Five Daily Habits

“An unfortunate thing about this world is that the good habits are much easier to give up than the bad ones.” – W. Somerset Maugham

good-habits-bad-habitsMy habits have evolved a great deal over the past 2+ years since starting CrossFit. Much of this is due to the fact that I have learned what I do outside of the gym is just as important as what I do in the gym. While this might be obvious to  most, it was not something I ever gave much thought to.

When I swam competitively in high school, I did very little outside of practice that would benefit me in the pool. No strength and condition work. No ab exercises. No special diet.

And when I lived in Manhattan, I would (sometimes) run on the treadmill after work and immediately afterwards get take-out or go meet friends for pizza and beer. Going to the gym two or three times per week did very little to combat the constant happy hours and greasy food.

The fact is I was never going to run or swim faster without changing my daily habits. Likewise, I cannot expect to improve at CrossFit and properly train for a competition if I do little outside of the gym to help my overall health and wellness.

With that said, here are the five basic habits that I try to keep on a daily basis:

1.) Go to sleep on time. And by on time, I mean ideally at 10pm. According to James B. Maas, author of “Sleep to Win, “Sleep is food for the brain, sleep is fuel for exercise. Sleep is simply not valued in our 24/7 society. We treat it as a luxury and it’s a necessity. If you sleep longer and better, you can be a better athlete overnight.”

2.) Drink lots of water. I am fortunate that I don’t like coffee or soda, so there really is no alternative at the office or at home in terms of what to drink. (And no, I don’t consider wine and beer an alternative.) My default is already water, but I try to make sure I am drinking more than enough to keep properly hydrated.

3.) Stand more at work. I have a corporate job, which means I spend the majority of my work week sitting at my desk or sitting in meetings. But as I am sure you have hear, sitting is the new smoking. Sitting too much increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and death. If I want my body to function well, I need to stretch my legs and stand up.

4.) Make my own lunch. If I make my own lunch, I am going to make healthy choices in terms of my eating. Whereas, if I go buy lunch from the cafeteria at work or somewhere nearby, I am more than likely to let myself off the hook and grab a sandwich with the extra mayo that comes with a bag of chips and treat myself to a big cookie.

5.) Stretch. Of the five, I am the worst about stretching. Thankfully, the coaches at my gym are extremely good at incorporating mobility work into every class. But outside of class, I know I need to being stretching on a daily basis. It helps increase circulation, flexibility and range of motion. There is no reason not to, I just need to make it more of a priority.

These five habits all all easier said than done but I know they will be extremely beneficial in the long run. I’ll explore all of these habits in more detail in the coming weeks.

 # of day until Freeze Fest: 121

I Hate Thrusters

I regularly attend three CrossFit classes per week. I try my best to have the three classes fall during the week and save the weekends for other athletic activities. Given my schedule, which like everyone’s includes a variety of work, family and other social obligations, I cannot cherry-pick workouts. I don’t have the flexibility to skip a day because I don’t like one or two elements of that day’s WOD. Plus, my coaches highly discourage it.

thruckfusters_sqIf I ever did cherry-pick a workout, it would always be to avoid any WOD that involves thrusters. I know hate is a strong word, but I hate them. My loathing for thrusters is comparable to Roger Ebert’s infamous review of the movie North, in which he wrote, “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it….” It goes on for a few more sentences.

The reason all goes back to squats. They have been the bane of my existence since I started CrossFit. All my coaches know that they are my weakness. And thrusters just make squats worse because weight is added to them. At tonight’s class I had to do 100 thrusters as part of the WOD.

Knowing the squat is a weakness,  it will need to be a point of focus in my training. I can almost predict with 100% certainty that thrusters will be part of the workout during Freeze Fest.

I am meeting with my individual coach, Peter, on Friday to go over my goals and review some elements that I need work on. Though I despise them, I know that I have to put thrusters, and thus squats, at the top of the agenda. Yuck!

Today’s Training:

  • EMOM / 8 minutes: 3 L-pullups + 2 Deficit Push-ups + Double-Unders
  • Mobility [ 10 inchworms + Pigeon stretch + squat hold ]
  • 1,000 meter Row + 40,30,20,10 Dumbbell Thrusters @ 20# + Sit-ups + 1,000 meter Row

# of days to Freeze Fest: 122

Starting With Strength

Over the past few months, I have been trying to get bigger and stronger by lifting outside of my regular CrossFit classes. I sought out advice from some of my coaches and fellow gym members, which inadvertently opened the floodgates. While their eagerness to help is appreciated, it turned out to be too much data to process. I was trying to implement too many changes at once and saw little in the way of results.

I recruited my friend Rab to be my lifting buddy and we started with a recommended Power-Muscle-Burn program. We met two mornings a week. The first day was dedicated to chest and biceps and the second to shoulders and triceps. For example, the chest workout, courtesy of Muscle & Strength, consisted of the following:

Exercise Sets Reps
Bench Press – Power 4 3 to 5
Incline Bench Press  – Muscle 2 6 to 12
Dumbbell Bench Press – Muscle 2 6 to 12

While it felt good to get in these extra workouts, I was very weary of the movements, especially the “skull crusher”. Laying down on a bench and lowering a barbell with weights on it to my forehead seems very risky. Both Rab and I have multiple degrees between us and we both value our brains. Neither of us were happy to endanger them.

We reassessed the situation and have decided to focus on the three lifts that make up the CrossFit Total: the back squat, press and deadlift. For the past month, we have been meeting twice per week at 6:45AM and driving over to the local L.A. Fitness, which has the necessary equipment and a low “bro” count in the morning.  One day is back squat and bench press and the other day is press and deadlift.

warmupThe first few weeks we just did a few warm-up sets and then did 5 sets of 5 reps for each movement. This morning, we made a small adjustment and followed the suggested warm-up sets calculated by Starting Strength Warmup, a mobile app. All you have to do to use the app is enter what weight you will be working with for your main sets then all of your warm-up sets are automatically generated. It is based on Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe, which I will discuss in subsequent posts.

Rab and I kept to 5 sets of 5 for our main sets for the bench press and the back squat today. We are now discussing whether to switch to just 3 sets of 5 as advocated by Rippetoe. Whichever we decide, it was a great way to kick-off the week.

The Middle of the Beginning

I believe my journey began on March 21, 2010.  I was in grad school and living overseas in Rome.  I had organized a group of my fellow graduate students to participate in the Roma Fun Run 4K, which coincided with the Rome Marathon.  We gathered early that Sunday morning on campus and happily made our way to the starting line in front of the Coliseum. Thousands of people were there to watch and participate on this chilly but sunny spring day.

Up until that point, fitness was not a big part of my life.  It was something that was purely a secondary thought. My activity level fluctuated over the years and I had really stopped competing in any formal manner back in high school when I was on the swimming team.

But there on the cobbled streets of Rome as we waited for the starting gun, my friend Robin said “Let’s run!” Caught up in the energy and excitement of the day, I said “Yes!” And we did. I wasn’t very fast but I ran through the course, past old churches and ancient relics and brass bands and countless onlookers. When we got to the finish line, I was elated.

Something had changed. My inner-athlete was awakened.

Since then, I took up running and moved back to the United States to find a job and be near family in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I participated in some 5Ks and then, in July 2011, I was introduced to CrossFit.

Over the last 2+ years, I have been an active member at my CrossFit gym. I have done things that I never imagined I was capable of or would have pursued as my younger self. Push-ups, pull-ups, squats and sit-ups became the norm. Weight-lifting now was something I regularly discussed and took part in. And those 5Ks evolved into completing 10Ks and two half-marathons and three Tough Mudders.

Fitness is now a passion and it has changed my outlook on life. I am focused on what I eat, what I drink, how I move and how I sleep. I am constantly seeking out help and advice. And my free-time has gotten me off the couch and into indoor rock-climbing and stand-up paddle boarding and yoga and more.

But now I am at a precipice.

This weekend I watched a group of my coaches and fellow athletes compete in The Granite Games, a three-day CrossFit competition in St. Cloud. It was truly inspiring and amazing to see them put everything on the line and succeed. Secretly, I wanted to be out there with them.

One of my friends at the gym, Alice, was there competing in the women’s team division. Catching-up with her between her events, she told me about Freeze Fest, a one-day co-ed team competition in St. Paul in February. She said that I should participate and be on a team with her in the scaled division.  I said, “Yes!”

And so here I am at 31 years old beginning my training to truly compete. Not just to participate and cross the finish line, but to compete and win.

Over the past few years I have witnessed a complete overhaul in my daily routine and habits, all for the better.  Without hubris, I am in the best shape of my life. But I could be even better. I have lots more to learn and more goals to reach.

In CrossFit, the term “goat” is something you hate doing or suck at, or both. I have never truly put myself in the “ring” in life. I am not overly aggressive and I tend to avoid confrontation. Competing is my “goat” and it’s time to meet it head on.

Let’s begin.