Archive for August, 2014

Basic Play into WODs

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 14 2014


Playing Music and CrossFit: One of my absolute favorite essays on education is “Lockhart’s Lament” about how bad the current public and (most) private school systems teach math. The gist is that you couldn’t really design a worse curriculum to get kids to learn and get excited about learning math. Lockhart asks us to imagine if we taught music like we teach math: learn the notes in elementary school, the scales in middle school, and organizing music notation into musical pieces in high school. Maybe by college you’d get to pick up a recorder and actually hear and play music!

We try to teach you CrossFit similar to how kids play learn music. We give you some basics to play with (the squat, the Deadlift, the Pushup, etc). We then let you play, i.e., we have you do our WODs. We give you some instruction, but we want you to actively work on the movements by practicing and having fun doing it. For some people it’s hard to do CrossFit this way. Everything is about answering a question with one right answer and/or getting a grade. While we do compare your abilities using time and load, just like in music some folks are going to be better at some things than others, but everybody’s got their strengths and weaknesses.

So have fun playing and learning to play CrossFit, and don’t focus too much on your “grade” or always getting the right answer.

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140428]

Pay Yourself First

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 13 2014

Investing in CrossFit: We’ve talked about looking at CrossFit in terms of return on investment. You invest time, effort and money, you get health in return. A similar facet of this is just describing your health and fitness in terms of savings. A great way to look at savings is “pay yourself first” and I’m a big proponent of this.

If you keep socking away a little bit of cash here and a little cash there than sooner or later you’re sitting on a pretty good stash. Let’s say that’s $100/month. If you do that every month like clockwork for a year you’re sitting on $1200. Now some folks really get on their own case if they miss a day here or miss a day there. But you have to look at the aggregate. If you miss one month of savings, you’ve only cut out 8.4% ($100/$1200) of what you’re investment would have been.

We want you to come as much as possible and we’ve set up our payment structure to reward those that come more often (per class fee for an unlimited membership with a 12 month contract is our cheapest option). But if you have to miss a class or two, or you have to take a vacation, travel for work, or are out sick, that’s not the worst thing in the world. If you keep coming in, you keep socking away your investment in your health.

Don’t just give up if you have a bad week or a bad month. Just keep coming in and keep investing in your fitness and you’ll see that gangsta roll getting bigger and bigger.


[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140422]

Health and Longevity

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 12 2014


“Don’t talk about ‘progress’ in terms of longevity, safety, or comfort before comparing zoo animals to those in the wilderness.” -Taleb

This is the most succinct explanation of the Paleo/CrossFit model that I’ve seen. I have been putting statistics on zoo animals in my Paleo Challenge briefs for a while now because they are staggering. For instance wild Asian elephants live for THREE TIMES LONGER than their relatives in zoos.

By inhibiting animals natural freedom and hence their natural instincts, activities and diet, no zoo animal can be called as healthy as their wild counterparts. We try to recreate some of our more “natural” conditions within Potomac CrossFit. We eat the way we’re designed to eat, we change our physical stimulus frequently, and we are all a part of a pack to one degree or another. But we’re definitely not as healthy as our hunter/gatherer ancestors in terms of the type of chronic disorders that are killing the majority of the western population.

I like to just keep this in mind the next time I sit in front of a computer for several hours at a stretch and meditate on how to eliminate the stuff that’s causing my slow march towards a non-infectious disease driven death. Standing desk is on the list, what’s on yours?


[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140408]

Shaping Systems

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 11 2014


“Scientific reasoning is a kind of dialogue between the possible and the actual, between what might be and what in fact is the case.” -Peter Medaware, Nobel Laureate (1960), “Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought”

Probably the most interesting thing for me and training people in CrossFit is the process that goes into shaping systems (both programming, coaching, and business) and determining how closely our predictions match with the results.

The most fascinating (and potentially most fragile) is the role of what could generally be called “creativity”. While these systems have all been molded by an evolutionary process as we make subtle shifts in how we coach, run classes, program, etc, there are also “eureka moments” when things come together in such a way to make significant improvements. Examples of these would include our strength training periodization, gymnastic strength EMOTMs, Paleo Diet adoption, or even our Free Class -> Foundations -> Membership pipeline. Almost nobody in CrossFit was doing any of these things when we decided to give them a try (in the case of EMOTMs, literally nobody

As we come to the end of our first year in Potomac 2.0 (and our sixth year in business) it’s interesting to think about what would have happened if we hadn’t done these things and to try to predict what the next big things will come about in our next six years in business. Any ideas?


[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140407]

Am I Wrong?

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 08 2014


“Just so we’re clear, either people want to do 5/3/1, or they don’t. I really want to help people, but if they won’t take my advice there’s nothing I can do. That’s fine by me. I don’t fight the battles. I just don’t fucking care.” -Jim Wendler

There’s definitely been an evolution in my approach as a coach in terms of getting athletes to “buy in” to our methodology. At first, because we were so far outside of common fitness practices there was a lot of debating, haranguing, etc. Now after doing this for close to six years and having our model tested again and again and come out with similar astonishing results, I’ve definitely shifted my focus to helping those that want to be helped and not wasting my time with folks that want to pick a fight or score debate points.

While having a Talmudic discussion on resistant starch or soaking lentils can be informative to both sides, at the end of the day the baseline model of Paleo + CrossFit is what 99% of folks need. If you want to tell me I’m wrong, the easiest way to do that is to try what I’m telling you to do, then compare it with what you want to do. Whichever model comes out with the most profoundly accurate, measurable and repeatable results is the best. But arguing about it is a pretty big waste of time as there are a lot of people that want to get fitter and need the fundamentals of Paleo + CrossFit explained and reinforced to get there, and that’s my core business.


[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140401]

Sticking to What Works

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 07 2014


“The person you are most afraid to contradict is yourself.” -Taleb

One of the most difficult things to face as an athlete or a coach is the fact that you were wrong about something. This can be broad in scope or very specific. For example, I’ve had many athletes fear a high fat diet. They refused to even try a diet high in fats, especially animal fat, and hence had to replace those calories they should be getting from fat with refined carbohydrate, leading to increased body fat. Even though this approach has never shown them any benefits, they are committed to it and don’t see nearly the same improvement from CrossFit as they would with a high fat diet.

It was also very difficult for us to fully embrace this concept as coaches. We followed the dictums of CrossFit HQ for our first several years and prescribed the Zone Diet to many of our athletes. After watching that diet never work for anyone ever, it became obvious we needed a new approach, but we were slow to try adopt the Paleo Diet in it’s stead.

We like to think that we are a nimble and rapidly adaptable gym. If something repeatedly works on a small scale (Paleo, gymnastic EMOTMs, etc) we test it on a broad scale and see if it continues to work. If something doesn’t work (Zone Diet, etc) we drop it.

What were some concepts you were wedded to before you started CrossFit? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back for you?


[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140331]

Return on Investment

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 06 2014


Sometimes it’s difficult to get across the idea of “Return on Investment” when it comes to CrossFit. When it comes to financial investments, folks look at percentages and an easy to quantify input and output. With CrossFit, it’s hard to exactly describe in terms of quality or quantity. I can qualify it easily, but fairly generally. I can say things like “you’ll look, feel and perform better.” Quantifiably, I can tell you that a lot of your bioindicators of health will improve: BMI, resting heart rate, VO2 Max, etc.

But I don’t think that these are things that are really easy to break down like financial return on investment. The thing that is a fundamental part of our doctrine in CrossFit, and is easily measurable is “increased work capacity over broad time and modal domains”, but nobody understands that out of the gate.

That’s why I think we rely mainly on word of mouth to get new members. You know what your friends are going to respond to. If you tell them you’re going to lose weight/improve your cardio or strength/get non-stop Britney Spears in the morning classes, then it’s what you think they are going to respond to. So however you think you can get folks in here is the best way to explain CrossFit.


[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140325]

Get Up!

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 05 2014


I often discuss CrossFit with those over 40 as similar to quitting smoking. The metaphor is apt because while most of the folks over 40 don’t smoke, they have been doing two things that severely damage their ability to CrossFit for a long time. Like smoking, it takes a long time to fully recover (if ever) from these issues:

First, they’ve been sitting down a lot. Sitting is the second worst thing on earth for your mobility. The two biggest things we see with new CrossFitters (this is true for those that are a little older, but I also see this for folks whose job requires/required abnormal amounts of time sitting over books or a computer, i.e., law school, medicine, computer software, etc). Their shoulders are significantly stooped forward and their hip flexors are super tight. If you look at how you sit at a desk, you’ll see why.

The worst thing for mobility is folks that have spent a great deal of time jogging. If you’ve been cranking out the mileage (and sitting exacerbates this) you probably have severely limited range of motion in your hips and very little upper body strength.

This is all exacerbated by aging. Now whether it’s decrease in testosterone or telomere length as the main cause, I have no idea. But a few things you can do when you are either starting CrossFit over 40 or trying to improve:

1) Sleep a lot, as much as you can get based on keeping your significant other happy and keeping your job.
2) Don’t sit. If you have to do computer work, look at trying a standing desk.
3) Eat Paleo. Duh!
4) Moderate your intensity, up your frequency. Come train as often as you can, and dial back the intensity of your workouts so you can come more. As far as being sore: everybody’s sore! Don’t let soreness stop you from coming in.

Any other tips from my over 40 crew? Anybody tried a standing desk?


[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140324]

Training within the Middle Curve

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 04 2014


Qualitative exertion level is a tough thing to measure, but it’s really what limits our maximum ability. There is a great deal of pain at the very edge of your ability. I don’t really think of “pushing through” as a good way to describe what you do there, it’s more like “hanging out.” There’s an old aphorism in CrossFit: “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” I think for the top end athlete that that’s where you have to spend a great deal of time.

However, for 99% of the athletes at our gym, I don’t think that’s a place you have to go to that often. There’s going to be some workouts that put you outside of your comfort zone, but what I’ve seen by and large is if you take all the athletes and plot out their total number versus fitness on a graph, you get a gaussian type curve.

The middle 80% of this curve need to show up as often as is possible and generally keep doing what they’re doing, which is making steady improvement, eating Paleo, and doing what their coaches tell them. The top 10% needs to take a day off some of the time and not worry about CrossFit so much. The bottom 10% could push out of their comfort zone a bit more often, but not necessarily in the pain theshhold sense, more in the “yes, you can jump on a 16-inch box” sense.

Do you all think that suffering pain during training is as important as showing up frequently and staying healthy?

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140318]


Broadly “Fit”

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 01 2014


“There are ten recognized general physical skills. They are cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. You are as fit as you are competent in each of these ten skills.” –What is Fitness, CrossFit Journal

This is from the first “Standard of Fitness” from CrossFit early days. What does it mean to you? Not much these days. The type of athlete we see has changed a lot in our almost six years of business. Initially, we had a much greater imbalance of these skills in our new athletes. People came from either an endurance background, a “back and bi’s/chest and tri’s background”, or a yoga/jogging background. Most didn’t have any type of broad physical skills, except those who did a really good job picking their parents.

One way that I think shows anecdotally how much CrossFit has changed the world of fitness is that our newer athletes are many times more broadly “fit” by this definition. They either did CrossFit on their own, had a personal trainer that used CrossFit, or were in group classes where they were doing CrossFit and just didn’t know it.

You all see the new athletes that come in, do you think the newer ones are more broadly fit in general?


[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140225]