Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Years' Not Resolutions

I hate New Year's resolutions. And I think it's from my years spent in a Gold's Gym, watching the flood of Resolutioners clogging up the cardio machines and free weight area mirrors, only to drop off by mid February.

Of course the beginning of a new year makes people contemplate the past year... where they've been, what they've done (or not done) and what they can do to change for the better. But I feel that too many just jump on the resolution bandwagon, don't put enough thought into it and, therefore, set themselves up for failure.

Aside from hard work, what is the secret to success in reaching goals? Having a plan. (And I do love to plan!) Check this previous post for some tips. The following are a few of my goals for the first half of 2014. If you notice, I have a big goal, but then have broken the big goals into baby steps detailing how to reach the big goal. I also have a specific measurement of time. So there is a time target-- a point at which I know wether or not I've reached my goal.

So this year, as the open approaches, I'm continuing to work on making some big strength gains. Unfortunately that is a painfully slow process. I will continue following Jim Wendler's 5-3-1 strength program. This one is not so specific... I'm trying to add as much strength as possible.

I'm also setting my sights on greatly improving my cleans. Both in technique and weight. So, I will be doing squat cleans and front squats at least 3 times a week.

And then there is the ever elusive muscle up. I must have my muscle up. This means more time spent at the playground working on the momentum and getting bar muscle ups. This also means I need to work on mobility and flexibility-- so yoga/stretching 3 times a week.

So this post isn't about a New Year's resolution. This is about my immediate training goals. A year ago my focus was on the Crossfit open. About this time last year, I decided to enter the open for the first time. My goals were to be able to do double unders and to snatch. I achieved both and surprised myself at how well I did in the open as a first timer who hadn't really ever done Crossfit.
I guess I should say-- it's not the setting of New Year's resolutions that I have an objection to. It's good to have goals, to not be satisfied with life as usual. Set some goals. Be more awesome. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Handling the Holidays

Actually, this post is a little late, as some of you have already been happily enjoying holiday parties. But really, it's never too late. Decide right now, that moving forward you will build a better you!

The following are some strategies to help you successfully navigate your way through the holiday season:
  1. Relax. No, really. Stress causes your body to release cortisol which, among other really technical things, causes your body to store fat. (And now you're stressed out about stressing out!) So, take a bubble bath, practice yoga, read a book, take a walk, make a craft (or Pin some crafts!)-- do something that helps you find your Happy Place.
  2. Pay attention. Tis the season to pay attention to hidden calories. If you aren't careful, you can easily be consuming a dessert's worth of extra calories in non-dessert items. Let me give you a few examples: 
    1. Great Grains Cranberry Almond Crunch. It's marketed as "Great Grains Less-Processed* Nutrition"(I really can't find what the * references). Sounds healthy, right? I tasted some-- it tastes like the crumb topping on an apple crisp. Super YUM! So, I checked the ingredients. Ah-HA! No wonder it tastes like dessert-- among the first ingredients are: sugar, corn syrup, brown sugar and corn syrup again! Elf would totally approve! Don't believe me-- see for yourself. OK, so boxed cereal is out-- let's go with oatmeal-- the healthy kind. 
    2. Quaker Lower Sugar Instant Oatmeal: again, marketed as "Made with heart healthy whole grain Quaker Oats*, 50% less sugar than regular flavored Quaker Instant Oatmeal, Good source of calcium, iron and 7 other essential vitamins and minerals" (AGAIN with the *) Second ingredient listed for Peaches & Cream? Sugar. But that's ok, the third ingredient is "flavored and colored fruit pieces." I kid you not. See? Well, of course those aren't healthy choices. Let's try 
    3. Kashi Blackberry Hills Original Organic Cereal: I will say, much better. At least the first 2 ingredients aren't sugar. And all of the ingredients are natural. But you still find organic dried cane syrup and organic brown rice syrup listed. It might be organic, but it's still sugar. 
  3. Plan. Look, I'm a planner. I always plan everything. I'm anti-spontaneity. But it's ok if you're not (I guess). If you are going to a holiday party or dinner, just know and plan accordingly. Decide ahead of time-- will this be an all out "cheat" meal? will you choose dessert instead of drinks or drinks instead of dessert? at which of the many holiday parties will you choose to eat clean? You shouldn't restrict yourself at all parties, but you shouldn't go all out, either. These tricks could also help (I hesitated to add these because they are so Glamour magazine):
    1. Wear snug fitting clothes. Uhm, if they're already tight, you're less likely to make them tighter by chowing down.
    2. Have a coffee (or tea) before dinner. Coffee with a splash of soy or coconut milk creamer always fills my belly.
    3. Drink water. Many calories are saved by drinking water with your meal-- plus it's the best thing you can drink!
  4. Don't Not Workout. (Yes, I know that's grammatically incorrect, but I got your attention.) If you continue with your regular workouts (even if you think you don't have time) you'll have less stress, more energy, sleep better, and burn those extra calories. If you have to cut your workout-- don't cut your work out... don't cut a training session, cut the time and increase the intensity. 
  5. Be thankful. Appreciate all the great things you have-- your family, your friends, your pets, all the junk you got for Christmas last year that's sitting in your closet. Thankfulness will make you smile more and fret less. 
Bonus content... more of my favorite things:

And it is... SO Delicious
Please, Santa?!

I'm a teacher, people.
Books are just awesome.

The Challenge Race Review 12/8/13

Free photos-- a huge bonus!
This was my second "The Challenge" race. The first was also the race director's first race, and I wrote a recap here. Due to many unhappy people from the first event, the director graciously offered a free race for this second event, which I gladly accepted.

About a week or two before the event, I received an email and Facebook notification that the race had to be relocated. It added an extra 10-15 minutes of drive time farther south, but not really a big deal. Plus it would be held at the same location as the Miami Tough Mudder, so I was familiar with the site.

All of the issues that were big problems (parking, long registration lines and general disorganization) for the first event were solved. However, the first wave, which was supposed to start at 8:00 am was pushed back to 8:15, then to 8:30 and maybe again to a few minutes later. I was supposed to run in the 8:20 wave, but the early wave wasn't crowded, so a friend and I jumped into the first wave. But overall, this was not a big deal. Especially since I was allowed to (or not prevented from) jumping waves. (The waves were not chip timed. The race was a "fun" event-- otherwise I would NEVER advocate anyone jumping waves without proper permission from the director.)

The course was probably the best I've seen from a smaller, local race. "Mud" run is a bit of misnomer, as I think there were only 3 muddy/sandy spots, but this is South Florida-- with our sandy soil, it's tough to get great mud. To start, there were some over under walls, and then a log carry up a steep embankment. I love that they made use of the "hills" (the banked backsides of the race track). There were 3 different points of brain teasers-- a riddle, a tangram puzzle, and a triangle puzzle. For each of those, I did the physical punishment for missing the correct answer. (My brain does not work well under high pressure, so I voluntarily took 20 push ups twice? and 20 sit ups.) There was a really tall wall with a cargo net over it, some tunnels, some more walls, a short swim, piles and piles of rocks/gravel that we had to navigate through and some power poles that were stacked on their sides that we had to run down. Although they weren't difficult physically, it played with my mind, they were stacked several high and end to end, so we had to jump from one to another and at various heights.

The only changes that I would make are:

  1. Have a timed, elite wave. I think this would encourage more people to participate.
  2. Have an alternative to the swim. We were asked-- "Can you swim?" and then told if we couldn't swim, we were to keep running. It was very tempting to just skip the swim, as one female did and ended up passing me to finish before I did. I wouldn't advise penalizing those who can't swim, but to give them a challenge that would be as physically taxing as the swim would be a great option. 

Overall this was a great race, and I hope there will be more Challenges in the future!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

All I Want for Christmas... (Favorite Fitness Gifts)

Everybody else is doing it... so here is my Christmas Wish list. I haven't tested and tried each of these, some I have and some I've heard so many good things about that I'd love to have them.

These are my "must haves" for living a fitness life:

1. CrossFit box membership. Some CrossFit boxes are better than others. Do your research; make sure there is an Oly lifting certified coach. Try the box out first. Coaches should be circulating among the class, correcting form and giving specific encouragement. I feel that done right, CrossFit offers the best training for getting and staying healthy and fit.

2. Shoes. I'm not going to tell you what shoes to buy. If you're a runner, go to a running store and get fitted for the shoes that are right for you. I personally love the Saucony brand. For general strength training, I prefer a light weight shoe that gives a fair amount of support. And since this is my wish list, I would add a pair of Oly lifting shoes. But those are a bonus and a luxury item, not a necessity.

3. Protein. I confess-- I pick my protein solely based on price. Not taste. Not how well it mixes with water. I recommend whey protein. Usually I use GNC's ProPerformance 100% Whey. Sometimes we use Designer Whey Protein. And most recently I've tried Gaspari Nutrition's Myofusion Probiotic Series which mixes extremely well with water in a shaker cup and is quite tasty.

4. Compression tights. My favorite happen to be Under Armour's Heat Gear capris. I've heard excellent things about CW-X tights, and these are definitely on my wish list. Why compression? It's like a big warm hug for your tired muscles. They aid recovery and maybe even performance.

5. Calf sleeves or compression socks. Again, this comes down to personal preference. If I had to choose, I would take the calf sleeves because I think they are easier to size, and they completely cover my calves.

6. A watch. I have the classic, plain-Jane, get the job done Timex Ironman. It comes with the absolute basic necessities-- time, laps, stopwatch, timer with intervals and alarm. The timer is great because I can set it up for speed work intervals or tabata training. The watch on my wish list? The Garmin Forerunner with all the bells and whistles-- GPS, heart rate monitor, and even VO2 Max? Seriously.

7. Wrist wraps. Ok, so I have a pair that are technical and give great support. However, my wish list includes these wraps that are a bit more fun! What is the point of wrist wraps? They just provide extra support when doing heavy over head lifts-- or really any kind of lift involving pushing.

8. Comfy clothing. Ok, one of the most beautiful things about the growing popularity of CrossFit (aside from the health benefits) is the increase in cute, functional and often sarcastic workout apparel. I love shirts like this:
From Life as Rx
These type shirts are everywhere in typical stores that sell specifically to CrossFitters, but don't forget about Etsy!  And don't forget shorts... I love the ones below from Lulu. Warning-- I highly recommend that the ladies try on potential training clothes-- find a private mirror and do some mock lifts. Make sure that you won't be giving everyone a show when you're training. 

From Lululemon
From Wrekdfit
9. Fun socks. They serve a purpose. Really-- you should see my shins. When doing dead lifts, cleans, snatches, box jumps and rope climbs, unfortunately the shins can pay the price. Especially when you are competing for time. Tall socks help protect the shins and can make quite the fashion statement.

10. Entry fees. Racing and competing can be expensive. If you are purchasing gifts for someone-- check to see what races they are interested in doing. The following are my favorites or are on my wish list:
Spartan Race-- Distance and locations vary. 3 to 30ish miles of mud, obstacles and awesome terrain. Some take place in stadiums, some on mountains. This is the most physically challenging of the obstacle course races. They also offer the winter and summer Death Race and the team Death Race. If you are shopping for me-- my eyes are set on the summer Death Race 2015 (a fitting race to celebrate turning 40, right?)
GORUCK-- this is more team challenge. GORUCK offers several distance events all over the country.
Superhero Scramble-- I've heard very good things about this race series and am excited to race my first one in January.
Tough Mudder-- It's not for everyone. But it's a great event that challenges you to face your fears.
Merrell Down & Dirty-- Again, I haven't done one, but have heard good things.
S.E.R.E Performance-- similar to GORUCK, this one is military type training, but involves team competitions. I'll be doing my first in February.
Civilian Military Combine-- I've had my eye on this event for awhile, but they are all too far away. This is CrossFit meets Spartan Race. Definitely on my wish list! 
Local CrossFit Competitions-- I'll just leave it vague. Please give cash! Really... if it has the word "competition" in the title, I want to sign up for it! 

So, hopefully you found something helpful in this post. And if not-- PLEASE, leave a comment...
What is on your wish list?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Beast Mode Battle South Recap

*Warning: CrossFit talk ahead.
I had done only one CrossFit competition before registering for the Beast Mode Battle, and it was a first-timer event... no "heavy weights," no RXer's. (For you non-CrossFitters, Rx means that the athlete does the prescribed weight for each workout. And THAT means you are competing on the same level as the CrossFit Games competitors-- the best in the world. Tough.) The following is my experience at Beast Mode Battle South...

Beast Mode Battle = 4 WODs (workouts) in one hour.
Station 1-- 12 minutes to complete.
1 rep max of ground to overhead (clean and jerk).
3 minutes to rest and travel to the next station.

Station 2-- 5 min AMRAP (as many reps as possible).
5- 75lb snatches and 20 DUs (double unders).
2 min rest.
5 min AMRAP
5- 55lb fat bar thrusters and 20 DUs.

Station 3-- 12 minute ladder.
row 15 calories, 2 KB goblet squats, 2 KB SDHP (sumo dead lift high pulls), 2 KB swings, 2 KB snatches. 15 cal row, 4 KB goblet squats, 4 KB SDHP (sumo dead lift high pulls), 4 KB swings, 4 KB snatches... etc.

Station 4-- 8 min AMRAP
6- 135lb dead lifts, 6 box jumps (20 inch).
2 min rest.
2 min extra credit AMRAP
135 lb cleans OR burpee box jump overs.

What makes this competition unique is the back to back to back to back workouts. And the gravity of that began to set in as competition day neared. I practiced individual stations at the end of my regular workouts to get used to doing the WODs while feeling fatigued. And twice I strung together multiple stations to prepare. Then I tweaked something in my knee/quad.

The Week Prior:
Due to the pressure of the competition and my own insecurities, this minor tweak became the monster under the bed. There were moments I was quite sure that surgery was absolutely needed. That pulling out of the competition was the only viable option because my leg just might fall off. And then moments of clarity, when I realized that my mobility was not at all affected, and if I wasn't thinking about it, it didn't really hurt at all (if you saw me hobbling, it was in the name of preserving the quad and resting it... and that paranoia about the leg falling off).

Well... I did a whole lot of resting it-- worked my upper body and did lots of foam rolling, frozen lacrosse ball rolling, icing and stretching. By Friday, I was beginning to embrace the fact that the whole competition would only be an hour. I also realized that my husband had in fact correctly diagnosed the problem as a tight quad (not the torn meniscus, ACL, MCL, or flesh eating bacteria that I had invented).

Well, let me just say, it completely sucked... and it was totally awesome!

Station 1-- I knew this would be my weakness. I had only ever cleaned 130 lbs. I had tried and failed many times at 135. I know my problem. It's my mind. I've filmed myself and the bar gets high enough. I'm just scared to get under it. Now, it's not like I step up to the bar thinking, "I'm afraid of this weight." No, it's just that I don't get under it, so I know that there is some fear lurking in the deep corners of my mind. But when it counted, I clean and jerked 140lbs. I was very happy with a 10 lb PR, even though my friend, Lucy, won the WOD with a C&J of 175.

Pretty much, the other stations were short trips through hell that felt like mini-eternities. It was "3-2-1-GO!" followed by a sweaty, intense, constant battle.

Station 4-- this was probably my strongest performance. Unfortunately, my judge miscounted my reps. However, my husband filmed most of the WOD, so I was able to submit the video and have my score adjusted. It was enough to move me from an original place of 16th to 9th. I am happy with my placement. Happy with the competition. It's a good starting place. Now it's back to some heavy lifting.

Lessons Learned:
Video! Having the WOD on video made a HUGE difference in my final score. And video is also a useful tool in training. My husband coaches me, corrects my form, encourages me that I have the strength to do something, but sometimes, you just have to see it.

My un-corrected scorecard.
Fans! I was extremely nervous knowing that not only were my husband and sons coming to cheer me on, but also 3 of my son's friends (my former students) who are little workout beasts themselves were coming. I debated whether I wanted to tell them all to stay home. But during station 1, after attempting and failing at 140, I began to unload the bar and call it quits. Then I realized that those kids were up there watching-- did I really want them to see me pack it in early? Call it quits without giving it everything I had? I reloaded the bar. Heard my husband yell at me to shoot my elbows through. And got it.

Since writing the original post, Beast Mode Battle has calculated the scores of all competitors in the BMB series. (They do North, Central and South events.) My final score places me at 10th in the state for the series. Not too shabby!