How CrossFit Saved My Life – By Coach Wayne

On a cool November day in the frozen tundra that is Iowa, my life changed forever. Why, you ask? Because one of my best friends, Devin Hall, brought me to my first…[wait for it] CrossFit class. Hello, Beautiful People! My name is Wayne Glass. I use He / Him / His pronouns and we are here today to chat about gender expression, mental health, and how these are interwoven within my CrossFit journey!

As we move through our time together, additional items to keep in mind are that 1) I identify as a relatively effeminate Queer man, 2) My mental health has ebbed-and-flowed for roughly 15 years, and 3) I struggled with an eating disorder for 10 years.

Now that we have established additional context, I think it is important we name some ‘Ground Rules.’ How ‘Student Affairs’ of me [hah]. Our first ‘Ground Rule’ is… to talk about CrossFit… Our second ‘Ground Rule’ is [you guessed it] to talk about CrossFit. Thus, unlike Fight Club, my ultimate goal is to name CrossFit as many times as I can. Kidding. But it will be used as a centerpiece.

So…you might be thinking to yourself, “What is CrossFit?” Oh my gosh, I thought you would never ask! CrossFit is a high-intensity fitness program incorporating elements from several sports (e.g., Gymnastics and Olympic Lifting) and varying types of exercises (e.g., Burpees, Kettlebell Swings, and Barbell work). Therefore, each workout, besides those that are ‘Benchmarked’ is different and challenging in its own right.

CrossFit-ers come into each class, go through a warm-up, an explanation of movements involved in the workout, and the complete the workout together (AKA, struggle). The key emphasis here is the word ‘together’… in community.

Something that I have come to learn over the years is that my strongest relationships have been established through collective struggle. Togetherness in moments of hardship where we have, quite literally, banded together to make it through. This very much applies to my CrossFit journey and the impact it has had on the way I move and groove through the community as an effeminate, gay man, as well as how much of a staple it has become for my mental health.

Prior to discovering CrossFit, I was in the second-to-last-lap of my Master’s program and was absolutely crumbling. These feelings came out of nowhere. My mental health was deteriorating, I was not finding fulfillment in school or work, and my partner at the time was only able to do so much. Everything, for a lack of better words, sucked and I was giving up.

This was at the same time that CrossFit came into my life. I suppose everything happens for a reason. Do not get me wrong, I also navigated 12 weeks of counseling and met with a Dietician to assist with managing a relapse I was having with an eating disorder.

My commitment to CrossFit is something that I would have NEVER imagined. How can an effeminate gay boy ever workout or connect with a predominantly hyper-masculine group of athletes? I still think about this even after doing CrossFit for 2-½ years.

I have found that I slowly “tested the waters” on how flamboyant or “over-the-top” I could be when I first started doing CrossFit. I initially came into the community more reserved in order to feel things out. Imagine Wayne. Reserved. Hah! However, as I became more comfortable with what I was doing and the people I was interacting with, I found that CrossFit is not, from my lens, a community that needs to subscribe to one “ideal” gender-expression.

Since moving to a Queer-affirming city, I feel as if I can unapologetically be myself; more so than before. I now have coaches and fellow CrossFit-ers that openly identify as Queer. Thus, affirming that Queer-identified CrossFit athletes DO exist.

All of this to be said, I have learned so much myself as a person; my mental capacity when it comes to pushing through tough moments in life (represented in a tough workout).

I have learned about how resilient I have become in moments of trials and tribulations (represented in not being able to do a movement the first or 50th time I try).

I have found a sense of purpose with a group of individuals who share same or similar lived-experiences as myself; particular in aspects of physical interests and navigating issues with body image and mental wellness,

I have learned that my body is a machine capable of doing so many things that are necessary (and…sometimes unnecessary) to navigate daily life. Things that require adequate and appropriate nutrition and calorie consumption. Things empower and support body positivity. Things that have by-and-large silenced my Eating Disorder’s voice.

I have learned that in order for me to be an effective an effective son, brother, friend; an effective student affairs professional; an effective athlete; an effective human being in society, I need to spend less mental energy focusing on what society ‘THINKs’ I should be and more mental energy focusing on what I ‘THINK’ I should be.

So…How has CrossFit saved my life? That sounds pretty drastic, right? CrossFit has empowered me to GENUINELY love me for me. CrossFit has encouraged me to use my body the way that it was meant to be used: As a strengthened tool to navigate the uncertainties of life.

CrossFit has encouraged me to gain 20 pounds of muscle in order to pick up heavy things (and put them down). A feat I would have NEVER imagined would give me so much personal fulfillment and physical relief.

As an over-the-top, flamboyant Queer man, with a chosen family in the LGBTQ+ Community, CrossFit has given me ANOTHER chosen family when my biological one could not or would not physically, emotionally, or spiritually be there for me.

On a cool November day in the frozen tundra that is Iowa, my CrossFit journey began. A journey met with frustrations, hardships, and moments of celebration. A journey filled with friendships, community, and calluses. A journey with a beginning but no middle or end. A journey that ‘Saved My Life.’

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Wayne Glass, M.Ed.

He / Him / His Pronouns
CrossFit Sabertooth Coach

How Isometrics can Promote Tendon Health and Performance

By Coach Sam Elsner

Let’s start off with what an isometric contraction and tendon is. An isometric contraction is when the tension within the muscle equals the amount of force an external load imposes upon it. In layman’s terms, there is no lengthening or shortening of the muscle. An example of an isometric contraction is clenching your fist as hard as you can and holding it for a certain amount of time. A tendon is a tough band of white fibrous connective tissue that connects a muscle to a bone. This band of connective tissue is made up of collagen, which is also found in ligaments, skin, nails and hair. One thing to note about tendons, there is a compliant end (towards the muscle) and a stiff end (towards the bone). A tendon can be trained to be more compliant of stiffer. The graph below shows how compliant a healthy tendon is and how stiff a tendon is after 5 weeks of being immobilized. 

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Tendon stiffness is important for athletes, having stiff tendons are great for elite performance because a stiffer tendon allows for better force application. If a tendon’s stiffness exceeds the isometric strength of the muscle, the movement must change, or the muscle is forced to undergo potentially lengthening, which can lead to muscle pulls or tears. Tendons act as a shock absorber because a tendon must lengthen so the muscles can contract isometrically. 

Tendons adapt differently to external loads compared to muscles. Tendons adapt best to duration (time) rather than reps and weight. the collagen fibers within the tendon. The sliding of collagen fibers breaks the crosslinks that each fiber has with one another which then decreases the stiffness of the tendon and improves its health. When a tendon is loaded rapidly, then the collagen fibers move together as a sheet which increases the crosslinks between collagen fibers. The more crosslinks, the stiffer the tendon becomes. The ideal range of time that a tendon adapts best is 5-10 minutes. If a tendon is loaded longer than 10 minutes, it will not adapt. For a tendon to be ready to adapt again, 6 hours of rest must happen.

There are two types of isometric contractions that can improve the health and performance of tendons and those types are: yielding and overcoming isometrics. Yielding isometrics are basically holding a position while being loaded or unloaded. These are usually called as Long-Duration Isometrics because this type can be held for longer durations. These are ideal for improving the health of tendons. Overcoming isometrics are the intent to overcome an external force. An example of this is by pushing against an immovable object like a wall or pins on a rack. This type improves the performance of a tendon because an athlete can exert much more force in a quicker period. Both types of isometrics can improve the strength of the muscle at any joint angle, so if you are weak at the bottom of a squat, them do a wall sit for 5-10 minutes everyday or push up against pins at the bottom of the squat. 

Isometrics also can reduce tendon pain in those that are experiencing tendinitis (inflammation of the tendon) or tendinopathy (tendon pain and dysfunction). In a study conducted by Dr. Ebonie Rio and her colleagues, athletes that performed an isometric single-leg decline squat reduced their pain from 7/10 on a pain scale to a 0.17/10 and that reduction of pain was sustained for 45 minutes. 

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There are a few nutritional methods that can improve the health of tendons. Consuming 500 mg of Vitamin C before each training session can increases the synthetization and secretion of procollagen which is a precursor to collagen. Also, ingesting 15 grams of gelatin helps improve the collagen fibers within tendons because gelatin includes the amino acids glycine, lysine, proline, hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline, which are the amino acids collagen is made of. The more collagen that can be synthesized within the tendon, the healthier the tendon will be. The recipe below is made by Dr. Keith Baar, who is a professor at University of California-Davis who specializes in tendon physiology. 

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Recommendations for improving tendon health and performance are:

  • Perform 1-3 sessions that include yielding isometrics that last 5-10 minutes each exercise within the session. Allow 6 hours of rest in-between sessions.  
  • 30-60 minutes before training, consume 15 grams of gelatin and 500 mg of Vitamin C
  • Incorporate overcoming isometrics into training sessions. 3-5 sets of 5-10 second duration reps to improve the performance of tendons. 

 

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Coach Sam Elsner

CrossFit Sabertooth

Resources:

Baar, K. (2017). Minimizing Injury and Maximizing Return to Play: Lessons from Engineered Ligaments. Sports Medicine47(S1), 5–11. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0719-x

Rio, E., Kidgell, D., Purdam, C., Gaida, J., Moseley, G. L., Pearce, A. J., & Cook, J. (2015). Isometric exercise induces analgesia and reduces inhibition in patellar tendinopathy. British Journal of Sports Medicine49(19), 1277–1283. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2014-094386

Close, G. L., Sale, C., Baar, K., & Bermon, S. (2019). Nutrition for the Prevention and Treatment of Injuries in Track and Field Athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism29(2), 189–197. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0290

Dietz, C., & Peterson, B. (2012). Triphasic training: a systematic approach to elite speed and explosive strength performance. Hudson, WI: Bye Dietz Sport Enterprise.