Jump In

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Some of us are nervous about this thing called the CrossFit Open.  I get it, it’s new because we’re new, it’s off putting because we’re stepping out of our normal class routine, and well it’s probably going to be hard.   Here are my thoughts, and they are pretty simple.  Remember when you were a kid and that nervous excitement of going to the pool on that first day of the season.  You remembered how to swim and jump in and pull a solid 360 can opener.  That is exactly how I feel about the CrossFit Open.     We all know how to work out, we all know that we like to exercise for time; rip your shirt off, throw on your floaties and sign up for the Open.  This is an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than you think; bigger than the Wolfpack, bigger than OCF, bigger than any part of any gym in Illinois.     Shake off your nerves, take a deep breath, get in line at the diving board and jump in!

5 Signs You’re Not Eating Enough

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In the world of dieting, it unfortunately seems to be preached that “less is better”.  Less calories, less carbohydrates, lower-fats, lower-calories, lower everything…except exercise, always do a lot of exercise (sound familiar?) Here is the main problem with this methodology: when you are in a chronic state of under-eating, and you start to plateau with weight loss, but you’re not yet at your “goal weight” or you don’t yet have the body you desire, where do you go from there?  Do you exercise 4 hours a day instead of just 1?  Do you cut calories even more?!?  How can you possibly eat less than you’re already eating?  You can’t…or at least your body isn’t going to do what you want it to do if you go there. So here are a few signs that I tend to see with my clients who are under-eating:
  1. The scale is stuck- This tends to go right alongside exercising too much. A lot of people actually start to see the weight increase when they drop their food intake and start working out more.
This also tends to be very common if you are eating very low-carb. Here is where the problem lies: large calorie deficits (think over 300-500 calories per day) alter your body’s metabolism to keep your body in homeostasis.  When our body makes major changes like big calorie deficits, it will make changes to other systems in our body to accommodate (i.e. thyroid, adrenal, reproductive).     2. Mood swings are a common occurrence - Do you find that you are constantly “hangry” aka angry because you’re hungry? With inadequate food intake, many find that their emotions are on a never-ending roller coaster.  The brain needs blood sugar to function optimally and if it doesn’t get it, then our cognitive system will start to fluctuate.  When this system gets out of whack, so do our emotions, our attention span, our stress, and our aggression.     3. You have trouble sleeping - This is very common in individuals who are undereating because the lack of blood sugar in the system. If our blood sugar levels are not high enough, then it will drop even more so overnight (since we are in a fasted state), and this will cause your body to search for energy (aka stored glucose) from the liver. Although, if we are always under-eating, the liver won’t have what it needs to keep the blood sugar stable and then stress hormones get released (adrenaline and cortisol).  This can cause you to wake up. How do you stay asleep?  Eat enough overall, but a bedtime snack of some carbohydrates can help you fall asleep and stay asleep.     4. You are constipated - Sorry for the TMI, but someone had to say it. Our feces are made of waste from the digestion of food, but if we aren’t eating enough food, then guess what?  Our body won’t have much to make. Also, another reason of much more importance is that food gives us vitamins and nutrients.  When we lack these things, our thyroid suffers.  With the under-regulation of T3 (a thyroid hormone) from under-eating, we can experience a lot of symptoms of hypothyroidism, one of them being constipation.     5. You’re always cold - Take this one with a grain of salt - we live in Chicago, and its winter-time. BUT, low calorie intake can cause a drop in body-temperature, and it’s not just because you don’t ‘have enough body-fat to keep you warm’ theory that a lot of people mention. Calorie intake causes a process called thermogenesis which is the breakdown of those foods by the body (which also burns calories in the process). So if you’re experiencing any, or all, of these things - take a close look at your diet.  Or better yet, find an outside source that would have an educated, unbiased view at how much you should really be eating to reach your goals and feel your best.  EAT BETTER, NOT LESS!

Tips for Staying Away from Sickness

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We’re in that time of year when you can expect sickness to inevitably make its campaign on your compromised, sleep deprived, holiday food filled body.  All of us can think of at least 3 people right now that are feeling some kind of way; her sinuses are bothering her, his chest is congested, she feels like she got hit by a bus, etc., etc. As a person who is coming in contact with multiple people everyday, I take pride in my health because if I feel like crap then it is hard for me to give the best experience possible.  That is not fair to them, and as someone who takes pride in being on their "A" game at all times I need to be happy and healthy everyday. Here are three things that I pay attention to everyday that helps me stay healthy and moving from task to task, hour to hour.  
  • Pay attention to how much water you’re consuming.
With the weather getting colder, our bodies need to be hydrated even more.  Our central nervous systems are fighting like crazy just to keep us warm through these cold months, on top of any potential disease or virus making a guest appearance in our system.  Keeping fully hydrated will help with keeping our bodies warm and let the inner workings of our body do what they are supposed to do with no concerns to staying warm.  
  • Start using probiotics.
I have never been one to push supplements on anyone, knowing that every case is different.  I may need a square to help me and you may need a circle to help you.  Each person is unique.  After doing some research, reading article after article from trusted sources, the better you take care of your gut the better you feel.  Not only does this aid in digestion and gut relief, but it also has direct correlation with taking care of other bodily functions.  Good probiotics are pricey, but I promise the investment in these pills with regular habitual usage will save you on package after package of Nyquil.  
  • Start eating more vegetables.
Everyone should increase the amount of veggies they eat everyday in my opinion.  We, as people, do not consume enough vegetables.  Think about it, when has a doctor ever told anyone “You’re eating too many veggies, son.  Let's cut that down.”  With so many things compromising your system daily, now is a perfect time to increase the nutrients your body is ingesting naturally and organically.  Leafy green vegetables, root vegetables, and citrus are all great sources of power packed nutrients and antioxidants that can help keep your immune systems strong when your workplace is packed with runny noses and poorly circulated air.

Apprehension

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We all have tendencies to keep things to ourselves.  It is not easy to have the courage to open up, about things that you would not normally talk to anyone about.  In those feelings of anxiety, those feelings of apprehension, those feelings of vulnerability, those feelings of loneliness, those feelings that make or break your relationship with those around you, we’d like to know to help you be a better athlete.   I come from a background of quietness, and also some depressed days.  I have had a poor habit, since a very young age, of keeping things to myself; and letting them eat at me day after day.  Whether that is something simple that happened between my brother and I in a brother vs. brother argument or something like a family member’s passing away.  I have always been one who keeps his emotions to himself, but other’s around me have noticed and noticed quickly because body language tells all.   These feelings and emotions need to be exposed and exposed quickly, whether you feel ashamed or embarrassed.  As a coach, reading a person’s body language is half of the battle.  This helps us with so many variables when moving into a class setting.  We as coaches have so many things to focus on, and there are days that we need to be able to coach you differently than the day before.     I’m not going to ask, ever, for someone to talk about something they are not ready to.  I’m getting more along the lines of letting me or someone else know that you are having a rough day, a rough couple of days or a rough week.  When I go through times like that, I make it a point to let those around me know that I’m off.  It takes courage and it takes some ego swallowing to do so, but that could make our hour together easier on the both of us.   -Coach Zach

Building Confidence

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We’re at a tipping point, and a beautiful one at that.  The cycle is set in front of you every 6th week.  Every 6th Monday we get to play a new game, a new movement pattern is brought forth, a new combination of repetitions.  Maybe these 6 weeks will be better than the last, maybe these 6 weeks will be more frustrating? Who knows? But one thing can happen, and when it does I want to be a part of it.   The method behind the 6-week cycle is simply an opportunity for you to develop consistency.  When you hear a coach bring up that C word, you often get confused.  I mean we’re here to throw some weight around and get sweaty right? Not necessarily, of course we want to see you bust your beautiful butt, but we also want to develop some true kinesthetic awareness and understanding of the movements’ put in front of you.   If you were given an opportunity to learn and improve something for work, lets say a new computer program used to track data sets or inventory.  With in those 6 weeks, you would find the correct pattern to move through efficiently and confidently, to develop this consistent approach to this new software.  Why not treat your body that same way, with your brain being the computer you’re working with?   We have these 6 weeks to develop consistency, to develop efficiency, and more importantly to develop confidence.  Just because that number on the barbell may only move by 5 or 10 pounds at the end of the cycle, we can still be amped up that we now are more confident in moving that same barbell from floor to overhead, or floor to hip, or above the knee to hip to overhead.     The end game is often overlooked because of the type of game we’re playing.  We all want those precious PR’s, but developing the understanding and downloading the mental toughness and confidence to move efficiently is the more important than those 5 pounds, because we know they’re coming.  It’s just a matter of when.   -Coach Zach

Not All Calories Are Created Equal

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The golden rule of weight loss: ‘If you want to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories.” Well if that were the case, then I suppose I wouldn’t be writing this blog…but I am.   The topic of a calorie not just being a calorie could turn into a 15-page paper, but I’m going to try to keep it short, sweet, and to the point. The reason that calorie-restriction diets work short term is because they follow the basic rule of “eating less food causes you to lose weight”.  This is a true statement.  If you eat, on average, roughly 500 calories less per day, or burn 500 extra calories per day through exercise, or a combination of the two, you will likely lose around a pound of body mass per week. Here’s where it starts to get tricky though.  I just said body mass, not fat mass.  Many people stop here.  They see the scale moving down, they’re happy, but then it stops moving down.  We’re stuck now.  The scale is a few pounds lighter, but you don’t really notice much change in how you look.  And you already feel like you’re eating so little at this point (calorie deficit), that you aren’t sure how to possibly ever eat less to keep losing weight.  So what do we do now?! Enter macronutrients. MACRONUTRIENTS – What are they and why does everyone keep talking about them? Our body reacts differently to different types of food. Here is the high-level, basic break-down of the ‘different types of foods’, aka our macronutrients:
  1.  Protein -  I put this one first because it is the most important, and the most abundant nutrient in the body, other than water.
Protein replaces old cells, builds muscles, organs, blood, nails, hair, skin and tissues. You want to look “lean”?  Eat protein.
  1. Carbohydrate –  Carbohydrates are second most important because they are our bodies preferred source of energy/fuel for our daily functions and workouts.
The brain and nervous system run directly off of glucose (aka carbohydrates). They also offer a thermogenic effect that will increase calorie burning more so than a high-fat diet.
  1. Fat – Fats, aka lipids, are a misunderstood nutrient.  They carry over twice as many calories per gram compared to carbohydrates and proteins, but its for a good reason.
Fat surrounds and protects vital organs, regulates hormones, balances body temperatures, and keeps you full longer! Although the majority of your calories should not come from fats.  Somewhere around 20-30% is adequate. Okay….so how are they going to help me look great and maybe lose some weight? Think about it like this, calories help you lose weight, but dialing in your macro-nutrient ratio will help you lose the right weight (aka fat).  Would you rather weigh 145 pounds and look skinny fat with no muscle tone, or weight 151 pounds and look lean and muscular?   145-lbs Eating the right proportions of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats can help you finally reach your weight loss/physique/fitness goals.  How do you know how much to eat?  Here is a great starting point: https://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting-calculator We know how much to eat now, but how do we know what types of foods to eat to fill those proteins, carbohydrates, and fat columns? Enter Micronutrients (aka vitamins and minerals). If you were able to make McDonald’s, candy, and soda fit your macros (unlikely), you’d probably still lose some weight and see some halfway decent results.  Although you wouldn’t be very ‘healthy’.  Without including whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and animal proteins in your diet, you can end up with some serious nutrient deficiencies. Nutrient deficiencies can lead to heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, thyroid issues, vision problems, birth defects, and certain cancers.  If that doesn’t make you want to introduce the produce section into your shopping list, I don’t know what will! So do we still think a calorie is just a calorie?  I hope not.  If you want to feel better, look better, and reach your physique goals here are some main tips to take away:
  1. Try making around 80% or more of your diet consist of whole, unprocessed foods (i.e. animal proteins, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains).
  2. Enter your information into the handy-dandy healthy eating calculator and see how much food you should be eating here:
  3. Take ONE day to enter what you eat into an app like myfitnesspal or another calorie counter.  See where you are starting, so you can know how far you need to go to get to where the calculator suggests.
  4. Don’t give up.  Results don’t happen overnight.  They take consistency, trouble-shooting, and hard work.  
 

Routine Breeds Success

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I wake up at one of two different times each morning, depending on my morning schedule. I get my stuff ready and I make my breakfast to bring to the gym to eat, along with all of my other meals prepped from the weekend. I workout at one of two times each day (early AM or mid-afternoon before night-time classes). I go home, I heat up my dinner, relax for a little, and I try to get to bed at a reasonable time. This isn’t my choice, I don’t even really know why I do it anymore, other than the fact that these are simply my habits.  This is my routine.  I can’t really even imagine my life without it. Success doesn’t happen overnight, heck it doesn’t even happen in a month.  It takes consistency over, and over, and over again until it is just second nature.  It isn’t easy at first, but I promise it gets easier. If I were to say I never make mistakes with my diet anymore it’d be a straight up lie.  BUT, I truly believe that the routine I have developed and the consitency that exists with my diet and exercise are what has brought me the success in weight loss and reaching my performance goals. If I over-indulge on Saturday night, and even if a not so great Saturday night turns into Sunday morning, and then the whole weekend seems like it went downhill, my routine and habits get me right back in the saddle on Monday working back towards feeling good. If I had ONE piece of advice for those looking to lose weight or reach whatever goals you may have, it is to develop a routine.  Stick to that routine for 3-6 weeks and just see what happens.  You may have bumps along the road, but don’t give yourself excuses and don’t abandon it.  You might be surprised what happens by the end of those weeks. Coach Becca

How to Kick your Soda Addiction?

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1,000 calories a week. 273 grams of sugar, aka over 1 POUND of sugar. 2 hours of burpees (this is definitely a relative estimate). Any guesses on what we could be talking about?  Well, the title of the blog probably gives it away, but all of those things listed above is what happens when you drink 1 regular soda per day for a week.  One soda per day will add up to about 1,000 calories in the week, over 1 pound of sugar, and require about 2 hours of burpees to eliminate. If you have fitness and health goals, then soda should not play a role in your lifestyle.  Soda has zero nutritional value, it is addictive, and it contains nothing but sugar and artificial additives.  I’m sure most of us know the negatives effects of sugar and soda, but quitting an addiction or habit is easier said than done, so how do we kick that can of cola?!? I’m going to provide you guys with a few tips on how you can stay away from the Coke cans and challenge you to spend the next 2 weeks kicking your soda habit.  Don’t wait until New Years to start this resolution, start it today! Tips for Kicking the Cola to the Curb!
  1. Go cold turkey.  Don’t try to cut it down to “1 can a day”, because if you keep it in your diet, you are still fueling your cravings.  It’s just making it harder to resist them now because you are only allowing yourself 1 can per day.
  2. Create options for replacement drinks.  Often times we really just crave the carbonation of soda, not necessarily the sugar/chemicals.  Or, we just are in a habit of drinking soda at that time of the day or at that particular restaurant we go out to eat at.  So here are some options for what you can start replacing the soda with:
    1. Coffee – If you drink soda for the caffeine, try switching to coffee with light cream or a small amount of stevia/truvia.  Coffee is completely acceptable in a healthy diet, it’s just typically the add-ons we put with coffee that create the problem.
    2. LaCroix – They have a ton of awesome flavors and no artificial ingredients! Find it in the soda aisle at your grocery store, but avoid the actual soda!
    3. Pellegrino – Carbonated water, but helps with that carbonation crave.
    4. Tea – Whether it’s hot or cold, just make sure its unsweetened.  Nearly every restaurant has hot tea, and it’s a great way to having something special other than the soda.
    5. Kombucha – My favorite option!  Kombucha is a little pricey, but it is carbonated and very good for you.  It provides probiotics to help keep your gut bacteria levels healthy.  A nice little treat to have every once in awhile, if the price tag is too much!
  3. Be ready for the withdrawal symptoms.  Headaches, tiredness, cravings, etc. are all going to be there.  Try to get some extra sleep during this time if possible, and hunker down for anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks, but rest assured, these symptoms WILL subside.
  4. Pay attention to your triggers.  Do you always have a soda at 3 pm when you are getting groggy at work in the afternoon?  Or can you just not imagine life without a nice cold Coke next to your Friday night pizza?  Try avoiding the vending machine at work and pack one of the other healthy options to enjoy at 3 pm at your desk.  Or try having a different restaurant/meal ritual for Friday night for the time being.  Avoid your triggers to make the process easier.
Now that we have some methods for helping us kick the cola can, let’s accept the challenge.  I challenge all of the soda-drinkers out there to take the leap towards your goals.  For the next 2 weeks or 14 days, remove soda from your sight and try a few of the alternatives listed above.  Be ready for the fight and have confidence that you will come out on the end of these two weeks stronger, healthier, and ready to keep working closer to your goals. (You might even find your a couple pounds lighter too!)     Coach Becca

Humble Beginnings

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I sat alone this morning in a very quiet gym.  Tape unraveled on the floor, sweat dripping from my forehead, shoes thrown in opposite directions.  I enjoyed the feeling, the feeling of subtle defeat combined with heavy breathing.  I smiled looking at a barbell with weight that initially made me nervous, but I moved with ferocity and speed. This sport of fitness is something that you have to take a step back and laugh about.  We all have walked into a gym setting with the highest of hopes, moving dumb bells and barbells in ways that we thought were safe or smart.  Now my entire spectrum of what exercise is has transformed to pushing myself through barriers that once seemed unrealistic.   The fitness group was where I built a base of strength and endurance.  I was a fitness group member, moving man-makers and ring rows.  I was a fitness group member for 8 months, before my hard work with mobility gave me the confidence to make a move to the performance group.  Although this may not be everyone's goal, it was my goal to start learning the Olympic lifts and higher skill gymnastics movements.  Even now I’d consider myself a performance group member, with an asterisk next to it because I am a coach. Do not ever be afraid to take a step back to appreciate how far you have come, or how far you have to go.  I do not ever know if I will be able to be in the competition group, a goal I once set for myself knowing it was unattainable at that time.  We all have insecurity, we all look at other members wishing and praying we could move the way they do.  Sometimes those humble beginnings can fuel us to even stronger futures.   Just trust that where you are is exactly where you were meant to be and never forget to look back to where you started.  You have come farther than you may realize.   Coach Zach

Food Addictions: Why They Exist and How to Control Them

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Have you ever found yourself fighting to keep from eating the whole bag of broccoli?  Probably not.  What about struggling to put down that box of Oreos?  Or that bag of chips?  Sounds more like it, right? Scientifically, foods which include high palatability like sugar, high-fat, or high-salt foods can cause an alteration of chemicals in the brain and develop physical craving for these foods.  The reasons for why an individual may crave foods, or even have an addiction to food, can vary, but most often it stems from a response to an emotional trigger. Many people say that foods are as addictive as certain drugs, and this can be very much true, but before that food became addictive, there were most likely triggers in place in terms of emotions felt, or situations you found yourself in, that produced that need for that particular food (or drink). Some signs to look out for if you feel you struggle with cravings or addictions are:
  1.     Seeing foods as “good” or “bad”
  2.     Eating in secret or sneaking food into your day
  3.     “Rewarding” yourself with food
  4.     Feeling disgusted, guilty, or upset after eating
It is not abnormal for these feelings to happen, and you are not wrong for feeling this way, but they can turn into detrimental habits to your health both physically and emotionally.  Enough with the reasons WHY we crave these foods, how can we kick these nasty habits and finally move forward towards our goals?
  1.     Set boundaries with unsafe foods – Typically, if something is a “trigger” food, these foods must be removed from the diet completely.  If you tend to binge eat ice cream when you get upset or are stressed, then it’s best to not keep ice cream in the house.  It must be relearned how to manage these foods in a healthier way, but before that can happen, you must abstain from them for some time.
  2.     Learn healthier coping strategiesStart paying attention to what causes your cravings.  What place are you in?  What emotion are you feeling?  Figure them out and start building different responses.
  3.     Distract yourself – When you feel those cravings coming on, go watch an episode of your favorite TV show, go for a walk or to a class at OCF, organize something, take a nap, or drink a whole glass of water!
  4.     Make yourself happy – Cravings and addictions are usually associated with negative feelings or moods.  Also, it is literally impossible for your body to create cortisol (our stress hormone), when you are laughing.  So do something you love!
  5.     Try replacing it with a healthier option – Instead of eating a whole piece of Portillo’s chocolate cake, why not try just having a little square of dark chocolate to curve your sweet tooth?  Or instead of a glass of wine at night, why not try some hot tea or even kombucha in a wine glass??
So before the “Holiday-15” get the best of you, work on breaking up with your cravings or addictions and roll into 2017 healthier and happier!