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CrossFit Brain Project: Wrap-Up

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Our mission to curate “best practices” and talk to CrossFit gyms about their programs isn’t over.

Though we’re lowering the CrossFit Brain flag, we’ll continue under our original brand, IgniteGym. Our passion to help is stronger than ever, and our vision is clearer than ever. Our relationship with CrossFit, Inc. is intact; our commitment to our clients near and far is our priority.

We’ve seen rampant local growth in the past eighteen months, and it’s limited our time available for outreach. Focusing on one brand will allow us to reach more gyms, teachers and therapists. And hiring more NMCs locally will allow us to pull back from day-to-day delivery and share programming, content and bright spots.

Thanks to CrossFit, Inc. for their generosity over the last 11 months, and thanks to gyms for their continued attention. We’ll move everything over to www.IgniteGym.com by Monday, and this site will revert back to the ether.
Chris and Ty

FREE Concussion Seminar

By | Events | No Comments
Myles’s head shot came during the first game last season. He didn’t lose consciousness, but left the game feeling dizzy and threw up in the parking lot.
Though he reported feeling “a bit better” the next day, he was tested at ConcussionPro and his scores showed a big problem: lack of focus, loss of memory and dizziness when his heart rate increased. His concussion was more serious than originally believed.
It took Myles over a month to return to play, but he did so with the support of his parents, doctor and coach. After several retests at ConcussionPro, his doc cleared him to play with zero symptoms. Most importantly, his potential for long-term brain damage was minimized.
Concussion stories are everywhere, but usually focus on adults. But most of the truly traumatic stories don’t come from one single blow to the head. The depression, anxiety and long-term brain damage you see in the media is usually the result of several concussions. And most suffered their first as children.
The best helmet in the world won’t prevent a concussion. But parents and coaches can minimize the long-term risk with baseline testing, proper identification and knowledge of long-term risks. On May 9, we’ll show you how to do it all. It’s a free course for parents and sports coaches.
Attendees will learn:
  • The importance of baseline testing–what is it, and how to do it
  • How to recognize a concussion
  • How to TREAT a concussion
  • How and when to return to play.
Attendees will be given a downloadable copy of our Concussion Tracking Log FREE with attendance.
We educate local parents and coaches through annual seminars. We test kids through our ConcussionPro program BEFORE they suffer a concussion. And now we’re going even further: our latest Exercise and Enrichment Podcast is all about concussion, its effects and management.
Sport is good for kids, but carries risks. The most common injuries aren’t broken arms or jammed fingers: they’re the invisible (but far more serious) hits to the head. Let’s keep YOUR kid from bruising their melon.
Read more about concussions in The CrossFit Journal here.

Purposeful Practice

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

No, this isn’t the same post I put on our Affiliate’s blog.

Many Affiliates write their own WODs; we usually follow the main site. Many coaches prefer longer-term progression, with planned periods of strength bias or endurance focus, written right into the WOD.  We believe in an open road with lots of off-ramps and on-ramps.

Our CrossFit groups, by and large, follow the main site.  We do other groups – Barbell Bettys, Frat Barbell, Enduro, the Nutri-Ninjas – with different focuses, but all using a CrossFit model.  In each of those other groups, folks can emphasize something specific, but always with the intent to return to the ‘main’ group.

The point of such digression is to provide purposeful practice. General fitness can be greatly enhanced through the short-term specialization of one trait at a time, we think.

The important part here is to be clearly delivering workouts with purpose beyond killing people. As the ‘boot camp’ rave dies a well-earned death, the notion of kettlebell murder is going to lose its vogue. We need to be ready with science.

Does every participant in your 6am CrossFit group know the training value of 1-1-1-1-1-1? Can the guy who finished last in your noon group tell his friends why he was doing ring dips, and why it was worth those burns on his upper arms?  Does the first-time visitor to your site, curiously checking the workout “just to see what this is all about….” understand WHY a 21-15-9 has metabolic value?

You don’t have to write the same paragraph every time. You don’t need to quote studies. All you need is a paragraph:

“We do max lifts because we want our progress to be measurable.  Our Central Nervous System needs to learn to be more efficient, and recruit more force in less time.”

“Today’s an aerobic emphasis. We don’t do this often. We believe that low-level “cardio” is boring, unnecessary, and high-risk for your joints.  But we like to measure our progress.  And we like going fast.”

“This may look like an ordinary circuit; it’s not. There’s no chime to change stations, nowhere to jog on the spot, and no hand towels.  We’re trying to use the Valsalva manoeuvre repetitively to artificially raise your heart rate, creating a metabolic hole big enough to kill off the dinosaurs.”

We’re going for it. If it spurs discussion in the ‘responses’ section, even better.

Praise Effort, Not Skill

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In Bradenton, Florida, Nick Bollettieri coaches tennis. In his 80s, Bollettieri has been coaching at the Academy that bears his name since the 1970s.  Most of the top players in the world have passed through his doors.  This is a tidy little essay he published a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal about his coaching.  It’s a great read.

As Mathew Syed wrote in Bounce, Bollettieri Academy appears a lot like any other first-tier Tennis school: rows and rows of courts; pros in white, sporting the Bollettieri logo; dozens of young athletes working on their two-handed backhand. The difference isn’t obvious until you look at the faces: grim, determined. Sweaty. Jaw muscles flexed, they’re clearly focused on doing better, and working hard to get there.  This is NOT the case at other Tennis centres.

Does Bollettieri somehow sift out the hardest workers? Is he so tough that the top contenders self-select?

No. Bollettieri does a lot of the things common to great coaches: he keeps messages simple. “Move to the left earlier,” he’ll say. He only tries to correct one thing at a time. And one other thing:

He praises effort, NOT talent.  “Good. You’re working hard.” “That’s okay,” he says, when a student hits a forehand long. “It’s not the outcome, it’s how you respond to the challenges.”  And kids DO respond: they work harder for Bollettieri than anyone else.

This is the main theory behind Carol Dweck’s Praise Experiments. Essentially, kids react positively to praise…at first. Long-term, though, it can hamstring them.

Dweck’s experiments showed that kids who were showered with praise were less likely to challenge themselves in the future (risking self-esteem,) less likely to progress much past their comfort level, and less likely to achieve a high level of accomplishment AT ALL. Praise a kid for finishing a test so quickly? They’ll learn to avoid things that they can’t win. Praise a kid’s amazing box jump skills? They’re LESS likely to try higher boxes next time.  After all, we all like being praised…why risk it?  Here’s a much more in-depth look at the subject, written by a teacher in Alberta.

The key is not to forgo praise, but to praise the RIGHT thing. And the RIGHT thing, says Bollettieri, possibly the most successful Tennis coach in the world, is EFFORT.

EFFORT is a constant. You’re either trying hard, or not. Trying hard leads to purposeful practice.  Conscientious effort is the delivery service for champions.  Encourage hard work. Acknowledge talent, but don’t make it the frame for your praise.

How Fast Can We Learn?

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In the physical sciences, “power” is the measure of work performed over time.

But our brains aren’t always working hard, and they’re rarely resting. We can’t measure the amount of work performed in our brain at any given time…but we can measure its capacity at a given point in time. We can also measure processing speed at a given point in time.

And we can improve BOTH.

Your capacity for recalling facts and data, and making connections, vastly exceeds our typical use. Just ask Nelson Dellis, who won the USA Memory Championship again last weekend. This time, Dellis recalled 215 first and last names correctly after a 15-minute memorization period. That’s a demonstration of both work (capacity) and time (recall.)

The questions we ask about brain capacity, intelligence and memory are changing. Barely three decades ago, top neuroscientists believed in a “fixed” intelligence: that your genetic makeup placed a ceiling on your learning potential. We now know this to be false.

In fact, we’re now asking, “How fast can you learn something?” and “How much of your education can you retain?” Our research is now focused on optimization and strategy instead of proving the concept.

Popular media is beginning to broach the same subject. Tim Ferriss’ experiments in “lifestyle design” are interesting not because he holds the best answer, but because he’s asking the question in a friendly way. He’s telling a good story and passing the question along to his viewers.

CrossFit coaches are excellent at deconstructing movement; what if it was in their best interest to speed up the learning process? What if there was an incentive to teach a client how to squat…before tomorrow? How would you approach the problem?

Financially, there’s no incentive to impart physical lessons quickly, because we all want long-term clients. And our education system is set up the same way: a new student is a guaranteed client of the school system for at least 14 years. But our economic system is at odds with our educational model: there’s very little reward for attendance after high school. Rather, the great financial success goes to the innovator who can conceptualize, formalize and deliver quickly. Are we training our students to learn slowly?

Training to optimize capacity and processing speed is the best preparation for the real world. Current schoolchildren won’t be required to bank on many of the skills they’re being taught in the classroom, but they WILL be required to learn new things rapidly. They’ll need to learn how to learn. Who will teach them?

Thought problem: if you wanted to learn something quickly, what strategy would you employ? Use Spanish or guitar as an example.

The Power Hour at CrossFit Candor

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by Jamie Cormier


A few months ago, we implemented a weekly “Power Hour” to help special needs children locally. One of our members, Vera Spinks, has a daughter named Kylie who has Cerebral Palsy. We were inspired by others in the CrossFit Community thriving despite physical restrictions. So, in hopes of improving Kylie’s quality of life, among other things, we started doing CrossFit with her once a week.



Because we all felt so empowered after those 60 minutes, we named this time “Power Hour”.  Once we got the hang of it, we began to add more children to Power Hour. Every two weeks, a member of our box becomes a coach to a new child for Power Hour. We work hard towards their goals using CrossFit movements modified to their current abilities. Many of these children would love to walk one day, but could not stand with heavy support on their first night. Kylie, who is very close to standing with no support, could not support her weight our first time together. With the help of some University of Alabama wheelchair basketball players who understand her plight, she’s on the cusp of walking, holding the back of a basketball wheelchair as she goes. Her goal is in sight.



Bradley, Cooper, Hank, and Hayden are the current boys of our group. While they differ in ages and current abilities, each brings his own strengths to Power Hour. Seven year-old Bradley has amazing core strength and his feet, though they are the size of an NBA superstar, are walking in a walker, ready to run. Four year-old Cooper is the life of the party. His spirit and laughter is contagious, and with Power Hour he is now standing from a seated position and walking for the first time! Fifteen-year-old Hank walked the length of our 40+ foot rig, his longest unassisted walk ever. He does burpees for reps that will blow your mind with their intensity, and he works harder than any athlete in our box. Hayden has this natural strength you feel and see the first time you meet him. His body is ready to walk, and his compliant, work-hard spirit is bringing him there.



We are so inspired by these Power Hour Athletes. Whatever small amount of help we are giving them, we are paid in joy and inspiration. We have the CrossFit Candor Community to thank. This is at no cost to the families, and no coach receives payment for their services. Yet, every week you’ll find University of Alabama students, parents with children, singles and couples choosing to spend their evenings at Power Hour. With the help of med balls, barbells, rings and Rogue bars for support, we are paving the way together towards independence and strength.   Isn’t this what CrossFit is truly about? Stronger, faster, more able to live a functional life and loving on each other as we work. We have no prior experience and are simply learning as we go. I believe that any CrossFit Box could implement their own Power Hour with amazing success. Please feel free to contact us for any help if you’d like to set up a Power Hour of your own!


Have a story to share about a cognitive program at your gym? Send it to chris@crossfitbrain.com.

Today’s BrainWOD: 123014

By | Public Speaking | No Comments

“Polar Bear”

In two lines facing one another, athletes form temporary “partnerships” before rotating to the next.

First partnership: 3 minutes to complete 30 med ball thrusters total; then 1 minute to answer, “What do we have in common?”

Partners in the first line rotate to the right and form new partnerships with the second line.

Second partnership: 3 minutes to complete 30 burpees total; then 1 minute to answer, “What do we have in common?”

Partners in the first line rotate to the right and form new partnerships with the second line.

Continue until each person in line 1 has finished a partnership with each person in line 2.

The goal is to have kids learn to form quick relationships through ice-breaking questions (hence the name, “Polar Bear.”) This is a necessary skill for collaboration in life.

The game will look like Speed Dating with exercise. That’s natural.

The ADD Advantage

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“Coop, get me the f*@&^! out of the education system!” was how it started, four years ago.

We’d been researching ways to help kids with autism and ADHD since our very first day in business in 2005.  Now that it was coming to a head with our IgniteGym program, we were suffering from a severe case of “hurry up and wait.”

Tyler is an amazing teacher. But he was bound by the rigorous confines of the educational system.  Instead of teaching CrossFit and Paleo and Primal, he was forced to gag up the dry dust of the old Food Pyramid and Cardio. He’s been reading and studying the effects of exercise on the brain for years.  He knows all kinds of neat stuff about BDNF, IGF-1, and other exercise-induced chemicals; he can bring a hyperactive kid around in under four minutes with his centering techniques.

Faced with an incredible opportunity to include Ignite as part of a young man’s therapy – and thereby open the world of insurance-funded CrossFit – we also faced a big obstacle: put together a compelling case, based on science, for the program. By Monday, 3pm.

All weekend, we wrote until 11pm; I’d send a draft, get up at 4am, and revise.  The ebook we finally handed to the claims manager is on the Ignite site.  But in the middle of it all, while cross-checking references, I took the ADD short-form test.  At midnight.

I ‘failed’ the test.  I’ve long suspected that I’m a little ADHD – I love starting things, but not finishing; I’m usually juggling a dozen things in my head at once; my workday is incredibly long, but I rarely finish everything. This site lists several other frequent things I do in a normal day.

“ADD people are high-energy and incredibly good brainstormers. They will often happily work 12 to 15 hours by choice. The business community should not fear ADD. Instead, they should see that they have a potential gold mine here.” 
– Dr. Kathleen Nadeau, a psychologist who is ADD herself (from an ABC News Report)

People with ADD are excellent at seeing a situation from all sides, says Dr. John Ratey. Emergency-room doctors, nurses, entrepreneurs….the ability to approach an obstacle from ten different ways is of enormous value.  Likewise, the ability to imagine oneself in the shoes of others – to empathize – has helped me keep clients for years (getting close to 7 years for more than one.)

Is my truck untidy? Heck, yeah. Can I tell you the phone number of a client from five years ago? Yes. Do I send emails, and then think of another detail, and send a second one…a few seconds apart? All the time. Could I handle this business without ADD? I don’t think so. While prioritization gives me anxiety, and procrastination usually costs me extra energy, I’m able to generate ideas rapidly. I can ‘see’ shapes while I’m listening to music, and that helps me appreciate it more. I can switch rapidly between creative and academic tasks, like math. I can incorporate successful ideas from other industries into ours.  And I can write for 5 blogs in the same hour.

Instead of ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ I’d love to see the education system appreciate the gifts bestowed by ADHD. Frankly, in a business environment that’s just suffering the effects of the Atomic Wedgie that is facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs, we’re going to need more scramblers.

By the way, the above was originally written in 2011. IgniteGym now enjoys a worldwide following, and CrossFit Brain will help us deliver these lessons to 11,000 gyms who can make a real difference in education, thanks to Greg Glassman’s vision.