Muscle Gain Challenge – Progress Report 1

mgc-1I started CrossFit in July 2011 when a friend encouraged me to walk four blocks down the street from my apartment and meet with the owner of a local box. Up until that point, I was running 5ks and little else. I had no clue what do around the weights or nautilus machines at the gym. After meeting with the owner, I figured it had to be better and decided to give it a try. If you have followed my journey at all, you will know that starting CrossFit was transformative.

However, five years later just simply going to CrossFit classes no longer felt like enough. This past year I saw the benefits of dialing in my nutrition. I was previously undereating and being inconsistent with eating “clean” and then indulging. It was hard to see the benefits of going 5-6 times per week to CrossFit. Getting smart on the nutrition helped, but I knew by the end of this summer that I needed to couple it with smarter training. Despite thousands of burpees, pull-ups, squats and more, my body did not reflect both the strength and the aesthetic that I wanted.

Having worked with personal trainers and having followed specific weight training programs, such as Starting Strength and the Texas Method, I knew that dialed-in training and nutrition could result in positive change. With that in mind, I decided to sign-up for the Barbell Shrugged Muscle Gain Challenge, a structured six-month program that hopefully will help me meet my goals.

I have listened to countless hours of the Barbell Shrugged podcasts, read their blog posts and watched their videos. I believe they know their stuff and that opinion has been echoed by a devoted following of athletes around the world and even my coaches – two of whom did the program two years ago to much success. Stories like this were also motivating:

The challenge is broken into meso-cycles. Each workout involves a 10-15 minute warm-up, then two to three different lifts and concludes with a conditioning met-con that takes anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. As the focus is putting on muscle mass and gaining strength, there is a definitely a lack of cardio (at least for now). I haven’t run more than 400 meters this past month.

I train on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and resting on Wednesdays and Sundays. During the work week I go at 5:15am and on the weekend I go at 10:00am.

I am doing the program at CrossFit Kingfield, which has all the equipment and space needed. It is the ideal setting when you read the following from the introduction materials:

“You’ll definitely need a barbell, weights, a squat rack, a pull-up bar and a space to #dropeverythingandtrain. Bumper plates are really nice to have because you can drop them. If you don’t have bumper plates, and you have to lower the weights to the ground, invest in a good pair of lifting straps to help control the lowering.Kettlebells or dumbells, med-balls, plyo boxes, a set of rings, a GHD machine, lifting/jerk blocks, resistance bands and a climbing rope are nice to have but not absolutely required.”

Another component of the program is that every two weeks they introduce a new daily habit. The first was to weigh myself everyday. On day 1, I weighed 170.4 lbs and this morning I weighed 172.8 lbs. I learned quickly to keep a pen and paper next to the scale in my bathroom to make sure I don’t miss a day. Following the recommended training and nutrition, Barbell Shrugged states that they can help you put on 26 lbs. in 26 weeks. For my purposes I am just glad to be keeping my weight above 170 for now. The second habit introduced was to have a protein shake during the workout – a mix of whey, creatine and dextrose. It is to provide more energy while you train and improve recovery time.  All the daily habits are to be maintained throughout the program.

Since I am paying for the program and have immense respect for the Barbell Shrugged coaches, I am not going to go into detail about how the sausage is made and share the programming. However, I will share with you my results so far:

Front Squat 175 lbs. (3 rep max) 185 lbs. (5 rep max)
Back Squat (5 rep max) 215 lbs. 225 lbs.
Strict Press (5 rep max) 100 lbs. 110 lbs.
Push Press (5 rep max) 125 lbs 135 lbs.

Improvement across the board in all the lifts has been very exciting and motivating. From what I gather, I will be retesting 1 rep maxes in most of the lifts in another month, which will be another useful metric. I’m guessing in this first month that the increases are due to a mix of gaining strength but also getting more comfortable under the bar due to the high amount of reps.

Unlike the 21-day sugar detox, Whole30, or 60-day challenges, I am in this for the long haul and committed to see where I stand after 26 weeks of focused training.  So far I feel like I am off to a good start.

Feel free to leave any questions about the program in the comment section below or on my Facebook page.

Confidence Shifting Into Gear

Last month I traveled to Iceland for a ten day adventure in the land of fire and ice. The country is absolutely beautiful filled with strong, stoic men and women and painted with landscapes that are out of a fantasy novel.

I did some research for the trip and read about people driving Route 1, also known as the Ring Road, which is an 825 mile highway that runs around the entire country. I also read that it was very popular to rent a campervan for this excursion.


On an impulse I went ahead and booked a campervan for 5 days and 4 nights through a company called CampEasy. I was going to drive around the entire country and sleep at night in this van that came equipped with a little stove, sink and a back seat that folded out into a bed.


Two weeks before the trip I looked more closely at the details on the campervan and saw that it was a manual. Crap! I had not driven a manual car since I was sixteen years old and had only driven around my neighborhood. (It was a Volkswagen Thing and not really well suited for highway driving or any speed over 30 mph.)

My friend Eric volunteered to teach me and he patiently provided an hour long lesson on driving stick shift. We drove around a cemetery in Minneapolis, taking advantage of the quiet setting and lack of traffic so I could practice shifting gears, going into reverse and driving up hills.

My first four days in Iceland were spent with feet on the ground, walking around Reykjavik, visiting museums, walking along the coast and passing on the whale and puffin meat sliders at restaurants.

Finally it was time to pick up the campervan and head out on the open road. To get to the point of this post, driving stick shift in Iceland was a mini-lesson about confidence.

When I first got the car, I was nervous and felt ill prepared. As you can imagine, it took a few tries to just get the car out of the parking lot at the rental agency. Then I had to navigate my way out of the city to get onto the Ring Road.

The roundabouts through me for a loop as I did not know how to properly keep the car idling when I had to brake or slow down for traffic. I killed the car in the middle of the roundabout with cars honking and giving me dirty looks. Driving a manual car is all about flow. You have to feel in control of the car and seamlessly shift from one gear to the next and have a good command of both your feet as you slow down, speed up, go up hills and down, etc. You can’t think, you just do.


My flow had stoppage. I was clogged with nerves, fear and doubt about my own abilities. The first day I clutched the wheel with a white-knuckle death grip as it was rainy and windy and I discovered the Ring Road was one lane in each direction and no shoulder. There were sheep crossing signs all over and warnings about slowing down and avoid blind turns as you went through the mountains. There were bridges that were only wide enough for one car to pass. I wondered if this was to be my fate to die in a car accident alone on the road in East Iceland as my car flipped over into a lava field.

My lack of confidence led to a few more incidents of killing the car and not being able to get it going on numerous tries. This occurred in the parking lot near an awe inspiring waterfall. I screamed in the car at my inability to move matching the roar of the cascade nearby. No one offered to help or ask what was wrong. I was left to my own devices.

“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.” William Jennings Bryan

Over the course of the five days, my confidence grew even as I was faced with never ending rain, strong winds, countless sheep, gravel roads and a foreign country. Part of it was the sheer amount of practice. I would suspect anyone would become well versed in driving stick shift if they had to spend that much time constantly switching gears. But much more was just my ability to take a deep breathe and believe in my ability to handle the car and the road.

I experienced a lot of alone time. Two of the days it rained so much that I barely got out of the car. And even when I did, I was hiking along glaciers and ravines by myself. The country only has a population of 315,000 and there were long stretches where I was the only car on the road.

I had to trust that I was good on my own. I could conquer this campervan and the road and enjoy this once in a lifetime trip. The car would keep stalling if I didn’t believe in myself. The car won’t move, the barbell won’t budge, the job won’t change, the risk won’t be taken if one lacks the self-confidence to try.

My last day as I drove back into Reykjavik I was like an old pro. The countless roundabouts and stop lights were no longer troublesome. I parked the van with a big smile on my face as I reveled in the adventure I had just experienced.

Visiting CrossFit Reykjavik

img_8729Earlier this month I traveled around Iceland for ten days and had a memorable adventure seeing volcanoes, glaciers and lots of sheep. I bookended my trip by staying in Reykjavik and, as I’m  want to do, I visited a local CrossFit box.

The country is home to some of the strongest athletes in the world.  At the 2016 CrossFit Games, Iceland native Katrín Tanja Davíðsdóttir won first place and Ragnheiður Sara Sigmundsdóttir won third place in the women’s competition. What was in the water?  I had to witness the Icelandic advantage in person.

So on my first Sunday morning in Iceland, I decided to find CrossFit Reykjavik and attend class. Their website wasn’t working but I figured surely these tough sons and daughters of Vikings would be up and moving if I got there by 10am. With my trusty map of the city in hand, I walked 2.5 miles through the quiet residential streets to a shopping area where CrossFit Reykjavik had their box in the lower level of a plain concrete building that also housed a 66° North outlet store.


Box is an understatement. This is a sweat factory. The space was huge and had more equipment than you could imagine. Rowers lined the central aisle along with tons of racks, rings and pull-ups bars throughout. There were so many areas where you could train and the amount of people coming through was awesome.

After paying a drop-in fee of 2,500 krona ($21.00), I signed up for the 11am class, which allowed me sometime to change and warm-up. The gym has a mobility space where the floor is a soft mat and that has shelves of foam rollers, lacrosse balls, ab mats, etc. There was also a TV setup and when I got there two members were just starting a ROMWOD, which I joined them for.

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Classes on Sundays were starting every 30-minutes. There was a warm-up and then the coach spent 15-20 minutes focused on skill work. The coach for my class spoke in Icelandic the whole time. I didn’t interrupt him to translate as I got the general gist through his gestures that he wanted everyone to focus on the hollow rock position while stringing together toes-to-bar. We practiced our kipping swing and he gave personal instruction. When he did help me, I quickly informed him that I only spoke English and he was happy to oblige.

Then as another dozen people shuffle in, the coach went over the WOD with my group. We were to set-up in an area of the gym and start when we were ready. It was a met-con with a 40-minute time cap:

  • 66 deadlift (50 kg / 35 kg)
  • 66 box jumps (60 cm / 50 cm)
  • 66 kettle bell swings ( 24 kg / 16 kg)
  • 66 knees to elbows
  • 66 sit-ups
  • 66 thrusters (25 kg / 17.5 kg)
  • 66 wall balls (20 lb / 14 lb)
  • 66 burpees
  • 66 double-unders

One guy in my group who helped me find all the necessary equipment explained that this was pretty typical for Sundays. No wonder these people are so strong if this is their casual Sunday workout. This was a lot of work and the clock ran out on me when I was half-way through the thrusters. I enjoyed afterwards going to a local pool to enjoy the hot tubs and steam.

I should mention that while there were about twenty of us doing the metcon, there were people doing their own workouts, lifting, rowing, running on TrueForm Runners, etc.  It looked like the warm-up area for the Granite Games – truly inspiring.

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This was exactly the same the following Sunday. I had just spent five days in a campervan driving the Ring Road around the entire country through heavy winds and rain. I needed to stretch my feet and move around so before I returned the vehicle I decided to make a pit stop at CrossFit Reykjavik.

Again, though with a different coach, we did a warm-up and then talked about the butterfly kip movement for pull-ups. Then it was time for another epic metcon. Another 40-minute time cap for the following:

  • Part A – 5 rounds of 12 wall balls (20 lb / 14 lb), 9 toes-to-bar, 6 power cleans (85 kg / 60 kg)
  • 5-minute rest
  • Part B – accumulate 800 meters of farmer’s carry with kettle bells (2 x 24 kg / 2 x 16 kg)
  • 5-minute rest
  • Part C – 21, 15, 9 overhead squats, handstand push-ups, burpee bar jump overs

Again, a ton of work, especially the farmer’s carry, which ate up a lot more time than I anticipated (or at least felt that way).  I extended the workout an additional 10-minutes and completed the 15 overhead squats and handstand push-ups.  Perhaps to be a true Icelandic warrior I should have finished, but I figured I am on vacation and could cut myself some slack.

With a small nation of only 315,000 people, it did feel like every 20-something and 30-something was at CrossFit Reykjavik. There were equal amount men and women at the gym and they all seemed very focused and dedicated. I found throughout my trip and during both visits to the gym that Icelandic people are not very friendly, but despite the lack of conversation and high-fives, it was a cool atmosphere to experience. I was there to do the work, sweat it out for an hour or so, and feel like a modern day Viking.

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Baked Black Bean Pasta

Typically white rice is my main source of carbs, but that 25 pound bag from Costco can sometimes feel bottomless and my meals monotonous. In search for an alternative, I came across a bag of black bean rotini at Trader Joe’s earlier this month. I decided that a twist on baked ziti would be a great way to put this pasta to the test.

The end result was awesome, probably because of all the sauce and cheese, and it yielded enough servings to feed me for a week’s worth of dinners.

Prep Time: 15-20 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes


  • Black bean rotini pasta (12 oz.)
  • Bolognese sauce (25 oz)
  • Turkey meatballs (16 oz)
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese (8 oz)
  • Finely shredded Parmesan cheese (5 oz)


  1. Prepare the pasta and meatballs according to the directions on the packages.
  2. Chop up the cooked turkey meatballs and then mix together with the drained pasta and bolognese sauce in a large pot or bowl.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  4. Spray a 9×13-inch casserole dish. Pour 1/2 of of the mix and spread out to form the bottom layer. Evenly sprinkle 2/3rds of the shredded mozzarella cheese over it to create a second layer. Then pour the remaining mix and evenly spread out. Finally sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese and all of the Parmesan cheese evenly over the dish to create a top layer.
  5. Bake in oven uncovered for 30 minutes.

The dish yields 6 servings and each serving has the following macros:

Protein Fat Carbs Calories
47.8 25 51.2 621

I got the black bean rotini pasta, bolognese sauce, and frozen turkey meatballs from Trader Joe’s and the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese from Target. The total cost for the entire dish was under $25.00 and so each serving cost approximately $4.00.

You can cut back on the amount of cheese (not sure why you would) to lower the fat content or substitute grilled chicken to get more protein. Either way, this is a cheap and easy meal prep option.

Review: Ninjas United


My nephews are obsessed with America Ninja Warrior, the unique competition series which airs every summer on NBC. When we go to the playground, the monkey bars and balance beams and slides become a ninja warrior training course.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of it all and I now dutifully watch the show each week at home. But just participating from the couch is no fun and so I decided to try out a class at Ninjas United in Edina. The gym opened in July and while it does host birthday parties and summer camps for kids, it also has classes for adults of all ability levels.

My friends (and 2015 Granite Games team members) Nick and Chris joined me, along with Chris’ friend Matt. We attended the 7:30pm class on Wednesday night, which was open to ages 12 and up. Thankfully there were no spry teenagers to put us to shame – maybe it was past their bedtime. Rather there were just two other classmates around our age.

Our coach, Hunter, is one of the local competitive ninja warrior athletes that regulars competes and actively trains year round in this new sport. He led our small group through a warm-up of running in place, wrist and ankle mobility and then hangs and pull-ups on the bar.

The gym has all the homemade makings of the professional course, including the salmon ladder and a climbing wall area. The space is not huge but they have it well set-up, especially for kids parties and other social gatherings.

Over the course of an hour, we worked on the warped wall, rings, rope swing, floating steps and balance. Hunter provided an overview of each element and advice. He is well versed and displayed his amazing athleticism; however, the structure of the class felt disjointed as we would talk about a movement and practice it together and then he would provide free time. More structured instruction would help, but this is a new sport to coach and I imagine some of those kinks will be worked out over time. The other issue was there was an obstacle course racing class going on and so our groups were bumping into each other a bit, which made it feel a bit more precarious.

Hunter did set-up a mini-course for us in which we had to run over a teeter-totter, do rope swings, go up the warped wall and utilize our balance. The gym has a fun scoreboard set-up that they were able to enter all our names and it provides a clock and countdown. They even have a buzzer for you to hit when you are done. I went last among the six of us in class and was able to learn from watching each person run the short course. I ended up coming in first place. We then had Hunter ran to show off his skills and he finished in half of the time as it took the rest of us.

Towards the end of our free time, I attempted the taller warped wall. I missed reaching the top and on the way back down the momentum led to a rather ugly dismount and me rolling my left ankle and falling flat on my face. Unfortunately, my ankle swelled to more than twice its normal size and I’ve been icing it, soaking it in Epsom salt baths and popping Ibuprofen to reduce the inflamation. Thankfully it doesn’t seem sprained or broken as I can walk on it and wiggle my toes.

My ninja warrior career seems short-lived. I might not be coordinated enough to handle the obstacles but it was fun to dive into that world for the night and Ninjas United provides a great playground. I believe with a few bit more time under their belt, the coaching staff will be able to better structure the classes and organize the space.

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