The Weekly Dose of Awesome

Strong, athletic, determined, attentive, and ripped. These are all traits of this weeks awesome Ariel! The other half of one of UB's power couples, Ariel brings a strong presence to each class. Coming from an extensive background of working out and playing competitive basketball no workout stands in the way of this kind of determination. At first it was hard to harness this guy, but over the course of a year and a half Ariel has matured into a much more attentive athlete. Working more on hitting clean movements and tackling flexibility. And then when the time comes to chew bee's he's all in. It is our passion to watch you all grow into these ripped ever growing athletes. And when I did Ariel's onramp about a year and half ago it makes me so proud to see his progress unfold. Congrats Ariel on a very well deserved awesome!

A Little Housekeeping - Please Read

We love you UB and you love UB.  Every once in a while, we feel the need to remind you all of some things that we expect from you so that we can keep UB at its best.  Here are some important reminders and announcements for you.  Please comment with any questions you have:

1: Put. It. Away.
Seems obvious enough, right? While this is more commonly an offense of the open gym user, it's a good reminder for everyone.  Please don't waste the coaches' time and take pride in our box by putting your gear away.  If you want to take it a step further in class, help your fellow athletes clean up too. Many hands make light work.

2: Did you sweat/cry/bleed on the equipment? Wipe it down.
It's hygienic.  It's polite.   If your moist hands, knees, back, butt touched it, wipe it down.  "Moist..."  sounds gross, doesn't it?  That's how the next person feels about your moist body parts on the equipment.  We have mounted wipes in the front and back of the gym.  It'll only take 30 seconds... please do it—for everyone’s sake.

3: After you shower, take your dirt with you
Although we have re-posted our shower rules between our showers, we and our cleaning crew have found a number of grotesque items next to the trash bin.  Please make sure to clean after yourselves... feminine products, soiled or used underwear, used band-aids should be handled by you.  Imagine that being left in your shower by an unknown friend... not so friendly!

4: Take your stuff.
Any items left behind will go in our "Lost & Found."  Due to our ever-growing pile of unclaimed items, we will now be discarding unclaimed items weekly.  While we appreciate the occasional WODrunk walk-out where you leave items behind, make sure to come back and claim them.

5: We're going green
We are excited to announce the front room water cooler is now in operation!  What does this mean?  No more cups!  Please make sure to bring water bottles with you to handle your hydration needs.  Also, please use our hand dryers instead of paper towels.

6: Respect the coaches' space
Does it say "Staff Only"?  ... Need I say more?  If you are looking for something, just ask.

Thank you for taking the time to read through these.  We are all in this together and we appreciate your efforts to make UB its absolute best!

Food for Thought: Stress Addicts Anonymous (Part 2)

The holidays, while meant to be a time of peace, love and joy, are often a time of stress and overwhelm.  Here is part 2 of a series for you who get "holiday stress out" or even those of you who secretly thrive on the drama.

In Part 1 of our Stress Addicts Anonymous series, we introduced the very real, very dangerous condition of stress addiction. Now, in part 2, let’s take a look at the physiological effects of living in a chronic state of stress, and more importantly, some steps you can take to rehabilitate your own inner stress junkie.

Stress Gone Bad

In moderate amounts and for brief periods of time, stress can be beneficial – and most people are well-equipped to deal with it. During an acutely stressful situation, your body undergoes an elaborate series of adjustments. The cardiovascular system, the immune system, the endocrine glands and brain regions involved in emotion and memory are all recruited into action. Nonessential functions like reproduction and digestion are put off until later. Adrenaline, and later cortisol, both stress hormones secreted by the adrenal glands, flood the body. Heart rate and blood pressure rise, respiration quickens, glucose is released into the bloodstream for energy, oxygen flows to the muscles, and immune cells prepare to rush to the site of an injury.

When the acute threat is over, another complex set of adjustments calms things down, returning the body to normal.But in the case of chronic stress, that return to “baseline” doesn’t happen often enough (if at all). When stress persists for too long or becomes too severe, your body’s finely tuned feedback system is disrupted – and over time it runs amok, causing damage.

Your Nervous System, In a Nutshell

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a vast network of nerves reaching out from the spinal cord, directly affecting every organ in the body. It has two branches, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, which have opposite effects.  The sympathetic ANS helps us deal with stressful situations by initiating a ‘fight or flight’ reaction.  After the danger has passed, the parasympathetic ANS takes over, decreasing heartbeat and relaxing blood vessels (‘rest and digest’).

In the case of stress addiction, however, your body’s return to a normal, relaxed state may not be so easy. Although the sympathetic nervous system jumps into action immediately, it is very slow to shut down and allow the tranquilizing parasympathetic nervous system to calm things down.

Jane Collingwood, author of The Physical Effects of Long-Term Stress, explains.  “In healthy people, the two branches of the nervous system maintain a balance — action followed by relaxation. In the case of chronic stress, however, many people’s sympathetic ANS stays on guard, making them unable to relax and let the parasympathetic system take over.”  At this point, the body moves into an “exhaustion stage”, in which it continues to produce large amounts of stress hormones. Prolonged exposure to these hormones, particularly cortisol, can have devastating effects.

The (Chronic) Stress Effect

According to Robert M. Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, in the case of chronic psychological stress, the stress response can become more damaging than the stressor itself.  Think of your body’s stress response as short-sighted and inefficient – extremely costly tasks your body must perform to respond effectively in an emergency. (After all, your body’s ‘fight or flight’ response can save your life in an emergency.) The trouble for the stress junkie, however, is that we’re not designed to stay in that mode. And the way we often handle stress – eating sugary, calorie-dense processed foods, staying late at work, exercising too little (or too much) or drinking to excess – makes a bad situation even worse.

Many disorders – some say most – are aggravated by chronic stress. Being constantly awash in stress hormones has some serious side effects, including (but not limited to) impaired memory, concentration, and work performance, speeding up the aging process and damaging memory cells in the brain, sexual dysfunction, infertility, hypertension, a weakened immune system and deposition of fat at the waist (a risk factor for heart disease and other illnesses).   According to Dr. Bruce McEwen (author of The End of Stress as We Know It), prolonged or severe stress has also been implicated in cancer, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, among other illnesses.

Finally, excess cortisol in the blood interferes with mood enhancing neurotransmitters called serotonin. Disturbances in serotonin levels can be a factor in causing clinical depression and anxiety disorders, and have also been linked to insomnia and increased sensitivity to pain.

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

More interesting to us, elevated cortisol also skews time perception – making us feel as though we’re always behind schedule and time is always running out. As T.S. Wiley and Bent Formy, authors of Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival write, “Chronic high cortisol… makes you feel chronically rushed.  It’s the altered time perception that fosters much of the late-night stalling before bed, while you stay up under the impression that there must be more to do or that you haven’t finished your work.”  So it’s like the worst kind of chicken/egg – we are stressed because we think we’re behind schedule, but we think we’re behind schedule because we are stressed. Brutal.

Do we really need to continue to make the case that chronic psychological stress – especially the self-created kind – is super-duper unhealthy?  We rest our case.

Stress Rehab

So what’s a stress junkie to do? Telling one to “chill out” or “relax” is inane in this situation, given the addictive nature of the stress response. (It’s like telling an addict, “You know, you should just stop using.” How effective is that strategy?) Still, identifying habits and patterns and admitting you have a problem is the first step. So stop the 27 things you’re doing right now, take a deep breath and say it with me – “I am a stress junkie, and I have a problem.”

The trouble with identifying a strategy to break the stress addiction cycle is that there is no one-size-fits-all. We’re going to address a few different coping mechanisms here, but you’ll have to try them on for yourself to see what fits your personality and stress-style the best. (Melissa also included strategies that worked for her personally.)

  1. Identify your triggers, change your habits. Take time to figure out what precipitates stress in your life. (Ask family and friends to help you here, as you often aren’t a good judge of your own triggers.) If you know you jump into “stress mode” the second you turn on your computer or as soon as the kids get home from school, then change that routine. Take 30 minutes of quiet time to wake up and set the tone for the day before you power up. Create an after-school routine to help keep noise and chaos under control (or hire a babysitter for an hour a day to help you manage post-school homework and snacks).
  2. Control and predictability – create a routine. Procrastination, multi-tasking and chasing your own tail self-perpetuates the stress cycle. Creating (and sticking to) a routine can to add some predictability to your day, and remove some opportunity for unexpected stress. Creating a normal bedtime and wake time can be an especially helpful routine, as it also ensures you’re getting enough sleep each night.
  3. Exercise some, not too much. Low intensity exercise (like hiking or swimming) blunts the stress response for up to a day after each session – but it has to be something you want to do. (Forcing yourself to exercise only creates more stress.) Don’t overdo it – more is not better. Consider low to moderate intensity activities, as high intensity exercise may only be feeding your stress junkie tendencies. (In fact, high intensity activity may not be appropriate for you at all. For real.)Don’t (purposely) fast. Deliberate caloric restriction and extended (or regular) fasting provokes a physical stress response, and only adds to your overall stress burden. Plus, taking the time to eat healthy meals on a regular basis ensures you’re stopping to care for yourself every few hours, which is a good thing. Eat breakfast within an hour of waking; emphasize protein, and include some starchy carbs like sweet potato or butternut squash. If you often “forget to eat,” set a timer to remind you – it’s that important.
  4. Skip the coffee. Caffeine is a stimulant, and the last thing you need is more stimulation. Try backing off your daily dose, or taking a month-long caffeine holiday. This one is gonna hurt – but your adrenals will thank you. (Read our Coffee Manifesto for more details.)
  5. Meditation – sort of. Studies show psychological benefits while someone is meditating – but those benefits don’t necessarily continue after the session is over. (Plus, the idea of jumping into an hour of meditation a day is probably unrealistic for you right now.) Start off with five minutes at a time, every hour on the hour. Force yourself to stop whatever you are doing and take a walk, get some water, eat something or just sit quietly. (Time it – don’t cheat yourself.) Physically removing yourself from your stress-cycle may inhibit the degree to which you wind yourself up.
  6. Social support – try giving. The right network of friends or family can help you manage stress, but often the stress junkie simply won’t ask for help. So try giving – offering social support in a volunteer or charitable setting. Seeing your impact can be a powerful experience, and make you believe you do, in fact, have some control over life’s situations.
  7. The E – R – C strategy. Make a list of stressors, and identify those you can Eliminate, those you could Reduce and those you must simply Cope with. Consider evaluating time, money and accepted obligations all at once; you may be able to eliminate or reduce more stress than you believed. (For example, if cleaning the house on your day off is a big stressor, consider revising your budget to hire a cleaning service. If you’ve accepted too many social requests, prioritize one or two that are the most important to you, and beg off the rest. They’ll forgive you, and you really can’t afford to take on any more right now.)
  8. Practice the 80/20 rule. In the case of stress, take the 80/20 rule to mean that 80% of your stress reduction can be accomplished with the first 20% of effort. Taking the first step – admitting you have a problem, asking for help, starting a stress-reducing practice (any practice) – can provide tremendous stress relief. So don’t wait until you’ve got the perfect stress-reducing strategy to start, and don’t wait until the next time you’re at a stress level 9 out of 10. Do something – anything – on a daily basis and see if you don’t feel better having at least taken a step in the right direction.
  9. Get help. Sometimes, working through your situation with an impartial party is exactly what we need to put things into perspective. (And if you’re practicing your stress 80/20, the very act of making an appointment with a psychologist, a life coach or a professional organizer will make you feel better!)

In Conclusion

For those of you identifying with this post, take heart – there is hope. After a year of major life overhaul (including giving up caffeine, a major revision of her exercise program and a restructure of business responsibilities and work habits), Melissa’s cortisol profile is back in the healthy range, and her stress junkie tendencies are far better managed. With some awareness, attention to detail and commitment to changing your life, you, too, can overcome your addiction to stress. The first step is admitting you have a problem. (And the second step is to re-read our Whole9 Health Equation, because as a stress junkie, you are by definition spending resources waaaaay faster than you can bank ‘em.).

So cop to your bad habits, ask for help and offer each other some healthy social support right here in comments.

Fran Fan

“If a hurricane that wreaks havoc on a whole town can be Fran, so can a workout.”

If you have been around CrossFit for long, you've probably heard of "Fran."  After all, "Fran" is a CrossFit classic.  Recognized as THE benchmark it is deceptive on paper and a right of passage to any new CrossFitter.  While traveling to other boxes, "what's your Fran?" is often as important to introductions as what box you are from.  "But why Fran?" you ask?  In addition to being a great workout, Fran is also one of the original CrossFit WODs.  Check it out...

Whether or not you've done it before, I hope you get in today to try it out.

P.S. If you are a particular fan of named WODs, you should check out this awesome WOD list that Jeremy and Lisa made over at WODWell!


Planning Ahead - Feedback Requested

As any year comes to an end, it is time for both reflection as well as planning ahead.  One way we look ahead at UB is quite literal -- we start to shape the 2015 gym calendar.  As we start to formulate our upcoming events (double under workshops, WOD challenges, group hikes, etc.), we want to get your feedback.  What events would you like to see?  More clinics?  Competitions?  Community events?  Family events?  The more specific you are the better!  Please, pass along your ideas in the comment section.

The Weekly Dose of Awesome

This week’s Dose of Awesome only started with us around mid-September, but quickly became a regular face. Not content with easing into it, she was hitting every noon class every day. What caught my eye was her enthusiasm mixed with a healthy dose of caution. Early in her training she alway took the smart route and would scale down the workout to a point that she could attack it and get a great workout in without being frustrated. It was Andrew Salazar that initially dragged her in, but despite his more “fire breather” status, she found ways to make her workout her own.

She comes from a background in gymnastics, so her body awareness, mobility, and coachability have made what seems to be an easy transition into CrossFit. I was so impressed by how vigorous she worked at United Barbell, I was surprised to hear that on days she doesn’t come in, she’s not resting, she’s at another boot camp class she also enjoys!

Talk about being dedicated to fitness!

Such a good attitude, making jokes, smiling mid-workout even when the sweat is dripping, Christina is an enthusiastic participant in the United Barbell community. Keep being awesome, Christina, you’re making great progress!

... Dedicated enough to do a workout in her jeans when she forgot her workout pants!

Nutrition Support

For many the holidays brings a lot of focus to food.  Overeating, how to avoid it, eating sweets, what defines a "special occasion" versus pure over indulgence, how to eat healthy during the holidays, avoiding peer pressure etc..  Any of these ring a bell?

You probably know that we here at United Barbell consider nutrition to be a cornerstone of your overall health affecting everything from your appearance to your mood, sleep, and performance in the gym.  What you might not know is our very own Coach/Office Manager extraordinaire Nikki has her own business helping people fine tune their nutrition.   She has helped her clients with all things nutrition, even going on field trips to help decode the grocery store.  It's just one more reason she is awesome.  So whether you have a simple nutrition question, or if you are looking to hire on some extra nutrition support, Nikki is a good first stop on your nutrition journey. 

Wanna see more of what she's all about?  Check out her business site!

Food For Thought: Stress Addicts Anonymous (Part 1)

The holidays, while meant to be a time of peace, love and joy, are often a time of stress and overwhelm.  Here is a great 2 part series about you who get "holiday stress out" or even those of you who secretly thrive on the drama.

This series of posts was inspired by Dallas and Melissa’s very personal experience with stress addiction. From Melissa: “See, at my very core, I am a typical Type-A.  In fact, there were times I considered bumping herself up to a Type AA, because I believed Type A’s were actually kind of lazy. No offense. I’m a perfectionist, but also a procrastinator, and I do my best work when there’s a crisis. No crisis? No problem. I’ll just create one.” (Dallas has far fewer of these tendencies – thank goodness. Two of us in one house would make life unbearable.) So let’s explore the subject of the stress addict – who we are, what that means and how to know if your habits and patterns fit the bill.

stressed out

Type A-And-Then-Some

According to Wikipedia, Type A individuals are described as ambitious, aggressive, business-like, controlling, highly competitive, impatient, time-conscious, and tightly-wound.  People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving “workaholics” who multi-task, push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.

That doesn’t exactly paint us in a flattering light, does it?  I promise, we’re generally more fun than Wikipedia would suggest.  The problem is that under the right conditions, Type A drive can morph and grow into something else entirely – an actual stress addiction. And we mean that in the most literal sense of the word. Ask yourself…

  • Are you always on tight deadlines, multi-tasking within an inch of your life or creating ridiculous schedules for yourself?
  • Are you a perfectionist in everything you do, even when it doesn’t really matter?
  • Are you an inattentive listener, checking email, paying bills or cleaning while on the phone?
  • Are you constantly worrying about “what if,” stuck in an endless loop of dreaming up worst case scenarios?
  • Do you rush everywhere, all the time, because there are other things elsewhere you should be doing?
  • Have you lost all sense of patience, losing your cool when faced with even a minor telephone hold, appointment delay or grocery store line?
  • Are you always saying, “Things will calm down soon,” but they never, ever do?
  • Does the idea of a restorative yoga class, meditation or sitting quietly for 15 minutes make you want to crawl out of your skin?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of those questions… you may be a stress junkie.  And if you don’t think “stress junkie” is a very real, very dangerous condition, think again.

Stress Distress

According to the leading authority on pretty much everything (Oprah, of course), stress addiction is a legitimate condition, with serious consequences. says, “Stress junkies are people who use their own physiological responses as a mood-altering device.  And just like heroin, stress hormones have side effects that can kill you. Pumped into the bloodstream at high levels for long periods of time, these chemicals contribute to ulcers and heart disease, weaken the immune system, and leave us vulnerable to everything from automobile accidents to depression.”

Oprah not doing it for you?  Fine.  Dr. Waino W. Suojanen, a professor of management at Georgia State University, agrees.  “Social scientists as well as biologists studying the chemistry of the brain tend to document what business experts have been saying for years… The Type A individual has perhaps become addicted to his own adrenaline, and unconsciously seeks ways to get those surges.”

Sound far-fetched?  Not if you consider the biochemistry of stress addiction.  As Dr. John Ratey (author of Spark) explains, we get a “fix” from the stress response, even if we create it ourselves.

Procrastinate Much?

One common trait of stress junkies is procrastination – putting off tasks until the deadline looms so close that you’re not really sure you can get it done on time.  Procrastination puts us in a “fight or flight” kind stress response, which leads to a hormonal rush of epinephrine (to focus the body), which in turn results in the release of endorphins.  (Which, of course, feel good.)  In addition, there are two neurotransmitters in our brains that help get us ready for this flight or fight response — norepinephrine, which arouses our attention, and dopamine, which then focuses our attention.

So, we procrastinate until we get that “rush” we’re looking for, at which point those neurotransmitters flood our system and to allow us to finally focus – which helps us meet those deadlines after all.  Success!  There’s just one problem with this strategy:  stress junkies will create stress where there is none to begin with. Which means for the stress junkie, there are no situations that are inherently free of stress, even if they have to create some themselves.

Procrastination is only one favorite strategy of the stress junkie – others include perfectionism, obsessing about obligations, and inventing catastrophic fantasies about What Could Go Wrong. The common factor in each of these scenarios is the stress junkie’s single-minded devotion to repeatedly creating stressful situations.

On paper, you might think, “That sounds awful.  Who would do that to themselves?”  But in reality, if you’re a stress junkie, you kind of dig it.  No, you really dig it – the buzz that comes from swimming in stress hormones morning, noon and night.  Until, of course, you stop.  Then, yeah, you feel pretty miserable.

Getting All The Things Done

The problem is, you are literally addicted to the stress response, which means it’s impossible for you to just slow down.  Plus, your behavior is easy to justify (rationalize).   I mean, it’s not like you’re addicted to something that makes you lay around on the couch all day eating Doritos and playing video games.  You’re working, or exercising, or running a household or taking care of your children.  And everyone from Gym Jones to Jack Welch to Oprah herself would say there is no such thing as working too hard, right?

Sure, you’re probably not eating enough.  Sure, you could probably stand to take five minutes to stretch once in a while.  Yes, you wake up in the middle of the night with unending lists running through your head.  No, you haven’t peed in seven hours, but I’m sure that’s fine too.  Because you are Getting All The Things Done.  And who can argue with that?

Your body, that’s who.  And it’s already starting to rebel in ways that seriously compromise your health and fitness.

Stay Tuned for Stress Addicts Anonymous, Part 2

Ready to continue? Read Part 2 of our series on stress addiction, where we cover the negative physiological effects that come with living with chronic stress, and more importantly, some steps you can take to rehabilitate your own stress addiction.

(see original post for references)

Holiday Schedule

First, thank you to all of you who made it to our holiday party!  It was really great to see all of you in your fancies having a good time under the winter wonder rack.  It's hard to believe that it is already that time of year, but from what I hear, your weekend was already full of holiday parties.  Since we all seem to be ahead of the game, here is a head's up on our schedule through the 1st of the new year.  We are excited to say we will be open all days between now and Jan 2, but under a limited schedule, so please take note:

Wednesday, the 24th - Limited Schedule*

Thursday the 25th - Sunday the 28th - Holiday WOD at 9:30

Monday the 29th - Wednesday the 31st - Limited Schedule

Thursday the 1st - Holiday WOD at 9:30

*Limited Schedule - we will run a regular 630, 730 and 12pm class.  However, we will be holding open gym from 9-12 for all members. The Gym will close at 1pm on all three days.

Happy Monday!