The Only 5 Supplements That Matter

top 5 supplements for crossfit

Supplements are maybe the sexiest topic in the fitness world. Pretty packaging, edgy marketing tactics, and the promise that you'll be perfectly sculpted out of muscle and braun. It’s also one of the first things we think about when wanting to get in shape. What supplements should I start taking?

Slow down there, boss. After all, these are supplements which, by definition, are meant to complete or enhance something else. Supplements are there to get that extra margin of results because you are already putting in the physical work and eating great.

There are all kinds of flashy products offering huge promises out there. In my opinion, there are only 5 supplements that really matter for avid exercisers and athletes. Here they are in order of importance:

  1. Protein
  2. Brained-chain amino acids (BCAA)
  3. Fish Oil
  4. Creatine
  5. Pre-Workout

PROTEIN

You should be getting the majority of your protein intake from real food. We want the complete proteins from animals and animal products. Things like lean meats, eggs and milk (if you can digest it well). 

Protein powders come into play for convenience, such as mixing a shake right after a workout. I’m not going to get into much nutrition talk in this article, but refer to our blog on 3 Simple Tips to Stay Lean and Strong for some basics.

Look for a protein powder that has minimal ingredients (like 5 or less) and is made up of primarily whey, casein, or egg white for my dairy-free friends. Other sources will be less bio-available, meaning you won’t absorb them as well as the aforementioned sources. 

For a more effective post-workout shake, combine that protein with a carbohydrate source such as dextrose powder or even just a ripe banana.

 

BCAAs

Branched-chain amino acids are found in foods that contain protein and make up about 35% of all muscle tissue. These essential acids improve muscle-protein synthesis. Some benefits would include reduced breakdown of muscle tissue, reduced soreness from intense resistance exercise, and improved energy to push through demanding workouts. They can also aid in fat loss and help in building/maintaining lean muscle mass.

I like to sip on some BCAAs before and/or during my workout. These can also be helpful if you have a gap in your day where you aren’t eating much. Keep a flow of BCAAs going! They are inexpensive and easy to drink. Just beware, if they are unflavored you may want to add a little sports drink powder or something that tastes decent!

 

FISH OIL

Fish oil provides Omega-3 fatty acids. Since most of us probably don’t consume enough fish/seafood, these are a good way keep up. A few of the key benefits of taking highly-concentrated fish oil supplements include improved brain function, reduced mental stress, and reduction of inflammation in the body.

I find that when my joints are aching, fish oil makes a big difference. Make sure you find fish oil that is concentrated. The EPA/DHA content should be at least 65% of the pill volume, if not more.

 

CREATINE

The first 3 supplements are almost a requirement if you are training hard. Creatine mono-hydrate is one that I strongly believe in, but it is kind of an “extra bonus.” Creatine is arguably one of the most studied supplements on the market. Oddly enough, it may be the most widely misunderstood by the general public. 

The good news is that most creatine supplements offered (either pill or powder) are just pure creatine. It’s cheap, easy to find and it doesn’t have a bunch of other ingredients added.

Your body naturally creates and uses creatine when you place stress on your muscle tissues, but you can only produce so much. By supplementing with creatine, you supply the body with more to use. The result is the ability to work a little more in the gym. It could be a few extra reps, an extra set, all of which add up over time to greater strength gains and capacity.

Don’t get into loading creatine and cycling like a bodybuilder. Just add a serving to your protein shake whenever you can. See if it makes a difference for you in getting stronger.

 

PRE-WORKOUT

Remember when I talked about how sexy supplements can be? Pre-workout seems to be the sexiest. It tastes good, makes you feel like the Hulk, and is marketed perfectly. This is last on my list because it’s not crucial to your success. It should be a backup plan for days when you didn’t get the right foods in before a workout. 

Again, try to find something that doesn’t have a ridiculous amount of ingredients and always test out small doses first. Pre-workout is going to be most effective for lifting sessions, especially if they are going to take over an hour to complete. It gives you the drive and mental focus to stay on task. It may also have some benefits such as improved grip strength.

If you are going to do something like a metcon that will really spike your heart rate, you may not want to get jacked up on C4 first! Everybody responds differently to these, so start slow and mess with timing it differently.

In summary, supplements can be a really helpful tool to fill gaps in your nutrition or add to an already great routine. Start slow with one or two things at a time. Otherwise, you may not know if it is making a difference in how you feel and recover. 

-Taylor Race, co-owner of St. Pete Strength & Conditioning

The Ultimate Muscle Up Progression (Video Series!)

I'm excited to welcome you to the 5-part video series for ring muscle ups! The exercises and drills provided here come from working with lots of different people and finding what is most effective. The overall objective here is to provide you with an approach to the weak points in your game that are holding you back from achieving ring muscle ups. Likewise, you can use this to improve your current muscle ups.

The 5 pieces are as follows: Primer and Pre-requisites, Pulling Strength, Dip Strength and Stability, Turnover Drills, and How to Put it Together.

I suggest watching these in order and not skipping steps. Here we go!

1) Primer & Pre-Requisites for Muscle Ups

Can you perform strict pull-ups and ring dips? You'll need those.

How about hollow holds/hangs and arch holds? You'll need those too. Master the basics! Excuse my stiffness in video 1, took me a little while to warm up ;) In this video, I cover:

  • Hollow Hold
  • Hollow Hang
  • Arch Hold (Superman), plus GHD

2) Pulling Strength and Grip

Now we can get into improving your pulling strength, specifically for the muscle up. Accessory work we'll cover here includes:

  • Lat Pulldowns
  • Strict Chest-to-Bar Pull-ups
  • Using the false grip
  • False grip ring rows and pull-ups
  • Bent over rows
  • Pendlay rows

3) Dip Strength and Stability on the Rings

In this part, I offer accessory work to increase strength and endurance in your triceps and in the ring dip movement. Don't be afraid to isolate the triceps or delts in order to improve your dips. The progression covers:

  • Tricep Pull-downs
  • Tricep Extensions
  • Parallette Pushups
  • Ring Support Hold
  • Support to Dip Hold (Negatives)
  • Ring Dip
  • Paused Ring Dip

4) Turnover Drills

The turnover is probably the most crucial piece of the ring muscle up. It is where most people get stuck and can be a big mental block. There is definitely a strength component to the turnover, but it is primarily technique and confidence.  Use these drills to get comfortable with the turnover so that you will be prepared to get on top of those rings!

  • Proximal Ring Pull-through
  • Toe Nail Muscle Up
  • Jumping Muscle Up
  • Banded/Seated Strict Muscle Up
  • Box Hip Thrusts

5) How to Put It Together

I know the ring muscle up is sexy and you can't wait to show everyone that you can do one! However, it'll be far more impressive and rewarding if you have put in the time and worked each piece over and over again. Now you can use those skills and strength to perform a well-executed muscle up. Keys to success:

  • Get a solid swing. This means no loss of tension, no breaking at the hips/knees/elbows, and keeping full control of your body (especially in the back swing).
  • Pull toward the ceiling. Be horizontal when pulling toward the rings.
  • Use the hip thrust! A good hip extension at the right time will accelerate you to get above the rings.
  • Trust your turnover. You've done the drills, so don't freak out when it's time to get on top.

 

In your journey to getting ring muscle ups, take your time and work the basics. You can do the accessory work described in each video a few times a week. Have a pulling day, a dip/pressing day, a turnover day, etc. If you follow that for several weeks, it'll get you prepared to start attempting great muscle ups! 

I hope this helps you on the journey. Feel free to email me at taylor@spscgym.com with questions or tag @spsccrossfit in your training videos so we can see you get after it!

-Taylor Race, co-owner SPSC CrossFit at St. Pete Strength & Conditioning

4 Simple Carries for a Bulletproof Core and Back

In my observation, there is an epidemic of insufficient core strength and stability throughout the general public and fitness world, alike. Our lives revolve around sitting for prolonged periods, leading to what we'll call the "lazy core." 

The good news is there are simple ways to improve this strength and stability. We are big fans of loaded carries at SPSC, which is exactly what I'll prescribe here. These exercises are simple and effective. The benefits of such carries include:

  • Relief of chronic back pain
  • Improved posture
  • Activation of crucial stabilizing muscles ("wait, I have those?!")
  • Improved protection of the spine, aka injury prevention!

Before we get into each carry, there is a theme to carries in general: bracing is stability. Bracing refers to your ability to contract your "core" muscles to maintain pressure all the way around your abdomen. When you perform these movements, act as if you have a lifting belt on (don't actually wear it) and think about pushing against that belt through your abs, obliques and low back. Now let's get into it.

1) Farmer's Carry

The farmer's carry (or farmer's walk) can be performed using kettlebells, dumbbells, or handles made specifically for this movement. Start with a load that allows you to hold on for at least 20-50 meters at a time. 

Start by deadlifting the weights off the ground, standing tall with good posture and walking at a normal or brisk pace. The focus is on maintaining posture by engaging your upper back and creating pressure in your abdomen. These work grip strength too, so increase your weights over time as you build strength.

low back pain st petersburg

2) Suitcase Carry

This is just like the farmer's carry, but only loading one side. Deadlift the weight up on one side and get to walking. Work on firing those obliques to balance you out and avoid excessive leaning. I like to walk 20-30 meters, then switch arms. Each time you switch, set the weight down and deadlift it up on the other side.

personal training st petersburg

3) Single Arm Rack Carry

Using just one kettlebell, get into a rack position by keeping a rigid wrist and touching your thumb to the center of your collarbone. The KB will rest on your bent arm. As you walk, you'll have to work extra hard on one side to keep your torso upright. Keep your posture and don't lean!

crossfit training saint petersburg

4) Bottoms Up Carry

You'll want to start with a lighter weight on this one (15 pounds shown below). A light kettlebell works well because of the balance aspect, but a dumbbell can be used if needed. If you get proficient at this one, you can inch up the weight a little. 

Get your arm to about a 90 degree angle and keep the shoulder in its socket. Walk slowly and think about tucking your ribs into your spine, sort of like the hollow body position. If you find yourself overextending your low back with your ribs poking up, re-adjust to maintain your braced position.

kb bottoms up carry

Grab some KBs and get to work!

-Taylor Race, co-owner and head coach at St. Pete Strength and Conditioning / SPSC CrossFit

Embrace the Challenge if you want the Change

chelsea clean spsc

You know that feeling. The rush that comes over you after accomplishing a task that seemed insurmountable. A part of you thought you couldn't do it. It was too daunting. Then you did it and you've never felt more relieved and accomplished. You could ride that wave of confidence for hours, days, maybe even weeks.

With every obstacle we overcome, there is growth. It may be a small step or it may be a giant leap, but the mental and emotional growth allows us to become better and more determined individuals. These are defining moments in our lives.

I worry at times that, as we grow older, we stop challenging ourselves on a regular basis. It's so easy to get comfortable, to not step outside of the bubble. I can tell by the look on someone's face when I give them a workout that gets them out of breath whether or not they will succumb to the discomfort or rise to the occasion.

Challenges come in many forms. Speaking in front of a crowd, completing a long distance run, getting through your daily WOD, or learning a new skill. Yet, when you put yourself in that uncomfortable environment or situation and you are faced with whether you will fail or succeed, the result can change the course of your morning, your day, or your life.

What will you do to challenge yourself today?

Let SPSC CrossFit challenge you daily by starting with a private free intro session

-Taylor Race, co-owner of SPSC CrossFit at St. Pete Strength and Conditioning

Low fat dairy is NOT a health food.

Skim milk. 1 percent. 2 percent. Half and half creamer. Skinny lattes. 

We've been brainwashed over the past few decades to believe that dairy fat is the devil.

In fact, it's safe to say that any product that is labeled "diet", "fat free" or "reduced fat" is pumped full of sugar, sweeteners and chemicals to replace the flavor. STAY AWAY FROM THESE FOODS.

Dairy is not for everyone. There are people that are sensitive or allergic to the proteins (whey and casein) in dairy. Others are highly sensitive to the sugar (lactose). Although there are plenty of people who have sensitivities to dairy and should eliminate all dairy from their diets, there are some people that can tolerate dairy just fine.

For those who can tolerate dairy, do not reach for reduced fat or skim versions. Despite what you have been told, cream, butter and whole-milk products are better for you than non-fat dairy.  

How? Some compounds that are found in high-fat dairy products have been shown to have beneficial effects. 

  • Butyrate provides energy to the cells lining the colon, inhibits inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and may prevent colonic bacteria from entering the blood stream. AKA, it improves your gut health. In fact, butyrate's anti-flammatory effect is so strong that a dose of four grams per day for eight weeks induced complete remission in a group of Chron's disease patients.  
  • Phytanic acid, one of the fatty acids in dairy fat, has been shown to reduce triglycerides, improve insulin sensitivity  and improve blood sugar regulation in animal models.. all good things that lead to support healthy body composition. In a study of 2,600 U.S. adults, another fatty acid in dairy fat, trans palmitoleic acid, was found to be associated with lower triglycerides, lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease. 
  • CLA, a natural trans fat found in dairy products, may reduce heart disease, cancer and diabetes. 
  • And lastly, dairy fat is also a good source of fat-soluble vitamins like retinol, and vitamin K (which are difficult to obtain elsewhere in a diet). 

So which dairy products should you reach for if you can tolerate dairy?

  • Whole milk (no skim or reduced fat)
  • Full fat cream (no reduced fat or half and half)
  • Full fat Greek yogurt (no fat free or reduced fat)
  • Butter or ghee (no fake butter spreads or vegetable oils)
  • Full fat cheese (no reduced fat)

Remember, if it doesn't come from the earth, has a mother or is a by-product of something that has a mother.. you probably shouldn't eat it. 

Food is the foundation of your health and performance. We place a big emphasis on finding what works for YOU at SPSC. We know everyone is different and work hard to help guide our members to perfecting their ideal diet. 

Click here to start your journey with us and stop dieting once and for all. 

-Nicole Race, Co-Owner St Pete Strength and Conditioning, home of SPSC Crossfit

Your Fear of Muscle is Making You Soft (Part 2 of 2)

Coach Brian with a perfect example of a change in body composition (reduction of fat, increase of muscle). Same body weight in both photos!

Coach Brian with a perfect example of a change in body composition (reduction of fat, increase of muscle). Same body weight in both photos!

Last week, I discussed the wide range of health benefits that come along with developing and maintaining plenty of lean muscle mass (read part 1 here). This week's installment on this topic will be directed toward the positive (and attractive) aesthetic benefits of improving your body composition, along with clearing the air on some misconceptions or downright false information out there in regard to gaining muscle and how to go about doing so.

Remember when I told you to erase the image of the over-developed body builder from your head? Same rules apply here. I'm going to start with some of my old favorite comments from clients (on Day 1). Those who stick around through the hard work come out with a very different view on their bodies and goals.

I don't want to get muscles, I just want to be toned.

Just freaking shoot me. Every time I hear the word "toned" I want to curl up in a ball and curse the names of every Hollywood trainer and fly-by-night infomercial exerciser. I don't blame you (well maybe a little bit) for mentioning it, really. Let's get down to the root of this one.

That "toned" look that you are referring to is really a balance of having an amount of lean mass that greatly outweighs your amount of body fat. In other words, you need to be lean and carrying a good deal of muscle. You aren't going to get there by doing 100 reps of curls with a 1 pound dumbbell. In fact, that's likely to wear your muscles down to nothing.

The idea set forth in the above statement also undermines the amount of effort and discipline that is needed to achieve such a look. Your diet is first and foremost, but the work in the gym should really be comprised of both lifting challenging weights for moderate volume (let's say 5-10 reps) and performing some high intensity training (short bursts that get you sucking wind). In essence, you DO want muscles and you want to be LEAN enough to show them off. 

I get bulky really quick if I start lifting weights.

Well, I'm jealous. And if this statement is true, what are we doing wrong at our gym? Everyone here lifts weights, but I'm not seeing the next Mr. and Mrs. Olympia anywhere. Here's a pro tip for you: don't train like a bodybuilder if you aren't trying to look like a bodybuilder. Did I just blow your mind? Again? 

This brings me to a concept that I need everyone to hear loud and clear --- especially you, ladies. When provided with the same stimulus, 100 different people are going to have 100 different results. Your genetics play a huge role in your physical outcome. Embrace it. You ladies want those curves in all the right places? Well, curves are made of muscle.

Take me for example. I am a 6' tall male who weighs 170lbs at about 8.5% body fat. I'm lean and always have been. I also lift reasonably heavy weights on a daily basis and eat all day long. My point is that I'm not HUGE, although wouldn't that be sweet if it were that easy? Meanwhile, my wife puts on muscle and weight pretty easily. Two very different sets of genetics at play. We can train exactly the same way and get two different responses. You should also consider the volume of training and nutritional discipline involved here. Getting a good workout for an hour a day, 4-5 times per week, and eating a healthy diet will be great and is not likely to leave you "bulky."

So what do I do?

For starters, stop killing yourself doing cardio for hours and lifting weights that don't leave you breathing hard after a set. That may work to cut big amounts of weight, but you'll tap into that healthy muscle mass in the process. There is a balance in the middle.

In my opinion, it consists of performing compound lifts (think squats, deadlifts, overhead presses) at challenging weights and high intensity intervals (HIIT) for conditioning. You'll get the most return in terms of body composition and it won't take 10 miles of running to get there.

Get started on your new lifestyle with a free class at SPSC CrossFit to experience all of this first-hand.

-Taylor Race, co-owner and trainer at St. Pete Strength and Conditioning, home of SPSC CrossFit

Your Fear of Muscle is Killing You (1 of 2)

Obviously, we are all huge and bulky because we lift weights...

Obviously, we are all huge and bulky because we lift weights...

As a gym owner, trainer, and lover of all things strength I often find myself having to defend strength training and educate others on the benefits of working with weights. Our society has perpetuated quite a few myths about weight training in general with little-to-no evidence to back it up. Beyond just blabbing about lifting weights, I want to set my laser focus on a primary result of weight training that can and will benefit every person on the planet: improved lean muscle mass.

Now before you roll your eyes and close your internet browser, let's get past the term "mass." I mean this in no other context than matter, substance, material that consists of weight. Got it? So erase the picture of the monstrous bodybuilder that just worked its way into your brain. Ok, thanks. I forgive you. Let's move on.

Other than the bones, fluids, organs and all that other good stuff in your body, you have muscle and fat that contribute to your overall body weight. This article will look at the health benefits of optimizing your level of lean muscle (in relation to body fat). Stay tuned for the next article focusing on the aesthetic implications and misconceptions regarding muscle mass.

Metabolic Rate

Each of us has a unique resting metabolic rate (RMR). This describes the amount of energy we expend when our body is at rest, meaning we are basically doing no activity. Those who have more lean muscle mass will typically demand a higher amount of energy (i.e. calories). In fact, muscle is the biggest contributor to your metabolic rate. 

When people say things like "muscle burns more calories than fat," what they really mean is that it requires more calories to maintain your muscle mass than that of fat. Body fat is simply the result of our body's storage system when there is an excess of calories. If you have a low body fat percentage, the furnace that is your metabolism is burning white hot. As a result, your body can typically handle a higher caloric intake much more efficiently than someone with a higher body fat percentage.

A big mistake that many people make when dieting is cutting calories too much. This tactic often taps into your existing lean muscle mass as well as fat. The result is a slower metabolism (up to 30% slower!). Why would your metabolism slow down? Because you aren't keeping up with the demand to maintain your healthy muscle tissue. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) warns that calories should never be below 1200 calories for women and 1800 calories for men. Those are even considered to be some low numbers. Are you in that range?

Health Markers and Muscle Mass

Beyond improving your metabolism (which is huge!), there are many other crucial health markers and conditions that can be improved by improving and maintaining lean muscle mass. Some of these include:

  • Decreased blood pressure & prevention of hypertension
  • Increased bone density
  • Reduced impact of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Prevention and improvement of diabetes
  • Better blood sugar control
  • Prevention/correction of obesity
  • Reduced or improved back pain
  • Improved sleep 

Let's take the first bullet for example --- blood pressure. Some doctors will have a hypertensive or pre-hyertensive patient stay away from resistance training and stick to traditional cardio. This is a mistake. In fact, studies have shown that weight training improved blood pressure by more points than aerobic exercise, reduced sodium intake, and general weight loss (remember that weight loss doesn't mean FAT loss). If resistance training stimulates growth of muscle tissues and aerobic exercise generally does not, then we may just be on to something with this lean muscle stuff!

The moral of the story is that you can function better as a human by maintaining a good amount of lean muscle. The human body is meant to have muscle to function properly and letting it atrophy (which will happen naturally as we age) will be detrimental. 

It isn't necessary to lift maximal loads or train every day. However, it IS necessary to incorporate challenging resistance training in your routine to keep your body capable of picking up your kids, moving heavy objects, sitting down and standing up, etc. If you are being responsible, there seem to only be up sides to improving your lean muscle composition. However, the down sides could be a life of medical dependency, reduced functionality, and poor quality of life. Bummer, right?

If you want to get started on the right foot and learn about your own RMR and body fat %, join our New Year Body Composition Challenge which kicks off January 25th. Reserve an appointment for your initial body fat test before 1/25/16 and get customized nutrition guidance for this 8-week challenge.

-Taylor Race, head coach and co-owner of SPSC CrossFit at St. Pete Strength and Conditioning

A Guide to Your First CrossFit Open (2016)

Finishing a tough open workout last year with our friends at Burg CrossFit.

Finishing a tough open workout last year with our friends at Burg CrossFit.

The holidays are over and you are back in the gym hitting it hard and trying to negate all the nonsense you just put your body through over the last month...or two. Well, kudos to you. You are just in time to gear up for the CrossFit Open! This is an annual worldwide (online) event, in which exercisers everywhere at every skill level can participate in 5 weekly workouts that are aimed at testing your fitness. Here's everything you need to know to get prepared and put yourself to the test!

The Basics

Registration for The Open begins January 14th, 2016. You can find it at games.crossfit.com. It costs $20 to register. 

Workouts are announced each Thursday night starting February 25th. Announcements are broadcast live on YouTube, followed by a head-to-head matchup of high level CrossFitters completing the workout. Watch it, learn from it, and channel those visuals when it's your turn.

 You have until the following Monday to complete the workout and submit your score to be validated by your affiliate gym. Each workout is scored by a registered judge from your gym or wherever you are completing the workout. There are scaled and RX versions of each workout, so you can participate at any skill level.

The Nitty Gritty

Here at SPSC CrossFit, our preparation has already begun. While a lot of our year is spent improving your strength and overall work capacity, the prep phase going into The Open is spent hammering the essential CrossFit skills and metcons. We know from history what movements and skills you HAVE to brush up on going into The Open:

Bodyweight

  • Double Unders (jump rope)
  • Handstand Pushups
  • Toes-to-Bar
  • Pull-ups and Chest-to-Bar pull-ups
  • Burpees
  • Muscle-Ups
  • Box Jumps
  • *Wall ball shots
  • *Rowing on Concept 2

Barbell

  • Snatch
  • Clean, Clean and Jerk
  • Thrusters
  • Deadlift
  • Overhead Squat
  • Shoulder-to-Overhead (get good at push jerks!)

While this isn't a guaranteed list of everything that will be included, these are sure bets. If some of these movements --- take muscle ups for example --- are out of your league over the next month or two, don't stress about it. You can default to the scaled workout that week or go for that first muscle up if you are close to getting it already. Either way, you could end up with some kind of personal record. That's what it's all about!

Mentality and Practice

Other than spending time honing in on your skills, especially the gymnastics variety, there's really no better practice than doing past workouts from The Open. You'll get familiar with the types of tests in place and there's a good chance one of them will be repeated this year. Focusing on your 1RM back squat isn't going to help you much at this point in the year. Become a better technician in your lifts and become more skilled overall if you want success.

If this is your first time, the primary focus is completing each workout with your best effort. It doesn't matter so much where you rank in the world (you can beat that placing next year). Right now is the time to figure out your pacing, capacity, and willingness to go into (and stay) in that dark place during your workouts. Training is practice and The Open is game time. 

Most of us aren't trying to go to Regionals, in which case there isn't a bunch of pressure on us. However, this is a chance to put all your hard work to the test in a different setting. Compete with yourself and rise to the occasion. I'd put my money on surprising yourself with what you can accomplish with a little different mindset and environment.

Here's to another CrossFit Open and wishing you success and PRs in the near future!

-Taylor Race, head coach and co-owner at SPSC CrossFit

Barbell Complexes: The Best Bang for Your Buck

Photo courtesy of Nick Pecori from the SPSC Classic (2015)

Photo courtesy of Nick Pecori from the SPSC Classic (2015)

There are so many methods out there to get stronger and fitter. Which should you pick? Surely, you need access to lots of expensive equipment and machines, right? Nope! Well, then you at least need an hour and a half to workout. Wrong again!  I kinda set you up for that one.

You can accomplish a hell of a lot with just a barbell, some moderate weights, and 15 minutes of your time. Get familiar with barbell complexes. They are an excellent way to accomplish a number of goals, whether it is to increase strength, muscle mass, improve conditioning, or address weaknesses in your lifting.

What is a complex?

A complex is just a series of movements with the barbell (or any implement) that are completed in succession without losing tension (i.e. setting the weight down between reps).  

The key here is that you are increasing your time under tension, thus demanding more from your body to get the given amount of work done quickly. You'll notice that a good complex leaves you breathing hard and doesn't take a lot of sets to get the job done.

Now, the type of complex depends on your goal. If you need to get stronger in a certain position for a lift, then you'll hammer that position. If you want to get generally stronger, incorporate the entire body with a squat, pull, press type of sequence. If you want to increase mass, you'll increase the rep range of the complex. The possibilities truly are endless.

5 Great Complexes to Try

Here are some complexes you can get started on right away. Again, you can tweak the rep range and challenge yourself on the weights to change up the intensity. A good complex will flow from one movement to the next to avoid unnecessary effort. Set a desired number of rounds to complete (not just one time through and done)!

1) Full Body Classic

5xBent Over Row + 5xHang Power Clean + 5xFront Squat + 5xStrict or Push Press + 5xBack Squat

2) Bear Complex

*Complete the 5 movements in order and repeat the cycle 7 times before resting (35 total reps per set). The Bear Complex workout consists of 5 Rounds of those 7 cycles.

Power Clean + Front Squat + Push Press + Back Squat + Push Press

3) Clean Complex

Clean Pull + Hang (squat) Clean + Front Squat + Split Jerk

4) Snatch Complex

Snatch Pull + Hang Power Snatch + Overhead Squat + Hang (squat) Snatch

5) The DT-ish Complex

8xDeadlift + 8xHang Power Clean + 8xPush Jerks/Presses

 

Get the hang of these and create some complexes of your own! You can do it with dumbbells and kettlebells too. Happy complexing!

Subscribe to our newsletter for informative emails and to receive the 3 Most Important Things You Need To Get Fit!

-Taylor Race, owner and trainer at St. Pete Strength and Conditioning, Home of SPSC CrossFit

Suck it up, buttercup.

Maybe it’s the Makers Mark talking but I have to get this off of my chest. 

We need to harden the f*ck up. 

A lot of people have become soft. And it drives me crazy. Let me back up a little..

I just finished a 3 week elimination diet. The most irritating part of the 3 week diet? Peoples’ reaction to it. Here is a small sample of the remarks people made to me upon learning that I was on a strict diet for 3 measly weeks…

  • “OMG you’re crazy!”
  • “I would die!”
  • “I don’t know how you're going to do it!”
  • “Screw that, I would just rather deal with the consequences.”
  • “That is so extreme.”
  • “Isn’t there an easier way to figure out if you have food sensitivities?”
  • “3 weeks is a lifetime to go without X!”

PEOPLE… It’s 3 short weeks. 21 days. If you can’t go without X for 3 quick weeks, you have a problem. Really? You’ll die without candy? 

Every time someone had something to say like one of the remarks above, it just made me think of how pitiful we can be sometimes.

Can we not commit to ANYTHING? Can we not challenge ourselves? We need to get out of our comfort zone and deal with a little inconvenience for a while. We need to suck it up. 

Are we so helpless that we run from change?  Adaptability... do you have it?

You will never see real change or growth in ANY area of your life without some challenge, pushback, sacrifice and hard work.

 Do you know what really works? What really gets your through?

Setting a goal and being the type of person who upholds their committments; yes even to YOURSELF. Be a reliable person who follows through and does what they say. 

Have you ever heard the quote by Will Durant “A nation is born stoic, and dies epicurean.” It means that a country is built with commitment, hard work, blood, sweat and tears and with the sacrifice of pleasures. But it’s when that country becomes occupied by pleasure seekers, soft, weak-willed people who don’t know how to work hard…it goes to shit. 

YOU ARE 100% IN CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE. You and where you are in life is the product of your choices.

Do you really think that the people who have it all, who have “made it”, who are highly successful in all facets of their life are special? That they have some magic pill? Some perfect formula? They’re no different from you and me. 

What do they DO differently?…They DO. They do all of the things that you’re not WILLING to do. It’s not about capability. It’s about will, action, commitment, sacrifice. They stay up late, they wake up early, they skip out on celebrating and treating themselves. THEY GET SHIT DONE. They read. They learn. They grow. They adapt.  

So how do you work towards getting rid of that softness in your life? Try some of these….

  • Hide your phone for a few days. 
  • Take a really cold shower. 
  • Go without sugar/salty foods/ caffeine, alcohol for a while. 
  • Sleep on the floor, without your comfy pillows and blankets. 
  • Turn your AC off. 
  • Read a challenging book. 
  • Bring some intensity to your workouts - work so hard you feel like you’re breathing fire. 
  • Go outside and do some manual labor. 

Every experience that trains us to be helpless moves us farther away from the human experience. The world is more fair than you think. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Stop being a victim. 

Kill your learned helplessness. 

Need help? Click here to get started with our "Get Your Life Right" program. 

-Nicole Race, Co-owner St. Pete Strength and Conditioning, home of SPSC Crossfit

Here is what NOT to do come January

Typical New Years Resolution: Lose fat, get in shape, see their abs for the first time, build confidence, improve their bio markers, increase their quality of life, get off of medications, etc. All things that are accomplished by exercising and eating well. 

Losing weight, getting in shape and changing your habits is NOT easy. It takes a lot of work and discipline. I don't advise you embark on the journey alone. 

The biggest mistake people make? Thinking they can do this on their own by signing up for a cheap gym membership and copying some bodybuilding split and cookie-cutter IIFYM diet by the hottest Instagram fitness guru #fitspo

I can respect the honest attempt. People just don't know what they're getting into. So I'll tell you.  

  • An upwards of 67% of people who have gym memberships DON'T USE THEM. Why? Because they have no idea what they're doing. 
  • Large corporate gyms count on you NOT coming. They want your auto draft of $10-$50 per month but they don't want you to show. Why? They don't have room for you. Think about it... if all 1000-2000 members showed up to work out, no one would be able to workout. 
  •  They make memberships JUST affordable enough for you to justify letting that payment keep on rolling because... you'll get there... eventually... when you have time... NEXT week. 
  • I don't know about you but I've never felt more connected to a group of people than at a gym where everyone has headphones in while they stare each other down, staking claim over gym equipment and do everything possible to avoid direct eye contact and interaction. Am I right? 
  • As you do the same, boring, monotonous isolated movements for over an hour and then move onto your 45min machine cardio session... some 60 year old is getting more work done than you in an intelligently designed and coached Crossfit class (all within 60 mins or less).
  • Let's say you do exert some energy at one of these gyms... you better not get too intense.. making noise will disturb those reading their magazines on the ellipticals. 

What can a quality Crossfit program offer you?

  • Intelligent, functional training that makes you a useful and sexy person. Deadlifts are much more useful than leg presses and seated chest fly machines.
  • Community. A big, diverse group of people that you'll get to know on a personal level. These are the people you will grow to call your friends. We don't do headphones here. We don't do egos here. We don't have popularity contests here... you connect with people. You laugh together, you kick eachothers ass, you curse your coaches together. Then you'll go to brunch together.  
  • Nutrition that is practical for your lifestyle with your health being the top priority. That diet soda may fit your macros provided by your IG fitness expert but what is it doing to your insides? 
  • Accountability from the top down. Does the president of LA Fitness call you when they haven't seen you at gym in a while? NO. But I will reach out to you to have a conversation (preferably in person) if I see your attendance is down, your mood has changed, etc. Why? Because we know our members well. We know their goals, their motives, their abilities, their weaknesses. We genuinely want them to be here working towards their goals as often as possible. We want to set them up for success and provide them with as many tools and opportunities to crush their goals.  

There is a reason why Crossfitters love to talk about Crossfit.. it makes them happy! It meets the innate need to socialize and be a part of a tribe. It challenges them in ways that result in REAL change in both mind and body. 

Most people need help in the goal setting department (a crucial first step). If you are that person...  read this blog post . 

-Nicole Race, Owner St. Pete Strength and Conditioning, home of SPSC Crossfit

 

Organic or not? Which to buy - 2015 Dirty Dozen and Clean 15.

Did you know that you can reduce your exposure to toxic pesticides by about 80% simply buying organic from the Dirty Dozen list?

The Dirty Dozen list is posted every year by the Environmental Working Group (EWG)

The produce on the Dirty Dozen list have the highest amount of pesticides. 

The produce listed on the Clean 15 list has the lowest amount of pesticides - In other words, you don't need to worry about buying organic. 

DIRTY DOZEN (purchase organic)

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Snap Peas
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet Bell Peppers

Clean 15 (Don't worry about buying organic)

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mangoes
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet Corn
  • Sweat Peas
  • Sweet Potatoes

****You always want to wash your produce thoroughly. Eliminating as many pesticides from your diet as possible is crucial to your gut health. 

Homemade produce wash to remove pesticides:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Combine ingredients, then scrub produce or let them soak for several minutes before rinsing. 

Developing sustainable habits is key to reaching your health and fitness goals. Let us help guide you. Contact us here to sign up for a no-sweat intro or start your free trial here. 

-Nicole Race. Co-Owner of St. Pete Strength and Conditioning, home of SPSC Crossfit. 

Gymnastics: The Sport Every Kid Needs

kids gymnastics spsc

I'm not a gymnast, but I'm thinking about writing my parents a nasty text about not making me do gymnastics as a kid. From the perspective of someone who trains adults of all ages how to move better and get fit, my job would be exponentially easier had they just learned some basic gymnastics skills!

Not everyone is going to be an athlete, but that doesn't mean everyone shouldn't be trained how to use their own body. Here's why you need to get your kid in gymnastics ASAP.

Motor Patterns

It almost never fails. When a new person comes into SPSC CrossFit and takes to verbal movement cues right away, takes to weightlifting right away, etc. there's a good chance they have a background in gymnastics. We don't have to explain what the overhead position looks like or how to stabilize their trunk in a squat. The movement patterns are ingrained at an early age. As a result, they typically adapt to new skills and movements very easily.

Most people think that we, as trainers, just spout off workouts and tell people how to lift. WRONG. A majority of our time and instruction is dedicated to getting each person to move correctly and efficiently. There is often a lack of proprioception (body awareness) and an understanding of which muscles to activate to complete a lift.

Some gymnastics training can go a long way in setting this foundation.

Strength Base

This is another big one. As adults, we don't want to spend weeks or months going through bodyweight progressions and taking it easy. We want to lift more weight in less time and get some damn results! Well, you could've spent your early years getting those progressions out of the way.

Beginners and intermediate gymnastics programs will develop strength and conditioning in children gradually. Since it doesn't require the use of weights, gymnastics will require your body to achieve stability in tough positions and strength in your connective tissues, tendons and ligaments. Think about all that is included in a gymnasts basic skill set: sprinting, jumping, tumbling, handstands, pull-ups, push-ups, isometric holds, etc.

And don't forget about that core! Not only does gymnastics require incredible core strength, but the discipline to express this strength through solid positions. Core work and upper body strengths are the big strength benefits that come out of this training.

 

Now I'm not advocating that every child needs to be a competitive gymnast. I do think that it is one of the best ways to learn how to move your body through space, create a more functional body, and improve athletic performance. Whether or not you have a future in sports, I don't see how you could go wrong.

-Taylor Race, owner/trainer at St. Pete Strength and Conditioning, home of SPSC CrossFit

The taste of success is sweeter than brownies

You know what pizza tastes like.

You know what brownies taste like.

You know what the second and third serving of ANYTHING tastes like. 

You know that one or two drinks is good enough. 

But have ever experienced the feeling of FINALLY reaching your fitness and health goals?

Seriously. Think about it. 

Have you ever completely executed the "plan"?

How many times will you start over?

How many times will you say "this time I'm going to stick to it"?

How many times will you convince yourself that the binges and indugences are all worth it and well deserved?

How much longer will you allow yourself to feel unhappy with your body?

How much longer will you allow yourself to feel tired, run down and unhealthy?

How many times will you avoid certain occasions or events because you don't feel great about yourself?

YOU ARE IN CONTROL. 

You owe it to yourself to feel happy, confident, healthy and empowered. 

What makes you feel better?...

The short lived 30 seconds of eating the second cupcake

or

the feeling of guilt and disappointment that you once again made another decision that takes you farther away from your goals?

While I love brownies and pizza like anyone else... I LOVE the feeling of being healthy, full of energy, happy with my body and have the ability to perform amazing things MORE than eating foods that I know won't do any good for me. 

Do I indulge in pizza and brownies here and there? Sure. But they're certainly not a regular thing or else I wouldn't be where I am today. 

I'll leave you with this.... 

I never get tired of feeling as good as I do.

I never get tired of not thinking twice about the clothes I wear because I'm not insecure about the way my body looks.

I never get tired of having the strength and stamina that I have worked to develop.

I never get tired of having the energy to play with my son. 

I never get tired of feeling great about myself.

I never get tired of loving myself.

I never get tired of feeling confident and achieving my goals.

The choice is yours... you either WANT it or you don't. 

-Nicole Race, Co-Owner of St. Pete Strength and Conditioning, home of SPSC Crossfit 

Olympic Lifts: Form and Function

st pete barbell club spsc crossfit

Since the emergence of CrossFit as we know it today, there's been a tug-of-war going on about olympic-style weightlifting --- how the lifts are used, the number of reps that should be done, and so on. The origin of this impassioned debate is that an established (and pridefully underground...at least in America) sport has been introduced within a younger, thriving sport of a completely different philosophy. The two implementations of weightlifting that are being compared here exist in two very different contexts.

On one hand we have weightlifting in its purest form: mastery of two different contested lifts. On the other, CrossFit's model of being able to adapt to many different skills and movements while performing them quickly and efficiently. I'm not going to get sucked into this debate, opining over whether or not we should be heaving weights overhead for an excessive number of repetitions. It's tired and I'm tired of hearing it. Instead, I want to discuss the value I see in learning these lifts, how we have implemented them in our gym and I'll most likely toss in some minor ranting. We are nothing if not passionate, right?

Why is Weightlifting Good?

To quote the great Joe Dirt, "Why is a tree good? Why is the sunset good? Why are boobs good?" I think that about sums it up. But seriously, weightlifting offers a lot of benefits both physically and mentally. First, it's fun. You may not feel like weightlifting is fun everyday, but to me it doesn't get much better. These lifts are about power, finesse, body awareness and operating in harmony with the physics taking place around you. If it doesn't impress you to watch someone propel and gracefully move themselves around a bar that outweighs them two or three-fold, then I can do nothing for you.

We often compare the lifts to a golf swing. I love this analogy because I know what a good swing feels like and, more frequently, what a shitty one feels like. Timing and sticking that perfect snatch or clean is an accomplishment you must experience to understand. It's that sort of feeling that makes all that is going on in your life seem manageable if not easy. You can't deny that programs like CrossFit have exposed this sentiment to the masses and hold a great deal of responsibility for the rising popularity of weightlifting in America. This is a good thing, even if some coaches are not doing a great job of implementing the lifts. Let's chalk it up to a misunderstanding...that may or may not result in injury.

I'm Ready, Coach.

This is where I toe the debate line. As a trainer who is responsible for keeping people safe while getting them in better shape, I cannot simply toss a new client into a timed workout with something like snatches involved. We'll find an appropriate alternative, but it would be reckless to allow someone who is not even close to technically sound in the lift perform a lot of fast repetitions. Looking at CrossFit gyms and athletes as a whole, I think we have come a long way in the past couple of years in regard to educating ourselves on the lifts and becoming proficient in performing them. Just look at the difference in technique in regionals athletes from 2012 to 2015. Huge difference.

Both lifts are very technical if you want them done correctly. Sure, there are plenty of brawny and ox-like men and women out there that can pretend to do the lifts based on a freakish amount of requisite strength. Muscling through it, whether you are strong enough or not, results in compromised technique and failure to squeeze out the intrinsic benefits at stake.

In competition, a good lift is a good lift. Get it from the ground to overhead and stay locked out. Within the walls of our gym, you are here to improve your fitness, athleticism and skills. Doing multiple reps of the olympic lifts (or any lifts for that matter) is bound to expose flaws in form due to fatigue, poor positions, etc. Here's an idea: let's work on the technique first, so that when it breaks down you don't ruin your shoulders, back, {enter body part here}.

Efficacy comes first. Efficiency comes next. When I talk efficiency, I'm referring to the athlete's ability to produce sound movements under a limited time domain and/or fatigue. This is where "muscling through" fails. Again, you're missing out on what makes these lifts enjoyable and beneficial. By laying the foundation of solid technique, you are prepared to adapt as the weights get bigger.  Which brings me to my next point.

The Almighty PR Pursuit

I think it's pretty clear at this point that I'm a fan of technique. We should all strive to apply the same approach to a 15lb training bar as we do with a 300lb loaded bar. Unless you are new to lifting, PR attempts probably don't come around every day. My YouTube video voyeurism reveals the painstaking fact that too many people have sacrificed form completely to get a new number in their notepad...or simply to show everyone else how strong they are. Don't get me wrong. A PR attempt will often be less than perfect on the technique end. How far are you willing to let it slip, though?  You see weights getting bigger, I see regression and an unwillingness to take a small step back in order to take that next jump forward.

 

If anything, pursuing progress in weightlifting has taught me how important patience is. That may be patience in pulling from the knee to the hip, or patience with getting the lift right in the first place.  The bottom line is this --- why are you training the lifts? Your programming should differ if you are looking to do a weightlifting meet versus getting a good "Grace" time in a CF competition. The technique will also be altered, but it should always start with the same fundamentals.  So do what you want with the lifts.  Just know where you need to start or get a competent coach that can get you there.

Interested in learning more about CrossFit and/or weightlifting? Check out SPSC CrossFit for a free trial!

-Taylor Race, co-owner of St. Pete Strength & Conditioning / SPSC CrossFit

Sitting (even on a ball) is crappy for your health

Americans sit for about 9.3 hours EACH DAY. We sit at work, sit at home, sit while driving, sit while socializing, etc.

Sitting is horrible for us. Why? Let’s take a look at what happens when you sit.

  • Circulation is constricted (less blood flow to our tissues), then our brain hungers for blood and nutrients that are poorly circulated through our system.
  • Muscles are shut off (you’re relaxing and smashing your glutes)
  • Your posture goes to crap - your head is cranked forward, your shoulders are internally rotated, your spine is in flexion, you squint your eyes...your poor back is trying to hold on for dear life to stabilize your spine because you have LITERALLY shut your ass off from working.
  • Connective tissues get tight (creating stiffness, limiting your ROM and mobility)
  • Metabolism slows (you’re using less calories)

Bottom line: Sitting makes you more unhealthy, less fit and kills your metabolism.

You May think to yourself.. but wait! I workout out for 1 hour per day!! Unfortunately, that doesn’t cut it… NOT EVEN CLOSE.

So what is the solution?

LET’S SIT ON A BALL! That’ll “engage my core” more!

The theory about sitting on an exercise ball is that the ball provides you with an unstable surface… therefore you’ll be forced to “engage your core” and you’ll activate more muscles and unload your discs.

I have some bad news for you….

Studies have shown that spinal compression AND muscle activation is pretty much the same whether you’re sitting on a ball or sitting on a chair. At the end of the day, you’re still SITTING.

In fact, greater contact area on the ball compared to a well designed chair might encourage MORE soft tissue compression. (not good!)

Now… subjects DID move their trunks more on the ball than the chair. BUT! They also experienced MORE disc compression and trap activation (upper back and neck).

Moral of that story… sitting on a ball is still sitting. It could even make things WORSE for people with back issues.

 

What about your metabolism?

Not only does sitting negatively effect your musculoskeletal system, but it greatly effects your METABOLISM (how efficiently you USE your energy, AKA calories).

A study of 105 office workers showed that those who sat longer were 3x MORE likely to have a waist circumference larger than 37 inches for men and 31 inches for women.

*** Waist circumference is STRONGLY correlated to cardio-metabolic risk***

These same workers were also 9x more likely to have a BMI greater than 30 (this places them in the obese category). Now we all know that BMI doesn’t tell the entire story, but anytime you reach the obese category, something needs to change.

Each additional hour the workers sat led to larger waist circumference, higher insulin and lower HDL cholesterol --- that’s all bad news.

There are papers that suggest prolonged sitting should be considered a “distinct coronary heart disease risk.” You know what else is in that category? Smoking.

So what is the solution?

STAND UP AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE!!

Get a stand up desk, ask if your employer will pay/help pay for one, get a prescription for a standup desk from a practitioner, contact your insurance provider… fight for one!!

This is your LIVELIHOOD we’re talking about here. 

When you stand at work, you...

  • Unload your discs (decrease spinal compression)
  • Activates muscles (creates stability to support your skeleton)
  • Create a better opportunity for good posture
  • Increase your metabolism (standing burns 1.36 calories/min. That’s 60 cals/hour. 8 hours of standing burns 500 calories or more per day!)

If it’s not possible for you to stand at work, you need to get up and move around as much as possible.

Set an alarm for yourself every 30-60mins. to walk around, stretch, do some air squats, get your hips moving, creating some blood flow and help circulation.

Working towards standing more often will greatly improve your quality of life. Taking it back to the basics of eating nutrient dense, quality foods, moving more, sitting less and exercising intelligently is exactly what we need as a nation to become healthier and happier.

We can help you with those steps. The hardest part is STARTING. Let us be your guide.

 Click here to get started at SPSC today.

-Nicole Race, Co-Owner of St. Pete Strength and Conditioning, home of SPSC Crossfit

 

The Top 3 Reasons You Need a Training Partner

sam marko spsc classic.jpg

Having a training partner, or sometimes even just someone else to train beside, can be incredibly beneficial to making progress in your workouts. One of the greatest aspects of CrossFit is the community. It give you the opportunity to have multiple training partners on any given day. However, the focus of this article is finding those one or two individuals with whom you can train on a regular basis. Here's why that relationship is so important.

Accountability

If someone else is expecting you to show up somewhere, you are more likely to go. Plain and simple. On those days where you just don't have the internal motivation, that external source (your partner) can make all the difference.

This also means you will tend to rise to the expectation of training. When it would've been easier to give up or scrap that extra set of reps that you don't feel like doing...your partner is right next to you waiting for you to finish the set. Humans inherently don't want to let other people down.

Lastly, having a partner or partners gives you other people to discuss recovery, eating, the next day's workout, or words of encouragement when you aren't IN the gym. It keeps your head in the game.

Fun

Training can be a grind. Whether you are looking to compete or just getting a good sweat after work, this shit can be hard. Having a buddy to joke around with and lighten the mood can make all the difference in your attitude and, thus, your progress. A good attitude yields good results. Period.

Instead of dragging your heels to get to the gym, you are more likely to look forward to meeting up with your training buddy and getting some work done.

Competition

We all have those days when we need a push. Your partner is there to push you when you can't to do it yourself. After all, everyone loves to win. Having a buddy or two creates that competitive atmosphere in which there is a winner and a loser, so to speak. If it was just you, you'd never know which place you took.

Teaming up with someone who is as skilled/strong as you, or even more so, makes for a great push/pull relationship. You will likely have a balance of strengths and weaknesses between you, which allows the opportunity to help each other improve on those weak spots and bolster the strengths.

Go find that person who will compliment your training and let the gains begin!

-Taylor Race, co-owner and trainer at SPSC Crossfit / St. Pete Strength and Conditioning