Why do we do Benchmarks?


In Crossfit, we like to measure our progress through various benchmarks, 1 rep maxes and general ability to do certain skills. But why is it important for us to do this? And how does it make us better athletes? 

Well the obvious reason as to why we do benchmark WODs such as “The Girls” and “Hero WODs” is to reveal our strengths and weakness and determine our progress as an athlete. We can then see if we need to improve our lifting, gymnastics or metabolic conditioning and even determine if we are lacking in any of the domains of fitness (strength, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, flexibility, endurance, accuracy or stamina. From there, we can then set specific and attainable goals. 

Benchmark WODs such as Fran, Nancy, Helen and Karen are used to test work capacity. 1 rep max power lifts such as backsquats test pure strength and 1 rep max Olympic lifts such as the Snatch and Clean test strength, power, flexibility and agility.

It is important to make a record of your different benchmark scores in order to keep track of your progress and achieve your goals. 

So, don’t shy away from testing your athletic potential. When you see a benchmark WOD or 1RM on the whiteboard, give it your best so that you know where your capabilities lie. 

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A full day of eating… NOM!

Alrighty, here it is! a Full day of eating. So I usually eat more or less the same meals everyday because it’s easier that way and to be honest I love my food. Obviously I do go out to eat occasionally, sometimes having naughty treats… but that’s life! I just try to eat food that is going to nourish and fuel my body so that it can perform optimally. It is still a work in progress and I do tend to crave sweet rather than savoury foods. Working on that self control!

Pre-workout (5am ish)

Protein mug muffin and black coffee (i always forget to take a picture of my mug muffin because it is soooooo early! This is not a great pic… I promise it tastes better than it looks)

*I drink USN BCAAs intra-workout for recovery and performance

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp oats
  • 1/3 scoop chocolate whey protein
  • 1 egg

Method:

mix in a mug and microwave for 1 minute. Top with some honey.

Breakfast/Post workout (7am ish)

Protein Oats and Banana/Apple

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*Moringa capsules

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raw oats
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 scoop whey protein
  • mixed seeds and chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1 apple/banana

Method:

  1. Cook oats on the stove in about 1 1/2 cups of water (I just keep adding until I get the consistency I want).
  2. Mix the egg in when oats starts to boil
  3. Add whey powder once oats has cooked-off of stove
  4. Top with apple or banana

*Due to the summer heat I have been making over night oats so that its nice and cold. All you do is cook exactly the same then put it in the fridge and add the almond milk when you want to eat it.

Snack (10am ish)

My snacks change according what I feel like eating. Sometimes I want sweet, other times I want savoury. So here is one of each…

Grilled Chicken Salad

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Ingredients:

  • 1 grilled chicken breast
  • 1/2 boiled beetroot
  • carrot
  • coriander
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Method:

Grill chicken. I spice it with turmeric and some lemon and herb chicken spice.

Smoothie Bowl

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Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup kale
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1/2 cup mixed frozen berries
  • ice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • seeds

Method:

  1. Blend all ingredients together

 

Lunch (12-1pm)

Chicken ‘noodle’ salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 grilled chicken breast
  • 1 zucchini spiralized
  • 1 carrot spiralized
  • 1/4 avo
  • 1/2 boiled beetroot
  • 1/2 tomato
  • coriander
  • olives
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp Food Works salad dressing (natural)
  • 1 small sweet potato diced

Method:

  1. Place diced sweet potato in the microwave for 2 minutes until cooked.
  2. Stir fry the zucchini, carrot, tomato, sweet potato and balsamic vinegar until vegetables are just cooked
  3. assemble ingredients in a bowl and top with salad dressing

Snack (3-4pm)/preworkout

This is generally another mug muffin because it is pretty much the only thing I can eat before working out that does not upset my stomach. So I will have one of those and an apple If I’m going to workout.

Otherwise, I will have a boiled egg and an apple or something small.

Dinner (6-7pm) / Post workout

Dinner is ALWAYS some kind of protein and vegetables… Sometimes I will have a carb if I’m feeling extra hungry that day.

Tuna and egg salad

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Ingredients:

  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 boiled egg
  • 1/4 avo
  • salad greens (lettuce and cucumber)
  • olives
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • carrots

Dessert

*I take USN ZMA before bed for increased recovery, decreased fatigue and better sleep

I almost ALWAYS have dessert… because I get soooo hungry! These are my options:

  • 1/2 cup full cream yogurt mixed with some chocolate whey
  • Hot Cocoa made with 1 tbsp cocoa powder and 1 tsp honey in hot water
  • Mug muffin
  • Fruit

So there you have it! A typical day of eating for me.It really is still a work in progress and I am still trying to figure out the best way to go for myself with regards to macronutrient ratios. High fat diets just don’t do it for me so I tend to lean towards a high carbohydrate diet. But what works for me, may not work for you. As long as you are eating whole natural foods, keep experimenting until you figure out your optimal way of eating.

Don’t Hit the WALL!

Have you ever looked at a workout and thought “chilled, I’ve got this one!” Then, five minutes into it you hit a wall. You’re dripping with sweat, you’re out of breath and your muscles seem to have lost all their ability to perform. Yup, I’ve been there. It’s not fun. But WHY does this happen?? How is it possible to feel insanely good in one workout and then completely and utterly useless in another?

Well, besides the fact that there are obviously certain elements to a workout that may favour or disadvantage you. Say, you are GREAT at heavy weight lifting, but when it comes to those sub 7 minute metcons you feel like you’re dying and your body is working against you. That’s just telling you to WORK ON YOUR WEAKNESSES! However, if it is a workout that you think you could crush, but for some unknown reason, it crushes you.. well that is likely to be a failure on pacing accordingly.

For me, one workout always comes to mind when I got my pacing strategy completely wrong. It was at a Crossfit team competition and I was honestly so excited for this workout because it had all my favourite exercises in it. We had to do 14 reps of deficit handstand push ups into 7 reps of overhead squats and the second part was maximum reps of muscle ups. I started the handstand push ups at full speed, made it to 8 and suddenly I could not push myself up anymore. I struggled through the last 6 reps, literally doing them one at a time. When I got to the overhead squats, I struggled to even get the bar above my head, let alone squat! Anyway, I eventually finished those two exercises and then it was my turn to do muscle ups. Well, this part was just embarrassing. After several attempts I managed to get a total of ONE muscle up, much to my dismay. I will admit, I shed a couple of disappointment tears after that one. But, this is a typical example of not pacing correctly. I went out way too hard on the handstand push ups which completely destroyed my muscle endurance for the rest of the workout.

So what is a pacing strategy and why do athletes use it? Athletes use pacing strategies during competitions and workouts in order to maximise performance and prevent failure of any physiological systems such as the heart and muscles. Therefore the athlete is self-regulated by an appropriate distribution of workload and energy in order to prevent early fatigue or significant deceleration late in the event (or early, like me!). A pacing strategy is a conscious and  unconscious system that uses knowledge of the end point of an event as well as memory of prior events to determine the best pace for a specific workout. The subconscious brain uses the predicted duration of an activity in order to determine the appropriate pace that can be maintained without hitting that horrendous wall we talk about. When the workout begins, physiological feedback is used to monitor the pacing strategy which tells us if we need to slow down (to preserve our physiology) or if we can speed up.

So, lets take Crossfit as an example. The workouts are constantly varied right? So how do we know how to set a good pace? If you have been doing Crossfit for a while, then you will know what it feels like to do a longer workout such as Cindy (20 min AMRAP of 5 pull ups, 10 push ups and 15 squats) compared to a shorter workout like Fran (21-15-9 thrusters and pull ups). You will also know what a more strength based workout will feel like in comparison to a metabolic conditioning workout. So using these past experiences as well as your current fitness and skill levels, you should be able to determine how fast you want to move throughout your workout. There are four types of pacing strategies most commonly used:

  1. All out pacing strategy: this strategy is generally used for very short workouts that last between 10-30 seconds and utilise the Phosphagen energy system such as a 100m sprint or Tabata intervals (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off). Sometimes, due to excitement and adrenaline, this strategy is used at the beginning of a workout that lasts longer than 30 seconds which ultimately leads to that very hard brick wall we all hate. So try save this pace for those sprint events!
  2. Slow start pacing strategy: this strategy is used by more conservative people or those who aren’t quite sure what kind of pace is required by the workout. Basically, the person starts the workout at a slow pace and usually maintains the pace, or sometimes increases it. This pacing strategy is often seen in individuals who are new to a specific sports. This is fine for the first and MAYBE second workout… BUT the individual soon needs to be able to adjust their pace in order to complete the workout at the desired intensity.
  3. Even pacing strategy: this strategy is used for shorter and middle time/distance workouts. The individual maintains the same pace throughout the workout but is still working at the desired intensity. This pace is ideal for workouts that are about 20 minutes or longer as they use the glycolytic energy system and therefore the athlete will be able to reach the end of the workout.
  4. Variable pacing strategy: this strategy is used for long distance/time workouts. The individual will receive feedback from their physiological responses (heart rate, breathing frequency, body temperature, etc) which given them an indication of if they should speed up or slow down throughout the workout. Generally, athletes using this strategy will start at a faster pace, then slow down, and speed up towards the end of the workout.

So, next time you you walk into the gym and look at that white board, or decide to do a triathlon (whatever floats your boat), think about what you are about to do and the best way to go about doing it in order to really get the best out of your workout. Because damn, hitting that wall is painful and occasionally embarrassing and tear jerking…

Breakfast Omlette

For those of you who are like me and LOVE sweet breakfasts, this one is to die for! its the perfect balance of protein and carbs and amazing as a post workout meal.

Ingredients:

1 egg

1 egg white

1/4 cup oats

1 tbsp cocoa

1 banana

1 tsp honey

Method:

  1. whisk the eggs, oats and cocoa together and add a splash of water. Pour the mixture into a hot pan and cook until almost fully cooked
  2. place the chopped banana on one side of the omlette and flip the other side to close it up.
  3. cook until the inside is fully cooked
  4. top with a drizzle of honey.

Strong is Beautiful

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For the first time ever the other day, a family member saw me for the first time in a couple of months and the first thing she said to me was, “wow Emma, you have gotten BIG!” She poked and prodded my shoulders and could not believe the size of me. To be honest, initially I felt a little offended and self conscious because I have never experienced that kind of… honesty? before. So I said to her, “Not big, just strong”. Her reply was “No, BIG!” I then ended the conversation and just walked away.

I know many women in the fitness industry, and especially Crossfit, experience this type of criticism and I applaud those ladies who manage to just brush it off and walk away with confidence. But, I can also see how it can negatively impact your own sense of self and make you question whether your physique is “normal” for a woman or even attractive.

After this encounter, I thought about it a lot and about how it made me feel about myself. I have always been confident in my own body and proud of the way I look as I have worked hard for my muscles and physique. But of course, like most people, I have my insecurities. After giving this situation a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that I am actually happy that she called me “big”. I figured that in her opinion, my physique is abnormal for a woman as she works in a very feminine industry and her own body shape resembles that of a classic woman- curvaceous and soft- so obviously my hard and muscular body was foreign to her. I am also working damn hard to build more muscle, especially in my upper body, so actually what she had to say was a compliment!

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Photo on the left was taken in 2010, photo on the right was taken December 2016

It fascinates me how many different ideals there are for the way women look. Men generally just have one ideal body type- lean and muscular. women on the other hand can be ‘curvy’, ‘skinny, ‘toned’ or ‘muscular’ and in all instances there are going to be negative and positive comments. But, what is apparent is the growing acceptance of muscular and fit looking women. Who said that girls can’t have muscles and be strong? Long gone are the days when women had to rely on men for everything. Physical fitness not only brings outer strength but also inner and mental strength which drive women to have to motivation and passion needed to succeed in a male dominated world.

So ladies, f#$k what the haters say… being strong is sexy. So embrace those muscles and walk around with confidence.

Lifting heavy as a woman 


As a coach, I often hear women saying that they don’t want to lift heavier weights because they don’t want to look ‘bulky’. Honestly, I made this comment countless times when I first started Crossfit. I was content to snatch 25kg and press 30kg… Until I realized that going heavier not only felt amazing, but it did amazing things to my body. 

Let me tell you, I have been trying to gain muscle mass for months and it is bloody difficult! I am now able to snatch 52.5kg, clean and jerk 70kg and deadlift 120kg… And I STILL struggle to put on mass. 


For most women it is extremely difficult to gain a lot of lean muscle mass. To do so you have to lift extremely heavy and be very disciplined when it comes to diet and lifestyle. I am now starting to see some changes in my body, only because I have been making a concerted effort to gain muscle.

I promise you you’re not going to suddenly wake up with massive biceps and quads from increasing number your weights slightly. Weight lifting is extremely good for the body and has many benefits. Women shouldn’t shy away from being strong. You say you want to be lean?? How do you expect to do that without building muscle? Having a greater percentage of muscle mass also increases the metabolism… Therefore burning more fat stores… 

So seriously ladies… Try putting a little more weight on those barbells and let’s get strong together.

The Naked Athlete

The fitness industry is known for showing off their hard earned bodies in tiny pieces of clothing, and it appears that Crossfit is no different. Men whip off their shirts at any opportunity and women walk around in booty shorts and sports bras. If they are wearing clothes at the start of a workout, they are bound to start stripping down to as little as possible once they get going. I have first-hand experience in this because I do exactly the same thing.

In the bodybuilding industry it is understandable when super tanned, muscle bulging men and women walk onto the stage in tiny bikinis and speedos… they need to show as much of their hard earned work as they can. So why do Crossfitters like to run around in the smallest items of clothing they can find? Well, I’ll tell you why I think they do…

Crossfit is an EXTREMELY sweaty sport when you do it right. It involves very high heart rates, muscles that work extra hard to lift the heaviest weights possible, and multiple fitness domains being tested all at once. This leads to tonnes of sweat and a very high internal temperature. So, it is common sense that you would take your clothes off to cool your body down right? For me, as soon as I start heating up, my shirt comes off. It’s just too uncomfortable to have material rubbing against my body. The same goes for the length of my shorts… long pants retain the heat which is just too bloody uncomfortable.

And now you’re thinking… but all those elite Crossfit athletes have amazing bodies, of course they want to show off those abs of steel and whip their clothes off. Well, that’s sort of true too… they are clearly comfortable and happy with their bodies, which is just another reason for any non-elite crossfitter to get better. Added bonusà HOT BOD! I definitely did not want to take my clothes off when I first started Crossfit, no matter how hot I got. I was way too self-conscious to just run around in my sports bra. But that’s the beauty of the sport… the better you get, the more confident you become and the less you give a damn about what people think!

When I am working out, no matter how many people are around me and who they are, I will most likely take my shirt off (unless it’s the depths of winter- then maybe not!). It’s definitely NOT because I want everyone to see my body, it is simply because I feel more comfortable training like. It is really annoying when your shirt gets caught in the rowing machine, and when you do handstands and your shirt ends up covering your eyes.

So, if you’re ever in a Crossfit box and find yourself staring at half naked athletes wondering why they don’t have shirts on, this is probably the reason. While you’re wondering this, we’re probably asking ourselves how on earth you manage to train with all those clothes on!