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"The Games is the least important thing that happens in CrossFit. There is nothing less important than The Games."

- Coach Glassman

Entries in mel from north carolina (17)

PSA from Mel: PORCH Durham

Our favorite Tar Heel, Mel, emailed me with some info about the PORCH Durham program he referred to in the Whiteboard/Sidebar this morning. It looks like a good project, and the fact that Mrs. Mel isa co-founder makes it even cooler.

Anyway, as you can read in Mel's comment in the Whiteboard, PORCH Durham is on the list to receive a $25,000 grant from State Farm. How do they get this, you ask? Simply by being one of the top-40 vote-getters. And this is where we come in.

Vote here.

Or vote here.

Or vote here.

But definitely not here.

Three of the four links above will take you to a place where we can vote daily until August 25. The other link is what Mel goes to sleep thinking about every night.

But for real though, take 35 seconds out of your day to make this happen. $25,000 is a crap-ton of money, and definitely worth whatever time it takes to click the vote button.

Goon and Goblin Resurgence 6/13

This week's poll actually doesn't from Jacob the goon or Matt Marathon Goblin, but Mel instead. He piggybacked off last week's poll:

Corollary question - would you rather have your team be awesome but lose to its greatest rival, or have a mediocre season but still win the rivalry game? Worthy of its own poll? ;)

- Mel

Mel's Beast Mode + Weekend Schedule Reminder

Just a reminder that this weekend's schedule is back to normal.


10 am (mobility/make-up workout)



12 noon (team workout)

1 pm (babies)

If you notice the sidebar, Mel, our favorite fan from North Carolina, recently achieved a longtime goal of completing every Hero workout. Here are the highlights from his final one last week.

Last Hero WOD (Hollywood) 2017 from Mel on Vimeo.

Great job Mel Man!

Mel's Musings Episode II: Your Total Cholesterol Reading, Your Fitbit, and Other Worthless Items

Chris has graciously provided me a soapbox.  A place to rant about all the things in the world that I think are worthless: misguided, misinformed, or just plain stupid.  I actually keep a running list of these things.  The list is titled, “When Conventional Wisdom is Not Wise”, which I alluded to in Episode I.  Here are some of my current hot buttons.

Total Cholesterol as a Marker of Cardiovascular Disease

Everyone knows they need to watch their cholesterol number, right?  Wrong.  Total cholesterol is a very poor biomarker.

The origins of cholesterol as a marker go back into the 1970’s, with Ancel Keys and the “Seven Countries Study”, the thesis of which is that blood cholesterol level is a risk factor for heart attack.  Long story short, here – the study had major flaws, and total cholesterol is not as predictive as we used to think.

Your physician may even tell you as much.  He will say, “Well, we really care more about your HDL (high density lipoprotein, or ‘good’ cholesterol) and LDL (low density lipoprotein, or ‘bad’ cholesterol) levels.”  And of course there’s also VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) and triglycerides.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Hip doctors (well-read doctors, not orthopods) now look at ratios, such as the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL, LDL to HDL, or trigylcerides to HDL.

These are admittedly better measurements (i.e., they have higher predictive value).  And since most lipid panels will break these out now, knowing your total cholesterol number is meaningless.

You want to see your physician with a blank look on his face?  Ask him if your levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation, and perhaps a better marker of cardiovascular disease than cholesterol) are elevated.  He will either think you are grossly overeducated, or that you are a pharmaceutical rep about to pitch him something.

Too much of a good thing?  HDL levels and all-cause mortality shows levels exceeding 70 as being less than ideal. [1]

Total Activity as a Marker of Fitness

Another worthless item is the Fitbit[2].  You should go return this Christmas present before it’s too late and the store won’t take it back.  Hurry, it’s February!

Using a Fitbit is a complete waste of time, energy, and money.  “But Mel, people can achieve ‘fitness’ this way!”  No.  People may be able to find some semblance of “wellness”, but they will not approach “fitness”.  Yes, Fitbits will get people moving.  Getting out there, counting their steps, logging their miles, etc.  (Until they stop doing this, 3 months later…)  But in any case, steps and miles are not intensity.  Fitbit rewards volume and duration, not intensity.

Fitbits may get you to Wellness.  But to get to Fitness, you’re going to need something more[3].

That is the answer for those of us who drink the Kool-Aid, anyway.  But studies support the claim that fitness wearables don’t help people lose weight any better than other techniques, “Devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight-loss approaches.” [4]

Anecdotally, these devices do work for some people.  Why is this?  Is it simply the reminder – “Time to get moving, Faust!”  Perhaps.  I actually think the biggest advantage is the social aspect that Fitbit has intentionally cultivated.  People love to share their progress, and people love to compete.  Did you get more steps today than your sister, your brother, or your husband?

To me, this sounds an awful lot like “community”.  Or back before that was such a CrossFit buzzword, “friends”.  Why do people like to work out with friends?  Camaraderie, sure.  But there’s more than just that.  How about accountability?  On the days you don’t want to go to the gym, you might be pushed to go anyway, because you know someone is waiting for you.  Someone with whom you can compete.

So yes, the Fitbit may be better than nothing – if it can increase the sense of accountability to exercise.  But if you already train with a group of friends, or you have a dedicated workout partner, or you’re just self-motivated, you’ve already checked off this box.

Goring Other Sacred Cows[5]

So what else shall we tackle?  Here are some other items that, in my view, are just “silly bullshit” (can’t seem to get through an article without quoting Rippetoe – his article of the same title should be required reading, and was likely my inspiration anyway[6]), to wit:

  • The continued efforts of the popular press, the USDA, and dieticians in general to demonize fat, while they look the other way on the health problems associated with sugar.  For instance, at my kids’ public school, you can’t get whole milk, but you can certainly find chocolate and strawberry milk (low fat, of course).
  • Squatting below parallel is bad for your knees.  If you still get this comment from your friends who don’t work out, send them this clip of Boz:           
  • Eggs are healthier if you don’t eat the yolk.  I went to a Subway for breakfast once.  The lady asked if I wanted my breakfast sandwich with “white egg” or “yellow egg”.  I asked, in pseudo-naiveté, “What’s the difference?”  She said – with a straight face, mind you – “The white egg is healthier.”  Although I wanted to launch into a rant about how the yolk contains 90% of the calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, and B-vitamins – not to mention 100% of Vitamins A, E, D, K, omega-3 fatty acids, and carotenoids[7] – I bit my tongue and said, “I’ll take the yellow egg.”
  • The fact that my children are strongly encouraged (read, “need”) to have a water bottle on them at all times, including at school (drinking fountains), at basketball practice (ditto), and on a 1-hour hike with the Cub Scouts. 
  • Red meat is bad for you, because:
    • Too much fat[8]
    • Too much saturated fat[9]
    • Too much iron (!)[10]
  • And something fellow CrossFitters should appreciate, this sign, from a hotel gym (underline mine)…

When the going gets tough, maybe we should just quit.

There are so many things we should care about, so many things we need to pay attention to.  Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of caring about things that are worthless.


[1] Ko, et. al., High-density lipoprotein cholesterol and cause-specific mortality in individuals without previous cardiovascular conditions. JACC. 2016; Vol 68 No. 19 2073-2083.

[2] Or actually any fitness “wearable”: Jawbone, Garmin, Misfit, etc.

[3] Glassman, What is Fitness?, CrossFit Journal – October 2002.

[4] Jakicic, et. al., Effect of wearable technology combined with a lifestyle intervention on long-term weight loss: The IDEA Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA 2016; 316(11):1161-1171.

[5] And mixing metaphors, apparently.

[6] Rippetoe, Silly Bullshit, CrossFit Journal – Issue 59, July 2007.

[7] Source: USDA.

[8] Mozaffarian, et. al., The 2015 Dietary Guidelines – Lifting the Ban on Total Dietary Fat. JAMA 2015; 313(24):2421-2422.

[9] Siri-Tarino, et. al., Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2010 March; 91(3):535-546.

[10] Seriously.  In researching this article, someone out in Internet-land cited this as a reason to avoid red meat.

Posture Please!

The more on-site coaching I do at schools, the more I get kids (and coaches sometimes) coming up to me asking about different aches and pains they are experiencing. Yesterday at Stoney, for example, one of the track athletes was another in a string of shoulder issues we were working on. The typical mobility that helps is the partner pin down; we see immediate relief and increased range of motion about 80% of the time this gets introduced.

The concept is simple: when our shoulders are slouched forward (internally rotated), everything gets worse; when our shoulders are back in a good position, everything gets better. This pin-down mobility is the couch stretch for the upper body. You cannot get enough of it.

The reason couch stretch works so well for us is because we sit so much. Think about it, it's literally the opposite of sitting. The reason why the partner pin-down works so much is because our posture is horrible. Not iffy. Not bad. Horrible. Or in Josh's case, on par with Carter for the worst that's humanly possible.

Reggie's is not great either, but good lord Josh...This goes back to Mel's post about Common Sense. You don't need to know anatomy or buy a copy of Deskbound to be able to look at that picture and know that the position Josh is in is not good for the long-term. This is good for a summersault, or a cannonball in the pool, or a candlestick roll. But if Josh is an average teenager spending nine hours on their phone per day then that means 63 hours per week, 252 hours per month, and 3,285 hours per year in this position.

Imagine the positive effects of doing 3,285 hours hanging out in the bottom of a squat: you'd never need to mobilize for a squat again. Practice makes permanent. Now imagine the flipside: 3285 hours in this position and your body will adapt. Josh's body will adapt. It might not affect his track season this year, and maybe not even next year, but sooner or later the time he spends in this posture is going to catch up to him. The more time he spends, the sooner it will catch up.

Your phone or computer is definitely an important part of your daily life. I'm not saying to avoid it, I'm just saying try to remind yourself of your form on a computer or phone in the same way you guys do a great job of reminding yourself about your form when doing a deadlift or kb swing. Shannon and I will be helping for sure!

Katie Bromm's Athlete of the Summer 2013 gift to herself was a new neck

Mel's Musings Episode 1: Explaining Power Output to Your Grandma

If you’ve done CrossFit for any appreciable amount of time, you’ve been there.  You know, in that awkward conversation with your relatives or your friends, where you’re trying to tell them how great CrossFit is?  If you somehow manage to get them over the first hurdle – i.e., “CrossFit is dangerous!”, then you are immediately met with the next objection.  It usually runs something along these lines:

CrossFitter:     “CrossFit is awesome!”

LSD[i] Junkie:   “Why is that?”

CF:                  “Well for one, the workouts are short.  Most are shorter than 20 minutes.”

LSDJ:              “You can’t get in shape that way.  You don’t burn enough calories.”

CF:                  [Puzzled look.]  Thinking to self, “Was Glassman wrong?”

The Myth of “A Calorie (Burned) is a Calorie”

It’s hard for folks to part with conventional wisdom.  Even when it’s dead wrong.  Many people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that all calories (eaten) are not the same.  In the same way, most folks think the only important thing to look at in exercise is total calories burned.  We’ll have to save the first myth – the eating one – for another day, but let’s look a little more closely at the second.  Isn’t a calorie burned a calorie burned?

Well what is a calorie, anyway?  It’s a unit of energy, and in the context of exercise, it’s a unit of work.  CrossFitters love to talk about “work capacity across broad time and modal domains”, right?  So calories burned should be a pretty important number.

But if you’ve been involved with CrossFit, you know that our focus is on intensity, or power output, not total work.  So our thesis to Grandma is this, “Intensity (not duration) is the most important factor in maximizing health benefits.”  But why?

Let’s Get Physical

Fitness, circa 1981

Parents, pop in your Olivia Newton John cassette for this next piece.[i]  What?!?  Am I the only one who owned this album?[ii]  Okay, no matter.  To really understand power output, we have to get into some rudimentary physics.  First of all, we know that exercise is doing work, but what is work?  In physics, work is force times distance, and is represented by this equation:

W = F x d

And what is force? Force is mass times acceleration, represented as thus:

F = m x a

Mass is easy, right?  That’s the object we’re trying to move.  What is acceleration?  Stay with me, because people sometimes get confused here, thinking perhaps that moving a weight quickly implies more acceleration than moving a weight slowly.

Acceleration in this formula is gravity.  In fact, that’s what gives us “weight” in the first place.  Weight is a force, namely mass times gravity.  Morrow will tell you that a kilogram (unit of mass) equals approximately 2.2 pounds (unit of weight), but Jacob will rightly correct him by saying, “It only does here on planet Earth!”  The mass of a kilogram never changes, but its weight is dependent on gravity.

So back to our Force equation, mass times acceleration is simply the weight we’re trying to move.  And then Work is how far (distance) we move that weight.

Walking or Running a Mile

Let’s go back to the premise asked by our LSD Junkie friends, that calories (total work done) is the most important thing to focus on in exercise.  If this is the case, then there should be no difference between walking or running a mile.  Because in each case, you are moving a set weight (your bodyweight) a given distance (1 mile).  Work = force x distance, so total work is the same.  Therefore, if work is what you focus on, walking a mile should be just as good at burning calories and therefore improving your fitness.

Of course, we know this to not be the case.  Most of us don’t break a sweat or even breathe hard walking a mile.  I mean, walking a mile has another name – it’s called “shopping”.  (I’m pretty sure I stole that from Mark Rippetoe.)  But running a mile – really running, like as fast as you can – well, you will be feeling that during, immediately afterward, and maybe even tomorrow.

And this is one way to explain CrossFit to your Grandma.  People understand the difference between walking and running.  What they may not initially appreciate is that the work performed is exactly the same.

"Calories burned" is a good example of conventional wisdom

The Single Most Important Variable

Well, if work is not the right thing to focus on, what is? Greg Glassman writes, “Intensity is defined exactly as power, and intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with maximizing favorable adaptation to exercise.”[iii]

Well then, let’s define intensity – i.e., power.  In physics, power is simply work divided by time.

P = W / t

We can now see that the power output of running 1 mile vastly exceeds that of walking 1 mile, namely because the same work gets accomplished in less time.  Compared to walking, the power output can be 2-4 times greater when jogging, and up to 6-10 times greater when sprinting (not that anyone is sprinting for a mile).[iv]

You may have noticed the beginnings of the CrossFit methodology here, of performing constantly varied movements at “high intensity”.  The intensity can be measured in terms of power output, and there are even websites devoted to this (e.g., Beyond the Whiteboard).  Nearly all CrossFit WODs are seeking to maximize intensity, whether it be time-priority (Cindy, Fight Gone Bad!), or task-priority (Fran, Murph).

Scientific Literature

There is a growing body of evidence from the academic literature to support the superiority of high-intensity exercise.  Here are several pieces of evidence:

  • "12-week controlled study in Denmark of high-intensity interval walking for patients with Type 2 diabetes showed it helped control blood glucose levels better than continuous moderate exercise, even though the same number of calories was expended by both groups."[v]
  • “…intensity of physical activity is inversely and linearly associated with mortality.”[vi]
  • “Improvement in insulin sensitivity after six months combined supervised group training in female diabetic subjects is related to exercise intensity…”[vii]
  • “Light activities were not associated with reduced mortality rates, moderate activities appeared somewhat beneficial, and vigorous activities clearly predicted lower mortality rates. These data provide some support for current recommendations that emphasize moderate intensity activity; they also clearly indicate a benefit of vigorous activity.”[viii] 
  • “…moderate-intensity aerobic training that improves the maximal aerobic power does not change anaerobic capacity and that adequate high-intensity intermittent training may improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supplying systems significantly…”[ix]

So if Grandma likes science, send her the links to these studies.  Yet perhaps Grandma prefers anecdotes to data – you know, feel-good stories and personal testimonials.

From Personal Experience

I ran the 800 meter run (primarily) and the 1600 meter run in high school, and after my freshman year, my father got me turned on to the writings of Bill Bowerman, the former track coach at the University of Oregon.  Bowerman advocated for a combination of interval training and overdistance.  Interestingly, “overdistance” was still the flavor of choice for most track coaches in my day; it consisted of longer distance runs (runs “over” the distance you raced at) done at a speed slower than your race pace.  In contrast, in interval training, you ran multiple “intervals” shorter than your race distance (with breaks between), but at a pace equivalent or faster than that of your race.

Because intervals are run at a faster pace, they have a higher power output.  Not coincidentally, interval workouts are just awful; I used to dread them.  My least favorite – by far – was ten 400’s.  Despite hating them, I had to admit they were very effective, and I became a much faster middle-distance runner.  As a sophomore, I started beating the seniors who trained only LSD.  As a junior, I was named team captain.  My senior year, I finished in 7th place at State in the 800 meter run.

Because of this experience, CrossFit resonated with me from Day 1.  I had seen firsthand the power of interval training, and it made complete sense to me that one might incorporate this into other movements, not simply running.  If you watch closely, you will even see intervals come up on main site.[x]

You may have personal experiences of your own which support the thesis of intensity.  Sometimes, people are swayed more by personal stories and anecdotes than they are by real data.  The scientist side of me hates this, but the business side of me realizes that sometimes, marketing works.

Geeking Out

Why is intensity the most important variable?  Answering the why of power output is a more challenging task, and perhaps beyond the scope of this article.  But let’s try; if you’re one of those TL/DR people, just skip this section.  The short answer, anyway, is that we’re just beginning to understand the reasons.  Because of that, I will dispense with the citations for this section, although the statements I make below are supported in the literature.

Let’s look at a few factors that make power output more important than total work performed.  First, exercise done at higher intensity means your heart rate, breathing, and metabolic system is elevated for a much longer period of time post-workout – by several hours in some studies.  This means additional “work” done while you are recovering.  Therefore, the total calories you burned during the workout may not at all be indicative of the total calories expended because of the workout.

What do you mean, "That was only 20 calories"!?!

Second, increased intensity drives muscle gain and fat burning.  Muscle requires more calories than fat to maintain itself; therefore, if you have more muscle, your basal metabolic rate increases (you burn more calories in a resting state).

Third, and perhaps most importantly, increased intensity drives larger responses in the neuroendocrine system.  One role of the neuroendocrine system is the regulation of your anabolic hormonal levels, including insulin and glucagon.  Exercise, and especially high-intensity exercise, causes increased production of: glucagon, epinephrine, human growth hormone, cortisol, and insulin-like growth factor (to name a few), and decreased production of insulin.  The reason behind the hormonal response is thought to be adaptation.  After an intense workout, your body says, “This person is trying to kill us.  We need to build more muscle; we need to grow new blood cells and new blood vessels; we need to scavenge all these free radicals; we need to increase our mitochondrial production.  Bottom line - we need to make sure that we are ready if this &#*! ever happens again.”

Mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from the mother

In Summary

Maybe Grandma hasn’t bought in quite yet to CrossFit.  But we know that she should!  “The needs of an Olympic athlete and our grandparents differ by degree not kind.”[xi]  Intensity is one of the defining characteristics of CrossFit.  Perhaps we would have a better time convincing folks to try CrossFit if they understood why intensity is so important.  To do that, we have to explain power output, and we have several options on how to do that.

First, we can explain the concept through physics and the 1-mile discussion, why doing the same amount of work in less time is higher power output, and also better for fitness.  Second, we can cite scientific literature, which shows many examples of why higher intensity exercise leads to better fitness and health.  Finally, we can rely on personal stories and testimonials.  And knowing Grandma, if she thinks it’s working for us, she may become a believer.

Of course, the next challenge will soon rear its ugly head, when Grandma says, “Sure, dear, CrossFit sounds great.  But I’m not one of those athletes I see on TV!”

Sigh.  Another issue for another day.


[i] Don’t judge me, “aerobics” was huge in the 1980’s.

[ii] Technically, my Mom owned this cassette.  But I listened to it a lot, especially when I was “working out”.  

[ii] “Understanding Crossfit”, CrossFit Journal Issue 56 – April 2007.

[iv] Assumptions here: walking speed is 2-3 mph; jogging speed is 6-8 mph; sprinting speed is 15-20 mph.

[v] Karstoft, et. al., The effects of free-living interval-walking training on glycemic control, body composition, and physical fitness in Type 2 diabetes patients. Diabetes Care 2013; 36: 228-236.

[vi] Warburton, et. al., Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. CMAJ. 2006;174:801–809.

[vii] Dunstan, et. al., High-intensity resistance training improves glycemic control in older patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 25: 1729 –1736, 2002.

[viii] Lee, et. al., Associations of light, moderate, and vigorous intensity physical activity with  longevity. The Harvard Alumni Health Study. Am J Epidemiol 2000; 151:293-9.

[ix] Tabata, et. al., Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anerobic capacity and VO2max. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1996; 28(10): 1327-1330.

[x] I routinely avoid these.  They are still awful.

[xi] G. Glassman, “What is Fitness?”, CrossFit Journal – October 2002.

Sunday Conversation: Misleading Metaphors from Mel

... well, not ecactly from Mel directly, but reference from Mel. If you are aware of the goings on of the Sidebar, our favorite North Carolina fan dropped us a link to an article from The Economist under their Language and Thought section.

Declare War on Misleading Metaphors

I think the article is even more related to fitness than what Mel suggested because so much of our fitness output is determined by how well we view reality. Metaphors (comparisons) are a great way to translate the way you see something to another person. I have found they also help my understanding of the topic at hand. But as the author, "HJ," suggests, lazy or one-sided comparisons can skew the other person's view of reality, and therefore negatively influence how they react. It's a short article and very to-the-point, but just in case you are Jack Trastevere here are a few sound bites from the piece.

The metaphor of “stress” for mental or emotional strain or tension has shaped thinking about mental health since it was coined in the 1930s (see article in this week’s issue). Borrowed from physics, it suggests that people can withstand adverse or demanding circumstances up to a certain point, after which they will break. Yet it is wrong. New studies suggest that the mind is more like a muscle than an iron bar—weakened, not protected, by being saved from significant challenges. To grow stronger it needs to tackle hard tasks in fruitful ways—and to be allowed to recover afterwards.

The notion that “the body is a temple” misleads slimmers and health freaks into pursuing purity and eschewing contamination when choosing foods. That can cause malnutrition and eating disorders—and supports a vast, quack-ridden diet industry.

If you think talent is a treasure possessed from birth, you will believe too easily that if you cannot do something now, you never will.

Language is an incredible tool to bring about the change you want. That's what kept me interested during my brief time as an English major. One of my teachers, Mr. Martin, was very emphatic about not using big words and metaphors just so make your paper sound better; it had to fit exactly as the meaning suggests. But even more than that I am just really behind this article. The examples the author uses seems like those common sense things like, "well of course that's the way it is" but for some reason you never thought of it before.

I guess what I'm trying to say is both my English head and my athletics head are in nodding in agreement.