Sep 20

My Foray into Fundamentals of Gymnastic Bodies

After listening to Christopher Sommer’s podcast with Tim Ferriss (in particular, the second one) I determined it was worth the investment to buy one of his programs and follow on. I mean, it wasn’t going to make me any worse at gymnastic movements!

As an industry I’d say we’re way better at coaching weightlifting than we are at gymnastics. We can get our athletes to national level in weightlifting but we’re nowhere near that in gymnastics! Granted, there’s the counter argument that CrossFit and Weightlifting suit each other a lot better and there’s more direct carryover. Also, we don’t produce national level runners, rowers, or swimmers neither. But as has been pointed out, we’re willing to spend hours drilling our snatch (phrasing!) but we don’t do the same for our gymnastic movements.

Sommer initially to me came across as very rigid in his approach. He was doing it right and we were doing it wrong. This turned me off any further investigation of his Gymnastic Bodies courses. But in his second interview, he seems to have mellowed considerably. He understands where CrossFitters are coming from; they kip to avoid the transition in the muscle up, as it’s fatiguing and not a requirement of their sport. I mean, now we need to have strict muscle ups, but for most of CrossFit we didn’t.

His take on injuries really got me. We’re super strong in the gym because we’re so used to straight lines and clear defined boundaries to our movement patterns. But then we go out and play a softball game and twist our ankle, because we’re not exposed to those “awkward” end ranges.

So with a fresh appreciation, and a desire to improve my own gymnastic skills and coaching, we bought the Fundamentals course. Yeah, they make you go through Fundamentals before you get to Foundations!

Essentially, Fundamentals is 4 weeks of them highlighting to you how much of a crock you are πŸ˜‚ Each week, you follow along with the overly enthusiastic cheesy instructors as the demo the movements for you. There are no set or rep schemes, you just follow along.

Dat Grin Tho!

Dat Grin Tho!

I could see this being confusing for people in the beginning, and I’m honestly not sure how a total novice would handle this. Particularly as you’re starting off you’re probably wondering “is this enough?” each day. But it does build up and you find yourself not only moving better but also thinking about movement in a new way.

What have I learned? For a start, I’ve definitely developed more of an appreciation for flexibility. Not just warming up and hitting a range of motion, but the ability to move and be strong in all ranges. For example, the ape walk and frog jumps I’m “better” at as I’m used to squatting, but the crab walk – JESUS!

My injuries are definitely improving too. I’m feeling better earlier in my training sessions, whereas usually it’s only after a full training session I feel like my body is fully warmed up and ready to rock! Full disclosure, I am working with a Physio to fix my movement issues too. As you can see here, something’s wonky with my overhead squat πŸ™ˆ

Also, it’s really fun to go back to the beginning and just learn new things again. It’s nice to be a novice and put yourself in a situation where you have no clue what you’re doing. There’s a freedom in that. There’s also a renewed empathy with the beginners that I coach. The “what the hell is going on!” is strong with Gymnastic Bodies!

One aspect I really like is the patience they preach. “It might take you a month, it might take you six months.” Patience. Patience. Patience. It’s a lesson we seem to have to learn over and over, that we can’t rush things, and have to build our ability up in the time it takes. Rushing it only leads to frustration.

As a coach I’ve already started folding a lot of the movements into our warm ups and gymnastic practice. Without much disruption to the “Asshole Programming” of CFI we’ve found it’s started to expose and correct movement issues in the members. So it’s definitely paid for itself!

Their sales and marketing team leaves a lot to be desired. Initially when I signed up I got a lovely welcome email from them asking if we’d any questions. Dutifully I asked had they any advice on integrating GB with CF. Their response…

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But that’s a minor blip on an otherwise excellent program! They’ve just launched a brand new “intuitive” interface as we embark on the Foundations programme, which means all you’ve got to do is login, follow along with the video, then provide feedback on how the workout went. Too easy and they bump it up in difficulty for you next week, too tough and they scale it down. There’s even an option to say you don’t have the mobility for it so they can adjust your flexibility work around certain positions. Very slick!

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I’d recommend to anyone who’s interested to invest the $75 on their fundamentals course, and I’m really looking forward to carrying on the training and seeing how it can improve my CrossFit and overall ability.

Jul 27

Lessons from The CrossFit Games 2016

So that’s another season of The Games wrapped up, and I’m always a little sad this week. Have to wait until next February for the excitement to begin again.

I LOVE The Games, CrossFit, and The Sport of Fitness. So everything in this blog will be taken with that in mind. Also, here’s a review of The Open for those that want to do background reading. Funny, I thought I’d reviewed Regionals, but I didn’t. One sin for Colm.

So some thoughts, and some lessons we can learn from it.

Each year, The smoothness and the production of The Games steps up a notch. I recall one year lamenting how the lanes weren’t easily distinguishable. Now they are. Also, there’s cooler fans on the soccer field and tennis stadium, alongside copious amounts of water too. From watching Regionals, there was something brilliant about how they changed the arena between events. From the simplicity of switching over the banners between events 3 and 4, to changing the number plates on the floor. It was like ballet.

The return to The Ranch was pretty awesome in fairness. They kept a big operation in which EVERYONE wants to know the tests under wraps as far as I can tell. This alone is not an easy feat and requires a lot of people with trust and faith in the mission. Surprise surprise a SEAL would pull that off.

Man, why didn't I go here back in 2007 :(

Man, why didn’t I go here back in 2007 :(

/fullscreen

Facebook Live was a masterstroke I think. The main target demographic of The Games is America. Out of the 7 Regionals, all but 2 are in America. And regions were decided by box density (Phrasing!). To watch The Games there you need ESPN. So having events live on Facebook added to the exposure for one. Hell, they’ve built such a furore around The Sport of Fitness that ten thousand people watched a bunch of nervous athletes queue in an airport for God’s sakes.

The FB feed brought it back to the early days, which for the die hard fans made them feel a connection to “where it all began”, grassroots, bootstrapped, visceral, real. In today’s modern polished productions, this was decidedly (and I’d wager deliberately) not so. A fresh perspective on the whole athletic competition.

Mindset

One thing that’s standing out early for me as I write this passage is how different the athletes’ mindsets tend to be from the norm. They’re not looking for easy. When Katrin heard about it being the toughest Games yet, she said β€˜I’ve worked hard. This is what I’ve worked for. … I don’t work hard to do easy things.

Josh Bridges, upon completion of Individual Event 3 said “that was fun” and he wasn’t alone. He enjoyed the challenge of ignoring that lactic acid build up in the legs as he sprinted up a rough uneven hill carrying an unwieldy heavy medicine ball. They’re not looking for an easy path, they’re looking to challenge themselves and grow. They’re seeking out discomfort instead of comfort. Perhaps that’s why they’re champions?

Props to Dominic for picking Fitkowski as an athlete to watch.

Props to Dominic for picking Fitkowski as an athlete to watch.

Bill Grundler’s IG

This. Go Hard or Go Home.

I am an athlete. I am a competitor. I don't live or compete to be safe or to be conservative. I compete to test myself, to see what I can do, to push the limit. Today was not a good day for me. I was tied for 1st going into event 4 and 5. I was planning on lifting big in the cleans (mostly because I needed to after event 4). I hit 300 in warm up so felt good. In event 5 I went for 275 to open. I stood it up easy. But I got "no repped". I decided to go up anyways since I got that so easy. I went to 305. Missed it twice. Went down to 295. Missed it twice. Time ran out. I got a zero on the board. And because of not hitting a successful lift I didn't complete the min work requirement and was withdrawn from the rest of the competition. I'm not gunna lie. It's sucks and it hurts bad…….but that's sports. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. You have to go for it when you are an athlete. I did. It didn't work this time. I could very easily get pissed and blame the judge or whoever else. But what does that do? Nothing. I'm not saying it's easy but after thinking about it, I would have done the same thing again. I'm proud of the job I did, I'm proud of the training I did, I'm proud of @crossfitgames @cfceo @thedavecastro and the rest of of the people that make the sport I love happen, I'm proud that I got to compete with my brother @jamesgrundler , I'm proud that I had the honor to compete with some great athletes, I'm proud that my parents and oldest daughter got to watch me compete, and I'm proud to be part of the 10th CrossFit Games. I want to thank my parents, my brothers, my family, my gym @crossfitinferno , my coach @mtromello , my friends and supporters, my sponsors @atpmechanix @rxsmartgear @sfh @forgedclothing @skins_usa @romwod @resiliencyproject @killcliff for all the help and support. Good luck to the rest of the athletes this week!

A photo posted by Bill Grundler (@billgrundler) on

Fuming Fraser

What the fuck business has Mat Fraser doing winning a 7K trail run? He’s a weightlifter for fuck’s sake. As The Old Man pointed out, a lot of athletes could have taken it easy on that event, as it’s the first of the weekend (albeit the weekend lasts from Wednesday to Sunday!) Mat didn’t. He went for it. Another lesson I think we can take here is that we shouldn’t hold back because of something else that may be around the corner. Heck, we don’t know what’s coming. So we should push that little bit harder on the squats, and not think about the wall balls in the metcon. In fact, most of the time I’ve missed a lift is when I think “ok I’ll hit this and then go for X!” Instead, I should just focus on what’s in front of me.

Mat Fraser showed us what domination really was! But, by his own admission, he didn’t win any event after the 7K trial run. That’s something that’s going to burn him up. And he was angry! If for the last two years everyone had constantly said you were in 2nd place how would you be. He was angry at Regionals too. Fraser plays best while angry.

One thing he would need to work on is twice he’d words with his judges. Now, I don’t know what was happening but during the rope chipper Boz came over and they’d an exchange. After the event, as he’s signing his card, he says to his judge “I’m sorry about that.”

Dude, you're winning. Shut up!

Dude, you’re winning. Shut up!

We also know he’d words with his judge during The Separator. Now the reps looked as good as anyone else’s to me. As a comedic aside, here’s my attempt at them. DAMN!

Sad Looking Sara

Sara looked overtrained, and like she wasn’t enjoying herself? Did she just expect to show up and win? Did she not expect a tough test or the other girls to challenge her? I don’t know. Sara just looked… off. She cruised through Regionals, and it looked like she had another one or two gears in her.

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My Spirt of The Games – Jen Smith

Jen Smith hurts her ankle in Aromas and can’t continue that day. Yet she’s a few hundred metres off completing Murph. You see her hobble about all weekend with nothing but a happy, determined smile on her face. And she still didn’t finish last!

Some would argue why continue with a damaged leg. Maybe you’re just doing more damage than good on it. This is your final. This is the event you’ve worked for for over a year! Not including the years working up to it. It may be your last Games (we never know what’s around the corner.) You’re headed into an off-season where you’ll take a few weeks off, can focus on upper body work anyway. Why not go for it?

No one understands The Sport of Fitness like Dave Castro.

And the haters and gonna hate hate hate. Cue Taylor Swift.

Each year someone comes out and says that The Games have gone too far. Or that it wasn’t really CrossFit. Or that it’s biased towards x.

Remember we have our opinion of what CrossFit should be, and what it actually is. Castro knows exactly how to incrementally increase the challenge of the sport each year for the fittest on earth. It’s right here – “CrossFit challenges the world’s fittest.” If we didn’t have events that stopped Games athletes in their tracks the test wouldn’t be sufficient. We have this in the Open, be it in the Bar Muscle Up, or just people unable to clean the weight, or get a chest to bar, or a double under. There’s a stumbling block for everyone at every point. Regionals everyone fixated on the strict muscle up. (You remember when just a muscle up was the shizzle?) And this year it’s the ring handstand push ups.

I genuinely think there’s a part of people who see the sport evolve past their level lament this, and that’s where the hate comes from. When you can complete Fran in 6-8 minutes it’s okay to see a Games athlete crush it in sub 3. When you can’t even clean the opening weight of the ladder or perform a legless rope climb these things are “too much”.

Each year the sport progresses. Some athletes can keep up with the evolution. Others can’t. Camille has fallen from the top spot (and Annie too to some extent.) One athlete who hasn’t, surprisingly, is Sam Briggs. There’s a smart competitor right there, apart from her inability to adhere to US Immigration rules!

Sure, it’ll top out at some point. The deadlift ladder they got right this year (only one guy cleared it) might be the limit you can be and still perform everything else. Or, in 10 years, they’ll be repping them out. Maybe everyone will hit a sub 30 unbroken Murph? Then the tests will involve more speed and less stumbling blocks. But “stumbling blocks”, I mean separators, are part of the sport. These are as much part of the sport as burpees are. We seem to have no problem when this is a max effort weight someone can’t complete on a ladder, but less so when the stumbling block is either a new skill *cough*pegboard*cough* or a high fatiguing gymnastic movement. (Remember rope climbs anyone?)

But this is too funny not to include:

bro 😐 too far.

A photo posted by Paul Castaneda (@kickasstaneda) on

Jun 29

Adventures in Meditation (Possibly Part One of a Mutli-Part Series)

So I’ve been meditating with the Stop, Breathe, & Think app as of today for 65 days uninterrupted. So that’s pretty cool. I thought I’d share some thoughts on my adventures into meditation for those of you who may be skeptical or curious. Maybe a little of both? I’ll explain mental training as best I can by comparing it to physical training, something which my readers will probably have a reference point.

The keystone habit was the Five Minute Journal. Out of that I started developing a morning routine. Kudos to The Barbell Business boys for essentially giving me permission to be selfish for thirty to sixty minutes a day in order to be less selfish for the rest of the day. Meditation can have a bad rap as only for those suffering from anxiety or unmotivated hippies. What piqued my interest was Tim Ferriss saying over 80% of the top performers he’s interviewed have some sort of daily meditation practice, along with Dan Harris’s “10% Happier“, in which he describes himself as a fidgety sceptic when it comes to meditative practices. I like the Stop, Breathe, and Think app as they’re short meditations, so time can’t be an excuse, they offer a check in and then give you recommend meditations, the meditations are guided, and they’ve gamified it by winning badges so it keeps you coming back to the app.

My daily routine now consists of romwod, meditation, journaling, fish oil, and reading.

Yoga, but with a cooler name!

Yoga, but with a cooler name!

Overall I feel a lot better as a result of this routine. It sets up my day and gives me structure. As an entrepreneur you have to create your own structure and you can find yourself wasteful/inefficient with your time. Important to note as well that this is the first year in as long as I can remember when I didn’t feel down around my birthday. Which while I don’t feel ecstatic about it, is actually monumental in that small, secretly smiling to yourself sort of way.

As an aside, hay fever is a right motherfucker. There’s two major effects it has: extreme drowsiness and extreme fuzziness. The tiredness has me questioning “Why am I so tired?” all the time, and feeling energyless (which isn’t great as you start to wonder all sorts of things). The fuzzy headedness, that feeling of swimming in a thick fog of confusion, doesn’t exactly lend itself to Buddha like mental clarity. BUT, and here’s the cool thing, knowing this means I can accept this temporary shortcoming and not get overwhelmed, bogged down, or depressed about it!

I "won" this sticker for completing 5 hours of meditation on the Stop, Breathe, & Think app. Although pollen and I don't exactly get along.

I “won” this sticker for completing 5 hours of meditation on the Stop, Breathe, & Think app. Although pollen and I don’t exactly get along.

I think people think meditation is meant to make you instantly happy, or just by sitting down you’re mind is going to go blank.

Firstly, meditation is mental brain training. Training yourself to take time out so you can reassess from a calmer place. Most of us can relate to having a problem and then get through it, and then we often find ourselves wondering why we were so worked up in the first place. Or, once the solution is found, it seems so obvious. Meditation doesn’t guarantee this, but taking a step back from the coal face really gives you some perspective.

We’ve all experienced this perspective. Bogged down with a problem in our professional and personal life. Frustrated, we leave it alone and during another activity and the answer comes to us. Meditation can give us that space where we can step back from our issues and gain some clarity.

Mental training isn’t exactly like physical training. By that I mean you don’t get a sweat on, or an endorphin hit straight away. You don’t have the tell tale muscle soreness from lifting weights or taking on a long run. Meditation is more like clearing up that messy room. Slowly. While everyone in the house is still adding crap to it.

I swear there's clarity here somewhere!

I swear there’s clarity here somewhere!

Getting distracted during your practice doesn’t mean you’ve failed. In fact, it’s exactly what should be happening. If you’ve gone 30, 40, 50 years without ever stopping to look at your mind and listen to the voice in your head at first it’s going to be impossible and overwhelming. You are not a failure if this happens. You are no more a failure that if on your first day of running you can’t run a marathon in 2:02:57 (current world record). If you’re asked to count to 10 all you can do is count to 2 and a half before you get distracted, that’s a start. This is the challenge much like straining under a squat is the challenge. It’s not “meant” to be easy, nor is the weight meant to feel light, nor are you meant to do burpees without getting out of breath!

Mental training doesn’t guarantee bliss, much like those 8 week rapid fat loss plans won’t leave you like the photoshopped model. Mental training slowly allows you to see through the clutter of your thoughts and feelings. Much like clearing the garage, you’re going to put stuff aside so you can make a path only to come back to it, get distracted and sit down and have a look at it. You might need to put it away, throw it out, or leave it for another day.

Yes, it might actually get messier before things get calmer or more focused. Meditation can reveal what’s going on behind the surface, much like a movement assessment can reveal areas of tightness or old injuries. It then requires conscious work on that. You’ve identified the brick walls and stumbling blocks and baggage. Becoming aware of it all is the first part. You’ve taken yourself off autopilot. Now you’ve got to learn to fly!

This movie has a lot to answer for the sense of humour I developed!

This movie has a lot to answer for the sense of humour I developed!

When starting you may find that meditation has no impact on your day to day life and thoughts. Again to make the comparison to physical training, if you spend 60 minutes in the gym stretching but 9 hours sitting, your hips are going to only slowly loosen up, and you may not notice the impact. At first, you’re only really stemming the tide of years of poor patterns (be they physical, mental, or emotional) and it take a while to slow down the destructive/negative inputs. That’s okay. It’s like going from 2 litres of coke a day to 1.5 litres a day. Sure, it’d be great if there was no Coke, but you’ve made a positive first step.

Slowing down to stop and look at the mess can be scary. It can be overwhelming. It certainly is “easier” to stay on the gerbil wheel. It’s far easier to seek entertainment than enlightenment. It’s easier to go home after work and turn on Netflix. It takes no effort. And it delivers no reward. It’s (without being overly dramatic) the slow death. Much like joining a gym the first time can put you face to face with the realisation that you’ve gotten out of shape, finally sitting down with your mind can show you all the nagging, almost imperceptible thoughts you’ve been having and how they’ve been clouding you.

The voice in your head.

The voice in your head.

But it’s not too late. Nothing is fixed or irreparable and can’t be improved. And the benefits far outweigh the initial overwhelm. We all know the importance of looking after our body with daily nutrition and exercise. Mental training is the daily nutrition and exercise for your thoughts and emotions and definitely worth the investment.

When you're 5 minutes into "Meditate & Chill" and he gives you this look :)

When you’re 5 minutes into “Meditate & Chill” and he gives you this look :)

The clarity alluded to above isn’t guaranteed, nor is it instantly going to happen. That’s thinking like you’ll take up running and instantly beat Usain Bolt.

Meditation doesn’t mean quiet time either. Your mind might race. You might feel sad or annoyed at times. I like to think of this as things bubbling to the surface as deep issues arise. Perhaps they were trapped, perhaps they were ignored. It’s best to treat them as things that are surfacing so you can consciously face them and resolve them. Sometimes, they’re just old hurts saying farewell as they leave you. You can wish them goodbye or latch onto them. One is far more tempting than the other but ultimately counter productive to your happiness and peace of mind. This is one of the more challenging aspects of meditation I’ve found for me personally. It can be, and it was/is for me, extremely difficult to come face to face with the story you’ve been telling yourself.

Of the two types of meditation I’ve been practicing on the app, one is mindfulness and the other is Loving-Kindness. Mindfulness is simply observing, or learning how to observe, without judgement. It’s training yourself to be fully present and conscious of what you’re doing. So if you’re sitting and breathing, you’re just focused on sitting and breathing. Not thinking of the million and one things that you can think of. That phone call you’re dreading, that conversation that should have gone better, when’s George R.R. Martin going to release the next book in the series, why pineapple’s are called pineapples, the list goes on.

7C1wmuq

There’s huge benefits to this. I can concentrate for longer periods now without getting distracted for one. It’s also SLOWLY allowing me to respond rather than react to events in my life.

Loving-Kindness meditation can be tough! For any number of reasons. In Loving Kindness you wish well for yourself, then someone you like/are close to, then to someone who annoys you/has wronged you, and finally, everyone. It can feel very weird to wish well upon yourself for a start, as you’ve probably never thought to be self compassionate let alone self loving. And wishing well on your enemies? How can you do that? The fuck do they deserve my well wishes for? It helps to really think about doing it for you. As rewarding as it is to hold onto the story, and resentment, and anger, that can be holding you back. Here’s some more evidence for the selfish reasons to try Loving-Kindess Meditation.

Now, I’m really not claiming to be enlightened in any sense. And fuck me does it take continuous work not to get emotional over all the perceived wrongs I’ve been subjected to, and the wrongs I’ve done through my actions and inactions.

Overall I’m calmer, and less reactive. When I find myself bogged down in a problem instead of berating myself I now know that a few minutes pause will generally reveal the next course of action. Now I believe I “should” be just focusing on my breath during those pauses but instead of hammering my head against my Macbook and counting my breaths the clarity of what action I need to take presents itself and for this it’s worthwhile. And because I’m taking more action, I feel happier as I feel more in control of my time, my actions, and my life. And when I find myself too busy or stressed to meditate, I know it’s literally the best thing I can do.

You-should-sit-in-meditation-for-20-minutes-a-day-unless-youre-too-busy-then-you-should-sit-for-an-hour.

It’s always harder to do at these times (what, you didn’t think I’d write a blog without a PHRASING! did you?) quietening that incredibly insistent voice in my head has never proven to be a fruitless exercise.

I really should develop a solid night time routine now…

May 23

A Blog A Year In The Making

So actually it’s a blog two years in the making, as right about the May Bank Holiday 2014 I remember saying out loud “my life is pretty perfect right now.” I’d a business I was beginning to relax in and find a solid work/life balance, money in the bank and not living off the credit card finally, and a good social life. Oh, how the gods that be decided to change that!

What follows will be a whirlwind of the events and emotions of the last two years, certainly not a blow by blow account of it all.

Honestly I’ve thought a lot about this blog entry and there was a little part of me that wanted the year to go by just so I could publish this. A year ago today writing this blog would to me mean I’ve made it back to my feet. So that’s the importance in it for me. As my friend asked yesterday, “was (Saturday) the dream a year ago?” Yes, yes it was.

When CFI 3.0 opened (I guess it’s CFI 3.1 now) people said to me I must be delighted now that I’d made it. And that everything happens for a reason, and it’s all worked out okay. I wasn’t quite over the year that had happened, nor was I sure I’d made it, so I said “we’ll see” like the Zen Master, the little boy, and the horse.

It’s certainly true that you can only join the dots backwards. You can’t see what’s waiting around the corner. You can’t see what tragedy is making way for the greatest euphoria you’ve ever felt. I am grateful for the journey that’s led me here, as much as I wished I’d avoided it.

you-cant-connect-the-dots-looking-forward-you-can-only-connect-them-looking-backwards-so-you-have-to-trust-that-the-dots-will-somehow-connect-in-your-future

So what happened that it all went to shit?

Well, some shit came to light that shook my world to the core. It hit me hard and I spent most of the summer of 2014 unsure who to trust and feeling very shaky in my own confidence: as a coach, a business operator, as a person. Panic attacks on the way into work were becoming a daily occurrence and under the advice of my counsellor at the time I issued my resignation in September. From October onwards, the solicitors were involved in a lengthy “he said, they said” battle. Under the advice of my solicitor, I finally coached my last class in what’s now referred to as “the old place” in November. Thus began my “wilderness” period.

During this period I confided in someone else who turned out to be a predator posing as a house pet. She ended up manipulating me, stealing from me, and has left me physical scars too.

As you can imagine, this didn't do me much good.

As you can imagine, this didn’t do me much good.

Please understand, I’m not playing the victim here, as I invited all this into my life and need to accept my role in all of it. I trusted the wrong people, and I made the wrong bets. If there’s a lesson here it’s that you can spend too long chasing a lost bet. Or as the Coen Brothers put it “all the time ya spend trying to get back what’s been took from ya, more is going out the door. After a while you just have to try to get a tourniquet on it”

They were some shitty months though. There’s an embarrassment when people ask you if there’s any movement. You’ve no answer. They ask you how come you left and you can’t really answer or give one that’s satisfactory. You search for a place and get close to signing a lease only to find it’s gone to someone else. You feel guilty training in someone else’s facility on their generosity. Your solicitor takes another day to get back to you, then their solicitor takes another day to get back. Then it’s the weekend and another week has gone by. Sunday nights were lonely, tough, times. Nothing to look forward to. Feeling hopeless.

I suppose it’s important to point out that as much at times I felt I was on my own, I never really was, and so many people helped me along the way it’s unreal. At the time it may have been difficult to count your blessings when you’re knee deep in escalating solicitor’s bills and declining cash reserves. An interesting note is I was about a week off from declaring bankruptcy and having to give up the fight when it all got sorted.

But many many people helped me out. I don’t feel I persevered so much as those around me carried me through that time. Some I’d like to think know how much it meant to me. Others I hope I’ve repaid or at least justified their investment in me. Some I haven’t thanked enough or honoured their kindness. But I am genuinely thankful for all of that.

If I tried to name everyone who I have to thank and all they did for me this blog would run over and I’m prone to prattling on as it is, but I need to talk about Patrick and Derek.

At a fairly low point, I confided in Derek how frustrated I was that I’d tried so hard and wondered what was the point with going on when the world was filled with horrible people waiting to take advantage of you. Derek simply looked me in the eyes and said “please don’t.” It was very powerful moment for me. I’ve thought about it a lot. I’m sorry I made Derek cry. The world needs more like Derek.

#BAE

#BAE

Patrick has probably had to endure more bull than anyone else over the last few years.

There’s a verse in Ben Howard’s “Keep Your Head Up!” that really sums up how Patrick’s friendship has soothed me.

I saw a friend of mine the other day,
and he told me that my eyes were gleamin’.
Oh I said I had been away, and he knew,
oh he knew the depths I was meanin’.
And it felt so good to see his face
oh the comfort invested in my soul.

Patrick drove me to my first meeting in Pieta House and waited while I saw the counsellor for the first time. I cannot imagine how tough that was to see your friend in pain and feel powerless to help them.

Patrick, I’m sorry I made you worry and thank you for being there.

twoblogjobsplease

So what got me through it?

There was one phrase I told myself repeatedly to get myself through shittier days. “This is not the end of the story.” If the movie ends now, it’s a tragedy. If I can keep going, it’s going to be a triumph. There was times I believed that. And times I just said it in the hope I’d believe that.

So my life is perfect now? The End. Ha! No, that’s not really how it works, is it. It’s like the story of the little boy and the horse as alluded to above. There’ll be peaks and valleys as life goes on, neither the sunshine nor the rain lasts forever. I guess if I’ve matured at all (and that’s debatable!) is that I know that now and can appreciate when things are good and batton down and hold tight when things aren’t so good. A little mantra I’ve been trying out lately is that “all change makes things better.” Instead of trying to cling on to what feels the best I can do but maybe isn’t the best for me, I’m more willing to accept that things change.

I work longer hours now. I have less money too. There’s no feeling of security, but looking back, there was no security, was there? I’m more okay with that. I’m less about chasing stability as I am about driving forward into the unknown. I’m far wealthier now though. Wealthier in the space I walk into everyday, it’s a nicer box (I had to include at least one Phrasing!), the vibe is energising and enriching, I’m wealthier in my relationships, I’m wealthier in my impact and influence and experiences. I’m wealthier in my soul, in who I am and who I want to be.

Have I any advice for anyone who’s going through hell right now? I won’t ever say something like you know it will get better. Because we don’t know. And it’s not really helpful advice either.

So instead I’m going to leave you with the words from my favourite song, that have lifted me up and carried me through more times than I can recount.

“If you can’t hold on, hold on…”

May 13

Rambling and Inconclusive Thoughts on Volume vs Intensity

So since there’s a lot of talk about Intensity & Volume lately I thought I’d throw my unasked for opinion into the mix! I just finished Regionals Nate, and in the twenty minutes I got 3 Rounds done, and a couple of no reps for good measure.

Working it out, I did a rep about one every 17 seconds. Of course I wasn’t this well paced!

Now does this mean I didn’t have the intensity, and should have scaled for intensity? I mean, I didn’t really break a sweat much during that (if that’s a measure of intensity) or get a lot of reps in (if that’s another).

I’m being a little facetious here but that’s my point. We need to define a lot clearer the terms “intensity” and “volume” before we can have a debate about them.

Some workouts, like say deadlifts and wall balls, or burpees and wall balls, or anything and wall balls really, will naturally put an athlete in that infamous redzone. Others may require a level of skill and/or strength development to get there.

My aim was to do the Regionals workout as rx’d. So my aim was satisfied. If my aim was to move for 20 minutes continuously, or to get the 10 rounds done, it would have changed the stimulus.

If I did 69 (hehehehe) reps during a 20 minute strength piece (like I had in the 20 minutes before to work up to a heavy hang snatch) I wouldn’t have hit the desired intensity, as to do that many reps would have meant the load (again hehehehe) would have been too light to illicit the response we were looking for. So in this case, a lot of reps meant a reduction in intensity.

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Some people are Big Rig Trucks, others are Lamborghinis. Some people have 6 gears, others are lucky if they find second! For those that may not have the ability to go into the “Intensity” zone, they may need more.

They need more just to disrupt homeostatis (I love that word, it’s science!) They need a little extra hit as for them, the overhead squat is too challenging on their flexibility to challenge their core at a high heart rate like ‘Nancy’ is meant to do. They’re so unused to running, and so cautious, that they can’t run fast enough to elicit the same response as the more athletic can. (I almost wrote better athlete there!)

For them, they may need a little extra hit to develop their fitness.

Yes, there’s a counter argument that they need to develop the mechanics first, and they’re in this phase of their development. 100% agree. I see no problem with them hopping on the Assault Bike afterwards for 4 minutes of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off to get “gassed”. For so many, sweat = a good workout, and regardless of what they need physiologically, psychologically they may need a sweat to feel like they’ve worked out for the day. Provided the sweatiness doesn’t negate the skill/strength work they’ve done, it’s all good in my opinion.

Some people don't say that ironically!

Some people don’t say that ironically!

If the movement can’t provide the intensity, maybe they should substitute it out? Again, a valid point, and sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Another way to look at it is they don’t want to feel isolated, incompetent, or “stupid” by doing a movement that no one else is doing. They’ll feel bad, and this is the exact opposite of what we want them to feel.

We all need enough exposure to a stimulus to learn how to get the most out of it. Learning how to go from zero to ninety comes easier for some than others. And they need more practice in learning how to go hard enough in a given workout, versus holding back. They can’t push themselves as hard in a 4 minute AMRAP like a more experienced CrossFitter can. They need the 12-16 minute piece.

If we take the intensity over volume argument to absurd levels, we should only do 1 rep. Because otherwise there’s no intensity. 1RM burpee anyone? 1RM wall ball? Sounds stupid but the “intensity” on these can only come at a certain threshold, and this will vary from one to another.

Going from 3 to 5 days a week is an increase in volume. Hitting sets of 8 instead of 5 is an increase in volume. Oh, adding a few rounds to an AMRAP is adding in volume. To be really pernickety it’s an increase in density. We’ve no problems with these increases in intensity, so why do we have a problem with adding in a second training session, or adding in a second piece during the same training session, and making it 90 minutes instead of 60?

The point is these terms (however we define them) aren’t dichotomous. (Again, I love that word.) A lot of this whole debate is down to reducing complex training terms in a sport that’s still very nascent into soundbites. I get the need for it. In a snatch we tell people to just pull the bar back and jump overhead because it’s simpler and easier to understand, even though there’s more than that. When soundbites become gospel it is an issue though.

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We should also address the issue of “That’s not what CrossFit was founded on” and similar arguments.

CrossFit, like everything else, evolves. What was Games level events now probably aren’t even challenging/separating enough for The Open. We now hit snatches in metcons that were 1RM a few years previously. When Mikko Salo burst onto the scene in 2009 we were all amazed he hit some rowing or running in the morning and he’d do double metcons in the afternoon. Heck, we used to run a Mikko Salo week in CFI and it was a huge deal. Now, we can program two nice complimentary metcons on a Thursday.



The above video, by the way, was a Regionals event!

The counter argument to that is that we shouldn’t stray from the founding or guiding principles of CrossFit. In this case, if you’re sacrificing over-specificity and extra volume that reduces intensity, this is an issue.

CrossFit themselves “add” to this problem, as in documentaries like Road To The Games, we get to see an elite level athletes programming for a given day. It’s one of the only sports, in fact it may be the only sport, that allows us to train exactly how a pro did, at least for a day! So of course we’re tempted to do it. I don’t think this is a bad thing, done sensibly, as every now and again pushing yourself well past what you normally do gives you a real appreciation of how good the top level are. It’s only when you try do a few supports on rings you finally grasp how awesome Olympic gymnasts really are.

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I totally get the lack of intensity in just beating a dead horse and hitting shitty slow paced metcon after shitty slow paced metcon. Most people who post about Intensity over Volume are talking about this. Half assing your morning workout so you can half ass your evening workout is a hiding to nowhere.

But, you know, there’s something to be said for low intensity work, as either nice recovery work or base building. That ‘recovery’ work again mightn’t be physiologically necessary but psychologically imperative for the individual. Developing a base ability to just sit on a rower for an hour and not die, or run at low intensity can help build your ability to recover from the intense metcons you’re hitting.

Finally, what if people just like working out? It’s their headspace and an extra few reps or another metcon, while not strictly speaking the most beneficial use of their time, is the most maximised enjoyable use of their time. Happiness is the goal, right? Adding an extra run can be great meditation for some people. Provided that exercise isn’t becoming a hiding place to avoid problems, a little volume can be just what the doctor ordered. We can’t just say volume OR intensity unless we know the why. “I like to hang around with my friends and instead of drinking we lift and run.” is a good enough why to me!

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There’s a sweet spot in everything, between intensity and volume, between productivity and enjoyment, and none of these terms are mutually exclusive, nor should they be. So while soundbites are cool at getting a message across succinctly (unlike this blog which has been rambly to say the least :P) they don’t tell the whole story.

Apr 15

Thoughts on the 2016 Open

So today marks 9 years since I did my first CrossFit workout, “Cindy” in a hotel gym in town. There was a time, maybe about 5 to 6 years in, when I could smugly say I was an OG CrossFitter as it was becoming mainstream. Now, I’m just embarrassed I’m not a lot better πŸ˜› πŸ˜› I’ve no great reflections on my journey, but I do have a whole bunch of thoughts on this year’s Open that I never got around to publishing. And now that the dust has settled, let’s review the 2016 Open. (If you want to brush up on my thoughts on the 2015 Open, click here!)

I still feel like this after CrossFit. I just don't lie down anymore.

I still feel like this after CrossFit. I just don’t lie down anymore.

Initial thoughts – By far the best put together open ever. Each workout was a true test of fitness. Gone are the days when we could say it was a workout for the gymnasts, or the meatheads, or the cardio bunnies. Every one tests all aspects, which I think shows how the sport is evolving.

If the open was in danger of growing stale, and I don’t think it was, this year mixed it up again with the curveballs. We really couldn’t predict what was going to happen. Which again brought back the initial excitement of the “old days” when you’d no idea what would be posted on “dotcom”.

“We won’t see Bar Muscle Ups,” I smugly predicted. “The way things go in CrossFit is they start out as a Games level skill, then Regionals, then The Open.” I boldly stated thinking I’d successfully cracked Castro’s code. Oh, how wrong I was. This had held true for rope climbs. They were a Games “final” skill, then a Friday Night Lights skill, then legless rope climbs became the games skill, then legless became a Regional levels skills. (I’ll predict now that we don’t see Rope Climbs in The Open, as different affiliates have different ceiling heights, but really that could change!)

Wonder when we'll see an Assault Bike wod?

Wonder when we’ll see an Assault Bike wod?

Would I ever have predicted Walking Overhead Lunges? Hells no. Despite lunging being prominent in the 2013 season, where Front Rack Lunges appeared in the final of Regionals and Overhead Lunges appeared in the final of The Games. In hindsight, it’s obvious. Everything is obvious in hindsight. Would this rule out overhead squats? Not necessarily. But it might make Handstand Walks a possibility.. Now that we have a measurement for travelling distance, why the hell not!? They’ve been in the Games since 2011, that’s 5 years warning you’ve had to get your gymnastic shit together.

Could we see a movement repeated in The Open? Who knows. <-- (I'm leaving this comment in here out of order as I initially wrote my thoughts up before 16.5 was released as I didn't want it to taint my opinions.) Over the last few Regionals and Games, Castro and Glassman have done an exceptional job of ensuring the leaderboard gets shaken up each and every workout. But now, the tests are perfectly balanced in and of themselves! What was the key point in 16.1? Was it the lunges, the burpees, or the chest to bar pull ups? I'd argue that it was none really. It was how they came together (phrasing!) Ditto for 16.2. Sure, there were a lot of toes to bar, and there were double unders, and then heavy squat cleans too. Beautiful. Horrible, but beautiful. How's that core bro? How's that core with a high heart rate? How about blood flushing all over the shop as you transition from one movement to the next? Oh yeah, best not waste any time with that 4 minute cap!

One could argue that there was a bottleneck in 16.3 and 16.4. For those that had bar muscle ups, both sections of that workout sucked. Sure, you could probably muscle out another 34Kg snatch if you had to, but for most CrossFitters playing the sport a while, a bar muscle up just required a bit more focus and bracing again. But was it high skill or petal to the metal? Well, both really!

16.4 was beautiful in it’s simple brutality. You had to be so balanced across your fitness. Strong? Cool, do 55 fucking things. Good engine? Alright, get through some deadlifts first. Awesome gymnastics? Hey, we’ve got this buy in before that. As Doug Chapman so eloquently put it, something for everyone to give out about this time. On a personal level, the best warm I found was a 2 hour drive to Galway. The best cool down was a 2 hour drive back. The tour was a lot easier before I’d an affiliate to take care off, when I could just hang out in someone else’s gym for as long as I wanted afterwards! Special shout out to 8020, UnLaois’d, D12, and Galway for hosting me!

For the record, this photo was taken on his descent, not a no rep!

For the record, this photo was taken on his descent, not a no rep!

Time to talk about 16.4, cheating, and bro reps.

I’m gonna side with Bridges on this one, not least of which because I once accidentally kicked over his trophy in The Games and owe him one. Bridges has won SEVEN Open workouts throughout his career. A feat I believe unequalled by anyone else. He was also being judged by CJ Martin, a coach who’s gotten more athletes and teams to The Games than anyone else. The video is on a fisheye lens, which changes how things are perceived. Plus, he submitted his score on Friday for approval, giving HQ time to yea or nae it. You know HQ? The team that arbitrates our sport? I’ll let them make the call.

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Was this because he’s friends with HQ? With the sheer volume of participation in The Games, you could literally tell an athlete the entire season and still have by and large the same athletes come out on top.

I wrote the above two paragraphs before seeing HQ’s reversal on Mr. Bridges winning score. On one hand in sport we accept that judges are human and we’ve to accept their call. There’s reps that were suspect of mine that got called good/bad during the open, as there are for everyone else. I’ll also say it takes guts for an organisation to come out and admit publicly they were in error, and reverse their decision. I don’t believe that Bridges was cheating, nor was CJ. Cheating to me implies an intent to deceive and really here what we have is an error.

Bridges doesn’t seem too upset about it either.

Now, do I think there’s cheating in other areas? Fuck Yes!

I’m not talking about inexperienced judging. There’s been judging errors made by me, and every single one of the judges in my affiliate. A marginal no rep call here or there. Some go your way, some don’t. I’ve been called no reps on the tour that I thought were good, and had reps that on another day weren’t good called ok. It balances out and it’s the sport. You play the ref.

I’m talking about blatant chasing. I’ve seen scores that are 100% fabricated and approved. It can be hard to believe you’re a better CrossFitter than X, and see them beat you on the leaderboard. It can be harder to know you’re a better CrossFitter than someone else and see them post a dubious, if not blatantly bullshit score. I understand though that there’s a lot that comes to the surface when faced with a judge and a clipboard, and such a public and permanent record of how good or bad you are can cause us to do funny things. Sometimes they feel justifiable too. “If everyone else is cheating it’s okay then.”

I don’t have a solution. I guess we’ll have to accept that cheating is a part of sport.

Now back to more positive thoughts! There’s a beauty in all of this, in that it will make us all fitter. You think there’s a single Regionals or Games Level athlete now that can’t climb a pegboard after last year’s final? You think there’s anyone out there now who looks forward to The Open that isn’t just gunning for chest to bars but full on bar muscle ups!? How cool is that!? We’ve raised the expectations of what’s possible for all of us now. Sure, I mightn’t ever clean 315lbs/142Kg for reps, but knowing that’s the standard now will make 225lbs/102Kg not feel as “heavy”.

For the record, I was wrong in my prediction that pistols would come up. Damn! I can also see now that the Open season is closed why there was no Part A workouts like the 1RM C&J or the predicted muscle ups/handstand walk. The Part A was a single modality, and skewed the leaderboard towards someone who was super proficient in one area but may be lacking in others. Since all the workouts are balanced tests now, it doesn’t seem to make sense to put in a biased test like that. Of course, now that I’ve written it, it means that it could happen again in the next few Opens!

So 16.5 was an anti climax? Are you fucking kidding me?

I remember thinking so when 15.5 came out, bit simple isn’t it? But then it gave us a “pure” CrossFit test that was an amazing challenge, one I’d argue was more mental than physical. It also gave us the best documentary on CrossFit ever

16.5 wasn’t technically challenging, “just” thrusters and burpees. But what did it give us? Think about how the 2016 Open would have ended if it was a Handstand Walk or Freestanding HSPU, or weighted strict one armed muscle up. For most, it would have ended with a lot of failures and standing around. This would be our last, and probably strongest memory of The Open.

This way, it ends with an achievement. Yes, 14.5/16.5 was an achievement. Castro and Glassman know that for affiliate owners, The Open is a blessing and a challenge. You’re faced with the stress of programming around it, running each even with judges and score sheets and heat lists, trying to accomodate everyone from the gung ho athlete who wants to beast it, to the shier member who wants to compete but doesn’t think they’re up to the challenge, to the brand new client who just has an hour free on Saturday. Plus you’re competing yourself and that brings it’s own stresses and strains.

16.5 brought the loudest cheers and greatest sense of accomplishment when completed than any other workout. Yes, it’s hellish, but the pride of facing that, and being cheered on and supported by your entire gym, and come out the other side, is what it’s all about.

For those that had done it before, we got a chance to talk about 2 years ago and where we were. For those new to it, we got to face this Himalayan challenge that we weren’t sure we could hide away from. There was no time cap, you had to finish it. And somewhere in the 18s or 15s, the finish line seemed impossibly far away. That was the point. That there’s no where to go. We can shy away from the pain and continue to suffer, or we can push into the pain and get through it.

A lesson for life there perhaps?

Roll on 2017, but not too quickly. Let’s enjoy the off season first!

Feb 20

Wrong

So as I sit here in Dublin airport waiting to board an 11 hour flight to do the Barbell Business workshop I thought I’d write about being wrong.

I’m sure entirely what I want to say, and this might be a short blog post. (Edit: Turns out it’s not!)

Basically it seems to coming down to a worry or embarrassment about being wrong. But being wrong is the only way you grow, right?

Do I want to be placated or do I want to grow? Can't I have both!?

Do I want to be placated or do I want to grow? Can’t I have both!?

I suppose we also need to talk about what being wrong means. Like we’ve all had it, wrong decisions, wrong relationships, wrong ideas. They’re only wrong in hindsight for a start. WAY back when I was training to be a life coach (guess I always wanted to help people) my life coach told me “you did the best you could with what you knew at the time.” Powerful. And true. I can’t even remember what I was worried about or what we were discussing but that’s stuck with me. And it’s a very good tool for self-forgiveness.

Secondly, nothing’s ever really 100% right or wrong either, is it? We can bust out the old adage that if that shitty thing hadn’t have happened you would have never ended up here (if here at the time is pretty sweet) but I’m not talking about that specifically.

Take programming, for example. I’ll regularly go back and look at the workouts I programmed and think “Jesus, that’s shite!”. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But I know at the time it was the best programming I was capable of putting together. We all hit Rippetoe’s low bar back squats for a time, believing it was the right thing to do. And we got some gains from it (Just gains with an s, not a z). Combing low bar and high bar was then the thing. Then, it was all about the high bar.

So yeah... Squat debates!

So yeah… Squat debates!

Right now I feel that the front squat is way more important for CrossFit and Weightlifting, with much more “direct” carryover. Having said that the back squat still has it’s place. And I also ‘know’ that chasing strength gains in the squat at the detriment of integrating it back into other aspects of CrossFit isn’t the way to go. It’s a great starting point for putting together a programme, and there’s a great buzz around test week. But there could be a better way.

Funny, even writing the above paragraph I’m questioning myself and getting a little uncomfortable. Almost as if I’m justifying my programming and reasoning. It’s not a bad thing, I suppose, to regularly question what you’re doing. If you challenge it and it turns out to be wrong, at least you can stop it then.

I don’t want to be wrong because I don’t want to cause harm. That’s a big part of it. I do best when I focus on what’s going right and trying to do more of that. When I feel I’ve done wrong the immediate emotional reaction is to berate myself for it. I guess the belief behind that is I “should” know better, and people relied on me to be right.

But I also know that by looking for and stopping/correcting what’s wrong is a way to improve. And I want to improve. Sure, I’m sitting on an 11 hour flight for a 4 hour wait for another 1.5 hour flight to go to a conference to improve. A part of me wants to get a pat on the back and be told “keep going”. Being brutally honest, I don’t want to go in there and feel humiliated that I’m doing things all wrong (embarrassed monkey emoji hiding his eyes).

A large part of this blog was inspired by Jamie’s post here.

Oh wow, an hour down. As a sidenote to this blog, I’ve definitely noticed since I’ve started journalling my sense of amazement and number of “oh wow” moments has definitely increased.

I listened to this podcast Lewis Howe’s did with Esther Perel about relationships not too long ago. She talked about how we’re too harsh on what we define as a failure. A couple getting divorced after 25-40 shouldn’t be considered a failure, she argued. If they came together (phrasing!) created a relationship, had kids and supported each other for the vast majority of it, only to grow apart again, that’s okay. It doesn’t have to last forever for it to be considered a success. Well worth a listen to.

Another thing on being wrong, is that it very often paralyses us from taking action before it even begins. Hell, I debated investing in this course I’m attending because “what if it’s a waste of time/money?” It’s costing us close to €3000 to attend, and 5 days, not to mention the opportunity cost of staying at home and trying to make money, or the fatigue from me travelling and Derek running the show.

I said ‘cost’ deliberately as that’s how it can feel sometimes. But the right way to think about it would be an investment. CrossFit costs a lot of money. But as I’ve discussed it’s better viewed as an investment with a massive pay off. Harder to see is the very real cost of inaction. The missed opportunities by not taking a shot, and not experimenting. Credit to Tim Ferriss for first bringing to my attention the notion that instead of looking at things as permanent decisions, you treat them as experiments. You take on a new job/relationship/training course/system/programme not as an irrevocable and irredeemable decision, but rather as an experiment to see where in life in takes you.

There’ll never be a 100% perfect decision, what you’ve got to do is take a shot an commit to it.

So it’s a funny thing. I need to be wrong to grow and be happy, but I really wanna be right! There’s a balance, sure, in trusting you’re doing the right thing while also re-evaluating and changing the wrong actions. Finding it is the tricky part!!

Feb 09

Adventures in Journaling & Habit Forming

So since January 1st I’ve been using the Five Minute Journal, after I heard about it on the Tim Ferriss podcast.

By the end of Christmas drinking and wedding season, I needed it.

I kept drinking because I was scared that if I stopped, the cumulative hangover would literally kill me.

I kept drinking because I was scared that if I stopped, the cumulative hangover would literally kill me.

The last wedding I was just spent. Amazingly drinking all those depressants had given me the “mehs”. I went up to my hotel room and realised that I was utterly sober and just wanted to leave. I calculated the number of units I’d consumed and reasoned that I could safely drive at 4am. Lay there in bed staring at the ceiling and maybe got a few hours sleep. I waited way past my calculations as well just to be safe.

So safe to say I needed some positive habits to kick off the year. And probably best for this experiment I was pretty wiped to begin with.

To explain how the journal works, you start off by writing some notes as to why journaling is important to you, what your obstacles to journaling are, and how you’ll overcome them. Then, each day you’ll start with three things you’re grateful for, and three things that would make the day great. Finally, you write a daily affirmation. In the evening, you write up three amazing things that happened, and two things that you could have done to make the day better.

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First of all, it’s hard. First thing in the morning, to think of all the things you’re thankful for rather than “FML, I just want 5 more minutes in bed.” We’re hard wired to look for threats. You know, a threat is far more likely to kill us than a treat is. Those sabre tooth tigers didn’t fuck around back in the day, constantly hunting humans for food. Delicious nourishing berries, if we missed them, didn’t kill us straight away. (Although we might die of a slow starvation.)

I genuinely think the point of this whole thing is not to have things to be thankful for, but rather to start reprogramming our brain to search for the good and positives in our lives. Rarely is everything 100% shitty, or 100% brilliant. The problems, worries, perceived and very real problems we have tend to be more pervasive in our thinking. This is a deliberate and conscious exercise is disrupting that pattern and finding things to be thankful and the amazing things that happened that day.

One thing it has forced me to deal with is that very often I don’t know what will make me happy in a given day. When bluntly faced with this question, I’m stumped more often than not.

Honestly, there’s a part of my brain that’s looking for the magic pill. That all elusive one thing that will make me 100% perfectly and permanently happy. “If only…” pops into my head, more than I would have realised it did.

So a benefit of this short lived experiment (still ongoing) is that I’m setting smaller expectations of my day. Now this could read as a very depressing thing to write, or defeatist. It’s not. It’s learning to appreciate the little things. It’s learning (very slowly) to be self reliant on my happiness, and not make it conditional on something outside of my control happening (a new prospect calling, for example, or Munster to win!!)

This seems potent right about now.

This seems potent right about now.

Historically I’m shit at living in the moment. I’ve looked back on a lot of times in my life and said “you should have enjoyed that more”. Now, of course I realise that we all look back on certain times with rose tinted glasses. Our memories are notoriously inaccurate and we forget large parts of what happened. We even make up shit that never happened. They’ve done studies where they’ve shown people photographs of themselves at parties and other events and the subject has made up a memory of being there. But journalling has helped me appreciate the moment more as it’s happening.

At the risk of this blog post becoming an Instagram motivational account, I'll add this pic as well.

At the risk of this blog post becoming an Instagram motivational account, I’ll add this pic as well.

Has it made me absolutely zen like? Fuck no! It’s not a miracle cure. Nothing fucking is.

See it’s never one thing. Never is. It’s a combination of hundreds and thousands of small incidents that bring us on or off course. Journaling, I’ve found, has helped me sharpen my focus on all the small actions that add up.

And it helps put things in perspective for me. Now I know we joke about first world problems and everyone’s problem to them really is the biggest problem in the world but there’s definitely an element of focus. Are you counting your blessings or counting your troubles?

Journaling this month has coincided with reading Bressie’s book. Now, I don’t know the guy, nor his pain and his struggles, but one thing that hit home in the early chapters was that he didn’t appreciate what was good in his life. He was a successful rugby player and musician, the types of careers most dream of. Now I don’t know if the anxiety causes the inability to appreciate what’s right in your life or if lack of appreciation causes/adds to the anxiety and resultant depression. What I can say from my perspective is taking the time to look for things to be appreciative of and happy about has kept me on an even keel. Particularly at the end of a not so great day where I’ve to shift my focus from my worries/struggles/demands to what went right.

See we’re all weird. If we smile, we get happier. Our body’s are constantly searching for clues as to how we feel, so they reason if I smile, I must be happy. So we can smile first, and then be happy. Doesn’t make sense but it’s shown to have an impact.

Journaling has helped me start to develop better habits, and the daily check ins point out what irks me or what I’m not accomplishing. So in addition to journaling I started adding daily positive habits to my life.

Week one, believe it or not, was not to go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink. I hated doing them at night. Still don’t quite revel in it. But I’d be so pissed off coming into a dirty kitchen or looking for the frying pan to make breakfast only to be annoyed.

The dishes gave me a sense of accomplishment. That’s been built up now, taking on just one very small new habit each week so I don’t burn out my willpower but gradually, incrementally, make my life run smoother.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that I am in no way as organised or as scheduled as I’d like to be. I just didn’t realise it until this year, even though it’s obvious in hindsight. Being my own boss I get to set my schedule, but there’s definitely more scope for a better one.

I know I like to blur the lines between work and play. I don’t want my job to be something I escape from. But, if I’m never fully relaxing because a task is hanging over me then I’m not giving 100% am I? If I have non negotiable time scheduled for something it gets done and gets done right. So February is all about setting these times up.

For example, Thursday is programming day. But it gets worked around. It’s important. It’s enjoyable. It’s challenging. But it’s not given the priority it deserves. It might get done early in the day, or later. Shit, there’s been times I’ve finished it off at 8am Sunday morning before the programming video goes up! Now, though, it’s getting scheduled as part of my two hours dedicated work time, which now takes place in Starbucks instead of at home. At home it’s too easy to throw on some Netflix and get distracted with domestic chores (Which, if they were just scheduled, would get done and cause less stress!)

So I’m going to continue journaling and building small habits. There’s an app in beta testing but I’ve found that writing on paper stops me checking instagram again. My advice to you would be to give it a go for a solid month. It’s not going to change anything overnight (nothing really does) but I’ve found it very valuable. Oh, and for god’s sake, do your hollow holds!

Jan 27

The Value of Training

So my friend asked me to write on this and with that in mind all the shitty ideas are his, and all the ones that resonate with you are my interpretations. Deal? Deal!

How much would you pay to have your heart restarted after it stopped prematurely from a clogging of the arteries? If you lost the use of your legs today or had to get them amputated would you spend everything you have to regain their use? I would.

I-d-like-to-thank-my-arms-for-always-being-by-my-s

But, how much would you pay to prevent it? My guess, half of fuck all. Fuck all being the most widely used currency there is.

Why is this?

Well, essentially we’re all really, really, really bad at assessing the future. And we don’t like to take risks, really. (Side note: I’ve used really too much in this paragraph already. Really, I have.)

Instant gratification is promised, but future dividends are not. I know this can of coke will taste delicious right now. I can’t see the effect this small, tiny, effort done repeatedly is having on my health.

Ditto my expensive coffee. I know this latte will taste yummy. I can’t guarantee skipping this will lead to the chain reaction that leads me to having enough savings to get a mortgage.

The same is true, to some extent, with shitty form and niggling injuries. The “cost” of 20 minutes a day ROMWOD seems high. I mean, I can still train with that dodgy niggle, or poor hip flexibility. But will mobility GUARANTEE an instant improvement in my form? Will I get an instant PR? No. So, we don’t do it as it doesn’t give us the tangible results we want or need straight away. And it’s hard to invest time when you can’t see an instant return. It’s harder to invest time when we think we might get no return or even a negative return.

So this leads us on nicely to the value of paying for training. Shit man, CrossFit is expensive. What am I paying for? Like, the workouts are free online anyway. And private training so I can get that PR I’ve wanted for years? Please!

sarcasm

For some reason, the cost of gyms hasn’t really changed much over time. This article – http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/time-for-yearly-gym-rush-but-limber-up-by-shopping-around-25890562.html – puts the cost of gym membership in Ben Dunnes in 2004 at €325, and we can reasonably assume. You can join the gym now for €245. So it’s actually cheaper now.

By comparison, the price of a Big Mac was €2.74 in 2004, and €3.68 in 2015 – Source – http://bigmacindex.org/

Oh man, I shouldn’t be writing this while hungry. I want a burger now.

Also, there’s the very real benefit that paying premium for something just makes you value it more. Instead of paying money to someone you’re investing in yourself for a big, big payoff.

You move better, look sexier, progress quicker, and are healthier as a result. All of these things are pretty high on everyone’s list of wants, yet as a total percentage of discretionary income spend it’s disproportionate.

(Finally, my economics class in college is paying off!)

The punitive damage for not investing in high quality coaching can be a couple of hundred in physio bills if you’re lucky and serious surgeon consulting fees (if you’re not! It’s weird isn’t it, €300 on physio to fix something that a €75 PT could have prevented. Doesn’t seem that expensive now does it?

Now let’s move on to the real paydirt. Beyond the physical. To throw some latin at y’all – anima sana in corpore sano

They'll never go out of fashion because they've never been in fashion

They’ll never go out of fashion because they’ve never been in fashion

How much would you pay for friendships and a support group?

Here’s some figures:

  • Having a better social life can be worth as much as an additional $131,232 a year in terms of life satisfaction
  • A happy marriage is worth $105,000 a year
  • Seeing friends and family regularly is worth $97,265

Oh go check out the source here and see how much your health is worth!
http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2012/01/what-are-your-relationships-worth-in-dollars/

Isn’t that worth paying some of your disposable income each month for? Nah, a few curries and that Sky subscription are much more worth it.

What about therapy? Since this blog’s popular posts are about mental health how much would clarity and a release valve be worth to you, really?

Another problem, similar to the instant gratification, is that these things are hard to see in advance. One cannot imagine a future than their present. If you look at how they imagined the future in the 1950s you see images like this.

frank-r-paul-atomic-flying-car

So why would someone believe you when you tell them they’ll be healthier, and happier, more comfortable and confident if they just do some thrusters and burpees a few odd times a week? Difficult to comprehend from the outside and a near impossible sell.

But yeah, this shit is expensive man.

Nov 16

As I Understand Depression

Ever since I published my suicide attempt (or Splash, as it became known amongst friends) people have asked me for a follow up piece on how I deal with it. So here it is.

Truth is, I’m not sure I deal with it. As I’m going through a depressive patch now seems the right time to try and explain for those who don’t understand, and talk about dealing with it for those who I might be able to help.

I say going through, which in itself we’ll take as a positive, rather than I AM Depressed, which seems much more permanent and ever lasting. It’s also a weird one, as I seem much more cognisant of it than normal.

depression2

Fact is, it’s generally something I have to keep an eye on. That dark cloud, that it could come at any moment. While there can be triggers, there are times when I just feel it approaching. It’s like an aura a few days to a few weeks out. The sound of the oncoming storm, even if you can’t feel it (or admit that that’s what is coming.)

It’s at that stage when reminding yourself that there’s a cloud coming helps. And thus begins the intellectual battle with the emotional/hormonal one. And fuck me can that hormonal side make a strong case!

I’ve found it helpful to let those close to you know if I can feel it. That’s taken a long time to be able to do, as well meaning and well intentioned advice can have the exact opposite impact. I suppose we could say it’s like warning your coach you haven’t slept or are feeling a serious case of DOMS from the previous day. While it doesn’t change the workout, it can alter our expectations of what our performance will be that day.

depresion1

When the big dog arrives, or the black mist descends, or you fall down the deep hole, you cannot help but focus on the pain. Regardless of all the good around you the one pain point screams like a siren and draws all your attention towards it and it alone.

Think of it like this, if you sprain your ankle or break your arm, that’s all you can focus on. The pain is at times all consuming. You might forget about it for a while but then it hits you again with a blinding reminder it’s there. It doesn’t matter that all your other joints are working well, it doesn’t matter that you can still do lots. All you can focus on is the pain point. Same with depression.

The truly interesting (and possibly terrifying) is that when in a depressed state, the thoughts and feelings you have take on such a degree of certainty and permanency unlike any other time. That you are finally seeing clearly how everyone hates you, and the world is a horrible place.

The irony of this certainty is that it only exists towards the negative. All the bad you can think of (and man can you think of a lot) is one hundred percent certain. Everything else good you did/felt/achieved, you doubt completely. “I told you it was too good to be true, you never deserved that happiness” the darker angels of one’s nature taunts me with. Repeatedly. You never deserved happiness. This is your natural state.

Writing this now I can see it’s complete horse shit. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take A LOT of effort to put those voices in perspective. And please don’t get alarmed by this. In order to paint an accurate picture the harshest and darkest thoughts must be expressed.

depressed4

There is an over riding, all encompassing desire to escape and to hide away at it’s peak. All your energy collapses and concentration – fucking forget about it! So while there may be a hole host of positive steps that one can take to help them out, the energy simply isn’t there. To relate it back to exercise. No matter how much you may want to pick up that heavy bar or hit that handstand push up late in the workout, or do just one more fucking burpee, you simply cannot. Same with the dark hole. Sure, focusing on the things you’re grateful for will help but the effort it takes to drag yourself away from that virtually all powerful pull of the negative makes it all but impossible.

The single worst aspect is the self hatred, of annoyance that turns to frustration that turns to anger at oneself for not shaking it off. While amazingly, writing this up, is as absurd as it sounds. Fighting the storm like this (berating yourself for not being able to control it) only amplifies it. Intellectually I know, and you know, that self acceptance is the answer to let it wash over you. Reminding yourself of this is key.

This really is a first world problem. That the thoughts in my head turn against me. That’s not a real problem. Certainly not like the ones people face. And since if the reader has made it this far, you deserve to watch this:

Comedy helps. Even if you’re not in the mood to laugh, comedy helps. Comedy is that way of taking a different perspective on life and while at times it may be completely absurd and irrelevant, it’s exactly what you need. It is no more ridiculous than the negative slant you’ve allowed occupy your brain.

And music helps, even if you don’t want to relate to it, it can disrupt the slide in your brain. When you find yourself listening to “Eyes Without A Face” or the more downbeat Sigur Ros songs you know it’s time to start listening to Ben Howard’s “Keep Your Head Up” and other upbeat songs, especially if you’re angry with them because there’s nothing to be happy about.

(My second favourite song of all time, btw)

Achievement is the route out of the hole for me. At times. Whether it’s universal or not I have a need to feel useful and purposeful. To feel in control. Though again the energy to start can feel debilitating. Because as you start to clean your kitchen you realise just how filthy it’s gotten, and just as you get through the dishes, the counter is fucking filthy. And there’s laundry to be done, and then your room is a fucking state. So all your efforts only have a minimal impact, and don’t “solve” the problem. It could be that you’re looking for that one fix that makes everything better, and alas it will be the culmination of hundreds, if not thousands, of small, repeated efforts that will make it better.

And please don’t call me brave because I share it openly. I don’t feel it’s any bravery on my behalf. I possess an ability to describe things in a way that on occasion resonates with people. If that can help people, I should do it. If you’re in a position to help, you should help.

I tell people about this because I’m certain (there’s that word again) that there’s someone suffering far worse than me, alone, and without the support I possess. But there is a worry that all this becomes very hipsterish. That as depression and mental health become mainstream it becomes an excuse for those that are lazy or not arsed to do their job. I argued quite extensively with a therapist about this point. And maybe it’s me being harsh to others plights. I dunno.

As you withdraw into the hole (remember, in it’s insidious nature it feels to a degree right and home and where you belong) you develop the selfish attitude that people should be sympathetic to the plight inside you. Although how could they know when you haven’t explained it to them, and are so immersed in your own internal pain that you don’t focus on them and what struggles they may be having. In your head, you’re the only one suffering. Alone.

It’s said that concentrating on others and helping others helps immensely with it, yet I haven’t found the sweet spot there between helping others and looking after myself. So I can’t offer any insights on that.

All this shouldn’t mean that you should treat me, or anyone else going through a struggle any different. I don’t believe you can anyway. Being nice to someone only when they’re struggling isn’t really being nice, is it?

Crazy thing is, the fog lifts, or you wake up and find yourself out of the hole, and you can’t identify with the thoughts you had or the feelings you experienced. They’re not real. Like a dream, they’re something you only vaguely recall and can’t wholeheartedly associate with the “you” you are now.

The ‘benefit’, for want of a better word, is that I do tend to enjoy the upswings more now. Not completely, as there is a bit that thinks at times it’s too good to be true. But through exploring this, and writing this piece, I’ve learnt to understand that is is a journey with ups and downs, neither of which is permanent, and to try stop looking for permanency and an even keel. To me there is no end point, and chasing that without savouring the journey is something I have to keep reminding myself of.

Thank you.