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The Athletic Benefits of Caffeine

By William Imbo

Caffeine is the most popular drug in the world. It’s found in coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans, chocolate and cola nuts, and its use is incredibly widespread. In the U.S. alone, over 100 million Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, equivalent to 146 billion cups of coffee per year, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world. In fact, coffee is the most commonly consumed beverage in the world. Starbucks thanks you.

Because just about everyone is ingesting caffeine in one way or another, and it is so readily available (coffee, tea, energy drinks, etc.) caffeine is no longer on the banned substance list of the International Olympic Committee. It is now listed as a “controlled or restricted substance”.

Caffeine is mainly popular because it functions as a mild stimulant—more on that later. As such, it helps wake us up and keeps us going when we feel like throwing in the towel. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that athletes are interested in those very same effects as it is applied to their sport. So, can caffeine help to enhance your athletic performance?

How does caffeine work?
To understand how caffeine might help you during a WOD, we need a quick biology lesson on how the drug works in the first place. Throughout the day, neurons (an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals) are firing in your body, which leads to the build-up of a neurochemical called adenosine. The nervous system uses special receptors to monitor your body’s adenosine levels. As the day wears on, more and more adenosine (a neuromodulator that plays a role in promoting sleep and suppressing arousal) passes through those receptors—and it makes you sleepy. It’s one of the reasons you get tired at night. Caffeine is believed to work by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain and other organs. This reduces the ability of adenosine to bind to the receptors, which would slow down cellular activity, and helps to keep you from getting tired.

But that’s not where coffee’s kick comes from. With the adenosine receptor clogged, neurotransmitters like dopamine and glutamate can get a head start. Adenosine has a calming effect because it slows the activity of nerve cells, whereas caffeine speeds up the activity of cells. Nerve cells that are stimulated by caffeine release the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline), which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and blood flow to muscles, decreases blood flow to the skin and organs, and causes the liver to release glucose.

But the effects of caffeine can only last so long. It takes about four cups of coffee to block half of the brain’s adenosine receptors, so caffeine is quickly removed from the brain. However, continued exposure to caffeine leads to developing a tolerance to it. Tolerance causes the body to become sensitized to adenosine, so withdrawal causes blood pressure to drop, which can result in headaches and other symptoms. Too much caffeine can result in caffeine intoxication, which is characterized by nervousness, excitement, increased urination, insomnia, intestinal complaints, and sometimes hallucinations.

Caffeine and athletic performance
Caffeine works to reduce fatigue and increases our heart rate and blood flow to our muscles. It’s no surprise therefore that there have been numerous studies to examine how the effects of caffeine can be tailored to improve an athlete’s performance. Even the U.S. Military has researched the physiological effects of caffeine on hydration and performance, concluding that it “improves cognitive abilities, marksmanship, physical performance and overall vigilance, while preventing fatigue-related injuries and deaths.” From this research, the military actually developed a caffeine chewing gum called Stay Alert, with each piece containing 100 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to a 6-ounce cup of coffee.

Starting as long ago as 1978, researchers have been publishing caffeine studies. And in study after study, they concluded that caffeine actually does improve performance. But in what ways?

Enhances endurance levels
Glycogen (a type of sugar in the body) is the principal fuel for muscles and exhaustion occurs when it is depleted. A secondary fuel, which is much more abundantly found in the body, is stored fat. As long as there is still glycogen available, working muscles can utilize fat. Caffeine mobilizes fat stores and encourages working muscles to use fat as a fuel. This delays the depletion of muscle glycogen and allows for a prolongation of exercise. The critical time period in glycogen sparing appears to occur during the first 15 minutes of exercise, where caffeine has been shown to decrease glycogen utilization by as much as 50%. Muscle glycogen is therefore preserved for longer, and is available for use as energy during the later stages of exercise, thus increasing endurance levels and delaying the onset of fatigue. In addition, because caffeine promotes the use of stored fat for energy rather than glycogen, you’ll also benefit from increased fat burning.

May reduces the effect of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
Remember how caffeine blocks the body’s receptors for adenosine, which helps us feel more energized? As it turns out, adenosine is also released by the body in response to inflammation, such as the type that occurs in our muscles after a grueling WOD. So if caffeine is acting to block adenosine, then not only are we going to feel more alert, we’re going to feel less sore after a workout, too. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research appears to support this. Nine “low caffeine consuming males” were blindly given either caffeine or a placebo one hour prior to completing sets of bicep curls. They received caffeine in proportion to their weight, with the average dose around 385mg. That’s about 2.5 cups of coffee. Then they performed a lot of bicep curls, finishing with a one max-effort set. Over the next few days the participants returned to the lab each day and reported their levels of soreness. Starting on day two, the caffeine group reported significantly lower levels of soreness compared to the placebo group. This difference continued each subsequent day, but was most drastic on days two and three. Soreness to the touch was also drastically different. The placebo group experienced significantly more pain when their biceps were touched up to two days after the test. There are of course some caveats to these findings, namely the fact that all the subjects were males (females may respond differently to caffeine), and they were all low caffeine consumers. The results may not be applicable to regular caffeine users, since they may be less sensitive to caffeine’s effect.

Considerations with caffeine
It is important to remember that despite the apparent benefits of using caffeine, it is still a drug and too much of it can actually have a negative impact on your health and performance. Over-consumption of caffeine can lead to insomnia, indigestion, headaches, irregular or fast heartbeat and dehydration.

Moderate caffeine intake is considered to be 250 mg (milligrams) per day. In research studies, the amount of caffeine that enhances performance ranges from 1.5 to 4 mg per pound of bodyweight taken one hour before exercise.

Recommendations for Athletes 
If you choose to use caffeine on competition day, here are a few tips that may help you maximize the benefits.

1. Take caffeine about 3 – 4 hours before the competition. Although blood levels of caffeine peak much sooner, the maximum caffeine effect on fat stores appears to occur several hours after peak blood levels.

2. Consider decreasing or abstaining from caffeine for 3 – 4 days prior to competition. This allows for any tolerance to caffeine to decrease and helps to ensure the maximum effect of the drug. Be careful though, because this may also lead to caffeine withdrawal.

3. Make sure you have used caffeine extensively under a variety of training conditions and are thoroughly familiar with how your body reacts to this drug. Never try anything new on competition day.

 time
It’s amazing how much something as simple as time can effect our lives. Some of the more obvious are wishing for more time in the day, or wanting time to slow down during those much needed days off of work.  Then there’s time in the world of Crossfit. Crossfit absolutely gave me a new appreciation for time. From making sure that you’re at class early, to perfectly timing and coordinating your lifts to get the movement down just right (lets not forget the time cap of course), time is a pretty big deal. That in mind, here are two important things I have learned since starting Crossfit.

 

1. Form is everything. Of course this is what every coach has been telling us from day 1, but this is absolutely a learned behavior. Really folks, you can have poor form on lifts and still be able to lift a ton of weight and fly through WODs, but eventually you will hit a wall and will not be able to progress through your lifts as you would like. Unfortunately there is only one solution to this problem, drop in weight and fix your form. This will take TIME. Absolutely no shame in having to do this. I, myself, am guilty as charged and have had to do this a few times. I’m sure I will have to do this again too. No athlete wants to have to scale back down but, not only is it important for your own health and safety, over time you will develop habits to help achieve those heavier lifts. Even people like Rich Froning Jr. and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, who both of course make everything look ridiculously easy, work on their form constantly. Just about every athlete will have to do this at some point in their careers. There will always be an unspeakable amount of respect for those who work on this.

 

2. Remember to be patient with your progress. Once you’re past the Crossfit honeymoon phase, this easily has to be one of the hardest things to deal with. You see people coming off of on-ramp with big numbers on their lifts, a friend who seems like they’re constantly getting PR’s, maybe even there’s a movement you’ve been chasing and you’re very close to reaching your goal but haven’t. Regardless of what it is, it’s important to not get frustrated and remain patient. Letting our frustrations take over gets us no where. Give your Crossfit progression TIME to develop. Every person is different and we all seem to get different things faster than others. Don’t give up simply because it’s taking you what seems like 4,000 times as long as everyone else to get a movement down. Work hard at it, keep a level head, and with a little patience you can achieve anything you put your heart towards.

 

“The difference between a successful person and others is not lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will.” – Vince Lombardi

Meal Prepping—The Key to Keeping Your Diet Goals

By William Imbo

Regardless of your diet goals or whether you choose to go Paleo or count macros, it’s important that you attack your plan the right way to give yourself the best chance of success. One way to attack clean eating for success is meal prepping.

Meal prepping is exactly what it sounds like: You buy food for a set period—a few days, a week, or even a month—cook and prepare the food in advance, store them in the fridge or freezer and voila! You’ve planned ahead and there’s a higher chance of you sticking to your plan than falling off the rails.

What are the benefits of meal prepping?
Saves time
If you never take time, how can you ever have it? By carving out a couple of hours on a Sunday to batch cook your meals for the next few days, you can be sure to save yourself a ton of grief and time when you come home from work or the box and find your next meal waiting for you in the fridge. Pop it in the microwave or oven, and you’re good to go. The last thing anyone wants to think about when they’re on their way home from a long day is having to make dinner. But when your meal is already prepped, it’s one less thing to worry about and makes eating clean that much more enjoyable.

Dissuades you from eating crap
When people are tired and hungry the thought of preparing and consuming a clean meal becomes less appealing to a pizza that takes 10 minutes cook in the oven and requires no work whatsoever. When a healthy meal is already staring back at you when you open the fridge, time isn’t a factor anymore, and that pizza can wait another week.

It’s cost-efficient
The first time you buy in bulk, that monster receipt might make you do a double-take. Be prepared to shell out a little more than you normally would for groceries. Knowing where (and how) to shop for groceries, can save you money. Often stores like Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s Club and Aldi will have some amazing deals (including organic options) you can take advantage of. On top of that, buying for the week means you’ll be less likely to spend any extra on particular cravings you have from meal to meal—like that pizza we discussed earlier.

Tips for Meal Prepping
Plan ahead
Just as you need to carve out a few hours to cook and prepare your meals, you need to devote 10-15 minutes to formulate a solid food list for the length of time you’re planning to prepare for. You should also include some substitute food options in case they’re out of stock of your first choice.

Invest in good quality containers
You’re going to be making a lot of food, so it stands to reason that you’re going to need a lot of containers to keep all those delicious meals tucked away in the fridge and freezer. Moreover, you’ll likely bring a container or two with you when you go to work, and the last thing you want is for the lid to fall off in your bag and the food to spill out everywhere. Glass containers are great, but need to be handled carefully. Find containers that work for you and don’t shy away from spending a few extra dollars as the investment will go a long way in the end.

Carve out time to meal prep and make it fun
Set aside enough time to get cooking. Plan to spend a good amount of time in the kitchen, boiling, baking and frying away to your heart’s content. Many people might enjoy this, but it can be torture for others—you’ll just have to keep the big picture in mind. Also, consider listening to your favorite music or podcast while you chop away. That being said, you don’t have to cook absolutely everything in one go. You can prep vegetables and season your meats and leave them in the fridge to be cooked another time—that should help to take the load off a little bit!

Prep snacks too
CrossFit has a way of spiking your metabolism, making you feel hungrier between meals. These are the make-or-break hours when the convenience of a cookie or a bag of chips is incredibly tempting. Therefore, it’s just as important to prepare your snacks for days ahead, as it is your meals. Have your fruit, nuts, shakes, or leftovers readily available so when the hunger creeps up—and it will—you’ll be reaching for the right option to satisfy your cravings.

Keep it simple and start slow
If you’re new to meal prepping, there’s no right way to do it. There may be a lot of trial and error, but it’s all about finding and developing a method that works for you. If the process sounds intimidating, work with manageable chunks—one to two days at a time, at first. Then move on to three to four, then five, and so on. And as you’re progressing, you can get a little more creative with your menu, but start with simple meals, some bacon, avocado and grilled chicken with some balsamic vinegar. Doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. You’re eating to achieve your diet goals.

Be patient with the process yet remain consistent. Eventually, meal prepping—making a list, doing your shopping and preparing your meals—will become second-nature, and that’s when you’ll know you’re on a roll, and the results will invariably follow.

swolemate

Over time, it is astonishing how many people become a part of our lives. Some stay for a long while, others come and go. There is really no rhyme or reason behind it all either, maybe it’s all part of the grand master plan to help us become who we are meant to be. Usually it is the people who we least expect that end up becoming such a large influence to us and mean the most. So much to the point where you would do anything for them. In life, we call these people soul mates, and in Crossfit, we call these people swolemates.

Swolemates are individuals who have found their lifting counterpart in each other. You are lifting and suddenly you are like, “oh there you are, I’ve been looking for you to lift with.” It can be just about anyone – a best friend, significant other, family member, coworker, doesn’t matter. When it comes to Crossfit, these are the people who know your weaknesses and more importantly your strengths. They see you at your all time highs and they help you through the injuries and tears. Before you know it, even on the worst days you will go to class simply because they are going. Holding each other accountable, emotional support, motivation to reach our goals, competition to push to our limits . . . all are things developed between swolemates. Bet you that you can think of at least 2-3 swolemates right now that you have at Factory Square and may have no even realized it. They become your family at your home away from home.

Sure we all have swolemates. Why talk about it you ask? It is to recognize and appreciate that Crossfit is more than just lifting (and in my case talking about Lululemon and dancing around like no one is watching). The relationships we develop are more meaningful than we realize.  Think about it . . .  you don’t want just anyone there with you on PR days, you want your swolemates! They are the people who you look forward to seeing every day, the ones who push you to be a better person, who help you reach your goals. They become important to you, they are forever your Swolemates.

What Is a Pollen Allergy?

     What makes spring so beautiful for many people leads to misery for those who suffer from seasonal allergy symptoms. Natural allergy treatments can be as effective and, in many cases, more effective than allergy medications.
Fresh cut grass, blooming trees and flowers, and weeds release pollen, causing seasonal allergies in an estimated 40 million to 60 million people each year. Allergic rhinitis is the medical term for hay fever and seasonal allergies that occur not just in the spring, but throughout the summer and into the fall.
While hay fever frequently begins at a young age, it can strike anyone, at any time. Sometimes seasonal allergy symptoms fade over the years, only to reoccur later in life. If you experience seasonal allergy symptoms in one location and move to a new area with different types of flora, your allergies may go away.
Every tree, flower and weed releases pollen, but not all individuals have heightened sensitivity or allergic reactions to all pollens. It’s important to pay attention and recognize what triggers your allergy symptoms. For some people, cottonwood trees and ragweed are the problems, while for others it’s grass or ragweed.
Research indicates nearly 75 percent of people in the United States that suffer from seasonal allergies are allergic to ragweed. Unlike grass, trees and flower that produce pollen in the spring and summer, pollen due to ragweed is often highest during the fall.
Nearly a third of ragweed allergy sufferers also experience an allergic response to certain foods. These include cucumbers, melons, zucchini, sunflower seedsbananas and chamomile tea.  If you have a ragweed allergy, avoid these foods and others listed below under “Foods to Avoid.”
Left untreated, seasonal allergy symptoms cause miserable symptoms, affect day-to-day activities and can spur asthma attacks. Approximately 80 percent of people with asthma suffer from seasonal allergies. Treating hay fever symptoms can reduce asthmarelated hospitalizations and emergencies.
The same pollen and allergens that trigger seasonal allergy symptoms can cause asthma attacks, resulting in wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and difficulty breathing. This condition is referred to as allergy-induced asthma or allergic asthma.
People with compromised immune systems, COPD and other respiratory conditions need to manage their seasonal allergy symptoms to prevent further complications. Changes in diet, natural supplements, essential oils and lifestyle changes can help.
     Did you know that your risk of suffering from seasonal allergy symptoms increases dramatically if you have certain underlying medical conditions? Asthma, unmanaged stress, deviated septum, nasal polyps, recent trauma or illness, pregnancy, and even food allergies can put you at heightened risk.
These conditions, and others, can adversely affect your immune system functioning. Allergy symptoms are caused when our bodies release histamine in response to an allergen.  A strong immune system is key to fighting seasonal allergies.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, allergies are actually disorders of the immune system. The body over-reacts to harmless substances and produces antibodies to attack the substance. This is what causes the symptoms.

Foods to Avoid During Allergy Season:

  1. Alcohol
  2. Caffeine
  3. Conventional dairy
  4. Chocolate
  5. Peanuts
  6. Sugar
  7. Artificial sweeteners
  8. Processed foods
  9. Melons
  10. Bananas
  11. Cucumbers
  12. Sunflower seeds
  13. Shellfish
  14. Bottled citrus juice
  15. Echinacea
  16. Chamomile
  17. Wheat
  18. Soy

Foods to Enjoy During Allergy Season:

  1. Raw local honey
  2. Hot and spicy foods
  3. Bone broth
  4. Probiotic-rich foods
  5. Pineapple
  6. Apple cider vinegar
  7. Fresh organic vegetables
  8. Grass-fed meats
  9. Free-range poultry
  10. Wild-caught fish

Best Supplements for Allergy Symptoms

  1. Spirulina
  2. Quercetin
  3. Butterbur
  4. Probiotics
  5. Vitamin A
  6. Zinc
  7. Bromelain
  8. Stinging Nettles

Dr. Meg

lifting
When it comes to working out there are aspects that can make or break any particular day. A lot of times it’s easy to get wrapped up in the moment and forget things during WODs. Taking the extra few seconds to reset, controlling your breathing, keeping the best possible form – all things that we can lose focus on. Just as important as it is to keep up on the physical part of our training, it is just as important to focus on the mental part. Help out your mental game and follow a few of these simple, yet effective, tips to help you get through even the toughest WODs:

Clear your mind – Stress of work, busy schedules, and even the occasional drama can take a toll on us as individuals. One of the best things to do when going to the box is leave all of that outside the door. Clear your mind of everything going on for that hour plus because it is time to focus on what’s most important – you. It’s difficult to succeed at our task at hand when we are focused on something completely irrelevant. “The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus” – Bruce Lee

Positive Attitude – Whether you have a good day or bad, one day does not make or break us, it’s what we do in the long haul that does. Simply keeping an open mind and positive attitude can make the world of a difference in how you feel . .  after all we do tend to attract what we project. Even if you are having a bad week/month things eventually will turn around. When we stop worrying about what could go wrong and start being positive about what could go right is when everything will come together.

Have Fun – Ever notice how some of the best athletes around are always smiling? That’s because they are having fun. Working out is a lot more bearable to get through when you are happy. Now if you just so happen to bust out a few dance moves or sing a bit of karaoke in the process. . . . lets just say I like your style! From the words on Jon Rohn, “Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.”Happy Lifting!
 

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If you told me I would be able to deadlift 200lbs, do 65lb thrusters, jump onto the 20in box, make my mile time the fastest it has ever been or buddy carry my best friend over my shoulders, I would have told you, you’re nuts!

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As a woman, I’ve never felt more empowered or beautiful! I can’t wait to see what this upcoming year will bring! Thank you CrossFit Factory Square! ♥

Leah, CFS Member