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Building a high-performance machine


Building a high-performance machine

Somewhere out there, someone’s wearing a CrossFit T-shirt that says “We don’t use machines; we make them.” Looking past the bravado and swagger (arguably as much a part of CrossFit as squats and pull-ups), this is actually an integral part of the CrossFit experience—turning your own body into a high-performance machine, as the title says.

If you’re not as lean as you’d like to be then there’s good news. Believe it or not, your body WANTS to burn off that spare tire. Really! All you have to do is provide the right environment…and the right fuel. If you do what we in CrossFit all yell at you to do—eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar—your body’s GI tract will adapt to the demands, usually within 30 days. Enzyme production shifts away from breaking down and utilizing carbohydrate, insulin sensitivity goes up, systemic inflammation goes down (meaning aches and pains fade away and your cancer/CVD risk decreases), and your body gets really good at using fat for energy. Excess stored fat melts away and—thanks to the wonderful inefficiency of storing protein and low-glycemic carbohydrates as fat—it doesn’t come back unless you eat a whole bunch of STWKY* over a prolonged time period. Your body also isn’t particularly great at turning dietary fat into stored fat since there are several appetite-shutoff mechanisms triggered by dietary fat, but it’s really damn good at storing starch and sugar for which you can thank your endocrine system. So look at it this way: A Lamborghini goes 0 to 60 mph in under 4 seconds and requires premium high-octane gas, whereas an old VW beetle can run on used vegetable oil but it’d take five minutes with the wind at its back to hit 60. Anyone sick of seeing such a VW in the mirror had better start by upgrading what they put in the tank.

Here’s what you want to hear: You can eat whenever you want AND whatever you want and still have a sexy body. BUT. You can’t eat whatever you want whenever you want. Confused yet? Have patience, for all will be made clear. Eat whenever and as much as you want…as long as it’s meat, eggs, & vegetables. These foods are nutrient-dense, filling, delicious, and easy to digest; they’re your best friends since they want you to be lean, healthy, and strong. Fruits, nuts, and seeds are okay as occasional snacks, but keep quantities small. I have a lovely little phrase summarizing my views on diet: “If there ain’t any meat in it, why’re you eatin’ it?”

Now pick one day a week as a scheduled binge day and eat anything and everything in sight. You can mitigate the damage by exercising sporadically throughout your binge—I’ll usually do 20-to-30-rep sets of air squats, push-ups, lunges, pull-ups, and/or sit-ups throughout the day—so nutrients get diverted to your muscles instead of the cooler hiding your 6-pack. [Credit where credit is due: Tim Ferriss wrote a detailed chapter about this in The 4-Hour Body. While he and I aren’t quite in lockstep agreement about everything, there’s a lot of useful stuff in this book and it’s definitely worth reading. I recommend it to anyone with the critical thinking skills to evaluate what they are told.] Keep “cheat” meals (an episode of shitty eating that was previously unplanned) to an absolute minimum. It won’t be hard; once you’ve successfully “gotten off the crack,” eating STWKY will feel like pouring sand in the gas tank. This is a good thing. You don’t want your body to be okay with running on crap.

And now for the role of physical training in your metaphorical mechanical makeover. Useful, functional training (read: CrossFit or any of its constituent disciplines) is nothing more than utilizing your body the way the manufacturer—nature, courtesy of a few million years of evolution—designed it. This is why people who do such training move more efficiently than people who don’t. The aesthetic result is a consequence of your body adapting to the demands placed upon it, driven primarily by hormonal responses to these stimuli. When you do a 5-rep-max set of deadlifts, your brain—since it had to work so damn hard to get that weight up—releases hormones like HGH, IGF-1, and testosterone to alter every muscle involved so that the next time you pick up that much weight it won’t feel as heavy (meaning you can lift more weight). In the case of a deadlift or back squat, pretty much every muscle in the body is used in some capacity and the largest muscles move big loads through a long range of motion. This all adds up to a profound effect on the body; usually you can tell just from a glance if someone does their squats and deadlifts. (Bigger shoulders, rounder butt, more attractive in general from the neck down—CrossFit is great at uncovering pretty people. Can’t fix ugly though.)

So we have already established that proper nutrition is the foundation here and provides the necessary fuel for the restructuring process. Strength training increases the size of the engine, and metabolic conditioning gives you a bigger gas tank and better fuel economy. The only thing you’re stuck with is the chassis—your complexion and skeletal framework, assuming you don’t throw money at that with surgery. All other things held constant, I’d rather have a ride with the heart and soul of a Lambo than the old VW rolling crap box.

You only get one body; may as well pimp it out. (That…didn’t come out right.)

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