Say No to Chicken Neck

You're set up for a heavy deadlift. You're nice and tight: your trunk feels like one piece, a strong, straight line. You taste the weight. This is going to be tough.  You don't jerk the weight off the ground - a rookie mistake - liftoff is strong and steady. But crap, it's heavy. In fact, it's not really going anywhere. "Up," you think and lift your face towards the heavens. Suddenly your pelvis rounds, your straight line resembles an orange slice, and your lift crashes to the ground as your mouth lets rip a deafening "Noooooooooooooooooo!"

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The Weekly Dose of Awesome

I got to know Amir when he became a regular at my Saturday SWOD class a few months ago.  I've been consistently impressed with his focus on form and attention to detail in his lifts.  This shows in the strength gains I've seen.  He's got a great personality and is always a great addition to the class.  Keep it up Amir!

  1. Name: Amir Ouki

  2. Nickname / Alter Ego: I don't have a nickname, but I consider my dog to be my alter ego, so I guess it's Yoshi!

  3. Hometown: London, England

  4. Occupation: Business Development & Growth at ForUsAll

  5. When did you first start CrossFitting/Strength Training?: About 3 years ago, I started SWODing at UB a couple of months ago.

  6. When did you first start CrossFitting/Strength Training at UB?: UB and I are about to hit our 1 year anniversary, I'm hoping I'm out of the friend zone now.

  7. Favorite WOD: Anything I can beat Zev at! I really love the SWODs too, I wish I had started adding them to my regular WOD routine sooner.

  8. Least favorite WOD: K-K-Karen. I try not to check the programming online before coming in, but if I see 150 wall balls posted, you're probably not going to see me at class that evening...

  9. How did you first get exposed to CrossFit? I was going away backpacking across Asia for a year and I had 3 months to get as strong, fit and gain as much muscle as I could before leaving, in anticipation of losing it all over the coming 12 months. Honestly, it was meant to be a temporary means to an end, but I enjoyed it so much that I'm still at it 3 years later!

  10. What is an unexpected way CrossFit has affected your life? I wouldn't describe myself as hyper-competitive when it comes to workout goals, so for me, it's about coming in for an hour a day, getting my daily workout in and having a laugh after work - a lot of the latter comes from the people I've met at UB (coaches and members). I've made some really awesome friends here that I have as much fun with at the bar as we do at the box.

  11. What would be your favorite cheat meal and favorite "good" meal? I moved here from New York, so I'm pretty committed to In-N-Out right now. I'm currently eating a plate of couscous, kale and chicken - that's a good meal, right?

  12. You've had scoliosis for a little while, how does Crossfit help that and how do you protect yourself from injury: I had to work really hard to get my spine straightened out, with the main after-effect being that the left side of my body is much stronger than my right, so when doing bar work I have to really focus on making sure the right side isn't slacking off. There are a couple of movements that are a total no-go (hyperextensions), but all-in-all, Crossfit has been really effective at achieving evenly distributed muscle gain across my body.


Unless you are somehow superhuman, you have to deal with periods of stress.  These periods are hard because stress takes your focus, and pushes your goals far away to the distant future.  The question is, how do you deal?  Do you buckle down and work through it, focusing at the light at the end of the tunnel?  Or, do you break under the pressure?

Stress will take something out of you - it's inevitable.  It makes you want to eat poorly.  It keeps you up at night.  Working out, let alone CrossFitting becomes the last thing on your mind.  Understanding stress will make you feel this way as you manage your daily tasks will be essential to functioning and relaxing despite your issues.  So buck up.  Eat a square meal, rest and train!  Let your workout be the one hour when your troubles can wait outside while you sweat out your frustration and anxiety.  Taking time out of the day for yourself, no matter how small, is important!

... How do you deal?

Female Food for Thought: Period Periodization - Harnessing The Power Of Your Cycle

Ladies - this article from Breaking Muscle is for you.  I know, TL;DR... but understanding you and your hormones are well worth the extra few minutes to read!

Women, does your hormone cycle affect the intensity, difficulty, and quality of your workout?Would you be interested in learning why this happens, how you can maximize your training goals and reduce incidence of injury by learning how your hormone cycle affects you?


It is understood that the female athlete triad includes three distinct and interrelated conditions that affect you and your performance as a female athlete:

  1. Eating Disorders - Obsessive eating or calorie counting; poor nutrition and the desire to restrict caloric intake, leading to athletic fatigue and decreased performance
  2. Amenorrhea - Irregular menstrual flow or complete absence of menses for six or more months. (Of note, this symptom is commonly unreported among coaches and athletes.)
  3. Osteoporosis - Nutritional deficiencies may lead to reduced bone mineralization and increased incidence of fracture risk (stress fracture being the most common).

In this article, we will focus on the hormone cycle as it pertains to physical performance in female athletes in non-sports-specific terms. The goal is to address metabolic concerns, such as:

  • Which energy systems are most taxed during the cycle
  • When during the cycle that maximal loading is safest
  • When it is ideal to add in de-loading time during your training program

By examining the hormone cycle, we can discover ways to make you faster, stronger, and more resilient to injury. This will have positive training effects and increases the potential for setting personal records, either individual or team-based.

First, Some Perspective

Whether we like it or not, there is an unchecked societal pressure for the “ideal” body type that fosters the development of decreased self-esteem, as well as issues of negative body image and the desire to lose weight for sport. This can manifest during the high school years and become intensified during collegiate-level sports, especially where peer-pressure or scholarship money is involved. From here, female athletes become susceptible to the triad.

The prevalence of the female triad is unknown. A 1993 article in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reported:

  • Eating disorders in 15-62% of female collegiate-level athletes
  • Occurrence in 3.4-66% of female athletes studied
  • 60% of female athletes were classified as “at risk” (n = 669)

A 2010 study published in International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism looked at overall health in sport in elite female athletes, ages sixteen to 42. 44 elite endurance runners (n=44) participated in a cross-sectional study, and n=7 of those participated in a longitudinal study that measured the correlation between low bone density mineralization, menstrual status, training volume and disordered eating.


According to the study, 34.2% of these runners had low bone mineral density (as measured at the lumbar spine) and osteoporosis was prevalent in 33%. 15.9% of the sample was determined to have menstrual dysfunction, disordered eating, and lowered bone mineral density.

Science Refresher

If you’re a little rusty on the hormone cycle, here is a quick video that gives you the rundown and will make the rest of this article less confusing:

Take Charge of Your Cycle

If we know the menstrual cycle and dietary intake have a significant impact on overall performance, how then can we influence the female cycle to maximize performance?

Becoming aware of your personal cycle is a great place to start. Not only does it serve as a barometer for normalcy, but it can help to identify if your athletic performance is conflicting with your body’s natural patterns. Maybe you are having a great training week, only to suddenly tank unexpectedly. Maybe there’s a not-so-unexpected reason for it if you look into your body.

First step: Know your cycle. The 28-day cycle is a statistical average. In reality, some women are under this at around 25 days, while others can go over 31 days.

Phase Overview

Here, we will discuss each individual phase of the menstrual cycle, coupled with nutritional strategies and exercise programming that will maximize results and minimize risk for injury.

The Follicular Phase: Ingest Carbs and Train Harder

This phase lasts from day zero to fourteen. It is identified with a higher-than-normal tolerance for pain, as well as greater force-generation capacity during lifting and training. You are best served to focus on training progress during this time.


Also of note, your body trends toward using more carbohydrates at this phase as a fuel source. Meaning, you can proceed with more intense resistance and power training that will deplete your muscle glycogen stores. Ultimately, you can train through tough pain and go stronger for longer.

The Ovulation Phase: Attempt Your Personal Best

This phase occurs around day fourteen. Your relative strength levels will remain elevated and your ability to generate force will be sustained. According to research in the Journal of Physiology, this would be the ideal time for you to attempt personal records.

That being said, it would be wise to note that this phase also elevates your risk for injury.  During this phase, the concentration of estrogen elevates, which can interfere with collagen synthesis and neuromuscular control. The American Journal of Sports Medicine reported that ACL injuries were four to eight times higher than at other times during the cycle.

This means you are able to train hard, but adequate form must be adhered to unless you feel like getting injured and spending some time on the bench. You may also experience a slight increase in your appetite that coincides with your increased metabolic activity. It would be prudent to add balanced protein, carb, and fats. Recall that your insulin sensitivity is declining, so listen to your body and respond to your best fuel source accordingly.

The Luteal Phase: Reduce Exercise Intensity and Lose Fat

This cycle lasts from day fifteen to 28. Here, you may be fighting an upstream battle when it comes to your athletic intensity and your output may not match overall performance. During this phase, your body trends toward higher-than-normal temperatures (a few degrees), which can alter cardiovascular output. You are less efficient during exercise and will fatigue sooner than normal. Bummer!

It is at this phase that PMS, or pre-menstrual syndrome, may begin. This may dampen your ability to comfortably participate in activities that favor high-intensity-interval training due to excessive water retention. If you are struggling through PMS, you may consider opting for low impact exercise, such as yoga, or taking this time to work on stretching and balancing exercises.

Metabolically, this is the point that trends toward using fat as a relative fuel source. In terms of athletic output, you would be wise to participate in reduced-intensity cardiovascular training coupled with moderate levels of strength-training - any athletic activity that promotes fat utilization over glucose utilization.

Relative to insulin-sensitivity, this phase will be your lowest. While you will be craving increased carbohydrate sources, your serotonin production will also be reduced. This can increase irritability and you may find eating carbs helps, as it promotes serotonin release. Just be careful not to overdo it.  You may want to consider lower calorie options that will keep you satiated and promote fat burning.

Menstruation: Transition Back to Higher-Intensity Workouts

Water retention and PMS symptoms decrease as the body normalizes. This marks the time you can resume higher intensity and strength-training loads as you transition back into the follicular phase.


The metabolism is still on the decline as insulin sensitivity slowly increases. You would be wise to adopt a diet that is moderate, but not too high in carbohydrates.

Finally, during the transition back to the follicular phase, an increase in carbohydrates is desirable. It will aid in providing the requisite energy for lean muscle mass development and reduce non-lean mass gains.  

Hormone Recap

The hormone rollercoaster isn’t as scary as we want to make it out to be. Your body goes transitions from a predominantly carbohydrate to fat utilization fuel source. There are peak times of metabolic activity where strength gains should be attempted, and there is a reduction phase where it is wise to de-load and let the body recover.

Your cycle lasts roughly four weeks. It would serve you as an athlete, personal trainer, or coach to design programs with this in mind.

Share the Love

Cheesy or not, I wanted to take a day to appreciate the United Barbell community as a whole.  Rarely (in my opinion) do you find a group of people who are so inclusive and supportive as all of you.  It makes me proud to know that anyone walking into this gym, be it a new athlete or a visiting CrossFitter, will be welcomed like family, even if they will only be with us for the hour.  Call me sentimental, but I still think it needs to be said:  You all make United Barbell an amazing place to call our own.

Image from PowerSnowDesigns

Image from PowerSnowDesigns

No place was this more evident than in the kind words offered in the nominations for the Spirit of the Open during this year's House Cup.  Each week, Coach Jon got to see the love and camaraderie expressed eloquently by the people that matter: you.  In fact, your words were so considered and warmhearted, we thought it a shame not so share.  Take a moment and read through the highlights and the love this community has for its bromate brothers and sisters.


Today in classes, we are hitting some lactate threshold training.  For those who don't have a history in endurance sports, there is a solid chance this is a new concept for you. Here is a great and simple breakdown of the concept from CrossFit Bold.


We've all suffered with the "burn" during an intense workout like Fran, where our shoulders are screaming at us to stop and our legs just want to fall off and lay peacefully on the ground. 

Get used to this position

During this "burn" phase a lot of chemical stuff happens inside your body including the production of lactic acid. This burn can become pretty intense and causes us to down barbells, shake things out and take a bit of a rest.

With Lactic Threshold training (or otherwise known as anaerobic threshold training) we want to [find our 6th gear, learn to use it, and expand capacity and self awareness in the process.] 


The bodies energy systems can be broken down in to 3 pathways (phosphagen pathway, the glycolytic pathway, and the oxidative pathway), which can be split in to 2 different systems . The aerobic system and the anaerobic system. To simplify things, aerobic means "with oxygen", i.e. performing low intensity exercise that allows you to breath (Usually activities that last over several minutes, i.e long distance running) and anaerobic meaning "without oxygen" (activities performed for less than a few minutes, like sprinting or heavy 1 rep maxes).

Whilst there is benefits to training both systems, in CrossFit we highly favour anaerobic training, as it gives us a lot more bang for it buck and it has been shown that increasing your anaerobic capacity leads to gainz at an aerobic level, without the negative effects that aerobic training has on the body (i.e muscle burning), but with all the amazing benefits (burning body fat, improved cardiovascular health), plus its own benefits like muscle building and greater crossover in to sports with its increase in power, strength and speed

Basically put, it is possible to increase your endurance performance as an athlete, by training with high intense anaerobic exercise. Which is great for all you guys who do triathlons, marathons and crazy ultra runs (respect to Shona on entering that beast).

Its also a great fat loss tool, and a great way to build muscle. win win.


Unfortunately making gainz in this area of your training will come at a painful cost. You will need to take yourself to the pain cave a fair few times to allow your body to benefit from the adaptive response that will increase your ability to withstand the burn.

The Weekly Dose of Awesome: Bradley R

Getting after 17.5 at this years Friday Night Lights

This week's dose of awesome is someone who I find personally inspirational every day. He's a masters athlete who is able to regularly hand out an ass whooping to people half his age. He's someone who claims that he doesn't find comfort comfortable and prides himself in his ability to suffer well. He's someone who is driven to be the best he can be and isn't afraid to hold other people to the same high standards he holds himself to. And he can make you more handsome than you've ever been in 15 minutes flat. Is he the word's fittest barber? We may never know for sure but it seems likely.

With a history of cyclocross racing, trail running, and triathlons, he's no stranger to hard training, but weightlifting is a new element for him. Last year he did a stint of Stronglifts 5x5 and was able to quickly make progress until he was sidelined by injury. Since then he has been dedicated to coming back strong and paying more attention to technique.

Bradley also took the last year to focus on his diet and has been through several cycles on the Renaissance Periodization diet plan, managing to achieve impressive body composition changes through singleminded dedication. He's a great example of what can be achieved in a year if you are willing to put in the hard work.

I feel so grateful to have Bradley as my training partner and partner in life. He has helped me up my game by being a strong supportive influence in my training. We meal prep together every week and keep each other honest and accountable to our diet goals. And he has introduced me to my first new sport in years, cycling, which I am now obsessed with. Bradley - you bring so much to my life and to the UB community. You are awesome!

Olivia Graff

Olivia's athletic origins lie in gymnastics and circus arts. After finding CrossFit in 2007, she became obsessed, and three years later left her IT career and opened United Barbell. Olivia is particularly passionate about helping people new to fitness to find joy in their growing athletic abilities. Since the birth of her daughter, Isis, in 2013, Olivia can add helping little ones find their athletic path to her list of passions.

The NorCal Open Wrap Up

For those who missed out on UB's oly crew throwing up some solid weights this weekend - you missed out!  It was a great day where all 4 athletes competing took risks and pushed themselves to their max.  Shaheen and I ended the day proud coaches. Here's a closer play by play:

The Ladies

This meet was divided into two heats: ladies and gents.  First up were the ladies.  Erin faced her first meet ever, while Anita and Brigitte pushed themselves to try bigger weights while learning to trust the judgment calls of their coaches.  

  • Anita had all competition PRs and a lifetime PR for snatch: 50k Snatch/63k C&J/ 113k Total
  • Brigitte had all competition PRs and a lifetime PR total: 50k Snatch/64k C&J/ 106k Total
  • Erin had all competition PRs (yay first meet!): 26k Snatch/36k C&J/ 62k Total

The Gent

Man was up next with the men.  Man came into this second meet excited, but a little tentative with a tweaky wrist.  That plus lessons learned aside (this man plans to eat/sleep/live JERKS!), Man still managed to leave with a few new PRs under his belt:

Man had 3 competition PRs: 55k Snatch/65k C&J/ 120k Total

So what are the takeaways?  I though Anita put her reflections really well:

Lessons learned: 

1) Set goals: set tangible goals for yourself, and keep notes on your progress. the more meets you do, the more data you have to help with making realistic goals.

2) Rip off the bandaid: Don't wait too long to do a meet; if it is your first time, just go for it, have fun, and soak in the experience of the process.

3) Be proactive: Don't wait for others to do a meet. Look at the schedules, and pick a meet, and stick to it. 

4) Be consistent: getting better doesn't happen overnight, also having a program with a linear progression helped me see instant progress.

5) Make sacrifices: I committed to train 4-5x a week with olympic lifting, mostly alone. Was it fun? not all the time. I definitely had FOMO watching other people do classes. I did the Open because of FOMO, and it did throw me off my normal training cycle, and i paid for it. lesson learned!

Food for Thought: Music in Training - Is It Helping, or Making You a Whiny Baby?

I usually like listening to music when I train. Most athletes I’ve known do. Typically the reason given if they’re asked why is that it keeps them motivated and energetic, and if memory serves, research has backed up the benefits of music in this regard (although who cares what the research says on this—you know if it has this effect on you or not).  
But music is a luxury. If you consider it anything else, it’s a problem.
You’re not in the gym for a concert; you’re there to train, and if training isn’t your first priority by an overwhelming margin, you’re already losing. Noticing what music is playing, and even recognizing whether or not it’s something you like, is fine, and arguably it would be impossible not to do this.
There will be plenty of days in your life in which you struggle to get motivated for your workout or a particular exercise—you might be tired, hurting, or distracted by life outside of weightlifting—and on these days, the right music can change your mood pretty effectively.
In such cases, I don’t have an issue with you blasting that music to get yourself through a tough day. But I do believe that you have to have the ability to do it without music—whether that means complete silence, or someone else’s horrible, over-produced, auto-tuned nonsense that sounds like it was made on a drug store keyboard in his mom’s basement but somehow is earning him millions of dollars…
Here are a few of my rules regarding music and training.

 Motivation As I said above, use music if it helps you stay motivated on days you’re more inclined to go cry on the couch and watch Lifetime movies than put your lifting shoes on [Note: lifters are people who lift; lifting shoes are the things they wear on their feet to do so.]
Focus Weightlifting requires a lot of focus. If you’re not training it every session, you’re falling behind. If you have a million things bouncing around your head while you’re trying to train, you’re going to have a bad day. In these cases, listening to music I believe can reduce those thoughts and distractions considerably—instead of a million things, you may whittle it down to as few as two: your training and the music. Obviously, this is a huge improvement. However, never allow it to be the primary focus. If you’re paying more attention to the song playing than your current or next set, get yourself sorted out.
Leave it Alone If you’re going to listen to music while you train, just listen to it. If you’re on your phone or whatever other futuristic device you’re playing music through after every song looking for the next song you want to hear, you’re violating the previous rule. Pick better musicians who can make more than one decent song per album and let it play through. Or use that technology and make playlists that you’ll listen to from start to finish.
Social Media & Your Goddamned Phone I would rather, by orders of magnitude, have my lifters paying attention to the music playing than getting on their phones and looking at social media between sets. If listening to music while you train helps reduce your compulsion to scroll through millions of posts you’ve never needed to see, then please do it.
Shut Up About It If you train in a gym with other lifters, don’t argue or complain about the music if it’s not your preferred artist, genre, whatever. Get over it. Be a damn athlete and do what you’re supposed to do. As a coach, I’ve made it extremely clear that the moment anyone starts arguing or whining about the music, it’s getting shut off and they can all sit around and listen to themselves breathing.
Unplug Your Ears If you train with a coach or even just teammates, take those ear buds out. From a coach’s perspective, having an athlete wear ear buds in training is a sign of disrespect—it says I’m not interested in what you have to tell me during this workout. Maybe you believe that’s not true, but if your coach does, that’s what matters. That aside, your coach needs to be able to communicate with you quickly and easily. He/she shouldn’t have to go to great lengths to get your attention to get you to pull your headphones out so he/she can help you be less shitty at weightlifting. Act like you actually care. If you don’t want to hear what your coach has to say, quit working with him/her.  If you train in a gym with a lot of distractions and you don’t have a coach there working with you in person, by all means, plug those ears up and look as unfriendly as possible so everyone leaves you alone and doesn’t disrupt your training to ask you if you learned how to snatch using the scoop method or tell you that all the best Chinese lifters internally rotate their arms overhead.
The bottom line to all of this is pretty simple if you haven’t already picked up on the theme: Use music strictly as a tool to improve your training, not as another obstacle to progressing in a sport that’s already tough enough on its own.

Support Patrick, Jon & James in the Master's Qualifiers

This Thursday at 5pm Patrick B., Coach Jon, and Head Coach James K. from brother gym Pacific Strength will be glued solid to their computer screens.  Why?  They will be watching the WOD announcements of the 2017 CrossFit Games Masters Qualifier!

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In the Online Qualifier, Masters athletes worldwide will submit scores and/or videos for four workouts. Once the Online Qualifier workouts are released, athletes will have four days to complete them. 

To support these fine gents and their awesome efforts we have worked out the following:  

  • Saturday and Sunday's workouts will be selected WODs from the 2017 Online Qualifier
  • Coach James (long time UB coach and now head coach of Pac Strength) plus some of his Pac Strength crew will be joining Jon and Patrick for some of the workouts at UB.
  • UBites are invited to join Jon and Patrick to Pac Strength at select times at Pac Strength to do the workouts.

Look for updates after the WODs are announced on Thursday for details!