Thoughts on Crossfit and Startups
July 30, 2012
Today TechCrunch posted an article about CrossFit. When I first saw the headline I was upset. The trendy tech news media is now blogging about my beloved Crossfit. Or as my friend said today “Crossfit has jumped the shark”. Oh No!
The truth is this is probably a good thing for Crossfit. There are some good an bad things about it becoming main-stream. The bad that I see is that the more popular it gets, the more-and-more box’s open up (this problem already exists). Seems that anyone with $20k and a small warehouse can open up a new Crossfit gym. There is some inherent danger with that. The gym/box doesn’t matter, it’s not important. It’s the coaches that matter. You want veteran coaches at your gym. People that teach you proper lifting techniques. People that can spot injury prone mistakes a mile away. People that get to know your body and your scaling limitations. People well educated in nutrition. If you are interested in Crossfit, scope out the CrossFit gym before you go and do some research about the coaches. It’s the difference between a great experience and higher risk of injury. I hope that by CrossFit getting main-stream media coverage like this, it does noting but help these entrepreneurs grow their fitness businesses. One thing I’ve learned about CrossFit gyms is that you have to work your ass off to own one. At $130 a month, per member, on average, you need a lot of members, or a lot of personal training, to make a decent living. More power to them!
##So what about startups The article is actually interesting is that it suggests that CrossFit is great for startups. Startups are known for crazy hours and needing tons of energy to get off the ground. It’s mostly true. And in order to put tons of energy into a startup, you have to have tons of energy to begin with. This is where CrossFit helps.
In April of 2011, I left my full-time job to work on my startup. I was 70lbs heaver back then. While I thought I had a lot of energy, I really didn’t. Sure, I was knocking out a lot of code but everything else around me suffered, namely family. It wasn’t until a fat comment that someone made about me at a softball game that finally made me do something about it.
I hired a personal trainer (Elyse Miller), and started on a diet and exercise program (The Fit Menu). Over a nine month period or so I lost 60 lbs. It was an amazing transformation of my body, and who I am. For the first time since I was a junior in high-school, I was healthy and fit. I was so happy and had so much energy that I wanted to take it to the next level. I wanted that Brad Pitt body from FightClub.
A friend of mine had been doing CrossFit for a year and kept bugging me to try it. I kept putting it off and putting it off until one day he sent me a video of a really intense WOD. It light a fire inside me and I knew that I had to jump on the CrossFit bandwagon.
It’s a perfect compliment to building a startup team. CrossFit is not just an individual thing. You push yourself, but you also push others (hence a team). Encouraging a team to push themselves to live a healthier lifestyle is probably going to yield the startup dividends, not the kind from paying customers.
I used to kind of brag about the late-night hackathons we would do while drinking a bunch of beer or slamming a ton of RedBull. We always did really well but I always felt like crap. Slapping a keyboard while drinking soda and eating chicken wings helps, but not at making your code awesome. It helps shorten your life.
##Crossfit feels like death, in the beginning If you are out of shape (like I was), CrossFit is going to feel like death. Not just during your WOD’s, but for the whole hour. You are going to use muscles you’ve never used before even if you’ve been working out at a regular gym (do much overhead work there?). Even going through the workout motions with an empty bar is going to be difficult. If your WOD (Workout of the Day) includes any type of significant running (it will), then you are toast (especially in Arizona when it’s 115 out).
Stick with it. I remember my first WOD. Three rounds for time of 15 kettle bell swings at 53lbs, 15 wall balls at 20lbs, a 400 meter run, and 15 burpees (not in that order). I literally thought I was going to die. I was planning escape routes as I was running my 400 meters. By the time it was over, I was spent. I just laid on the floor for what seemed like a half hour. My coach (Mike) said “good job Billy!”. Hunh? Good Job? I almost died, could have skipped out on the workout at any given time, almost threw-up, probably finished with a world record slowest time, and he told me good job? That’s CrossFit. Constant encouragement. No going backwards. You always do a good job because you are always improving.
##It gets better, not easier After four training classes (required at my box), I could already feel my body changing. Each workout, while not getting any easier, was not making me feel like death. Two, three, and four weeks went bye and I was a different person. I could hang with people during the cardio movements and could keep up, although scaled, during the lifting WOD’s.
I’m now on month five of CrossFit. I’ve done just about every WOD at RX (that means doing the workout at the prescribed weight and or reps) over the past three weeks and I usually lead, or am near the top, in anything cardio related (rowing, running, burpees, box-jumps). I’ve lost about 10 more pounds wile gaining a lot of lean muscle mass. For the first time, since I was 17 years old, I can walk around without a shirt off and feel comfortable. I get comments from just about everyone I see who knows me as “fat Billy”. They are amazed.
##The Energy This seems to defy logic but after doing CrossFit, even in the beginning, I would always have more energy for the rest of my day. That’s right, kill yourself for an hour, and when you are done, you go through the rest of the day with tons of energy. I’ll take it.
I’m more focused when I’m working. I’m more alert. I move faster in terms of code, testing, qa, designing, and everything else that goes into being an engineer. I can hang with my kids. They are crazy, they move fast, and I can keep up with them every step of the way now. In fact, I coached my son’s t-ball team with ease and got a lot of complements from parents on how well tempered I am and how patient I was with their kids. If I had done it a year before I’m sure the parents, and kids, would have hated me.
Meetings still stuck but I can sit through them, usually multi-tasking, and can stay on point. I miss a whole lot less (meetings, honey-do’s, tasks); my memory has improved.
This weekend I did about an hour of yard work, trimming bushes and trees for a party my wife is hosting this weekend. It was 100 outside and very humid. When I was done, I went inside and helped my wife clean the house. I wrestled with the kids, built things, made breakfast, and this was all before 9am. I was bouncing off the walls waiting for the next task, the next honey-do, the next thing to do with the kids. It’s pure energy and right now it seems endless. I’m addicted.
##”I don’t have time to do CrossFit” Bullshit. It’s an excuse and I had tons of them for the last 12 years.
I have a busy life. I’m married with three kids under five. I work part-time on my startup, part-time contracting, and free-time building/learning new things. I gave every excuse in the book as to why I could not fit a gym schedule in my life. I had an L.A. Fitness Membership for two years and I never used it. It’s all mind games really.
My biggest regret is waiting so long to start. Forget the money wasted. I lost years of my life because I chose to eat like shit and not be active. You can’t get that time back.
##The Diet The Article talks about Paleo. Here’s my brief take on it. Paleo food just happens to be the food I love. Meat, fish, seeds and nuts. For breakfast, everyday, I make eggs, bacon, and sausage. It’s my favorite food and you’re telling me that I can eat it and it’s part of the diet. I’m all in!
My wife does Paleo with me and for the most part I have the kids on it. Lots of compromise there though.
I had already lost 60 lbs before I started Paleo so I wasn’t expecting a lot of weight loss. I’ve been tracking my weight everyday since the first of this year. As soon as I started Paleo, my weight stopped fluctuating. It’s now nearly a flat line that slowly angles down. So, I’m eating the foods I love, getting leaner, stronger, and still dropping fat. Perfect!
I read Rob Wolf’s book The Paleo Solution after I had started Paleo. If you want to learn a little more about the science and facts behind, give it a read. It’s short.
After seeing my results, my aunt, grandmother, and brother-in-law have either started Paleo or Crossfit. It’s not a fad diet. The results are real. You can’t airbrush your friends who are standing in front of you.
##Results you can’t see I look in the mirror and I’m happy. Very happy. My wife, yeah, happy. But there is more to it than physical appearance. I recently changed life insurance and was required to do a full blood workup. The last time I had done this was late 2010 and I was not doing so well. High blood pressure, high cholesterol. I was obese and my health sucked. After getting my latest results back I was amazed at the change. Absolutely perfect results, for my age and weight. So not only did I feel and look great, but my body has responded positively to everything I’ve been doing. When you see the raw data, it validates everything.
My grandmother, a type 2 diabetic, read The Paleo Solution after I nagged her about it for a while. Three weeks in and her sugar levels were at 90. She hasn’t seen 90 since she first discovered she had type 2 diabetes. I’m looking forward to the day when she tells my kids that she’s no longer a type 2 diabetic.
##It’s about health and fitness How you choose to be fit and eat healthy is less important than actually committing to a plan and sticking with it. CrossFit might not be for you. That’s fine. If you push yourself hard enough, stay off the machines, and do some high-intensity workouts at a local gym, that’s good. I suspect you’ll like the CrossFit atmosphere better though. Just remember, no matter what you do, track and measure everything. Numbers don’t lie. The mirror does. It’s important to have data and to analyze it. You might not feel like you are losing weight, getting faster or stronger, but the data might tell a different story. Don’t rely on other people telling you that you do or don’t look great. People are always going to say you look better. But how much better? Use the data. Chart it, graph it, make it your friend. Always know how well you did on a lift or a run, and then try to beat it the next time it comes up.
##CrossFit, the Gist CrossFit workouts vary a lot. You won’t repeat the exact same workout often and for the most part, each workout is just an intense as the last. You’ll find that you are better at some things than others but it’s all intense. For example, I hate kettlebell swings. When I see kettlebell swings on the board for the day I want to hide, yet it’s one of the most used movements in CrossFit. It’s just a weird thing with me. On the other hand, I like burpees and most people dread those. Since I’ve leaned up a lot, burpees are easy for me and I can knock out a lot in a short period of time. You’ll find these little quirks as you learn CrossFit.
Here is the workout I did this morning:
Overhead Squat 3-3-3-3-3 reps - So 5 sets of three-rep overhead squats. Before getting into this heavy lifting, we spent about 10 minutes doing various active movement stretches, and then about a good 5 minutes working on perfecting the overhead squat movement with a pvc pipe.
3 Rounds for time: (this means as fast as you can)
10 Hang Snatch 95 lbs
5 Overhead squats
50 Double Unders: Jump rope where the rope goes around twice on a single jump.
It’s important to note the relationship between the strength portion and the conditioning. In the strength portion we are warming up for the conditioning. Doing a 5 set overhead squat was also preparing us to do the Hang Snatches and Overhead Squats in the WOD.
##Give it a try Most places will let you drop-in on a class. Some charge a small fee. Give it a whirl. Get to know the coaches and the members. If you are in a start-up, or a small sized company, try to get your friends to take the plunge with you. If you are a small business owner, these gyms will typically work out a bulk discount for you to send your employees there. The guys at my box opened up a dedicated lunch hour specifically so that a small business owner could have his employees take a long lunch and get an intense workout in.
There is only one thing about CrossFit I’m certain of. If you do it, and stick with it, and try to always improve, you WILL get results. It’s guaranteed or your money back (false claim).