3 Underrated Fitness Tips

by Michael Plank

 

There are no shortage of fitness tips out there: warm-up, cool down, stretch, eat kale, track calories, workout all the time, etc, etc, etc. All those tips can be hard to sort through. These are a few of our go-to tips. They’re kind of boring, pretty underrated, but super powerful!

1. Be Consistently Mediocre

What you do doesn’t matter nearly as much as how often you do it and how many months or years you do it. This is true of strength building, skill building, nutrition, endurance… everything health and fitness! A 4-week chunk of perfection followed by an 8 week tailspin, repeated a few times a year won’t get you nearly as far as doing a pretty OK job a couple of times a week for a year. Just show up!

2. Something Is Better Than Nothing

Sometimes you don’t want to work out. Sometimes you really don’t have time to go to the gym if you also want to keep your job, get some sleep, and make your family happy. No problem. Go do a Tabata of plank holds (4 minutes). Do 30 burpees or 30 bodybuilders off of a box (2-3 minutes). Do 10 squats, or run up a flight of stairs once (<1 minute). If you can’t come 3 times each week, come twice. If you can’t come twice, come once. Maintaining your level of fitness takes way less time and energy than we sometimes think, and sometimes maintaining is plenty!

3. Do Stuff You Like and Skip Stuff You Hate

At least at first. The things you like will be the things you want to do, and if you want to do it then you probably will (see #1 and #2 above). Eventually, you’ll figure out things that you’re maybe not crazy about, but you’ll see how they support the stuff you like, and you’ll add those. And then eventually, maybe you’ll fall in love with the fitness game and just do everything all the time. But if you don’t, and you only ever do stuff you like, it still counts!

Whole sections of the fitness industry are built on convincing you that you don’t know enough, that you don’t have the secrets, that you need to do (and buy) more, more, more. But for general fitness and health, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Progress Is Not Linear

by Michael Plank

I don’t know how many times I’ve drawn seen and drawn this graph, but it’s been a lot! Most of those times have been for myself. Next week we start 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 level down??

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 ask you to do as many push-ups as you can 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 sight of the forest for the trees.

When to Modify Your Training

by Michael Plank

 

If you’re the kind of person who does CrossFit, chances are really good that you’re also the kind of person who has some degree of comfort with discomfort. CrossFit reinforces that. We talk all the time about pushing through barriers, about going beyond what we thought we were capable of, about finding the limits and adding stress there so that we can accelerate growth and improvement. All of that is good. But there’s a dichotomy here too, because sometimes, (believe it or not!) pushing through pain and discomfort is exactly the wrong thing to do. Especially if there’s pain involved.

So here are a few general questions I keep in mind when I’m deciding whether or not I need to scale back my training.

1. Does My Body Hurt?

That means, do I experience pain doing regular, every-day things like cooking dinner or getting in and out of the car.

2. Where Does My Body Hurt?

The answer to this question almost always tells me whether I’m sore from working out or whether I’m potentially injured. By “injured” I mean there’s damage to my tissue and there’s potential for there to be greater damage.

If I have pain in a joint – ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, wrist, spine, or neck – I’m going to count that as injured when I’m making decisions. If I have pain elsewhere – quads, calves, pecs, abs, lats, etc – maybe I’m just sore. UNLESS I felt or heard a pop or snap or catch in something like my quad or hamstring or biceps. Then it’s back to injured.

3. If I Go to a Class, Can I Trust Myself to Disclose My Injuries and Listen to My Coach?

It’s easy to get caught up in the energy of a group workout. It’s part of what makes them so effective. But if I feel like I’m going to either a) hide my injury because of my ego or because I’m worried I’ll inconvenience someone, or b) disclose it, but then get carried away and tell the coach it’s fine (when it’s not), that’s going to be a red flag for me.

4. What Benefit Is There From Risking Further Injury?

Maybe I’m going to the CrossFit Games. Maybe there’s a $300,000 check that could have my name on it if I ignore the pain and get that last deadlift in under the buzzer. But if I’m not looking at something like a quarter of a million dollars, chances are really good that there is no potential upside that outweighs further injury.

5. Will I Lose Progress if I Take Today Off?

There’s only one true answer here: no. Just like one single day of training won’t be the thing that catapults you from Orange II to Brown III, a skipped day of training won’t drop you from Orange II to White.

6. What’s The Long-Term Goal?

(This is the most important one for me). For me, my long-term goal is to live the rest of my life with no physical limitations on what I want to do (yours might be different). If my knee aches and clicks every time I bend it, does pushing through a run/squat/box jump workout as written support my long-term goal or not? Answer: It doesn’t.

 

Pushing through discomfort has served all of us well. It’s how we improve and how we grow. But this is just your Wednesday reminder to still be smart about it. Talk to your coaches. Keep them in the loop. Be honest with yourself. And remember that the goal is not to do THE BEST on Thursday morning, it’s to do the best you can do for yourself for the long haul.

 

Moms Make Better CrossFitters (and CrossFit Makes Better Moms)

by Lauren Grogan (originally published May 7, 2016)

 

Maybe CrossFit was started by a man. Maybe men hold the fastest times and get the biggest lifts. But I’m here to talk about what women in CrossFit gyms all over the globe already know:

CrossFit is the most feminist sport on the planet. Here’s why:

I have owned and operated a CrossFit box since 2014. Women make up the majority of our current membership. And as much as I would love to claim that we are a unique snowflake of a CrossFit gym, I don’t think we are. I think women outnumber men in many CrossFit gyms, because the qualities you need to excel at CrossFit come naturally to women. They may not always come easily, but I do believe they are part of our nature. I have seen them modeled for me in the women who have mothered me through my life. And I use them constantly as I mother my own children. In CrossFit I have found a sport that celebrates my innate strengths, those that all women access when they care for and nurture another person. CrossFit also speaks to a deep part of my soul, the part that needs to be pushed to keep improving, to strive constantly to be the best version of myself.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. This is how CrossFit makes me a better mom:

You’re not allowed to quit.

An unspoken rule of CrossFit workouts is that you do not quit. You might slow down, you might take a break. You might be lagging behind everyone else by a substantial margin. But if your coach is as good as mine (spoiler alert: he’s also my husband, so I’m partial) that coach will tell you to keep going. And so will your fellow athletes. They will tell you that you are strong enough. They will tell you you’re doing a great job. They will tell you to take a breath, then dig deep and jump right back in because you have more in the tank than you think you do.

Last night was a particularly rough workout for me. I was tired and cranky and I’d had a rough week. I told everyone this before we started, but I was there and with everyone watching me I knew I couldn’t just give up. Everyone else finished before me, and as they caught their breath they turned their attention to me. Two years ago that would have mortified me, but last night it warmed my heart. One of my dear friends, who was a relative stranger before we started working out together, knelt right next to me as I began my 5th and final set of heavy front squats. Her encouragement grew louder and more urgent until, when I had only three squats left she screamed, “this week did not beat you! You are stronger than it! You win! YOU WIN!’ I did. I won. I was tired, and dead last, but I finished.

I had some low moments this week. I was not the mother I dreamed I would be. I lost my patience, gave in to whining, and ignored my children instead of engaging them. But I did it. I made it one more week staying at home with my toddler, feeding him nutritious food and reading him the same books over and over and loving him even though he punched me in the eye. And when I struggled and wanted to give up, I had a tribe of women around me to tell me what a good job I was doing. There is not a parent alive who doesn’t need that.

You chose the hard way.

In a world full of ‘easy’ workouts, CrossFit stands out as the road less taken. The ‘hard’ way, the rugged option that is not for the faint of heart. The same could be said of parenthood. As a mother I am constantly struggling to chose the difficult path, the one that is sure to lead to a happy, healthy child but requires so much damn effort that it seems insurmountable. Vegetables instead of dessert. Books instead of TV. Cloth diapers instead of disposable. Patience instead of anger. As the mother of a six year old and an almost two year old, my future looks like a mountain of these kind of struggles.

Where I land on each of these kinds of struggles depends on the day, the week, the month. And the end is nowhere in sight, no matter how fast the internet tells me it will go. But I am surrounded by women who chose the hard way. They show up night after night to lift heavy weights, run in the rain, and leave it all on the floor. Because they know that their choices matter and that every single time they choose the hard way, they are one step closer being the best person that they want to be. And when I struggle to find the will to parent my child, I think of them.

Are you ready? ‘Cause it’s about to get heavy. This is how being a mother makes me a better CrossFitter:

It is Hard

My very first Mother’s Day was two days after I found out that the baby I had been carrying for 20 weeks was most certainly not going to have the kind of life I had dreamed of for her. In the weeks between that day and the day she was born, I learned a lot more about specifically which parts of her body worked and which did not, and which part of her brain was present and which was not. But I never learned why. No diagnosis, no syndrome; perfect chromosomes, healthy parents. Just a part of the 3% of all human pregnancies that mutate without cause. This is the human condition: life is hard for no reason.

We struggle so much, fight so hard, and still we can’t always change our circumstances. We are usually better because of our struggles, but that doesn’t mean we would ever choose them. I get stronger every time i do burpees. It sucks, I loathe it, I am almost never happy when I do them. And if I had the ‘choice,’ I wouldn’t. But you read what I wrote about not quitting right? I don’t quit. Because there are other things in my life that have been harder than burpees.

Birthing my daughter knowing that she had already died was much harder than any CrossFit workout I will ever do. But I did it, so that I could hold her in my arms and kiss her tiny face. And I will continue to do hard things, like CrossFit, because it feels like one of the most pure elements of the human condition.

These days, if I put on a hat, so does my toddler. He wants to eat whatever I’m eating, wear whatever I’m wearing and do whatever I’m doing. Which is why he does spontaneous burpees, and cheers whenever he sees someone running. As his primary caretaker, I am responsible for his entire worldview. That is a huge responsibility and one that I do not take lightly. If I was not constantly reminded of how closely he watches me, it would be easy to skip the gym and eat junk food all day long.

It is one of those fantastic human paradoxes that we take better care of our children than we do ourselves, but I’m sure it is true for most of the parents I know. So (in pre-COVID times) I drag him with me to CrossFit two or three times a week, even though it takes at least an extra half hour to prepare him, and messes up his sleep schedule (which makes my life harder of course.) Because I want him to see that I am strong. I want him to know that I make my health a priority. And when I hit that inevitable wall in my workout and I hear him yelling or see him clapping, I get the motivation I need to finish. Because what he needs, more than anything else, is for me to be strong and healthy and happy.

So I am.

Cultivating Stillness

by Michael Plank

 

In our gym, we use the Level Method Map of Athletic Progression – it’s a tremendous tool to help our members chart a path to lifelong general fitness. It shows us our strengths, it shows us where we could use some more work, and it gives us a path to follow so that we can get where we want to go. We spent all of 2020 also developing a Map of Spiritual Progression. The aim is the same: a tool to show us our strengths, where we can use some more work, and that lays out a path to follow so that we can get where we want to go. Our vision is to improve the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of our area, and this is one way we’re working on tackling that last piece of the puzzle. (More on this to come this year)

One of the first categories we look at developing is stillness. Cultivating stillness is a skill, and it’s way underrated.

Cultures, religions, and traditions around the world, for all of history, have had different strategies for cultivating stillness: Sabbath, meditation, walkabouts, silent retreats, and many others are all different roads leading to the same place. What stillness is has every bit as much to do with intention as with logistics. (So, for example, sitting still and quiet, by yourself, scrolling on your phone, probably is not cultivating stillness).

We live in a world in which attention is arguably the most valuable resource, which means things are clamoring for our attention 100% of the time. Cultivating stillness means making space away from all that noise. And what happens in that space can be literally life-changing.

I started my own journey of cultivating stillness when I was asked the last time when I took a full 60 seconds with no phone, no distractions, no self-development exercises, no trying to sleep, but just sitting and letting my mind wander in stillness. 60 seconds. I had no answer.

And so I started cultivating stillness in my life. My strategy came from a mindset coach and business mentor named Colm O’Reilly.

I started with 2 minutes. I went into a room by myself, closed the door, set a 2 minute timer, put my phone out of sight, and just looked out the window.

At first, that 2 minutes was almost completely consumed with remembering all the things I had forgotten to do that day. But that’s good. I would have forgotten them otherwise. After awhile (weeks), sometimes in the space of that 2 minutes, I’d get some minor insight (if I switch my Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, I can get an extra family dinner in each week). After a little longer, I started to notice it would help me detach when I let problems spin me up so that I got bogged down in the weeds. And after longer still, I began to notice more of a sense of lightness in my life.

And just to be clear, all I’m talking about here is stillness. For me, it’s not prayer, it’s not reading, it’s not even meditation (though it might be one of those things for you). It’s just sitting and looking out the window. It’s a practice, and like any practice, I wasn’t good at it when I started (I’m still very much a novice). And like any practice, I have good days and bad days as I slowly improve my skills.

The benefits of creating space for stillness are well-documented and abundant. But it can be difficult to start, and so here’s one way you might begin…

Step 1: Make time to stop and take 5 deep breaths (no screens or music)
Step 2: On another day, take time to stop and take 10 deep breaths (no screens or music)
Step 3: While sitting or walking, take 10 deep breaths once each week for a month
Step 4: While sitting or walking, take 20 deep breaths once each week for a month
Step 5: Sit still with no distractions for 3 minutes once each week for a month
Step 6: Build in duration and frequency from there.

A lot of the good things we want in life – things like meaning, gratitude, peace, clarity, calm – get drowned out easily by all the noise around us when they’re first taking root. Stillness is a powerful way for us to water that garden and let them grow to become a part of our lives the way we want them to be.

The Cost of Success

by Aimee Wojtowecz

In the world of CrossFit we often measure our success through PR’s; ever heavier lifts, faster workout times, 6-pack abs, but do we ever stop to think about what this might be costing us? When our singular focus becomes how much further we can push our bodies on any given day we lose sight of the bigger picture. 

I’ve only been a coach at UPCF for a short time but it has given me a whole new perspective on CrossFit and our community in particular. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing you all achieve your goals and I have big goals of my own, but it’s not all I’m chasing anymore. 

I started CrossFit several years ago to simply lose weight, to shrink myself into the beauty standards that are so often pushed on women (yes, I do realize men experience this too but I’m a woman writing from my perspective), and somewhere along the way it became about the goals; faster, stronger, fitter. Maybe you started CrossFit for similar reasons, your health, your fitness, simply improving the quality of your life. As we say at UPCF, all goals are equal. 

Yet watching all of you through the lens of a coach has revolutionized my goals. My focus has shifted from chasing my own performance to watching you all grow as athletes and more importantly as humans. I love seeing you all work hard but I love just as much hearing about how that hard work is changing your life, whether it’s being able to keep up with your kids and grandkids, moving heavy furniture, getting the farm chores done without help. It’s not all about the numbers but how those numbers translate to real life. Don’t forget to find the joy in your workouts and the joy in the connection and community that has been built at UPCF. If you find your workouts lacking the joy and love you first felt walking through those doors remember that it’s ok to change your goals whenever you want. Don’t let chasing the PR’s cost you all the other ways to measure success.