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.

Go Slow to Go Fast

by Michael Plank

Yesterday we wrapped up a 4-week Upper Body Push strength cycle. We spent this month working on barbell strict presses and yesterday we had the option of going for a new Personal Record or trying to level up in the Upper Body Push category on the Level Method Map of Athletic Progression. What happened a couple of times is what always happens when we test Upper Body Pushing… one or two people set massive press PRs but don’t level up!

Here’s why…

The Level Method (which we use at our gym) is the best systematic approach we’ve seen for improving overall fitness. We’ve been using it for several years and the results have been fantastic. But it can be frustrating! And the reason it can be frustrating is that it demands a strong foundation. If you build a house and rush through the foundation, it doesn’t matter how well-built the roof is, that house is going to fall down because the foundation isn’t as solid as it needs to be. We focus on a strong foundation with all kinds of things at our gym – strength training, skill training, nutrition coaching, and habit coaching. One of our core values is Client Service – which means being able to get our members results. Sometimes that means you have to go slow to go fast. You have to really nail the basics before you progress to intermediate and advanced movements. That takes time, but it will make the higher level skills much more solid down the line. Looking at the Upper Body Push category a little more closely gives a good example of this approach.

Our progressions are designed to be universally applicable. The flow of the Upper Body Push category is this: the first thing we want to do is build the required strength to do a strict, gymnastic-style push-up off the floor. Once we can do that, we want to start to be able to do some bigger sets. Once we can do that, we want to see if you can continually do sets of 4, or 6, or 9, for several minutes at a time. Then we move to barbell presses. Then we move to handstand push-ups and increasingly large sets of handstand push-ups, and then finally back to barbell presses.

If you’ve ever done a workout with a lot of push-ups in it, you know that when your arms get tired and start to give out, you are in trouble. When your arms fatigue in any kind of strict pushing movement (presses, push-ups, dips), they take a comparably very long time to recover enough to do more reps (minutes as opposed to seconds in something like squats). When we develop the Upper Body Push, we want to see some basic strength first, but then we need to see a solid stamina base – in other words, we need to see that your arms can keep doing stuff for awhile and don’t just have flash-in-the-pan moments of glory. Once we see that solid stamina base with push-ups, then we start to be interested in what you can do with raw strength on a barbell. But stamina will come back into play when we get to increasingly large sets of handstand push-ups. And at the elite levels, we’re back to looking at very high levels of raw strength again. In the Upper Body Push category, we are constantly walking the line between stamina and strength as you progress, because the ultimate goal is that your arms become more useful to you – that they can do more stuff for longer than you can right now.

Is this the slow way? Kind of. But it depends on the timeline you’re looking at. If you want to race your friends to see who can get the biggest bench press in 6 weeks, ours is not the best approach. But if you want to start today and be as strong and injury-free as possible 1, 2, or 3 years from now, I don’t think there’s anything better.

How a Coach Helps You Reach Your Goals Faster

by Michael Plank

Maybe more than ever before, people are realizing how incredibly important good health is. Even before COVID-19, rising rates of chronic disease were causing doctors to raise alarms all over the world. Basically everyone knows that to be healthy (or healthier), you need to move your body and give it nutritious food. But if that’s all it takes, why do people still struggle?

There’s no shortage of information out there. A Google search for “how to get healthy” will return over a billion results. The trick is sorting through the information to find what next step will have the biggest impact for youand then (and this is the really important part) actually doing it.

And that’s where coaches come in. A good coach will get to know you, what your goals are, and what makes you tick. A good coach knows the techniques needed to accomplish goals, but just as importantly knows how to simplify that knowledge to give you only what you actually need to do right now.

Imagine that you’re driving cross country to a place you’ve never been. Your coach is your navigator; the person in the passenger seat who has the map. But she doesn’t say “Take 197 to 9S to 87S to 90W to 80W…” She says “In one mile, turn Left on Bridge Street.” Now you could for sure just get in the car and keep heading west and you’d get there eventually. But having a navigator will make that journey a lot shorter and a lot less frustrating.

That’s what you need. You don’t need more information (you probably need less), you just need the right information: the thing that you need to do that you actually will do. A coach will help you see that. And what that really means for you is that those goals you want to reach will come a whole lot faster.

3 Things to Consider When Looking for a CrossFit Gym

by Michael Plank

You’ve obviously heard of CrossFit. Maybe you’ve seen fit people lifting big weights on Instagram. Maybe one of your co-workers goes to CrossFit after work every day. Maybe you even have friends who won’t stop talking about it. But before you go down the Google rabbit hole, consider these three things when searching for “CrossFit gyms near me.”

 

1. Consider more than just price and location

When choosing a gym, price and location are often the deciding factors. But a great CrossFit gym with an awesome community might be worth the extra an extra 10 or 15 minutes on the road. (I personally drive 35 minutes each way to the jiu-jitsu school I attend. It’s not the closest by a long shot, but it’s my favorite). CrossFit is a social activity and every gym has a different culture, and you should find a gym whose coaches and clients you connect well with.

And yes, CrossFit can be expensive. But guess what… It can also be cheap. But often you get what you pay for. So you need to ask yourself what you’re looking for. Do you just want access to equipment and programming? If that’s the case, then maybe the lower-priced option is good for you. If you are new to CrossFit, however, or are looking to dive in deeper, you might do well with more hands-on coaching.

At Underwood Park CrossFit, we pride ourselves on client service. We begin all our clients with one-on-one personal training services, which have a higher price point. But we also see incredible results, especially with people who are new and just starting their CrossFit journeys.

 

2. Ask “Does this gym understand my goals?”

The most successful gyms should understand the wants, needs and desires of their clients. The best gyms in the business understand that we are in the results game, not the the “get-bodies-in-the-door” game. The path to results begins with a goal-setting session when you first walk in. We call ours a No Sweat Intro. Good gyms will ask you what your goals are. Do you want to lose weight? Gain strength? Get toned? Feel better in your skin?

Now, here’s the secret—the great gyms will ask you WHY.

Understanding the “why” is very powerful in setting any goal. Is it about more than just losing weight? Does your family have a history of chronic disease? Do you want to get stronger so you can play with your grandkids? Do you want to be able to use your fitness outside of the gym in activities like golf, swimming, kayaking or hiking? If no one sits down with you and talks to you about your goals and your “why,” then they don’t truly understand you. And like Dale Carnegie said, “the deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

You deserve to find a gym that appreciates you!

 

3. Find out if the gym offers nutrition coaching

 Yes! You read that correctly! The best CrossFit gyms in your area should offer nutrition coaching.

Despite the fact that what we read on the internet is obviously 100% correct (hint—that was a joke!), CrossFit is not about heavy barbells and kipping pull-ups. It’s about improving your fitness. The founder of CrossFit, defined fitness in 100 words: “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.” He goes on to talk about movements and training, but the first 26 words are all about nutrition.

In any health and fitness routine, nutrition is responsible for 80% of the results. We see it in our clients all the time. Those who do nutrition coaching see 3.5 times the results of those who just exercise. If you are not eating real whole foods, you are not doing CrossFit … period. People quit gyms when they don’t see results. If you want the fastest route to results, you need good nutrition and exercise. So why not find a gym where you can get both?

 

Your health is worth some due diligence. Don’t just toss out some search terms and sign up with the first gym you find on Google Maps. Make sure you find a place that is the best gym in the world for you.

 

 

Inspiration provided by Rob Connors at SignumCrossFit.com.

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.

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.