The Disappearing Open Gym Drop-in

As boxes get larger and busier efficiency dictates that the coaches focus more on standardizing the WODs and have less time for individual programming. While this is relatively easy to address in your local box – working post-WOD on a few skills – but when traveling extensively it becomes quite hard.

Years ago I could just drop in a box for a WOD in a city like New York and hang around for a few sets of whatever goat I was working on (HSPU, pistols or some lifts at the time). This week I tried this with several NYC boxes and they simply could not accommodate this Open Gym-time any more due to their immense traffic. And I do not blame them. With class sizes reaching 20+ and sessions in peak times running in parallel, it is hard enough to pay attention to the proper form of your athletes.

The irony of it all became that after an outstanding WOD at CFNYC I walked over to a nearby globo gym to finish my prescribed Catalyst skill training for the day. In the process I found a great service called FitDayPass that allows -wait for it – drop-ins at dozens of traditional gyms in Manhattan.

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Three Great Dropins in Asia

We all know why dropins are good. They are a way to do WODs while away from our home box and they keep us away from hotel gyms that, well, do not have pullup bars, kettlebells and wallballs. Or if they actually have barbells, you can’t drop them.

But what makes dropins great? Recently I was reminded of why I really love visiting boxes on my travels: very different structure and programming than what I’m used to.

On a recent trip to Asia I was hosted by 3 very different gyms. Let me highlight one thing from each that was amazing:

  • Middle Kingdom Fitness, in Beijing, China where the owner, Tim has more focus on WOD-specific mobility than anyone I’ve ever seen (short of K-Star). We didn’t just do the same bear-crawls, inchworms and dislocates as always. He meticulously designed targeted extensions, contractions for the specific muscles in the workout. I learned so much there. And to boot, this is the only box I’ve seen with an aerialist training as an option.
  • CrossFit Bangkok – has the most breathtaking setup. The box is an open air gym on top of a building overlooking Bangkok. You get to do your pullups, muscleups and wallballs while enjoying the great view. What was great here is their Sunday in the Park routine, going for an outdoor WOD and nice run on a 2-mile loop around a lake.
  • CrossFit Fire City, Sam Lim’s great box in Singapore has one of the toughest programming out there. In one hour in a typical day they managed to fit in a heavy deadlift session paired with EMOM snatches, a full metcon with pullups and box jumps and a short benchmark like Fran. A rare gem.

What I learned from years of dropins is the following:
– look for experienced coaches with great teams and preferably more than CF experience
– seek out different programming than what you’re used to (boxing, strongman, etc)
– get out your comfort zone – your usual friends are not around, so try new things

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Tabata Ski – Downhill CrossFit Style

Most people seek fun and relaxation in an alpine vacation instead of a workout and that is maybe where it should be. However, unleashing some crossfitters on a mountain will inevitably turn the environment into some high intensity WOD. From an intensity perspective, a typical downhill run resembles a neighborhood jog especially with the speed limits set by ski patrol. Downhill simply becomes a fun but slow long distance endurance run. Heart rate rarely creeps up above 50-60% and even that may be more due to lack of oxygen and not effort. Competitive skiers and riders know this of course and their training is of a much higher intensity than vacation warriors like us. But there is hope.

One great way to get into HIIT territory is through more intense terrain. Tabata moguls may be the toughest workout you can get on a mountain. 8-12 rounds of 20 seconds moguls with a 10 second rest. Repeat a few times every hour. The same could be accomplished in a forest run, though the trees and cliffs may dictate a different work/rest pattern than prescribed.

Despite the burn we all feel in our legs after a day in the snow, there is surprisingly small portion of the total day is spent actually working out. If we take out the queues, lift rides, traverses and lunch breaks maybe 30% of the time is actually skiing. Most of it is like jogging. Let’s get some tabata intensity back into this vacation sport.

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High Altitude Life

In my running days high altitude training was always touted as a great way to increase endurance and stamina. Yet in the last few years I have never even thought about it until last week when I visited Tibet with another CrossFitter. Tibet’s capital Lhasa is at 3650m (12,000 ft) altitude and that quickly taught us that we were not as tough as we had thought. While we brought training gear and jump ropes for the weekend trip all those things stayed in the bag. After jogging up stairs for a few hundred meters we were in our post-Fran WOD position gasping for air. The kids on the street were running around and the pilgrims were marching in all directions without any visible sign of exhaustion. Even though we both had a lot of experience training in Colorado and Utah, those extra 1000 meters in altitude in Tibet seemed to have taken all the oxygen out of the air…

This taught me an important lesson. When Coach Glassman talks about learning new sports, high altitude workouts should be squarely on that list.

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Level 1 Cert – Paleo Style

Late August Mark Sisson announced a fully accredited certification program for Primal/Paleo lifestyle. Since I have been living my version of paleo for a few years now I decided to take the plunge and learn as much as I can about the science behind the theory.

After having read most paleo and low-carb books by the likes of Gary Taubes, Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf and Jeff Volek I did not expect to find new areas of discovery.

The cert had a great way to distill the thousands of research references Mark used in his endless blog posts and several books. The science in the online training got really deep, the test questions were quite technical but the study was well worth it. As a great companion to all my Crossfit certs – some of Mark’s teachings on better eating, performance fueling and life management ought to be great addition to the CF certs.

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