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Fitness Theory and Practice. CrossFit's rationale & foundations. Who is fit? What is fitness?

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Old 03-17-2008, 12:18 AM   #1
Marc Doucette
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Mental Fitness

Over the past four months I have been absorbing and putting into practice the crossfit ideas of fitness and health. I've cleaned my diet and exercise habits and have seen great results.

I'm a 21 year old Stanford student in the midst of reorganizing my life and crossfit has fallen naturally into my development. However while reading over some threads and articles in the fitness section I realized a major component of fitness is rarely discussed; mental fitness. In the what is fitness pdf there is a chart measuring fitness on a scale from sickness, to wellness, to fitness, encompassing things like body fat, muscle mass, flexibility, cholesterol etc.. It occurred to me that your mental sharpness plays a huge role in developing these things and is not separate from them.

It is fairly widely known that exercise and good nutrition help improve your mental health / happiness etc.. And no doubt using your willpower to maintain a good diet and continue working at the gym helps strengthen that willpower and resolve, but I think the community sees the development of your mental capacity and resolve as just another good side effect, rather than something we should actively be working on along with our diet and exercise.

This relationship between mental and physical fitness is mutual, as stress can raise cortisol levels and a lack of motivation, nervousness or uncertainty can prevent you from physically preforming at high levels, or even preforming at all. There is a reason why placebos work: the mere thought of something can have a physical impact on your body. So shouldn't training our minds be just as important a focus as training our bodies? I feel there is no difference, and that perhaps crossfit is missing part of the picture here.

I understand crossfit by no means has attempted to set out to tackle this wide of a range of issues, but I am beginning to think a comprehensive description of fitness training must include this aspect of life. In many ways these forums already discuss mental fitness, but rarely if ever directly.

There are many directions this discussion could go... some early topics I have been researching are:
-the benefits of daily breathing meditation.. (ex. 15 minutes or so every morning of mental focus on breathing)
-the benefits of diversifying study. (This is picking a subject to study on a short term basis, maybe one week and learning new information and ways of thinking beyond what you were aware of before. Beyond the obvious benefit of being more knowledgeable, research indicates that changing the type of mental activity you do is one of the only ways to continue growing new brain cells as you age. Doing the crossword puzzle over and over again everyday is inferior to switching around to random subjects that you know little or nothing about. There must be some way to systematically implement this type of learning / discovery in one's life.)
-Tantric / other meditation (I'm talking about the monks etc. that can go so far as to control their heart rate, raise their internal body temperature while sitting still, channel heat into their palms etc.. Things like this suggest that a much higher 'mental fitness', 'mental ability', or 'mental/physical connection' is possible.)

I don't wish for this to descend into some sort of religious or overly cultural discussion, so be careful where you tread... but I was wondering:

What are some of your thoughts on what might be developed in the field of mental fitness?
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Old 03-17-2008, 01:02 AM   #2
Andrew H. Meador
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Re: Mental Fitness

Welcome to CF! First thing, if you haven't done CF programming for long, you won't quite understand what I mean, but you'll definitely be mentally tougher by following the WOD. Mental toughness is reps 20-30 of Grace, the 9-9 of Fran, the overhead squat PR, getting your first muscle-up or planche, and learning how to string double-unders together. Mental toughness is seeing the WOD is filled with your 3 weakest exercises and doing it anyway - not just because you don't want to wuss out but because you really want to improve your weaknesses.

There's something to be said for branching out intellectually or meditating, or doing the other things you mention, but stick with CF for long and you'll see that addressed too. The Glassmans take a libertarian conservative and pro-military approach to their almost-daily main page political article links, and there is robust discussion on the comments page both pro and con. CF also espouses certain dietary ideas such as the zone and paleo diets and intermittent fasting. Good luck Marc, and have fun with it.
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Old 03-17-2008, 03:09 AM   #3
Michael Halbfish
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Re: Mental Fitness

I'm really curious as to how you implement the random study. The subject of this thread is of tremendous interest to me.
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Old 03-17-2008, 05:10 AM   #4
Alex J. Perez
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Re: Mental Fitness

Going through these workouts, at full capacity, pushing yourself to the limits where your life is on the line has some spiritual strengthening to it. Staying with the pain, looking at it and laughing. Coming out the other end and saying "I made it....what else can I do?" Why do we continue to train at such high intensity? We begin to enjoy it and want to push the envelope and raise the bar some more, and then more, and then a lot more. Like Tyler pouring lye on our hands. It's only after distaster can we be resurrected.

One time I was on a Bench Press blindfolded and my friend was spotting me, after about 14 I was struggling, on my 16th I couldnt get the bar up, "Hold on ill be right back" he says. I was struggling and struggling and finally pushed that bar back onto rack, I was furious. I took the blindfold off and saw he was right there the whole time with his fingers barely under the bar. The fact that I thought I was alone pushed me into making sure that didnt come crashing down on me.

Mental has everything to do with physical.
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Old 03-17-2008, 05:16 AM   #5
Jake Dent
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Re: Mental Fitness

Some great point. There is now quite a bit of talk of "mental elasticity" basically there are many proponents of learning new things to make you brain work in different ways. Like crossfit for the mind I guess. Anything new will do, take up chess, a photography class, sudoku- anything outside of your "comfort zone".
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Old 03-17-2008, 05:24 AM   #6
Alex J. Perez
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Re: Mental Fitness

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Originally Posted by Jake Dent View Post
Some great point. There is now quite a bit of talk of "mental elasticity" basically there are many proponents of learning new things to make you brain work in different ways. Like crossfit for the mind I guess. Anything new will do, take up chess, a photography class, sudoku- anything outside of your "comfort zone".
I like that term "mental elasticity".

Inside your comfort zone you are...comfortable. "Mental Jewelry, keeps you happy and warm inside..."-LIVE-Mirror Song.
To achieve anything you must come out of it. Similarly in CF, how can you get better at your weakness by just working on your strengths?

It makes you think, is there a limit to how much we can learn? And if so, whats the threshold? I dont think there is such a limit. The world is your oyster. Suck that b*tch down with a champagne chaser. You can never learn too much.
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Last edited by Alex J. Perez : 03-17-2008 at 05:34 AM.
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Old 03-17-2008, 05:48 AM   #7
Jake Dent
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Re: Mental Fitness

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Originally Posted by Alex J. Perez View Post
I like that term "mental elasticity".

Inside your comfort zone you are...comfortable. "Mental Jewelry, keeps you happy and warm inside..."-LIVE-Mirror Song.
To achieve anything you must come out of it. Similarly in CF, how can you get better at your weakness by just working on your strengths?

It makes you think, is there a limit to how much we can learn? And if so, whats the threshold? I dont think there is such a limit. The world is your oyster. Suck that b*tch down with a champagne chaser. You can never learn too much.
Exactly!
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Old 03-17-2008, 12:53 PM   #8
Marc Doucette
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Re: Mental Fitness

Guess I shoulda looked for this sorta thing before hand. But this article was written some time ago and touches on some of the mental benefit of specific workouts as you guys have mentioned.

I'm really looking for additional ways to expand this development beyond the WoD.

Also, I can do a sub 5 minute fran, did a muscle up on rings the first day I ever tried and can chain at least 50 double unders. This during my first 8 weeks of crossfit. I have extensive training in pushing myself from experience playing water polo at stanford...

One thing I have noticed is that my mental state during a particular workout directly effects my failure capacity. For instance I've been unsure about shoulder pressing 165... but pushed it real hard and almost make it... but failed and figured I'd reached my max, seeing as I was truly pushing everything when that bar was overhead.

Then I had sort of an epiphany of thoughtlessness. Walked over, grabbed the bar, and put it overhead. Training your mind to consistantly fall into or be in this kind of mental state is what I'm searching for, as it is not something that can be done, in my experience, on demand. I can take a deep breath, focus and go after it, but rarely do I have moments where everything is simply clicking in a sort of effortlessness.
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Old 03-17-2008, 01:09 PM   #9
Jake Oleander
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Re: Mental Fitness

the body is nothing without the mind and the mind is worthless without the body. this is nothing new. i recently came across a pretty interesting video on youtube about this very topic, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JZAtBTf1QQ wfs, watch all 5 if you like this video.

also the idea of studying new and interesting topics continually is very potent advice. too often we get caught up in some unpractical nuances...
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Old 03-17-2008, 02:06 PM   #10
Skylar Cook
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Re: Mental Fitness

Only thing I have to say about toughness is... you ain't **** if you don't sleep.


I won't say how much I've been slaughtering my body by wasting time on the computer at night...

(But yes, I've found that CF is more a change of perspective than anything else: you bull through workouts you once would have thought impossible, learn gravity-defying skills...)
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