As a CrossFit trainer, I sometimes feel like I’m not allowed to use, much less espouse, alternative forms of physical training or diet. But since I’ve been caught so many times doing very un-CrossFit-like things, and a lot of people ask me what my training program is, or what my diet is, I thought I’d come clean.
First off, I want to say that I honestly do think CrossFit is the best fitness program out there for the vast majority of people who are either out of shape, industrial athletes, or just want a general fitness program. I am none of those things, however. I have specific athletic goals which tend more towards attaining impressive-looking skills and emulating great martial artists of the past (ahem…ninja…cough). It has helped me develop an extremely high level of general fitness which I was then able to take and focus in other directions I am more interested in developing. The foundation of my training program was CrossFit, and so I have nothing against it. In fact, I enthusiastically recommend it to most people who want to get in shape and be healthy enough to enjoy their bodies.
That said, I found it to have certain shortcomings. My fitness goals included getting much, much stronger, and CrossFit has a high work volume, which prevented me from seeing much strength gain after a certain point. CrossFit was also mentally exhausting after so long. I had always approached fitness as a lifestyle, rather than a separate portion of my life. I did martial arts or played field games, and that was my workout. CrossFit was able to fill that niche for me for a long time, but after a while, it became too much about increasing my lifts and getting better times.
So I looked for a way to make things more fun. For me, that basically meant less time spent doing the things I didn’t enjoy (like repetitive weightlifting) and more time doing things I did (gymnastics and running). I know this means I’m playing to my strengths, but it keeps me happy. I also wanted to develop some gymnastics strength moves that are difficult to train in the context of a CrossFit programming, such as various ring skills, one-arm pushups and pullups, and agility moves from Parkour.
Rest is key. I keep the workouts minimal, intense, and short (which is a philosophy I did take from CrossFit). I rest as much as possible, and keep heart-pounding workouts to a minimum (about two or three per week, of which one at least is sprinting only), focusing instead on skill and strength. For this to work, I need to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. If I miss one night, or have a bad night, I usually don’t do the full program for the next day.
So here is my training program. It is based on a five day cycle, with three days of work, one day of rest, two days of work, and another day of rest. If I’m totally beat or not getting much value out of a workout, I’ll just take the day off, do less, or move stuff around.
- Strength work: one arm pushup progressions, front lever progressions, single leg squats.
- Conditioning: Short (10 min or less) CrossFit style metabolic conditioning workout/interval training/circuit training.
- Strength work: One arm pullup progressions, back lever progression, glute-ham raises
- Olympic weightlifting: 5×2 of either the Clean and Jerk or the Snatch (it alternates between weeks), followed by 3×3 front squat (on days I do snatches) or overhead squats (on days I do clean and jerk)
- Strength work: Handstand pushups, back bridges, 2×5 deadlifts (increase by 5 lbs every week)
- Running Intervals: Something like 4x400m, 4x800m, or 10x100m
- Gymnastics tumbling class in the evening
- Rest. I might do a slow and easy trail run or a recovery WOD
- Strength work: Hanging straight leg raises (to L-hang and to bar), planche progressions, single leg squats
- Running intervals or distance (I plan to alternate between time trials and tempo runs of that same distance the next week)
- Gymnastics practice in the evening
- Strength work: Handstand holds (free balancing), muscle-ups and dips, glute-ham raises
- CrossFit-style metcon (10 minutes or less)
- Gymnastics practice
- Rest (total rest, the last two days tend to be pretty rough)
My diet is also different than the CrossFit-approved Zone or Paleo diet. It is meant to be less mentally stressful, but I also discovered that I actually feel much better and more energetic when I eat bread and some carbs (GASP!!). I also eat a fair amount of dairy.
I found that adding rice to my diet gave me much more energy, and eating some carbs with my high-fat meals helps my body digest much better (also, eating fermented foods with high fat meals will make a world of difference. Try sauerkraut with those breakfast sausages). And when I’m really beat up, a tasty dessert can supercharge my system and get things running again (keep in mind that dessert for me is some fruit with yogurt and nuts. I add a few drops of local honey if I really want to treat myself. Once every two weeks, I’ll have a bowl of ice cream).
I also found that when I limited my carbs, I tended to binge on nuts and nut butters, which led to serious intestinal distress. So I try to limit my intake of nuts (I still probably eat more than I should) compared to the usual Paleo path (note that Paleo doesn’t actually prescribe eating many nuts, only that a lot of people I know on Paleo end up doing so because they are an easy, convenient source of calories).
The trick to making this work is the quality and preparation of the grains and dairy. All grains but rice are soaked, sprouted, or fermented. Dairy is almost exclusively yogurt or raw milk (mainly just after workouts). I absolutely refuse to consume traditional milk, organic or otherwise. I will only drink raw milk, or dairy products that are living (yogurt, sour cream, kefir).
All my grains are either sprouted, soaked overnight in some sort of acid (to break down phytic acid), or soured and fermented. Thus, I eat Ezekiel Bread (which is sprouted), traditional sourdough bread made with wild yeast, and on the rare occasions I eat oatmeal or other cereal-like foods, I soak them overnight in whey.
Vegetables are the cornerstone of my diet. I still eat mostly Paleo, focusing on a lower-carb approach. Meals have plenty of protein, lots of healthy fats, tons and tons of vegetables, and some carbs to round it out. Protein is almost entirely venison my dad hunts, grassfed beef, or wild seafood. Mostly, I eat brown rice for carbs, which doesn’t require special preparation. Because I try to eat as many vegetable as I can, my eating habits sometimes seem more vegan than Paleo, and I usually do fine without much meat for a few days.
Ethics, sustainability, and locality play a huge role in what I eat. I’d rather eat a sustainable diet with more carbs than a purely Paleo one that relied on exotic fruits and costly meats. If you want a category for my diet, look for the Weston A. Price Foundation, and read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.
So, it’s not simple. I have spent years testing out different exercise programs and eating habits on my body, and I’ve drawn on a lot of different traditions and authors. If you’re looking to take your training and eating to the next level and find true balance, you could go through all the trouble I have. If you just want to be fit and healthy, a regular CrossFit prescription is a very good choice, and you could do much worse.
Anyway, now it’s out there. I can’t really claim to follow a CrossFit program for training or diet, since mine differ so radically from the usual prescription. Nevertheless, I owe a lot of my fitness habits to CrossFit, and still draw a great deal of inspiration from the CrossFit community, of which I am happy to be a part. I just like to do my own thing, too.
I’d be happy to answer any questions about incorporating more play into your fitness routine, or about the various diets mentioned here and how to make them work for you. Just drop me an e-mail at warrior(at)khaledallen(dot)com.
Fight On, Brave Warriors!