Hi DCF family! Coach Sonja here. You may notice that I’m off the coaching schedule for the summer. Don’t worry, I haven’t given up on CrossFit or moved away! Over the next month or so, I will be in Bristol Bay, Alaska, commercial fishing for salmon. This is a long-held tradition in my family, and is a yearly marathon of hard work, little sleep, and lots of functional fitness. Here’s a short glimpse of what my life will be like over the next 6 weeks:
Although the majority of commercial fishing is done in boats, our family is part of a small community of setnetters, fishermen who operate off of the shore. Setnetters in our fishing district are allowed 300 feet of gillnet per site. My family currently has two fishing sites along Ekuk beach, a 15-mile stretch of sand, rocks, and mud that employs dozens of families during the summer. (While we are all fishing “rivals,” we are quick to help each other out in a pinch, and many of us are shirt-tail relatives going back generations; it’s a bit like the Wild West up there!) My family fishes on the flats, where the tide comes in and out thousands of feet over the mud. We use long ropes (stretching 1,000 feet from the average high-tide line), and a pulley system to pull our nets in and out with trucks. Then we pick the fish out of the nets, throw them into ice water in our truck beds, and drive them 5 miles down the beach to the processing plant, where we deliver our catch. We have two tides per day, and based on how many fish we catch, we work anywhere from 3 hours to 12-plus hours per tide.
From racking ropes, to chopping firewood, to hauling drinking and washing water up to our cabin, nearly every moment is spent doing some sort of active labor. Even going to the bathroom is a trek to the outhouse (we don’t have electricity or running water.) Needless to say, with this round-the-clock motion, my nutrition needs drastically change, and my normally low-carb diet sees a dramatic increase in fast carbohydrates: hot chocolate, snickers bars, any sort of fast, high carb fuel to get me through the long hours. We usually send non-perishable food items up in boxes before the season begins. It’s expensive and difficult to get fresh fruit or vegetables to our remote fishing site, so canned fruits and vegetables it is! I usually bring up protein powder, some Greens micronutrients (my personal favorite is from FNX fitness), and some other nutrition supplements to help balance my nutrition (I am bringing up a bunch of Fuel For Fire from the box this year!). I am not advocating that this is a healthy diet by any means, but we do what we have to do for this short period of time! And the fresh-from-the-bay wild salmon is SO worth it.
I often lose some cardiovascular endurance over the summer, but I trade it for grip, core, and shoulder strength. It’s not “comfortable” living, but it’s good hard work, and I never feel so accomplished as when my head hits the pillow at the end of a tide. I think the break from technology, and the full immersion in fresh air and wild living is good for the soul. I will miss you all, but I’ll be back soon, hopefully with another summer of good stories and good fishing under my belt!
See you at the end of July!
In the world of exercise and health, the definition of fitness has been incredibly vague over the years. Most health magazines measure fitness in inches lost, looking “toned,” or having a visible six-pack, all of which are external factors that have little to do with the actual health or capabilities of one’s body. Even Merriam-Webster dictionary doesn’t have a clear description, defining fitness as:
1 : the quality or state of being fit (not much help here)
2 : the capacity of an organism to survive and transmit its genotype to reproductive offspring as compared to competing organisms
By this definition, we could say that anybody currently alive and with offspring is the most fit, which isn’t necessarily true.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the dictionary, to see if we can find any more clarification. The word “fit” has various definitions, including “sound physically and mentally” (Again, fairly arbitrary). The description that most applies to physical fitness is “adapted to the environment so as to be capable of surviving.” In other words, the fittest beings are those that can survive a broad range of challenges. We do see this in nature: organisms that can adapt to challenges and changes are those that survive and flourish, while the organisms with limited adaptations decline. This is the closest we have to a definition of physical fitness, but even so, it’s far from a measurable standard. It’s crazy that fitness, something that most people are trying to attain, has such a murky definition!
Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, saw this problem, and aimed to solve it. He is a scholar, the son of a scientist, and as such wanted to bring actual evidence-based data to the fitness world. How can we define or measure anything if we don’t have a standard for it? You can read previous blog posts to learn more about what CrossFit is, and why it works. The main takeaway is that CrossFit defines fitness as work capacity over broad time and modal domains.
This aligns with the dictionary’s idea that to be fit, an organism must adapt to challenges and changes in the environment. CrossFit proposes that the more work we can do in all sorts of scenarios (broad domains), the fitter we are. Many people consider endurance athletes or sports stars as the pinnacle of fitness, but for the most part specialized athletes train very specific skill sets, and therefore have chinks in their fitness armor. Much like the specialized organisms in nature, if they come up against a new challenge, they will have a hard time adapting. But because CrossFitters train for nearly every type of physical challenge, we are generally fitter overall than those that train in just one modality.
CrossFit uses four different models to explain and support their definition of fitness: The Ten General Physical Skills Model, the Hopper Model, the Metabolic Pathways Model, and the Sickness-Fitness-Wellness Continuum. I could write many pages about each of these models, but for the sake of this article I will try to keep things short, and only give a brief overview of each.
Ten General Physical Skills:
The ten general physical skills are a list of athletic traits: Cardiovascular/respiratory Endurance, Strength, Stamina, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy. He or she is fittest who is most balanced across all these skills. You can imagine that if an athlete is skilled in strength, but has no coordination, or if they have speed but no flexibility, they will be very limited. By training and practicing each of these skills, we become better-rounded athletes.
The Hopper Model:
The second model draws on the “unknown” nature of fitness. Think of a bingo or lottery hopper. Inside of the hopper we put every imaginable physical challenge: anything from climbing a tree to running a marathon to a 1-rep max deadlift. If we pull a dozen random challenges out of the hopper, he or she that is able to complete all of them and come out on top is the fittest. It’s important to note that the overall winner may not actually win any single event, but if they have a broad level of fitness, they will likely “outrun the lifters and outlift the runners,” ultimately outperforming those with a very specialized skill set.
Metabolic Pathways Model:
The third model is all about metabolic pathways. There are three main metabolic pathways or systems that our body uses to produce energy. The first is the phosphagen pathway. This energy system is used for extremely short, powerful bursts, lasting no more than ten seconds (example: 1RM squat or 100-meter sprint). The second pathway is the glycolytic pathway, which lasts from several seconds to a few minutes, at around 70% of our maximum effort (example: Fran or a 2k row). The final system is the oxidative (or aerobic) pathway, which kicks in during longer, lower power efforts, anything over several minutes (5k run, Filthy Fifty, Murph, etc.) He or she is fittest who is able to use all of these energy systems efficiently and switch between them easily. Do you ever feel a “slump” at a certain time in a workout? Are you always dismayed when you see a long chipper WOD or a short sprint programmed for the day? This might be hinting at which of your energy systems needs more work!
The final model in CrossFit’s view of fitness is called the sickness-wellness-fitness continuum. This model posits that typical health markers can be graphed on a continuum from sickness to wellness to fitness, with the fittest people having markers surpassing “healthy” levels. For example, a blood pressure of 195/115 is considered unhealthy or diseased, 120/70 is healthy, while an athlete might have an even better blood pressure of 105/50. We see this trend with all the other measures of wellness, including bone density, body fat percentage, cholesterol, triglycerides, and more. By this logic, fitness is actually “super-wellness,” and a hedge against illness and disease. If you have built up a good hedge, then even if you lose some health or fitness as you grow older, you will just slide down into the wellness category, which is still much better than being “sick!” CrossFit’s view is that health and fitness are one and the same. CrossFit and its lifestyle have helped thousands of people (myself included!) protect against, improve, or reverse chronic illnesses.
Each of these four models help define fitness in concrete and measurable ways. It is not the inches around our waist, nor is it a number on the scale. It is measured in what we can DO. By training for increased work capacity over broad time and modal domains, we have not only defined fitness in empirical terms, but set forth a formula for a healthy life. The muscles are just an awesome side effect.
Bowler, K., McDonald, C., and Shatila, N. CrossFit Level One Certification Course, presented at CrossFit Belltown, Seattle, WA. 20-21 August 2016.
CrossFit Inc. “Fitness, Luck, and Health.” The CrossFit Journal, 16 August 2016. (Online) Available from: http://journal.crossfit.com/2016/08/fitness-luck-and-health.tpl. (Accessed May 2019.)
CrossFit Pierce County, “CrossFit Certification Seminar Notes.” 10-13 February 2006. Pages 3-5. (Online) Available from: https://www.crossfit.com/legacy-pdf/cf-info/FEB06CFNotesNoPics.pdf. (Accessed May 2019.)
CrossFit Training. “What is Fitness? (Part 1)” Level 1 Training Guide,Version 3.1. CrossFit Inc.,2016, pp. 17-23.
Easter, M. “CrossFit’s Greg Glassman Disrupted Fitness. Next, He’s Taking on Healthcare.”Men’s Health, 12 October 2018. (Online) Available from: https://www.menshealth.com/health/a23663806/greg-glassman-crossfit-health/ (Accessed June 2019).
Glassman, G. “Understanding CrossFit.” The CrossFit Journal, Issue 56, 1 April 2007. (Online) Available from: http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_56-07_Understanding.pdf. (Accessed May 2019.)
Glassman, G. “What is Crossfit?” The CrossFit Journal, 28 November 2009. (Online) Available from: http://journal.crossfit.com/2009/11/what-is-crossfit.tpl. (Accessed May 2019.)
McKee, C. “Adapt or Die: Inspiration Comes in Different Ways.” Medium Corporation, 17 April 2017. (Online) Available from: https://medium.com/@carsonmckee/adapt-or-die-inspiration-comes-in-different-ways-a239c626f219. (Accessed June 2019.)
Merriam-Webster Dictionary.Merriam-Webster.com.(Online) Available from: www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary (Accessed June 2019).
Sam, G. “Bite-Sized CrossFit Concepts: The Hopper Model.” CrossFit Virtuosity, 18 June 2014. (Online) Available from: https://www.crossfitvirtuosity.com/articles/bite-sized-crossfit-concepts-the-hopper-model/ (Accessed June 2019).
Every Memorial Day, CrossFit boxes around the U.S. do a Hero Workout called “Murph.” Hero WODs are benchmark workouts that are named after fallen soldiers and tend to be extra grueling, both mentally and physically. “Murph” is named after Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, N.Y., who was killed in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005, at 29 years old.
Murph consists of a 1-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 squats, then another 1-mile-run, all completed while wearing a twenty-pound weight vest. Lieutenant Murphy was reportedly an avid CrossFitter and this was one of his favorite workouts. When we do Murph, we honor Lieutenant Murphy and all the others that have given their lives for our freedom.
Michael P. Murphy was born May 7th, 1976 in Smithtown, Long Island, N.Y. Murphy was nicknamed “The Protector” at a young age, after being suspended from elementary school for fighting with bullies who were picking on a special-needs student, according to his father. Murphy reportedly believed there are “bullies in the world and people who’re oppressed in the world. And he said, ‘Sometimes they have to be taken care of.’”
Murphy graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1998, with degrees in political science and philosophy. He was accepted to multiple law schools, but decided instead to join the Navy SEALs, the Navy’s elite special operations force. In 2001 Murphy joined SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE (SDVT-1), based in Pearl Harbor, and in 2005 was assigned as officer in charge of their Alpha Platoon, which was deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
On the night of June 27, 2005, Murphy led a four-man SEAL team, as a part of “Operation Red Wings,” on a reconnaissance mission in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan, looking for an insurgent Taliban commander. Their mission was compromised the next morning when they were spotted by local goat herders. The four SEAL team members discussed what to do with these goat herders: if they were Taliban sympathizers and they were released, they could alert the Taliban of the team’s position. Killing the goat herders might ensure the team’s safety, but Murphy was convinced they should let them go. His father later said, “It was exactly the right decision and what Michael had to do. I’m looking at it from Michael’s perspective, that these were clearly civilians. One of them was 14 years old, which was about the age of his brother. Michael knew the rules of engagement and the risks associated with it.” The team decided to release them.
About an hour after letting the goat herders go, a large Taliban force surrounded the SEAL team and opened fire on them, forcing them to scramble down the side of the mountain and into a ravine. The men fought back and killed several of the attackers, but each of them sustained injuries, made all the worse by bounding down the steep mountainside. The firefight went on for nearly two hours. The team tried in vain to obtain contact with headquarters, but their radio wouldn’t work and they couldn’t get a signal on their satellite phone, due to the terrain. Murphy, who had already been shot in the abdomen early in the fight, decided to take matters into his own hands to save the team. He stepped into the open, where he could get a better position to call for help. He was surrounded by gunfire, and when one of the bullets hit him he dropped the phone, but reportedly picked it up again to say, “Roger that, thank you.” After his call, Murphy and his men kept fighting. By the end of the firefight, Murphy and two of the others were dead. To add to the tragedy, 16 of the men sent to rescue the SEAL team were shot down in their helicopter and killed.
Marcus Luttrell, the only survivor of Murphy’s team, was rescued after days of wandering the mountainside and being protected by the people of an Afghan village. He wrote a book about his experience, Lone Survivor, which was made into a movie in 2013, starring Mark Wahlberg.
Up to that time, this was the largest single-day loss in naval special warfare history. All three of Murphy’s men were awarded the Navy Cross for “undaunted courage,” and Murphy was posthumously awarded the U.S. Military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in risking his life to save his team. Their team is the most decorated team in Navy SEAL history.
Seven weeks after the battle, on August 18, 2005, the CrossFit main site posted the “Murph” Hero WOD online as the workout of the day. The post reads as follows:
In memory of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., who was killed in Afghanistan June 28th, 2005.
This workout was one of Mike's favorites and he'd named it "Body Armor". From here on it will be referred to as "Murph" in honor of the focused warrior and great American who wanted nothing more in life than to serve this great country and the beautiful people who make it what it is.
Partition the pull-ups, push-ups, and squats as needed. Start and finish with a mile run. If you've got a twenty pound vest or body armor, wear it.
Starting in 2010, Murph has been programmed on CrossFit’s main site every Memorial Day, and this workout has become one of the most heartfelt traditions in CrossFit history. Athletes in the CrossFit Games completed Murph in both 2015 and 2016, and if you need some athletic inspiration (or to see Kara Webb and Annie Thorisdottir suffer from heatstroke), watch the videos on YouTube! (Links below.)
As we tackle this workout on Monday, remember the legacy of Michael Murphy and the men and women who have given their lives for our freedom. When the pain starts to set in, remember that you are doing this for something bigger than a score on the whiteboard. Cheer your fellow athletes on, and look out for each other. Let’s honor our heroes.
-Coach Sonja Rootvik
Aspen CrossFit. “The Story Behind ‘Murph.’” Aspen CrossFit Blog, 30 May 2016. (Online) Available from: http://www.aspencrossfit.com/the-story-behind-murph/. (Accessed May 2019.)
CrossFit.com. “Workout of the Day, Thursday 050818.”CrossFit.com, 18 August 2005. (Online) Available from: https://www.crossfit.com/workout/2005/08/18#/comments. (Accessed May 2019.)
The CrossFit Games. “2015 CrossFit Games Individual Murph” (Video). CrossFit YouTube. Streamed live 24 July 2015. (Online). Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbGPDK8r5Kg (Accessed May 2019.)
The CrossFit Games. “2016 CrossFit Games Individual Murph” (Video). CrossFit YouTube. Streamed live 22 July 2016. (Online). Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6RP73WMbmA (Accessed May 2019.)
B. Kissam. “Murph WOD: The Most Challenging Tradition in CrossFit.”Athletic Muscle. (Online) Available from: https://athleticmuscle.net/murph-wod/. (Accessed May 2019.)
Simon. “Hero Workouts Murph and Nate – The Stories of the Men that Inspired the WODs.” BoxRox.com, 2017. (Online) Available from: https://www.boxrox.com/hero-workouts-murph-and-nate-the-men-behind-the-workouts/. (Accessed May 2019.)
Wikipedia. “Operation Red Wings.” Wikipedia.com, last edited on 12 April 2019. (Online) Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Red_Wings. (Accessed May 2019.)
WodWell.com. “’Murph’ CrossFit Hero WOD.” WodWell.com.(Online) Available from: https://wodwell.com/wod/murph/. (Accessed May 2019.)
The definition of CrossFit is “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.” This is the last of three blog posts dissecting and briefly overviewing this prescription for fitness. Today we will be talking about “high intensity”: What is it, why is it important, and how do we apply it to everyone from elite athletes to the average couch potato?
Part three: High Intensity
One of the misgivings that I hear from non-CrossFitters is “CrossFit is too intense!” Well, any of us who have walked in the door know that each WOD is scalable to any fitness level, and these people are likely intimidated by watching elite athletes, such as those in the CrossFit Games, compete at the highest level of intensity. While it’s true that intensity is a crucial part of the CrossFit methodology, each person will have a different level of intensity based on their physical and psychological tolerances, and CrossFit can be catered to each and every person. But when we’re explaining this to our friends and coworkers, it’s important to understand what we actually mean by “intensity”.
First of all, intensity is NOT yelling the loudest, sweating the most, or getting your heart rate the highest. It’s not a perceived feeling of how hard you are working. CrossFit is based on measurable, observable, and repeatable data, so you better believe that their definition of intensity is concrete too! So then, what IS intensity?
Let’s break it down to a scientific level. The measure ofIntensity is exactly equal to Power. I will use both words interchangeably in this post. Going way back to high school physics, Power is Force times Distance (also known as Work), divided by Time—in essence, Power is calculated by how heavy, how far, and how fast. The faster we do Work, the more Power we are producing, thus the higher Intensity we have. We’ve already talked about Functional Movements, and how they are all about moving heavy loads long distances quickly, so they go hand-in-hand with intensity. The faster, farther, and heavier we perform functional movements, the higher our intensity.
Ok, so we have intensity defined, but why does it matter? Well, the higher our intensity, the more adaptations and changes our bodies go through—in essence, we get RESULTS. These results include better body composition and fitness in the gym, as well as improved health markers like blood pressure, bone density, and resting heart rate. High intensity functional movements give us a neuroendocrine response in our bodies, actually changing our natural hormones and our neurology for the better! In sum, Intensity = Power = Results! By doing workouts at a higher level of intensity, we “increase our work capacity over broad time and modal domains.” This well-known CrossFit phrase basically means that we get fitter and more capable in every foreseeable area. Intensity is the shortcut, if you will, to fitness.
But what about people who are more used to their couch than the gym? They can’t create the same level of intensity as an elite athlete! Well, this is where relative intensity comes into play. A 20-year-old collegiate athlete will have a different fitness level than his 90-year-old grandmother, but both of them can still find their own level of high intensity and perform their WODs to this standard. Relative intensity will be different for each person from day to day, based on physical and psychological factors (stress, soreness, fitness level, etc.) Finding your own high relative intensity is basically toeing the line between pushing yourself hard, and getting into “Pukie” territory. For new or deconditioned athletes, this line will be found more quickly, at a lower power output. As we get fitter, our “engines” become stronger, and our power output increases. If time permitted, we could each calculate our exact power output in every WOD, by plugging in the weight we moved, how far we moved it, and how fast we moved it. Instead, to save ourselves some time and math, we retest benchmark workouts periodically to see if we have increased our work capacity. We know that if we shave 30 seconds off our Fran time, we have generated more power, and thus are fitter athletes!
Now, it’s important to note here that rest and recovery are incredibly important, especially when it comes to high intensity. CrossFit methodology encourages us to keep intensity super high in our workouts, but this simply isn’t sustainable without rest. Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, advises a 3-days-on, 1-day-off, 2-days-on, 1-day-off approach to WODs, in order to be able to keep that intensity super high on our workout days. In addition to taking rest days, sometimes athletes are sick, stressed, dealing with adrenal fatigue or autoimmune illnesses, pregnant, recovering, and more. In these cases, it’s important to still show up to the box and move your body, but modify your intensity in order to keep your body recovering.
I would be remiss not to mention Rhabdomyolysis, a rare condition where muscle tissues are damaged to the point that they begin breaking down and releasing their contents into the blood stream, potentially causing kidney damage or even kidney failure. Rhabdo can be caused by various things like a car crash, snake bite, or working out with too much intensity. Symptoms of rhabdo include muscle tenderness, localized heat and swelling, and dark-colored urine. (IF you ever have these symptoms, please see your doctor!) I’ve seen rhabdo happen most often with deconditioned athletes trying to work out beyond their current ability level (let’s keep that ego in check!), or while doing high reps of eccentric muscular training (lengthening the muscle under load). Rhabdo is quite rare, and in my nearly 7 years of doing CrossFit I have only seen a handful of cases, not all from CrossFit. However, if you feel nervous about rhabdo, don’t be afraid to ask one of your coaches for some more information. I don’t bring this up to scare anyone, but to educate you on just how much of an effect intensity can have on your body!
This is why it’s incredibly important to know yourself and your limits. If you’re simply too exhausted or overworking yourself, scale back that intensity. However, when you CAN, give each workout everything you’ve got. If a workout doesn’t leave you lying on the floor afterwards, you probably need to add weight, go faster, or go farther! The higher that intensity level is, no matter how long the workout is, the better you will adapt and the better results you will get. In summary, in the words of Pat Sherwood, “Do more work in less time (without overdoing it), and you’ll get fitter faster.”
A Note to Readers:This is a brief overview of the CrossFit methodology based on the empirical findings of Greg Glassman, the CrossFit community, and basic CrossFit methodology. That being said, blog posts are typically user-contributed pages where the information has not been peer-reviewed. I encourage you to use this blog post as a starting point for your own questions and research!
-Coach Sonja Rootvik
K. Bowler, C. McDonald, and N. Shatila. CrossFit Level One Certification Course, presented at CrossFit Belltown, Seattle, WA. 20-21 August 2016.
CrossFit Pierce County, “CrossFit Certification Seminar Notes.” 10-13 February 2006. Pages 2-5. (Online) Available from: https://www.crossfit.com/legacy-pdf/cf-info/FEB06CFNotesNoPics.pdf. (Accessed May 2019.)
G. Glassman. “Foundations.” The CrossFit Journal, 1 April 2002. (Online) Available from: https://journal.crossfit.com/article/foundations-classics. (Accessed May 2019.)
G. Glassman. “Understanding CrossFit.” The CrossFit Journal, Issue 56, 1 April 2007. (Online) Available from: http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_56-07_Understanding.pdf. (Accessed May 2019.)
G. Glassman. “What is Crossfit?” The CrossFit Journal,28 November 2009. (Online) Available from: http://journal.crossfit.com/2009/11/what-is-crossfit.tpl. (Accessed May 2019.)
M. Lloyd. “The Neuroendocrine Response.” Mountain Strong, 2 October 2017. (Online) Available from: https://www.mountainstrongtraining.com/the-neuroendocrine-response/. (Accessed May 2019.)
P. Sherwood. “Intensity (and its Role in Fitness).” The CrossFit Journal, 13 March 2009. (Online) Available from: http://journal.crossfit.com/2009/03/intensity-and-its-role-in-fitness.tpl. (Accessed May 2019.)
Photo Source: CrossFit Inc, “CrossFit – CrossFit Whiteboard: Intensity.” CrossFit YouTube Channel, 18 September 2012. (Online Video Screenshot). Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=meH9roHylwE. (Accessed May 2019.)
WebMD. “Rhabdomyolysis.” WebMD Medical Reference, Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD, 13 March 2019. (Online) Available from: https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/rhabdomyolysis-symptoms-causes-treatments#1. (Accessed May 2019.)
The definition of CrossFit is “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity” (1,2). In the last blog post we talked about what “constantly varied” means, and today we get to dig a little deeper into the second part of the definition, functional movements.
Part two: Functional Movements
CrossFit places high emphasis on functional movements,or movements that one might need to perform naturally in everyday life (2,3). These movements are generally done with our own bodyweight or with some kind of external load. There are almost no muscle-isolation machines in CrossFit boxes, unlike other types of fitness gyms. What’s this about, and why do we care so much about functional movements in CrossFit?
Basically, functional movements make us fitter and give us a better general physical preparedness (GPP) by having us practice movements that life might actually throw at us. On a scientific level, the most basic definition of functional movements is moving large loads over long distances, quickly (1,2). This is also the general equation for power. The higher power output we have, the fitter we are (similarly, the higher horsepower any machine has, the faster and more powerfully it moves!). We improve our power output by constantly varying our functional movements, and performing them at high intensity (1,3).Each and every WOD helps us fine-tune our machine. Some of the movements we do have obvious crossover into the real world (an air squat is like sitting down and standing up from a chair, a push press is equivalent to throwing a box onto a top shelf, a muscle-up can be used to scale any height you can get your hands on ), while some movements have less obvious crossover (the hip flexion and extension from burpees can help us climb a rope easier !) None of this can be learned by doing the circuit weight machines at the globo-gym, because those are segmented and isolated movements. CrossFit teaches us that “Training in a segmented fashion develops a segmented capacity (3).” These machines might build strength, but it isn’t functional strength because they aren’t functional movements (3).Ok, so we do countless of these so-called functional movements in CrossFit, but what exactly makes a movement “functional?”
In general, functional movements have some core things in common. Functional movements are UNIVERSAL MOTOR RECRUITMENT PATTERNS (1,2,3),a big phrase that basically means we find the same movement patterns everywhere in life. One picks up a large bag of potatoes in much the same way as one deadlifts a barbell or picks up a heavy cooler. These universal motor recruitment patterns move from CORE TO EXTREMITY, all the power starting in one’s core and traveling out through the less-powerful limbs (1,2,3).Think of a pitcher throwing a baseball: she loads her core, twists her hips, and the power travels in a chain through her shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, and finally her fingers. It is the same for all functional movements, from kipping pullups to barbell snatches: our energy moves from core to extremity. (Ever heard your coaches say “USE YOUR HIPS!”? It’s because that’s where the power originates!)
Functional movements are also COMPOUND movements, meaning they utilize multiple joints and muscle groups (1,2,3).For example, an air squat requires the hip, knee, and ankle joints to work together. You can’t break a squat into separate movements and reap the same benefits (3). A leg-extension machine might target the knee joint and quad muscles, and a calf-raise machine may work the ankle joint and calves, but the sum of these movements does not come close to the results you will get from a simple squat, where multiple large and small muscle groups work together (3). Compound movements also uniquely have the capacity to illicit neuroendocrine response, actually causing a change in the body’s natural hormones, building more muscle and stronger bones in the entire body (3,5)!
Functional movements are SAFE, NATURAL movements: our joints and bodies were made to move this way (2,3,6). They are movements that nature demands of us, and that only the privileges of growing up in western civilization have taken out of our wheelhouse (7). Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, says, “The squat is a vital, natural, and functional component of your being. In the bottom position, the squat is nature’s intended sitting posture. Only in the industrialized world do we find the need for chairs, couches, benches, and stools. This comes at a loss of functionality that contributes immensely to decrepitude (7).“ Sometimes it is necessary to retrain our bodies into proper movement patterns after injury or a lifetime of misuse, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t natural or safe, just that we’ve temporarily lost the capacity for it. And with time and consistency, this can be fixed!
Functional movements are also ESSENTIAL to independent living (2,3). One must be able to get in and out of a chair, carry the groceries in, lie down on the floor, or lift things overhead in order to have independence and quality of life. This is likely why CrossFit HQ has taken such an interest recently in showing elderly people doing functional movements at home using broomsticks and water jugs (8). CrossFit’s message to the world is that, by performing functional movements regularly, we can have good fitness over a lifetime—in other words, good health (9).
Now, any exercise is better than none at all, and I won’t discourage anyone from going to the gym to work out, even with unnaturalmovements (i.e. not found in nature) like the lat raise machines or leg extension machines (3). However, if you truly want the best level of fitness, leave the machines behind and start building your own. CrossFitters are here to create functional bodies that will stand the test of time and be up for anything, all our lives long!
Thanks for reading! Tune in next time for the last blog post of this series, all about INTENSITY!
A Note to Readers:This blog post has been edited to include source citations. The CrossFit methodology is empirically-driven, and aims to produce fitness that is completely measurable, observable, and repeatable. CrossFit is committed to evidence-based fitness, and is an open-source charter, meaning that all CrossFit data is open to the public, and coaches and athletes can be collaborators in the development of the CrossFit program(1). This is a brief overview of the CrossFit prescription. None of the following article is based on my own opinion, but rather the empirical findings of Greg Glassman, the CrossFit community, and basic CrossFit methodology. I encourage you to use this blog post as a starting point for your own questions and research!
-Coach Sonja Rootvik
(1) G. Glassman. “Understanding CrossFit.” The CrossFit Journal, Issue 56, 1 April 2007. (Online) Available from: http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_56-07_Understanding.pdf. (Accessed May 2019.)
(2) K. Bowler, C. McDonald, and N. Shatila. CrossFit Level One Certification Course, presented at CrossFit Belltown, Seattle, WA. 20-21 August 2016.
(3) CrossFit Pierce County, “CrossFit Certification Seminar Notes.” 10-13 February 2006. Pages 3-5. (Online) Available from: https://www.crossfit.com/legacy-pdf/cf-info/FEB06CFNotesNoPics.pdf. (Accessed May 2019.)
(4) C. Paoli. “The Skill Transfer of the Burpee.” The CrossFit Journal, 20 August 2012. (Online video) Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EhR1xhexQs&t=17s. (Accessed May 2019.)
(5) M. Lloyd. “The Neuroendocrine Response.” Mountain Strong,2 October 2017. (Online) Available from: https://www.mountainstrongtraining.com/the-neuroendocrine-response/. (Accessed May 2019.)
(6) G. Glassman. “What is Crossfit?” The CrossFit Journal, 28 November 2009. (Online) Available from: http://journal.crossfit.com/2009/11/what-is-crossfit.tpl. (Accessed May 2019.)
(7) G. Glassman. “Squat Clinic.” The CrossFit Journal, 1 December 2002. (Online) Available from: http://journal.crossfit.com/2002/12/squat-clinic-by-greg-glassman.tpl#featureArticleTitle. (Accessed May 2019.)
(8) CrossFit At Home, CrossFit.Com. (Online) Available from: https://www.crossfit.com/at-home. (Accessed May 2019)
(9) CrossFit Inc., Adapted from Lectures by G. Glassman. “Fitness, Luck, and Health.” The CrossFit Journal, 16 August 2016. (Online) Available from: http://journal.crossfit.com/2016/08/fitness-luck-and-health.tpl. (Accessed May 2019.)
The definition of CrossFit is “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.” Over the next three blog posts we will be discussing what this definition means, and how it applies to our everyday lives as CrossFitters.
Part one: Constantly Varied
CrossFit includes elements from all types of sports and athletics, from gymnastics to powerlifting, endurance sports to yoga, strongman events to martial arts. It is highly recommended that we learn and play new sports regularly, and here at DCF we encourage members to “opt outside” the box for a variety of activities. We do not specialize in any one type of training, but try to get a broad and general knowledge of all of them.
I remember being blown away at my CrossFit Level One training when our flowmaster told us that each of us was fitter than the person with the heaviest deadlift or the person with the fastest mile time in the world. It’s crazy to think about, but it’s true! Because CrossFitters train multiple movements and disciplines, we are generally more fit than athletes who specialize in one thing. One of my favorite CrossFit quotes says, “Outrun a lifter, outlift a runner.” CrossFit athletes may not be the best in any one event, but we are Jacks- and Jills-of-all-trades.
One of the cornerstones of CrossFit is the “WOD”, or Workout of the Day. Every single day you walk into a CrossFit box you will see a new workout on the board, and this is no accident; it is planned and purposeful. CrossFit is a General Physical Preparedness (GPP) program, meaning that we train for the known, the unknown, the likely, and the unlikely events that might happen in life. You can’t be ready for anything if you are doing the same workouts over and over.
So what does this constant variance look like in our workouts? Well, there are many factors that differ in each workout we do. Some of these are external factors, such as the elevation or humidity, how smoky the air is, how much sleep we’ve gotten, or what music is playing. These factors can all have an effect on us, but are largely out of our hands. Focusing on the things we can control, CrossFit coaches program variance in four major categories: time, reps, load, and movements.
Time: We have workouts spanning from two minutes to over an hour, and encourage our athletes to take their fitness outside of the box for even longer events that might take several hours. This constant variance of time forces our bodies to use different metabolic pathways, and to not get locked into using only one fuel source.
Reps: We vary the reps and distance in our WODs. We might program a 1-rep-max squat, or have 300 squats in a workout. We might row 100 meters or 10,000 meters. This approach is incredibly different than the typical “globo-gym” programming of 3 rounds of 8-12 reps in a handful of movements.
Load: Some CrossFit workouts are long and light, some are long and heavy. Some workouts are short and light, some are short and heavy. We are constantly switching up load! A typical gym-rat might be able to lift a heavy load, but how does that ability change when their heart rate is already high from the rest of a WOD? It’s also important to note that “heavy” doesn’t necessarily mean “harder”; I have been equally destroyed in workouts using a 100-pound barbell and a PVC pipe.
Movements: In the last 7 days alone (at the time of writing), 24 separate movements have been programmed in DCF’s workouts. I can easily think of dozens more that we use on a regular basis. This constant variance engages our entire body and mind, and keeps us continually learning and improving. We have gymnastics movements (moving our bodies through space), weight lifting movements (moving an external load), and monostructural, cyclical movements like running, rowing, biking, etc., and we combine all of these movements into thousands of different WODs.
Our WODs might seem random to the untrained eye, but your coaches (namely, Shane) are purposeful in programming them. We use constant variance to give you the highest fitness level possible. We train our athletes for all types of physical demands, because we can’t predict what life will throw at us. Will you need to sprint up a hill to get to the scene of an accident, or carry someone to safety? Will your grandchildren want to play tag with you in the park? Do you want to try a new sport? Well, CrossFit’s constant variance will keep you ready for these things, and so much more.
Thanks for reading! On the next blog post we’ll be focusing on Functional Movements: What are they, and why do they work?
1. Tell us about your first day at the box? How did you get to DCF?
I’m so glad I shared some of my physical limitations with the staff and was still encouraged to try CrossFit to see if that didn’t solve some of my problems. My balance was my biggest concern. Even stepping up on the curb, I would only do it when I could grab someone’s arm or I could steady myself by leaning on a parked car. After only a couple of months at Cross Fit I can now navigate curbs feeling completely steady.
2. What keeps you coming to DCF?
I really appreciate the way exercises can be adjusted for my level of expertise without berating me. All the other class members also continually bolster my morale rather than making me feel inferior to them. I was amazed that you recognized the weakness in my left arm (because I had broken it a few years ago and have favored it ever since) and were able to structure exercises to help build up the lost muscle tone in that arm. You did the same for my knee.
3. What do you tell people in the community about CrossFit?
I’ve shared my enthusiasm for CrossFit with a lot of people. Some of them were under the false impression that it is only for the extreme muscle builders. After sharing with them my first hand experiences, a couple of them said they were going to try it out. I hope they do so that they can know first hand what a warm and supportive group it is; not only the coaching staff, but members of the classes too.
4. What are some of the things that have changed for you outside of DCF?
I enjoyed my time in Hawaii trying to get enough exercise in so that I don’t lose the muscle tone I have developed at DCF - it was nearly impossible! Nothing can replace a coach and fellow classmates cheering you on. Another thing that has changed for me is my choice of chairs. My muscles had deteriorated to the place where I looked for chairs to sit in that weren’t too low and had arms. Even then I had to push hard with my hands to get up. Now I can easily stand up from most any chair.
5. What advice would you give someone On The FEnce about trying CrossFit?
I’m hoping that my example of what the elderly (I’m 85) can accomplish through proper coaching and encouragement, will be a catalyst for other people my age to try it out.
Efficiency is everything
The rower is a simple machine and the process of rowing is not all that complicated or technical but when you start racking up the meters and spending many hours sitting on that not so comfortable seat, being efficient in your movement is absolutely critical. The Concept 2 rower has many features and programs built into that when fully understood offer a huge amount of information that can greatly improve your rowing efficiency. By taking the time to study these programs and how they work, you can see significant increases in your calories per hour, better split times, increased endurance and stamina. Let’s take a look at some of these features:
The Force Curve
Whenever I coach someone on how to begin rowing I typically break it down into three positions starting with the leg drive, then opening the hips and finishing with the arm pull which brings the handle to the lower chest. The movement is very similar to that of the clean, meaning you always start by pushing with the legs, rapidly opening the hips and then bending the arms only after full hip extension. By bringing these parts together we are able to row one full stroke and by doing it efficiently and with correct timing we are able to create much more power and for a very long time.
To help us become more efficient, the Concept 2 rower has a handy feature called the “force curve graph” and it is a great way to visually tell how efficient your rowing technique is. It is something I highly recommend viewing during your warm ups and workouts. When looking at the graph the Y axis (vertical line) represents your power output and the X axis (horizontal line) represents time and your goal when rowing is to have a nice “round” line graph representing smooth power output for as long as possible. This also shows that the timing of your leg drive, hip opening and arm pull are correct.
On the flip side, the force curve can also help diagnose where your problem area is in any given stroke and what area you need to improve. For example, if your graph has a sudden increase and then drops off quickly it usually means your timing at the “catch” or very start of the stroke is too fast and too much force is being applied with your legs. This often leads to a high heart rate and early fatigue. And then there is the “double mountain” type of curve that gets its name for good reason, it often looks like a steep mountain range with two peaks and typically means that the timing of the legs, hips and arm pull is incorrect.
I highly recommend viewing the force curve whenever you warm up so that you can get your technique dialed in before your next workout. Simply hit your “display” button until you get to the “force curve” screen like the one shown to the right.
The Pace Boat
For those who have been rowing for awhile you are probably well aware of what your comfortable or doable pace is for short, medium and long distance rows is. This number is typically located towards the top of the screen and is displayed as either calories per hour or your 500 meter split time depending on what type of rowing you are doing. Your pace can be tracked in real time or as an average with the latter typically being the most valuable during a long distance row.
The great thing about the pace boat feature is that it gives you a target to shoot for during your workout in the form of an animated boat that you have to keep up with during your workout. Before you begin your row you simply program the distance that you plan to complete and then enter in your desired pace at the bottom of the screen where it says “pace boat.” Now during your row you will have to maintain or go at a faster pace then the boat otherwise you will fall behind. For those of you that are competitive, it’s a great incentive and more visually appealing than simply looking at numbers on a screen. During most of my 10k and half marathon rows I would row at a slightly faster pace so that I could get ahead of the boat and stop for a drink of water and not fall behind or be able to catch up easier.
Slow Your Row
As you row you should be thinking about driving hard with your legs because this is where most of your power comes from, and as a matter of fact it’s been said by many coaches that you should always think of each rowing stroke as a push, not a pull. This push, or drive of the legs, always begins at the beginning of the rowing stroke and is often called the catch. This is also where you should feel “connected” to the machine which simply means as soon as you begin pushing with your legs there should be immediate tension on the chain but to do this we have to pay attention to our “stroke rate” which is located on the upper right part of your Concept 2 monitor and shown as “s/m”. Those new to rowing tend to get into a bad habit of rowing too fast or having too high of a stroke rate and that often leads to lower or inconsistent power output. This would look like a very shallow curve on the force curve or a sudden spike with a drop off. By slowing the time in between each stroke you can actually generate more power and travel a longer distance for every stroke while also increasing your recovery time and endurance. Next time you row experiment a little and see where you have the best 500 meter time, calories per hour or highest wattage. As an example, if you normally row at 28 strokes per minute, try rowing at 26 strokes per minute while really concentrating on using your legs. Combine this with the force curve and you can easily fine tune your rowing technique to find where you are most efficient.
The Infamous Damper Setting
In my opinion one of the most misunderstood and often misused settings on the Concept 2 is the damper setting. This is the sliding adjustment on the side of the round flywheel housing that is numbered from 1 to 10 that controls the amount of air entering the machine. It should not be considered a resistance or intensity adjustment. When rowing, the intensity is always determined by how hard you drive with your legs and how fast you can get that fan spinning inside that housing. To determine where you should have that damper set to depends on the person and the type of workout that you are doing. A person who is proficient at Olympic weightlifting, is a fast sprinter or can lift heavy weight may be more suited to the lower end of the damper setting because of their ability to move quickly, maintain high intensity and have well trained “fast twitch” muscle fibers. On the other hand a person who is more of an endurance athlete and comfortable with longer workouts may be better off towards the top end of the setting because of their well developed “slow twitch” muscle fibers and comfort with lower intensity movements. If you don’t know what kind of athlete you are, sticking with setting number 5 is just fine and works well for most people.
So now that we know what the damper setting does and why it’s important, we can accurately adjust it by figuring out our “drag factor” which is a program in the Concept 2 that allows you to pinpoint exactly where your setting should be. This is important because each machine is different and your setting will change depending on what rowing machine you are currently using. To find what “drag factor” works best for you will take a little experimenting and time but once you figure it out your long distance rowing efficiency will greatly improve. There are many theories and workouts out there that attempt to find the correct drag factor, but the one I have used and experimented with a couple times is from Dark Horse rowing and shown in the included video. The workout will take some time but by the end you will have a huge amount of data to help you come up with your correct number. If you are taking part in the 100k challenge you can also review your rowing performance at the end of your workout and even save it by using a USB drive (that you connect before your begin rowing) and by changing your damper each workout you should get a pretty good idea on where you should be. After you have found your ideal drag factor remember it and always set your damper based on that number because every machine is different.
These are the biggest things I learned while taking part in the 100k challenge and by experimenting around with the above settings and features I was able to row more efficiently and maintain a consistent pace each time I jumped on the rower. By using the features built into the Concept 2 rower your workouts will become much more effective and you will be able to use the machine to its full potential. There are so many features including games that are designed to improve your rowing technique, and even built in bluetooth so that you can wirelessly link up to four machines and race your friends, which is a blast and something I highly recommend doing at least once. Check out these features and experiment a little but most importantly have fun!
-Coach Shane Orchard
Today marks the beginning of a brand new year and a great opportunity to set some new life changing goals. Cliche as it may seem, setting goals at the start of a new year is very rewarding mentally and gives us targets to shoot for; a feeling of purpose and we feel great when we finally succeed at reaching those goals.
Almost everyone enthusiastically sets goals for themselves on New Years Day but unfortunately those big plans and goals typically fall to the wayside shortly after. One of the big reasons is that we are not held accountable. We mentally tell ourselves that we are going to make big changes but then soon forget or go back to old habits because we have no one to hold us accountable for our actions.
Ready for a challenge?
I have a challenge for you, one that will hopefully help you reach your goals in the new year and I encourage everyone to take part in this challenge whether you are a member of the DCF community or not. This challenge is simple and goes like this:
After your workout today I want you to right down one goal that you have for the new year in the notes section of Wodify. This goal can be anything not just a fitness goal. Whatever big change you want to make or dream you have this is your opportunity to let everyone know. If you are not a member of our box just write your goal in the comments section of this blog.
I also want you to write down when you plan to reach that goal and please be as specific as possible. This is a big part of this challenge so don’t skip it.
It’s that simple, by writing down your goal and the date that you plan to reach that goal, you will be held accountable by everyone in our DCF community, or anyone else you choose to share it with. Instead of just thinking about it now you will be more likely to act on it simply because its now out in the open and your friends will ask you about that goal as that date draws closer and closer. Also, one of the coaches will touch base with you from time to time, making sure you are progressing toward your goal, think of them as your accountability partner.
Set yourself up for success
“A dream written down with a date becomes a goal”
“A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan”
“A plan backed up with action turns into result”
The cool thing about this challenge is that there is no end to it and once you have accomplished one goal you move on to the next one, then the next and the next. By not only having goals but also having people hold you accountable to those goals, you will set yourself up for success and anything is possible.
So let’s get started, this challenge is for everybody whether you are a member of the DCF community or not. If you have a big goal or change that you want to make in the new year let us know by leaving a message in the comments section.
-Coach Shane Orchard