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.
For almost the past three months I have been working with Emily Field, a registered dietitian, and we have been focused on body composition, while at the same time fueling for performance.
From the beginning, Emily has prescribed daily macros (protein, fat, carbs). I was under-eating relative to my level of physical activity and so we started off just at 125 grams of protein, 60 grams of fat and 175 grams of carbs (1,750 calories).
Those numbers have been strategically increased every two weeks or so as my adapts to the larger caloric intake and metabolism has kicked into high gear. Now, my prescribed daily macros on active days is 200 grams of protein, 140 grams of fat and 250 grams of carbs (3,060 calories).
So what does 3,000 calories look like? Most would assume that is a easy number to hit courtesy of a few Big Macs and some Oreos. But the method behind the madness is that I am getting to the 3,000 calories by adhering to the specific ratio of protein, fat and carbs that Emily has assigned.
I’ll walk you through what I ate yesterday to provide illustration of how I hit my macros. Admittedly it is a bit short on greens and that can be improved. (I’ll note that Emily does not “count” non-starch vegetables to the daily macros, which means I could eat baby spinach to my heart’s content, but that just adds to the pile of food I am already consuming.) I welcome any comments and advice on recipes, alternative ideas or other useful tips.
Cheddar Cheese (1/4 cup)
Rice (1/2 dry cup)
Olive oil (2 tbsp)
Chicken sausage (2)
Chocolate milk (1 cup)
Outside of the chocolate milk, all these other items get mixed into a big breakfast bowl of goodness. I have a Lekue Microwave Rice & Grain Cooker that cooks the rice in 12 minutes. I then mix in the olive oil, cheddar cheese, two fried eggs and cut up chicken sausages. This post-workout bowl is my go-to. I stated adding the olive oil last week to up my fat intake and the protein just rotates between chicken sausages and bacon.
Grilled Chicken Burger
A trip through the sky-way in downtown Minneapolis takes me to MyBurger, a recent staple once I discovered this grilled chicken burger. It is not award-winning but it offers a large, well cooked piece of chicken. The coleslaw as a side is a nice alternative to ordering fries. I should note that I don’t put any mayo, ketchup or mustard on my burger. While this sounds boring, it is tasty enough thanks to the cheese, lettuce and tomato. Ideally I would pack my lunch but when I fall short on my meal prep this definitely hits the spot.
While I have a shaker in the picture to provide a sense of scale for this whopping scoop, I actually bring my ProGainer in a mason jar – better known as my “hipster shaker” (joke courtesy of a fellow Jeremy) – to work. It is the larget “cup” with a lid that I have that will fit both the whey and the water and leave room to shake. My coworker thinks it is hysterical. It is definitely not subtle but it has greatly helped me hit my prescribed protein and carbs. Previously, I was only having 3 big meals per day so this has also helped spread the love and feel more satiated.
Salame (2 oz)
Chicken breast (5.6 oz)
Mozarella (1/4 cup)
Brocolli slaw (1 cup)
Olive oil (1 tbsp)
Dinner is a typically a smorgasboard of various items in my refrigerator and involves grazing for an hour or two as I try to hit my macros. Again, the 3,000 calories is based on a specific ratio of protein to fat to carbs. I am tracking macros first and foremost. I am able to calculate my calories but I never have them in mind when I select what to eat. Rather, I am focused on whether each thing I eat gets me to my daily goal of protein, fats and carbs.
I prefer my plate be filled with clean simple ingredients instead of overly processed foods, but some days there are exceptions. I can’t live like a monk and simply exist on white rice and chicken. Some days I have a glass of red wine or a beer or a few cookies. However, I look at what I am eating the majority of the time and whether those are good choices.
The final tally is pretty dead on to my goal. Not all days are perfect, but consistency is key and the results are revealing themselves each week when I look in the mirror.
It’s 5:15 in the morning and I am my CrossFit gym for the first class of the day. As part of the workout we are all trying to establish a 1-rep max clean and jerk. Inevitably, as everyone is starting to throw weights on their bars, I am scanning the room to see how much. I’m ignoring their age, height, weight and countless other characteristics that distinguish them from me and making a superficial comparison. I take a deep breathe and remember to focus on myself and my own bar.
In the gym, especially in a group class setting like CrossFit, it is hard not to compare yourself to others, whether it be how much weight someone lifts, how many pull-ups they do in a row, or how many abs they have on display. Yet our tendency to make comparisons don’t cease when we leave the gym. We find ourselves examining every aspect of our lives, especially thanks to the more transparent world we live in via the internet and social media. Whether on purpose or not, we find ourselves comparing our lives to others via what they post on Facebook and Instagram. Vacations, parties, even lunches, are all ripe for envy when they are so accessible and in our face.
Over the last few months as I have focused heavily on my diet and nutrition, tracking macros and body metrics, I have learned that the best comparison is me to myself. It is not a revolutionary philosophy nor do I feel I am suddenly enlightened, but I have started to acknowledge that the comparisons to others are futile and undermine my own progress.
“A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it, it just blooms.” – Zen Shiu
Recently I recommitted to doing a daily online Yin stretching program called ROMWOD. Each day there is a 20-minute video of 1-2 athletes doing the routine for you to follow along to. Some of the athletes are extremely flexible and have a wide range of motion. For example, in a seated forward fold their nose is touching their knees. Mine is far from it. However, I appreciate that the instructor emphasizes to not compare yourself to the people in the videos. They are where they are supposed to be for their bodies and you are where you are for yours. This mindset is echoed in yoga.
If I constantly compare is will lead to a world of disappointment. “The grass is always greener on somebody else’s front lawn. Somebody else’s weiner always has a lot more relish on.” The fact is there will always be people smarter, faster, stronger, younger, skinnier who make more money, more friends and have more Instagram likes. Dwelling on those adjectives and those “more than” and “less than” me thoughts will create a negative mindset. It undermines my own progress and success. I need to focus on the before versus after, rather than the him versus me.
“Comparison is the death of joy.” – Mark Twain
In that vain, I am not going to stop looking around the room, but rather than looking for comparisons I’ll be looking for inspiration. Who can I learn from? Who can motivate me to do better? Who has aced their meal prep or improved their mobility?
With that in mind, here are some people of late who inspire me:
Dan Wells, a 42-year old dad in the best shape of his life
Here I am on the day of my 34th birthday, sitting quietly in my kitchen post 5:15am workout, eating some bacon and eggs and reflecting upon the year that passed and the year ahead. The last 365 days have flown by, as time always seems to do, but yet were the most challenging to date both in my personal life and professional career.
The responsibilities at work have grown immensely and the expectations are higher than ever. Everyday I am tasked with being bold, aggressive and creative; and, at the same time, organized, diligent and transparent. My modus operandus is no longer able to be blanketed in a spirit of newness and learning. Mistakes happen but they are tolerated less and less and are more costly as I lead projects. While there is so much to improve on, I need to operate everyday with the confidence in my abilities.
The past year in regards to the gym was one of transition as I started at CrossFit Kingfield and introduced a whole new group of coaches into my pursuit of health and wellness. I went from pushing myself to compete to pushing myself to embrace the routine and seek transformation through my daily habits. This continues to get refined, especially as I am now working with a dietitian and rigorous about going to class Monday through Friday mornings and pushing myself to fully embrace an active lifestyle even on my rest days. I have to be patient and trust in the methodology and know that the desired physical changes will come.
Outside of work and the gym, I am hyper aware of my relationships, both social and romantic. With all this focus on myself, I have to push to keep looking outward and not to be shy or embarrassed about my personal pursuits. The friends that I want to surround myself with support my growth. And so too will the right partner. There is no point in hiding my passion for personal betterment, rather I need to find those who engage in a similar journey and who are willing to grow together.
All this boils down to the fact that on the start of my 34th year, I believe in myself. As Stuart Smalley would say, I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!” Last year on my birthday I challenged myself to think bigger. This year, I want to act on those thoughts. I have the support and resources I need thanks to my work team, family, friends and coaches.
I am reminded of a scene towards the end of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Finch, the main character, has moved quickly up the corporate ladder from his lowly start as a window cleaner. He is now preparing to present his big idea to the boss, but all the other corporate underlings are plotting against him. Finch gives himself a pep talk that reflects his success throughout the movie – a strong belief in himself. Contrary to what you may assume, I don’t start my days staring into the mirror playing the Rocky theme and spitting out cliches to psyche myself for the day ahead. But more than ever, I tell myself, “I believe in you.”
Now there you are; Yes, there’s that face, That face that somehow I trust. It may embarrass you to hear me say it, But say it I must, say it I must: You have the cool, clear Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth; Yet there’s that upturned chin And that grin of impetuous youth. Oh, I believe in you. I believe in you.
I hear the sound of good, solid judgment Whenever you talk; Yet there’s the bold, brave spring of the tiger That quickens your walk. Oh, I believe in you. I believe in you.
And when my faith in my fellow man All but falls apart, I’ve but to feel your hand grasping mine And I take heart; I take heart
To see the cool, clear Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth; Yet, with the slam-bang tang Reminiscent of gin and vermouth. Oh, I believe in you. I believe in you.
I met Danny Yeager, owner and coach at CrossFit Kingfield, just about a year ago. I was trying out various gyms and doing my own thing at Los Campeones and did a free class at Kingfield. As we spoke afterwards, I was struck by his sincere passion for helping people achieve a level of fitness that is sustainable to keep them healthy and moving throughout their life. Danny is known for his lion’s mane of hair and love for Star Wars, but in this interview we get to discuss his philosophy about coaching and wellness.
MMG: When did you start doing CrossFit? What about it sustains your interest and enjoyment?
YEAGER: I found CrossFit I think around the summer of 2005. I was working out at the Colorado Athletic Club and a guy I knew there said he was doing this thing called CrossFit. He was opening CrossFit Denver soon and wanted to know if I wanted to join him. His workout was wall balls and ring dips and I thought to myself, “That’s stupid. I know that’s not going to make my biceps bigger.” So I went back to curling because I wanted bigger arms. Fast forward 11 years and look where I am. Doing CrossFit. For me I always remember that story and think back on it frequently because it reminds me that if my first reaction to something (which it generally is) is negative or dismissive, it would behoove me to take some time figuring out exactly why I think something is stupid, and see if I can have an open mind about something.
When you ask me what sustains my interest this is a bit of a loaded answer. First I am a coach. That is what I love to do. I am passionate about helping people develop a lifestyle that will help them live and move better. Currently I have spent the last 18 months creating/collaborating/developing a space in which people can pursue health and fitness. It has been an arduous process but 100% worth it. So to answer your question, this is what drives me and motivates me everyday.
However, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was some intrinsic personal motivation as well. CrossFit for me is very therapeutic. I enjoy pain. It is inevitable when it comes to CrossFit, but I truly believe it is how we deal with that pain that shapes who we are as human beings.
MMG: What motivated you to become a coach?
YEAGER: The people I work with motivate me. I am not motivated in watching other people workout because I believe we can all get to a place of greatness if we work hard enough and sacrifice enough.
My true heroes are the people who show up at Kingfield even after a hard day and bring light and enjoyment to everyone around them. And to be clear, that doesn’t mean being super fluffy and giddy just because. Fuck that. If you have had a hard day and just want to workout with a few familiar faces, but are still capable of encouraging people around you with a silent fist bump and nod of recognition, you are a badass in my book.
MMG: What has been a personal highlight for you as coach over the years?
YEAGER: Hmm. I can’t name a singular moment. I can say that the relationship I have developed with everyone here as well as the overall growth of Kingfield as a community has been a huge highlight for me. Watching our coaches grow up and create their own identities within our gym has been very satisfying. I have always said that no one remembers who won regionals last year, but they will remember if you are an asshole or not.
MMG: When did you decide to make the leap and own your own gym? What was the deciding factor?
YEAGER: Man that was a while ago. I remember staring to write a business plan in early 2011. I knew I wanted to create a place where people actually got fit and didn’t have to pay upwards of $400 a month to workout regularly. I tried to open an affiliate at the Calhoun Beach Club where Willis and I worked. They decided it was not a good idea so Willis and I decided to go out on our own. I remember coming home one day in the summer of 2011 and Amanda decided she was going to give her two weeks notice. It was at that point I thought to myself, “Holy shit. I guess I better stop messing around and actually do this because otherwise we will be on the Top Ramen and Party Pizza diet real soon!”
MMG: What is the tone and atmosphere that you are working to create among the coaches and athletes at Kingfield?
YEAGER: Great question. I answered this question long before we affiliated. I knew that I wanted coaches who were top notch at what they do, but also were not afraid to make mistakes. That part was crucial. If someone is terrified of failing, they won’t make it. You have to be willing to ask for help when needed, seek answers when they are not readily available, but also believe in yourself enough to grow and try new things.
The greatest line I ever heard from a coach was from Mike Burgner when he said, “I wake up everyday with the same mindset. In the morning I say to myself, if I’m not ready, at the age of 65, to change everything I know about coaching for a better and more efficient way of teaching my athletes, then I should no longer be a coach.” That has always resonated with me because it stresses the true importance of coaching – the athlete.
So I have taken that into the tone of the gym and the community. At Kingfield I would say that we are not interested in claiming the accomplishments of others. When you succeed, that success is yours because you did it. The process or journey in which you took to get there is yours. We don’t give a shit about accolades. As coaches we know that if we continue to do what we do, provide an inclusive community in which we only ask that you show up, we will accomplish more than we ever thought we could. And it will happen because we did it together.
MMG: Who do you look towards for coaching and mentorship?
YEAGER: I look for people who challenge me. My wife does this everyday, but our marriage is something that requires me to constantly work on improving myself and how I communicate.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise when I say that I think I’m pretty awesome. I would say that I use to think that success was found by forcing your ideals, opinions or methods on others, while at the same time making it known we are better than others. Well low and behold, I have learned the hard way that living with that kind of mentality doesn’t lend itself to any sort of calm or peace.
So my mentors are people who lead by example. They are vocal for sure, but also patient. As I get older I realize that you can’t be a complete asshole all the time. People are not attracted to that. So I need people in my life that are willing to understand that at times I need to think I’m right, but will eventually realize there is probably an easier, softer way. Amanda always says more is not better. Better is better.
MMG: What’s the best piece of advice you have received as an athlete?
YEAGER: Know your limits and accept them. Because when you know what you are not capable of, you know exactly what you are capable of. That allows for growth and consistency, which is the true secret to training – consistent, slow growth.
MMG: What does a typical week of training look like for you?
YEAGER: My weeks are pretty crazy as to be expected. I don’t have a specific set number of workouts I have to hit each week. I have a coach who does my programming, and he has a general rule that I should workout when my body is ready too. Typically that is anywhere from 58 sessions a week.
In terms of type of workouts, I have been spending the better part of the last year working on my imbalances. I have been carrying heavy things a lot more, spending time on quality movement rather than quantity, and working on being more well rounded in my training.
MMG: How does diet and nutrition factor into all your training? Do you follow any plans or have any rules that you follow in terms of eating and drinking?
YEAGER: Well recently I have had a bit of a scattered schedule, but I always train 5 days a week, probably 7 to 9 sessions per week. I have a coach who programs for me, but I also add some things I want to do or work on. In terms of eating and drinking, I feel like it is important to spend around 8 months a year on a plan and 4 months trying to cut yourself some slack.
Next week I start working with Emily, so I am sure that will be more structured than my current plan.
MMG: What other factors are important to you in your overall physical and mental wellness?
YEAGER: I always try and stress to people that we are just working out. CrossFit does not define who I am. If CrossFit were to go away tomorrow, I would still know at my core who I am as a person and a man.
MMG: You often talk about the importance of CrossFit for its focus on functional fitness and how it helps us move outside the gym. Earlier this year you went on what looked like an amazing trip with Amanda to Hawaii. How did your time in the gym enhance your trip?
YEAGER: It was very useful. There wasn’t anything I didn’t feel like I couldn’t do. More than anything, we develop a lifestyle in the gym, and if anyone has gone on vacation since starting at Kingfield, they realize that their decisions day to day are influenced by what they want to accomplish in the gym. I would say that is what I notice enhanced our trip the most.
MMG: Amanda is not only your wife, but also your workout partner and coworker. How has that relationship contributed to your success as a coach and business owner?
YEAGER: Well, we communicate very well with one another. I try and tell her that I’m not always wrong, but most of the time she is right. Damnit! But in all reality we are very lucky to be able to see each other as much as we do. Truthfully we don’t get much time together ever. We are usually surrounded by people or have very busy days. So we make sure to do things like walk the dog together, go out and eat, or just spend time not thinking about power cleans.
MMG: I usually don’t do this, but I appreciate your “nerd” spirit and wanted to do a short rapid fire. Who is your favorite superhero?
YEAGER: Raphael, red Ninja Turtle.
MMG: Name one superhero power that you wish you had.
YEAGER: I wouldn’t mind being Captain America.
MMG: DC or Marvel?
MMG: Favorite Star Wars character?
MMG: Who shot first – Han Solo or Greedo?
YEAGER: Han Solo.
MMG: Favorite video game?
YEAGER: Nintendo - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2; Super Nintendo – NBA Jam; Nintendo 64 - Tony Hawk/Wayne Gretzky NHL Ice/Goldeneye/Diddy Kong Racing; PS2 - Tony Hawk 4/Killzone; and PS3 - Uncharted 2.
MMG: Nintendo or Playstation?
MMG: Super Mario Brothers or Legend of Zelda?
YEAGER: Super Mario Brothers.
MMG: Favorite action movie?
YEAGER: Bad Boys 2.
MMG: Van Damme or Segal?
YEAGER: Van Damme, especially in Street Fighter. He makes everyone want to follow him and go up river. YouTube if you don’t know. You’re welcome.
MMG: How do you define strong?
YEAGER: I have said this many times before, but strong to me is how you show up. It is how you approach things mentally. Can use use failure to motivate you, or do you let it keep you down? Strong is the ability to do something that you don’t think you can do, or you don’t want to do, but you show up anyway and give it hell.
MMG: What is your favorite lift, movement or WOD?
YEAGER: Handstand push ups and power cleans.
MMG: Finally, what is your goat?
YEAGER: My lungs. If I am stopping or slowing down in a workout it is usually because I can’t breathe.