Friday, October 21, 2011

CrossFit is awesome, but don't confuse it with life

I have this sticker on my car that says: "Eat. Sleep. CrossFit." You could mistakenly get the idea that  my life essentially consists of those three things. Nope. What it means is that those three things are how I stay fit to handle whatever the *rest* of my life presents me in the ways of fun or challenges.

If you want to get a 45-or-so-minute spiel on the general topic of how to stay fit for life, as opposed to how to make fitness just another obsession that amounts to "replacing one addiction with another," check out podcast #102 from Robb Wolf. In that episode, Robb has as his guest Mark Sisson, from Mark's Daily Apple. Mark is a 58-year old who looks and acts like a guy 20 or more years his junior. He is a former triathlete, who used to log up to 100 miles of running per week, consuming 1000 grams of carbs per *day* to fuel that level of training, until he retired many years ago, suffering from osteoarthritis, irritable-bowel syndrome and other ailments directly linked to his diet and overtraining.

 He realized that "chronic cardio" is "antithetical to health," and made changes to his food and lifestyle, all from the perspective of evolutionary biology, in order to reach the goal of being able to "achieve ideal body composition  and be happy and healthy and strong with the *least* amount of work and the least amount of pain, suffering and sacrifice."

But wait, you say, I am a CrossFitter! I am a savage beast who seeks pain and punishment and maybe even some good quality puking in pursuit of "elite fitness."


Sure, you *can* make CrossFit your life, but what Sisson is suggesting for most of us is using CrossFit -- or any fitness regimen that stresses high work output in short sessions -- as the fitness component of a sleep/food/fitness regimen (remember "Eat. Sleep. CrossFit," hmmmm?) that actually lets you spend more of your time doing *other* fun things as well.

Moreover, he tells us that "80% of body composition is determined by how you eat." I'd amend that to begin with the phrase: "After you get your sleep dialed in properly.... " And in fact, Robb Wolf says in this same podcast that the questions "Are you sleeping well? And are you eating well?" are the two most important issues for most people. Those are the items that set you up for proper recovery. Plus not overtraining. If you love CrossFit, by all means, do it. I do, but personally I love it a lot more at a frequency that allows me proper recovery.  That frequency is going to be different for everyone. Hell, I am 49 years old and I need a lot more recovery than I would if I were 30 years younger. Remember, as Sisson says: "Recovery is everything." What you want to avoid, he says, is an endless grind where you are overtraining to a point that you are not recovering, and in fact, are jacking up stress and cortisol levels. And that's going to be different for each of us.

And overtraining isn't the only evil. Sisson warns against turning diet and food choices into a one-size-fits-all dogma. Sure, a bunch of us at our gym are doing a 30-day challenge, but what about post-challenge? You know....the rest of your life? You may find that if your body composition is where you want it to be, you can up the amount of good carbs -- like sweet potatoes -- in your life. You might even find that a little white rice, post-workout, is a great source of recovery-oriented carbs. "But wait," you scream, "it's a graaaaaaaiiiiiin!" Lighten up, Francis. It all depends on what you are trying to achieve. As Sisson stresses in the podcast, if your goal is weight loss, you are going to want to avoid carbs more strictly than if you are happy with your body composition. (But always always always, avoid wheat, and anything else with gluten, he clarifies). The ultimate goal is to get to a body composition you like and maintain it with a diet that is "painless." In fact, Sisson says, "once you get the diet [and sleep] dialed in, you don't even have to train that hard." Of course you *can* if that's fun for you, but you don't *have* to. And if you *do* train hard, eat appropriately to fuel recovery.

In the end, for Sisson, it's all about quality of life -- dialing in sleep, diet and training in a way that lets you do other fun stuff. He likes to paddleboard, play ultimate frisbee and hike, but, he makes clear, "I hike because I want to hike, not because I think, 'Oh shit, it's Tuesday and I should be hiking'" as part of an exercise program. He trains formally three times a week -- two strength-based metcons and one sprint session. That's it. The rest is active play. And, of course, as I said, if your active play is CrossFit, that's cool. But it doesn't *have* to be. Don't turn CrossFit into a job. If you like doing other things too, do them. For me, the perfect week of "active play" is volleyball one day, drumming another and three CrossFit sessions. Maybe on another week, I will throw in an extra day of weight training or another volleyball day, or go beat the crap out of my drums again. And when I can, I want to go hike a kickass mountain every now and then too -- for fun, not "training." This is not "one size fits all." And it is definitely not supposed to be drudgery.

Sleep well. Eat well. Exercise enough to let you play well and not get injured. These are the lessons of Mark Sisson, and, for my money, you can't beat 'em. Now go listen.

(Listener note: you could skip the first ten minutes of this podcast and not miss much but introductory/background stuff on Mark, but it gets great from there).

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