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Function Training Tips

The exercise you aren’t doing… but should.

July 24, 2016

If you look at any common strength or fitness program, it is probably composed of back squats, power cleans, pull-ups, military presses and snatches. Maybe it will have some lunges and bench pressing. The one exercise that is repeatedly missing from most programs, whether it is for high-level competitors or individuals just looking to function better for daily living, is an awkward to perform barbell lift, most likely leading to its absence. Which exercise am I talking about?

The bent-over row.

When it comes to the compound lifts that make up most competitive exercise programs, one looks to include ground-based exercises that focus on weight and/or speed. While the bent-over row is certainly not a speed-lift, it can definitely be loaded for strength gains. Furthermore, there are a variety of other benefits from performing the bent-over row.

Targets undertrained muscles and joint actions

The only other lift in CrossFit that targets a “horizontal rowing” (horizontal abduction) action is the butterfly pull-up. While fast, the butterfly pull-up does not truly target the same actions and muscle fibers – namely the rhomboids. When strong fibers like the rhomboids go untrained, it leads to imbalances and potential injury (see below).

Strong rhomboids = strong front rack & strong back rack

The rhomboids are integral to providing a strong shelf for the bar during a heavy back squat, but also help maintain an upright torso during the front squat. It is often a weakness in the rhomboids leading to a torso collapse that causes individuals to fail on the font squat. Having strong rhomboids will help you increase your front squats and Olympic receives (see easy bent-over row program at the end of this article).

Improve posture by “reciprocal inhibition”

90% of the time, individuals that have a rounded thoracic spine are not suffering from a “mobility” issue of the vertebrate – e.g. rolling your upper back out on 2 lacrosse balls will not help. Instead, these individuals suffer from tight anterior muscles – namely the pecs. Joints will not move unless a muscle contracts, in the case of the upper back, constantly tight pecs will pull the shoulders forward, leading to a slouched posture.

Performing the bent-over will engage the rhomboids, which in-turn will utilize a principle called “reciprocal inhibition.” Reciprocal inhibition is when the central nervous system relaxes the antagonist or opposite muscle group. In the case of the rhomboids, the opposite muscle group are the pecs. Therefore, performing the bent over through full ROM (range of motion) is going to be more effective at improving thoracic spine (upper back) mobility than rolling on a lacrosse ball.

How to implement a bent-over row program:

The bent-over row is a great compliment to the Olympic lifts, presses or front squats. After your normal strength program for the aforementioned exercises, perform 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps of the bent-over row once or twice a week – make sure not to cheat and jerk the weight up with your torso.

If you are more focused on general fitness, you can perform the bent-over row with dumbbells or a barbell before your conditioning using a similar set and rep scheme as above.

Feel Function Lifestyle

Pre-Workout Nutrition: What To Eat Before Your Workout

September 30, 2015

What should I eat before a big CrossFit competition? What can I do to optimize my performance, whether it be a 5K Race, WOD, or a 3-hour bike ride? These are the questions I’ll try and answer for you in this post.

What you eat before competition can make or break your performance. The longer the workout, the greater the impact pre-workout nutrition will have on a positive finish. With shorter events like 5K races and competitive fitness events, improper meal timing and composition can have a greatly deleterious effect, whereas on events upwards of two hours, proper meal structure is essential for success. So in order to function properly, what should I eat for each event?

Scenario 1: 5K Race

With a 5K race, the biggest mistake is overdoing the carb-load. Carb-loading will really only benefit races pushing 1 to 2 hours (ideally your 5K is not lasting that long). The reason why carb-loading won’t be important for your 5K is because the race will be over long before muscle glycogen levels are significantly impacted. The best thing you can do is eat a complex carbohydrate based meal that is low on fiber and fat about 90-120 minutes before the race. High fiber and high fat meals require more blood flow, slow digestion and increase GI energy demands, which would all take crucial nutrients away from the working muscles.

For a 5K race, try eating some applesauce mixed with a paleo friendly protein powder and a banana. Wash it down with plenty of water to increase digestion speed. Furthermore, adding caffeine pre-race aids most runners, so add coffee to the meal or caffeine pills (as tolerated). As the race nears, sip a sports drink and water to maintain hydration levels, but avoid gulping down an entire bottle of the sugary beverage, as this will cause hypoglycemia (blood sugar crash) and pre-race fatigue.

Scenario 2: Competitive Exercise Event – Traditional ‘WOD’

Similar to a 5K, the impact of a single meal on an individual workout is more likely to be negative than positive. Shorter workouts (under 5 minutes) are generally best completed on an empty stomach; so having a similar, complex carbohydrate based meal 2-3 hours out is ideal. Long workouts up to 20 minutes can be treated exactly the same as a 5K.

Of the variety of supplements out there, on a single event, caffeine is one of the few supplements outside of illegal stimulants and blood doping that can increase performance by delaying fatigue.

Over the course of a day-long competition, it is important to eat primarily carbohydrates, as all WODs are fueled primarily by muscle glycogen (sugar). Sticking to unprocessed carbohydrates like starches (sweet potato, banana) and fruits is generally the best tolerated. Protein intake will be roughly 5-10% total intake, and fat will be minimal as well.

Scenario 3: Longer Event – 2 hours or more

Longer events are where pre-workout fueling can have a much more positive and direct impact on performance. Research generally supports an 80% carbohydrate meal containing about 150g or more of carbohydrates 3-5 hours ahead of time. Within 30-60 minutes of the race, a steady drip of water, caffeine and sports drink is recommended by many professionals.


What ever the scenario, overthinking or overdoing your pre-workout nutrition is probably the worst thing you can do. When in doubt, just listen to your body and consume what ever sounds good at the time (within reason!)

Any questions or comments? Post below!

Function Lifestyle

Men and Whey Protein

September 17, 2015
Men and Whey Protein

When research was first published on resistance training, protein supplementation, and how to increase muscle-mass one thing quickly became obvious: protein is a vital nutrient for men looking to build muscle mass. Since muscle cells are made up of amino acids, it was an easy connection. However, this notion was quickly blown out of proportion when most iron pumping males decided that if a little extra protein was necessary, you might as well eat the whole cow.

At the end of the day, you can eat all the protein in your local butcher shop, but if your muscles are not prepared for the influx, it will all go to waste.

Yes, protein is essential to build lean mass, but most gym going males already get enough protein. Therefore, the question is NOT how do I get more protein, the important thing to ask is:

How do I get the most out of my whey protein?

To understand how to effectively use whey protein, you need to understand a little bit about muscle physiology – what happens to your muscles before, during, and after working out. When you start working out, your body immediately starts to use energy found in the muscles in the form of glycogen. Furthermore, exercise is a stress on the body, thus producing cortisol (a catabolic stress hormone). As your workout continues, especially if you are lifting some heavy weights, cortisol production continues, muscle inflammation occurs, and energy stores start to dip. This catabolic environment continues after your workout finishes – when you see catabolic, think of muscles as machines being used and broken down. Growth and repair cannot occur in a catabolic state.

If our muscles are machines, we need to find ways to help accomplish the task and then repair them for the next workout. The answer to this was, as alluded to earlier, formerly believed just a question about increased daily protein intake. However, to most effectively use your protein, the timing and combinations of protein as well as carbohydrates is even more important.

How should I prepare for my workout?

To prepare and sustain power output, consuming about 5-6 grams of protein and 20-26g of carbohydrates per 12 fl oz of fluid is ideal. Quick digesting whey protein combined with sports drink is the solution here. Consuming this “muscle fuel” pre- and during-workout will aid in preserving muscle protein, increasing protein synthesis and extend endurance / power output. Furthermore, this drink will minimize cortisol release and reduce inflammation by up to 50%.

Will protein work just as well on its own? Absolutely not. Including carbohydrates with protein maintains blood glucose levels which helps suppress cortisol. Without the carbs, cortisol production will remain elevated and power output / endurance will not improve. Including carbs with the whey protein is the key to not only improving the productivity of your session, but also on how to effectively use that whey.

Should I use whey protein after my workout?

Cortisol production and other catabolic hormones will remain elevated in the muscles following exercise if nutrients are not shuttled into the muscles. The 45 minutes post-workout are, nutritionally speaking, the most important part of your day as an athlete. Furthermore, protein alone will not convert the body into an anabolic state. Due to the muscle cells being highly insulin sensitive following a lifting session, consuming 60g of carbs post-workout will convert the body from a catabolic state to an anabolic one – a state of recovery and growth.

How important is consuming this carbohydrate / whey protein drink within 45 minutes? When studied, individuals that consumed their post-workout drink 3 hours after training finished actually had net protein loss. Muscles cannot grow like this.

Furthermore, in this post-workout window, stimulating insulin to help refuel muscles and cause growth is concern #1. Combining carbohydrates with protein in a 3:1 ratio (60g CHO / 20g Protein ideal) was 500% better at raising insulin than protein alone. Remember, insulin levels need to increase so that the muscles will become anabolic. This is when growth and repair happen! Don’t waste the whey, combining whey with carbohydrates and consuming it prior to and immediately post-workout is the only truly efficient way to help recover, cause muscle growth and eliminate muscle waste, thus reducing inflammation and soreness.

Summary: To get the most out of your whey protein supplement, 10 minutes prior to working out, consume 5-6 grams of protein dissolved in a sport drink containing 20-26g of dextrose / maltodextrin based carbohydrates to help prepare muscles to work harder and longer as well as improve recovery. Of greater importance, consume carbohydrates and whey protein in a 3:1 ratio within 45 minutes of finishing your workout. If you do not follow these tips, you’ll just be wasting a large jug of whey protein.

Feel Form Function Lifestyle

You are the Independent Variable

August 31, 2015

Every journey has its fair share of challenges. We just chose to embrace a certain type of attitude. The Never Give Up, Back Down, or Stay Down, type of attitude; the Never Too Early, Never Too Late, type of attitude; the Sun Ain’t Rising Before Me, type of attitude.

You know the feeling.

The challenges in the gym, the boardroom, the office politics, the bad break up—those are the constants.

The outcome is 100% attitude.

You are the independent variable, YOU are (X).

Feel Function News

The Cardio Lifestyle

April 6, 2015
Cardio Lifestyle

Many different factors contribute to increasing mortality risk in a single individual. Genetics are extremely important, but lifestyle can play a much bigger role when it comes to eliminating risk of mortality. On one end, certain behaviors like alcohol and tobacco abuse can accelerate mortality, behaviors like consuming real food, managing stress and cardiovascular exercise can effectively reduce mortality risk. For many people, the difficulty is in finding moderation between extending life and eliminating pleasure.

Most people associate exercise with a healthy lifestyle. While the two are often intimately in twined, sometimes the particular benefits get lost in the fad of exercise. One benefit of exercise, cardio respiratory fitness (CRF), has long been associated with quality of life (QOL), but new research based on the testing of 69,858 individuals aged between 18 to 96 years found that higher CRF is also associated with decreased mortality risks, especially when it was combined with healthy behaviors.

The new research, out of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, found that individuals with a high risk factor score (calculated by measuring age, sex, HDL cholesterol and cholesterol levels, race, systolic blood pressure, smoking, blood pressure medication use and diabetes) and low levels of CRF had a “34% increase in future relative risk for death compared to people who had the lowest risk score and the highest fitness level,” (Steven Keteyian). Furthermore, it was found that, even with individuals that had a high risk factor score (less healthful traits / symptoms), high levels of CRF would reduce the risk of mortality.

While most people seem to understand that having a healthier heart is a good way to live longer with high QOL, understanding what improves CRF is becoming fuddled. Weightlifting and endurance training have drastically different impacts on the heart’s natural physiology. While current training trends blend cardio with lifting, making it difficult to decode what the cardiac future will be for certain exercise enthusiasts, the traditional approach to training finds that a certain extent of endurance style training would be required to obtain the optimal benefits found in the study.

However, the main conclusion here is that exercise can greatly reduce your risk of mortality. While focusing on cardio based training like bike / rowing intervals will arguably have the greatest effect, simply being active and moving about will benefit most individuals if properly applied. So if in doubt, get up and jump.

 Risk Factor Calculator:

Function Lifestyle News

The 7th fittest woman wants to see a cage fight at the CrossFit Games!

March 5, 2015
Lauren Brooks Formulx

She’s the seventh fittest woman in the world. While in the midst of the 2015 CrossFit Games Open she decided to attend the CrossFit Football Specialty Certification.  Scan her Instagram page and you’ll find someone devoted to living a balanced life that inspires her 62.8K followers. Meet Lauren Brooks. Her chiseled muscles speak for themselves- yet we found someone who is not only formidably strong, but also graceful, funny, and extremely charming.

Continue Reading

Function Training Tips

Optimize your workout routine with multidirectional movements

February 12, 2015
Box Jump

Get up from your chair. Walk over to something a few yards away and walk back. How many directions did you just move in? You stood up, probably rotated a little bit. Walked forward and then turned around, maybe side-stepped an obstacle. Then you sat back down. Now think back to the last time you were in the gym. Chances are you squatted a little bit, pressed a little bit, maybe did some pull-ups. Maybe you ran forwards. Backwards perhaps or by miracle side to side lunges?

If our daily activities consist of multi directional movements, why do our sessions in the gym strictly involve basic movement patterns?

Adding in a variety of movement planes to your training will help you become a better athlete and functioning human being.

Here are 3 simple ways to improve your strength, stability and fix imbalances by performing functional friendly movements in different ways:

1) Forward Forward is common in workout routines. Lunges, box jumps and running are the common movements that you might do in a workout. Since moving forward is something that you probably already do, we can combine forward with rotational movements to make them tougher and allow stability and ROM improvements. For example, try lunging forward while rotating a medicine ball from your front leg hip to the other hip in an arc pattern as you step forward with elbows locked out. If a medicine ball is too easy, you can always try holding a 25lbs. plate or an olympic barbell. I’ve seen someone do these while holding a 135lbs. barbell with their arms locked. That’s beefcake functional!

2) Backward is common and uncommon in workout routines. Jumping the feet back on a burpee can be considered backward motion but is not that difficult. Reverse lunges while holding a barbell overhead is pretty tough to do but extremely beneficial if done correctly at improving stability through your hips, torso and shoulders. You can also combine them like above, doing backward lunges with rotation.

3) Side to Side Side to side is easy to accomplish as well and do not feel that you have to do these with light weight. Lateral front squats are a great way to get stronger both on the front squat movement and in the frontal plane. Next time you try front squatting, instead of getting into your stance and then performing the movement, start with a narrow stance, take a slight step to the side with your left foot and immediately descend into a perfect looking front squat. As you come up, bring your right foot with you and end up with your feet narrow, about 18 inches to the left of where you just started. Do 3-6 reps to the left, then 3-6 reps to the right. Make sure each squat looks perfect and do not let your knees cave in.

Above I listed 3 simple movements that you can easily add in to a warm-up, strength portion or workout routine the next time you go into the gym. These movements will help target some new planes of motion that you might not be used to (frontal and transverse plane). However, we do not have to be limited to straight lines forward, backward, side to side, up and down. Stay tuned for movements that fall in-between these definitions as well as videos describing these movements.