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.

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.

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!

The Magic Pill

by Michael Plank

There’s a whole lot in this day and age that we can get immediately, or dang-close to it. Things are becoming more convenient by the day. Grocery pick-up! Same-day delivery! It is a magical time to be alive. But when so much of what we want is available at our fingertips, it can be frustrating when health and wellness don’t come quite as easily… or maybe that’s not quite right.

Maybe it’s not that building health and wellness is difficult, it’s that it can be slow. Because the truth is that there actually is a magic pill of sorts for weight loss, strength gain, and biomarker improvement.

Consistency.

That’s it. That’s the whole secret. You don’t have to workout for 2 hours a day, 6 days a week; you don’t have to completely cut out all carbohydrates and processed foods; you don’t have to engage in monumental, herculean efforts. You just have to keep going. Consistent mediocrity will beat sporadic excellence every time.

And really, that’s a huge part of what we do as coaches: we help our members stay consistent. You probably don’t need to learn about what foods are good for you, you probably don’t need to learn that lifting more weight makes you stronger; what you need is to know that every week, someone is waiting for you, and excited to see you show up to work out like you said you would. Every week, someone is checking in to be sure you’re still good with creative ideas for those 2 servings of vegetables you planned on. Every week, someone is in your corner, helping you to not just do what will help you, but helping you want to do what will help you.

Because then you’ll be consistent. And then you’ll get results. And it’s as simple as that. Magic pill.

Who’s On Your Team?

by Michael Plank

The self-made man? Self-made woman? It’s a myth. Or at least not something aspirational. The best performers in athletics, business, finance, military, you name it… all have teams. Even in individual sports, athletes have mindset coaches, strength coaches, hitting coaches, and fielding coaches.

When people join our gym, our goal – in short – is to make their lives better. We help them do that with fitness (which includes nutrition). But fitness is only one piece of the puzzle. There’s also faith. There’s also family. There are also friendships. There’s also psychology.

We’ve already talked about how valuable coaching is, and complete health involves fitness coaching for sure. But it also probably involves a spiritual advisor, and solid family relationships (biological or not), and friends in whom you can confide, and a therapist, and a doctor, and a financial advisor.

What we encourage people to do (and what we’re encouraging you to do as you’re reading this right now) is to build your team. The different areas of your life have different needs. (As much as I love hearing how meaningful our gym is for people, the truth is that CrossFit is not therapy. Therapy is therapy.) Get your fitness coach, your spouse (or siblings or parents or cousins), your best friend(s), your spiritual advisor, your therapist, your doctor, and your financial advisor. Tell them what you need and then let them help you.

It can seem like an overwhelming project, but the great news is that once you get those people lined up, it means that you don’t have to do it all yourself. You are only as smart as your own brain. And when you can get other brains in the mix, whole new worlds can open up to you. Those people who can help you are out there. And when you get your team in line, magic can happen.

(PS Obviously we’d love to help you with your fitness coaching. And we’ll put in a plug here for a great therapist too).