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CrossFit, Your Insecurity Is Showing

You do not cross CrossFit. As many in the media have learned, the company behind the fitness craze is not afraid to retaliate—through its enforcers in "informational weaponry," Russell Greene and Russell Berger; its massive social-media following; or, if all else fails, the courts. I knew because I'd read about it and had seen their work on Outside's Facebook wall. But it wasn't real to me. It is now.

Outside has been a focus of CrossFit's wrath since we began reporting on the injured-participant-led backlash in 2013. But I first became Greene's target when I reported on a story about CrossFit's new rival, the NPFL (now known as the NPGL). In the story, NPGL founder Tony Budding said he wanted to create an event that was more spectator-friendly than CrossFit's flagship competition, the CrossFit Games.

Greene took offense to that line. "Tony's statement that the CrossFit Games aren't a spectator-friendly sport is completely false, and deserves critical analysis," Greene wrote. Fair enough. We'd pointed out that "some would argue that the CrossFit Games have been a huge success, selling out tickets, drawing a half-million viewers on ESPN, and winning title sponsorship from Reebok." The story wasn't about taking sides, but about informing readers of the NPGL's existence and what it planned to do.

I suppose I should've remembered that encounter when I applied for a press pass to this year's CrossFit Games. Held annually since 2007, the Games are what makes CrossFit a sport rather than a training regimen. To get to the finals at the StubHub arena in Carson, California, individual CrossFit athletes and teams must make it past open and regional competitions. About 100 men and 100 women face off in a three-day strongman-style competition (think: overhead squats, burpees, and rowing), where CrossFit dubs the winners "Fittest on Earth" and hands them a check for $275,000.

I'd spent the past two-and-a-half years reporting on obstacle racing, a sport whose meteoric growth was greatly fueled by CrossFitters looking for a place to test their strength. I wanted to see what a straight-up CrossFit competition was like. Instead, my press pass was denied.

"Outside Online has published headlines and articles about CrossFit and the CrossFit Games that lead us to question Outside Magazine and Outside Online's editorial intentions," said the email from CrossFit Press, which arrived after we reached out to Greene. The email listed four Outside articles to which CrossFit had taken offense: a report on a Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study that suggested CrossFit has a 16 percent injury rate, a report on the subsequent lawsuit between CrossFit and the journal (published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association), the NPFL story, and another story digging deeper into injury statistics.

No mention was made, however, of the stories we've published trumpeting CrossFit's stars like four-time CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning, pointing readers to the regimen's best boxes, or even promoting CrossFit-inspired training plans. Outside has covered all aspects of the fitness trend since it began.

With that in mind, we asked CrossFit to reevaluate its decision. CrossFit is important to us and to many of our readers. We were eager to cover the games. Again, we were rejected. This time, our email didn't even elicit a response.

Denying our press pass is like the NFL writing, "Dear ESPN, We can't let you cover the Super Bowl, because you covered the traumatic-brain-injury concerns of NFL players." By CrossFit's logic, every major media outlet in the United States should be blackballed, from the New York Times to USA Today, because we've all covered CrossFit injuries. Deadspin must certainly be on CrossFit's s*** list after publishing this gem about the NSCA debacle:

It exposes the fitness company far more effectively than the NSCA study ever did. In the lawsuit, all of CrossFit's neuroses emerge, as does its inner asshole.

The press-pass rejection not only made CrossFit look thin-skinned, it also made it look like the company has something to hide. And barring journalists from something is about the best way to ensure they'll pursue a story. On Thursday evening, I bought a $50 pass to Friday's CrossFit Games and went to see the competition for myself.

StubHub Center, where the event is held, is composed of several venues. There are soccer, tennis, and track stadiums, as well as a tent village where vendors like Badass WOD Wear and nonprofits like Barbells for Boobs hawk their goods.

When spectators walked into the soccer stadium on Friday morning, their eyes lit up. They actually said, "Wow!" The place had been transformed into the world's biggest box, with THE 2014 REEBOK CROSSFIT GAMES printed across end zones and 15 metal trusses cutting the field in half.

I took photos of at least 10 people against that backdrop. They came from all over—Pittsburgh, Florida, Atlanta, Minnesota, Mexico. Most of them seemed to follow a dress code. Booty shorts for the ladies, nylon board shorts for the men, T-shirts repping their respective boxes, and minimalist Reebok CrossFit shoes. The stadium floor was empty, although the Jumbotrons showed a competition taking place: a relay run with competitors tethered together.

Perhaps Greene feared we'd find the games weren’t spectator-friendly. That's because they aren't. Not even to avid CrossFitters. Friday's first two events—the relay run and an erg-jump rope-run combo—were held in the driveway outside the soccer stadium, where few people could tell what was going on.

Some spectators even considered climbing the palm trees lining the road to improve their vantage point over the thousands of others trying to get a glimpse of their friends and favorite athletes. "I'm a huge Rich Froning fan," a 28-year-old CrossFitter from San Diego told me when I asked why he came to the games. "He said this might be his last year as an individual" competitor. It was tough to catch a glimpse of his hero, though, behind two solid rows of standing people.  

"Why didn't they do it in the stadium where people can actually see? I paid $200 to see nothing!" said an athlete from Utah as she stood on an empty Pelican case used to house the camera filming the event. She wasn't mad about it, though; she came for the experience and to support friends who were competing. In that way, she was like everybody else there.

{%{"quote":The rabid attacks on media outlets and researchers suggest that CrossFit is insecure with itself."}%}

{%{"quote":"The rabid attacks on media outlets and researchers suggest that CrossFit is insecure with itself."}%}

The CrossFit Games are like a religious gathering cum high-school track meet, where everyone in the stands (or on the street) is either a zealot or knows a competitor. "This is like a Mecca for CrossFitters," a Canadian CrossFitter told me.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with being at a religious gathering/high-school track meet. In fact, that's what makes the CrossFit Games—and CrossFit itself—special. It brings people of diverse backgrounds together to celebrate health and fitness. I met three generations of people at the games who might as well have been wearing kettlebell halos; they were the nicest sports spectators I've ever encountered, happy to talk about the event and the people close to them who were competing. Just like my mom at my high-school swim meets.

CrossFit should embrace its special community. The rabid attacks on media outlets and researchers suggest that CrossFit is insecure with itself. New competition like the NPGL should energize CrossFit rather than scare the organization into harassing reporters who introduce its rivals. As for that NSCA lawsuit, CrossFit should take a page out of its own book and relearn the art of the spin.

Back in 2005, CrossFit founder Greg Glassman knew how to handle a press that questioned his methods. Just before Christmas, the New York Times published an article about CrossFit's propensity to induce injuries, including rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition that can lead to kidney damage. Glassman’s response: Embrace the danger.

CrossFit had already rolled out a mascot named Uncle Rhabdo, a clown "whose kidneys have spilled onto the floor presumably due to rhabdomyolysis," the Times reported. Glassman also wrote an article titled "CrossFit-Induced Rhabdo," in which he "soberly explained the circumstances of the six CrossFit-related cases he knew about, outlined ways affiliates could lower the likelihood of injury, and announced he would add a rhabdomyolysis discussion to his weekend seminars and to the website," Inc. reported. PR crisis met head-on. Crisis averted.

Sometime over the past nine years, CrossFit, the sport of strength, got weak.

The tiniest amount of criticism sets its enforcers off on a rampage, and it's affecting CrossFit's most devout adherents. You've got a great thing going, CrossFit, with amazing people in your ranks. Bring back the old CrossFit that faced controversy with honesty and humor. Even better: Heed one of your own favorite sayings and HTFU.

Outside's CrossFit Coverage (The Good and Bad)

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How Dangerous is Heat Stroke?

On average, nearly 700 people die each year from extreme heat. It's the most serious threat to your outdoor summer workout, but there are ways to reduce the danger—if you're careful.

Heat stroke hits when your body's thermoregulatory system gets overwhelmed and fails in extreme temperatures. When this happens, it doesn't matter if you're running or walking: you're taking on heat faster than your body can release it.

"When you exercise in heat, there's a little competition happening inside your body," says Doug Casa, chief operating officer of the University of Connecticut's Korey Stringer Institute, named for the Viking football player who died in a 2001 team practice from heat stroke. Your muscles, heart, and skin each desperately want to maximize blood flow, and in extreme heat, they're forced to vie against one another for a finite amount of fluid. Muscles want to maintain performance, while the heart simultaneously strives to maintain ideal stroke volume without overworking itself.

Problems arise when the skin asks for more than its usual share, as it does when you exercise in heat. Your body only has four self-cooling methods: conduction, convection, radiation, and evaporation. "In 50-degree weather, the skin doesn't need much blood flow, and the muscles and heart can be happy," Casa says.

But when air temperatures range above your skin temperature—about 93 degrees—you instead absorb heat by the first three processes, and you're left only with sweat evaporation. Often that does the trick, but it taxes the body's limited fluid supply, particularly if you're dehydrated (for every one percent body mass lost from dehydration, your temperature rises about a degree).

In humid areas like the Southeast, the saturated air negates the water-vapor pressure gradient needed to evaporate your sweat, which means you're out of cooling options.

"Something's going to have to give," warns Casa. "Either you're going to lower your intensity, or you're going to have to somehow keep the sweat rate high." But that has its limits. Your body can handle the critical threshold temperature of 105.5 for around 30 minutes before cell damage ensues and internal organs begin to fail.

You might notice the onset of headache, dizziness, nausea, or excessive fatigue, but often there's no warning. "I had a heat stroke when I was 16, running the race of my life, and I felt nothing until my face planted on the track," Casa says.

Like edema victims on Everest, the only cure is retreat: back off the intensity and cool down with shade or a cold drink. Better yet, keep heat stroke at bay by hydrating, shedding layers, and relegating outdoor workouts to the cooler mornings or evenings. It's important, too, to acclimatize yourself to exercising in the heat with a slow transition over seven to ten days.

Even then, you'll never run a half marathon in 90 degrees as well as you will in 60, Casa cautions. "People still need to realize that they have to back off, and you can't have the same assumptions of how you're going to perform."

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Victory V's Don't Always Mean Victory

For years, we’ve been discussing the media’s role in distorting female body image. Dozens of studies and campaigns have fingered Photoshopped images in women’s emotional, mental, and physical health issues. Well boys, it seems your time has come. The pressure to look good, bulk up, and build a "six-pack," the supposed stamp of ideal male form, is gnawing away at your happiness, too, and prompting Reddit-topping threads and five-figure play-count videos. The question is: What are you gonna do about it?

Let’s back up a sec to look at just how bad the body image crisis is. A 2012 survey of 394 British men found that more than "half of men questioned (58.6 percent) said that body talk affects them personally, mostly in a negative way," with "beer belly" and "six pack" being two of the most popular terms men use to describe each other’s appearance. Even more disturbingly, more than 35 percent of men surveyed "would sacrifice a year of life to achieve their ideal body weight or shape."

Well get ready to add that year back to your life, men, because "there really isn’t an ideal," says John Haubenstricker, a Research Associate in the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh. He’s also a dietitian, coach, and bodybuilding competitor. "Is there an ideal fruit or an ideal car? No. We need to change our terminology. What we should focus on more is: what is the healthy weight people should be at?"

There’s no magic formula for healthy weight. Body Mass Index, often used to help determine healthy weight ranges in the general population, might not be as applicable to athletes who often carry more muscle mass than the average person.

"A good description of healthy weight," Haubenstricker says, "is where you have the lowest risk for death and illness, and where it’s maintainable within your lifestyle." That means you’re not overweight, which can set you up for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, among other things. And that means you’re not underweight either.

{%{"quote":""What we should focus on more is: what is the healthy weight people should be at?""}%}

The images you see in the media of men with six-pack abs and "victory-v’s," Haubenstricker says, are often shot when those guys are at their absolute leanest. "Maintaining that level of leanness [around four to five percent bodyfat] isn’t typically recommended for very long," Haubenstricker says. "You’re not getting enough energy to do all of the things you want to do and improve" your fitness. "You’re also increasing your risk of injury."

As Scientific American explains, "fat is crucial for normal physiology—it helps support the skin and keep it lubricated, cushions feet, sheaths neurons, stores vitamins, and is a building block of hormones."

In other words, that "ideal" you constantly see splashed across magazine covers is bullshit. It’s an ephemeral state of being even for the people in the photos.

It’s going to take a long time for society to stop shoving that muscled-up ideal down men’s throats. As Eva Wiseman wrote in the Guardian:

The media is a construction—this is no secret. Magazines, film, TV, newspapers—they all rely on advertising. So reminding ourselves that the body types we see represented are the body types that generate purchases. Asking ourselves: "Am I being sold something here?"

The answer is almost always yes. Diet pills. Diet programs. Workout DVDs. Ab rollers. You name it. All of those things generate billions of dollars in sales by making men feel inadequate. If you believed you looked perfectly great as you are, you wouldn’t need any of those things—why fix what isn’t broken?

"Our culture has to change to be more tolerant" of different body types, Haubenstricker says. His suggestion? Start changing your terminology and perspective by checking out resources from EatRight.org and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

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8 Summer Yoga Essentials

There’s 420-friendly yoga. There’s co-ed naked yoga. There’s yoga California Chrome could love. There’s even yoga that includes a beer chaser. No matter which you choose, you’re likely to need some gear to practice.

We looked high and low for the latest and greatest in yoga mats, bags, and outerwear (for you prudes who don’t go au naturel). Here are our findings:

Lululemon Metal Vent Tech Tee ($64)

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Similar to the now sold-out Assert Tech Short Sleeve Tee we raved about in a recent review of Lululemon products, the Metal Vent Tech Short Sleeve is one of our favorite T-shirts by virtue of the cut alone, which is athletic while not being skin-tight. Put simply, it's damn flattering. And that goes for body types ranging from Cat 2 to Clydesdale. Thanks to anti-stink technology that inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria, the only funk that flows from you will be from your earbuds.

Manduka LiveOn Mat ($58)

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New to yoga? Released on June 4, the LiveOn is the perfect first mat because it’s lightweight, and at 5mm, it’s relatively thick (your knees will thank you for this in poses like cat/cow and dolphin). Plus, that joint-saving foam is 100 percent reclaimable and recyclable. Looking for something a bit thinner? A 3mm version is slated to go on sale this September.

The North Face Be Calm Tank for Women ($38)

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More affordable than most, this staple from The North Face is a poly-blend built from recycled fabric that wicks. And it’s cut long enough to reach the top of even the lowest of low-riding yoga pants.

yogitoes We Are One Collection Skidless Yoga Towel ($64)

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Whether you’re down with hot yoga or you just sweat a lot, this skidless yoga towel will save you from a saturated and, therefore, slippery mat. Silicon nubs help with grippiness, which you’ll appreciate in trikonasana and warrior poses when you're squeezing your inner thigh muscles and pushing down on your feet.

Much more absorbent than regular towels, it also dries quickly in the sun. Pro tip: the little nibs go face down. Keeping them face-up is the yoga version of wearing a bike helmet backward.

Yoga Sak ($50)

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Minimalist and multi-modal? Check out Yoga Sak. The fourth generation of this bag stows your mat vertically and is complete with a retractable pouch to make sure heavier mats (like the Manduka PRO) don’t slide out the bottom. 

And for hot-yoga-inclined people, the company also offers a wet bag ($10) for any sweat-drenched clothes. One drawback? The cell phone pocket is too small for an iPhone 5, Nexus 5, or Galaxy S4, an issue the company says will be addressed in the fifth generation of this bag, which is slated for release in early 2015.

Prana Sutra Pant ($70)

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Although most running and climbing shorts translate well to yoga, the Sutra is our favorite full-length pant. Available in three lengths (30”, 32”, 34”), they’re built from a blend of hemp, polyester, and lycra. With an inseam gusset, front pockets, drawstring waist, and relaxed fit, the Sutra is the Levi’s 501 of yoga—a classic.

Manduka GO Free Backpack ($120)

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Pedaling to yoga is the best. You get a warm-up and another excuse to ride your bike. But carrying a mat can be tricky: if you put it into a traditional backpack, it’ll hit the back of your helmet, testing even the most enlightened yogi’s equanimity.

Save your sanity with the GO Free that secures your mat with quick-release buckles and is big enough to haul a laptop (in a padded sleeve), a few bike locks, and change of clothes. There are also internal pockets for pens, tools, and a pad of paper, plus several large external pockets.

Lululemon For The People Short ($68)

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Although you can practice yoga wearing an old Radiohead T-shirt, shorts are different. Go with a pair without four-way stretch and you’ll be able to blame your clothing for keeping you out of half-pigeon. Go too baggy, on the other hand, and you’ll show too much when you’re upside down.

The tapered For The People were designed for yoga and are sweat-wicking, breathable, and knee-length. Plus, the breathable fabric feels good on your skin.

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Smaller Runners Have the Advantage at Badwater

Until December 2013, California’s 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon, which started in Death Valley and ended at the Mount Whitney Portal, was considered the ultimate endurance test in an extreme heat environment.

That’s when a temporary moratorium was placed on all sporting events in Death Valley. Obviously, the announcement threw a wrench in this summer’s 37th edition of Badwater, scheduled to take place July 21 through 23. But you can’t just axe the world’s toughest footrace, so race organizers revised the route, which now incorporates more than 17,000 feet of elevation gain between Lone Pine and Whitney Portal. Although temperatures might not reach 125 degrees, the 97 brave souls who toe the line will likely still be treated to triple-digit temps.

And although some runners will incorporate special clothing and aid-station ice baths into ther races, other runners will have a more natural advantage: their body size.

While running in hot weather, an athlete’s primary goal—besides winning—should be to maintain a constant core temperature by balancing heat production and heat loss. Exercise itself creates internal heat. In fact, 80 percent of energy produced by exercising skeletal muscle becomes heat (the other 20 percent generates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to power the muscle. Extremely hot environments can also cause athletes to take in heat, just as cold environments cause us to lose heat.  

Runners also battle heat externally via hot weather and humidity, both of which make running more difficult. Hot temperatures cause heat to transfer from the environment to the body, while humidity makes evaporative heat loss more difficult. In comfortable environments, to get rid of excess heat, blood is shunted to the skin, where warmed blood can lose heat through evaporation (sweating) or convection (if skin temperature is greater than the environmental temperature). Both evaporation and convection depend on the skin's surface area—the larger surface area, the better the heat loss.  

So, bigger runners should be better at cooling off, right?

Wrong.

Surface area and body mass (that is, muscle mass) are not at a one-to-one relationship—for every unit of body mass you increase, you don't get an equivalent relative increase in surface area. Smaller runners actually have more surface area relative to body mass, which gives them greater heat-loss ability for their relative mass.

According to a study in the European Journal of Physiology, this “distinct thermal advantage” corresponds with speed. Because lighter runners produce and store less heat than heavier runners at the same pace, they can run faster or farther. This difference was most striking in hot, humid conditions (95 degrees, greater than 60 percent humidity) and essentially absent in cool conditions (59 degrees).

Indeed, in 2004, exercise physiologist Tim Noakes published a related study in the Journal of Applied Physiology finding that African runners ran faster in the heat than their Caucasian peers. “Larger Caucasians reduce their running speed to ensure an optimal rate of heat storage without developing dangerous hyperthermia [heatstroke],” the study reports. “According to this model, the superior running performance in the heat of these African runners can be partly attributed to their smaller size and hence their capacity to run faster in the heat while storing heat at the same rate as heavier Caucasian runners.” 

In this study, the heavier Caucasian runners (169 pounds) ran approximately 10 percent slower during 30 minutes of exercise in hot conditions (95 degrees, 60 percent humidity) compared to the lighter Africans (131 pounds). The difference is dramatic when considering both groups ran the same time in the exercise test conducted in cool conditions (59 degrees).  

In other words, a slower but smaller runner has a substantially better shot at beating a faster but larger runner if the temperature is high enough.

Although many other factors can help regulate core temperature (clothing, heat adaptation, genetics, age, etc.), the bottom line is that the smaller you are, the better you should be able to handle the heat. So although the Badwater 135 might not reach 130 degrees this year, the soaring temps should be sufficient to give an advantage to the slight of frame.

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