Tag Archives: training

What CrossFit Masters Athletes wish CrossFit Trainers knew.

Crossfit masters athletes are a growing part of crossfit communities, crossfit boxes and client bases.  Many Masters Athletes have felt ignored or that our unique experiences, injuries and needs are misunderstood by crossfit trainers who have had little knowledge about working with our age group.  Accordingly many are seeking community, support and advice from their peers on Crossfit Masters webpages and facebook groups.  The Crossfit Masters group CFMasters now has over 7,000 members from around the world.  Other groups,that support primarily Crossfit Masters women or masters within a specific age class are also popping up.  Many group members have questions that are masters specific:

  • How long does it take masters to recover from _______ (add type of injury here)?
  • How are other masters dealing with insomnia, or muscle soreness, or flexibility problems?
  • Do masters athletes have specific nutritional needs?
  • What can I do to get faster, stronger, leaner etc.?
  • How are hormonal shifts impacting my performance?

Masters crossfit athletes, masters athletes in general and the need for more research

crossfit masters athlete John Mariotti
Crossfit Masters Athlete John Mariotti trains for the crossfit games

The explosion of interest in participation in Masters Sports and Athletics is quite recent.  The pace of research to address masters athletes needs is just warming up.  Or possibly still parked in the driveway.  Most of the research available to us has focused on health and functionality among the elderly.  While it is useful to look at these studies, studies about us masters would be greatly appreciated.  (Will be writing more on what we have so far soon.  Take a look at our archives for now.)

For Crossfit Trainers working with Masters Athletes: what you should know

Masters Crossfit Woman Training
Crossfit Masters Woman Angie Bender Competes in the 2014 Masters Crossfit Open
  • We want to be treated like athletes, but there are somethings that make us different than other athletes.
  • Understand that we will modify as we physically need to; we are not slackers. We are seasoned enough to distinguish muscle pain from joint distress and will protect ourselves from injury — Leanne Cantrell of CrossFit Mandeville
  • That our joints don’t work the way they used to. Find ways to help us get under the bar more efficiently, to get our elbows up into position, to engage our shoulders — addition from CFMasters athlete
  • “the first thing that came to my mind wasn’t on the list. Specifically that we need substantially more warm up, warm down, and stretching time. Oh, and aligned with some of the other thought already written – that coaches should ask us about our physical state, fitness and health history, any injuries we might have and our goals.”
  • Understand that our eyes are changing and that we don’t have the depth perception we used to.  This makes box jumps harder.  Its also harder for us to shift between near and far vision.  That also makes it harder for us to do box jumps and slows us down.
  • Vision issues can also make it harder for us to be as agile.
  • Many masters men will be concerned about testosterone.  Testosterone can be boosted by working out in a supportive (and co-ed) environment.   Crossfit is perfect for that.  As far as we know working out in a gung-ho co-ed group doesn’t increase cancer risk.
  • We are more likely to rupture a tendon or kill our shins and shoulders.  Have an emergency plan for first aid and for serious injuries.
  • ” New masters athletes appreciate mentoring by experienced masters athletes. Coaches can ask the experienced ones for this support.”
  • “Masters athletes may need to vary our level of intensity, weights or volume from WOD to WOD due to joint stress or other flare ups, I so appreciate when our coaches work on technique instead of going for better times or heavier weights that day.”
  • “That we have learned to finish what we start. Sometimes you just have to let us go to a corner and finish the WOD. We may not be the fastest. But we are persistent.” CFMaster
  • Cheer us on too.  We appreciate it.
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Here are a few articles that are specific to masters athletes.  We’ll be summarizing these soon.  Keep in touch.

Sillanpää E, Häkkinen A, Laaksonen DE, Karavirta L, Kraemer WJ, & Häkkinen K (2010). Serum basal hormone concentrations, nutrition and physical fitness during strength and/or endurance training in 39-64-year-old women. International journal of sports medicine, 31 (2), 110-7 PMID: 20222003

 

Sallinen J, Pakarinen A, Fogelholm M, Alen M, Volek JS, Kraemer WJ, & Häkkinen K (2007). Dietary intake, serum hormones, muscle mass and strength during strength training in 49 – 73-year-old men. International journal of sports medicine, 28 (12), 1070-6 PMID: 17497592 Another article of interest is: Position Statement (2010). Selected Issues for the Master Athlete and the Team Physician Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42 (4), 820-833 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181d19a0b

Honey for wounds, ripped hands, healing and pain relief

If you have tried Crossfit you have probably ripped your hands at some point.  Ripped hands can be painful.  They can also keep you from working out.  Let’s be frank: they look horrible.  Honey may help.  Honey has been used for medicinal purposes for millenia.  I would have dismissed the idea, but I’m investigating the plight of honey bees and colony collapse disorder. and came across some interesting studies of wounds, infection and pain.  There is good evidence that honey relieves pain, speeds healing and prevents or treats infection.  There is also evidence that honey provides anti-oxidants.  Let’s take a look.

Honey and wound healing

Honey may help speed wound healing by acting as an anti-inflammatory.  Application of honey reduces inflammation.  This helps reduce the amount of fluid seeping into the wound.  Reducing inflammation can also help with pain.  Part of wound pain comes from the pressure of swollen tissue on nerves.  Wound healing is also helped by preventing or treating infection.  There have been a number of studies showing faster burn healing with honey when compared to malfenide acetate, a widely used treatment for severe burns.

Honey and infection

Honey may help with infections in several different ways. Honey absorbs wound fluids that support bacteria.  However diluted honey also slows bacterial growth — so there is something else going on as well.  Honey has been found to be effective in inhibiting growth of many different types of bacteria, including MRSA microbes.  Honey is not an anti-septic.  It doesn’t kill bacteria on contact.  It seems to treat or prevent infection by inhibiting bacterial growth.  This would keep infections from developing.  Slowing bacterial growth would give the body’some help in fighting an infection too.

Honey and pain

Honey has pain-killing effects.  This has been testing in rodents.  Rodents can’t express their feelings of pain the way people can. However there should be no placebo effect.  Tests of rats show reduced pain-like behavior after pain infliction when honey was applied.  It is thought that, like other analgesics, honey . . . or something in it . . .  blocks pain receptors.  As mentioned above, honey may also reduce pain by reducing inflammation.

How to use honey for wounds

Medical grade honey is used in hospitals.  Medical grade honey is honey that has been irradiated.  Concerns have been raised about using regular honey for wounds.  This is because honey may contain chlostridium butlinum.  These are the bacteria that cause botulism.  Botulism can be fatal. The radiation kills spores without requiring heating.  Apparently heating honey can destroy some anti-bacterial properties.  Medical grade honey is available online or at some pharmacies if you are concerned about using off-the-shelf honey. Hospital protocol calls for applying honey to wound dressings and then covering the wound.  They also recommend changing the dressing twice a day, especially in the early stages of healing. While there’s a lot of interest in honey for wound treatment and it is being used in some hospitals some scientists advise against it.   Chochrane Reviews , for example advises against using honey for wound treatments because there have not been enough studies yet.  While honey has worked better than conventional dressings in some studies it may not work well under all conditions.  More research is needed to see how it stacks up against other treatments.

Does honey help on hand rips like you get in Crossfit?

This is a very good question.  I intend to try the next time I rip my hands.  Will post pictures.

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Blaser, G., Santos, K., Bode, U., Vetter, H., & Simon, A. (2007). Effect of medical honey on wounds colonised or infected with MRSA Journal of Wound Care, 16 (8), 325-328 DOI: 10.12968/jowc.2007.16.8.27851 Lusby PE, Coombes AL, & Wilkinson JM (2005). Bactericidal activity of different honeys against pathogenic bacteria. Archives of medical research, 36 (5), 464-7 PMID: 16099322 Owoyele BV, Oladejo RO, Ajomale K, Ahmed RO, & Mustapha A (2014). Analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of honey: the involvement of autonomic receptors. Metabolic brain disease, 29 (1), 167-73 PMID: 24318481 Comparison between topical honey and mafenide acetate in treatment of burn wounds

Can reducing ammonia production during exercise improve performance?

Ammonia may be a central player in fatigue and exhaustion.  Exercise releases of ammonia into the blood stream.  Once in the blood stream it travels to the brain where it can accumulate if the pace of entry is faster than the body’s ability to metabolize it.   Athletes in studies who had the hardest time completing an intense exercise task also had the highest ammonia levels.(Nybo 2005).

The brain gets rid of extra ammonia by combining it with glutamate to produce glutamine.  If the brain is using glutamate to get rid of ammonia it is possible that glutamate levels decrease.    Decreased brain glutamate can impair function and may contribute to some of the wonky feelings of exhaustion.  Glutamate is an important neurotransmitter.  It is an excitatory neurotransmitter.  Glutamate makes it easier for nerves to fire and transmit information.  Without glutamate brain function may slow.  This is a very simplified picture.  However, it may help explain a bit of what is going on with fatigue.  Brain uptake of ammonia has been demonstrated in a number of studies.  One thing that has been noted is that there may be a lot of variation in the amount of ammonia produced.  This was found in a study of highly trained endurance athletes.  Athletes were:

  • young men
  • very similar weight
  • similar height
  • similar VO2max
  • living in Denmark (Nybo 2005).

Is it possible that variability in ammonia levels helps some people go longer or harder than others?  Is it less ammonia production or better brain clearance?  What causes it: genetics, diet, differences in training?

Reducing Ammonia:  Is it possible? Would it help for competition or training? Would it hurt?

There have been several studies that have looked at reducing blood ammonia levels.  Much of this comes from research on people with liver disease.  People with liver disease tend to produce a lot of ammonia.  They may also suffer a lot of muscle loss and brain dysfunction.  Their situation though is quite different from that of an athlete.

Is there any research on reducing ammonia levels during exercise?

Yes. Apparently glucose does.  Subjects (Nybo 2005) who were given glucose supplement had only about a third of the ammonia level as did subjects who did not.  A 2008 paper found that giving professional football players 100 mg per kg of glutamine prior to training reduced ammonia in blood.  Lastly, walnuts.  A study of walnut extracts showed less ammonia in blood of mice after they were subjected to a forced swim test.  Mice receiving walnut extract were able to swim quite a bit longer than those who did not (see reference for details.)  One of the things that was particularly interesting is that mice were subjected to several tests over several weeks.  Performance improved in the Walnut-Extract Mice from week 1 to week 2 to week 3 and then tapered off.  They never dropped to the level of No-Walnut mice.  Here is a link to the graph: Link.  The researchers suggested that Walnuts may reduce ammonia and fatigue through their anti-oxidant properties.

Should I eat walnuts, glucose and glutamine during training?

There is no evidence that walnuts, glucose or gluamine will improve your performance over the long term.  In fact, trying to lessen your ammonia production during training may hurt.  In the Nybo study the athletes with the highest levels of  ammonia in plasma and brain were the athletes who did not get glucose AND had the lowest VO2 max.  VO2 max is a marker of aerobic conditioning.  It is possible that the body gets more efficient in dealing with ammonia produced during exercise.  If that is the case, minimizing ammonia production might also minimize your ability to deal with it.  Its too early to know.

What about walnuts, glucose and/or glutamine for competition?

Hard to say too.  But . . . an ability to reduce ammonia might reduce fatigue and let you go longer or faster.  It might give a competitive edge.  Keep in mind some people may simply be better at metabolizing ammonia.  It might be genetic.  Or it might be from hard training.  For an overview of amino acid metabolism:

 

Masters Crossfit training
One of the world’s top-ranked masters CrossFit athletes trains for the CrossFit games at The Black Box in Fort Worth

Qiu J, Tsien C, Thapalaya S, Narayanan A, Weihl CC, Ching JK, Eghtesad B, Singh K, Fu X, Dubyak G, McDonald C, Almasan A, Hazen SL, Naga Prasad SV, & Dasarathy S (2012). Hyperammonemia-mediated autophagy in skeletal muscle contributes to sarcopenia of cirrhosis. American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism, 303 (8) PMID: 22895779

Nybo L, Dalsgaard MK, Steensberg A, Møller K, & Secher NH (2005). Cerebral ammonia uptake and accumulation during prolonged exercise in humans. The Journal of physiology, 563 (Pt 1), 285-90 PMID: 15611036

Snow RJ, Carey MF, Stathis CG, Febbraio MA, & Hargreaves M (2000). Effect of carbohydrate ingestion on ammonia metabolism during exercise in humans. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 88 (5), 1576-80 PMID: 10797115

Bassini-Cameron, A., Monteiro, A., Gomes, A., Werneck-de-Castro, J., & Cameron, L. (2008). Glutamine protects against increases in blood ammonia in football players in an exercise intensity-dependent way British Journal of Sports Medicine, 42 (4), 260-266 DOI: 10.1136/bjsm.2007.040378

Masters Athletes: Long-Term Impact of Strength Training on Muscle Strength

A Crossfit Masters Athlete shares his outlook with a young Crossfit trainer
A Crossfit Masters Athlete shares his outlook with a young Crossfit trainer at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX

We can expect to lose about 1% of our muscle strength each year after age 50. By age 65 that rate of loss increases. There are some interesting differences in the how and why of strength loss. When researchers look at strength they tend to look at static muscle strength and dynamic muscle strength. Basically static muscle strength refers to the ability to generate a force. Dynamic muscle strength basically refers to strength in which bones and tendons actually move. As people get older dynamic muscle strength suffers more than static muscle strength. Muscle power (the ability to do a strength movement quickly) also suffers. Muscle power declines faster than strict strength. This is one of the reasons why Masters Athletes, particularly Crossfit Masters Athletes, do not perform as well as younger athletes. You can tell a Masters Athlete over and over that he/she needs to move quickly in order “to get under the bar.” But, simply put, Masters Athletes are physiologically different than younger athletes. As stubborn and strong as they are, they may not be able to move their elbows any faster. At least not yet.

Don’t give up on Masters Athletes. Don’t give up in general.

Strength training can improve muscle strength and muscle power in Masters Athletes. This has been documented in short-term studies. But what about over the long haul? A recently published study sheds some light. A fairly large group of older adults (233) participated in a 1-year strength training program. Measurements were taken before and after. Researchers also evaluated the condition of 83 former participants some 7 years later. Strength and power improved in adults who completed the training. (This is hopefully no surprise). What is surprising and good news is that the adults who completed the training had better measures of strength, power and speed seven years after completing the program. Measures for everyone (trained and untrained) were lower than they had been though.

This study has its limits. It was not clear (or unknown) if subjects kept working out or not. Nor was it known how much more or less active subjects in the control group might have been. Still, it is nice to know that positive effects were seen seven years after an exercise program was completed.

Take away message:

So far research (and anecdotal evidence) indicate you should not stop working out. Trainers: keep encouraging your masters athletes.

Kennis E, Verschueren SM, Bogaerts A, Van Roie E, Boonen S, & Delecluse C (2013). Long-term impact of strength training on muscle strength characteristics in older adults. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 94 (11), 2054-60 PMID: 23831385

Vitamin C may help reduce pain of exertion during intense exercise

The Pain of CrossFit WODs

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The agony of a CrossFit WOD may be worse than the agony of any other sport. There are many little voices to that big voice telling you to slow down. Let’s not dwell on that voice. Let’s dissect it a little. Two things pushing you to ring the quit bell are core temperature and insufficient oxygen. Read this article for more information. Another thing is pain. Some research has been done on the discomfort side of exercise. Researchers measure “perceived level of exertion.” Research on intake of Vitamin C and “perceived level of exertion” indicates taking vitamin C supplements (500 mg/day) results in a lower rating of how hard the workout was. Taking vitamin C once a day also lowered heart rates compared to people who took a placebo during a 4 week exercise program. That is interesting.

Should I take Vitamin C before a CrossFit WOD?

Crossfit back squat during a crossfit wod .  Lots of crossfit pain here
Encouragement improves performance possibly by making it too embarrassing to slow down.  Our friend and model would look better in a WODMASTERS Shirt.  Check out shop.

It might be worth trying during CrossFit WOD competitions. Low vitamin C intake is associated with higher levels of fatigue. Taking a supplement if your vitamin C intake from diet is good might not help. It hasn’t been studied yet. Vitamin C has a history of being touted as a cure-all. Cure-alls are things we should be suspicious of. Along with writers who don’t know that a preposition is not something one ends a sentence with.  There is also some evidence that taking vitamin C before a challenging workout can block the body’s production of its own anti-oxidants, which might not be good.

In the meantime Vitamin C may be helpful for CrossFit WOD competitors for whom every rep counts. It should not be taken before every workout. Exercise causes the body to produce its own anti-oxidants. And these may be very important in the falling dominos of our physiology. Tweaking one thing may tweak that which is better left untweaked. As an example, taking vitamin C may result in your body synthesizing less of its own anti-oxidants.  Best to eat a good diet with lots of vegetables and fruit.

Huck CJ, Johnston CS, Beezhold BL, & Swan PD (2013). Vitamin C status and perception of effort during exercise in obese adults adhering to a calorie-reduced diet. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 29 (1), 42-5 PMID: 22677357

 

Coffee Study: Its not just the caffeine that makes you smart and athletic

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Caffeine and Coffee have been used by athletes to improve athletic performance and to make training easier.  Research is also indicating that coffee may also reduce risk of cognitive decline that comes with age.  A recent study sought to determine which is responsible for the positive effects of coffee on function:  Coffee itself or caffeine?  Aged (or Masters as we prefer to call them) Rats who drink the equivalent of 10 cups of coffee a day do better at cognitively and physically challenging tasks than rats who were given only caffeine supplements.

The Rat Coffee Study Design

All rats were male.  And aged.  Which for rats means about 18 months old.  Rats were given divided into groups and given either

  • Rat chow spiked with powdered coffee
  • Rat chow spiked with the equivalent of plain caffeine

for 8 weeks.  Rats were then subjected to a battery of psychological and neurological tests:

  1. Rod walking:  requiring the animal to balance on a stationary, horizontal rod
  2. Wire suspension: measures muscle strength and ability to grasp a horizontal wire and remain suspended
  3. Inclined screen: measures muscle tone, strength, stamina, and balance by placing the animal on a wire mesh screen tilted 60° to the horizontal plane of the floor
  4. Accelerating rotarod: measures fine motor coordination, balance, and resistance to fatigue by assessing the duration that the animal can remain standing/walking on a rotating, slowly accelerating rod.
  5. Keel hauling.  Rats were immersed in water at one of four random start locations. Each rat was allowed 120 s to escape onto the platform
  6. Plank walking, which measures balance and coordination making the animal walk a plank set out over the starboard bow at a height of approximately 20 feet above shark infested waters.

Now that is a workout.  Performances were recorded with video for submission to the CrossFit Games 2014.

Coffee Performance vs. Caffeine Only Performance

Summer Mona Lisa Grey white ground
Mona Lisa Hoists her Kettlebells on a soft, quick-drying tri-blend WODMASTERS workout shirt

The rats who got the powdered coffee did better than the rats who received caffeine supplements.   What does this mean for us?  Coffee, like most foods, is a complex mixture containing hundreds if not thousands of different chemicals.  These chemicals include vitamins and minerals, but there are also many many others whose actions we don’t yet understand.

We also understand very little about how different nutrients interact.  We also know little about the effects of taking too much.   This is why it is better to eat a healthy diet of real food than to rely on supplements or No-Doze Monster drinks or whatever that stuff in the tiny bottles is called.  College students take note.  Masters athletes: Hold off on massive anti-oxidant supplements.  Anti-oxidants at high levels can damage DNA.

Coffee Study: Its not just the caffeine that makes you smarter and more athletic

 

Last note on coffee:

10 cups is probably too much.  No note was made on how jittery and neurotic the rats felt.  High coffee consumption is associated with other problems.

 

Cropley V, Croft R, Silber B, Neale C, Scholey A, Stough C, & Schmitt J (2012). Does coffee enriched with chlorogenic acids improve mood and cognition after acute administration in healthy elderly? A pilot study. Psychopharmacology, 219 (3), 737-49 PMID: 21773723

Cho ES, Jang YJ, Hwang MK, Kang NJ, Lee KW, & Lee HJ (2009). Attenuation of oxidative neuronal cell death by coffee phenolic phytochemicals. Mutation research, 661 (1-2), 18-24 PMID: 19028509

Shukitt-Hale B, Miller MG, Chu YF, Lyle BJ, & Joseph JA (2013). Coffee, but not caffeine, has positive effects on cognition and psychomotor behavior in aging. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 35 (6), 2183-92 PMID: 23344884

Physiology of Fatigue: What are we fighting when we try to push through a challenging workout?

Why are workouts so hard?

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We are fighting a lot when we push ourselves through workouts that are challenging. There are times we may be fighting a bad attitude, discouragement, lack of confidence, drive or our own personalities, but we are, at times, also fighting a very complex regulatory system designed to protect us from severe self-induced damage.

Fatigue and Temperature

Fatigue can be defined as reaching a point where the body seeks to slow down or stop. Exhaustion is that point where a person (or animal) is unable to continue. The most important factor driving suppression of motor activity is believed to be brain temperature. In an untrained person, exhaustion may occur when core body temperature reaches 100 to 102F(~38 to 39C) while a highly trained person may not reach exhaustion until body temperature has reached 104F (~40C).

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Interestingly, it’s not only humans who are stopped at these temperatures. Internal temperatures of ~104 oF will stop other animals whether sprinters (Cheetahs) or the generally more placid and possibly endurance-oriented (Goats) (Taylor and Rowntree 1973). And yes, I’m sure you’re wondering: temperatures were measured rectally, and the animals ran on a treadmill while wearing masks so oxygen and carbon dioxide levels could be assessed. The research team also cranked the heat up. Cheetahs ran for shorter periods when the room was hot. The authors of this paper concluded that the duration of a Cheetah’s sprint is limited by core temperature, which is influenced by air temperature. Keep this in mind when you are working out in the summer with no air-conditioning. There are other factors that are also thought to play roles in regulation of intense physical output. Working muscles send feedback to the brain, and in most of us, they are not yelling “Go! Go! Go!” At first they are saying things like “we need more oxygen over here” and “pump the heart faster.” Unfortunately you maximum output can only go on for as long as you have the necessary materials to keep the system running. Your maximum obtainable heart rate will matter. That may be one you cannot make “just do it.” although you can improve your ability to pump blood with training.

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Blood concentrations of important factors or metabolites, and depletion of working materials, are also monitored by the brain. Changes in concentrations and availability of neurotransmitters, endorphins, cytokines, along with a build-up of ammonia in the brain, occur during continued intense exercise. Cerebral energy use increases requiring more oxygen, while blood flow will decrease by about 20% due to constriction of brain arterioles. Low oxygen, loss of neurotransmitters, and accumulation of waste products can cause a problem that is truly “all in your head” but a real problem none the less. An increased need for oxygen and fuel in the brain may be part of what causes someone to want to slow down or stop.

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Another strong woman shirt for strong women. Be fit and wear an awesome shirt. For strong women who love art, irony and kettlebells

Practice improves physiology and performance.

Increasing oxygen intake may improve performance not necessarily by providing muscles with additional oxygen, but in providing the brain with what it needs to keep the system running. Depletion of brain glycogen and excessive use of lactate as an alternative brain fuel may also signal fatigue. This may happen faster in untrained athletes. Physical training is, after all, about much more than simple strength and endurance. It includes getting all systems, including subtler aspects of physiology like the ability to dissipate heat, produce lactate, carry oxygen and oxygenate the brain, to work as efficiently as possible. We can reach our limits, but our brains rarely stupid enough to allow us to go beyond them and recklessly run our bodies off the edge of a cliff. The brain also likes to know what’s going on and practice (going through the motions) and rehearsal are important to performance. Rehearsing movements before a WOD may be as important as traditional warming up. It preps your system for what it is about to do and lets it know what is coming. Even imagining movements may help improve strength output and performance (Jeukendrup et al. 1996).

CrossFit training, rational mental toughness.

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We can improve performance intelligently rather than fight what we imagine to be a lack of mental toughness, or allow ourselves be discouraged. We can keep cool and well-hydrated. We can be patient enough to recognize that our physiological and biochemical systems are becoming more efficient as we train, even if our speed or strength has plateaued, and not give up on long-term goals. Finally, encouragement and cheers can help people achieve their maximal level of oxygen consumption (Nybo & Secher 2004) and maximum performance. This may be especially true if they are new to Crossfit and have type A personalities. New Crossfitters may be putting superhuman efforts into their workouts and should be congratulated and admired for these as much as our seasoned champions.

Taylor CR, & Rowntree VJ (1973). Temperature regulation and heat balance in running cheetahs: a strategy for sprinters? The American journal of physiology, 224 (4), 848-51 PMID: 4698801

JEUKENDRUP, A., SARIS, W., BROUNS, F., & KESTER, A. (1996). A new validated endurance performance test Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 28 (2), 266-270 DOI: 10.1097/00005768-199602000-00017

Nybo, L., & Secher, N. (2004). Cerebral perturbations provoked by prolonged exercise Progress in Neurobiology, 72 (4), 223-261 DOI: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2004.03.005

Taylor CR, & Rowntree VJ (1973). Temperature regulation and heat balance in running cheetahs: a strategy for sprinters? The American journal of physiology, 224 (4), 848-51 PMID: 4698801 Nybo, L., & Secher, N. (2004). Cerebral perturbations provoked by prolonged exercise Progress in Neurobiology, 72 (4), 223-261 DOI: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2004.03.005ResearchBlogging.org

Palm Cooling in the Heat Helps Resistance and Endurance Performance

Palm cooling is an effective way to keep cool during workouts.

It may also be a good way to keep cool in hot places in general. Core temperature is a key factor limiting ability to exercise in heat. Once your temperature hits a certain point your brain will tell you to slow down or stop. We have probably all heard the phrases:

  • “Pain is just weakness leaving the body”
  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (know where you are on this equation)
  • And etc.

But there is a time to slow down. And a time to stop. Overheating can be dangerous. And even deadly. Still, there are always some people (present company included) who hate it when logic doesn’t go our way. We have a plan and a program. And we made a commitment to ourselves or others.  You are not a loser. And you are not having a bad day. But you may be overheated. Stay hydrated (but not over-hydrated), workout in the early morning and don’t expect to be at your best in hot weather.
There is one more thing:

Palm cooling and training in the heat

Humans cool themselves by sweating. They also cool themselves by shunting blood away from the core and towards highly vascularized areas (lots of veins and capillaries). This is why your face gets red and your hands sweat. Your body is hoping that the outside temperature is not as hot as your core. Your body is also taking advantage of the cooling effect of evaporating sweat by passing blood close to the skin. Your palms are a great place to lose extra heat. As is your face. And probably your whole head. And some other more personal areas.

Palm cooling may be the easiest to do and attract the least attention in public. Researchers at Stanford University have shown that palm cooling before a workout lets endurance athletes train longer. They have also recently published a paper showing that palm cooling between weight lifting sets improves lifting performance. Three minutes of palm cooling between sets also allowed test subjects to make greater gains in strength and numbers of reps.  Its not that cold palms make you stronger.  Well.  Probably not.  Its probably that a cooler person can train better than an overheated one.

How to do Palm Cooling.

The system at Stanford used a fairly complicated device. The device is not available for commercial use anyway. But there are other ways to cool your palms. They haven’t been tested. Or validated. But you can try taking along a frozen hand towel. Or a frozen water bottle.

Grahn DA, Cao VH, Nguyen CM, Liu MT, & Heller HC (2012). Work volume and strength training responses to resistive exercise improve with periodic heat extraction from the palm. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 26 (9), 2558-69 PMID: 22076097

CrossFit Training: High Intensity Interval Training.

CrossFit Training is much like High Intensity Interval Training (HIT).  High Intensity Interval Training is also called Sprint Interval Training (SIT). These training methods involve short bursts of activity. These are hot research topics, and hopefully the information gained will give us better insight into training for health and CrossFit WOD performance. A recent paper on triathletes found large improvements in endurance after only two weeks. Training consisted of ten six-second sprints. Two times a week. Athletes also continued their normal patterns of activity. A control group did not do sprints. Both groups did a timed 10K run.  And a “time to exhaustion” test on a stationary bicycle.

Young CrossFit Kid does CrossFit with cycling
CrossFit sometimes including cycling. Father and Son CrossFit WOD

High Intensity Interval Training for CrossFit? Two weeks of very short burst sprints show big improvements in time

The group that trained with very brief sprints improved their 10K time by 10%. Time to exhaustion did not change. Most interestingly blood lactate did not accumulate as fast in HIT-trained athletes.   Accumulation of blood lactate is one of the things that make you feel crappy when you workout.  Feeling crappy later than sooner is better.  Usually.  Maybe you will get through a WOD without feeling like your body is screaming at all.

Extremely short high intensity interval training also improves function in other ways.  For example, it also seems to improve insulin sensitivity.

What does High Intensity Interval Training mean for CrossFit.

What does this mean for CrossFit?   CrossFit naturally includes a lot of high intensity interval training.  Including sprints in your WODs may be a very good idea. Especially if you are not a great runner.   If you are doing a 400m or longer run try doing some very short bursts. It might end up improving your WOD time if you do a WOD with running.  Every repetition counts.  And every second saved lets you do another rep.

Jakeman J, Adamson S, & Babraj J (2012). Extremely short duration high-intensity training substantially improves endurance performance in triathletes. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37 (5), 976-81 PMID: 22857018

Jakeman J, Adamson S, & Babraj J (2012). Extremely short duration high-intensity training substantially improves endurance performance in triathletes. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37 (5), 976-81 PMID: 22857018

Babraj JA, Vollaard NB, Keast C, Guppy FM, Cottrell G, & Timmons JA (2009). Extremely short duration high intensity interval training substantially improves insulin action in young healthy males. BMC endocrine disorders, 9 PMID: 19175906

Crossfit Training: Women require different rest strategies for strength and competition.

250x400 Birth of Venus Banner
Birth of Venus Shirt for Crossfit Women and all kinds of other Strong Women

CrossFit women and men may differ in need for rest after WODs.  Or strength training. This may be important as athletes prepare for the CrossFit Games. Women lose strength faster than men when they take time off.  Muscle mass seems to stay the same for both when athletes reduce training for 7 days. The responsiveness of rested muscle fibers to electrical stimulation also seems to stay the same. However, women still lose more strength than men during rest periods. Rest periods are sometimes referred to as “unloading.” A new paper on why this happens suggests its nerves.  Not muscle tissue. The study looked at 7 and 14 day unloading periods. This is a long rest period for CrossFit athletes. But common among weightlifters.  Many athletes will be unloading prior to The Games. Weight training causes changes in muscle tissue. That is pretty obvious.  However, it also produces changes in nerve function. Nerves adapt and become more efficient. They become better able to recruit cells and coordinate their actions.  And make a trained person able to lift more weight.   Or a CrossFit athlete better able to do a WOD.  The larger loss of strength in women seems to be rooted in the central nervous system.   Women’s neurons may be quicker to let down their guard. This may mean that women should take shorter rest periods than men in order to maintain strength. And shorter rests before competitions.

What about Masters CrossFit and Masters Athletes?

Most studies are done using young volunteers.  There are usually a lot of them hanging around Universities.  And someone needs to collect and analyze the data.  This is often left to middle-age and older academics.  This means there is a lot less information for Masters athletes.  There is very good evidence though that neuro-muscular function improves with training in middle and older age.  It looks the same for men and women.  So keep at it.

The Take-Away: Women may need shorter unloading periods before competition than men.

Masters Athletes:  Use your judgement.

Deschenes MR, McCoy RW, & Mangis KA (2012). Factors relating to gender specificity of unloading-induced declines in strength. Muscle & nerve, 46 (2), 210-7 PMID: 22806370