So yesterday started a renewed emphasis on eating clean and getting back on track. The other day I wrote a post with a title saying I was fat again….well, that’s not really true. But I have gained about 3 or 4 pounds. I’d maintained aSome diet gurus talk about a 5lb swing being fine, but I know my body and the fact is, it’s gotten soft over the past month. Mostly due to my diet slipping – it just seems like the last few months have been a constant pressure to eat shit on a daily basis. I know my family and others mean no harm, but you’d think after almost 3 years of my eating this way, and the amazing success I’ve had, that they’d let me be. Last night I got a somewhat snide comment at a friends’ house, where she asked, “You still not eating carbs?” in a somewhat negative tone.
Part of the problem is that I’ve been eating fairly stringent Primal/Paleo for a long time now, but I have been for the past year doing it in a very unorthodox, and calculated way: instead of mixing in good carbs (white rice, sweet potato, etc.) for glycogen restoration (which is necessary if you work out hard), I have been ‘carb-loading’ once a week on a junk meal. So it sends mixed signals to my family, who see me annoyed when I refuse to eat pasta but then the next night I’m sitting there eating ice cream with them. When I say I was carb-loading in a ‘calculated’ way, I know damn well it’s not optimal. But my rationale was (and, if I continue to workout hard, is) that it’s okay. Problem is, with the bad achilles, I stopped working out hard for a while, aside from the weekly soccer match.
Back to my point…What bothers me most is this:
I could care less what anyone else eats, yet everyone seems to analyze what I eat.
I get it. They’re simply waiting for me to ‘fall off the wagon’ and balloon up again. Every dieter fails. I am the first to tell people that. It’s because they start one way and then think once the weight is off they can eat differently. But how many years do I have to succeed at this, to maintain the weight loss successfully, before people will simply let me be and stop busting my balls about how I eat? Would they do it if I said I was allergic to wheat/gluten/dairy/whatever?
As I typed the above sentence it struck me that I need to give serious thought to that idea. Maybe I’ll make up a fake “went to the doctor and he tested me and I’m gluten intolerant” story…
On a positive note…I weighed in at 192.2 today, which is as heavy as I’ve been in a long time. I maintained at 188/189 for about 6 or 7 months pretty effortlessly. But with the carb-loading and especially with the achilles injury stopping all activity for a while and most recently a focus on endurance sports (running, and soccer) and not on strength or cross-training, I’m feeling an increase in body fat for sure. So time to tighten things up, both with my eating and my exercise.
With this year’s Girls On The Run 5k finished (I ran it last year and this year with my daughter, who is required to run with an adult partner), I’m through with running for exercise. I knew before-hand that it wasn’t a good idea, for a whole lot of reasons, but actually *doing it* and feeling the effects of it over the last 2 months proved it to me: running did nothing for my VO2 MAX, nor my body fat/weight, and completely sapped away my muscle tone. In fact, the only good thing it did for me was enable me to run longer distances, which is about as useful a goal to me as the whole CrossFit whiteboard/”PR” thing: I could give two shits. So running is pointless. Am I surprised at that? Of course not: look at your distance runners – they all have bodies that look like shit.
So today I started the clean-up process by writing up a shopping list of clean foods and stocking up for the week. I’m going to do some walking tonight, then tomorrow a strength/cross-training routine, then soccer Thursday, and then a ‘play’ day Friday, and then decide on a fitness approach for the next quarter. In the meantime, my focus is on cleaning up my diet. I also am committed to blogging more, even if it is just a short, stream-of-consciousness rant like this one. So watch out : )
I’ve been dreading writing this post. But after a 45 minute walk at my local track, where my usual “I’ve got life by the balls!” feeling was trumped by a pity party, it’s time I step up and admit it.
I’ve let junk food kick my ass. I went from feeling lean and muscular to sloppy fat, seemingly overnight.
Not sure if this post will come across as tongue-in-cheek but I assure you I’m not feeling very witty or funny. I’m downright sad and angry at myself.
A Slow, Downward Slide
To recap (for the hundredth time, but for those of you new to my story…) – I started eating a low-carb, loose Primal diet about 2.5 years ago. A year later, I’m down ~65lbs. In total, I’m down about 71lbs. From ~260lbs down to a steady 189lbs. It was great. I never felt better. My energy level went through the roof, and mostly remains that way to do this day in spite of recent mistakes. Of course, any of you who have read my prior posts know I’ve done everything in my power to screw it up. Like beating myself to a pulp doing that stupid ass CrossFit, or overdoing the stretching to the point of ripping a hole in my achilles tendon, in hopes that I could finally someday achieve a proper depth back squat, etc.
But in spite of my idiotic and obsessive compulsion towards achieving some serious level of fitness, things have been mostly good. Still a struggle to keep eating ‘clean’ while surrounded by continuous temptation and flat out scorn/disgust by those around me it seems. Allison over at PaleoNonPaleo said it perfectly in her latest post:
“I know your family thinks you’re crazy. I know you feel completely alone. I know you feel like it’s never, ever going to work.”
I never let that other people’s attitudes about this stuff bother me before. Well, it did. But I ignored it. For a while, I was right out front telling everyone and anyone about how to lose weight and feel great through Paleo/Primal, and particularly the low carb version of it. Over the past 6 months or so I’ve given up on that. People don’t want to hear it. And it’s always the obese guys who will want to debate with me about it, so I tend to keep quiet now when people ask me about diet. Some people just don’t want to hear it.
I also started questioning things about my approach to diet. Honestly, I’m really annoyed/sickened by the money grab that is Paleo these days. So many bloggers, podcasters, presenters, etc. coming out of the woodwork and Paleo is just so commercialized now. I guess that’s a good thing but I think it will ultimately lead to its demise as another ‘fad’. Someone will come up with a new name for the same way of eating and it will be over. It’s inevitable. But, back to my downfall: So thinking I had my body hacked and this thing called diet by the balls, late last year, sometime before Thanksgiving, I started ‘treating’ myself to a weekly splurge dessert. Often a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. And as I type this, I’m thinking the same thing. As I’ve done for a long time now, I would try some new foods and then see how it impacted my weight. And, surprisingly, the weekly splurge treat didn’t have any effect. Then the holidays come around and a series of corporate happy hours/parties full of beer, then family parties full of beer and what-not, then the holiday dinners and the pressure there, because God forbid I say “no thank you” to some in-law’s shitty food and not receive a look of scorn…
All the while, I started indulging more and more. My occasional treats turned into twice a week, then more. About a month ago I even started partaking in the occasional grains, cornbread at a local BBQ place to be exact, for the first time in a long time. All the while, I would check the scale and I wasn’t gaining weight. And I didn’t feel or look like I was getting fatter. And my waist size was no bigger and in fact, over time, was still shrinking (I’m now down to a 34). So I think I’ve got life good: I’m able to eat whatever I want, so long as I mostly avoid the grains. Mind you, I was still eating clean for breakfast (eggs, sausage, bacon) and lunch (salad). But because of the achilles issues I stopped lifting weights. And the cardio training took it’s place…..
About 6 weeks ago I got the go-ahead from my physical therapist to start running, in order to build up my legs for an eventual 5k race that I needed to run with my daughter. That race was this past Sunday and we did well. All the while during the training leading up to this race, I fell back into the mistaken mindset of, “I’m burning all these calories with all this long-distance running, so I can eat more junk!” And for a while it seemed I could. And then a couple of weeks ago I woke up one morning and went to brush my teeth and looked in the mirror and it’s man-boob city. And a gut that seemingly popped up out of nowhere. I felt fat again for the first time in a long time. And then my newly purchased Summer wardrobe of shorts and shirts in a size that was just right before, were now a bit tight.
I finished the 5k and am glad I did it. But I now know that Mark Sisson and so many others were right when they talk of how useless cardio training is when it comes to fitness and/or weight loss/maintenance. It has robbed me of the muscle tone I had, seemingly overnight. The cardio thing is complete bullshit. Will I ever run another 5k? Yeah, absolutely. I will probably start running them pretty often as a ‘fun time’. But will you ever catch me jogging distance at the track or training FOR a 5k by jogging? Hell no. And the sad part is that I knew better…
Starting now, I have to go strict on a 30 day challenge. It will be difficult. But I don’t have a choice. I’ve got to nip this thing in the bud. I’m seriously thinking about a Whole30. And back to the weight training, but this time I’m going to take it slow and focus just as much on mobility. Oh, and in case you still think I’m not completely nuts, I got a doozy for you: I recently bought a 1 month unlimited pass to a local Hot Yoga studio. LOL. I plan on going there for the first time this week and will surely blog about it. : )
The Achilles Is Healed!
On to a happy update…the achilles is healed! The physical therapy, specifically Active Release Therapy (ART), was what did the trick. Doing eccentric calf raises helped too I’m sure, but not until I found a physical therapist that understood that those like myself with insertional achilles tendonosis need to *alleviate* the stretched tendon and not stretch it out worse. A combination of some rest followed by heel inserts, along with the ART is what worked for me. But I’m not completely out of the woods – my other achilles has been sore recently, from the distance running. So I have started doing the calf raises and will be doing some serious mobility work to ward off messing that tendon up too.
Man, I wish I had attended PaleoFX. Why would someone who doesn’t define his eating style as ‘Paleo’ want to go? Because, all things considered, the Paleo folks still have the best overall approach to nutrition and performance going.
If you’re not familiar with PaleoFX, you should be. It is basically the one conference that is actually useful to real people, with what look like some good sessions. Unfortunately though, like a lot of potentially great resources, you either have to attend in person, or pay quite a bit for videos after. For now, I’ll pass.
Just saw this post come up on my newsfeed. For those of us who didn’t/can’t attend PaleoFX, it’s a nice recap of one of the days, and the author has been tweeting good tidbits throughout the conference. Disclaimer: he has no idea who I am, but I met him a couple of times as he also happens to be one of the few really good CrossFit coaches I encountered during my 5 month CrossFit experiment (that ended not so well…). I wish I had gone to more than a couple of his sessions, as it was obvious to me that he was one of the couple with a deep understanding of olympic lifting and how to apply it correctly.
Can’t Miss Podcast Episode
I plan on writing about this soon but, in a nutshell – I’m no longer on the Paleo bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong: I won’t be buying any whole grain bread for myself anytime soon. I know I’d put on 15lbs immediately if I started eating that stuff again. But I’ve noticed over the past year that the ‘Paleo Movement’ has gotten out of hand. The statements some of these guys/gals are making is downright suspect. And, let’s face it, Paleo is now more a branding vehicle for the countless cookbooks and other stuff out there. I don’t know about you, but I’ve purchased 3 or 4 Paleo cookbooks and every single recipe I’ve tried out of them tasted mediocre at best. I guess it could be my cooking skills but I followed the recipes to the tee…
But seriously – is anyone else sick of the marketing, branding, and otherwise whoring of the concept of Paleo? I know I have been for quite some time. And I believe it will be the death of Paleo as a fad, just like so many other diets.
Back to what I really wanted to share:
This podcast from Matt LaLonde is priceless. I’ve read/listened to a lot of LaLonde’s work on this subject in the past and I’m starting to think he may be the one guy you can trust in this shell game we call nutritional/diet/fitness research. He’s the only one not selling something (that I’m aware of). And he has the balls to go right at the ‘experts’ who make some of the wild declarations, “based on research”. Highly recommend you listen to the latest Abel James’ Fat Burning Man podcast, where LaLonde takes on some of the bullshit. It was recorded in video format tube and is on YouTube, so I’m including it here for you:
Let’s face it: from the selling of a ‘Whole30’ program, to the barrage of books/cookbooks, etc., it’s just a little bit much and really makes things more confusing for people than it needs to be. Don’t misinterpret this as anti-Paleo. It’s not. It’s anti-bullshit. It’s anti-“forking” of the content just to make a few bucks.
It’s simply things that we all have to think about as we seek to define what works for our bodies.
Been a while since I posted. I’ve got good news and bad news to report.
The Bad News
Back in the Fall I received a curious email from a post on Sportsvite. Sportsvite is a place where you can find sport teams to join, and teams can look for players. Most of the teams are former or current college athletes who are looking for athletes of similar skill level, be it soccer, basketball, baseball, etc. I signed up a year or two ago and forgot about it. Every few months I’d get an email from someone begging me to be on their hockey team or softball team, and when I’d respond with “I’m in my 40’s and have never played that sport competitively, but I’m in decent shape given my age and will hustle”, I’d always get the same response back, “No thanks. We’re looking for experienced athletes.” Amazing how their original tone of desperation changes so quickly.
Eventually I got an email asking me if I’d be interested in playing soccer. The first time I ignored it. A few months later I got a similar email from the same person. This time I responded stating that I’d never played but would love to. To my surprise, I was told to show up at a regional soccer training center and be ready to play. No experience necessary. I show up and the place is fabulous, and next thing I know I’m on a high-quality turf field with a bunch of 25 year olds. My team sucked and we never won. The other teams were filled with former college soccer players. Regardless, I loved it. So much so that when the season ended I made an inquiry with the center asking them if they have a league for older players. Sure enough, they have a “Men’s Over 35” league. Perfect! So I sign up for the ‘house team’. We suck, but it’s a good group of guys. Problem is, I was only able to play twice before having to temporarily retire…(more on that in a moment).
In the Over 35 league I was one of the faster players. Skill-wise I was average, on my team (again, since this was the ‘house’ team we’re not talking all stars here – anyone who is good eventually gets scooped up by an established team). Anyone who knows me or has read my posts regarding Crossfit, knows I have too much ambition and competitiveness for my own good. So I decide one day that, in addition to the Starting Strength program I was doing, I would kick up the cardio big-time to help my soccer game. So, after doing that day’s Starting Strength routine (heavy barbell back squats, some presses, and power cleans), I jump on a treadmill and ramp up the incline. That day I forgot my normal ‘running shoes’ (a pair of minimalist but still pretty well padded sneakers). A couple of minutes into the jog I feel a slight pain building in the back of my right ankle/heel. Like an idiot I keep jogging. About 8 minutes in I know it’s getting worse and worse and is not normal, so I stop. That night it got worse. And for the next 2 weeks it didn’t get any better at all. I start looking around on the internet to figure out what it could be. Basically, my achilles was sore as hell. Especially in the morning but pretty much all day. The only time, during that 2 weeks, where it didn’t hurt was when I played a soccer match (bad idea), because I stretched the living shit out of my legs/ankles before playing. Looking on the internet the prognosis was sketchy. Basically, stretch and stretch and hope to hell it goes away. Eccentric stretches/strengthening, etc. I decide this is too important to screw around with and I go see a sports foot/ankle specialist. He x-rays it on the spot and then tells me I have insertional achilles tendinosis, and says it’ll probably be fine in a few weeks but if not call him and we’ll try physical therapy.
A week later and it’s no better. I am concerned and call and tell him let’s not wait – let’s get the ball rolling on the physical therapy. He agrees and so I started that a week ago today, going twice per week. Every day since then I’ve been doing a serious mobility routine, which I’ll share in a separate post. Honestly – after a week of it I’m thrilled in that my squat depth and mobility overall have improved immensely. But my achilles is still sore when I first wake up in the morning, or after sitting for a little while and then standing. It’s not pain – it’s a soreness, and it goes away after a few minutes.
So What’s the Good News?
The good news is that the physical therapist did quite a bit of diagnostics on me and told me what I have been told by numerous specialists/coaches already: I just may be the most inflexible dude on the planet, and it’s holding me back physically. I told him I’d been doing a lot of barbell squats, etc., and after struggling for close to a year now in trying to get my squat depth below parallel (or even parallel comfortably) he is now working with me to fix it. And a week later my squat depth is drastically improved. Last summer, when starting Crossfit, I did 50+ squats per day (usually more) for 60 days just to try to get it right. I saw some improvement at first but then nothing. A week of these wacky stretches he’s got me doing and I am not way better than ever and am optimistic.
During today’s PT session I made it clear to him that I’m getting very worried that this achilles problem is not going away or getting better. I *love* the stretches and am back to working out hard (no running, which is fine with me) so it’s no longer holding me back from anything aside from soccer. He assures me that it will go away but will take time – likely a few months. That sucks. I was originally told that this was a “couple of weeks” injury. He didn’t make me feel any better when he said I’m one of the lucky ones and that my injury isn’t anywhere near as severe as most who have it. I guess I should be happy about that.
That’s all for today. I have a few post ideas and will write more this week. Been a while.
Some miscellaneous stuff
Had some emails asking me about my weight. Honestly, I think they’re from angry vegans who hate this low carb/pro dietary fat approach and want to “expose it” as some kind of fraud. I’m happy to report that I’m holding steady at 189lbs. It fluctuates of course, but always within 5lbs. I took about 5 weeks off from any exercising due to the achilles problem and my weight didn’t budge, but I lost a lot of muscle tone. And I just felt like garbage. That’s the main reason I work out – to feel better. It certainly doesn’t do anything positive for me in terms of my diet and, in fact, makes my eating tricky. I have to make sure I have the fuel needed without overdoing it. And when you exercise hard you get hungrier – your body wants to compensate. I’m working to get that back now.
How is Starting Strength Going?
Let me say this: Starting Strength is great. And if I can get my mobility/squat depth right, I’ll be doing those lifts again. But I now have to spend roughly 40 minutes on just the physical therapy stretches/movements daily (I’m supposed to do them 3x per day!) that I’ve decided to take a break from SS for now. Twice a week, starting today, I’m going to do a full-body kettlebell routine. For once, I’m going to pick something for which my body type is seemingly perfect for – swinging kettlebells.
My PRs on SS are presently at:
Back Squat: 205lbs x 3 (I could go heavier but I have no spotter,and when you can’t get to parallel in your squat it’s downright not good to have that much weight on your back)
Deadlift: 255lbs. I am certain I could get to 300 quickly but, believe it or not, there just aren’t enough weights at my gym! At least not all in one place. But, no excuses, I need to man up and setup in the main weight room area. It’s full of machines and so people will get annoyed with me for taking up a big space by deadlifting, but oh well.
Power Clean: 135lbs – but my form was off. I’ve since reset my form (after watching more video tutorials about it) and have been going at around 100lbs with perfect form.
Like I said, I’m going to take a break from a strict SS program for a while.
How’s Your Cholesterol/Lipid Test Results Nowadays?
I’ve had some emails from readers who came to this site by way of one of its more popular posts – my lipid test results from a while back. Everyone wants to know: how are your lipid test results after doing low-carb long-term?
I haven’t had them tested since late last year, but they were similar from the original post except one thing: my HDL went up, which is fabulous. I’m now in the 70s. I meant to post the complete results at the time but forgot. Definitely will next time.
So this is week 4 of my attempt at the Starting Strength program, and I can report one big positive and one big negative.
The good news first: I’ve increased my strength dramatically, pretty quickly. Yesterday I easily deadlifted 225. Easily. Probably could have thrown another 25lbs on there but some anorexic looking chick decided she was going to use the Smith machine that I was setup right next to. Talk about awkward.
Unfortunately I took week 3 off for two reasons:
Major neck pains. I can’t recall if I blogged about this already but a few weeks ago I broke down and went to my doctor in hopes he would send me for an MRI. I tried it before and chickened out (I’m claustrophobic). That was 4 years or so ago and at the time the idiot neurologist that sent me for the MRI said it wasn’t really necessary because he was certain I had a pinched nerve and no matter what the results of the MRI there wasn’t anything he was going to do about it. So of course when I went into the tube, which apparently was NOT an open MRI as I was told it was by the hospital when I made the appointment, I panicked and chickened out. It was easier knowing I didn’t *have to* get the results. I’m confident I’d stick it out this time around, but to my surprise my doc said he thinks the problem is some mild arthritis in my neck and he sent me for an x-ray, which confirmed it. That was the beginning of week two of the Starting Strength program, so I pushed forward and kept adding more weight with each workout, as prescribed. The last workout that week, I was really struggling with the squat weight. The next day my neck was hurting on the left-side versus the usual right-side, so I took it easy for a few days, and it remained annoyingly painful for a full week+. I still feel it some, but not nearly as bad.
Flexibility. Yup, it’s still a huge issue and is stopping me from making more progress quickly. But it’s forcing me to realize that stretching before the lifts is just not only an option but a necessity. So yesterday, my first workout back from the week off, I modified Starting Strength to something I can do:
Warm-up by walking on treadmill for 10 mins
Deep squat stretching
Deep arm/shoulder stretching
Workout, but aside from a couple of quick warm-up sets (one very little weight, one medium weight), I have abandoned the way too many warm-up sets that SS prescribes, because it was taking close to 2 hours to finish a workout when you consider the stretching I needed to do.
The trouble is finding the stretches that really work for me. I’m going to continue to refine and hope to report back more progress and specifically a routine for stretching, as I’m certain I can’t be the ONLY person struggling with this! Hard to believe that I’ve been working on this since May and I’m still so inflexible.
I haven’t done a CrossFit WOD in almost two weeks now. I thought for sure last week, even as I wrote what appears to be a pretty scathing list of reasons why I hate CrossFit (it wasn’t meant to be), that it wouldn’t be long before I pined for ‘testing myself’ with a WOD. But, honestly, with each passing day I’m feeling better and better, and amazingly I am leaning out and am clearly, just after 3 Starting Strength sessions, seeing an increase in my muscle definition. I don’t miss CrossFit at all. Will I do it again? Definitely! But no more box memberships for me. I’ll just do the occasional WOD at my gym (they have scheduled daily CrossFit sessions, with a whiteboard and all). I’m going to try to shoot for once per week as a “sprint” session, ala Primal Blueprint Fitness (PBF). Incidentally, PBF is the over-arching exercise ‘architecture’ that I’m following and plan to follow for a long time now. CrossFit was completely incompatible with it, and as a result I felt like shit. Two weeks later and I feel better than I have in a long time, and most surprisingly, I am lifting heavier weights and losing bodyfat/weight.
Things aren’t all rosy. I haven’t mentioned it specifically, but I have been suffering from some neck/back of head pain for a while now. I assume it is from the pinched nerve that I have, but the pain changed to a different kind a few weeks ago. Eventually, it got bad enough that I woke up Saturday morning at 5am with a throbbing pain in the back of my head.
Yesterday morning, the first thing on my work To Do list was to make an appointment to go to the doc about it and hope he could do something other than simply tell me to get an appointment with a neurologist. To my surprise, the doc was pretty thorough yesterday. I always felt rushed there in the past. But this time, he sat down and asked me a number of things, praised me on my weight/fitness progress and told me to keep up the great work. I mentioned to him that the work-sponsored ‘Health Fair’ cholesterol test indicated I had high total cholesterol. My numbers were:
Total Cholesterol: 240
LDL: <100 (in other words, too low to even measure)
Triglycerides: <100 (in other words, too low to measure)
So, based on the numbers above, with the TC being “high”, I’m about to die of a heart attack right? No. The formula to calculate TC is lame and for those of us with super lipid test results (i.e., high HDL and low Trigs), the TC is meaningless. I knew that, but to my surprise, when I mentioned to the doc the 240, his immediate question was: What was your HDL? Your Trigs? When I told him he just smiled, shook his head, and said, “That is phenomenal. Keep doing what you’re doing.” Then I looked down and noticed he was wearing a brand new pair of Altra Zero Drop Running Shoes. Perhaps he is a bit more up to date with the latest research and thinking after all?
So I re-joined my old Globo-Gym. The place has gone through a management change since I was a member before. They have added many more group classes (though most are still fundamentally a waste of time), but more importantly they have created a large, dedicated CrossFit area. Today I checked it out and did some work in that area. I’d been keeping my eye on the whiteboard to see the WODs they’ve been prescribing, and I have been pleasantly surprised – the WODs have been relatively easy compared to the stuff at the dedicated CrossFit box. Not that I want to go and do them all that often, but I think once or twice per week as a quick HIIT/”Sprint” type session is ideal. An example: today was a 21-15-9 triplet for only 2 rounds of a few movements. I’m used to doing that same type of WOD but for min 4 or 5 rounds. I’ll give it a go next week, as my focus this week is on the Starting Strength beginner’s protocol, which I started Wednesday.
3×5 Press (i.e., shoulder press I believe but will be checking for sure before-hand)
5×3 Power Cleans
I’ve already screwed up the program – today, after doing some light cardio, I went over to the CrossFit area of the gym to check out what the WOD was. While there I noticed some olympic lifting bars…but no plates. A quick scan around and there they were – some bumper plates! But there were a total of only four plates: two 10lb and two 25lbers.
I think the theory is that so long as you have a single bumper on each side, then you can load up with the standard hard rubber plates they have there, with the bumpers, being ‘taller’, making the contact on the ground (the hard plates are all smaller in width).
So, seeing that, I couldn’t help myself – I loaded up the bar and focused on some Power Cleans! Love that movement, though I think I’m still not there with the form as I feel like the bar is getting too far from my body during the clean portion. I’ll keep at it though.
All in all – so far so good. I’ve got no regrets about quitting the CrossFit box, especially not after seeing that there is a WOD available to me at my gym if I want to partake, and the prescribed WOD is short.
Most important thing: so it’s been a week since my last WOD. And yesterday was the first day in a while where I FELT FRICKIN FANTASTIC. Great energy, no pain/soreness*, and just very energetic. I hadn’t felt that good since starting CrossFit. And today was even better. I also had a great, slight soreness/DOMS from the Starting Strength routine yesterday. Just enough to know I’m doing it right.
When I quit CrossFit I weighed 193lbs. I will be VERY curious to see in a week or two (and beyond) how my weight/bodyfat responds to the sharp reduction in HIIT/’chronic cardio’. Going from 45 to 60 minute metcons/high-heartrate sessions 3x per week, to doing a typical Primal approach of a single ~15min HIIT/”Sprint” session, lots of “Moving Slowly” (for me that is walking), and “Lifting Heavy Things” 3x per week. So far so good. I’ll be sure to keep blogging as I progress.
Actually I quit yesterday, but wanted to wait a day to blog about it, as I wanted to give it a day to think about it before writing.
I’ve been doing CrossFit for a little over four months now. Subscribers to this blog have likely read my over-the-top descriptions of my first CrossFit workout and other tales of woe : )
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with CrossFit ever since the moment I started. Actually, even BEFORE I started. I’ll explain why a bit later. I stuck it out for these four months because there is so much I like about it that the parts I don’t appreciate so much were overshadowed. But there is one thing I couldn’t ignore any longer: I just did not feel as well these past four months as I did the months prior when doing an unstructured fitness program of my own. Was I in as good a shape back then? No, in terms of measurable performance. In terms of appearance, the difference was positive but not much. Put it this way – with a shirt on I didn’t look any different except a little ‘puffier’ in the chest. Regardless of the slight bump in upper-body muscle, as I always say to friends/family that ask my opinion about diet and exercise, the best evaluation for whether something truly works for you or not is this great litmus test: “How do you feel?” If your goals are to excel at CrossFit (and make no mistake about it – CrossFit is a sport first, with the fitness regimen being a side-effect), then that’s different from the goals of most people who start a fitness program. They don’t do it to compete. They don’t do it for fun. They do it to feel better and to look good naked. That’s it. Normal people don’t care how much they can clean & jerk.
Looking back, the past four months can best be summed up in this way:
CrossFit is awesome. At least the box I joined is. But injuries sustained from my own stupidity/ego/body have just ruined this experience for me. And some aspects of it are not aligned with my goals, which are just to feel great and look good. It’s just not fun for me.
I know what you’re thinking/about to leave a comment saying. I’ve heard/read it many times regarding CrossFit. It goes something like this:
“If you’re getting injured then you need to find a new box/coaches!!!” Yes, that is true in some cases, but not in mine. A couple of the coaches at the box I was a member of were pretty useless. They did nothing but hang out and yell a “Keep it up guys!” once in a while. They didn’t teach a thing. But most are really good. I learned pretty quickly who to avoid, so that wasn’t the problem. The problem is me. My ego, and my damned pinched nerve, and my goals just didn’t agree with CrossFit. I wasn’t there to be an athlete. I was there to get in shape and feel the best I can be. The former was hampered by constant nagging injuries, and the latter degraded the more/longer I did CrossFit.
I’ve had injuries or soreness since the day I started CrossFit. And when you start doing workouts of that level of intensity, and duration, it wreaks havoc on one’s diet. It’d be easy if I were shoving sugar/carbs down my throat for the majority of my calories. The answer would be to just add more to burn more. But I don’t eat that way, for obvious reasons.
Before I start bashing CrossFit, which is what the following will come off as even if not intended:
I QUIT BECAUSE I WAS CONSTANTLY BATTLING LITTLE NAGGING INJURIES. I would have stuck with it, even if it wasn’t ideal for me. Why stick with something you don’t love? Cus that’s me. I have been very down the last week or so, knowing that I was coming to this decision. I don’t like to quit anything and I’m still conflicted (obviously!) about this decision.
What I Liked About CrossFit
The Social Aspect
People often complain about the monthly cost for a CrossFit membership. I paid, with a 10% veteran’s discount, $135 per month. That was for 3 sessions per week. That is way high compared to the regular gyms. But when you walk into the regular gyms you don’t get free personal training. You don’t have any camaraderie or even friendly people saying hello to you. You don’t get nutrition advice, or an instant social network. Even though I’m in my 40’s, married, bald, and have the personality of a mosquito, as soon as I joined my local CrossFit box I was instantly inundated with happy hour invites, Facebook friend requests, and plain old ‘Hi, my name is XXXXXX!’ introductions whenever I’d see someone new at a WOD.
The social aspect is what makes CrossFit successful, long-term. For some people, like me, this is not all great. During the WOD I didn’t really like the constant “Go! Keep it up! One more Rep! You can do it!” Rah-rah-rah. I specifically stopped going to Team WODs because of it – nothing more annoying than an overzealous dude yelling in your ear to give it more when you’re already giving it all you’ve got. But that’s just me.
The Personal Training is Included
This is the part people don’t understand. I was so weak and inflexible when I first started that every single WOD was a personal training session. Over time, this became embarrassing to me, as sometimes I felt like I was depriving others from getting the help they might have needed. Not sure how to do a lift or want to refine your technique? Just ask the coach. Heck, I usually didn’t need to ask – they’d see how screwed up I was and would just come over and correct me. Not all of the coaches were pro-active in this way though. But most were, and a few were phenomenal, and once I figured out who those folks were I just always went to the sessions they coached.
I could easily, and just might, add this one to the negatives list. But there’s something to be said for the intensity. I don’t care who you are – if you’re in a warehouse full of people all pushing hard to get through the same WOD, you’re going to push harder because of the group dynamic. I will never understand how people could do CrossFit on their own using the CrossFit.com (otherwise known as the “main site”) prescribed WODs. I know I could never keep the intensity up doing it by myself.
What I Hated About CrossFit
I recently read this article and I think the guy absolutely nailed it in terms of the aspects of CrossFit that I didn’t like.
Before someone leaves a comment saying that it’s different at every box – really? No, it’s not. The social aspect is certainly different. The coaches are different. But let’s be honest – there are only so many prescribed movements/lifts. Wall balls at one box are the same at every other. Box jumps. Clean and Jerks. Deadlifts. Running. Etc. What is different from box to box is the people. The people at the box I was a member of are great (mostly). I’ll miss chatting with them. I doubt they’ll miss chatting with me, cus I mostly would just whine about how hard CrossFit was : )
CrossFit is Chronic Cardio
Even before I started CrossFit, one of the things that concerned me was that, no matter how you sliced it, it was chronic cardio. When you have your heart rate pumping to the max for close to an hour at a time*, it doesn’t matter if the formal WOD is just 10 minutes long. At my box, the warm-up was 10 minutes and very high intensity – much higher intensity than any ‘spinning’ or ‘pilates’ class during it’s highest level of intensity. And rarely was I ever able to finish a WOD within 10 minutes. Usually they were a minimum of 15 and often much longer. A number of them (especially the dreaded team-based WODs) were ~45 minutes. And that doesn’t count the warm-up. Since I only did it 3x per week (and often, due to injuries, only 2x per week), the ‘chronic’ effect was mitigated. How these guys do it every day or even the 3-on-1-off protocol that CrossFit recommends, is beyond me.
It’s Weightlifting But It’s Not
One regret I have is not trying the “Westside Barbell” sessions that my box offered. I don’t even know what that is, but I assume it is a more traditional weightlifting approach versus the metcons.
CrossFit teaches and prescribes lots of lifts, but mostly it was high-rep. The focus is on intensity. The problem with that is, in order for me to keep the intensity up, and not injure myself, I had to use very low weight. And you can’t build muscle if you aren’t lifting heavy. I realize heavy is a relative term, but I have no doubt that I would have built more lean muscle had I just done a traditional heavy weight to failure routine 2x per week instead of rounds of high-rep/low-weight AMRAPs. Think about that for a minute: if you have to rip up your muscles in order to initiate adaptation (i.e., build stronger muscle), you have to lift heavy. Every expert will tell you this, especially the ones who I trust like Mark Sisson to Robb Wolf to Mark Rippetoe (incidentally, the latter two are now no longer fans of CrossFit themselves).
The Dudes that Run CrossFit are Creepy
Okay. Does it really matter that Greg Glassman comes off as a creepy used car salesman? Not to mention the dude is fat and out of shape, which doesn’t exactly inspire me. Or that the guy that programs the CrossFit games seems like a douchebag? No, not really. But, I’m just throwing it out there. But you have to admit that the whole “Coach says” thing is borderline cultish. Don’t believe me, ask Robb Wolf. He’s obviously had first-hand experience with CrossFit HQ and got tired of it. .
The All Important Physical Results Aren’t Consistent
Aside from the all-important “How do you feel?” question I led this post off with, there are three other types of results to be concerned with when it comes to CrossFit or any fitness routine:
How do you look as a result of it?
How do you perform, outside of the actual activity, as a result of it?
How do you perform at the activity itself, as a result of it?
The only one that matters to me is the first one. Superficial I know. But honest. And real. I could care less how I perform at CrossFit itself. That is only of value in the box, as a social status thing. Who gives a shit? I joined CrossFit to ‘get (and therefore look) ripped’. I could care less how much I can deadlift. Or how many Muscle Ups I can do (no, I can’t do any and never will). Or what my Fran time is. They are just arbitrary numbers that are of value only within the box. So how I perform at CrossFit the sport (and it is a sport) is irrelevant to me. It is not irrelevant to many CrossFitters though. I saw countless fat guys who were devastated that they didn’t PR on a movement. Or didn’t finish with a better time/score. I honestly felt bad for these guys. Some were 40+ years old and obese. Why would they care what their Fran Time was or beat themselves up cus they weren’t a member of the “Muscle Up Club”? They should be concerned with their carb counts, and the spike in cortisol levels that they were causing by doing those long metcons, not their rep counts.
As for the ‘functional fitness’ aspect of it. It’s true – CrossFit does help you perform better at day to day stuff. And I can see how it can be super beneficial for military (for sure), police and firefighters, who have to be prepared for anything physical that their job throws at them. But, for me, a married 40-something white collar worker and Dad of two, it didn’t help me any more than a non-CrossFit fitness regimen would. And, in fact, due to the continual injuries, it was likely worse. I don’t need to be able to carry people on my back and run 400 meters, or flip a 2 ton tire. I have a AAA membership! : ) I leave those lofty accomplishments the real heroes. I just want to not embarrass my family when taking my shirt off at the beach.
Both of these guys are a fail, in my opinion, especially the guy on the right, unless his goal is to be doing WODs for the sake of WODs.
Being Tied to A Schedule
I was a member of one of the biggest boxes around, in terms of members. They had lots of sessions scheduled. Most CrossFit boxes are small and only offer an early morning and evening session or two. Problem is, it is a major time commitment to do a CrossFit session. For me, it was 2 hours, minimum. Say my session was 12pm. I’d have to leave at 11:30 to get there by 11:45, then warm-up on my own so I don’t get pummeled by the formal warm-up, then the session was always a minimum of one hour and often slightly longer, then tack on another 15 mins to cool down (trust me, if you give it your all, you don’t just wipe your brow with a towel and go), followed by a shower, etc. This business about “I get in and get out” is bullshit. The 10 minute workout is a fable. It COULD be true, but not if you include the warm-up, the instruction, and then the post-WOD stretching. Having to pre-schedule myself for a session is a pain in the ass. I have flexible work hours, so it wasn’t the times that were the issue, but the total time commitment. Being able to just go to a globo-gym or to the local park and knock out my workout quickly is a better fit for me.
The Stress, and Effect on Diet and Weight
Those of you who have read much of my blog, or keep up with the latest credible research on diet and fitness, should know that working out often causes you to eat more. In my case, I struggled to keep my weight consistent. I started CrossFit at a svelte 191lbs. Within 3 weeks I was up to 199lbs and shitting bricks that I would break 200lbs. Yes, it might have been mostly muscle (though 8lbs of muscle in 3 weeks is not possible). But it was me subconsciously eating more – I, in effect, “worked up an appetite” from the working out. Four months of CrossFit has resulted in a much more defined chest/shoulders, but a softer middle. I’m down to 193lbs as of today, only because I had to completely cut out sugar for a month. And, unlike before CrossFit where I could eat a fair amount of carbs via an occasional dessert/treat with my kids, once I started CrossFit I really had to struggle to keep my weight down. And don’t give me that bullshit about how the scale lies. A 5’10” man shouldn’t be weighing over 200lbs. Period. My waistline didn’t go down any further during CrossFit either (it’s still at 34″). It didn’t get worse, but didn’t get smaller. I attribute this to the stress (likely in the form of cortisol spikes due to the chronic cardio). The stress from the WODs themselves, to the stress that the nagging soreness/injuries as a result of the WODs.
In The End
CrossFit is great and it sucks all in one. I sincerely hope that I don’t sway anyone away from trying CrossFit – I urge EVERYONE to try it. Especially if your goals are aligned with it, but even if not. It IS fun to survive a hard WOD and then reflect on it. It’s kind of like boot camp. I am a veteran and look back at boot camp fondly. Do I want to be in it perpetually for the rest of my life, as a fitness endeavor? Hell no. But I’m glad I did it. I am really proud that, even though I didn’t like CrossFit all that much from the start, I stuck with it for four months and gave it a fair shot. I loved the idea/theory of CrossFit. I loved telling people how I was pushing myself to the limit and surviving, loved thinking about the goofy shit like tire flips and muscle ups and the like. But in the end, it just wasn’t for me.
First off, I apologize for not posting in a while. This blog now gets an average of 130 unique visitors per day, and based on some of the emails I’ve gotten recently asking me if I’m still alive, I wanted to get the word out about how things are going.
I’m Alive and Thriving! : )
I actually had a post outlined and half-written about a recent business trip to attend a conference. Mainly the post is about the types of food offered during the included breakfast/lunches and then dinner while on the road. I’ll get it posted soon. In the meantime, an update:
Today I broke a milestone that I was beginning to think I would never hit and really wasn’t bothering if I didn’t, but it sure is great to have achieved it: I got on the scale this morning and weighed in at 189.8 pounds. I got under the 190 mark! That is the first I’ve seen that on the scale since I was 18 and in the Navy. I’m 5’10” and have big thighs, so while I haven’t been ‘fat’ in many months (aside from being able to pinch a half an inch of visceral belly fat), being in the 180’s is probably ideal for my body type. A month ago I was weighing in around 197. Earlier posts reflect that I was hanging out in the 191 to 192 range for months and then, as soon as I started CrossFit (see below), I quickly tacked on about 7 pounds and stayed there. I attribute the weight gain to muscle increase but possibly also because I was eating more to compensate for the increased workload, even though I likely didn’t need to.
Then, at the start of this month, my CrossFit box started a September “Zone Challenge” – basically a large number of folks, including myself, got weighed and then calipered by the coach, and then given a body fat percentage. I was utterly dismayed to receive a 24% body fat number. While it’s better than the ~40% I was at less than 2 years ago, it’s still disappointing. I attended a seminar at the box about The Zone diet. I’d of course heard about Zone before – it’s one of the few diets that has maintained a loyal following for a long time. Based on my knowledge of nutrition in relation to weight loss, it looks like a fairly effective plan, but I had two concerns that steered me clear of it:
1. I lost and have maintained 70 pounds on a low-carb Paleo approach. No way will I change things up and wind up jeopardizing that.
2. The Zone appears to me to be a big pain in the ass. Everything gets measured. Everything.
I’m sure Zone is great, but I decided to stick with what my low-carb Paleo approach but do a Whole30. As with the last time I tried a Whole30, I failed. But, I did get to about 2 weeks before failing : ) How did I fail? Alcohol (while out of town at a work conference), and dairy. I find it impossible to avoid dairy completely. BUT…I’ve successfully avoided the blatant sugar bomb ‘treats’ that I was indulging in 2 to 3 times per week: an ice cream, or a banana-laden smoothie, etc. I cut that out for this month.
But I wasn’t losing any weight at all the first week and then, the past 2 weeks, I suddenly started dropping weight again. Why? I attribute it to one thing: I’ve purposefully de-stressed.
Cutting Back the CrossFit for Now
I’ve been *very* stressed from work the past 4 or 5 months. I can’t go into the reasons why here obviously. Regardless, things have chilled a bit. I know this sounds like whiny bullshit and goes counter to conventional wisdom, but I honestly think that 3x per week CrossFit was also not doing me good. I was physically just not able to do CrossFit 3 times per week *properly*, so I switched back to twice per week. Now, when I go those two times per week, I’m truly performing at my best and at the right intensity, whereas before I was killing myself both physically and mentally and still not giving it my all. More on that in another post, but let’s just say that a few weeks ago I was seriously considering quitting CrossFit but now I’m starting to really see and feel the benefits and have broken through the ‘mental wall’ that I had built up for myself in regards to pride/competition.
I still maintain a 3x per week membership, but I’ll only go that third time if I am feeling great and motivated. Otherwise, my goal is to keep building muscle and aerobic capacity and, eventually, start incorporating in that third WOD per week.
While this guy does everything he can to avoid saying it, what his formerly-Vegan ass realized is that it’s all about the carbs, and that eating meat is pretty much necessary for optimal health. Why won’t he just admit it? Cus there’s a stigma about eating low carb. We can thank big agriculture, government, and the animal activists/vegans/vegetarians for that. Oh, and the countless personal trainers, dietitians, and doctors who continue to misguide so many people with the whole ‘Healthy Whole Grains!’ bullshit.
Even in spite of the research proving that cutting carbohydrates is the best ways to lose weight, there is still a stigma about admitting one’s success on it. This started, I believe, back in the initial Atkins era. While I myself have bashed the Atkins plan on numerous occasions, I also am quick to recognize that he seems to have been the first to ‘re-discover’ what our grandparents and descendants already knew – that bread, pasta, sugar, and starches were fattening, and that exercising just made you work up an appetite.
The problem I have with the Atkins approach is that it is strictly about the carbs. Eat all the Splenda and other processed stuff you want. Eat those slimy processed pepperoni slices they sell in the plastic container at the grocery store – as much as you want – even though that shit will last a century without spoiling. And guess what? He was right. Most people WILL lose weight without hunger that way. I know I did. I ate all that shit for a while and dropped 65 pounds painlessly and felt great doing it. But what I found was, when I really started to succeed, I *really* focused on what I was eating. And that’s when I limited all of the chemicals and processed food out of my diet. I don’t know if it made a difference, but logic says it would. I’ve continued to hone my diet, almost without thought, to the point no where I’m pretty darned strict Paleo with the exception of dairy in the form of grass-fed butter, heavy cream, and occasionally cheese. That said, I still do a ‘cheat’ once a week that is quite extravagant – either an ice cream with the family, or a dessert of some sort out, or, if none of that happens, I will go and grab a pint of the most delectable ice cream on the planet: the Ben & Jerry’s “Everything But The…”. I get away with that because of the CrossFit, or at least I tell myself I do.
Regardless, I figured I’d post the above article. An interesting, yet somewhat annoying reminder of the depths to which folks will not just come out and say it: cut the carbs, lose the weight.