Watch Your Numbers

Watch Your Numbers

The following is a guest post from Michael Deem, a fellow athlete from my CrossFit gym who is also training to compete in the Freeze Fest Team Challenge.

Michael was a rower for all four years of high school, attempted rowing in college, and quickly got distracted.

After more than four years of neglecting fitness, he’s relearning what it means to be an athlete.

With just over a month left to go until Freeze Fest, I’m not sure if I’m anxious or excited for my first (unofficial) CrossFit competition. (I had just started cross-fitting and so I didn’t have a clue what I was doing during last year’s Open Games, so let’s not count that.)

However, I can say with certainty that I am anxious almost every time I walk into the gym these days.

“Why would you be anxious to enter your athletic home?” you might ask. We have be training so hard for so long… and we still have almost 5 full weeks to go!

Personally, I am exhausted after every workout, almost until the following one. And I know the programming will only get harder. (This Saturday, after a full Olympic lifting regimen, we did Fran. Just for fun. Because we could.)

Honestly, it’s not the exhaustion or pain that makes me nervous. When I dig a little deeper, I realize it’s the fear of not stacking up, of not performing my best, of having a little left in the tank because I was too nervous at the start to mash the pedal into the floor – probably from exhaustion, feeding this vicious cycle on itself.

Interestingly enough (or perhaps just because I’m a guy), one activity that doesn’t make anxious yet I do with more regularity is stepping on the scale even though I’ve increased my bodyweight 10% since starting this ordeal.

You read that correctly: Ten. Percent. I was about 200 pounds when I first got under the bar for Smolov Jr. Now, granted with more muscle and less flab, I weigh more than when I started cross-fitting. (I would say “210” if someone was daring enough to ask, but I was closer to 215.)

Embarrassingly, I gained almost all of it after Smolov, so I can’t say I “feel” much stronger for it. (Although, I wonder what it’s like to “feel stronger.” Do Olympic lifters and bodybuilders “feel” stronger when they wake up in the morning, instinctively sensing that they could flip the bed their significant other is probably still sleeping on with one arm? Or do they have to look in the mirror before they can grasp the magnitude of their strength?

More on that later.) I continued to eat like a racehorse, and gave myself too much slack over the holidays.

I fell into the all-too-familiar and ubiquitous trap: “I work out. I can afford another scoop of mash potatoes. My body needs it!… There are cookies on the team table?! Oh alright, I suppose I am heading to the gym after work.”

And now, to compensate and repent, I am cleaning up my diet a la Mark Sisson’s 21 Day Challenge meets Whole 30 and hoping this spare tire melts back away.

But the scale and the diet challenges and the flab all miss the point. You see, those aren’t the numbers that really matter – not when you’re an amateur, and not even when you are trying to “get in shape.”

Unless you are literally an All-American, Olympian, or professional athlete who must make a weight class within 2 weeks, your body weight is the wrong number to watch.

Assuming that weightlifting (not just lifting weights) is the optimal conduit to fitness (yes, over cardio), then the weight on your bar is what matters. (I despise call-outs to broad demographic categories, but, ladies, this applies to you, too.)

I realize that most join gyms to improve their body composition. I have. More than once. But muscles are literally fat-burning machines. “Body composition is 80% what you eat,” a truism in the Paleo community, is another way of saying that if you send your muscles (and nervous system) the right signals by putting the right food in your body at the right times and lifting heavy things quickly and regularly, they will literally burn the fat for you.

I can’t wait for my scale to break. If it was mine (it’s my girlfriend’s), I would sell it or bury it in my storage closet.

The scale sends the wrong signal. I don’t need to see that. And my body doesn’t need to hear that. It’s the wrong metric to focus on because it does not help me perform.

We know that watching other people’s numbers is counterproductive, but watching your own wrong numbers can be just as bad.

The way to “feel” strong is to be strong. Don’t wonder if you’re strong in the shower after a workout.

The mirror and the scale can’t tell you. If you lay it all out on the floor, every workout, you are strong – and will you get stronger.

Throw your scale away. Or, better yet, buy another one, put them about 6 feet apart, and then rest a loaded bar on them to check the weight.

Then deadlift until you break them or you can’t deadlift anymore. Watch the weight at the ends of the bar go up, and don’t bother to check your weight when you get home.

Celebrate the Success of Others

Back in February at the Freeze Fest Team Challenge, the first event was a clean ladder. At the second platform, the weight on the bar was 135-lbs, which had a been a PR at the time.

The whistle blew and I was able to do the clean on my first attempt but failed at the hang-clean, which meant I had to start again.

On the second attempt, I got the clean, but was struggling to complete the hang-clean. I dug deep and stuck with it and got the rep.

I bring up the event, not to tout how I powered through, but to be able to mention the fact that standing at the next platform were Keith and Jess, aka Team Honey Badger.

They were complete strangers to me at the time, as so often our competitors are in life. They were watching me struggle and started to vocally cheer me on as I went for that second attempt.

In reflecting upon the day, I was struck by how Keith and Jess were so quick to celebrate my success without even knowing me.

Training and competing is inherently a very personal experience. Your time and attention is centered around “me, me, me”.

What could I do better?

When am I going to the gym?

What am I going to eat this week?

Why I am sore?

Will I hit a new PR?

That drive and focus is absolutely necessary; but, being able to take off the blinders and see that those around you are accomplishing great things is just as important.

It’s easy to celebrate as spectators the good things – the success and accomplishments – that happen to our friends and families.

We find out via Facebook or text or phone and we happily offer hugs and kisses and congratulatory messages. We send presents or buy the first round.

Like when my sister and her husband recently gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy or when my friend Kseniya’s first book got published.

Or Caitlin completing the Ironman Texas triathlon or Kalimba and her son Tyheem competing together as a team in the Gear West Duathlon.

Or Tracy setting new PRs in her first powerlifting meet this past weekend. These are all awesome and deserving of every accolade.

Yet, as the Dakota Games draw near, I am reminded more of Keith and Jess who were able to celebrate the success of their competitors while on the playing field.

We live in a winner-takes-all mentality and so often, in the heat of the race, our fellow athletes become our enemies.

We stare them down, we taunt, we pump our chests and try to intimidate. I understand that it helps us take charge and give it our all if we have a clear foe to defeat.

And I am absolutely gunning for the win in Fargo. I am not showing up to just get my participant ribbon.

However, I believe that I will have a much more rewarding experience if, in the pursuit of the win, I am able to step outside of myself and recognize my competitors and their accomplishments. It goes beyond good sportsmanship.

It’s about putting out the right type of energy and treating your competitor with the respect that you hope to receive in return.

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles. – Proverbs 24:17

It’s also about recognizing that their success does not diminish your own. The person who is best prepared will win at the end of the day.

And if that happens to be your competitor, than why not acknowledge that accomplishment? Only you can strive to do your best and perform at your highest ability.

They are not a barrier, merely just someone else trying to do the same thing.

I’ve had a lot to celebrate this past week in both my personal and professional life; but only possessing an inward focus is not a satisfying life.

Rather, I find my joy comes from celebrating the success of others. And I am going to take that attitude with me into the heart of the battle.

When the success of another makes your heart sing, your resistance is gone, and your own success soars. – Esther Hicks

The Road to Fargo: Packing my Gym Bag

The big weekend is almost here and tomorrow afternoon I will drive up with my buddy and fellow competitor, Ryan, to Fargo to compete in the Dakota Games.

He’s warned me that the AC doesn’t work very well in his car, but it should be a fun road trip and hopefully free of any bad Cohen Brothers jokes.

Packing clothes for the weekend is relatively easy – just gym socks, shorts and plenty of t-shirts. Plus some clean underwear for good measure.

The more difficult task at hand is packing my gym bag for the competition itself. It will be two long days at the arena and I want to make sure I have everything I need on hand.

My friend and Freeze Fest teammate Alice, the self-proclaimed Queen of Sweat, recommended I pack some small towels.

Our friend and fellow competitor Lara suggested tape and scissors, by which I assume she didn’t mean masking or Scotch. Coach Morgen from Solcana CrossFit reminded me that Ibuprofen in key.

This will be added to my first aid kit of band-aids and Neosporin. And Coach Andy of TwinTown CrossFit advised that I bring a band for pass-throughs, especially as my PVC might be a bit cumbersome to carry around.

So here’s what’s in my bag:

  • Trail runners
  • Lifting shoes
  • Wrist-wraps
  • Gloves
  • Weight-lifting belt
  • Jump rope
  • Blender Bottle & Whey Protein
  • Blonyx HMB+ Creatine
  • Water Bottle
  • Band-aids
  • Athletic tape
  • Ibuprofen
  • Neosporin
  • Lacrosse Ball
  • Foam Roller
  • Band
  • Watch

I haven’t mentioned food, which I know needs to be included in my bag. I want to figure out some good snacks to have with me.

I’m hoping to pop into a grocery store in Fargo to grab some items and I might just pack a few of my homemade granola bars.

What am I missing? What should I make sure I pack to ensure I have everything I need for a great weekend of competition. Share you recommendations in the comments section below.

The Road to Fargo: Tunnel Song

As the hours countdown until the start of the Dakota Games, I’m thinking about how I get myself energized and ready to fight.

How do I pump myself up to enter the arena? What do I do to feel like a heavyweight contender rather than a chump?

One solution is not much of a secret as we see it in professional sports all the time – its having a good tunnel song.

In the NFL, it’s the song that blasts over the speaker system when the home team takes the field. In MLB, it’s the song they play before a batter steps up to the plate.

And in the WWE, it’s the song that clearly lets you know that the Rock or John Cena are about to knock some heads in.

Celebrity fitness trainer Gunnar Peterson explains that a “tunnel” song is “like when the turbo in a car kicks in.”

It’s the song to get your heart racing, the crowd cheering and the excitement level in the room go from zero to sixty in two seconds.

My tunnel song is “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore. Every time I hear it I think about seeing perform live last summer at the State Fair.

There in the Grandstand, with thousands of us having waited out the rain, were euphoric when he and his crew sang this song. Everyone danced with joy and felt like they could conquer the world.

When I hear it during a WOD I pick up the pace and feel stronger and faster than ever. And come tomorrow I’ll be singing the song in my head waiting for that starting gun to go off.

In a few verses, I’ll go from feeling like an amateur to thinking I’m a superstar.

What’s your tunnel song and why? Share in the comments section below.

Eat It!

Don’t you tell me you’re full
Just eat it, eat it, eat it, eat it
Get yourself an egg and beat it
Have some more chicken, have some more pie
It doesn’t matter if it’s boiled or fried
Just eat it, eat it, just eat it, eat it.

I want to get bigger and stronger. From all the advice I have received, all the articles I have read, and all the Ouija boards I have consulted, it seems clear that I need to do two things: lift heavy; and eat more.

In terms of the first, I am starting a new workout plan this week thanks to my trainer Kirk. He admittedly calls it a bit of a “meat head” approach as it has some bodybuilding elements, like biceps curls and tricep extensions.

However, the main strategy is to lift four days per week with each day being a different focus: 1.) chest / triceps / core; 2.) backs / biceps; 3.) legs; and 4.) shoulders / legs / core.

I have been encouraged to push myself with the amount of weight and go to failure on a lot of the exercises.

With a focus on lifting, I am going to reduce the number of CrossFit classes I take down to one per week and add in a yoga class on Wednesdays.

At least for the next two to three months, the idea is simple: lift heavy and lift often.

As for the second part of my strategy, my goal is to put on 15 pounds of lean muscle by the end of the year.

Currently, I weigh in at 174 pounds, which has been a huge gain from January 1st when I was only 161 pounds. But to be more competitive in the CrossFit arena, I need to be bigger and stronger.

Doug Larson of Barbell Shrugged does a great job of explaining this need. He specifically says that, “If you’re a guy and taller than 5’8″, you want to shoot to be a lean, mobile and muscular 190-200 pound athlete.” (Click here for the video.)

If I want to perform at my best and meet my CrossFit potential, I will need to weigh more so I can lift more.

My performances at Freeze Fest in February and the Dakota Games last month were stifled by my lack of strength.

I could keep up when we were doing burpees or sprints, but there was almost a 100 pound difference between me and what the guy in first place could lift.

Similar to what my trainer Kirk has advised, Larson believes that this muscle gain can be achieved by backing off met-cons and using a strength-biased training program for most months of the year.

This approach is coupled with using a modified Paleo diet to maximize the amount of muscle and strength.

So I need to eat more. Most of the time that will be a good balance of meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts.

For example, breakfast will be 2-3 egss, chicken sausage, banana and baby spinach.

Since it is a modified Paleo approach, I’ll also be throwing some chocolate milk into the mix. Post-workout, it will be more focused on meats and Paleo-friendly carbohydrates (i.e. lots of sweet potatoes).

In addition, I am adding more protein by doubling the amount of whey protein I take each day from 30 grams to 60 grams.

In these first few weeks, I’m not going to pay attention to caloric intake. By keeping to a modified Paleo diet, it will help keep out processed food and other junk.

As much as I would like to just eat chocolate chip cookies all day to help bulk up, they are not on the menu. Neither are bagels, vanilla ice cream, yogurt pretzels and my other guilty pleasures.

But I’ll always have my sweet potato fries! I will probably see my body fat percentage increase, but its a necessary evil in pursuing my goal.

I can ultimately lean out later down the road. I’ll be doing little cardio for now, but can always incorporate more to help with leaning out.

I’m excited for this new phase of training. Competing is on hold, but when I do return to the arena I believe I will be bigger and stronger than ever before.

Share your thoughts and advice on eating more and lifting heavy in the comments section below. What have you done that worked? What didn’t work? Start the discussion.