Q&A with Coach Ray

Throw away your scale already

October 29, 2014
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Dear Coach Ray,
I’ve been doing CF 4-5 days a week for 6 months and I haven’t lost any weight! Frustrated and I want to give up, but I really love going to your class. Can you help me?

Step 1: Throw away your scale!
Step 2: Realize that weight is not an accurate metric for determining health and fitness.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words… Well here’s one of my favorites

Source: East Dallas CrossFit

Source: East Dallas CrossFit

This girl GAINED weight; not what you’d expect, but clearly lost inches. How does this work? Well, a pound of fat weighs the same as a pound of muscle. But muscle is denser tissue and takes up less space. So even though the fitter version of this person takes up less space, the lean muscle mass has led to an increase in body weight.

Truth be told, if you start lifting weights, two things will happen:
1. You will gain muscle mass and likely lose fat. Muscle is heavier than fat.
2. Your body will see a gain in bone density. Increased bone density = Increased body weight

This is why using the scale to measure your progress is probably not what you want to be doing. Are your clothes fitting better? How are your energy levels? Are you moving better? Those are more accurate metrics in determining your degree of health and wellness.

One other thing that is important to understand is that you can’t outwork a crappy diet. Even if you’re working out 4-5 days a week, you won’t see great results if you’re eating garbage or, in general, not fueling appropriately. If you are following our fitness program, than you know that we do things intentionally and follow a program. Are you doing the same with your nutrition? Or are you taking liberties because you are working out? You may be working just enough to keep from gaining fat, but you won’t be losing any either.

KUDOS indeed for staying consistent in your training. But perhaps the real focus should be redirected at your dietary choices. They say that abs are made in the kitchen, and there is a ton of truth to that. My advice is to track what you are eating for 4 weeks. Make no changes, but just log everything so we can see objectively what is going on with your nutrition. Then with that as a baseline, we can take a closer look at what adjustments may be needed in order to reach your goals.

Food for thought… literally.

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Wormy Push Ups

October 28, 2014
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Dear Coach Ray,
I need help! There was a new guy in our CF class this week (Deebo) and he was partnered with me for the WOD. After we got through our first set of push ups, he started calling me “Big Worm”. Now all the kids in the neighborhood are calling me Big Worm! Can you help me get rid of the worm in my push up?

Hey Big Perm… I mean… Big Worm… The push up is arguably the most likely movement to be executed with sloppy and inefficient mechanics. Sounds like you’ve got some midline instability, lack of motor control, or both.

Before we get into helping you lose that dreaded moniker, let’s establish some context for any visitors we may have. In our gym, we don’t allow knee push ups as a scaling option for pushups. Here’s an explanation from Dr. Kelly Starrett as to why:

To sum up, the reason we don’t allow knee pushups is that people who only train knee pushups, will rarely ever develop the strength to do regular pushups because the movement pattern and pressing mechanics are not the same. Allowing a worming variation gets us a step forward in the right direction. The problem is that some athletes get complacent with the worm and never progress away from it. While better than a knee push up, it’s not the end-all. We need to get that midline in order to get all the pieces together.

Here’s a great video that I did with Dr. Theresa Larson of Movement-Rx

And here is Part 2 with a handy progression that you can use to help build that midline strength:

I hope this helps!

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On General Physical Preparedness

October 21, 2014
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Dear Coach Ray,
1969 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia or 1970 Pontiac GTO?

Whoa… random…

Ok…well let’s look at a few figures: The Karmann Ghia had something like 57hp while the GTO was available with up to 370hp. I’m pretty sure we can save ourselves some time and say that it would be no contest at the starting line.

These two cars are apples and oranges. Where the Karmann Ghia quite embarrassingly lacks in power it makes up in endurance. The VW was rated with a fuel economy of about 23mpg. The GTO was lucky to get 9. Which is better? Ehh…

That’s kinda like asking “Who is more fit? A marathon runner or a powerlifter?”

A top marathon runner can complete 26.2 miles in a little over two hours. That’s disgustingly fast: well under 5 minute mile pace. A powerlifter would probably be lucky to do 10-12 minute mile pace

A top powerlifter can squat over 1000 pounds. Elite marathon runners would likely struggle squatting their own bodyweight.

So who is more fit?

In CrossFit, our definition of “fitness” is quite different from what one may expect. Our goal is to not be a specialist but to be well rounded.

If you were to pit a marathon runner, a CrossFitter, and a powerlifter against each other in a competition with various types of tasks, who would come out on top?

If event number one were a running event, I think it’s safe to say the runner would win. The CrossFitter would probably come in second. The powerlifter would stumble to the finish line in third.

If event number two involved lots of heavy lifting, the powerlifter would definitely be the victor. The CrossFitter would most certainly come in second. The runner would not do so hot (and that’s being generous).

Throw in a workout that has a mix of everything, and the CrossFitter would very likely come out on top. The second and third place finishers would be a toss up.

This is why our workouts tend to be a seemingly random mish mash of different types of movements, rep schemes, loading demands, and time domains. We want to prepare you for the unknown and unknowable. We want your fitness to be one that is inclusive and well rounded. You may not be the best at any one thing, but you’ll be pretty darn decent at just about anything life or sport can throw at you. Our speciality is to not specialize. We call this “General Physical Preparedness” (GPP).

So which is better? A 1969 Karmann Ghia or a 1970 Pontiac GTO?

If it were me, I’d pick a 1970 FJ40. More power than the VW, but still not nearly as much power as the GTO. Probably get about the same gas mileage as the GTO, but being an SUV it’s much more versatile, can go anywhere, and much more practical… GPP up the wazoo.

Boom.

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Which weightlifting shoes should I get?

October 16, 2014
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Dear Coach Ray,
I want to fit in with all my new CrossFit pals, so I’m thinking about getting oly shoes. What should I look for? Does color matter? Anything else I should consider???

-“Taylor”

If your sole motivation for getting lifting shoes is to fit in with your friends, then buy whatever you think looks the coolest and fits your budget. Make sure to buy them from Rogue Fitness by way of clicking the “Shop Rogue” link at the bottom of this webpage. The gym gets a sweet little referral bonus for every purchase made that comes by referral from this site. Tell your friends. We use that money to buy more toys for you and your fellow members.

Now, if you also care about becoming a better lifter, it would be good to know why lifters have special shoes. Weightlifting shoes have stiff heels to maximize the transmission of power through the floor when moving big weight. They also have an elevated heel (most commonly .75″) that helps create more dorsiflexion at the ankle which in turn makes it easier for lifters to maintain a more upright torso when squatting. This is especially helpful in lifts like the front squat and overhead squat which are movements that are well known to expose deficiencies in a lifter’s mobility and ability to get and maintain optimal positions.

When selecting a shoe, I HIGHLY biting the bullet and getting the highest quality shoe you can reasonably afford. The Adipower by Adidas is my personal shoe of choice. The Nike Romaleo 2 is also a great option. The Nike is a tad heavier (and in my mind clunkier) than the Adipower. But is very comparable.

My first pair of lifting shoes was the classic Do-Win by Pendlay. It was a decent shoe to start with. I have no experience with their newer versions. Risto is another popular company and makes handmade custom shoes. They are one of the few companies I know of that still constructs shoes with solid wooden heels. Everyone else is making shoes with plastic heels these days.

The shoes I mentioned above are designed solely for weightlifting. They are not well suited for anything else. Reebok and Inov8 make shoes that are more of a hybrid variety. They give you the same elevated and stiffer heel (though not as stiff) that a dedicated weightlifting shoe will give you, but are also suitable for other movements that may appear in a CrossFit workout (i.e. box jumps, double unders, etc.). They don’t do super well for running though. I personally am not a fan of the hybrid shoe. I’m an all or nothing kinda guy. I wear my Adipowers for lifting and lifting only. I wear them for nothing else but snatches, cleans, jerks and related accessory work. As I side note, I will usually change my shoes to flat shoes during squat sessions to work on my mobility. I don’t recommend this for everyone though, especially if you have a particularly tough time keeping your torso upright. Get your mobility up and then you can opt for this additional challenge.

Anyway…so what shoe should you get? If you’ve caught the bug and know that you want to go to the next level, then invest in some good shoes. They will last a long time and will perform better than the bargain or hybrid option. Wear what fits your feet and feels the best; not what all your friends are wearing or best matches your workout attire.

Remember, function over fashion.

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Donut Gainzzz

October 15, 2014
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Dear Coach Ray,
I have a dilemma. I’m at Donut Bar and the choices are too many! This is going to be my only meal before I hit the gym for a brutal session of max effort back squats and a 30 minute metcon and I’m starving! Should I get the maple bacon bar, Cro bar, or the PB & J?

Well, if it were me, it would be a no brainer. The PB & J would give me an immediate case of anaphylaxis. The Crobar sells out fast so if it’s there, you better jump on it and grab me one too. The maple bacon bar is awesome too. Get them both and if you don’t bring some for me, you’ll be met with motivational consequences in the way of death by burpees or something equally heinous.

In all seriousness now… I love doing nutrition experiments. Starting around April of 2013, I lived off basically nothing other than Vons Deli fried chicken, cinnamon rolls, and donuts… just to see what would happen. I did this for about 4-5 months.

For about 6 weeks I squatted heavy EVERY day (I was inspired by Dave Lipson’s 365 Days of Squatting Challenge. Midway through the challenge). I ran the La Jolla Half Marathon with only 4 weeks of training and a total of 50 training miles, 90% of which was composed of short intervals on the track. The longest I ran pre-race was 6 miles. I wanted to run the big hill before the race just to strategize. This was my first half marathon and I finished in 1:44. Not bad for a guy who NEVER runs and is not built like a runner…and yes…I squatted the day of the race and the day after. Who needs a recovery day after a half marathon? Guys with weak legs. That’s who… That’s a whole other topic, though.

Over the next few months I continued this abomination of a diet and continually saw gains in the strength department. I started the year back squatting 255lb and by September I maxed out at 170kg/375lb. I was on track and hoping to hit 182kg/400lb by the new year. I was not doing ANY conditioning at this point. I was obsessed with the snatch, clean and jerk, and squat at the time. That’s all I did. I was following a condensed Bulgarian cycle and never felt so strong. And then one day, I did Fran… and while the weight felt super light and did the first round unbroken, I hit the wall midway through the set of 15 thrusters. I did the rest of the pull ups unbroken but had to break up the thrusters a couple times. I finished that day sub 5 minutes… but at least a minute slower than my previous PR. No bueno.

After that, I brought back the metcon into my training and started eating “cleaner”. I 86ed the fried chicken from my diet… which is hard because it’s my favorite food ever. I don’t buy it for myself anymore, but if I go to a social gathering and it’s there, I’ll go HAM on it. The donuts remained a daily staple for about 6 more months. I called it the daily donut diet and somehow I managed to STILL slim down to the point where I was no longer ashamed to take off my shirt. When I was just lifting heavy and chowing on chicken and donuts, I got pretty pudgy.

After eliminating the fried chicken, I lost some weight: from 180lb to 170lb. I also lost a bit of strength. For the last year, I haven’t been able to hit anywhere close to my lifetime back squat record. If I can hit 162kg/356lb it’s a good day. But those days are few and far between. Being smaller does play a role there as does the nature of my training program. But a lot of it still depends on diet.

Here’s the real skinny on the donuts and gainz: and this is in no way based on my extensive education in nutrition and diet (because I don’t have one). This is based on logging my nutrition (as deplorable as it may sometimes be) and tracking my performance in the gym.

Fried chicken + donuts = lots of protein and lots of carbs = good for training

The omitted variable to that equation is high fat… and not the good kind. This, I believe is what brought on the pudgy factor. As soon as I removed the fried chicken from my diet, I leaned up pretty quick despite the increased intake of donuts (my donut intake did indeed go way up to compensate… and yes…I know I tend to overuse parentheses). I also think that I took a big hit in protein intake as a consequence which may be part of the reason I’ve lost some strength. I often struggle getting enough protein without getting too much fat. I’m not a fan of chicken breast and fattier beef is just way tastier. I like seeing my abs, so I limit my fat intake at the expense of the protein. I know I can just eat more lean protein but I don’t like it. It’s lame…I know… but at least it it’s an educated decision.

One other thing I’ve learned is that the timing of carb intake is a big deal. I have had awesome success in limiting my carbs early in the day and pre workout. Having carbs before a workout usually just makes me more sluggish. If you’re intent on having those donuts preworkout, I would suggest exercising a bit of self control and eating just enough to feel less starving, and then save the rest of it for AFTER you train… like immediately after.
POST workout is when your body needs it the most for recovery, so I go crazy with the carbs after training up until right before bed.

To sum up…

I personally like to train fasted, but that doesn’t work for everyone. Nutrition is a tough subject because EVERYONE is different. There is no one ring to rule them all when it comes to diet. My suggestion to everyone is to track what you eat. I don’t pay much attention to calories… but I look at fats, carbs, and proteins. Keep good notes and learn which foods make you feel strong, and which foods make you feel gross. Make educated choices when it comes to food. I may not always make the best choices, but at least they are informed choices. Don’t be that guy that’s so annoying with his diet that no one wants to hang out with you. But at the same time don’t be that guy who eats with reckless abandon. Set a goal. Stick to it. Leave room for balance.

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On Bicep Curls

October 14, 2014
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Dear Coach Ray,
How am I suppose to work on my “gun show” when you won’t let me do curls?

Bicep curls are arguably the quintessential exercise of the fitness industry. A mainstream fitness magazine or mainstream fitness marketing campaign bereft of an image or sequence highlighting the bicep curl would be strange indeed. It just doesn’t happen.

Walk into a globo gym and you’d be hard pressed to not see a slew of men and women standing in front of the mirror working on their pump. When we do trade shows or have a booth at a local event, guaranteed, if we have a barbell or even a toy barbell out, the first thing a non-CrossFitter will do is pick it up and do a bicep curl. At our gym, we share space with a kids Brazilian Jiu Jitsu program, and occasionally one of the parents will wander into our space, pick up a barbell or a kettlebell (gasp) and do a bicep curl. It really matters not the context. Most people associate the bicep curl with strength and fitness.

Why then do we neglect, and often mock, the bicep curl? If it’s such a ubiquitous piece of fitness culture why don’t we do them? Why won’t I, as a coach, let you do them?

The easy answer is that CrossFit emphasizes “functional” movements. Bicep curls are not “functional”. That term “functional” takes on all sorts of meanings to all sorts of people. I’ll explain what it means to us: the CrossFit methodology defines a movement as functional if it is natural, essential, and safe. But more than that, a functional movement moves large loads long distances in a short amount of time.

Is the bicep curl natural? Sure it is. I bicep curl food to my mouth all the time.

Is it essential? Well duh… see above.

Is it safe? Sure, why not.

Does it move large loads long distances in a short amount of time? Ehhh… there are more efficient ways to do that.

The bicep curl is a GREAT exercise. I will not dispute that. Especially if you are a body builder and your paycheck depends on your biceps being as enormous and defined as possible. But for the average human being, I can’t imagine you needing to lift anything larger than 5 lbs to your mouth to feed yourself. The only other reason I could see you needing to strengthen your biceps would be to hold a baby. But for parents, the nice thing is that the weight starts off nice and light and grows at a steady progression. No accessory work required.

The bicep curl done correctly is an isolation exercise. In CrossFit we favor movements that recruit entire systems of musculature vs isolating one area. From an everyday standpoint this is important because when you train muscles together, they work well together. Having strong individual muscles doesn’t guarantee that they will know how to work together as a team. But muscles that train in symphony as a system can work well by themselves when needed.

I could go on and on, but I’m not really answering your question. You were asking about building your guns. I don’t mean to brag, but I get comments on the immenseness of my biceps all the time. I NEVER do bicep curls. I DO perform a whole lot of other pulling exercises including pull ups, chin ups, muscle ups. If I ever did want to do bicep curls, I imagine I could do a decent amount of weight, but there’s a whole lot more value in working my muscles in groups than in solitary pieces. My goal isn’t to have the biggest biceps around, but to be fit, in general.

Sidenote: many people who cannot perform strict pull ups, PROBABLY possess the strength in their individual muscles to do the work. But because they’ve never been asked to work together before, the muscles involved require some neurological education in order to make it happen. It’s all about team work. Teams don’t work well together overnight. They need time and practice to bring it together toward a common goal. Our muscles are like that. If you only train them separate from one another, how can you expect them to work in concert?

Anyway…in some rare cases, for instance athletes who are double jointed in the elbows, I may prescribe bicep curls so that an athlete can keep their elbows more neutral instead of hyper extended, but that is handled on a case by case basis.

The product that I’m purveying is general fitness. And our prescription for that is functional movements. These functional movements recruit as much musculature as possible (and in proper sequence) in order to allow you to move as much weight as possible in a safe and efficient manner. This translates into a better quality of life and allows people to stay more active and independent in their later years. While the bicep curl, and other isolation movements like it, do have their place, they are not essential to our goal of general physical preparedness. It is more time efficient to work muscles as systems and doing so translates better to practical use in everyday life.

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