes to blisters and flapping skin.

In the past, I have compared battle wounds with the women I’ve worked out with. Many women, and few men, resort to using gloves to protect their palms. I used gloves for a couple of years, and eventually found them more detrimental to my workout – they became an unnecessary distraction and bother. I suffered through weeks and months of blisters, leading to the development of calluses. I didn’t realize until recently just how precious those calluses were to me.

callusesThis image does not do justice. I took this immediately after my workout and the redness and swelling only became worse (that’s my body sending it’s healing to my palms!). You can see that I still have some callusing at the crevice of my middle digit. And my skin is slightly broken across the palm. I’m actually quite impressed with myself – I selected a gentle bar!

But today, I miss my precious, hard-earned calluses. Throughout my workout, I had to distract myself from the pain. I had to focus on the minutia of the lifts (I’m sure this actually added to the quality of my workout). I’ve had friends state that my calluses make me less feminine, “don’t you want feminine hands?” I want useful hands. I want strong and powerful hands.

Calluses are thickened layers of skin caused by repeated pressure or friction. The thickening of the skin is a protective reaction. I’ve often been described as having a callus attitude or personality. Over time, I developed a protective layer – placed strategically between me and all who could possibly cause me pain. Years of emotional abuse from family, friends, and significant others has made it difficult to trust – or sometimes to care at all. I want to maintain my physical calluses – I don’t want the pain associated with my daily workouts. But can I work to heal the calluses of my heart? I let my physical calluses heal for a season – so I know that healing is possible.

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ – Matthew 13:15

Do you have calluses that need healing?

Women can do pullups too! – GOAL 3

I am sad to say that my third goal is a carry-over goal. It is becoming an annual goal, I suppose? I first set this goal for 2010. Then 2011. I skipped 2012 and now it returns for 2013. If I didn’t know in my heart that I haven’t achieved it because I haven’t been putting good-faith efforts towards it, I would have to reassess whether it is a good goal. It IS a good goal. In fact, it is a GREAT goal. It’s been said that only 1-3% of women can perform one pullup…

GOAL 3 – 10 STRICT Pullups

pullups

I will be able to complete 10 strict pullups, consecutively. No break – with the exception of perhaps regripping. Absolutely no kipping. No assistance. At my peak, I achieved 7. Last I attempted, I managed 3.

This year I WILL achieve this goal. And I have set myself up for success by implementing a routine prescribed by a good friend and exercise physiologist – specific to my pullup goal. Sure, I could have designed a plan myself, but I like being told what to do…plus this adds some accountability as I know he will be checking in on me!

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. – Hebrews 12:11-12

Ever feel like your standing on your head? GOAL 1

I’m setting goals for 2013. Not resolutions. GOALS. Physical achievements that will require work and practice to achieve. I have been struggling with setting goals based on vanity, but I know from personal experience that improved physical appearance is a byproduct and that if I set appropriate achievement goals, the physical appearance will follow.

GOAL 1 – Handstands & Headstands

powerful I will independently – without assistance of a wall or another individual – complete both handstands and headstands. The caveat to this is that I will also be able to maintain control throughout a dismount, not allowing my feet to simply fall to the ground. The eccentric control is the true measurement of strength and perseverance.

I don’t know why, but in recent months I having been wishing that I had been a gymnast. This then-chubby girl didn’t have much interest in that kind of thing! But it is never too late, right?

I have a scar on my left knee from attempted to obtain this view a few years back. I have been able to complete handstand pushups with the assistance of a wall for years, but I have never had the courage to step away from that wall – until recently. Just as in life, sometimes we need assistance, tools, props, or friends to help us get started. But we can rely on those forever or they will get worn out or tired. So little by little, we step away and build up the strength and confidence to do it on our own. And tell me, how GREAT does that feel?

There is something to be said about viewing life from an inverted position…blood rushing to the head…learning to breathe through the pressure…it’s a powerful experience!