Newsflash! Nuts and seeds are super healthy and most of us aren’t eating enough of them. They are a great natural source of vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, and fiber. I’ve eaten tons of nuts and seeds as part of my anti-cancer diet since January 2004 and I think you should too.
Depending on whose list you read, the number one healthiest nut is either the almond or the walnut, but there’s no way to really rank them. The “healthiest nut” is the one with the nutrients your body needs most on a given day. Of course no one knows which one that is. So the best strategy is to eat a variety.
Here are the top healthiest nuts:
Almonds have as much calcium as milk, and contain magnesium, vitamin E, selenium and lots of fiber. They can lower cholesterol and help prevent cancer.
Walnuts are extremely good for your heart and brain, and contain ellagic acid a cancer-fighting antioxidant.
Pecans have tons of vitamins and minerals like Vitamins E and A, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, B vitamins, and zinc. And they help lower cholesterol.
Brazil Nuts are a good source of protein, copper, niacin, magnesium, fiber, vitamin E and selenium.
Cedar Nuts/Pine Nuts have Vitamins A, B, D, E, P and contain 70% of your body’s required amino acids.
Cashews are rich in minerals like copper, magnesium, zinc, iron and biotin. They are actually a low-fat nut, and like olive oil, they have a high concentration of oleic acid, which is good for the ticker (your heart). According to Dr. Andrew Saul, one big handful of cashews provides one to two thousand milligrams of tryptophan, which will work as well as prescription antidepressant Prozac.
Note: Cashews are not recommended for cancer patients due to potential levels of fungus
Here are the top healthiest seeds:
Flax seedsare definitely at the top of my list. Two tbsp of ground flax seed per day is ideal and easy to add to oatmeal or smoothies. I also take Barleans Cold-Pressed Organic Flax Oil because it is the best source of parent omega-3s (better than fish oil) and Lignans, super anti-oxidants that help fight cancer. It also contains a lot of fiber and can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Chia Seedsare incredibly healthy seeds rich in omega-3 oils, protein, anti-oxidants, calcium, and fiber. Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!
Hemp Seeds are a certified superfood with cancer and heart disease prevention properties. They are high in protein and fiber, with balanced omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
Sunflower seeds also help prevent heart disease and cancer with phytochemicals, folate, Vitamin E, selenium and copper.
Pumpkin Seeds aregreat for your immune system with lots of antioxidants (carotenoids), omega-3 fatty acids and zinc.
Sesame Seeds are a good source of calcium, magnesium, zinc, fiber, iron, B1 and phosphorus. They can lower blood pressure, and protect against liver damage. Sesame seeds have also been linked to prevention of many diseases like arthritis, asthma, migraine headaches, menopause, osteoporosis, and may even reduce PMS symptoms. Tahini is a ground sesame seed paste that’s popular ingredient in Middle Eastern dishes we eat, like hummus.
Finally Apricot seeds (aka Apricot kernels), Apple seeds, and other bitter fruit seeds containAmygdalin aka Vitamin B17 which has incredibly powerful anti-cancer properties. There are many cases of people who cured their cancer with Apricot kernels alone! The pharmaceuticalLaetrile which is a concentrated form of Amygdalin has been used in cancer clinics outside the US for over 50 years. I dedicated an entire post to Apricot Kernels HERE.
Do Nut Eat This (worst pun ever, I’m sorry) The one nut I don’t really eat much is the peanut, which is technically a bean. Here’s why: Peanuts can contain a carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin, and they are notorious for being one of the most pesticide-contaminated crops.
Instead of peanut butter, I prefer to eat organic nut butters like Almond Butter, Sunflower Seed Butter and Walnut butter instead of peanut butter.
Embrace Your Inner Hippie I like to go to the bulk section of Whole Foods (where the big plastic bins of nuts are) and buy a couple pounds of Raw Organic seeds and nuts. I take them home and mix them all together in my Super Trail Mix. Eat them straight out of the bag, throw some in a bowl for the family, or toss them on a salad. Either way, a couple handfuls of my Super Trail Mix every day will rock your body with super nutrients. So go ahead and embrace your inner hippie, throw on a pair of birkenstocks with socks, dowse yourself in patchouli, and load up on some trail mix. I like to keep a bowl out for everyone to snack on at home, and a tupperware container in the car to snack on when I’m out and about.
Notice I said “Raw Organic“. That’s super important. I don’t buy the fried, salted, roasted, honey-glazed, candied, or any other “special flavor” nuts. Frying and roasting nuts converts the fats into an unhealthy form, and most seasonings are made from artificial flavors, chemicals, and preservatives, contain MSG, and are high in sodium.
If you want to maximize the nutrients you get from nuts, soak them in distilled or purified water overnight. This helps neutralize enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid both of which may affect digestion and absorption of the nutrients in seeds and nuts. It can also help reduce the amount of pesticides on them if they are not organically grown.
Simple Soaking Directions: Place 4 cups of nuts in a bowl with enough distilled water to cover the nuts completely. Add a tablespoon of celtic sea salt. This helps the neutralize enzyme inhibitors. Different seeds and nuts have different soaking times, but the easiest rule of thumb to remember is to let them soak 7 hours (overnight). You many or may not like the taste of soggy nuts, so you’ll need to dehydrate them in a dehydrator or oven for 12-24 hours. If you do it in the oven, keep the temperature under 150 degrees and shift them around on the pan occasionally. You don’t want to roast the nuts, just dry them out. Every oven is different so it might take some experimentation to get the ideal drying time figured out. And because this is essentially a 24 hour process it makes sense to do several big batches at a time. Afterward compare the flavor of the soaked and dried nuts versus the non-soaked nuts. You might be surprised to find they taste better, depending on the nut and your taste.
One exception: Cashews should soak 6 hours or less and need to dry out quickly at 200-250 degrees or they can get funky.
Here’s a shopping list you can copy, paste, and print out:
Almonds Walnuts Pecans Brazil Nuts Cedar Nuts Cashews Sunflower Seeds Pumpkin Seeds Almond, Cashew or Sunflower Seed Butter Tahini
The rest of the seeds I mentioned don’t work very well in trail mix because they are too small and all end up at the bottom.
One of my favorite snack bars is the NutivaHempseedBar. It’s made with organic hemp, flax, sunflower, pumpkin seeds, and sweetened with honey. It’s a super tasty way to get some super healthy seeds in your diet.
They also have a Flax & Raisin Bar, and a Flax, Hemp & Chocolate Bar.
• A diet consisting of the same foods found in pre-agricultural times will help with fat loss if your eating habits are truly awful.
• Strict paleo diets, however, shun perfectly healthy foods that allow modern strength trainers to perform at their best.
• Workout nutrition supplements aren't paleo, but disregarding the modern science of supplementation will put unnecessary limits on your development.
It's not a diet, they say. It's the natural way to eat, the way humans are genetically adapted to eat. There's no end date – you don't get off paleo. You live it, embrace it, and eat bacon while watching your waistline shrink. The premise? Our genes have hardly changed since the Paleolithic era. Therefore, for optimal health and body composition, we should be eating a pre-agricultural diet, one void grains, most dairy, potatoes, sugar, and of course all the modern abominations that pass as "food" these days. In short, eat like a caveman. There are a dozen variations of "paleo" today, most stemming from the ideas of gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin in the 1970s. Some flavors of paleo are strict, not even allowing nuts, quinoa, starchy tubers and non-organic meats. Others are more lenient, allowing sweet potatoes, raw cow's milk, some supplements, and even some dark chocolate. If you consider yourself a healthy eater, chances are you've accidentally done some variation of paleo before. You cut processed food, then filled up on meat, vegetables, and the occasional fruit. Before paleo, old school bodybuilders, wrestlers, and fighters trying to make weight just called it "cutting starches." Since 2009 I've done several variations of paleo – rigid and lax – though I'd done it unofficially as a natural bodybuilder before it became "a thing." I learned the benefits and drawbacks of strict paleo. And as a nutrition coach, I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let's discuss.
Have no doubt, if North Americans followed even a relaxed form of paleo, we'd have no obesity problem. We'd be a leaner, healthier society, one less dependent on prescription meds, Spanx, and Photoshop. Paleo, and all its ancestral varieties, taught us to question conventional wisdom that came from many doctors, dietitians, and health officials. And while conventional wisdom told us to eschew dietary cholesterol and get plenty of whole grain bread and "heart-healthy" cereal, paleo taught overweight people that these behaviors were precisely the things making them fat. From paleo we learned that the best way to fix a serious ailment like Type-II diabetes was to trade in our pastas, breads, and junk food for things that came straight from nature: vegetables, meats, seeds, eggs, fruit, and maybe some full-fat dairy. Paleo's emphasis on whole food helped a multitude of people drop the garbage that has trapped them in a cycle of self-sabotage. It brought awareness to the lay masses, gave them positive upward momentum toward their fitness goals, and gave government nutrition guidelines a much-needed kick in the crotch. Paleo protocols also exposed a major flaw in low fat and vegetarian diets: the need for saturated animal fat and dietary cholesterol. Paleo's emphasis on meat and animal-derived foods taught many misinformed people that they will suffer in the absence of these foods. Meat and animal fat help us to produce the hormones that give us a robust sex drive, make us emotionally stable and happy, help us build muscle, enable us to fend off illness, and maintain a fired-up metabolism. The internet has captured scores of accounts from vegetarians who turned paleo. From their accounts, we learned that a diet composed of bread, fruit juice, and soy will not only make you skinny-fat, it'll also make you constipated, prone to depression, impotent, lethargic, and unable to build much muscle and strength. Paleo also reignited the basic human skill of cooking. Since IHOP brags about adding pancake batter to even their omelets, it's no wonder paleo eaters took to their own kitchens. This is a good thing. No matter what form of paleo the average overweight person adopts, it's likely going to be an improvement on the way they were eating before. A nation on paleo would mean less disease, longer life spans, and lower healthcare costs. I've recommended a paleo-ish diet to overweight clients. Of course, these clients just wanted to be not-obese.
Eating full-on paleo is inadequate for part of the population: our part – iron lifters, strength seekers, and athletes. Here's why: Our workouts and physique goals require more than what's allowed on paleo – more carbs, advanced workout nutrition, and fast-digesting protein. Paleo works well for the average person because the goal of the average person is to not be sick and fat. The average person doesn't hit the gym day after day in preparation to get on stage, compete in a sport, hit a PR, or walk around with veins on their biceps. These are not goals of the general public. These are our goals. We don't have average goals and we're not average people, so why would we eat a diet best suited for them? If proven workout nutrition supplements are prohibited in your diet, you either need to rethink your diet for the sake of your sport or your physique, or stick to that diet and realize you're going to lose. Your competition has the leg up if they've been using targeted, non-paleo workout nutrition. They've been recovering faster, training harder, building more muscle, and even losing fat faster than you. Can you train without it? Sure. But you won't accomplish as much as you would have with the addition of workout nutrition. Going back in time with your diet is a handicap if you're an athlete. You're retrograding your nutrition to stay within the bounds of staunch dietary rules. To say that we should be eating exactly like our ancestors is on par with saying that we should be denying ourselves thousands of years worth of advancement. Granted, not all dietary advancement has been good for us. Cheetos won't help us earn pro-cards, but other advancements have been damn good. By passing up those benefits we miss out. A weight training workout fueled by kale smoothies and coconut oil won't help you train harder. Fasted training, as many paleo adopters recommend intermittently (yet often do daily), will not give you the edge; it'll only slow your progress. You're not going to recover as quickly following paleo guidelines as you would when using workout nutrition designed specifically for workout time. Can unprocessed plants and animals serve all of our needs as athletes? Not if we're wanting to optimally build muscle, perform our best, and take our bodies from "not fat" to phenomenal. Avoiding advanced supplementation because it's not caveman food is like only eating moldy bread when what you need is a non-Paleolithic shot of penicillin. And workout nutrition isn't the only thing prohibited. If you're a strict paleo dieter, legumes, potatoes, and grains (even wheat-free grains) are off limits. If you've placed beans and oatmeal into the same category as candy bars, well, you need to relax and take a breath. So where do your carbs come from on many paleo plans? Primarily from fruit, honey, and starchy vegetables like parsnips and squash. But since nobody has the time to bake a squash and have it ready to go after every workout, fruit and honey become a frequently-used carb component. Both are inadequate for workout recovery. Fruit and honey aren't inherently bad, but even staunch paleo advocates recommend keeping them to a minimum because fructose is hard to digest for a large portion of the population. Swapping all of your starches for fructose-filled foods can have nasty side effects like gas, bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, weight gain, and even nonalcoholic fatty liver. These are the side effects of excess fructose, yet rice is totally off limits? And if your dietary guru insists that bee vomit is food but protein powder isn't, perhaps you need a new leader. Do you think eating an apple on leg-day will help you combat muscle soreness and build muscle tissue? Do you think a yam has remotely the anabolic effects of structuralized di-/tripeptides and specialized carbohydrates? Do you think it'll help you kill your next workout with just as much or more intensity? Maybe you do think that, but maybe you don't actually train as hard as you think. The most transformative workouts require workout nutrition... if you're opening a Costco-sized can of whup-ass in the gym.
We like boundaries and structure. We want to hear someone say "don't eat that." Because then there's certainty, no hemming and hawing about the fudge. Clear boundaries give us a sense of control because then we know what to eat and what to avoid. But when a fit person feels guilty about "indulging" in beans there's a problem, and it's not the beans. It involves becoming hyper-restrictive and taking a sometimes-useful strategy too far. Paleo can get ugly with its boundaries, especially if those boundaries make you freak out over things that never caused you problems in the first place. If you eliminate something from your diet for an extended period of time and notice no benefits, then add it back and notice no pitfalls, it's not worth worrying about. Especially if you're already fit. I place legumes in this category because I remember buying a bag of lima beans and feeling guilty. I'd been denying my craving for them because a voice in the back of my head was saying, "Are the lectins in those beans going to keep me from burning fat!?" At the time I was on a staunch paleo regimen and didn't consume any processed food, workout nutrition, potatoes, rice, or beans. I also couldn't muster up much intensity at the gym. So did paleo make me look or feel any better? No, but it did make me good at eating paleo. Do you see where this is going? When you forfeit your athleticism in order to claim the paleo label, your behavior makes no more sense than that of a vegan who refuses to give up his Tofurkey even after his testosterone plummets. Paleo also popularized intermittent fasting, which in and of itself isn't a bad thing for many people – when done intermittently. But for those who rigidly follow paleo, chronic fasting often becomes a way to offset an indulgence in food that isn't paleo-approved. Being so obsessed with the purity of your food that you have to repent from dietary sins borders on both orthorexia and the non-purging form of bulimia. It can be a slippery slope for those who already have issues with disordered eating. The ugly side of paleo is when it goes from instinctive common sense to fanaticism. That fanaticism is the point at which paleo becomes a fad diet, or even quasi-religious dogma. If you're fat, paleo will improve your health. But if your goals include building muscle, strict paleo isn't the way to go. Since getting off paleo I've traded in whole-food fanaticism for common sense and bigger biceps. People who train hard several days per week need simple, easy to digest carbohydrates (and not just at workout time) along with science-derived supplements. Potatoes, beans, rice, and workout nutrition drinks didn't make America fat. These are not binge-foods. And if they improve your performance, give you more energy, and make you feel satisfied at mealtime, they're not just permissible foods you can sneak in now and then – they're essentials.
Kick a Caveman's Butt
Paleo undoubtedly works for junk-food addicted, overweight couch potatoes. But those folks didn't get fat eating steel-cut oats and garbanzo beans. A paleo plan would help them, but so would simply not eating neon kiddie cereal and drive-through tacos. If they need the initial rigidity, a paleo diet would lay the foundation for never touching crap food again. For those with bodybuilding and strength goals, paleo often throws out the cave-baby with the cave-bathwater. Too few carbs from perfectly healthy sources such as rice, oatmeal, buckwheat, potatoes, and legumes will hamper hypertrophy and performance goals. And neglecting workout nutrition and other beneficial supplements is simply choosing not to make optimal gains just because your very-great granddaddy didn't have access to them. Yes, eat your meat, veggies, and whole eggs. Yes, drop the junk carbs, excess sugars, and pretend-foods that breed on today's supermarket shelves. But don't disregard the foods and supplements that help you build muscle and perform better than any caveman ever could.
• Loaded exercises can be used as part of a conditioning session to not only lose fat and build endurance, but also develop a more muscular body.
• The key is pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone with weighted or loaded exercises that challenge the whole body.
• Embrace the power of urgency, trying to complete a specific conditioning session as fast as possible, or doing as much work as possible within a determined time.
Few lifters enjoy performing conditioning or cardio. Can you blame them? Weight training builds size and strength and makes you feel invincible. Cardio on the other hand – especially slow-go, hamster cardio – feasts on lean tissue, jacks up cortisol, and leaves you looking and feeling like a depleted, shuffling, treadmill zombie. It doesn't have to be this way. By following just seven simple rules, you can transform your soul-sucking cardio bouts into fat-stripping conditioning sessions that crank up your T levels and actually build serious muscle.
1. Get out of your comfort zone.
Brisk walking is a fine stress reliever and can help with recovery. Just don't expect it to have any effect on body composition or physical capacities unless you're so out of shape that walking takes you out of your comfort zone. If you're comfortable during a conditioning session – even if it looks challenging on paper – you won't get much out of it. You must force your body to adapt if you want to change quickly. That's why the best way to get leaner and in better condition is to do higher intensity work like sprints, hill sprints, barbell complexes, Prowler pushing, farmer's walks, and intervals. I don't like to go by how bad a weight training session feels to judge its efficacy, but when it comes to conditioning work, it really is true.
2. Challenge the muscles.
The human body is built for speed and power. Yes, we have the capacity to sustain work for longer periods of time, but dropping the speed/power aspect out of the equation is a mistake as we risk losing that lean and muscular look we all want. That's why conditioning work that includes loaded and explosive work as part of an endurance session is the ideal method to improve the way you look. Farmer's walks, yoke carries, barbell complexes, box jumps, medicine ball throws, Prowler pushing, wheelbarrow walking, tire flipping, sledgehammer striking, kettlebell swings, and overhead lunges are all loaded exercises that can be used as part of a conditioning session to not only lose fat and build endurance, but also develop a more muscular body.
3. Involve the whole body.
The bigger the engine, the more fuel it burns. So if body composition is your main goal, involving more muscles (bigger engine) during your conditioning session will result in more fuel (fat) being burnt. Furthermore, involving more muscles increases the demand on the cardiovascular system, which obviously has a greater affect on improving your conditioning level and work capacity. Finally, physically demanding work using more muscle groups at one time leads to a greater hormonal response (especially growth hormone and Testosterone), which affects both muscle gain and fat loss positively.
4. Include speed and power.
Most coaches say that speed and power work should only be done in a fresh state. I agree, if the goal is to maximize these capacities. That said, doing speed and power work in a state of metabolic fatigue has a very powerful training effect. I know from experience that doing speed and power work when the body is metabolically fatigued (but neurally fresh) causes a profound change in body composition, and the effect is seen very quickly. Whether it's due to survival mechanisms or specific hormonal responses, I'm not sure. Regardless, it works! Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:
• Explosive lifting – it could be a variation of the Olympic lifts or regular lifts like squats or bench press – done immediately after you've created some metabolic fatigue with an exercise like battle ropes, Prowler pushing, hill sprints, or loaded carries. For instance, you might push the Prowler 40 yards, sprint back, and then do 5 power snatches.
• Doing a ballistic movement like jumps or medicine ball throws right after having fatigued the muscles involved through higher rep/pump work for the involved muscles. For instance, doing 5 box jumps after a set of high-rep squats.
• Including explosive work as part of a metabolically-oriented circuit. For instance, 1000m on the rowing machine, 30 burpees, 20 kettlebell swings, 10 box jumps, and 5 power cleans.
• (bodybuilding-oriented): Westside-like speed work once the involved muscles are pumped. For instance, doing pump work for the chest (pec deck, 4 sets of 10 reps with a 3-second squeeze at the peak contraction) followed up by 6 sets of 3 reps of bench press done as explosively as possible with 50% of 1RM and then 1 set of as many reps as you can with 85% of 1RM.
• (sports-training related): Ending a hard lifting workout with explosive work. For example a football player might do his regular lower body workout which would involve heavy power cleans, squats, and Romanian deadlifts and then finish up the workout with lighter, but super explosive, power cleans for 5 sets of 3 reps with 30 seconds of rest between sets.
5. Embrace the power of urgency.
Every time I've had to finish a workout within a certain time I've felt more focused, which led to better workouts. I also enjoyed fewer psychological inhibitions (e.g., being intimidated by a weight) and that allowed me to perform at a much higher level. That's why I love things like Every Minute on the Minute Sets (doing one set every time the clock hits 1 minute), trying to complete a specific conditioning session as fast as possible, or doing as much work as possible within a determined time. It puts you in a different mindset, one that's much more conducive to quality workouts. This is especially true for energy system/conditioning sessions. It seems to take your mind off the pain and physical discomfort and allows you to power through, ultimately leading to much better gains.
6. Crank the music.
Strength is a skill. When I want to maximize my performance on a lift, I need to be able to concentrate on the task at hand and not be distracted. Music can hurt my performance as I'm not one to bang heads listening to death metal before a bench press set. When it comes to conditioning work, however, I actually like loud music that has great rhythm as it helps me focus on maintaining a fast pace. The fact is, my performance during conditioning sessions drops by about 25% if I'm not listening to music!
7. Use slow pace cardio strategically.
I'm big on higher intensity work for conditioning but that doesn't mean that I'm against slow pace cardio. A good cardiovascular system is the foundation for solid performance at higher intensities of work and allows you to recover between bouts of higher intensity work (in part by increasing the conversion of lactate to glucose). For example, I like doing things like 3-4 rounds of 200-meter farmer's walk followed by 600 meters of jogging. If someone has a lousy cardiovascular system, jumping straight into a super high intensity GPP routine probably isn't a good idea. For such a person, building up their cardiovascular system with lower intensity cardio is necessary. Once you have a solid base, though, it's best to use the lower intensity cardio as the active recovery part of a harder overall session.
Let's get real. Some gifted athletes can build a muscular, lean, powerful physique without performing a lick of cardio or even conditioning work. For ordinary humans – or those who want the best results possible – a little hard, intelligent conditioning can go a long way towards building a rock-hard, formidable body that's built for bad. Just follow the seven rules above.
• CrossFit has done an incredibly good job at popularizing tough training using barbells.
• CrossFit is fine "Exercise" but it's not "Training". The undoubtedly impressive CrossFit Games athletes don't use CrossFit programming.
• There are good and bad CrossFit coaches, but the certification farm CrossFit has become often produces more bad than good.
I was associated with CrossFit for about three years beginning in 2006, providing weekend seminars and instructional videos that demonstrated technique on the five basic barbell exercises. I ended my formal association with the organization in 2009 due to ideological and personal differences, and The Aasgaard Company started our own seminar product in January of 2010. During this seven-year period of time I've become quite familiar with the system and the people who developed it, I've watched it change significantly over these years, and I've come to hold several opinions regarding CrossFit. Some of them I will share with you here.
CrossFit is the greatest thing that has ever happened to barbell training, bar none, unequivocally and absolutely. Since the invention of the equipment a hundred years ago, nothing has placed more hands on more barbells than CrossFit. This is what motivated my involvement with them in 2006 – I saw a huge amount of potential for the advancement of strength training. Now, it must be said that P90X broke the ground with their infomercials, the first of their kind, showing people getting results with exercise that was actually hard. Previously, the primary criterion for exercise advertised on TV was that the DynoIsoThighMaster2000 folded up and stored under your bed. It was fun and took five minutes a week. And it was easy. So P90X comes along and says that you have to get sweaty and tired if you want to get stronger and lose bodyfat, and it will help if you do their diet too. After a period of development that began in 2002, they started airing millions of infomercials in 2004, and within a couple of years every human being on Earth had been exposed to the idea that "hard" was productive, and that muscles needed to be "confused," an idea first popularized by the Weider organization in the 70s. With the broad general public exposed to the ideas of "hard" and "random/muscle confusion," the field had been plowed. CrossFit began to get popular about this time. It has been called "P90X with barbells" – it confuses the muscles with random exposure to a variety of movements and equipment that P90X does not use, and it is very hard. CrossFit had an appeal that has subsequently ballooned into the fastest-growing business opportunity for gym owners in the history of the industry. Each of these gyms (I'm sorry, but I cannot call them "boxes") has bars, bumper plates, racks of some sort, and the platform space to do the basic exercises that comprise effective strength training. And each of them also offers a place to do the WOD that all the other CrossFitters around the world are doing that day. But if they'll let you, each gym also is a place where you can do very productive strength training. CrossFit also constitutes nothing less than a total revolution in the potential for the development of Olympic weightlifting in the United States, so far in excess of Bob Hoffman's wildest dreams that the English language fails to describe its importance. For example, in 2004 there was one place to do the snatch and the clean & jerk in the entire Dallas Ft. Worth Metroplex: Tom Witherspoon's garage. Before, six million people/Tom Witherspoon's garage. Now, 10 years later, there are no less than 40 CrossFit affiliates – probably 41, since I've been typing a while. USA Weightlifting has yet to capitalize on this unique opportunity, for reasons beyond the scope of this article. Nonetheless, the amazing opportunity remains in place. So, no matter what other derogatory stuff I or anybody else says about it, CrossFit has provided more people with access to barbells and the motivation to lift them than any other single factor in the past hundred years. Our company (Aasgaard), Rogue Fitness, York Barbell, Lululemon, Robb Wolf, ten or so shoe companies and chalk and tape manufacturers, several dozen Olympic weightlifting coaches, hundreds of grass-fed beef suppliers, and tens of thousands of commercial space landlords have all benefited from the existence and phenomenal expansion of CrossFit. We will all be forever grateful for the work.
CrossFit – the program on the website and the methods taught at their "certs" – is Exercise, not Training. Exercise is physical activity for its own sake, a workout done for the effect it produces today, during the workout or right after you're through. Training is physical activity done with a longer-term goal in mind, the constituent workouts of which are specifically designed to produce that goal. Exercise is fun today. Well, it may not be fun, but you've convinced yourself to do it today because you perceive that the effect you produce today is of benefit to you today. You "smashed" or "crushed" or "smoked" that workout... today. Same as the kids in front of the dumbbell rack at the gym catching an arm pump, the workout was about how it made you feel, good or bad, today. In contrast, Training is about the process you undertake to generate a specific result later, maybe much later, the workouts of which are merely the constituents of the process. Training may even involve a light day that you perceive to be a waste of time if you only consider today. CrossFit is a random exposure to a variety of different movements at different intensities, most of which are done for time, i.e. as many reps as possible in a stipulated time period or a stipulated number of reps done as fast as possible. As such, it is Exercise, not Training, since it is random, and Training requires that we plan what we are going to do to get ready for a specific task. Different physical tasks require different physical adaptations; running 26.2 miles is obviously a different task than squatting 700 pounds, and the two efforts require completely different physical adaptations. If a program of physical activity is not designed to get you stronger or faster or better conditioned by producing a specific stress to which a specific desirable adaptation can occur, you don't get to call it training. It is just exercise. For most people, exercise is perfectly adequate – it's certainly better than sitting on your ass. For people who perceive themselves as merely housewives, salesmen, or corporate execs, and for most personal training clients and pretty much everybody who can afford a CrossFit membership, exercise is fine. CrossFit sells itself by advertising the random part: random is not boring, and not-boring gets people to come back. Coming back while doing the diet at the same time gets you abs. CrossFit is largely about abs. CrossFit is also about the concept of "community" – the reinforcement of behavior through group participation and group approval. I understand this quite intimately, because I have met some of the best people I have ever known through CrossFit, the vast majority of whom are still friends even though I'm no longer associated with CrossFit formally. A better-than-average group of people that likes you and helps you be better is a very powerful motivator for improvement, and CrossFit: The Community provides this in abundance. These two very powerful motivating factors – non-boring and in-group social dynamics – working together, do the best job of reinforcing workout adherence that has ever been brought to play in the fitness industry. In fact, CrossFit operates, in this important respect, in a way that is completely opposite to the industry paradigm of sell-'em-and-run-'em-off. But this active retainment of members actually using the gym creates a unique problem for CrossFit facilities that no one else in the standard fitness industry has to face: the post-novice trainee. As you are obviously aware (since you have memorized my books), a novice trainee is one for whom recovery from each workout is possible within a very short timeframe – 48 hours or so. This is because untrained people are unadapted people, and for unadapted people anything that's harder than what they've been doing causes an adaptation. This is why CrossFit works so well for the vast majority of the people that start it: for the first time, an exercise program causes them to experience rapid improvement... at first. Then the problem with CrossFit becomes obvious. CrossFit is not Training. It is Exercise. And exercise – even poorly-programmed random flailing-around in the floor for time – causes progress to occur, for a while. For the novice, CrossFit Exercise mimics the effects of Training, because it's hard and because stress causes adaptation. Then, progress slows, since the Laws of Physiology cannot be ignored. The more you adapt to physical stress, the stronger and fitter you become. And the stronger and fitter you become, the more difficult it is to get more strong and more fit, because the easy part of the process has already occurred. This is called the Principle of Diminishing Returns, and is evident throughout nature and your own experiences, if you have paid attention. Once the low-hanging fruit have been picked, you have to get a ladder, and then you might need a helicopter – and each increase in complexity yields less fruit, dammit. And this is precisely where CrossFit:The Methodology falls apart. Once a person has adapted beyond the ability of random stress applied frequently under time constraints to cause further improvement, progress stalls. And increasing the intensity of the random stress doesn't work either – that just gets you hurt because you haven't gotten stronger, and your heart and lungs can only work at about 200 BPM and about 50 RPM. Further progress must be based on an analysis of the adaptation you want to create, and a program of Training for the purpose of causing that adaptation to occur must be correctly designed and followed. Beyond a certain point, random physical stress fails to continue to elicit a favorable adaptation. CrossFit appeals to many people because it claims to be about doing everything well and nothing perfectly. Humans cannot excel at everything, as evidenced by the individual performances within the Decathlon as compared to the specialists' performances in those events. But at some point, even people who don't want to excel at anything in particular realize they aren't really improving at anything in general. People motivated to get this far are also motivated to continue improving, and even if you want to be merely good at everything, there must be a way to continue to improve this general competence. "Mainsite CrossFit" cannot drive this improvement beyond a certain point. This is precisely why the advanced athletes who win and place at the CrossFit Games do not use CrossFit website programming to achieve advanced levels of the strength and conditioning necessary to perform at that level. None of them. This is widely known and freely admitted by everyone not involved with the company. All athletes at advanced levels must Train intelligently to advance, and CrossFit:The Methodology doesn't do the job. Strength is an excellent example of a physical characteristic that drives improvement in other athletic parameters. More strength means more power, more endurance, better coordination, and better everything else. This is why, all other things being equal, the stronger athlete is the better athlete. You can get stronger for a while doing random exercise, but everyone who has tried it knows that at some point you have to put more weight on the bar and lift it on a regular, programmed basis that obeys the rules of adaptive physiology and logic. You have to plan to get stronger by doing things that require that you be stronger, while not doing things that interfere with the process. Random WOD CrossFit is not good at making this happen – or even allowing it to happen. So, the program that's very good at getting people to stay involved is also very good at getting people to the point where the same random exposure to hard physical stress no longer works, and must become non-randomin order that progress continues to be made. For many CrossFitters, exercise will always be enough. But for many others, CrossFit takes them to the point where CrossFit isn't good enough anymore. For them, Exercise leads to Training, and CrossFit is merely Exercise. In other words, CrossFit has an inherent problem that it cannot seem to solve.
Why can't CrossFit:The Business Model solve the problem? Because it doesn't want to. Hell, it doesn't need to: at eight to ten completely sold-out Level I "certs" every weekend, each of which may enroll 50 participants at $1000 each, it would be very difficult to convince any sane person that CrossFit has any problems at all. Here's one aspect of the problem: how many of these approximately 500 people failed? How many certified CF Level I "coaches" are actually qualified to coach CrossFit or anything else? How many have the experience to understand The Bad – the limitations of WOD programming – and how to correct it? Any organization which grows this fast will have problems. Among the more serious problems that CrossFit has are the injuries. Shoulders, Achilles tendons, rhabdomyolysis, and all the other things that are the potential result of overtraining an athlete who cannot continue to adapt to randomly applied and sometimes very intense physical stress. These are potentially life-altering exposures to needless trauma that can be prevented by not doing stupid shit to people who don't know any better than to do what they're told. NFL players get injured. So do almost all professional athletes. In fact, every competitive athlete faces the prospect of injury, because that is the price paid for shifting the focus from merely doing to winning. The risk/reward ratio has been calculated and allowed for. CrossFitters get injured while exercising in the gym. Most are upset when this happens, but some of them regard these injuries as a marker of status – as though the injury itself confers some elite level of athletic accomplishment to a set of pull-ups. It may be a torn callus or a torn cuff tendon – any injury represents a setback in an actual training program, while for a CrossFitter it may be regarded as evidence that something wonderful has been achieved. People working very hard at high-intensity high-volume physical tasks are going to get hurt, no matter why they're doing the work. One of the reasons that Training results in long-term improvement is that it properly assesses the current state of the athlete and logically plans for improvement in a way that is sustainable, safe, specific to the goal, and therefore productive. Random exposure to varying levels of volume, intensity, rest, technical complexity, and power output cannot be sustainable, safe, specific, and productive. You know the Hamill study, published in the JSCR that evaluates the risk of injury in various athletic activities? The one that found that "weight training" was one of the safest activities in the spectrum? CrossFit actually has the potential to change this. The Ugly is that some freshly-minted CrossFit coaches recognize this Training/Exercise problem, even if they can't articulate its cause, and attempt to address the situation by simply adding to the intensity. Adding weight to already fatiguing ballistic movements is dangerous, and you're not being a pussy if you recognize the fact that this is not always a good idea. Weighted high-rep 24-inch box jumps for time are a potentially very dangerous dose of stress, from both a metabolic and structural perspective, made even more dangerous in combination with several other high-rep movements that can fatigue the athlete in the short-term and produce high levels of tendon and muscle inflammation in the long-term. Is everybody who passed that CF Level I Cert last weekend actually capable of evaluating which of the people in the class should do this workout, even if they can? The Ugly is that one of the best things that has ever happened to strength and conditioning is also one of the worst things that can happen to some very good people. People who are committed to you because you have shown them progress and because they are part of your group will do things because you tell them to. This is unfortunately true, people being people, and it has gotten some of them badly hurt. A Coach is supposed to know better than to place people in a position to get hurt by asking them to do things they can't or shouldn't do. The fact that everybody all over the world is doing these things today should not matter to a Coach. There are hundreds of very good CrossFit affiliates across the country and around the world, staffed by very good coaches with more-than-adequate experience and excellent judgement about all matters regarding exercise and training, which to use, and who to use it with. I know many of these people, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that they know what they're doing. The Ugly is that there are many thousands of CrossFit affiliates around the world and hundreds of new "coaches" each weekend. Think about this very carefully.
On September 13, 2001, then EPA head Christine Todd Whitman told reporters at ground zero, "We have not seen any reason - any readings that have indicated any health hazard." On September 18, the EPA released a statement saying that the air was "safe," said statement having been made without sufficient data available. Twelve years later, tens of thousands of people who were exposed to contaminated air at the World Trade Center and within a mile of ground zero suffer from ongoing health-related issues ranging from asthma to cancer.
In the case of the World Trade Center, especially in the early hours and days of the crisis, data was the one thing that was especially hard to come by. But you need only to look at photos of the smoldering ash pile that stood thirty stories high and the attendant billow of smoke and dust to make at least a reasonable assumption that the air was contaminated, in spite of the EPA’s assurance otherwise.
But alas, we want to believe our leaders, and for those who have a vested interest, the default response when asked “Is it safe?” is “Of course it’s safe!” In the case of the World Trade Center, the fact was the data was simply not there to make such a declaration.And in the absence of data, defiant denial of the potential for harm should, in my opinion, be replaced with, “We don’t know yet. Let’s find the safest way for you to proceed given the current lack of data.”
How Does This Relate to CrossFit?
There is a longstanding, endless and circular argument that surrounds CrossFitwhen it comes to injuries. It usually starts with someone outside the CrossFit community making a fairly nebulous claim, such as “CrossFit causes rhabdo” or “Kipping pull-ups are bad for the shoulders.”
The community, usually led by CrossFit Headquarters, responds with the vengeance of a thousand hyenas descending on a wounded zebra retorting that CrossFit is not dangerous, that injuries occur in any sport, that the alternative of sitting on the couch and vegetating can be much worse, and ultimately, that there is zero evidence that there is any data-driven causation between CrossFit and injuries.
Since I have been CrossFitting, the following seem to have emerged as the “big four” in injury allegation:
I won’t go into too much detail concerning the historical arguments because I am sure you have all seen the threads. The gist of the arguments goes something like this:
There are approximately 1.2 million box jumps per year and three documented cases of Achilles ruptures. Those numbers do not support your argument that bounding box jumps are dangerous. We’ve been open since 1998 and we’ve never had a case of Rhabdo. There is zero evidence to suggest that kipping pullups…ad nauseum.
You get the picture. Coincidentally, CrossFit HQ recently held an episode of their Offline program where the topic was pull ups - strict versus kipping. The jumping off point was an article written by 21 CrossFit called Why I Haven’t Taught You To Kip and the topic was whether strict pull ups should precede kipping. Jacob Tsypkin, one of the guests, said this: “Nobody’s every substantiated this supposed risk behind the kipping pull-up. Nobody’s ever proven that. At all. That claim’s never been substantiated.“
And it likely never will be. Here’s why.
CrossFit, as a body, has no data collection mechanism. Think about this, because this becomes the loophole for anyone wishing to defend CrossFit’s safety record. The records don’t exist. Even if they did, it would take years of real study to determine causation.
Most corporations who franchise have a central brain to and from which information flows. If you work at McDonald’s in Sri Lanka, and you cut your hand on a jagged mop handle, you fill out an incident report. That report gets transmitted to your regional franchise holding company and then to the corporate headquarters. The information goes into a database, and safety engineers look at trends, injury rate, and stats, and may ultimately decide that the RazorSharp Mop Handle brand is no longer safe and will make decisions for the corporation to find a safer alternative.
CrossFit is different. Because CrossFit is an affiliate system and not a franchisor, the system is less like the head-and-appendages body of a franchise and more like a solar system where the planets orbit loosely around the sun, albeit unattached. Which means there is not now, nor can there ever practically be, any mechanism for reporting of injury data. In a system where CrossFit HQ prides itself on little oversight of its affiliates - you buy the license to use their name and that is it - there is no possible way for CrossFit, Inc., to monitor injury rates or collect data. Any attempt to do so, especially in a mandatory fashion, would usurp the individual powers granted to the affiliate to run things how they see fit. And again, there is that pesky causation problem, especially with musculoskeletal injuries that occur over time.
Now, I did have a rather extended conversation with CrossFit HQ’s Russell Berger on the topic and he indicated there is a loosely-formed data collection functionality in place that involves monitoring the injury forums, communicating with major affiliates, and collecting data from various military, police, and other units. To my knowledge, this data has not been published nor has it been referenced in any way. At the same time, there does not appear to be a public relations effort to address injury prevention other than to vociferously defend CrossFit’s safety record.
Let’s take a close look at this conundrum then. How can CrossFit, Inc., defend the safety record of an unregulated, unmonitored affiliate system? And if the response is, “There is no data to support the fact that kipping pull-ups are bad,” then by default, there is no data to support they are safe. See the problem? That’s why I am not sure I get the hyena treatment of anyone who makes a suggestion that there may be a problem with some aspect of CrossFit’s safety - vis-à-vis 21 CrossFit. That was a well written and positive article, but itdrew fire from HQ Media.
If one suggests to CrossFit Inc., “Kipping pull ups cause shoulder injuries,” CrossFit will respond, “There is no evidence to support that claim.” And they are correct. But then, so was Christy Todd Whitman. There was no data. Just a huge smoldering ash pile.
By the same token, since “CrossFit” at-large is 8,000 or so micro-communities, headquarters can no more say “CrossFit is safe” than the President can say “Detroit is safe.” Some cities are safer than others. Some cities are downright dangerous.But you can’t blanket-statement a safety record while at the same time holding the position that there is zero regulation of the communities for whom you are speaking. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but CrossFit has grown much too large for those speaking on behalf of the brand to even know. There are so many new affiliates that CFHQ can’t possibly know, or speak for - more than a handful.
The very thing that CrossFit trumpets at the hallmark of the brand, affiliation, is the very thing that prevents them from being able to control the quality of the product and, therefore, the safety of the same.
This Is Not a “CrossFit is Dangerous” White Paper
That point needs to be made clear. Full disclaimer: I kip my pull ups and muscle ups, I do high rep Olympic lifts, and I bound off my box jumps. However, I do this for sport. My goals are not fitness. My goals are sport, and as such, I need to make a choice that exposure to the possibility of injury is a very real thing.
But 99% of people who participate in CrossFit are not doing this for sport. They are doing it to get fit. At the gym where I train, Cincinnati Strength and Conditioning, the classes are specifically geared toward those wishing to be fit, not those wishing to compete. Ergo, box jumps are always step-down-mandatory, and the strict pull ups outnumber the kipping three-to-one in any given month of programming. And very, very little of the daily class programming involves competing against other members in a timed metcon.
The problem is that if you look around at any given CrossFit box on any given day, you will begin to notice a pattern. And that pattern is injury. Don’t believe me? Take an inventory at your box. In the last year, how many of the people with whom you regularly “throw down” have sustained or currently have an injury? Additionally, factor in those people you don’t see anymore. Where did they go? Boredom? P90X? Or are they sitting out a shoulder injury? I know many people who have had shoulder surgery, and many more who have shoulder problems.
It is a conversation we simply must have. Whether there is a specific causation or merely coincidental correlation, there is a preponderance of injury. If you read this peer-reviewed paper, which appears to be the first of its kind, you will see that there is a reported 73% injury rate in CrossFit. That’s too high. (You can read the rebuttal to this study here where the author takes issue with the data collection method and findings.)
But let’s give that 73% the benefit of the doubt and trim it all the way down to 51%. If the likelihood of getting injured doing CrossFit is 51%, then statistically, you are more likely to get injured than you are to get fit. And that, my friends, is the exact opposite of why we’re all supposed to be doing this.
What I propose is a thoughtful conversation. Rather than taking a tobacco-industry “there is no proof that smoking causes cancer” position, I would much rather see a conversation around long-term fitness that allows CrossFit participants to remain injury free. And I am not just talking about scaling load and intensity - if that worked, then we wouldn’t see the injuries we see. “Randy” with #55 is still “Randy.”
For example, rather than fighting the “you must be able to perform a number of strict pull ups before you start kipping” by calling out the author of an article, why not consider embracing that idea? Or, at the very least, let the author run his box that way without calling him out.
The data may never be there, simply by virtue of the way this system is set up. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t see the smoldering ash pile and billowing smoke. Is CrossFit dangerous? “We don’t know yet. Let’s find the safest way for you to proceed given the current lack of data.”