One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to read more. I originally started off January with J. K. Rowling’s “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” but as I picked up T.J. Murphy’s “Inside the Box,” one day, I soon found that I couldn’t put the book down. “Inside the Box” became my first read of 2014 and I’m here to give you the lowdown on this CrossFit-inspired book.
First of all, yes, the book is about CrossFit. And if you aren’t a CrossFit junkie, before you close the tab on the screen, this book really can be for YOU. You don’t have to understand the sport–you may even hate that it is called a sport. This is a book about overcoming barriers, becoming healthy, fighting disease, learning how to eat, and watching people transform themselves from the inside out. The “sport” may not be for you: the book is.
CrossFit is continuing to grow and despite a critical fact: CrossFit is not for everyone. I’ve seen plenty of people try it and leave it behind. Some don’t like the group dynamic; others don’t want to be inside a gym at all and want to pursue outdoor activities. That’s all more than understandable. But what’s happening is that CrossFit is reaching the people who love it.” –Author, TJ Murphy
If you like fitness at all, the book is a fast read that outlines several different lifts, healthy ways to eat, has funny stories and touching success stories.
BUT, if you are a CrossFit enthusiast, you know you LOVE the sport. And I really think most people would LOVE this book.
CrossFitters are going to love the verification of the sport and the history of the people and boxes that brought CrossFit to life. They are going to cling to the advice from founder Greg Glassman given freely throughout the book, the stories of the Games athletes, and the science that proves why what we are doing is working.
It worked because the athletes in the gym got faster, stronger, and more powerful–and these were areas of athleticism they could monitor with a stopwatch. They transformed their bodies into superhero-like physiques.
Fitness enthusiasts and those curious/contemplating starting CrossFit are going to love the facts/statistical analysis of the exercises, the success stories, and learning the in’s and out’s of what seems to be a cult-like secret society. “Inside the Box” will make-or-brake your thoughts about the sport.
Jim Baker says that Glassman didn’t invent anything new–rather, he organized effective exercises within an effective strategy. The centerpiece was hard work, pain, and sacrifice propelled by a group dynamic.
For non-fitness enthusiasts or those who are overweight and/or out of shape, or those who just need to fill a void in life, this book will show you that anything and everything is possible. The success story of Irene, who started CrossFit at 400+ pounds, brought me to tears when she recounted her story on how CrossFit helped save her life.
[Irene] didn’t exactly fit the stereotype of a CrossFit “star.” But although the mainstream media often focuses its attention on elite athletes, CrossFit itself does not play favorites. It caters to the average person who is trying to get healthy and fit as much as it does to the award-winning athlete, and an average person, like Irene, can play as much of a role in the CrossFit community as one of the high-scoring members. If you visit a CrossFit affiliate during the day, don’t expect to see a cadre of Special Forces soldiers working out; you’re more likely to see a group of moms with babies and children in tow.
When Irene first started Crossfit, according to Murphy, she couldn’t touch her toes, pull under a barbell, or complete a box jump. Her belly was too large and her legs “lacked the ability to generate enough power to drive 300+ pounds in the air to land on a box.”
But after 21 months of training, Irene hit her “under 300-pounds” goal:
On the following Tuesday, CrossFit Elysium held a special workout in honor of her achievement. As a reward, Irene treated herself to a visit to Disneyland. “It had been about 15 years since I’d been there. I’d always been worried I wouldn’t fit into any of the rides,” she said.
As if that isn’t awesome enough, let me highlight some of my other favorite parts of the book:
One of the first moments from the book to really capture my attention is in chapter one when Murphy outlines the different paths that lead individuals to finding and trying out CrossFit for the first time. My favorite story is one about Todd Widman, a 25-year-old Marine Corps Officer serving in Virginia, with a history of six years of bodybuilding. Murphy writes:
“A friend encouraged him to bypass his initial skepticism about CrossFit and check out CrossFit.com. That night, he watched the Nasty Girls video. Despite the provocative title, “Nasty Girls” is simply the name of an advanced CrossFit workout. Widman watched as three of the first-generation CrossFitters performed the workout. They were quite a mix: a former ski champion (Eva Twardokens), a former jazzercise teacher and cocktail waitress (Annie Sakamoto), and an artist who was into pottery (Nicole Carroll). Recalls Widman, “I see these little ladies doing power cleans, air squats, and muscle-ups. I wasn’t sure I could do anything they were doing.” […]
Widman decided to try his hand at one called “Elizabeth”–three rounds of cleans with a 135-pound barbell and ring dips. Widman knew what a “clean” was–explosively hoisting a barbell from the ground to the position under his chin where it was racked. […] But then he asked, “What’s a ring?” […] As it turns out, “rings” were gymnastics rings, like those used for an Iron Cross. “Ring dips” were essentially what he knew to be triceps dips, a popular exercise at most commercial gyms, but done with wooden rings that hung from two straps rather than with bars or a triceps machine.
Elizabeth consisted of three rounds. […] 21 cleans and 21 ring dips; […] 15 cleans and 15 ring dips; and the last round would be 9 cleans and 9 ring dips. There was no rest between rounds–it was about how fast he could do the whole program. Comments indicated that people were finishing the workout in 5-10 minutes. Widman reasoned that with his extensive background, supreme dedication, and U.S. Marine-cut mental toughness, 5-10 minutes seemed reasonable. He pushed start on a stopwatch and began his first CrossFit workout.
Fifty-eight minutes later, Widman finished, “prostrate in a puddle of bodily fluids,” he recalls. “It broke my ego. But this type of training was what I’d been looking for my whole life.”
That’s the parts of the book that CrossFitters will cling too. Verification that what they do is TOUGH. Way tougher than even the biggest badasses can comprehend. 58 minutes?! Seriously one of my favorite moments of the book.
As a coach and a trainer, I’m a big advocate of interval training and I love the parts of the book that use both science and results-backed research to prove why training at intense intervals is one of the best ways to train:
Research that began accumulating in the 1990s and after would support the concept of HIIT, “High Intensity Interval Training,” as being a superior form of exercise than slower, longer, aerobic types of training. From HIIT training, you gain more of a fat-burning effect, spur a release of human growth hormone, decrease cellular inflammation, and are able to belt out more performance.”
For me, HIIT just simply works. It’s hard work and it’s tough to do by yourself. That’s why I think CrossFit works so well. When you’re in a group, you can’t slack off as much as when you’re by yourself. Others push you further, coaches yell your name, and you must prove you are worthy! HIIT is fabulous for producing results.
CrossFit is Encouraging, NOT Intimidating.
“A CrossFit gym, a good one anyway, ensures that new gym members are treated the same as the hotshot who can rip through 50 pull-ups at a clap–in fact, that hotshot is often the first to congratulate you when you get your first push-up or pull-up or reach some other breakthough goal. This holds true for the newcomer who is out of shape as well as for the newcomer who has been doing other sports but is discovering CrossFit for the first time.”
Most people who haven’t tried CrossFit are deathly scared of it. They think they have to be in super-great shape to even walk through the doors. They think that they have to be able to do countless pull-ups, and that every person in the room will immediately judge them for even thinking about joining “their gym.” Where do these assumptions come from? These people couldn’t be more wrong.
Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and some of my closest and best friends, are also some of the greatest athletes I’ve ever known. Yeah, people Instagram, Facebook, and Tweet their PRs and stockpile their profile pics with the most badass of moves in their lifting arsenal. But these people are the absolute FIRST to help you when you’re scared and prove that you can conquer your fears. I’ve met a lot of people who are scared of being upside down. It’s our best athletes and coaches who patiently work with class members HOURS after class ends to ensure that a person is no longer scared. And those first ever handstand moments? Those same coaches are proudly hashtagging these pictures all over the web. CrossFit isn’t just sports and exercise; it’s community, family, facing fears, and walking away more confident, accomplished, and proud. Walk through any CrossFit door…I bet you it will feel like “home.”
What are you waiting for? You can DO it!
It should be clear to you by now that you don’t have to be someone already athletic, in your 20s, incredibly flexible, or even 100% healthy to do CrossFit. CrossFit is exercise designed for the individual who walks through the door. CrossFit gives each person optimal results. Many call it cult-ish and religious, secretive, and narcissistic. Come on people, it’s JUST a lot of other people having a sh*t ton of fun while exercising.
“If all you knew about CrossFit was what you found out by watching the CrossFit Games or looking at the WODs posted on the CrossFit website, it would be easy for you to conclude that you didn’t have a chance and that CrossFit wasn’t for you. But those posted WODs are what Greg Glassman calls the ‘pointy end of the spear.’ Scaling is a common solution for many CrossFitters and not just newbies. Maybe you can’t run, or maybe you can’t do pull-ups, the coaches scale down the exercises into what you can do.”
There aren’t a lot of people who walk in the gym every day completing an RX workout. In fact, the rule of thumb at our box is that the weights are programmed for the top 5% of our athletes. When I coach, I might see 2-5 at most “RX’s” on the whiteboard. In fact, most of our athletes aren’t here to compete, they’re just here to get fit! No intimidation necessary–scaled workouts for everyone. It’s a win-win and a lot of fun. I wish more people would give it a try!
But my FAVORITE part of the book? NUTRITION!
“If you’re working out without eating right, you will not get the results. You’ll get half the results.”
Greg Glassman, CrossFit founder, said on nutrition, “Excessive consumption of refined carbohydrate is the real 800-pound gorilla of metabolic derangement that is killing Americans by millions,” referring to the relationship between poor diet and insulin resistance, adult-onset diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It was only natural for CrossFit to apply nutritional principles, since its ultimate aim was to define and generate improved health. But Glassman also spoke about a direct correlation between improved diet and improved performance. He cited a number of reasons for this connection, including the benefits of fat loss and muscle gain.
“A guy drops 20 pounds of blubber and picks up 5 pounds of muscle, there’s a 15 pound differentiation on the scale, he’s got 10 more pull-ups,” Glassman said. He added that a CrossFitter has only “one oar in the water if you’re talking about nutrition or only one oar in the water if you’re talking about movement.” The combination of a high-performance diet and CrossFit training, he noted, can move you into the “jet stream of adaptation.” And adaptation, for Glassman, is what improvement in the athletic performance is all about.
This just makes sense to me. And it’s true! When my diet is clean, fresh, and natural, my energy is greater and my PRs more frequent.
The biggest question on nutrition that I consistently get — But what do I eat?
“It’s the perimeter of the grocery store,” Glassman says, meaning stick to the meat and produce sections, and it will be hard to go wrong. “If it has a food label on it? It’s not food. You don’t see food labels on the chicken, tomatoes, apples, pears, oranges.” This is advice that’s essential “for avoiding heart disease, death, and misery,” as Glassman puts it.
If you eat the wrong things and/or the wrong amounts of things over a significant period of time, you’ll wear out the insulin system, get sick, and open the door for potentially fatal maladies like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
I feel like I shouldn’t have to even say anything more. Good food = good health and good performance. BUT nutrition is my favorite topic, so here’s more from Murphy:
Sears [Dr. Barry Sears, founder of the Zone diet] makes the case for a balanced diet that avoids processed foods. He also suggests that the notion that weight loss is all about calories is flawed. Instead, weight control, overall health, and high-octane athletic performance all relate to the master hormone, insulin, and how the foods you eat trigger insulin production. High-carbohydrate diets–in particular ones fueled by pasta, grains, and packaged foods–tap the insulin response so frequently that we can become insulin-resistant on the cellular level, he says, which is the first step toward obesity and Type 2 adult-onset diabetes. They can also open the floodgate for other chronic diseases.
The following story caught me completely off guard and I love the lesson learned. How many people out there are guilty of “working out to eat what they want”? Don’t get me wrong, I am so guilty of this after a tough competition or a long race. But I know some people who live daily by these words. Good exercise = justification for bad foods…each and every day. Well listen to what happened to Murphy–this is just plain scary:
Hyperinsulinemia [a precurser for Type 2 diabetes] showed up for me in a blood test that was taken before I started working out at CrossFit Elysium. As a distance runner, I didn’t expect to test positive. I later learned that hyperinsulinemia is not uncommon in runners. In a phone discussion, Dr. John Ivy, a leading researcher in sports nutrition at the University of Texas, explained how this happens. Studies have shown, he said, that older runners are able to keep a lurking blood-sugar problem like mine at bay–as long as they keep running. “When the subjects [of the studies] stopped running, within a week they were showing signs of developing diabetes,” Dr. Ivy told me. This was possibly the case for me. I was injured and not running at the time of the blood test, and my diet was probably in the realm of 70 percent carbs, 10 percent protein, and 20 percent fat.
Did you catch that?! 70% carbs and only 10% protein?!?! I always thought that some people were just blessed in the fact that they could run a lot and then go eat whatever they wanted. I assumed they had a genetic gift my parents forgot to pass down. Now I know: there could be a lot of trouble beneath the surface. PROTEIN is your friend! CARBS are the enemy! So speaking of carbs…
[…] SUGAR IS A POISON.
[…]sugar is also the likely dietary cause of several other chronic ailments widely considered to be diseases of Western lifestyles: heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers among them.”
Elysium CrossFit Coach, Leon Chang stated, “The high-carb/low-fat diet all of us have been taught to eat is probably the single biggest killer in the Western world today. It is directly responible for diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and heart disease.” Hospitals are filled with people who tried to follow the USDA food pyramid, he says.”
I don’t think enough people in the world understand just how bad sugar is for the body. It causes diabetes. Makes our children obese. At worst, it makes cancer cells grow more rapidly than any other element put forth in the body. And at the very least, it hinders all your hard work done both in the gym and the kitchen. Avoiding sugar and eating healthy, whole foods is beyond important
Glassman says that, from what he’s seen, the top CrossFit athletes take this calibration with the seriousness of a chemist. “You have to eat (meat and vegetables) and you have to get a scale and a measuring cup and you need accuracy and precision in your consumption or you’ll never get in that jet stream of elite performance,” he says. “You want top fuel performance, you need top fuel. You can’t just piss into the gas tank. No one has ever demonstrated to me by inferior capacity on a diet where they didn’t weigh and measure.”
And then there are days in my life where nothing pisses me off more than seeing an obese child. How dare that parent inflict a lifetime of physical, mental, and emotional abuse upon a poor innocent child?! Unless a child is born with a metabolic disease, or gosh, just any unfortunate illness, the only blame I can see lies solely upon the parent. If I could make laws, obesity in children should be considered child abuse. You are slowly killing your child. Murphy even addresses the importance of good nutrition for children as well:
As has been well documented in many sources in recent years, Type 2 diabetes is increaasing in children. This is a new developent–in the past, Type 2 diabetes was also called “adult-onset diabetes” because it was so rare in children. Today, it is more and more common, with obesity among children being considered a major risk factor. And, to make matters worse, the drugs typically administered for adults with Type 2 diabetes are not always effective for young patients. These children face the very real risk of going blind, having their limbs amputated, and ending up with chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
It’s time to take a closer look at paleolithic eating and the Zone Diet, no just for CrossFitters, but for anyone currently eating a carb-rich, sugar-loaded diet.
The part on nutrition that struck a cord with me, personally:
Sometimes I forget just how important nutrition really is–not just for the outsides of our bodies, but so much for the inside. My Achilles heel is my chronic inflammation in my biceps and shoulders. And often, I don’t just forget that simply eating good food helps resolve the issue, instead, I tend to forget that there are hundreds of foods out there that really promote and increase inflammation in the body. No wonder I suffered the bulk of my shoulder problems over the holidays!
A recent study has demonstrated [that] reducing carbohydrate while simultaneously increasing protein changes gene expression within 24 hours, with anti-inflammatory genes being up-regulated, and suppression of pro-inflammatory genes. The changes are maintained as long as the diet is maintained.
When I stopped eating crap, my shoulders immediately started feeling better. Definitely something worth thinking more about.
And last but not least, and definitely well-said:
You can’t get better without sacrifice. It requires tolerance to discomfort. Getting fit is hard and frustrating.
No one knows this better than someone who has tried, and tried, and TRIED to get fit. Eating right is hard. Exercising is tough. But when you want something bad enough? Need it bad enough? Anything is possible. And “Inside the Box” presents not just great information on health and wellness, but there are personal stories, triumphs, gains, and incredible amounts of wisdom. Nothing has made me so motivated to get back into the box and train harder, better, and smarter. For a quick and easy read, this is one that really made me stop and think, reassess, and get even more excited about pursuing “elite fitness.”
This is how they get you, I realized. It is this march toward personal records, goals, and programs, checking new skills off the list, making new records, seeing gains in strength and endurance, losing pounds of weight or fat. Being able to do a pull-up or being able to “RX” a workout. This is the drug that gets you–and keeps you. –Author, TJ Murphy