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Jan 07 2014

Understanding Oxidative Stress

By: Coach Alex Alvarez

“Oxidative Stress” may sound like a group of words that belong in a metallurgy class or a chemistry book, but this term is actually very relative to you if you’re participating in CrossFit or any other kind of high-intensity training. Oxidative stress is a phrase we hardly ever use, if ever; instead we typically use words like soreness or exhaustion to describe the same thing.

If you’ve ever found yourself feeling especially slow or tired during a workout- like you have to force those muscles to keep going- you’ve likely experienced the impact of oxidative stress. I’m not talking about the normal feeling of pushing through a tough workout, though, this is more of a response you will feel from your body after several days of continuous training or after completing an especially difficult workout and not allowing your body any time for rest before approaching another WOD.

When we are experiencing the side effects of oxidative stress, we typically tell ourselves “Why am I so sore,” “Maybe I’m working out too hard,” or “I feel like I need to start getting more rest.” While you might be sore under oxidative stress, you may be surprised to find that it is not a result of lactic acid having built up in your muscles. In fact, in many cases of oxidative stress, you may simply feel very tired, or exhausted, without any accompanying soreness. So what causes this lethargic feeling that makes you want to curl up in bed instead of jumping into another workout?

Oxidative stress is a term used to describe the damage that our cells accumulate  while using oxygen to produce energy during exercise. Our cells using oxygen to produce energy is called Aerobic respiration. When we exercise, we use more oxygen and so the rate of aerobic respiration increases. Aerobic respiration from exercise can be very taxing on our cells because this process produces free radicals. These free radicals are uncharged molecules that can damage our DNA, make us feel tired, and lead to a host of other problems.  Ultimately, free radicals cause damage to our cells and in turn, can interfere with the efficient energy production of our body.

To be clear, all forms of exercise cause some oxidative stress. During the “work” phase, your body is slightly weakened, it later recovers, and becomes more resistant to oxidative stress from the next workout.  With more training, your body learns to fight the free radicals produced by oxidative stress by producing its own army of antioxidants. Antioxidants help to control the additional free radicals, generally keeping oxidative stress within safe limits. As your body builds up its own endurance to “oxidative stress” you’ll find that you are able to perform more workouts during a typical week,work under heavier loads, and maybe not require as much recovery time as before. Therefore, oxidative stress is not necessarily dependent on how much you exercise, but how much you do relative to your current ability level. It can also be moderated by adequate sleep, hydration, and allowing our bodies time to rest between workouts.

One last thing we can do help avoid the negative side-effects of oxidative stress is to improve our diet. While our bodies will naturally produce antioxidants to help in the fight against free radicals, a diet rich in supplemental antioxidants can help combat the oxidative stress you incur due to your active lifestyle. Vegetables and fruits are your best sources of antioxidants, but teas such as Green tea and Ginger Tea are also good sources. Some antioxidants occur as vitamins and minerals. Vitamins C, and E are powerful antioxidants as are the minerals selenium and zinc. Minimize your oxidative stress with an antioxidant rich diet, always drink plenty of water, and feel your energy levels rise.


Dec 31 2013

Staying Hydrated in the Winter

By: Coach Jennifer Kruse

Now, in the midst of winter, gone are the hot summer months and the desire for a cold, refreshing drink.  But while we may not be craving a glass of  ice water when its sweater weather outside, our bodies still thirst and need to stay hydrated- especially if you are regularly active in the gym.

Basic elementary health told us we were made of two-thirds water and we needed water to live.  Let’s elaborate beyond that.

Staying hydrated:

–          Enables your body to provide adequate circulation to both your muscles and nerves

–          Optimizes athletic potential

–           Helps internal organs work more efficiently

–          Makes it easier for your body to acclimate to hot and cold weather

–          Reduces muscle cramps

–          Assists with maintaining a healthy body temperature

Hydrations, as it relates to exercise, is most important PRIOR to a workout.  We want to use glycogen stores in our cells, not protein, as fuel.  When we don’t hydrate properly prior to a workout we risk using protein stores as our fuel, which can hinder performance and recovery.

Why is hydration MORE importance in the winter? I don’t feel thirsty…..

Dehydration is accelerated during the winter months and at higher elevations because the air we breathe is dryer under these conditions.   (Ever felt endlessly thirsty while on a flight?)

Here in El Paso we sit at 3,720 feet and in our winter months we get 2-3 times LESS rainfall than during the summer.   When we breathe our bodies humidify the dry air and heat it up to our own body temperature, which is why our wintery exhalations look like fog. Through this process, we can lose up to 1-2 liters of water each day through the evaporation of the lungs.

Some signs of dehydration include:

–          Fatigue

–          Headache

–          Light-headedness

–          Dry mouth

–          Dark urine

Your urine.  Dark urine could actually be a result of a vitamin supplement.  If this is true, then one should rely on quantity and frequency.  We should be using the restroom every 2-4 hours throughout the day.  If your urine isn’t affected by a vitamin supplement, it should be light in color, like lemonade, and not clear.

Let’s get our drink on!  There’s more than one way to get hydrated than JUST water.  After all, we are athletes and we require sodium, potassium and electrolytes. Coffee and tea are good as they offer a caffeine boost and antioxidants. Tomato juice and coconut water are great as they offer a variety of vitamins and minerals to include potassium, vitamin A, sodium and electrolytes, great for hydration and recovery.

In addition to drinks there are a handful of fruits and veggies that can aid in hydration and have a slew of vitamins.  They include:

-Celery at 96% water, sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron and zinc

-Watermelon at 95% water and vitamin C

-Bell peppers at 92% water and vitamin C

-Cucumbers at 95% water, magnesium, sodium and potassium

-Strawberries at 92% water and potassium

-Cantaloupe at 90% water and potassium

So how much do we need to stay hydrated?

It’s pretty simple, know your body weight and divide that number by two then convert that number from pounds into ounces. (Ex: 165 lbs , divided by 2=82.5lbs….82.5 ounces) Drink that much water in ounces each day.

That does not include water lost during physical activity.  The average person loses 1-2 lbs of water weight for each hour of activity.  To get a more accurate number, weigh yourself right before and right after a workout to determine a true amount of water lost.  Add this amount to your daily water intake.


Dec 30 2013

When to Scale a CrossFit WOD

By: Coach Edith Peregrino

Knowing when to scale a workout is an important aspect of both CrossFit and FEMMEfit training. We all want to be able to do every WOD as prescribed (or as it is written on the board), but we must also be smart about our workouts, and make sure that we are getting the intended effect from each WOD. Doing so will allow us to get the most out of each workout and ultimately progress safer and faster.

Within CrossFit, workouts vary in order to challenge our bodies in different ways. Long chippers or endurance workouts push our aerobic capacity, where short/ heavy workouts challenge our anaerobic system. This ultimately leads to the formation of the “balanced athlete”- someone who is both fast and strong; someone who has endurance and power. When a WOD is not properly scaled, however, what’s mean to be a quick and heavy workout can become a 30 minute endurance session. In the longterm, this works against the CrossFit goal of becoming more athletic all-around and can even negatively impact our strength gains.

We most commonly see people lose the intended effect of a workout when it comes to WODS that are intended to be short and heavy. Many people will push themselves to do the RX weight, even if it means drastically increasing the time spent on a workout. Consider the classic CrossFit workout “Fran” as an example. This WOD consists of Thrusters (95# men/ 65# women) and Pullups performed at a rep scheme of  21-15-9 for time. Fran is a workout that is meant to be short but very intense. Average times on this WOD for CrossFit Games athletes are easily sub 2 or 3 minutes! However if a beginner or fairly new Crossfitter attempts this workout as prescribed, it could easily take 10 to 15 minutes or more. The longer the workout takes, the more taxing the workout becomes in terms of endurance (not the intent of this WOD).

So how do we know when to scale a CrossFit WOD? In this example, if 95/65 is a very heavy (but doable) weight for you when it comes to thrusters, don’t just load up the bar for the sake of trying a girl WOD as prescribed. Instead, scale the load  to a weight that you find challenging, but think you can still do mostly unbroken for 21 reps. The same rule should be be applied to pull ups and substituting a proper modification to finish the WOD in a comparable amount of time. Instead of spending 8 Minutes on your 21 pullups, talk to your coach about lowering the rep scheme or performing ring rows instead.

When it comes to scaling its all about choosing a weight and movement-difficulty level that you feel challenged but comfortable with at the same time. This should be a weight or a movement that you believe you can do consistently throughout the WOD while maintaining proper form. At the same time, scaling doesn’t mean it should be “easy,” you still want to get a good workout in. Here are a few extra tips to keep in mind when it comes to scaling future WODs:

* RX weights and times provide a baseline, they are not set in stone. We want to be able to work up to these loads but it takes time, so be patient.

* Scale to increase work capacity- this means if you have to go lighter, or do a modified version of a movement to finish the work in a decent amount of time, go ahead and do so. Don’t spend 15 minutes on 10 handstand push ups just to do them as RX. Higher work capacity at a scaled version of a movement can actually build more strength than one or two reps as prescribed. The strength transfer of ring rows to pullups is a great example.

* Form comes first-  Is your form being compromised? Especially when lifting heavy load.This is a great time to scale and choose a load where you can complete the workout with good form.

* Make sure you are still getting a good workout– a WOD should never be “oh, too easy”

* On the flip side of the coin we must also feel comfortable scaling up if we can do so and still get the desired effect of the WOD. If your Fran time is 7:15, scaling up wouldn’t make sense. On the other hand, though, if you’ve been using the 25 pound kettle bell for the past year and you choose that weight every time only because you have gotten really good at it and comfortable with it …it’s time to go heavier my friend! You’ve mastered the movement at that weight, your back is strong and you are ready. Sure you might not be as fast the first several WODs you complete with a heavier kettle bell, but you are definitely going to have bigger gains in the long run.

*The most important thing is to challenge yourself but don’t stress yourself out. We are all working to be better, stronger and fitter. We all come from different athletic backgrounds and we all have different body types, strengths/weaknesses, and abilities. At the end of the day, you’re working to improve upon your own personal bests, not simply write “RX” next to your time. Keep your workouts logged, be diligent in your routine and get the most out of each workout.

Dec 20 2013

Resting In Between Sets

Corey and Anna hit gym records this week with 435# and 300# Back Squats

By: Coach Jonathan Ortiz

During the short hour that we have together during class, it’s easy for athletes to jump the gun and not rest enough when completing strength sets. While many may think, “as long as I complete the sets and repetitions that are on the board, I will get stronger” that may not necessarily be true.

What’s just as important as doing the work is also allowing your body to rest the proper amount of time in between your sets. In different aspects of training there are going to be different amounts of time one should be resting. Three different types of training include:

· Muscular strength
· Muscular endurance
· Hypertrophy (bodybuilding)

In CrossFit, we generally want to increase our muscular endurance so that we can move heavy loads over an extended period of time. But in our training we also have the “SWOD” which is the acronym we use in the box for “strength workout of the day”. That being said, let’s go over the importance of what we are trying to achieve during the SWOD. During this part of the class we are focusing primarily on building overall muscular strength at percentages ranging from 50%-90% of our one rep max. Depending on the amount of reps you are doing each set, here is a guideline as to how much rest is needed to allow for a repeat at similar output levels:

1 to 3 reps: Rest for to 5 minutes
4 to 7 reps: Rest for 2 to 3 minutes
8 to 12 reps: Rest for 1 to 2 minutes

During this rest period, both your muscles and your central nervous system are preparing to fire at their maximum ability for the next set. If you fail to rest enough, there could be several drawbacks. Failing to factor in recovery time may prevent you from lifting heavy on your next set, slow down recovery time for your metcon, or even turn your strength session into more of a cardio workout.

I know it’s hard for a CrossFitter to sit back and relax for 2,3,4,5 minutes at a time when you feel like you just need to GO, GO, GO! So what ends up happening is we do short resting intervals (30-60 seconds) which is an ideal resting period for hypertrophy training, so work on being patient in between sets.

Finally, while we offer some guidelines, proper rest periods are also different for each individual. Every person has different finger prints just like each person has a different central nervous system. Your specific rest period will be your own little experiment. My challenge to you is to use the guidelines and adjust from there. Find out how long your body needs to rest so you can lift that weight just as efficiently as you did on the first set.


Dec 16 2013

At Last, an Intro to Atlas Stones

By: Coach David Peregrino

Long before Nautilus cams and Cybex selectorized machines, the road to strength was paved with heavy-ass stones.

Forgive my coarse language, but the thought of lifting 100-plus-pound spheres of concrete–commonly known as Atlas stones–fills me with RAGE!

I rage because Atlas stone lifts are awkward and brutal, and they leave you bruised and battered. Unlike the glamorous Oly bar, there’s no shiny knurled grip, smooth-spinning sleeves and nicely balanced load. No, this is a strongman event–the stuff of ancient Scottish legend; the stuff of beards, kilts and huge mugs of beer.

An Atlas stone is one big, ugly rock–and you somehow got to get it from the ground to your shoulder–and do it again and again.

But hey, that’s what we crazy CrossFitters do. Thanks to influential individuals such as Rob Orlando (a strongman competitor who found success in CrossFit), strongman is now tightly woven into the tapestry of our sport. This is why during our workouts at CrossFit 915, you’ll encounter tire flips, sledgehammers, farmers walks, axle bar lifts, sled pulls and pushes, yoke carries and Atlas stone lifts.

Let’s return our focus to those legendary Atlas stones. Some of you may wonder why they stay safely ensconced in the CF 915 Level 3 training room, and why Marc won’t let just anyone wrap their arms around them.

It’s because they are not for beginners. Before you start playing around with Atlas stone lifting techniques, you need to have some solid core strength and deadlifting prowess. We need to be sure that you know how the legs, hips, back and core work together to safely lift heavy objects. CF915 Level 2 and Level 3 athletes who use Atlas stones in WODs are typically capable of double-bodyweight deadlifts. For most athletes, this foundation of strength takes many, many months to develop.

When you do finally get your exposure to Atlas stones, you’ll discover some things that seem counterintuitive to what you’ve been taught about heavy lifts. For example, you will have a rounded back throughout much of your Atlas stone lift, because you will squat down very low and wrap yourself around that concrete sphere.

But don’t worry, the lift will be safe as long as you maintain an iron-bar-like stability of that rounded back. And you can maintain that stability with a crushing embrace of the stone against your torso. What we don’t want to happen is any unplanned shift of the spine’s position while it is under load.

This kind of “core awareness” requires experience and lots of practice. Just like any new skill, we start off with relatively light Atlas stones and work our way up to the insanely heavy stuff.

You’ll learn two basic ways to lift the stones. There’s what Rob Orlando describes as the “one-time” lift—essentially a power clean of the stone to your shoulder. The other approach is a “two-stage” lift for heavier stones, or when fatigue has set in. You’ll deadlift the stone and set it on your lap. From there, you’ll use your powerful hip drive to roll the ball up to your shoulder.

To learn more, check out these two awesome videos from Rob Orlando’s CF Strongman certification classes. Then keep building that raw, foundational core strength. Maybe one day you’ll get to unleash your rage on those Atlas stones too.

Coaching Points for Lifting Stones, Part 1

Coaching Points for Lifting Stones, Part 2