5 Ways to Lean Out That Have Nothing to Do with Food

I strongly dislike the term “losing* weight.” “Losing weight” can mean anything: clothes? bones? brain matter?? When people say they want to “lose weight” what they typically mean is that they want to lose fat, or what many refer to as “leaning out.”

[*As much as I dislike the term “losing weight,” “loosing weight” is even worse.]

Most professionals would agree that your body composition is largely due to your diet. Those percentages can range anywhere from 80-95%, but what about the other 5-20% of your life? There are other factors we need to think about if we are looking to lean out.

1. SLEEP
Your diet can be full of leafy green vegetables, grass-fed protein, and good fats, but if you’re sleeping 4 hours a night, you’re probably still not in great shape. Sleep is your body’s chance to reset. Lack of sleep means that appetite hormones such as leptin and ghrelin are thrown off, your stress hormone cortisol is sky-high, and your brain won’t make great decisions during the day, especially when it comes to food. For people working the night shift, it’s even worse news. Even if you’re getting 8+ hours of sleep during the day, your circadian rhythm is thrown off and you experience similar effects of only getting a few hours sleep. In an ideal world, you’re getting 8+ uninterrupted hours of sleep in a cool, dark room at night.

2. RELAX
Whatever that means for you, relax and have fun. Spend time with friends, go for a walk with your family, listen to your favorite music, get a massage, etc. The goal here is to lower stress. Lowering stress lowers cortisol and lowering chronic cortisol is a good thing. Cortisol is not inherently a bad thing – it’s part of the fight-or-flight response to danger. But if we are consistently stressed out, this hormone will tend to store fat along the midsection and mess with other non-essential functions including our memory and immune system.

3. STRENGTH TRAIN
One of the best ways to lean out is to strength train and build muscle. The goal here is not to burn calories WHILE exercising (a common misconception), but to build an engine that will burn fat throughout the day. Muscle is very expensive tissue – it takes a lot of calories to maintain muscle compared to fat, so let’s take advantage of this fact. This goes for men and women alike – put those 5 lb. dumbbells down and pick up a barbell. Compound movements such as the back squat, deadlift, and push press are all great muscle builders. Women: that “toning” that you want? This is the best way to get it. Bulking up like a professional body builder won’t happen the way you think it might. As an initial goal, men should be able to squat 1.5x bodyweight and women should be able to squat 1x bodyweight.

4. SPRINT
Sprinting can be in the traditional sense of running, but it can also be any acute, high-intensity exercise. The benefits are almost too many to list: fat loss, better insulin sensitivity, increased growth hormone to build muscle, better circulation and heart health, etc. Sprinting is efficient, easy to do (no equipment needed!) and has a myriad of benefits that I’ve already listed and that you can Google. Only once or twice a week is needed – that’s how potent these things are. Do a hill sprint every 2 minutes for 14 minutes and you’ll know what I mean.

5. GET VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is actually not even a vitamin, it’s a hormone and it’s essential. It’s incredibly good at countering stress (cortisol), increasing bone density, increasing testosterone, boosting the immune system, and reducing inflammation – all things related to leaning out. The best way to get vitamin D is directly from the sun. It only takes 15 minutes to get the best exposure from the sun, but in winter months or cloudy days, you may want to grab some Vitamin D3 from a store. You should do some research on how much to take – I find that most brands will recommend far less than is actually optimal. You might find recommended doses of 400 IU on the bottle, but I’ve read about people taking upwards of 20-40,000 IU. Personally if it’s winter or dark out, I’ll take 8-12,000 IU and don’t experience any negative side effects. Depending on your skin tone and other factors, your mileage may vary, so do your own research.

What you put through your pie hole absolutely matters when it comes to health and body composition. But there are a few other factors to keep in mind that aren’t related to food. Getting quality sleep, reducing your stress, strength training, sprinting, and getting adequate Vitamin D are all going to help you lean out. Instead of trying to do all things at once, pick one that you think is achievable and set a goal of being consistent with that for two weeks. If you can do that, add another element and continue in this fashion until you hit all five.

Lastly, don’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of good. Yes, in a perfect world you’re getting 9 hours of sleep in a cool dark room. If you are improving from 4 hours to 7 hours interrupted by a crying baby, is that failure? No way! (Am I speaking from personal experience? Maybe) We’re all on a journey and will have different priorities at different times in our lives. Do what’s best for you right now and don’t worry about everyone else. Do you.

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2016 CrossFit Open Recap – Feel vs. Numbers

The CrossFit Open officially began in 2011 with about 13,400 men competing across the world. This year (2016) saw almost that many men (12,000) compete just in the Mid-Atlantic region – wild! I went back through old workout logs and the Games site to find my results from each workout and Open and this is what I came up with:

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Some of the regional and world ranks are missing for specific workouts because the Open site would refresh with new results, so if I didn’t grab that info right away, it was lost in the shuffle. Looking at the overall world rankings though (highlighted in yellow) actually surprised me. I went into this year without having done much training as in the past (e.g. in past years I’ve followed Outlaw/Smolov/Invictus or at least had been consistently training) whereas this year I’ve been very inconsistent mostly due to traveling for work and having an 8 month old. This is by no means complaining (seriously!) – those who know me know I love having a little human to dress up in ridiculous outfits, I’m just stating a major difference in lifestyle compared to past years.

So this is why it was really surprising to see my overall percentages drop for overall rankings. By the end of 2011, I was just around 30% compared to men around the world, then 13.88% in 2012, 27% in 2014, 12.88% in 2015, and 7.88% this year. As many of you know, 2012 was my year of ripping my shoulder of its socket so I took the 2013 Open season off. (It took about a year to get back my pull-ups, handstand push-ups, muscle-ups, etc. so I only had about 6 months of “normal” training leading up to the 2014 Open.) If I had to go simply by how I felt about my strength and conditioning, I would have expected this year to actually be the worst out of all of them. I suspect that in 2011, most of the people doing the Open were fairly seasoned CrossFitters. As Reebok took over as a major sponsor and CrossFit has exploded in popularity, we’ve seen a broader spectrum of athletes participate. I don’t have any data to back this up, so this is merely conjecture. I suppose that you can relate this to why we track workout data – even though you might “feel” tired and lethargic, your weight or time for a workout might say the opposite.

In terms of this year’s workouts, here were my experiences:

16.1 – OH lunges, burpees over bar and chest-to-bar pull-ups – I did this one the night it was announced and only did it once that week. I felt TERRIBLE during the workout, most likely because of an ice cream binge the night before + all-you-can-eat sushi that afternoon. I probably should have repeated it and taken steps in stride rather than the “wedding” style that I did. Pull-ups felt great, burpees felt awful.

16.2 – Toes-to-bar, du’s, and ascending cleans – I did this one the night it was announced and was 7 reps short of getting through the 185# bar. I felt ok on this one, but needed to do it again because we didn’t realize what the tie break was. I managed to squeak through the 185 bar, but then was gasping for air through the next round. With about 30 seconds left, I attempted the 225# bar, but couldn’t catch it right. This actually impacted me later for 16.5, as I probably hyperextended my wrist and didn’t realize it at the time.

16.3 – Light snatches and bar muscle-ups – if there was a workout for me, it was going to be this one as I’m a big fan of bar muscle-ups, especially compared to the ring version. I paced the first attempt way too much, so the second attempt I just went all out. Form was atrocious on snatches – they were essentially stiff legged muscle snatches, but it got me ranked 4.11% in the world for that workout.

16.4 – Chipper of 55’s: Deadlifts, wall balls, rowing, and HSPUs – I cranked out 25 or so deadlifts to start and felt like I could have done 40, but forced myself to stop. Looking back, I probably should have actually done a huge set, instead of pacing it because I needed all the time on the wall balls and rowing. I had not been working HSPUs as much as I would have liked, so the 22 HSPUs I got reflected my current ability. I tried it again, but everything was slower.

16.5 – Thrusters and burpees for time – As I said in 16.2, my wrist was jacked up, so holding the bar for this was tough. I had to be really stiff and hold it off my clavicle – not ideal.  I also only did this once and waited for Monday afternoon to do it. Even if my wrist was healthy, I probably would not have matched my time from 2014 as I felt my legs and lungs were also holding me back.

I was surprised there were not overhead squats nor opportunities for full snatches in 2016. I suppose since these are my goats, I expected to see at least one of them. I was also surprised that we didn’t see box jumps for the second year in a row. Does this mean we might not see them ever again? Maybe. There are a few movements I don’t think we’ll ever see in the Open: hand release push-ups (11.2 was a disaster even with that “standard”), KB swings (just look up “AJ Moore” to see why), rope climbs (too many boxes in retail space with low ceilings), and long distance running (I could see shuttle sprints similar to how we did overhead lunges this year). Box jumps are relatively easy to judge and count, so I do expect that we’ll see them in the future. Perhaps in the form of burpee box jumps to make it even more objective?

Overall I thought the programming was excellent compared to past years. The scaled options made sense (unlike last year), the movements were varied and interesting, and the formats of the workouts were smart. The only complaint I heard from people was that there were not many opportunities for strength – we saw it in the clean ladder, but it was proceeded by toes-to-bar and double unders. I would argue that the stronger athletes prevailed even with the lighter weights, but that goes back to the old “cream will rise to the top” saying.

The best thing about the Open for me was seeing members push themselves to do things they never would do in the daily WOD. These feats ranged from getting more double unders than ever, getting their first bar muscle-up or chest-to-bar pull-up, and even doing the Open in the first place when in past years they didn’t sign up or participate! The 0.022% of individuals that make it to the Games are really exciting to watch, but the other 99.98% of the athletes can make for the coolest stories and really, that’s what the Open is about for me.

How to Take High Quality Photos for CrossFit – Part II: Settings and Technique

The problem with most “sports photography” advice is that it applies to field sports where long zoom lenses are the norm and outdoor light is abundant. In the early days of taking photos, I couldn’t find much for fast action, indoor photography, so much of what I learned was trial and error.
In part I of this series, I talked about the equipment for taking great CrossFit photos. In part II, I’m going to talk about the settings and techniques you can use to optimize your equipment whether it’s a high-end DSLR or a mobile phone. Note: most of these settings can also be applied to point-and-shoot cameras and Micro 4/3rd cameras. I chose the two extremes simply to keep it simple, but you can usually play around with settings on any camera.

As you read along, I’ll include photos I’ve taken over the years with as much information as I can in the caption to give you a sense of the settings I used. I hope you find it useful.

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Photo featured on CrossFit.com’s Affiliate page for a number of years Camera body: Canon T2i Lens: Canon 28mm f/1.8 Setting: Aperture Priority Aperture: f/2.0 Shutter speed: 1/200 (calculated by camera) ISO: 6400 Processed in Lightroom

CAMERA SETTINGS
DSLR – A DSLR is preferred so you can dial in specific settings. The three main options will be Aperture Priority (Av for Canon, A for Nikon), Shutter Priority (Tv for Canon, S for Nikon), or Manual (M for both). If I’m in a setting that is consistent with lighting, I will use Manual and set my shutter speed (1/250 or higher), aperture (anywhere between f/1.4-2.0), and ISO (usually high – 3200). If I’m in a spot where lighting is inconsistent (bright vs. dark areas) then I’ll go either aperture or shutter priority. For aperture priority I’ll usually set it to the brightest setting (f/1.4 for my Sigma 35mm) If I’m using shutter priority I’ll set it to at least 1/250 up to 1/500. For both I will set my ISO to 3200 or higher. Setting my ISO higher will mean slightly grainy photos, but I’m ok with this because 1. I’m not taking typical portraits where noise is the devil and 2. I’d rather get an unblurred photo that’s a little grainy than a blurry photo with no grain. As to why I would use Aperture or Shutter Priority – out of habit, I start in Aperture Priority, but if I find the camera is misreading the scene and has a slower shutter speed than I want, I’ll move it over to Shutter Priority. For weddings and landscape photography I care very much about aperture (how blurry the background is) but for CrossFit it’s usually more about the shutter speed.

Mobile phone – there are apps out there where you can control the camera on a mobile phone, but I don’t have enough experience to recommend one over another. However, if you’re using the regular camera app on the iPhone, my recommendation is to slide your finger up on the screen to raise the exposure compensation. This will make the scene brighter than the phone thinks it needs and usually this is a good tweak for photos taken on a phone. If you forget to do this, then just edit it afterwards by raising the exposure a bit.

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Photo featured on CrossFit.com on 01/23/2015  Camera body: Canon 6D Lens: Canon 35mm f/1.4 Setting: Shutter Priority Aperture: f/2.8 (calculated by camera) Shutter speed: 1/250 ISO: 3200 Processed in Lightroom

LIGHTING (FLASH)
Lighting conditions are going to be determined by the space you’re in. If you have more control over lighting or your subject (e.g. you need to take headshots of your coaches or you’re taking a nicer photo of a member for a testimonial) then the ideal lighting is “soft” bright light. In real life this looks like going to a bay door or window and having your subject stand in the shadow/shade closest to the bright light. You don’t want them to stand in the bright light because it will blow out the picture, but you want enough light to not make the picture underexposed or grainy. To any photographer, shade is a better friend than overhead direct sunlight, so keep that in mind.

If you’re taking pictures of your athletes working out, then you’re at the mercy of the light available in the box. Open as many doors/windows as you can to get as much natural light as possible in. Shooting during the day is obviously going to be better than night, but you might have enough artificial light to be adequate. I personally hate using flash if I can avoid it – not only does it usually create a washed out tone to photos, it’s also distracting to athletes working out. This is another reason I recommended bright prime lenses with big apertures – you’ll have less of a need for flash.

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Photo featured on CrossFit.com on 6/21/13 Camera body: Canon 5D mark II Lens: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Setting: Manual Aperture: f/1.4 Shutter speed: 1/500 ISO: 500 Processed in Lightroom

FOCUSING
DSLR – When you half-press the shutter on a DSLR and see a red box or see the yellow box on an iPhone, that’s where the camera is focusing. I like to change my settings so I’m on center point focus, not auto-focus. This way I can control whether I want to focus on the person close to me or farther away from me. If I know I have the time, I’ll do what’s called “focus and recompose” where I put my subject in the center of the screen, half-press to lock my focus, and then slightly shift my camera to recompose the shot. Some professionals like back-button focusing so you can look that up, too. Either way, turn off the auto focus so you have control.

Mobile phone – simply tap where you want to focus. Brace your arm against your body or better, a pull-up rig or box so your arm is steady when you take the shot.

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Photo featured on CrossFit.com on April 21, 2013 Camera body: Canon 5D mark II Lens: Canon 50mm f/1.4 Setting: Manual Aperture: f/2.8 Shutter speed: 1/160 ISO: 4000 Processed in Lightroom

COMPOSITION
If you’ve dabbled in photography, you’ve probably heard of the Rule of Thirds. Basically if you look at your camera screen and divide it in a tic-tac-toe grid, the subject of your photo “should” be at one of the four intersection points of that grid. If you can do this, great (see “focus and recompose” above). While this might be a fine way to compose a shot, this is actually not the biggest priority for my CrossFit photos (as opposed to engagement/wedding/travel photos) Why? Because I don’t want to sacrifice missing a shot just to get the “right” composition. Besides, if you really want to play around with composition, just shoot wide (stand back to get a wider scene) and crop/rotate after the fact.
With that said, having a different perspective than the normal human view (about 5-6 feet off the ground) can be useful to grab a viewer’s attention. So don’t be afraid to lie down on the ground (makes for a super stable position, but be careful of your surroundings!) or get up on a box. If it’s a competition, get behind or among the spectators for their viewpoint. Or perhaps you get them in the background cheering on a competitor as the last few seconds tick down. In general, try to frame and focus on only one athlete at a time. Whole-room shots are great, but the interesting shots are the ones that show grit, explosiveness, and victory.

Mobile phone – DON’T zoom in with your fingers and take photos. It ruins what little quality you have in that device. Instead, get as close as you can to your subject and take your photo. Then, if you really need to, crop the photo using the edit button on your phone. I repeat, do NOT zoom in with your fingers.

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CrossFit Open WOD 15.1 Camera body: Canon 6D Lens: Canon Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Setting: Aperture Priority Aperture: f/1.4 Shutter speed: 1/4000 (calculated by camera) ISO: 3200 Processed in Lightroom

KNOWING THE MOVEMENTS
It helps immensely to know the movements within CrossFit. An outside photographer who does not know CrossFit will manage to grab some good shots, but the truly dramatic and awesome photos can only be captured by a CrossFitter because we know what matters and what doesn’t. I would bet that you you’ve seen and admired a shot of someone in triple extension during a clean or a snatch. Capturing that moment of weightlessness and grace requires really good equipment, but also timing of when to shoot.
When you are thinking of movements, think of them in static vs. dynamic fashion. Do you want to capture someone at the beginning/end of a movement or in the middle? There are pros and cons to either and will come down to personal preference and what you’re trying to show. If you’re shooting a dynamic action, you might want a really fast shutter speed (1/320, 1/1,000, even 1/4000 like the photo above) to freeze the action with clarity, but you could also intentionally have a slower shutter speed (1/100, 1/200) to show a slight blur that implies movement. You’ll have to play with your settings since every situation will be different.

Mobile phone – most phones don’t have the capability to capture really fast action and gather enough light in the process. You can certainly try, but this is a huge reason to pony up for a DSLR. Remember, as a CrossFit box you are a MEDIA company, so treat yourself like one and get quality equipment!

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Rogue ad? Camera body: Canon 6D Lens: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Setting: Shutter Priority Aperture: f/1.8 (calculated by camera) Shutter: 1/320 ISO: 800 Processed in Lightroom

FINAL NOTES
There is a LOT of information out there that I haven’t even touched like post-processing (I use Lightroom), video, which lenses to use in which situations, etc. The best thing you can do is just start using your camera or go get one and learn by doing. Then revisit this blog to see if you can refine anything and then go looking for more information like editing. Don’t let all of this overwhelm you though. I remember starting out and not having a clue what aperture was or how ISO affected my photo. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch, I’d be more than happy to help. I’m on Twitter, Instagram, or you can email me.