Physiology related

Winter is Coming: Time to Up Your Warm Up Game

rowena_sunsetCool sunset as the season changes – Rowena during last week’s Strict Pullup, Burpee, Run workout

While we still have a ways to go before winter, and the winters here in the Bay Area are pretty mild compared to many other parts of the country, it’s still necessary to address the importance of the warm up, as the weather cools down.  When it comes to preparing our bodies for exercise, there is a huge difference between coming in for your workout when the temperature is in the 90′s, versus coming in and the temperatures are in the 40′s or 50′s.  Many of you may have recently experienced a positive effect that running a mile has on your 1 rep max squat.  A good warm-up will among other things, increase blood flow, breathing rate, body temperature, and excite the neuromuscular system (the interaction between the muscles and the nervous system that controls them).  While you won’t be seeing many mile runs during the cold winter months, one thing I usually do on cold days is keep my sweats on for as long as possible during the warm-up.  Rather than taking them off as soon as I’m warm enough to be comfortable without them, I wear them until I can no longer stand the heat and extra layers of clothing.  At this point, I am well past breaking a sweat and my core temperature as risen significantly.  This last second stripping of clothes usually makes dramatic and entertaining show as the 10 second clock counts down.  :)

Here’s a post I came across recently on Breaking Muscle that talks more about the importance of warm-up as the weather cools off.


Drop what? Drop SETS!


Doug with the RAW strength!

Lately, you may have noticed the sudden frequency of drop sets being incorporated into our weekly programming. For those of you who are unfamiliar with drop sets, we are simply working up to a heavy set in any particular lift, then dropping a certain percentage or weight, and then performing a few more sets at that load. Now if you’re like me and wondered, “Why the heck do I have to use all my energy to go heavy and then go back down to do more work?!?!” well I’m here to let you in on the rhyme and reason behind the madness! Drop sets are effective for a number of reasons, and at the Sweat Shop we use them to develop proper movement patterns and to help us build strength just as Doug is demonstrating above.

Primarily, I want to talk about the relationship between strength and drop sets. In any given prescribed sets or reps, our body only recruits a certain number of muscle fibers. For example, the muscle fibers recruited for a heavy set of squats will be different then the fibers recruited for a lighter set. Performing drop sets essentially uses this idea in order to facilitate more muscle growth in any given lifting session. Still confused? Think about it this way, when we build to a heavy set in any movement we fatigue the muscle fibers that allow us to lift that particular load. You may think your body is done and can’t go on, but there is in fact more left in the tank. When we drop the weight, we recruit an entirely new set of muscle fibers and in turn we can keep going. Now what does this do for us in terms of building strength? Simply, when we recruit all different types of muscle fibers when we exercise, we facilitate more growth in the long run. More muscle fiber growth equals more strength!

In the end, using a variety of training methods is effective in building strength. The last thing we want to do is become content with the same reps and sets day in and day out. Look for more drop sets in the future, and hopefully I have made the “why” behind drop sets a little bit more clear!

Box Jump and Achilles Health

plyo_box1716b_bAre box jumps evil?

For sometime now, whenever there is a workout with box jumps, you’ve probably heard me say during the WOD briefing, that I recommend “jumping up, and stepping down”, to reduce or hopefully eliminate any risk of injuring your achilles tendon.  With Julie Foucher’s recent achilles injury at this year’s Regional competition, the always hot debate is once again on the front burner.  There are a couple of different takes on this matter, but here’s mine.  If you participate in CrossFit competitions you’ll likely come across the box jump in a workout, and for most people, the fastest way is to jump down and rebound back onto the box.  While there is an inherent risk to any type of exercise, box jumps done this way, in my opinion, are more risky in regards to potential achilles injury.  Nonetheless, for many that compete, it’s a risk worth taking.  For everyone else, I recommend jumping up and stepping down.

Here’s a post that talks more about the topic.

Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?

I came across this interesting TED talk by David Epstein recently. This talk touches upon sports performance technology as well as human physiology and its impact on sporting achievements throughout the years. If you have a spare 15 minutes in your day it’s definitely worth the watch.

When you look at sporting achievements over the last decades, it seems like humans have gotten faster, better and stronger in nearly every way. Yet as David Epstein points out in this delightfully counter-intuitive talk, we might want to lay off the self-congratulation. Many factors are at play in shattering athletic records, and the development of our natural talents is just one of them.

From the Archives: Beware of the Sexy Metcon


Originally posted back in 2010, then again in 2011, there have been a lot of new members to the Sweat Shop since then, and since us coaches feel strongly about this, I’m posting this again.

Although everyone loves a good met-con workout (metabolic conditioning) for it’s fast pace, variety, mental challenge, and great post-workout feeling, the foundation of any fitness program should be strength, followed by skills.

Everyone’s body is different, and how someone recovers from high intensity exercise depends on many factors including sleep, nutrition and stress, just to name a few.  While there are a few people that get into CrossFit solely for the competitions, most people are doing it, or at least started to doing it, to improve their health.  Therefore it’s important to understand that long metcons that turn into a death-march, or even relatively shorter ones, if done too often, can have negative consequences on your health.  It’s important to listen to your body.  There’s no shame in doing overhead squats for strength, and then skipping part B. if you’re feeling a little run down.

Here’s an excerpt from an excellent post from the Whole 9.

People often make misguided assumptions about CrossFit workouts based on what grabs their attention on paper. “Tough workouts”, “elite athletic training” and “high intensity” translates as high repetitions, endless rounds, a grab bag of exercises (often seemingly chosen at random), or some combination of the above. And there’s a trend, especially among those new to CrossFit and inexperienced with programming, to ride that met-con train all the way to Cortisol Crazytown.

I’m here to caution you… beware the lure of the Sexy Met-Con.

For some (especially those new to CrossFit), the lure of something like the Filthy Fifty or the “300” workout is undeniable. Hundreds of reps of various bad-ass exercises all in one workout? That MUST be good fitness. New trainees doing their own programming fall quickly into the Sexy Met-Con trap, piling on the reps, adding more and more exotic movements, needing an excessive amount of time to complete the workout. They get beyond creative, making up workouts so complicated that you need a map and a flashlight just to follow along.

Trainees aren’t the only victims of the Sexy Met-Con pull. New coaches and affiliate owners fall into this trap as well. What looks like you put more effort into your programming – seven rounds of five different exercises with a complicated rep scheme, or “Back Squat 5×5”? What’s an easier group class workout – a 20 minute light-weight met-con, or a structured PMenu-style Olympic lifting session? This isn’t a dig on those coaches or affiliate owners – I get it. The pressure to get creative and put out fresh “unknowable” workouts every day is enormous. There is also a need (real or perceived) to drastically distinguish themselves from their Globo-Gym competition. Add in the pressure from clients to make them SWEAT so they feel like they’re getting what they pay for and the Sexy Met-Con becomes an easy go-to on all counts.

Read full post here.


5 Way Shoulder Mobility WOD


From time to time I like to check out Kelly Starret’s mobility WOD for some new mobility drills during class. There are now hundreds of videos of exercises for each joint. If you have pain or tightness resulting from something tissue related, and have yet to check out his videos, please do! This is where we get lot of our pre-wod mobility stuff. You can basically type “Mobility WOD” on youtube and you will find them all. While there are hundreds of them, every now and then I find a diamond in the rough, that hits several drills for one specific issue as opposed to the longer videos going over a bunch. Also, these are the ones doable BEFORE AND AFTER the WOD each day. As we’ve said before, the five minutes of mobility we do before class will not cure you of years of tight joints. It must be specific to the areas of tightness and be done everyday. Here is a good video which goes over a few we do in class. Add this to your everyday shoulder routine, and I guarantee you’ll start feeling some success!

Keeping Strength In The Strength Program

15502138639_cd1ccc5082_zThe epitome of strength: Emily “Ditka” Plurkowski

During my Thursday night lecture at JFKU, the importance of strength training came up. As I do every time giving this lecture, I ask the students to tell me what they believe is the most important factor when it comes to athletic performance. Almost every time, strength is never the first thing any of the students choose. This semester was no different. Most say cardiovascular endurance, more say speed and coordination, and a few even said mental strength. Most folks seem to get the general idea behind things like endurance and speed, but strength is typically the most misunderstood. Most times, people think of strength and associate it with big muscles. Many also associate strength as being an olympic weightlifter, bodybuilder, or one of those heavy power lifters. But as many of you may now have realized throughout your training with us, being stronger is more than just lifting weights and big muscles. Check out this older article written by Bill Star on understanding strength and why it is important to keep in your program.

From the article:

Strength is a much sought after attribute in the athletic community and for good reason. Greater strength gives every athlete a definite edge in any sport, if for no other reason than it allows him to practice the skills necessary for success longer and with more precision. Being strong also helps athletes to avoid serious injury. Sure, they’re still going to get hurt because there’s no possible way to avoid bone-jarring collisions in high-impact sports like football, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and even baseball. But if the athletes involved in such situations are extremely strong, they can walk away rather than being carried off the field. In their book, Kinesiology and Applied Anatomy, Drs. Rasch and Burke state: “Muscular strength is perhaps the most important of all factors in athletic performance.” Increase an athlete’s strength by 40% while keeping all the other attributes constant and he will be able to perform at a much higher level. Even if his technique has not improved to any great extent, he will become more proficient in his chosen sport. I’ve seen this happen countless times in Olympic and powerlifting. As the athlete gains strength, his numbers climb, yet his form stays constant. Strength is the difference.

Read full article here.

Understanding Mobile and Stable Joints

Last month, Dr. Rob and I attended the Selective Functional Movement Assessment Seminar. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it’s  a seminar put on by the governing body on all things “functional movement” and is run by the big names in the pre-hab, diagnostic, and rehabilitative realm of corrective exercise. They have created a pretty awesome diagnostic flowchart and system of assessing all sources of pain throughout the body. Out of the many seminars I’ve attended on exercise physiology, performance enhancement, and as a matter of fact, all of my undergraduate and graduate studies in Kinesiology, this one really took my understanding of the human body, through exercise and sport, to another level. While there were a ton of concepts I have taken home with me and have started applying to training and programming, I thought I’d share a really cool one that ALL of you who have had some sort of nagging pain or injury can relate to: The Stable/Mobile joint Approach.

This approach was put together by Functional Movement coaches and therapists Gray Cook and Mike Boyle.

If you look at the big joint structures of the body (see above), there is a recurring pattern….Whether you start from the top-down or vice versa, the body follows an alternating pattern of:

Stable Joints and Mobile Joints

For instance, the ankle, which requires a lot of movement in all planes of motion at the foot is considered a MOBILE joint. Right above it, we have the knee, a joint that provides stability for the leg, which is considered a STABLE joint. You are probably familiar with the hip as a MOBILE joint, and right above it, the lumbar spine, which is our spine’s source of support, is considered a STABLE joint. The same goes for shoulder girdle (STABLE joint) while the shoulder joint is a MOBILE joint and so on and so forth.

In a perfect body, this pattern stays consistent and is a blueprint of how we were meant to use our joints functionally. However, in life, especially in the lives of those who love to move, we run the risk of messing with this beautiful pattern. We start to run into problems when our daily activities, or lack there of, can alter the anatomically pre-determined job of the joints. Think about sitting for long periods. Our hip, which is supposed to be a mobile joint, is glued to a seat. What happens over time? Tight hips. When the hip, which is supposed to be a mobile joint, turns into a stable body, the next joint up has to compensate and start moving….hello Mr. Low Back Pain. Now the low back has gone from what is supposed to be a stable joint to now having to do excess motion to make up for the tight hips. Here is the start of the vicious cycle. If we just did a hardcore shoulder workout and the shoulder joint gets tight or “immobile”, the shoulder girdle, where our shoulder stabilizers reside, take on more movement. Hello shoulder issues.

So, why do I want you all to know this? To be honest, I think it’s really cool stuff to know. When you extrapolate this to the entire body, you can start to see the importance of moving correctly! You can back track and maybe find where most pain comes from and in my realization at this seminar, how one tight joint can effect all the others. As coaches, we always want you guys to better understand the “why’s” and “how’s” of treating yourself. Most of us just grab a foam roller or lax ball and start going to town on where we feel pain. This is obviously better than nothing, however, finding the source of the pain or tightness will help you get to the problem quicker. I know a majority of you are not EXPERTS in anatomy, but as with things like exercise and diet, I’m sure the lack of clinical expertise has not stopped you from going about day to day behavior changes. Also, this is where we come in! One of the biggest values of a clinician, therapist, or coach, is to assess and diagnose movement correctly. We’ve been around movement a lot, and take pride in our knowledge of the body so don’t be afraid to communicate any nagging issues with us. If it is beyond something movement-based, then of course, go see a doc. A good diagnosis cuts to the chase. If you can get a better diagnosis, you know where to start treatment and be able to cut down the treatment time. When you cut treatment time down, you get back to doing what you love: MOVING!

Strength and Conditioning in the Aging Athlete

theresa_ropeAt age 63, Theresa strikes the perfect balance between making her workouts challenging and fun, while still keeping the risk for injury low, and maintaining her primary goal of improving overall health and fitness.

While I can honestly say at age 37, I am stronger and feel more fit than I did 10 years ago, I have definitely noticed some less than ideal changes over the years.  First and foremost, recovering from tough workouts can sometimes take several days.  Whereas years ago I could jump into a workout with little or no warmup, these days that’s almost a guaranteed way to tack on several additional post workout aches and pains, on top of those expected from a workout.  But don’t get me wrong, I’m not ready to claim someone who is 21 years old has an “unfair advantage” to someone in their mid to late 30′s,…. it just means I have to be a little more diligent in warmups, training, and my recovery.

Here is a helpful post from Robb Wolf’s website that addresses some important points for the aging exerciser.  Big thanks to Lisa for the heads up on this article!  :)

Sports Should Be Child’s Play

8125933804_b47a56675c_bGiana smoking me!

Recently, there has been an outcry over the “hyper-specialization” in youth sports today. With the added pressure to be successful on the field growing higher….and the age of dealing with these pressures getting younger, many researchers believe that it is more dangerous and counter-productive in the long run. This topic is always of interest to me as I’ve always been a prononent of kids “playing” as many sports or extra curricular activities as they’d like. Sure, the physiology makes sense. Over-specialization may cause overuse injuries down the road especially in repetitive movement sports (throwing, running etc.). Personally, I just remember that I really wanted to play EVERYTHING! Any chance to play or use my body put me in my happy place as a really young athlete, and when I grew older, was a way to escape from the worries of life. It never really sat well when my football coaches would tell me skip playing soccer, baseball, and running track during the off-season… which is why I never really listened to them. But nowadays, “PLAYING” has definitely taken a back seat to “TRAINING/COMPETING/WINNING. This was pretty nice article posted last week in the New York Times on this issue and how sports should be “Child’s Play”….I would go far as to say that this applies to adults as well. Maybe this is why I love the variety of CrossFit so much.

From the article:

THE national furor over concussions misses the primary scourge that is harming kids and damaging youth sports in America.

The heightened pressure on child athletes to be, essentially, adult athletes has fostered an epidemic of hyper-specialization that is both dangerous and counterproductive.

One New York City soccer club proudly advertises its development pipeline for kids under age 6, known as U6. The coach-picked stars, “poised for elite level soccer,” graduate to the U7 “pre-travel” program. Parents, visions of scholarships dancing in their heads, enable this by paying for private coaching and year-round travel.

Children are playing sports in too structured a manner too early in life on adult-size fields — i.e., too large for optimal skill development — and spending too much time in one sport. It can lead to serious injuries and, a growing body of sports science shows, a lesser ultimate level of athletic success.

We should urge kids to avoid hyper-specialization and instead sample a variety of sports through at least
age 12.

Read full article here.


Wednesday’s WOD:

Split Jerk

10 Minute AMRAP:
5 Ground to Overhead 115/75, 135/95, 165/115
12 Box Jump Overs
1 Rope Climb (ADV: Legless)

Spinal Cues

photo (2)Handstand walking requires a strong and stable midline.

I know we’ve posted several items about midline stabilization. You’re probably exhausted hearing the “squeeze your belly and your butt cue”, however, ensuring a stable spine is really THE MOST important aspect of moving the body. If you think about all our cues, there are NONE MORE important than the one’s directly related to the spine. Since we are such a “get things done, whatever the cost” society, we neglect these until we get hurt. But there are two simple reasons for taking initiative when stabilizing the spine.

For one, unlike most movement errors in the extremities, the cues for the spine are to protect the most important aspect of the moving body: your central nervous system. If you fail to lock your elbows, forget to extend the hips, or you let your knees save in, you will still survive, you’ll just tear a muscle or ligament, or maybe break a bone. However, failing to stabilize your spine can result in more debilitating injuries like herniated discs, being paralyzed, or worse.

Two, you are much stronger in a stable spine. PR’s typically don’t happen with crappy spine stabilization… if they do, an injury is probably creeping right behind you.

Check out this article from 70′s strong which goes over this concept in detail.

I was being coached on rack pulls and was told to arch my back as hard as I could. I did so, started pulling the weight, and YANK; there went something in my lower back. Severe sharp pain indicated the end of my lifting session as well as the next week or two of training. I didn’t know as much as I did now, but the injury — and time away from training — all could have been avoided with a better spinal cue.

There are two basic types of incorrect spinal position in lifting: over extension and over flexion.

Get full article here.


Tuesday’s WOD:

A.) Back Squat 
5 x 3 Across

21 Clean and Jerks 115/75, 135/95
21 Bar Facing Burpees
15 Squat Cleans
15 Bar Facing Burpees
9 Thrusters
9 Bar facing Burpees

How To Make Stress Your Friend

**No 6:30pm Class this Thursday April 17th**

By now most people have heard that stress, especially chronic stress, is not good for your health.  It is one of the top risk factors for a number of illnesses, including heart disease.  This video address two points, the first about the perception of stress, the second about coping with stress.  While both are important, the first point about changing how we perceive stress can not only be important to our health, but certainly help us when it comes to our athletic performances as well.

Fresh off the CrossFit Open it was interesting to see how different people react under the increased pressure (stress) of doing workouts in a competitive environment.  Just about everyone has some pre-competition nerves, little to moderate amount is good, too much is bad, that’s no secret.  Any Exercise Physiologist/Psychologist is familiar with the Yerkes Dodson bell curve for arousal and athletic performance, which illustrates for difficult/complex activities (think snatch, clean & jerk, double unders, muscle ups etc., ) there is an increased performance with increased arousal levels, to a certain point, then performance levels dramatically decrease as arousal levels continue to rise.  The dotted line on the curve illustrates that for very simple tasks, performance does not drop off as a result of being too aroused (think deadlift, there is pretty much no such thing as being too psyched up going into a heavy deadlift).  Aside from the aforementioned 1 rep max deadlift, going into a CrossFit workout too aroused (i.e. stress, anxiety, nervous, amped up), almost always results in a less than optimal performance.  But as the video suggests, rather than getting more nervous when you feel your palms sweat, your heart increase, and your breathing increase, all before the workout has even begun, recognize that this is your body preparing itself for the challenge that lie ahead.  Get excited (confident) that your body is working as it should, blood is moving away from your stomach to deliver oxygen to your muscles and to shuttle out carbon dioxide and other exercise by-products.  Your body isn’t nervous, it isn’t feeling inadequate or uncertain, it’s just getting ready to be awesome.  Recognize this, and accept it as the necessary pre-cursor to awesome!


Specialization in Sports & CrossFit

kids_sprint2Some of our youth athletes that not only enjoy different sports year round, but also mix in some age appropriate strength and conditioning work as well

Specialization in sports is a topic I’ve been very familiar with since working at Velocity Sports Performance.  These days it’s very common to see 12 year old kids (or younger) that train and compete year-round for just one sport.  Many parents are convinced that this is the only way for their kid to truly excel at their sport, make the varsity squad, and land a college scholarship, preferably Division 1.  However, aside from the physical beating these kids’ bodies take from doing the same sport year round, many of them become mentally burned out on the sport entirely by their high school years.

The same is true for adults.  While most adults are no longer involved in competitive sports, many of them still enjoy exercise on a daily basis.  While running is a sport that is totally free, and accessible to just about everyone, those that specialize by only running, and don’t include anything else in their exercise regimen, are at huge risks for developing some pretty nasty overuse injuries in the feet, knees, and hips.  While CrossFit is great because it’s a constantly varied combination of strength training, olympic lifting, cardiovascular training, and plyometrics, it’s still good to get outside of the gym and simply enjoy life.  Go for swim, trail run, bike, surf, yoga …. whatever!  Aside from giving your body a break from what we do at the gym, it’s also really nice to enjoy exercise without the pressure of the clock and the whiteboard.

Going back to kids, and specialization of youth sports, this excerpt from a recent article in the SF Gate sums it up great!

“I see sports as an opportunity to help my son become a healthier, better-adjusted citizen in the world,” Walsh said. “He has a .0001 percent chance of getting a football scholarship. There’s a lot more academic money out there than athletic money.”

What should parents have their kids do? Walsh has an idea that might sound strange coming from a very successful football coach:

“Let a kid be a kid. Let him climb a tree or sit out in the backyard and talk.”

I highly recommend this article, especially to any parents that have kids in sports.  Read full article here. (thanks to Dr. Rob for the heads up on this article!)

Rest Periods

578118_714557854905_917737010_nOne of my favorite “active rest” sites.

Through trial and error, most people who play sports or avidly train year-round understand the importance of a rest period. However, many addicted exercisers find themselves NEEDING to be at the gym as much as possible. But hey, there’s no fault in that. You’re doing it to stay healthy. You’re getting stronger. You’ve discovered something new, fun, and exciting, and you’re driven. Driven to see gains on the regular. However, when we start to see our physical gains diminish, the natural instinct is to train more. When going overboard, this can lead to overtraining in which our work we put in actually makes our performance suffer. Enter, the rest period.

When I say rest period, I don’t mean a specific time. I don’t mean avoid the gym with anguish or remorse, nor do I mean being a couch potato and neglecting your health or exercise. This is a period, however long you need, to let your body and mind to recover from the physical and mental work you put on it day in day out. Most people forget that most of the physical and mental gains COME FROM REST PERIODS. You do not need to be an Exercise Physiologist to understand this simple process. Physically, in a training session, your muscles tear, hormones secrete, heart pumps and bones are stressed. But during REST, is when muscles rebuild, hormones are activated, and the heart and bones are stronger and ready for the next session. Sometimes the body needs more than just one or two days a week of rest if you are grinding every week of the year (like most Crossfitters do). Sometimes a nasty training month for a competition yields a week to recover physically.

Mentally, taking rest periods does two important things. For one, it relieves you of the unintended pressure you put on yourself of whatever fitness or competitive goal you have (i.e. doing anything to get first in a comp, working off the food you ate last night, and quite popular, needing to PR or NEEDING to workout or you will lose everything!). Secondly, it gives you time to refocus and re-evaluate your purpose. This little reflection can help remind you why you are training and allows you to step back and appreciate the progress you’ve made. When all you do is grind, you may loose sight of these. When you do recover mentally, you get a little boost of energy and usually you come back to training with a new excitement and eagerness to not only get better, but having fun with it.

If you’ve been aching physically or have been on the emotional roller coster with your training, I challenge you to try a rest week. What you do with it is up to you. It needs to be fun, and it can’t be something where you are going to be pouting in sadness until you can start doing the amazing burpees again. My favorites are getting completely away from my routine, playing another sport, hike, travel. If you can’t get away from the gym setting, check out this example from CrossFit Invictus of a pretty sweet recovery day WOD.


Friday’s WOD:

30 Deadlifts 225/155
50 Wall Balls
30 Burpees
*Accumulate 1600m of running and (3) rope climbs before finishing
*Divide up ONLY the run and rope climbs
Thursday’s WOD:

A.) Push Press
3 Rounds
403m Run
7 Bar Muscle Ups
14 Overhead Squats 95/65 115/85

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