Tag Archives: Coach Patrick

This isn’t a Mindfulness Article… – Written by Coach Patrick

The Big Three
Like one does, I was having a lengthy conversation with a fellow mindfulness practitioner the other day. He and I were chatting about the practice for beginners, what changes over time, and the nuances and challenges that can exist over the course of the long-term, both personally and culturally. However, this isn’t a mindfulness article, this is some of my observations during our conversation about the parallels between physical fitness and mindfulness practice.

This all got started when we were exchanging ideas we received from our mentors when we each started our practice. Generally speaking, we both came across three big tenets that lend to building a sustainable and beneficial individual practice. I realize these may change from practitioner to practitioner so these aren’t scripture, but the big three, as we discussed were: (1) consistency; (2) accountability partners; (3) monitoring attachments.

This may look eerily similar to what I or another coach might have already chatted to you about when you first set off in your personal journey through CrossFit Candyland. Regardless, it is a great reminder from which we can all benefit, so let’s jump back in and review!

 Consistency

In mindfulness and fitness alike, consistency can be the key to a make-or-break beginning. Whether it becomes a dedicated long-term practice or a fickle experiment often hinges on how well you can incorporate the act of practicing (attending a class) into your already established lifestyle.

Making the commitment to affix a fitness practice into a new routine as your routine solidifies it as an important part of your week; a part that is non-negotiable and requires your intention and attention. So often a person who jumps on and off bandwagons does so because that bandwagon never establishes itself as a key priority.

Cue the time tested ole cliche, you have to make yourself (and your fitness) a priority. This doesn’t mean large swaths of sacrifice in your life where you commit 23 hours a day being spent in the gym, it means finding a concrete time you can plan and adhere to showing up and putting your fitness in the limelight in a sustainable and pragmatic way.

 Accountability Partners

This is one area CrossFit tends to excel. We are community-based social creatures that thrive on connecting with others. Moving that lens to a fitness practice, much like mindfulness, pays off more often than not.

Finding and establishing a friend or two, a significant other, a class regular, or perhaps even an imaginary spirit animal who will promote your consistency, help you maintain your accountability, and challenge you to have fun and show up helps bridge the gap from a long and lonely slog through fitness to something that is both enjoyable and accountable.

The informal agreement struck means you’ve got a teammate, advocate, and champion on days you don’t want to be there or be consistent; similarly when your accountability partner is having an off day, you are there to return the favor.

You also have a built-in outlet to share the experiences, the WODs, and the “suck” that can exist in getting better over time. It isn’t always rainbows and snow-cones, but you’ve got someone who has your back through the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all.

 Monitor Attachments

Simply put, be aware of your judgments and the values/meanings you attach to them. In Western culture, we place such a massive emphasis on performance and success that so often we are immediately concerned about how we did. In mindfulness the act of doing is more important than “doing the best.”

In fact, not to get too Yoda on anyone, but in mindfulness there really isn’t or at least shouldn’t be a judgement on how well or poor your practice was. I realize that sounds like heresy in the fitness world of Western humanity, so I won’t tell you to absolve yourself from all judgments.

However I have seen countless times somebody who minimizes a success and maximizes a frustration. Yes, we all have things we are trying to improve in CrossFit and we also have things we do well. That is less important to me for the long-term success of a fitness practice than what we attach to those strengths and weaknesses.

 Drink from the well that nourishes you. If you choose to ascribe frustration, failure, disappointment, and not good enough attitudes to your efforts, you will continue to find those same things reflected back at you. Likewise, if you choose to appreciate, celebrate, and learn from the peaks and valleys of your efforts, you will more often than not feel the returns of a nourished commitment to yourself.
Increasing your fitness isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it. As with mindfulness or any new endeavor, choices made in the beginning can either stack the deck in your favor or make it a rougher road from the get-go. Choose wisely.

Just Breathe… – Written by Coach Patrick

If you’ve been around me more than a few minutes, you’ve undoubtedly heard me say things like “take a big brace breath” or “breathe in your nose, out your mouth.” This is not some New Age guru-esque attempt at getting you to channel your inner fire breather or spirit animal; breath work is integral in tons of life’s applications, especially with fitness.

Not all breathing is created equal when it comes to the type of task or demands you are performing. So let’s take a deep breath and jump right into the concept of breath work as it plays out in the gym…

The heavy stuff… 
When we are weightlifting, we generally have two phases we are moving back and forth between our reps: eccentric and concentric. Fancy words aside, here’s an example to follow along with the back squat.

As we prepare to squat down, we are in the eccentric phase. Before the squat, we need to make sure to take a nice, big breath in, but we aren’t breathing for the sake of breathing.

For any lift, we are wanting to have structural integrity, rigidity, and stabilization of our body while it is performed. This breath “braces” or pressurizes our system to keep a solid body position and rigid form throughout the lift. As we squat we maintain that tightness of our back, midline, and torso.

We hit the bottom of the squat and drive out of the hole to rise back to a standing position; this is the concentric phase. At this time we can exhale, but it should be an exhalation that is timed with your exertion. What I mean by that is we aren’t blowing all of our air out like it is a fog horn and then promptly become a mushy mess trying to not collapse under the weight of the barbell.

The exhalation should be controlled, forceful but shallow, and consistent, one that maintains tension as you rise without blowing everything out all at once.

Bones and muscles alone aren’t enough to have the full array of efficiency and stability in the body for any lift. We need to reinforce them with breath that promotes tension, contraction, and pressurization of our soft, squishy bits. This will look and feel different from lift to lift. For example, our strict press focuses on keeping the butt and abs tight (not sucked in), where our midline as a whole unit is strengthened, keeping our ribcage down and our torso lean back minimized.

For a deadlift we are wanting an engaged posterior chain, back and lats being contracted, and yes, midline stabilized. What you’ll notice is midline stabilization is crucial, and that bracing breath before the lift should, at a very minimum, seek to reinforce and tighten up the midline.

All lifts should be treated as full body lifts: consider everything from foot placement to midline stability regardless of whether it is a squatting, pushing, pulling, or <insert your favorite verb> . Our safest and best attempt in any lift (gainz, as they say on the street) requires an understanding of how our breath will ultimately help or hinder the rest of the system.
The gas tank stuff…
Intense training leads to soulless, gas tank emptying, open throes of out-of-breath despair. While that may not change, what will change over time is your level of capacity and recovery during and after those bouts of intense, earth-shattering WODs.

Your brain may freak out and cordially inform the rest of your body that you are dying and in need of desperate attempts at fast, shallow breathing. Don’t listen to your reptilian brain, it’s an old, silly creature. If you need to recover quickly during or after a WOD, slow, big deep breaths in your nose and out of your mouth are key.

This limits the amount of recycled CO2 you are breathing and promotes as much oxygen grabbing as you can while also telling your body the threat is over, heart rates can normalize, life can go on, the sabertooth didn’t kill us.

We’ve all been the victim of the death gasp breathing post WOD, the quicker we can consciously shift to the deeper, more controlled cyclical breathing through the nose and out of the mouth, the more rapidly we’ll get back to badass status instead of badass-on-your-back status.

This is a tiny piece of mountains of research and continuing study. I won’t geek out on it forever but it’s always worth keeping in mind since it is a cornerstone of performance and recovery.
Breathing. Do it right, and as Aladdin says, it’s a whole new world.

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Be sure to register for our Breathing Workshop on Saturday, May 27th from 11:30am – 1:00pm. Just in time for Memorial Day “Murph”!

Handstand Hijinx – by Coach Patrick

Full Disclosure – this is a long article, but there is a lot of great information. I recommend you take the time to read through it all.

Happy March everybody! The skill focus this month is handstands and I wanted to share some philosophy and methodology behind the approach we’ll be taking to get our upside down on.

Instead of reading through my regurgitation of the concept, I will provide a solid doctrine written by Kaitlin Hardy, essentially a badass lifelong gymnast turned CrossFitter who knows her stuff on connectivity, gymnastic positioning, and the transference into CrossFit training. Enjoy…

“A. Why Handstands?
The point of learning calculus is to learn how to think; there are engineers out there who are legitimately concerned with advanced calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra, but the majority of us learn calculus to train our brains in the art of abstract thought.

The point of learning a handstand is to learn how to manipulate your body. Serious gymnasts spend hours developing perfect handstand technique, partially because a vast majority of skills in gymnastics pass through a handstand shape, but most importantly because the art of fine-tuning your body to find the perfect handstand shape trains your brain in the art of body awareness.

Mastering the perfect handstand will help improve your handstand walks, and maybe your handstand push-ups, but developing the process of complex skill acquisition and precise musculoskeletal control will improve every single movement your body makes.

Every skill or action that an athlete performs—whether it be a complex Olympic lift or a handstand, involves the activation of neural pathways. The study of neuroplasticity encompasses the changes in these neural pathways, which in the case of exercisers result as a change in behavior.

Physical exercise has been shown to both facilitate neuroplasticity and, “enhance an individual’s capacity to respond to new demands with behavioral adaptations” (Hotting K, Roder B, 2013). Spending time practicing a perfect handstand will develop the same neural pathways that are essential in controlling your body through complex exercise movements.

Mastering the art of feeling exact body positions, and being able to do it while upside down, will transfer to the ability to make quick corrections in form and technique elsewhere. There is a reason that amongst the top games athletes, especially on the women’s side, an overwhelming majority have some kind of gymnastics background.

The handstand is the movement of choice for developing motor neuron pathways applicable to exercise because it requires precise control over every body part. Holding a handstand requires activation of each of the major muscle groups as well as the sensorimotor control systems essential to maintaining balance.

The cues given to athletes just learning handstands are complex and most likely conceptually brand new. Furthermore, having to think about multiple specific body cues, while attempting to balance upside down adds a new level of challenge and likely general discomfort.

A broad comparison would be attempting to master linear algebra while standing on your head. The ability to process complex thought into bodily action while in an unnatural, and likely uncomfortable, state is a careful skill that takes time to develop and will carry over to each of your exercise endeavors.

The point of mastering a handstand is to develop motor-learning skills. The benefits to your exercise elements skill set are secondary.

B. The Perfect Handstand
The ability to hold a handstand requires equal parts flexibility and strength. The ability to achieve a completely open shoulder and hip angle are paramount to the success of any gymnastics related work in the sport of fitness. Muscular control, specifically throughout the shoulders and midline, are essential for maintaining the perfect position.

  1. Arms should be shoulder width apart. There should be an exact straight line from the wrists to the shoulders, to the lower body. Ears should not be visible. This position allows the athlete to achieve full shoulder extension.
  2. Throughout the duration of the handstand, the athlete should work to push the floor away as much as possible, essentially making the body as long as possible. Attempts to make the body long will naturally move the body into a straight line. There should be no space between the neck, ears, and arms.
  3. The head should be held neutral, in a manner that from the side the head appears to be in line with the arms, and the chin is not buried in the chest. The athlete then uses their eyes to look at their fingertips.
  4. There should be no shoulder angle, when viewed from the side there should be a straight line from the wrists, to the shoulders, to the hips, and finally to the ankles. Focus on the cue, “open shoulders.”
  5. Ribs should be rounded inward and not visible from the side. The musculature of the thoracic and lumbar spine works to maintain a flat back with no visible arch.
  6. Hips should be pressed flat so that no hip angle exists. The gluteal muscles should be contracted as much as possible to maintain a straight hip line.
  7. Legs should be straight and pressed together with pointed ankles.
  8. Fingers are rounded upward with fingertips pressing directly into the floor. Body weight remains over the palms of the hands and fingertips are used to aid in balance.

C. Why Precision is Necessary
“Physical skills will disintegrate under duress and fatigue—even in athletes with the mental and emotional attributes and stamina to be the best in critical competitions. In other words, athletes don’t rise to an occasion—they sink to the level of their training; so the training bar needs to be set high.” – Peter Twist

Elisabeth Akinwale competed NCAA Division I gymnastics. She also went unbroken during the Cinco 1 event at the 2013 CrossFit Games to easily win the event. Her handstand walks during this workout are far from perfect; her legs are bent and apart, her hands are slightly wide, and her head is out too far.

Despite these form breaks, the most essential elements of handstand technique are in place. Her shoulders are actively pushing away from the ground, there is no space between her neck, shoulders, and ears, and she is actively fighting any arch in her lumbar spine.

Most importantly, all of these points require absolutely no thought process for her. She has spent so much time forming the neural pathways essential to the mastery of her gymnastics skills that being upside down is natural. She may as well be walking on her feet.

Approaching the mastery of gymnastics related movements with the goal of perfection is not just essential in the abstract sense of refining the motor-learning development process. Approaching gymnastics with the goal of perfection will make easy (physically and mentally) work of gymnastics related exercises when your body is already under stress and fatigue.

If your technically perfect work disintegrates to a level of sub-perfection, you will still be performing well enough to complete the task assigned so long as you understand the absolute essential elements of the movement. If the bar has only been set to a less than perfect understanding of the movement, your ability to complete the task when your skills start to crumble under stress and fatigue will be compromised.

Get upside down. Put in the work. Make your brain coachable.”

(For full article: click here)