Service and Sacrifice

san berdoo

I am going to take a bit of a departure from the normal route of posting for which this blog is intended, as it relates to our gym and the strength & conditioning world in general. Instead, the recent events going on in Southern California have my attention and caused me to think about what many people take for granted as offered by those behind a badge on home soil, or our flag on foreign soils – Service and sacrifice.

I’ve been in the law enforcement profession for a long time now, moreso than many people think, and it’s given me plenty of good and bad experiences over the years to reflect upon. I’ve had great assignments in K9 and SED (SWAT) in a large metropolitan agency that have provided me with incredible highs and lows. I wouldn’t trade them for the world, but I am very away that every call and crime scene ever journeyed to is a memento left in the minds of myself and the others out there who have sworn to protect complete strangers in order to ensure freedom, order and safety. Think about that for a second. We’ve borne scars for strangers.  If you are not a cop, soldier or fireman, think about that real friggin’ hard for a moment.

Would you really want to see what I’ve seen? Would you really want to do what I’ve done? Would you really want to make the decisions I’ve made? Would you? How would YOU personally feel about the horrible things encountered and dealt with on a regular basis? Those things I and others can’t ever shake from their heads, no matter what they try. Things we’ve seen, done and been a part of all for the personal honor of serving and sacrificing for complete strangers. Wrap your head around that. For complete strangers. People we will never truly meet and probably never see again. Some who truly don’t care about what we’ve done.

We put ourselves out there as a shield so that strangers who call for help don’t have to witness and deal with the monsters in the dark corners of human nature and human psyche. We put ourselves out there to risk our lives for complete strangers, whether they are victims or not. The mere fact that a person poses a threat to innocent strangers amongst us is enough for us to place our lives ahead of others to ensure violence, or the threat thereof, is stopped. How do YOU feel about that?

Would you want to run into a burning building to save people and risk being burned to death? Would you want to place yourself in the midst of a domestic violence call where you don’t know anyone and their mindset but you only know that one party is threatening to kill the other with a knife? How about working on a SWAT team where you are silently staged for a hostage rescue in a room just feet from the armed bad guys and the likelihood of being shot in the process is as high as it will ever get in your life? How about being a SWAT cop in the mountains tracking down a madman who’s got the advantage over you, and neutralizing that threat before other cops you don’t even know are killed, or an innocent person is killed in the rampage? That’s an interesting and incredibly foreign concept to most people. Put yourself in those shoes for a moment.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you are aware that over the past few days a former cop has gone off the deep end and decided to carry out a personal vendetta against former police officers whom he felt wronged him and  all those who work for the agency. I am not here to debate those issues, all I know is Chris Dorner decided it would be a great idea to kill some random people with connections to those whom he felt wronged him at LAPD, and then take his show of senseless violence on the road. In the process, more completely uninvolved peace officers were killed and injured and innocent people and kids were scared out of their wits. People prayed for a resolution and hoped they would be saved from Dorner by Law Enforcement personnel who were going to “make it all better”. Those Law Enforcement personnel are and most likely will always be, complete strangers to the general public who were shielded by the body armor and intel of the LEO community.

So what about the resolution and final outcome?

The Law Enforcement community ended up winning the war, but over the course of battle, casualties were amassed.  I could give a flying fuck about Chris Dorner, he got what he had coming to him and I hope it was a slow painful death after all the hell and sorrow he’s run countless families through. I am thinking about the good guys.

Perhaps it’s my overly analytical mind and an occasional sense of empathy and compassion (yes, I have one), but what gets me in these situations is how a fellow Law Enforcement Officer(s) was killed or injured in the line of duty all for upholding his oath of service and sacrifice for the betterment of complete strangers around him and most people just forget about that officer and don’t think twice about the incident. Lives will forever be changed for those families in ways you can’t imagine unless it’s you or called to your attention, as is my effort here. All those sacrifices are made to make sure “people sleep peaceably in their beds only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf”, in order to ensure safety and security.

I can most likely assure you the officers tragically taken from us in this event, and in the closure of this incident in the mountains, knew the risks that had been laid out to them the day they were sworn in, all came to a head today. They knew the stakes in the game, and yet, for your safety, they carried on in their jobs. They knew full well what could happen and the incredible, lifelong effect it could have on their families, children, partners, and loved ones. Yet, they carried on. I am sure there was a sense of fear (anyone whose ever said they weren’t scared when it was life or death, is a liar), but the thought of “service and sacrifice” was the overriding concept and those deputies carried on. Fear didn’t paralyze them, they worked through it and used it as a tool to their advantage and as a means to an end. In the end, the battle was lost and the war was won. My head hurts at the cost that was paid and the toll it will have. If yours doesn’t, you’re still standing on the outside looking in.

I took that oath and I know full well the risks associated with my profession and assignment. I don’t have a death wish, but I don’t fear the fact I am playing cards with the Reaper. It’s what I do and I am okay with that. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see my kids grow up, love my wife for the eternity I promised, and laugh with my friends as I grow old, but I know more days will come when I need to use my fear to keep me sharp and remember the reason why I do what I do with my brothers in the stack, all so we can protect the lives of people we will never know. We just know they need us, and we are there to make sure safety and security is found, by whatever means necessary. It’s what those deputies felt and did today on that mountain top to ensure everyone else could go on with their lives.

Goddamn, that concept of action is noble and beautiful, despite the tragedy that surrounds it.

The end story to this is simple. Don’t take those who protect you for granted. Not for a second. I don’t care if you don’t like cops or think they are assholes with a bad attitude and an axe to grind, which might stem from the experiences they’ve had. Hell, there are plenty cops I don’t like, but still I give them their respect. I know firsthand that most people can’t solve their own issues or act like adults, and no matter how much they bad mouth Law Enforcement, they still are going to call 911. Some people might want to think twice about calling to complain about a speeding patrol car and instead think about the fact that car might just be enroute to a call. I can assure you if your wife was home alone and screaming at the dispatcher that someone was trying to kick in the front door, you’d want them to drive faster! A few moments later some cops are going to show up and put their lives on the line for someone they don’t know because that’s what they do.

If you want to pay a bit of personal respect to those who were killed in the line of duty this past week, I recommend the following.

Remove yourself from the safe world in your head and put yourself in the shoes of someone behind the badge. Just imagine what goes on, the life & death decisions made on the fly, the things seen and the fear that can be felt in a strange house or in the darkest of nights. Then think about doing it for someone you don’t know, over and over again. Then put yourself in the shoes of their loved ones as a black sedan pulls into the driveway at 2 AM and a chief or sheriff comes to bring bad news to your doorstep – “I am so sorry, but I regret to inform you….”.

When you are done with your exercise in mental service and sacrifice, don’t forget to look at a flag and silently thank those who protect on your behalf. When you see a cop grabbing a moment of sanity and relaxation at a Starbucks or restaurant, go out of your way and tell them thanks and “stay safe”. You have no idea what that means to us.

Keep in mind all those out there on the front lines, at home and abroad, and make people like Chris Dorner and momentary blip in your mind’s eye, never allowing scum like him to taste the infamy they tried to assume over those who truly deserve to be remembered.

When it’s all over, you will have paid the ultimate respect to those who were brave enough to go in harms way for you, today and in the future. That is all we can ask for and it is everything we can thank you for.

Rest in Peace and Godspeed, brothers.

~ Ian Carver

thinblueline

It’s Not About You

You can consider this an open letter to all gym owners and/or coaches out there and a guideline for a potential CrossFit client to follow in evaluating a gym. Yes, this is “another one of Crazy Ivan’s rants”, but it bears some food for thought (By no means does this mean I or my gym are perfect, it’s just an observation due to current circumstances and some thought into the matter, so don’t go getting all uppity and start sending me hate mail… ) Simply put, it’s not about you!

If you are a owner/trainer/coach at a strength and conditioning facility, you have been entrusted and tasked with changing people’s lives. Some complete stranger has walked into your gym, plunked down a good sum of money and has expected you to help them transform their lives. Sure, they need to bring their own motivation and effort to the party, but you are the one expected to program for them, teach them correct movement patterns, coach them through the movement patterns/loading/scaling, etc., as well as be a motivator when the time comes. Pay attention to those four points of good coaching – program, teach, coach and motivate. That is your job in a nutshell and it then transitions into holding your client’s successes up for everyone else to see.

What your job does NOT entail, is telling everyone how great you are, what PR’s you broke, what great gigs you are involved in and bragging about, or how you smoked everyone in your gym in a workout or competition. Sure, the occasional word or video clip about a new PR or “happy, happy, joy, joy” moment for you is fine, it should not be a constant topic of conversation or blogging. We should all celebrate our successes, I agree and do it as well, but not at the expense of those who we teach.

You social media should be a news outlet for upcoming events in/around your gym, rules and etiquette statements, and highlighting the actions of your members. It doesn’t have to be a 400 word essay on a person, but a picture, a few kind words, and some shout out’s go a very long way for creating the best training atmosphere possible in your gym as well as loyalty and trust to you and your other coaches. Go ahead and throw a picture of yourself or coaches up there, but 90% of your postings should be of everyone else.

I bring this up due in part to the fact that with social media being what it is and things on the ‘net getting around the world in nanoseconds, I tend to see more and more “look at me” postings and moments and some pretty funky videos and pics of form and movements. Posting stuff about your clients and their accomplishments is just the starting point, but it goes deeper than that. Keep in mind that the internet and proliferation of CrossFit affiliates means you can find a gym almost anywhere these days. A quick email, a drop-in fee and midway through the workout, you might learn a thing or two from your visitor, some good, some bad.

What bothers me so much is that lately I’ve gotten to see firsthand the correlation between self indulgence and coaching when clients drop in from other gyms to work out at CFC. Some have been local and some have been from out of the area. I will admit, I don’t often like what I see.

There are more than a few drop-in’s or visitors from other gyms that have told us they don’t get the kind of coaching at their box that we gave them for one day at CFC, they don’t get the same feedback, and their numbers/times are nowhere near the averages found amongst our clients. There are a lot of tweaks and fixes going on with many people who visit us – we just can’t help it. We want to see things done safely and effectively. We get a ton of return drop-in’s and people wishing we were closer to their home. That’s a great feather in our cap and makes me proud of our coaches upholding our mission statement, but all things supposedly being equal, this should not be happening.

We don’t like being the coaches to tell a visitor to strip a bar and go lighter or substitute a movements before they herniate something, but we do it. Then we take them aside and start teaching them the movement from the ground up and send them on their way happy as hell for having finally nailed down a particular movement while on their business trip. That shouldn’t be the case….

All too often we see other gyms with absolutely no rhyme or reason to their programming. There is no “goal”, it’s just a mish-mash of random, hard workouts with no understanding of principles of adaptation and/or no path to the underlying goal (I’ll give you a hint – it’s to develop strength and conditioning via a predetermined path of execution taking into consideration the needs of the clients and the understanding of sports science). When visitors walk in and see our template or semi-annual testing process and wish their box did that, I can tell something’s not right at home. Basically, those people are being done a disservice and not getting what they are paying for. That shouldn’t be the case…..

In the perfect, properly quality controlled world in CrossFit, everyone walking in our doors from an outside gym should be able to execute the basic fundamental movements relatively flawlessly, have proficiency in more technical movements and have no overloaded ego leading to crappy form and movements. I get giddy as school girl when I get a drop in who is smooth like chicken lips and moves beautifully. Some owner and coaches somewhere are doing it right!

We use a specifically designed S&C template at CFC and it works very well. Yes, it’s a template **gasp** and yes, it’s actually got a end goal in mind including specified daily barbell work, Oly lifts, and skill work, coupled with mixed modality MetCon designed in a particular pattern to elicit a stress/adaptation response. It was designed around our clients. It was not designed around my likes/dislikes or what I wanted to do to get better, but around our clients who are paying a good bit of their hard earned money to get fitter, faster, stronger and healthier. Them, not me.

Hey wait a minute, here I am tooting my horn and in contradiction to what I said not to do!! Yes, but here’s the point.

If you are a owner or coach of a true strength and conditioning facility or CrossFit affiliate, you need to focus on your clients, give up some of your glory and sacrifice your time and effort to their cause. That being the established point of this article, what can we do to facilitate that?

We as a community can do that by not only highlighting our members more whenever possible on the internet and having a form of interactive, changing website or social media, and talking less about how phenomenally great we personally are.  More importantly, we can spend a helluva lot more time developing a pathway for our business and client to be successful, learning about human movement, coaching techniques and delivery, proper execution and programming.

Develop a mission statement, make sure each one of your coaches knows it and executes it. Develop a coaches manual highlighting your path to completion of the mission statement through the best damn coaching and mentoring you can give your clients. Learn how to program properly – not copy another site’s or the CrossFit mainsite. Test your programming and when it fails, suck up your mistakes and change it. Learn, learn, and then learn some more from whatever or whomever. Sift through the BS and use what applies to you and the established goal for your clientele via your mission statement and plan of execution.

I don’t care if all of our clients, or even none of them, is competition material. We are not a “competition gym” – we are concerned with each client getting their money’s worth and achieving their expectations, scaled or RX’d.  All I care is that they move well, are functional, a good representation of CFC, and better in all aspects of their life as when they started (don’t get me wrong, some people are just plain uncoachable and inconsistent and will be culled from the herd eventually -we’ve all got a couple of those…)

Get your names out of the spotlight. Our leaderboard at CFC is devoid of our coaches names. Our coaches workout with or around our clients regularly while other coaches are teaching, and they all have a reputation for killing it and silently act as role models. I don’t need to put their names on the board in the place of a client’s to exemplify this. They do it on their own through their actions in the athletic arena and on the coaching floor. It is the same reason I will never personally take a team competition spot from a client. If we don’t have enough competitors to fill the slots, then I will throw my hat in the ring. Otherwise, I make sure the opportunity to showcase CFC and the athletes therein is given directly to them.

On the flip side of all this, we also have regular visitors from other gyms, locally and out of the area, who are flawless and when we dig deeper into their gyms background, we see the path the ownership follows in that they are well trained and put the clients first. They do this in not only talking and hyping their members accomplishments, but by furthering their coaching educations for the betterment of their clients. The client comes first and it’s our job as coaches and owners, to stay out of the limelight and make sure that happens.

There are a lot of CrossFit boxes out there these days in the Sacramento area as well as abroad. That being the case, there are a lot I don’t know about, quite a few I wouldn’t recommend and only a fine few I would refer people to. It’s those “fine few” that are carrying the brand through their commitment to their clients and the achievements of those they coach. They put their clients first and it shows. This exemplary coaching, sacrifice and community is what will make a gym. Failure to do so will cause a gym to falter and fail and subsequently, the CrossFit brand to suffer. I can’t tell you how many people I hear about who hate CrossFit from a bad experience with an affiliate through crappy coaching or those ridiculous bargain coupon deals. Someone somewhere put their own interests ahead of the client and now it bit us all in the ass….

As owners and coaches, we wield a sharp sword in what changes we can make to help people lead better lives. Our clients are an extension of our coaching, our gyms and the CrossFit brand as a whole. In order for ourselves to silently share in the success, we have to make sure the clients are priority number one.

I don’t care what you did. I want to see what your client athletes can do. Show the world!

Rules to live by

For the most part, it’s pretty simple – Love and respect your parents, eat your vegetables, don’t lie, study hard in school, don’t do drugs, stay away from idiots in gangs, be positive and be a good role model, and be a good friend. Those few rules will get you pretty far in life, but in my opinion they are lacking a couple of important ones. If you want to achieve success and achieve it with no regrets you will add these two to the list.

Don’t cheat and don’t quit… ever….

Don’t Cheat – Cheating is just that, it’s an unfair way to turn the tide in your favor. Now in situations of life and death, there may be some fudging room -i.e., “if you go to a gunfight, bring a gun. In fact, bring two. Then bring all your friends with guns.” But I assume the vast majority don’t need to worry about this as much as someone with my job and oddball luck, so let’s just keep it simple and apply the rules to sporting endeavors, which subsequently leads to our life endeavors. After all, personal sporting efforts are an extension to a higher quality life through lessons learned and notions gained.

The truth of the matter is, at some point you will be beat. You will encounter a person who is better than you at something, be it lawn darts, accounting or running fast. YOU WILL GET BEAT! Get used to that concept now and accepting defeat will be less of a painful ordeal when it comes around. It’s like dying -it’s gonna happen, so friggin’ get used to the idea now. If you accept the notion of death, life becomes that much sweeter.

In the same vein, if you accept the notion of defeat, victory is that much better. It is earned and hard fought. You can taste it and feel it and it is beautiful. If you enter a CrossFit workout or any other event with a positive mental attitude and put 100% into it and come out on top, good on you. If not, still good on you – you fought the good fight and you will improve incredibly for your efforts through the physical and mental lessons you learned. Think about it for a second. If you were always on top how would you improve? You would never learn what it takes to be truly good.

Don’t for a second contemplate cutting reps, rounds or range of motion short, just so you can catch up to a competitor. It’s not worth it. It’s cheap and it really does nothing for you in the long run. You will gain nothing from it since in actuality you did not push yourself to the brink. Your competitor did, and they will get better. The cheater will just stay in their false world of hope and delusion and stunt their forward growth.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Your will be exploited in both the positive and negative manner. Embrace it and grow from it.

Don’t Quit – A quitter never wins and a winner never quits. It doesn’t matter that you  are dead last, you are still ahead of the person that quit. Barring true injury, quitting will not make you a better person or make things better in the long run. The notion that you can call “Kings X” whenever the going gets tough will carry over into whatever you do. Unfortunately society and leaders these days make it all too easy to bail out early and that means too many people truly think it’s an option. If you bite something big off, chew it up and swallow it. It may take a while, but who cares.

Shake it off, take a deep breath and finish the job, regardless of how long it takes. Some folks may argue that at some point the effort becomes futile and it’s like beating your head against a wall. The continued work will yield no gains due to it’s drudgery and slow pace. That’s bullshit. That’s just an excuse to quit. It may not be perfect, but you will gain something from it – trust me on this. You ever heard the term, “Die trying”? That’s a whole helluva lot better than the term, “Live failing!”

I won’t quit. It’s not an option. Not in my gym, not when I was a competitive athlete, not in my job. Quitting means failure and in what I do, failure can mean a closed casket funeral. I don’t even want the thought entering my head, so I don’t let it happen at the gym or anywhere else. Come Hell or high water, a true winner will always get through the trials and tribulations put in front of them. And when they do, they are stronger for it. Those are the people you have to watch out for – the ones who don’t know the meaning of “quit”. They will rise to the top because they have tenacity and desire to succeed against all odds.

Dead last? Who cares. I’m last but I won’t be dead…

You want to be a better athlete and human being? Then learn to lose and finish dead last once in a while. You can thank me later.

Never Lie Down…

One of the benefits of fitness endeavors and athletics, at least those that truly challenge us, lie not only in the physiological realm, but also in the psychological arena. There is a tremendous amount of personal mental fortitude that is needed and developed through hard, sustained efforts. For the vast majority of people, many of the workouts are forays into areas of ability they never knew they had. This little “trip through the wires” leads to not only an increase in strength and athletic capacity, but also increases the athlete’s ability to realize what is possible, then push through it. As with any adaptation phase, you recover and grow and build upon those efforts. What seemed “impossible” becomes easy. This translation of increased mental fortitude tranfers itself to future physical endeavors and life challenges. The attitude becomes, “If I can do that, then everything else is easy and that task won’t be that hard!”

I remember the first time as a young cyclist I rode 100 miles. Once it was over, the realization of what I had done had broken down walls and opened doors to other challenges. Everything else paled in comparison.  Much like a marathon runner, a daring skier, soldier going “down range”, a fireman heading into an inferno, or anyone else tackling a effort that balances delicately on injury, death, near exhaustion, fear and other somewhat daunting prospects, once those tasks are successfully completed, everything else is a walk in the park. To this day, I thank the mental toughness I gained as a cyclist and athlete for my current abilities at work and at play. “Is that all you got? Bring it on….”

I don’t care if my athletes don’t care to use their fitness capabilities in an athletic arena outside of the gym, the fact remains that they are stronger on several fronts then they were before. I’ve seen people who don’t wish to be competitive find the hardest decisions to make in their personal lives to be much easier because they “know they can”.  That’s a beautiful thing. For those that do push their fitness gained in the CrossFit gym out onto the playing field, they find that the hard work done indoors makes their other tasks that much easier. In short, we aim to build winners, no matter what the challenge may be.

The attitude and thought process of “winner” is never ending. You cannot let self doubt or weakness prevail and when it does wish to rear it’s ugly head in the form of quitting, easing up or adopting a defeatist attitude,  you must recover, recollect and beat it back. Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you finish, it matters if you finish. And when you finish, that attitude must remain.

With the prevalence of MMA fighting proliferating the media these days, we have all seen a fight somewhere where one athlete undoubtedly got his ass handed to him by another, but still had the self-respect to raise his hands in the universal symbol of victory as he walked to his corner at the end of the bout. Some call it stupid, some may call it arrogance, however that depends on the manner of how the athlete portrays his “personal victory” at the end. Nonetheless, that fighter did not give up during or after the fight and never accepted a defeatist attitude. That fighter never lied down, which leads me to my point.

CrossFit is unbelievably hard sometimes. Workouts that push you to and past your previous extensions of ability. So, when those WOD’s are over, it is not uncommon to “crash n’ burn” and wait for the room to stop spinning, the lungs to stop burning, your vision to return and recognize you can stand up and continue to function. Now, the following  is a personal thing and my personal opinion only of which I will not forcefully impart upon my clients, but I make all attempts to never lie down after a hard effort. I am just putting this out there as something to think about.

My thought is that lying down is a form of defeat. I know physiologists have proven that recovery is enhanced in a prone position versus a standing position, but I’ll be damned if I am going to get in a fight while at work, then go lie down on the grass to catch my breath and recover in full uniform in front of God and country once the bad guy’s in custody. In all reality, I would be on my feet walking it off, or hands on my knees catching my breath – and yes, it’s I’ve been down that road more than a few times. I’ve regained my composure, cleaned up, straightened up my uniform and walked out with command presence. Unless there’s blood pouring out of a wound, a serious injury or you are dead or dying, get on your feet.

I am not saying some workouts haven’t put me on my back. I’ve been there and there are pics to prove it, but after a moment of clarity I’ve jumped up and moved around. I have changed my views and it’s been a very long time since I’ve done that. Believe you me, I’ve had some severe efforts I didn’t think I’d get through over the past few years. Instead, I choose to sit down temporarily or take a knee for a moment. In my mind, I have not given up and I am not beaten back by anything.

The dead and dying lie down. Roadkill doesn’t get back up. Someone encased in fear rolls up in the fetal position and cowers. A sowbug rolls up in a ball and hopes the predator goes away before someone steps on it. Victims end up on their backs, dead or alive. Dogs are subservient on their backs. Dead trees fall over and rot on the earth. I think you get the point.

In contrast, athletes “take a knee” in between efforts, soldiers kneel to rest and assess a situation, mom’s dress the kids on a knee then get up to get back on with the day, fighters kneel in between rounds. For many, the kneeling position is a position of reverence and recollection. In each of those examples, that person knows more is coming, they can’t give up, and they will get back up to continue on because they have to.

Of course someone will argue that historic rulers made their conquered foes kneel before them in a form of subservience, defeat and other similar situations of the like, but the difference being that those people were forced to adopt that position rather than choose it. Then there were those of legend who chose not to and paid with their lives, but they made history for their courage and heroism moreso than their conquerer did.

The strongest willed walk it off. Nothing puts them down. They may lean up against something, put their hands on their knees and suck wind, walk around with their arms over their heads breathing deeply, or stand tall while being hit by enemy fire like Lt. Michael Murphy (read the bio), but they are still in the fight despite a moment of recovery. There will be time to lay down later.

If nothing else remember, you can get knocked down, but you better get back up again. Don’t accept a defeatist posture, mentally or physically. It is my personal goal to stay up, in the fight, and ready for more after a moment of respite. If you wish to make yourself a stronger athlete and person, think about that the next time you wish to punch out and collapse. Instead, think about the fact you have just prevailed, you are stronger mentally and physically, and you are not dead. Accept a position that does not show defeat. Recover, then get back up and get back in the game.

“Numquam cede, numquam succumbe”

– Ian Carver

SSD Health & Wellness Q&A – Bodyfat

Recently our SSD Health & Wellness Team created a Q&A section within the monthly newsletter for questions and answers directed to me. Below is the first question posed to me from a member of our department:

Question:
Ian, in the last two years my body fat percentage has bounced from 6% to 19% percent. Its a constant struggle to maintain a low ideal body fat percentage. I am guessing your body fat percentage hovers around 5% to 6%. I haven’t seen too many top level athletes that can maintain that type of lean muscle mass. Are you a genetic mutant? What’s your secret?
Answer:
First of all we need to define normal ranges of BF% for men and women.

 

                        Women            Men

 

Essential              10-13%     2-5%

Athletes              14–20%      6-13%

Fitness                 21–24%     14–17%

Acceptable         25–31%     18–24%

Obese                 32%+          25%+

 

Thanks to our lousy eating habits in the western world, the median ranges on this chart have changed over the past couple decades. The range that has not changed is the Essential BF% for men and women. Any lower than that and we see a decline in health and performance. Women maintain higher BF% due to physiological factors related to procreation and rearing children. They are made to survive the worst of times in order to carry and nurture new life. BF% can be measured many ways and is a much more reliable tool than BMI calculations, which are highly inaccurate due to factors in the person being measured and then compared to an archaic “normal average” – the results are highly skewed.

 

My personal feelings are that more often than not, most men & women find themselves in the “fitness” to “acceptable” ranges, but that doesn’t always mean they are happy with that. Although I will concede that those bodyfat percentages are rising, again due to our lousy eating habits and the false information the FDA and USDA are trying to feed us – pun intended. Almost everyone wants to see better definition in their muscularity and wants to see that six pack come out. It’s there, it’s just got a layer of fat over it. That’s where a diet aimed at reducing insulin levels and reducing caloric intake, thereby allowing the body to burn BF as a fuel source, becomes the pivotal ingredient. Men will start to see an increase in definition and have improved health and performance around the 10% range. Women find this around the 16% range. Below this we see increased definition and vascularity while still maintaining good performance and, if trained correctly, a profound strength to weight ratio. For athletes and performance based individuals, that means being able to move large loads, longer distances, faster. In other words, an increased power output, which is all that matters in the realm of performance. 

 

Once we dip into the very low BF% “essential ranges” we have a higher likelihood of health & physical problems coming up due to metabolic derangement in the body caused by not enough BF. For women, this can be really hard on the body and can yield some long-term problems. Athletes should not stay here for long periods of time. Cycling in and out of low ranges like this is usually what happens and although hard on the body, is a sustainable practice. I personally employ this ideal in my training and I have been victim of the 5% BF performance reduction issues. I function optimally at 6-7% and in strength gain periods (winter programming), I will allow the range to get up to about 9%. Cycling back and forth is not a bad thing and can yield gains in various areas of training and health, just don’t let it get too out of control.  

 

Sure, the other side of this coin does have stuff to do with genetics. There are Ectomorphs (thin, hard gainers), Endomorphs (medium build), and Mesomorphs (heavy, easy weight gain). There’s not much we can do to change our hardwiring, but we can control it by diet and making particular modifications to an exercise program dependent upon our needs and desires. The Ecto’s are going to have a fairly high metabolism and correspondingly low BF%. For athletes of this type, they will have a higher ration of slow twitch muscle fibers and tend to be better at endurance based efforts.

 

Endomorphs tend to be the “lucky ones” with broad shoulders, small waists, fast moving but not hyperactive metabolisms, and they can cut and gain weight fairly easy. These types of folks maintain that “fit” appearance most of the time if they put in a little effort and their corresponding BF% tends to keep them in those ranges. These folks are pretty well rounded athletes with an ability to do well at both ends of the athletic spectrum – endurance & strength.

 

Mesomorphs are heavier built individuals with a slower metabolic rate. Bones may be heavier and denser and their ability to gain weight, muscle and fat, can be a bit easier. That can be good or bad. BF% tend to be higher on these individuals. These people tend to have very good strength and power outputs with a good mixture of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers.

 

Keep in mind you can move around from classification to classification, but for the most part you’re not going to take a marathon runner (Ecto) and make him a world class Olympic Weightlifter (Meso). Folks in either category can push up or down to some extent and see gains with changes to diet and training.

 

The athletic training you are doing has a lot to do with metabolism and BF%. They are intertwined.  Unbeknownst to most folks, we are programmed at a genetic level to thrive in short, high intensity workouts. We are not designed for repeated and continual long duration, oxidative work. It is very damaging to the human body to do this time after time. It also does nothing for the metabolism as there is no EPOC cycle post workout. EPOC stands for “Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption”.

 

EPOC is the body’s way of making up for the caloric and metabolic deficit it is in after a short high intensity workout (15-25 min training session at 75-80%+ Max. Heart Rate). EPOC kicks in with the feeling of a very ramped up metabolism after a hard, sprint or interval based workout. This cycle can last up to 8 hours. When a person is in EPOC and they have worked their diet out correctly, the EPOC cycle helps re-establish a normal state (homeostasis) in the body by pulling all the calories and energy it needs to re-establish metabolism from your pre-existing BF. So, you lose a ton of BF post-workout due to this short high intensity training. There is almost no EPOC cycle in long training cycles (60+ Min), so there is almost no post-workout BF burn off. In a long workout, BF is only burnt during the workout due to the low heart rates and metabolic requirements and it is a substantially shorter time frame than the long EPOC cycle.

 

Also not present in long training cycles is the hormonal response in the body that stimulates growth. Too long of training sessions blunt the neuroendocrine response and cause a build up of stress hormones that actually break down the muscle you are working to create. The desired hormonal response created by proper strength and conditioning programs creates a very anabolic environment in the body, so muscle and bone grow and strengthen very well. Remember, an increase in lean body mass means an increase in metabolism as muscle needs more energy than fat to sustain itself. The build up of negative hormones and metabolic factors causes inflammation at a structural and cellular level. The problems created by inflammation can be mitigated by supplementing the diet with fish oil.

 

Don’t get me wrong, we need to workout or participate in sports or athletic endeavors that will make us work for a long time, but not on a regular basis as is commonplace. Going long in the pool, track, bike or workout/cardio routine a couple times a month is plenty and is good to keep the adaptation process in the body continually moving forward. This also lets the body work at a lower heart and respiratory rate for a longer period of time and places new stresses on the body for it to adapt to and overcome to increase health and athleticism. 

 

So, let’s say you have consulted someone in the know, dialed in a personalized diet and workout program and got to where you want to be, composition or weight wise. Now what? If you have been tracking your diet and workouts, you will know exactly what is necessary to maintain or change those new ratios. Both of those factors are the keys to maintaining your new BF% and performance. Your diet can be changed somewhat to accommodate for particular training.

 

For example, on a programmed strength day (i.e., 5×5 Squats, 5×5 Press, and 3×5 Deadlifts at 82% 1 RM for sets across– a tough day of barbell work), I would up the protein intake a bit more in the post workout meal/shake and a tad throughout the day. Carbs would remain at about 45g post workout to help refuel and shuttle aminos back to the muscles and improve recovery. Protein would be a tad higher to help the muscle repair process. Fat would be minimal in this meal to help the replenishment process – this is the only meal you would eat that would be low/no fat.

 

If I were to do a high intensity conditioning workout (timed circuits, intervals, Olympic weightlifting or barbell work mixed with metabolic conditioning with no or minimal rest) that extended out to the 20-30 min range, I would recommend about 45g protein and about 90g carbs for a post workout meal or shake. The higher carb content helps replenish the fuel in the muscles and liver while the protein helps muscle regeneration. Again, low or no fat in this post workout meal. Both these post-workout meals help maintain and increase LBM and don’t support body fat. Just don’t ruin your efforts by screwing up the remaining meals in the day.

 

In the end, I would take any person and define their somatype (body type), their athletic/health goals, and then get them on an insulin controlling diet (Paleo, Primal or Zone), and put them on a good personalized strength and conditioning program involving barbell work for strength and high intensity, short duration training for metabolic impact and overall conditioning. Dependent upon the body type and goals, you may tweak one area of work above the other to gain the desired response.

 

Does this really work? Yes it does. It just takes commitment and desire. Some would say I am genetically lucky, but the truth is I am no different than any other person, I have just experimented to find the things that really work and produce results that keep me healthy and happy. I have faith you can do the same!