Focus on the Fundamentals

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Feb 18 2015


During the kick off we talked about setting up a “Paleo Framework”, which is very similar to what Andrew talked about on Monday and Tuesday’s posts.

The big system we’re trying to get you to understand is the difference between via negativa (to take away) and via positiva (to add). Lots of folks that join the gym go out and buy new shoes, new workout clothes, etc. While I see this as not necessarily a bad thing because it has a lot to do with tribal identity, which is programmed into us. But where it is bad is that we live in a complex world that we’re not designed for. Constant aerobic stressors (which we talked about during the kick off) are not something we are equipped to deal with, just like we’re not equipped to handle grains, dairy, legumes, and sugar.

So the biggest bang you get for your buck healthwise is not buying supplements or adding volume or drinking kale juice, it is taking things out of your life. As may things as you can handle.

For further reading on this social paradigm, check out Marshal Sahlins’ The Original Affluent Society.

[Originally posted Paleo Challenge “Focus on the Fundamentals”]

Keep Calm and Get Fired Up!

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Feb 17 2015


Love me some Ted Lasso. But the point is that you both need to chill the fuck out about new years resolutions and figure out what motivates you to show up to the gym.

This is a constant puzzle that we try to figure out: how to get people to have fun (and hence keep coming) and how to get them to work hard. Lots of different schools of thoughts on this, but I think a lot of it comes down to the individual. There’s a great piece in the book “From the Horse’s Mouth: Selected Thoughts on Small Unit Leadership” about this very conundrum.

The basic gist is that a Civil War general has three regimental commanding officers, and he knows that to be effective he has to give them each different orders. The first CO has to have everything spelled out to him, and he’ll execute exactly what you want him to do, no more and no less. The second CO hated to be told what to do, he only wanted to be told what the end state needed was and wanted to figure everything else out himself. The third CO had to be told the exact opposite of what the general wanted. The general would frame it something like “Colonel, there’s just no chance that you could take Hill 172 by 1600 on Tuesday, it’s impossible.” The Colonel would then move heaven and earth to prove the general wrong, which is what the general wanted in the first place.

Generally, I think having fun and getting people results is a good start.

Russ Greene had an interesting take on this with respect to a recent T-Nation article:

“Quit trying to make exercise fun” – Dr. John Rusin
“Have fun with it.” – Rich Froning.
Hmmm. To whom to listen?

And I agree, so we try to make class fun, but we also try to tailor the class experience for each individual. I talked about this before in “How To Teach a CrossFit Class.” Our coaches are expected to engage with each client individually and try to address that specific client’s needs on a one-on-one basis. While the group class limits that ability to a degree, with time and commitment on both the coaches’ and athletes’ parts, you should be having fun and seeing progress.

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 150114]

Why the Paleo Challenge?

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Feb 16 2015


While folks seem to enjoy my in-person sales pitch “Sign up for the Paleo Challenge, and you get to give me money”, there’s actually slightly more to it than that.

The number one reason why you should do the Paleo Challenge is that your diet is the single most important factor in your health. Whether you’re sold by the bodybuilding adage of “abs are made in the kitchen” or Hippocrates guidance: “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food”, you’ll benefit from giving the Paleo Diet a real effort for one month.

The second best reason is you’ll figure out if I’m full of shit or not. Let’s face it, part of you wants me to be wrong and you’d love to prove it. So give it a try and then you can tell me how much healthier you were before the Paleo Challenge.

Third I’ll appeal to the foodie in you. Variety is critical in palatability as well as health, and chances are you’re eating some of the same stuff all the time. Come on board for the big win and we’ll show you how to dramatically expand the types of foods you’re eating by focusing on fresh and seasonal foods.

[Originally posted Paleo Challenge “Why the Paleo Challenge?”]

Why Benchmarks

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Feb 13 2015


Our programming over the next year will be giving you an opportunity to see moderate results over a short period of time. The goal of this two fold:

We want to see if more focus on one movement will get you mastery quicker. While this makes sense intuitively, because of the nature of CrossFit and the nature of human performance (e.g., it’s reliance on variance), we’re going to see if it’s true. While focusing on one thing will probably make you better at that one thing, do we lose something by focusing less on variance and overall performance and/or do we increase our incidence of injury because we aren’t getting enough balance in basic human movement. Meaning if you’re really good at pulling, but you suck at pushing, does that imbalance cause more problems than getting you better at pullups and muscle ups creates?

We want to give experienced clients more time to focus on complex movements and new clients a chance to get to a basic level of ability. If we can take an experienced client from two muscle ups to six and get a new client their first Muscle Up, that’s good stuff! Let’s find out of it works! (which it probably will because I don’t do the programming, Maria does, and she’s smarter and better looking than me).

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 150108]

More on the ‘Idea of Fitness’

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Feb 12 2015


“One way to see it is to look at the two gym brands commonly cited as the fastest-growing in America: CrossFit and Planet Fitness. Both are expanding like crazy. CrossFit has gone from having 13 affiliate gyms in 2005 to 10,000 today. And Planet Fitness has more than tripled in size over the past five years.” –”The Rise of the $6000-a-year (or $120-a-year) gym”, New York Mag

Some of you may have seen the recent New York Magazine article comparing the growth of low cost and high cost gyms. What this article does a moderately good job of doing (while relying on sticker shock as well) is to further dismantle the idea that you can get fit with a low cost option.

This is obviously self-serving, but I’m writing on a CrossFit blog as the owner of a CrossFit gym, so yup, I’m biased.

What I tell a lot of my fellow CrossFit gym owner, interested investors and people that will let me hear myself talk is that there are really only two options in the fitness market: products/services that make you fit and products/services that make you think you’ll be fit. I usually just start with a list and ask them: “What do you buy if you want to get fit” and they give me a list like:

-Globo gym membership
-Personal Training
-Fitness DVDs
-Yoga/Spin/Pilates Class

Then I ask them “do you know anybody that’s gotten fit from buying these?” The answer is almost universally NO!!!!

This is analyzed better in a recent NPR’s Planet Money podcast “Why We Sign Up For Gym Memberships But Never Go To The Gym“. This story explicitly and accurately explains the globo gym model:

1) “Gyms have built their business model around us not showing up.” You are our advertising. When you come into work after a 30 day Paleo Challenge or after 2-3 months of CrossFit and you look like you’re wearing your older brother’s hand me down clothes, people ask “what are you doing?!?!?!” and that’s how we get clients. The only way for you to get those results and for us to get more clients if for you to show up.

2) “So gyms try to attract people who won’t come.” We don’t really have a “sales pitch”. The only thing I’ll tell somebody about CrossFit is “I hear it’s good”, that’s my hard sell. We get them in for a free class, we punish them, and if they like it they come back. They know exactly what they’re getting into.

3) “Our brains want to be locked into annual contracts with gyms.” We resisted doing contracts for a very long time, but since most of our members were hanging out for 1+ years, we finally decided to reward them, but still have a month-to-month option, which I encourage most folks to take.

4) “Just when we try to get out, they feed us, massage us and ply us with alcohol.” While we (I) do try to ply you with alcohol at every opportunity, this is more for me to be able to charge the business for my drinking requirements than getting you to stick around (more tequila for me if you leave!!!).

5) “Without slackers like us, gyms would be a lot more expensive.” At our prices and with our flexibility in contracts, there are very few people who are subsidizing the rest. But the whole reason we are “more expensive” than gyms is because we don’t have 10 people paying for a membership for every one person that shows up.

Which brings me back to my opening questions. The reason you’re seeing a rise in CrossFit gyms globally is because most folks are selling you “the idea of fitness” and we’re selling actual fitness.*

*Not the first time I’ve tackled these topics (The Idea of Fitness).

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 150107]

Some Thoughts and Excerpts from 2014’s Book List

Uncategorized | Posted by Brian PCF
Dec 25 2014

2014 was another year of “the plan only survives first enemy contact”, which I take as part of the basic pattern of life and thus ain’t stressing.

Stay Illusion: The Hamlet Doctrine by Critchley and Webster.

My best book BY FAR of 2014. If I had to describe the question that the authors are trying to answer it would be: Can we broaden our understanding of Hamlet through the lens of Nietzsche and Foucalt, not as a academic or pretentious exercice futile, but as a way to expand our understanding of the nature of man.

Some excerpts:

On Love: “As Hegel writes somewhere in a note, love is the most monstrous contradiction. It defies understanding. To love is to give what one does not have and to receive that over which one has no power.

To love is to freely negate the stubborness that is the self and to live in loyalty to an affirmation that can dissolve like morning mist with the first experience of betrayal. To be or not to be – is that the question? Perhaps not. Perhaps love is a negation of the being of my selfish self that binds itself to naught, to little nothings in the hope of receiving back something that exceeds my power, my ability, my willful control, even my finitude.

Love is an admission of the power of powerlessness that cuts through the binary opposition of being and not being. Of course, there are other existential choices on display in Hamlet: Claudius’ world of espionage and brutal political power, Polonius’ foolish scholarship and and mastery of cliche, Gertrude’s conquest of personal satisfaction in the name of survival, Hamlet Junior’s inhibited, suicidal, and chatty nihilism, even Hamlet Senior’s spectral fiction of the existence of great men and kingly nobility.

But we have tried to listen to something else in the distracted globe of Hamlet, words whispered in the wings, some other way of loving.”

On psychoanalysis: “The modesty of analysts is such that they only issue a call. This is what you are! It is not in their power to set any human defect, if there even is such a thing, right. They can only help to bring you toward a gap in yourself, a place of radical loss in the abyss of desire. Give yourself to it.”

Like most great works, and this surely qualifies, you are left with more questions than answers. But one gets the distinct impression that the authors have laid out a treasure map of authors who can both illuminate Hamlet but also receive illumination from the play as well.

The Law, Frederic Bastiat

As much a philosophical treatise as a book on the purest juris prudence, Bastiat’s work is a brief and clearly laid out explanation of the source of the law and it’s application. Both the episteme and the techne.

On the source of law: “It is not because men have made laws, that personality, liberty and property exist. On the contrary, it is because of personality, liberty and property exist beforehand that men make laws. What then is law? As I have said elsewhere, it is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.”

On law in the hands of government, which is especially apt to the (finally recognized) travesty of civil forfeiture: “It has acted in direct opposition to it’s proper end; it has destroyed it’s own object; it has been employed in annihilating that justice which it ought to have established, in effacing amongst Rights, that limit which was its true mission to respect; it has placed the collective force in the service of those who wish to traffic, without risk and without scruple, in the persons, the liberty, and the property of others; it has converted plunder into a right, that it may protect it, and lawful defense into a crime, that it may punish it.”

The Bed of Procrustes, Nassim Nicholas Taleb

To describe my level of man crush on Taleb would circle us right back to Critchley/Webster’s concept of infinite love. I can’t overstate the level of true thinking with which Taleb examines what most would describe as “business” or “economics” or “math”, but which is fundamentally the nature of man.

On Plato: “In twenty-five centuries, no human came along with the brilliance, depth, elegance, wit, and imagination to match Plato – to protect us from his legacy.”

On Wisdom: “It takes a lot of intellect and confidence to to accept what makes sense doesn’t make sense.”

On the “Seven Season”: “At any stage, humans can thirst for money, knowledge, or love; sometimes for two, never for three”

On meditation: “Meditation is a way to be narcissistic without hurting anyone.”

On seeking advice: “When we want to do something while unconsciously certain to fail, we seek advice so we can blame someone else.”

Honorable Mention:

Fairies and Fusiliers, Robert Graves

The child alone a poet is:
Spring and Fairyland are his.
Truth and Reason show but dim,
And all’s poetry with him.

Brave Genius, by Sean Carroll

Sean Carrol qualifies as a “brave genius” to try to tackle this subject. Imagine trying to describe the philosophical and literary merits and personal history of the great Albert Camus along with the Nobel winning chemist Jacques Monod. How they fought together during the French Resistance, became friends, and struggled through their adult lives to balance success, philosophical contradiction, and penser pour penser versus deep thinking for the sake of humanity.

The rest of the list:

I can “recommend” all of these without hesitation. To justly describe them in a blurb is to discredit them.

Aeschylus: Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, Prometheus Bound
Richard III, Shakespeare
The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare
Relativity, Einstein
QED, Feynman
Plutarch’s Lives: Ceaser
Plutarch’s Lives: Brutus
Shakespeare: Julius Ceaser
Shakespeare: Hamlet
Stay Illusion: The Hamlet Doctrine, Critchley & Webster,
Letters of Seneca, Seneca
Ali and Nino, Said
The German Mujahid, Sensal
A Scanner Darkly, Dick
Desolation Island, O’Brian
Genome, Ridley
The Fortune of War, O’Brian
The Surgeon’s Mate, O’Brian
The Ionian Mission, O’Brian
Treason’s Harbor, O’Brian
The Far Side of the World, O’Brian
Henry IV, Part I, Shakespeare
The Reverse of the Medal, O’Brian
The Letter of Marque, O’Brian
The Thirteen Gun Salute, O’Brian
The Nutmeg of Consolation, O’Brian
Plutarch’s Lives, Lycurgus
Iliad, Homer
The Truelove, O’Brian
Guard, Guard, Pratchett

*Note: not many (in fact I think only one) of these books came out in 2014, but that’s when I got around to reading them.

**To see the original 2014 List, click here.

***To see the 2015 list so far, click here.

****If you have suggestions, please post to comments.

Training Through Injury

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Nov 18 2014


I’ve trained a lot of folks that have been injured and admittedly it’s challenging for me as a coach, but much harder for the athlete. The thing that I think is most important in keeping folks training in general is seeing tangible progress and being a part of the group. Without this anyone would get discouraged.

Our training is geared for progress for the able bodied athlete. When you’re injured, that structure gets replaced by something that’s effective, but not in the same way for everyone. For instance, if you have an upper body injury that keeps you from pushing and pulling, your structure is going to be built on much more lower body training (I get it, these are keen insights…..).

I’ve created and executed a ton of training templates for folks with injuries and seen tons of progress in terms of both healing the affected body part(s) and in building strength/endurance in the healthy body parts. But folks don’t want that, myself included. We want to be doing the same thing as everyone else and doing it well, seeing improvement. It’s tough to come to the WOD classes and do something different.

So if you’re injured and getting discouraged you have two options:
1) Suck it up, #justshowup, and do what I tell you. You’ll get healthy and you’ll still see improvement, just not the same as everyone else.
2) Sign up for personal training. This way we can create an independent structure for you that will show you tangible progress in what you need specifically.
3) Take a break and see a professional. Our in house chiro, Dr. Jordan or massage therapist Dave Marsh are here to help!

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 141113]

Paleo Challenge Wrap Up

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Nov 06 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 10.58.27 AM

As many of you know, our Fall Paleo Challenge just ended. Congrats to the Paleo Challenge Powe Couple/Winners: Garrett R. and Karen S. They both crushed it.

If you don’t know how we Run the Paleo Challenge, it’s mostly a performance based competition. We rank you on an initial three WODs, your improvement in three WODs, and your before and after photos. Whoever has the best rank combined on all three categories is the winner.

So you have to do well initially, improve, and show some increase in lean body mass (LBM). So as you can see above from Garrett’s photos, he saw a big difference in his LBM. What’s very interesting to me comparing scores within the Paleo Challenge (which you can see here) is that Garrett and Karen went about winning the Paleo Challenge differently. Garrett was first place overall in the initial WOD, and still managed 7th in improvement. So while he did really well initially, he still made a big improvement in four weeks.

Karen was 4th in the initial WODs, and 6th in her improvement. She crushed the photos though (which I’m still harassing her to let me share :)) and that put her over the top.

We tell our athletes in Class 1 of Foundations: “Focus on performance, and aesthetics will come”. We think the Paleo Challenge does a fairly good job of reinforcing this.

We only do these Paleo Challenges 2x/year. If you’re interested in getting started with Paleo sooner, you can check out our quick start guides here or email for info on our Nutritional Consultations.

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 141009]

Elite Alcohol Fueled Performance: Part II

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Nov 05 2014


Last week we talked about the basics of why you shouldn’t drink and alluded to why you should via pop-science and 11th Century Persian poetry (PS. If you haven’t read Khayyam, you’re missing out!). This week I want to talk about how you should go about drinking:

1) Drink with people you like. We are, like ants, bees, wasps and wolves, a pack species.
2) Drink clear liquor, brown liquor and/or wine. Skip the beer, gluten is bad. Vodka fucks you up just as good.
3) Drink during the day. Eat a big meal after, then go to sleep!

Follow these simple rules of thumb and you can get all the benefits of drinking without as many negative effects. And as always, if you need more help, I’m available for personal training at either Potomac CrossFit or Clarendon Ballroom.

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 141002]

Elite Alcohol Fueled Performance: Part I

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Nov 04 2014


There are a plenty of athletes in the gym that are very high performers, very strict Paleo eaters, and very admirable drunks. While I only meet two of those three criteria, I’ve still seen a lot of performance increases over my last eight years of CrossFit and living in Arlington, the day drinking capital of the world.

My advice to my nutritional consulting clients and my Paleo Challengers is simple and ripped off from Robb Wolf: “Drink as little as possible to maximize performance, and as much as necessary to maximize your sex life.”

“BUT HOW MUCH CAN I REALLY DRINK BRIAN?!?!?!?” is the question I often get. Well let’s look at why you should minimize first:

  • Alcohol blunts protein synthesis. Alcohol in your bloodstream will decrease the amount of amino acids your body can use to form complete proteins which grow and repair muscle tissue.
  • Alcohol decreases your energy levels by dehydrating you. Because alcohol is a diuretic, it will expel water from your body that’s necessary in the creating of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a key chemical compound in Kreb’s/Citric Acid Cycle, which is how the body uses food for energy.

There are plenty of other reasons to skip or reduce alcohol consumption (and there’s a longer rundown from Bill Imbo here), but hopefully that’s scared you a little bit.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m with Malcolm Gladwell and Omar Khayyam on the wonderful relationship between man and booze, but we need to look at the why and how to make half way decent non-Fireball based decisions. Next week we’ll discuss the question of “how much” and “how to”. Until then either cloister thyself or enjoy drinking prior to eating the fruit of knowledge.

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140925]