The Hidden Benefit of Masked Training

by Michael Plank

Look, nobody gets excited about breathing heavy in a mask. When we first started masked training was when we first were permitted by the state to resume training indoors. As vaccine availability grew, we went to a policy where masks were optional for vaccinated members, but then as the Delta variant has spread more rapidly and the CDC recommended masks for any indoors activities in areas of high transmission, we went back to masks. (Our county still has a critical number of cases and is still an area of high transmission as of this writing). We have always followed CDC guidelines at a minimum, and are committed to the health of our members and our broader community. But working out in a mask is undeniably less fun than working out without a mask.

We wear masks because they help limit the spread of Covid (The world is crazy, so here’s a peer-reviewed study from the National Academy of Sciences, just in case). But masks actually give us as individual athletes an added benefit: psychological strength.

We’ve now had 12 months of people working out hard in masks. They’ve done aerobic workouts, strength workouts, skill workouts, long workouts, and short workouts. Nobody has passed out from lack of oxygen. Nobody has developed complications from CO2 buildup. And people have still seen their fitness improve in that time period. BUT, working out in a mask does sometimes cause panic.

You. do. get. enough. air. You CAN breathe. But… it is not as easy as it normally is. And when that happens, and when your face is all sweaty behind a mask, your brain can sometimes tell you that you don’t have enough air and then you panic. But here’s where the unbelievable hidden benefit of masked training lies…

When you hit that panicky feeling, and then keep your mask on while you slowly recover your breath, and then realize that you’re ok, what you are learning is how to keep a clear head under duress. You are proving to yourself that even though it feels like everything is terrible, you’re actually ok. And the more you prove that to yourself, the more you come to realize that discomfort does necessarily have to mean panic.

The benefit of that skill cannot be overstated. If you can think clearly when you are in physical and psychological distress, it is an absolute superpower. It’s a secret weapon in business, in arguments, in emergencies, in parenting, in sport, and in every aspect of life.

Stress does come. Discomfort comes. Distress comes. And when our minds spin out of control, it makes things infinitely worse. When we can keep our wits about us, we can think clearly to find solutions and to help ourselves and those around us. And that’s a skill that can be learned and developed just like double-unders or power cleans. And so as much as the world might not be how we wish it was right now, even in this mess, we still have an opportunity to improve.

Go get it.

Meal Prep in 5 Easy Steps!

by Aimee Wojtowecz

You know that being successful with your nutrition goals takes some planning and preparation but it often feels overwhelming to start. Here are 5 easy steps to start implementing some planning and preparation in your life!

1. Start with a plan

Being prepared doesn’t have to mean making every single thing you’re going to eat for every single meal all week, but it does mean that you need a plan. Take out a piece of paper or a calendar, look at your schedule and write down anything that might be an obstacle that week. Kids have a late night soccer game on Tuesday? Write that down. Work lunch on Thursday? Write that down. Now fill in your meals knowing that Tuesday you need something quick and easy or a crockpot meal that you can start in the morning before you leave and Thursday you don’t need to bring lunch. Remember too that not everything has to be homemade from scratch to help you meet your goals. Don’t have time to make breakfast? Plan on buying a box of frozen Kodiak Cake waffles or breakfast burritos. Hate chopping vegetables? Pay the extra for pre-chopped, it will save you time and stress. 

2. Grocery shop

Now that you know what meals you’re going to need this week you can make your grocery list. This cuts down on impulse buying and food waste because you only buy what you need to make meals and snacks; you’re not just throwing anything that catches your eye into the cart. It also ensures that when you’re going to make your meal that you haven’t forgotten something. There’s nothing like going to make buffalo chicken and realizing you don’t have any buffalo sauce!

3. Set aside time for prep

This is usually the part where people get thrown off in their plan. Taking time for meal prep does not mean dedicating an entire Sunday afternoon to cooking. It could mean that you’re taking 20 minutes to chop up vegetables for snacks while you’re making a batch of pulled chicken in your Instant Pot (Also if you don’t have a pressure cooker get yourself one! It’s a huge timesaver and can double as a crockpot.). Even the smallest bit of preparation for the week ahead can save you time and stress. 

4. Store your foods conveniently

Does your fridge have room for 5 days of individual meals? Do you have enough containers for food storage? Are these containers portable, leakproof, shatterproof? Do you need to take a cooler to store your food for the day or do you have access to a refrigerator? 

5. Follow through with your plan

When life happens during the week – a rescheduled game, an unexpected late work night – it can be hard to stay committed to your plan. Remember that you’ve already done some of the prep work and you would hate to waste that food but also that reaching your goals requires consistency and occasionally some discipline and tough choices. That’s why it’s important to also build some fun into your plan! Include plenty of vegetables of course but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy homemade pizza one night, schedule a dinner out at your favorite restaurant, or meet friends for drinks. These can all be part of a healthy balanced nutrition plan. 

 

We’re all striving for food freedom and a healthy relationship with our nutrition and it might seem counterintuitive to actually implement more discipline but meal planning and prepping doesn’t have to be one more stressful chore. It’s ok to take some shortcuts where you need to. It’s not about perfection but rather being 1% better than yesterday. As Jocko Willink says “Freedom is what everyone wants – to be able to act and live with freedom. But the only way to get to a place of freedom is through discipline.”. 

If you need help with accountability and planning we’ve got tools for that!

Clear Your Head FAST

by Michael Plank

If you’ve done CrossFit long enough, you’ve found moments where your mind works against you. You get panicky as you get out of breath. You despair as you think about how much of the workout is left. You are sure that you’re going to fail the lift before you even start. And it becomes super tough to rein in that brain of yours and make it get back on your team. It’s possible, but you can’t yell at your mind to get back in the game and have it work. You have to be a little sneaky. Here’s my favorite way to do it.

  1. Do two box breaths. A box breath is where you breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4, and hold for a count of 4. That’s one breath. Do it twice.
  2. Out loud or in your mind, name 5 things you can see. (e.g. my shoelace, the dumbbell, the light bulb, etc)
  3. Name 4 things you can feel. (e.g. my shirt on my shoulders, the ground under my right foot, etc.)
  4. Name 3 things you can hear. (e.g. the music, my breathing, traffic, etc.)
  5. Name 2 things you can smell.
  6. Name 1 thing you can taste.
  7. Do one more box breath.

That’s it.

Just like that, you’ll be out of the downward spiral of a mind that’s a runaway train. By getting your mind to focus on the present instead, your mind will let go of the stories that spin out of your control. And guess what… this also works if you’re getting home and your mind is racing with work. It works if you’re having an argument with your spouse. It works if your kids are making you crazy. It’s not permanent, but it usually lasts long enough to make a difference. And when you get practiced at it, it only takes about 30 seconds. Your mind is arguably the most powerful tool you have. Having a couple of tricks like this up your sleeve pays off.

What if I fail??

by Michael Plank

We are right in the middle of our 3-week Level Method Assessment cycle at our gym. This is a fantastic tool we use to check in on our fitness and see some measurable results to our training. Every time we do an assessment though, someone asks “What if I fail an assessment??

Well… you might.

One of the great gifts of CrossFit is its obsession with metrics. It gives us objective data about whether or not an approach to fitness or nutrition is working. BUT the problem with that obsession is that it’s all too easy for us to get caught up in the micro instead of the macro.

Let’s say I asked you to do as many push-ups as you could in a minute, and you gave it everything you had and you got 10. If I have you rest for 5 seconds and then do it again, you will not be able to get 10 the second time. Does that mean you’re doing something wrong? Does it mean the approach is bad? Does it mean CrossFit doesn’t work for you? Of course not. It just means that we don’t have enough data points. Because if you do that same thing every weekday for a month and then we test your push-ups in a minute, you’re definitely going to get more than 10. The approach works, we just were zoomed in too tight.

We do our level assessments 3 times a year. Looking at your physical progress alone over a 4-month period is valuable. But it’s far more valuable to look at your overall quality of life over a 2- or 3- or 5-year period. Because, especially as the time you’ve spent training increases, every test is not going to yield a PR. The weights won’t always go up. The scale won’t always go down. That doesn’t mean you suck and it doesn’t mean that the approach doesn’t work, it just means we need to relax and zoom out a little. We need to look at a longer timeline and a bigger picture. What did you gain in character from training hard for four months? What did you learn about resilience and community and perseverance? What did you learn about yourself? Not everything that improves your life can be measured.

Level ups and PRs are always exciting, and we will help you celebrate every single one. But don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.

The War on Fat

by Aimee Wojtowecz

What causes more fear in the American language than the word FAT, that often misunderstood macronutrient? In the late 1970s, America’s fear of fat really took off. It started when senator George McGovern called a congressional hearing to discuss the effects of the Standard American Diet (SAD) and its links to disease and, more specifically, heart disease. There were some causal links between saturated fat consumption and increased levels of LDL cholesterol, but there were a lot of things that scientists still didn’t understand. There just wasn’t enough data or research to make concrete recommendations, but this stopped no one. This hearing resulted in the first set of dietary guidelines for the American diet (Aubrey, 2014). Fat was bad.

With fat out of the way what did Americans fill the void with? Carbohydrates. The dietary experts at the time assumed and recommended that diets be filled with carbohydrates from things like fruits, vegetables and whole grains but something was lost in translation. Instead, what the general public heard was that fat is bad, carbs are good, and so began the era of low-fat or fat-free and high-carb products. Sugar became the standard replacement in most low-fat and fat-free products. By the early ’90s, fat-free products dominated the shelves, I know somebody out there remembers those SnackWell’s Devil’s Food Cookies that dominated my teen years! This is when things started to get really interesting. Instead of a healthier population, levels of obesity and type II diabetes started skyrocketing (Aubrey, 2014). By trying to fix one problem (misguided at best) a whole new slew of problems were created. 

If you look at more recent studies, there has been no concrete evidence that low-fat diets are best for weight loss, or that they lead to decreased incidence of disease (Aubrey, 2014). We need certain fats in our diet. Dietary fat helps with promoting healthy brain and central nervous system function, supporting heart health, reducing inflammation (shout out to omega-3’s!) and so much more (Gordon, 2019). So where does this leave the average American looking to improve their health? 

Balance. 

It always comes back to balance in all the things. We need healthy fats in our diet. Healthier fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, for example olives, nuts and seeds and their oils; fish; avocado. Other types of fats, saturated and trans fats, should be consumed in moderation because of an increased risk between disease and consumption levels. This includes foods like butter, red meat, cheese, ice cream (high-fat dairy), and palm oil (Boston & Ma 02115 +1495‑1000, 2012). 

If you’ve lived with a fear of fat let this be a nudge towards accepting that fat can be part of a healthy diet and is necessary in reaching your goals and optimal health. The key word here is “part” of a healthy diet, not the basis of a healthy diet. Moderation goes in all directions (and yes I’m vaguely referring to that “diet” that rhymes with cheeto). 

References
Aubrey, A. (2014, March 28). Why We Got Fatter During The Fat-Free Food Boom. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/03/28/295332576/why-we-got-fatter-during-the-fat-free-food-boom
Boston, 677 Huntington Avenue, & Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. (2012, September 18). Fats and Cholesterol. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/
Gordon, RDN, LD, B. (2019, August 6). Choose Healthy Fats. Eat Right. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/choose-healthy-fats

Why “Bright Spots” Matter

by Michael Plank

We do a thing in our private members’ group each week that we call Bright Spot Fridays. It’s an invitation to share “bright spots” – or highlights – from the week. People talk about new achievements they’re proud of, or about going to dinner with their spouse, or about reading a great book… anything at all really that stands out as a positive experience. On the surface it seems a little hokey. But it’s powerful. And here’s why.

There’s a part of your brain called the Reticular Activating System. Basically, it’s a filter. Your brain takes in mountains of information every day, and your Reticular Activating System sorts through it so that you only have to pay attention to stuff that’s important. A cool thing about that filter is that it’s easily trainable. It’s why, when you buy a new gray Honda Pilot, all of a sudden you see 40 gray Honda Pilots every time you step out of your house. Obviously they’re not all brand new since yesterday, but of all the hundreds and hundreds of cars you see every day, you’ve told your brain that gray Honda Pilots are important. So now, every time one goes by, your Reticular Activating System flags it so that you notice it.

It’s the same for your mom’s best friend who always finds 4-leaf clovers, when you’ve never seen one. Or your uncle who spots bald eagles every time he goes fishing. Or your gym buddy who can always find you a rower if you’re in the market (Oh yeah… we have a rower guy! You know who you are!). What that means practically is that at least some of those internet memes about positive thinking are actually true. You do find what you’re looking for. If you look for gray Honda Pilots, you find them. If you look for 4-leaf clovers or bald eagles or rowers, you find them.

That’s also true of intangibles.

Meaning this… if you look for negative things, you find them. If you look for positive things, you find them. It’s no accident that some of the people who most consistently post their bright spots are also the people with some of the best results. They’re looking for what’s going right in their lives and then, when their Reticular Activating System finds it and flags it for them, they double down on it and the results compound. (Note: This is NOT to say that when real hardship and tragedy strike you just need to look on the bright side – far from it. Nor is it to say that positive thinking is supremely powerful. It IS to say that positive thinking matters. More than many people think.)

Finding Bright Spots – or keeping a gratitude journal, or writing affirmations, or making a vision board – are all practices. And they all seem silly, at first. But don’t underestimate them. And for UPCF members, when Friday comes around and you see that Bright Spot Friday post, throw something up in the comments this week!