If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter you’ll know that I’ve fallen a little bit out of love with running over the last year or so, or since my stress fracture. I can’t justify or explain why, but I guess it has something to do with the fear of being rubbish, or it being really hard or painful!

Realistically though, this fear is mostly unfounded; I do CrossFit four or five times per week, where we do a little bit of running or rowing and plenty of high intensity workouts, so technically I should have enough general fitness to carry me through a short- to mid-distance run. But in practice, how does this style of training carry over to running, something people usually train very specifically for?

CrossFit for Cardio Endurance

There’s no denying that CrossFit has made me the strongest I’ve been in my life – I can do bodyweight pullups, throw 70+ kilos above my head, and pull nearly double my bodyweight off the floor in a deadlift. I’m sure, in some ways, I’m fitter too; I’ve clocked a 1:51 500m row and quite often push myself to the limits on high intensity WODs, but how does that compare to more endurance based exercise, such as running?

Georgina Deadlift

As is CrossFit’s aim, you should be capable of doing almost anything you want or need to do, simply with doing regular CrossFit classes. Taking the running example, strength work makes your muscles able to deal with the demands of uphill inclines, and to generally carry you the distance. Metabolic conditioning (met con) keeps your cardiovascular system ticking over and coping with a certain amount of lactic acid build up. And the mental toughness required to push yourself harder makes the world of difference when it comes to those moments of every race/run when you just want to give up!

By building on general strength and mobility, CrossFit is able to help make you a more efficient runner – taking longer strides, generating more power out of every step and helping to prevent damaging movement patterns like heel striking, overpronation and valgus knee collapse. I found evidence of this myself after going for a gait assessment with Asics a few weeks ago – I am now a neutral runner after years of overpronation!

The Proof is in the Pudding

Over the last year I’ve had two fairly standout moments that have made me think about CrossFit’s effect on my running performance. The first was at the Hatfield Broad Oak 10k race at the end of May bank holiday in 2015. I had signed up to run with a couple of my husband’s friends and, despite best intentions, only trained two to three times, max 3 miles, in the lead-up to the race. But even with this lack of specific training, I clocked a time only 2 minutes slower than my 10k personal best time set in 2012 (when I was marathon training).

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The second standout moment was only a week ago when I managed to force myself out for a run for the first time in months. I started off feeling nervous in anticipation of a struggle round the 5k route I’d set myself, but soon realised that, actually, my pace wasn’t too bad and I was feeling pretty decent. I pushed myself for the last mile, and finished 2.5 minutes slower than my 5k PB… with NO specific training.

CrossFit x Run Training in Practice

In an effort to kick-start my running motivation I thought I’d book myself a race to give myself a reason to run. Rather than pushing myself for a half marathon distance, which would require a fair amount of training and dedication, I thought I’d go for something more realistic for my sporadic running attempts… the Vitality British 10k in London. An achievable distance, 10k pushes me to train a little, even if only to finish without hurling.

I love running in London, and I even got a training run in while attending an event with Stance Socks last week. Stance combine art with performance in their running socks (which you can buy from Whatever it Takes, Pro:Direct Running or [Kit]box), and we wore some for a tour with Alternative London of some of East London’s best street art, including Banksy, Roa and Ben Wilson, as part of Stance Socks’s European Street Art Tour. One of the finds that amazed me the most was Ben Wilson’s chewing gum art – he paints tiny little scenes on chewing gum that people have dropped on the streets, turning something ugly and thoughtless into pieces of art protected with varnish! Next on the street art tour is a run in Copenhagen on 25th May – you can keep up with the tour using the hashtag #stancerun.

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I wonder if I’ll see any of Ben’s work on the British 10k course? Even without street art, the course looks particularly scenic, passing landmarks including the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Starting on Hyde Park Corner, the route takes in Piccadilly, Regent Street, Pall Mall, St James Palace, Trafalgar Square and Embankment too. Having never gotten into the London Marathon (despite many, many attempts!), it’s my only chance to really take in the sights on a run. 

In terms of training, I aim to complete just one to two runs per week… my only specific running training. My priority will be a distance run, which will amount to between 4-6 miles, and if I can fit it in, then I’ll also do a tempo run of around 3 miles. Normally, if I was to train specifically for a race, I would aim to complete a third run each week, which would be speedwork or hill based, but with CrossFit taking me to a high intensity regularly, I feel as though I could sacrifice this quite safely. Any more than three runs per week seems to be a waste to me anyway (unless you’re looking to build really high weekly mileage into your legs, e.g. for ultra training), and I’d much rather get my CrossFit sessions in for strength training, and a yoga class in for mobility.

So my training programme should, hopefully, look something like this:

Monday – CrossFit 6am

Tuesday – CrossFit 6am

Wednesday – CrossFit 6am, Run 6pm (or Midweek League race)

Thursday – Yoga 6pm, or Weightlifting Club 7:30pm

Friday – CrossFit 6am

Saturday – Weightlifting Club 10:30am, or Run 9:30am

Sunday – Rest day

8 Week Countdown

So now I’ve signed up for the British 10k I’m committed to racing it… I don’t want to put my foot in it by stating a goal time, but let’s just say I’m hoping to prove I can run just as fast off the back of CrossFit as I can with months and months of specific training in my legs. I have another 10k race, plus some running club midweek league races that I can do to get the timing practice in between now and race day, and 8 weeks to do it all in. Watch this space!

Are you a running CrossFitter? Have you noticed a difference in your running training since starting CrossFit? How do you think strength training helps your running? Comment below!

This post is sponsored by Vitality British 10k. Photos courtesy of Lucy Rakauskas, ContreJour Photography and Stance Socks.

I’m not typically one for supplements; I tend to go with the philosophy that you can get everything you need from what you eat and drink. Yes, I take whey protein, but only usually on my training days in a post-workout smoothie as a pre-breakfast breakfast, or as a method of cooking healthier alternatives to my favourite snacks, like protein pancakes, protein waffles, or other sweet treats.

But one supplement I have been taking this year that I feel has made a big difference to my training is creatine. Whenever I’ve been asked about supplements, I’ve always expressed the opinion that the only one that really has solid research behind it is creatine, and now I’ve experienced the benefits of it first-hand I really can put my money where my mouth is.

So what exactly is creatine?

Creatine occurs naturally in the body as phosphocreatine (or creatine phosphate), and it is one of the molecules that creates immediate, usable energy for the cells of your muscles, in the form of adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP). This energy source is the one that gives the “spark” to your ignition – fuelling the first few seconds of a sprint, the power behind a heavy lift, or the drive in your high jump. It’s fast acting and short in duration, before your body moves on to using the next energy system in the chain.

Put simply, supplementing with creatine means the body has more capacity for creating ATP, enabling you to recruit more muscle fibres and work harder. And if you can work harder, you will get stronger, faster.

Creatine supplementation can help you get stronger, faster. Find out more: Click To Tweet

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Benefits of creatine supplementation

There are many, many suggested benefits of supplementing with creatine, but the few that are reliably backed by research (and, in my opinion the most important ones) are:

Increased muscle strength/power

One study found a 20% increase in muscle strength following creatine supplementation and a resistance training programme, compared to 12% with a resistance training programme accompanied by a placebo.

Another study found that the force output by a muscle following creatine supplementation was 33.4% higher (peak torque), with the time to reach peak torque 54.7% lower, when compared to a placebo. This resulted in a 8.9% increase in the speed of the electric signal causing the muscle to contract after supplementation. As you may already know, force x velocity (speed) = power.

Increased anaerobic performance

Several studies have found improvements in VO2 max tests (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can uptake), and anaerobic performance in sprinting, swimming, and Wingate (cycling) tests. Though some of these studies only found significant differences in men, and not women (while others demonstrated results in both genders).

Increased muscle mass

Many studies have found increases in lean body mass associated with creatine supplementation. At first, this is often attributable to water retention in the muscle (water also counts as lean body mass), but after continued use and training, muscle mass is also significantly increased).

Caution when using creatine

There have been concerns about kidney function with creatine use, but recent research has found that continued use of creatine as a supplement is perfectly safe for generally healthy individuals. Those who already have kidney troubles should check with their doctor before using creatine.

Another common concern with creatine is water retention. Creatine encourages your muscles to take up more water, which can give a pumped up effect (which some users like for the aesthetics of bigger-looking muscles!) and can come with increases in weight of over 2kg. As long as you drink plenty of water to help keep you hydrated, this is totally harmless. I find myself mega thirsty when I’m taking creatine, so drinking enough won’t be difficult!

Creatine SupplementWill creatine work for me?

Not every supplement has the same effect on everyone. I’ve personally found creatine to have a huge effect on my training and performance; I had the best 1RM testing week since first starting CrossFit after taking creatine for about 6 weeks, I also had immediate strength gains when testing my Olympic weightlifting moves after just 1 week of supplementation. But not everyone will reap the same benefits.

What appears to be the biggest influencer on creatine supplementation effect, is the amount that is actually taken up by the muscles – and this seems to vary from person to person, with some being identified as “responders” while others are not. All I can suggest is try it and see!

*Updated 24th May 2016*

In fact, in my recent fitness DNA test, I read that “around 1 in 3 people do not respond to the positive effects of creatine. Although it is not completely understood why, it may be that non-responders have high natural levels of creatine and that supplementation does not have a significant effect. Unfortunately, it is currently not possible to tell from your genes whether you are a ‘responder’ or ‘non-responder’. The only way to find out is to try it yourself.”

*End of update*

How should I take creatine?

What's the best way to take creatine supplements? This post tells you all: Click To Tweet

The most commonly researched form of creatine supplement is creatine monohydrate, it’s also the best value for money as it’s fairly cheap but can give you fantastic results. I use MyProtein creatine monohydrate* unflavoured powder and just add it to my post-workout smoothie or, if I haven’t trained that day, to some orange juice.

There are two options for dosage method, cyclical or constant.

Cyclical

  • 1 week load period 20-25g of creatine per day, spread out in even doses throughout the day
  • X number of weeks at 2.5-5g per day, or 0.03-0.05g per kg of body weight
  • 1-2 weeks break before starting the process again

The load period is associated with a huge stocking up of creatine in the muscles, which brings with it increased water retention and a bigger “pump”. There are arguments that significantly bigger boosts in strength and power can be identified in this period.

Constant

  • 2.5-10g creatine per day (or 0.03 to 0.1g per kg of body weight)… indefinitely

This usually means less water retention, and a more consistent uptake of creatine into the working muscles.

Which method you choose, is entirely up to you. How much you take within these ranges is dependent on your body weight and activity level/intensity. I take around 5g per day (2 small scoops) every day, and I noticed a difference within the first week of taking it, even without a loading period.

The good news is, as well, that the effects don’t seem to drop off after you stop taking creatine, i.e. there is no reduction in strength after discontinuing supplementation.

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Relevance for CrossFit

Because of the nature of CrossFit training, with heavy lifting, anaerobic/high intensity workouts, relatively frequent submaximal efforts, creatine has huge potential to improve performance. The strength and power benefits, anaerobic capacity improvements, and accelerated growth of lean muscle mass are all of great use to any CrossFitter. There are also arguments that creatine can help with recovery after exercise, which is also useful for those who train to the typical CrossFit programme of 3 days on, 1 off, 2 on, 1 off.

Have you ever taken creatine as a supplement? What do you think of it? Is there anything else you want to know about it? Comment below!

Photos taken using my Olympus PEN E-PL7* and M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 45mm 1:1.8 Lens*

* Affiliate link. Affiliate links do not affect the price that you pay, but any commission earned helps me to pay the costs of running this site. To find out more about my policy on this and other matters, see my Disclosure page.

Everyone seems to be an “expert” these days – people who have worked in the industry for all of about 5 minutes claim to be “fat loss experts” or “high performance training pro” (bro). In reality, none of us are experts. And those who are truly top of their field acknowledge this. Research is always changing and updating. People find new ways of training, eating and sleeping that bring about huge differences for some, but not necessarily for others.

Fitness Myths – Busted!

What doesn’t help, though, is all the conflicting, confusing, and sometimes just downright incorrect information floating about – it doesn’t help anybody! So, after reading Zanna’s brilliant nutrition myths post, I thought I’d do one busting common fitness myths.

You have to work flat out all the time

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This is synonymous with the “go hard or go home” mentality and it drives me mad. Working at maximum effort all the time, every time, is only sustainable for so long and will, yes WILL, lead to burnout, or worse… injury. Working at different intensities and durations, on the other hand, will allow you to work on different areas of fitness (cardiovascular, anaerobic, endurance, power, etc.), helping you to get fitter and stronger.

Ideally, every training programme would follow cycles – each with an intended purpose, which dictate the volume and intensity of the session. Each cycle should have rest, or de-load sessions, scheduled within the cycle, and between cycles too. If you programme your own training, look up “periodisation” to learn more about cyclical training, or speak to a Personal Trainer who should be able to help advise you.

X exercise is better than Y exercise

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I hear this all the time. When it comes to general fitness, lifestyle, or even (to a certain extent) aesthetics, there is no such thing as one form of exercise being “better” than another. Everyone is different, physiologically, anatomically, and psychologically – and, yes, all three of these matter! There could be a number of different exercises, sports, training methods that suit you and get you to your goals. The most important things are:

  1. Do you enjoy it?
  2. Is it making you fitter/improving your health/getting you active?
  3. Can you keep it up?

If the answer to all three is “yes” then you’re onto a winner. Don’t let anyone tell you that ballet is better than Zumba, or that a split body training programme is better than CrossFit. YOU decide what works for YOU!

Muscle and fat weigh the same

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Let me just get this straight… muscle DOES, well and truly, weigh more than fat. People who say “but 1kg of muscle and 1kg of fat weigh the same, it just takes up less room” are being too smart (read = idiotic) for their own good. I think you’ll agree that saying 1lb of anything and 1lb of anything else both weigh the same! Of course they do… they’re both 1lb! The point is, that for its size, muscle weighs more than fat.

When people start weight training and their weight is going up, it’s most likely because they’ve gained muscle… the overall effect on size, though, is typically a reduction. Because muscle weighs more than fat. Trainers come up with the 1lb = 1lb argument all the time to try and sound clever and it just confuses people. KISS.

You must train in the fat-burning zone to burn fat

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Ever since those HR training zones first came out people have believed that they must be working within that magical fat-burning zone to lose weight (fat mass). There are plenty of arguments as to why this is inaccurate and misleading, including things like the post-training metabolism boost you get from higher intensity exercise, but I’m just going to give you the simple calorie burn per exercise, which should help to show you why this is a myth.

70kg woman, exercising for 30 minutes:

  • Fat-burning zone (low intensity) ~60% max HR = 170 calories, 85% from fat (145 calories)
  • Anaerobic zone (high intensity) ~80% max HR = 290 calories, 50% from fat (145 calories)

At both intensities, our woman is burning the same amount of “fat calories”, but those other calories from the anaerobic zone come from sugars stored within your muscles. Which means that sugar from food you eat after training is likely to go straight back into replacing those sugar stores… and not be turned into fat! You’re creating more of a calorie deficit, meaning you burn more fat overall.

Sure, there is a place for low intensity exercise – it’s great for general fitness – and if you prefer it, then great! But if you want to lose fat, consider adding high intensity exercise, or training that averages out at high intensity (e.g. interval training), to your programme.

If you don’t see results you haven’t trained hard enough

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This is another of those myths that I hear a lot, especially when it comes to testing week at CrossFit. Our training cycles are usually around 12 weeks, followed by a week of testing our maximum lifts. We’re always told not to expect personal bests – there are too many variables to maximal lifting, and to any performance or result for that matter. You can train “perfectly” for the entire 12 weeks, but a lack of sleep, varying hydration levels, not enough food, etc. could throw your performance off on the day. The same applies to racing, diets, even exams!

The other thing people are often tempted to do is give up on a specific programme or protocol if they don’t see results right away. The grass is always greener on the other side and a friend who’s getting results on x, y or z programme might tempt you to try that instead – but the reason your friend is getting results is probably more to do with consistency than it is with the programme itself. Stick with what you’re doing and really try at something before you expect results.

You must have at least two rest days per week

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I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating – everyone is different! I had a genetics test recently and one of the markers it tested was recovery from exercise and, much to my surprise, my recovery rate is pretty high. This means I can take less rest, both within exercise sessions, and between them. I’ve found my ideal rate of training is 3 days on, 1 off, 2 on, 1 off, so I tend to do CrossFit on Monday, Tuesday Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and I can (but don’t often) quite easily handle two workouts in a day. Others may find this level of training too high, or too little!

Elite athletes often take little to no full rest, instead taking active recovery with activities like rowing, swimming, cycling, etc. often for durations that the rest of us would treat as a full-on workout! The point is, there is no set rule of how much rest or recovery you need – you simply need to find what works for you. If you start to pick up colds easily, have trouble sleeping, are struggling to finish workouts, etc. these are signs that you’re overtraining.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes you’ve got to filter through the crap to get to the information that’s really going to help you in your training. This can be really hard, especially with so many conflicting points of view out there. The key points to remember are that what works for you is all that matters, and that consistency is key. But on the flip side, nothing is permanent – you can always change what you do if you truly feel as though something isn’t working for you anymore!

So those are the most common fitness myths I could think of to tackle in this post. Are there any others that you can think of, or that you want busting?! Comment below – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Photos by Will Patrick.

The first time I ever tried CrossFit back in summer 2012 I just wore a pair of running shoes. I had no idea what to expect, and didn’t have trainers specific for lifting… all I did then was run and go to the gym. But by the time a box opened up near me and I started going more regularly I’d become the proud owner of a pair of Reebok CrossFit Nano 2 trainers through a Twitter competition. Since then, I’ve worn nothing but CrossFit-specific trainers, and I wouldn’t go back.

Most people think that the Nano was the first CrossFit-specific shoe to come out, but actually inov-8 beat Reebok to the mark with the first functional shoe designed for lifting, running, jumping and climbing. Reebok then struck up a partnership with CrossFit in 2011 and the first official CrossFit shoe was launched and dominated the scene right up until Nike came in to claim their piece of the pie in 2014.

Other functional footwear has entered the market, but these three remain to be the main stakeholders in the CrossFit world… and I’m going to compare them for you.

CrossFit Trainers – Compared

First up, I need to set some criteria to judge each of these shoes against. The criteria I’ve chosen are:

  • Stability (how the sole feels for lifting)
  • Comfort (how the shoe feels on my feet)
  • Grip (for rope climbs, running and jumping)
  • Durability (how they last against the elements)

I’ve chosen to leave style and price out of this. All of these shoes are in a similar price bracket and, let’s be honest… style is a pretty personal thing, and matters to people in varying degrees! Something to note on price, however, is that Reebok offer a pretty sweet 25% discount to fitness professionals through their Reebok One system – just sign up and you’ll get the discount online automatically. It can also be used in store by showing them your account info.

Inov-8 F-Lite 219

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I was lucky to win these in an Instagram competition through Active in Style back in 2013 and I wore them for the first time on a trip to Paris. I walked for more than three hours in them and my feet have honestly never felt more comfortable. The F-Lites are, by name, light weight and the fabric is so soft is barely feels like you’re wearing shoes.

Of the three, this shoe has the most minimal drop (the difference in height between the heel and the ball of the foot). In fact, it’s a 0mm drop, i.e. completely level. This is good for some things, like deadlifts for example, and not so good for others, i.e. squatting and the Olympic lifts, but it does make for a really “barefoot” feel.

The sole is flexible and fairly narrow, following the shape of your foot – a true minimal shoe. I personally find this great for almost everything about CrossFit, meaning my feet can move super-naturally, with the only exception being the heavy lifts. For these movements, I prefer to feel more stable with a more rigid sole. You can pick up an external heel for lifting, which you can strap on to the back of your inov-8 shoes, transforming them into pseudo lifters – I haven’t tested this myself, but for just over a tenner I’m willing to give it a shot.

The F-Lites have markings on the inner and outer foot for rope climbs, which are effective for grip, if a little narrow, and protect the shoe from damage. Bearing in mind these are the shoes I’ve owned for the longest*, I think they’ve lasted very well.

  • Stability: 3
  • Comfort: 5
  • Grip: 4
  • Durability: 4

Overall Score: 16

Where to buy: [KIT]BOX or Wiggle*

* It’s probably not wholly fair me reviewing an older model of the inov-8 functional range, but from what I’ve seen they’ve stuck to a similar style for their newer shoes.

Reebok CrossFit Nano 5.0

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On to the Nanos. These have been extremely popular over the years, and with good reason – they are a very good all-rounder for CrossFit. The difference between the 4.0 and the 5.0 is quite significant, with Reebok moving away from the wider base and rubber outsole to a more narrow toe-box and Kevlar (aka “bullet proof”) fabric.

The sole is super flat and fairly rigid and, combined with the Kevlar, makes the shoe feel a bit stiff at first. This does ease off though, and the shoes start to feel a little more comfortable with wear. The heel drop is 3mm; still a minimal feel, but giving a very slight lift in the heel to help you keep your back a bit more upright in squats, for example. Because of the flat and relatively wide sole, I quite like these shoes for lifting and, unless you have mobility problems like I do, they are perfectly reasonable for WODs even with fairly heavy lifts in.

Another big change that Reebok made for the Nano 5.0 was in the tongue – it’s now thinner and attached to the shoe upper at the sides, reducing the “tongue creep” you used to get with the 3.0s and 4.0s. This makes for an all-round more comfortable feel to the shoe.

Again, the Nanos have markings for rope climbs, which are pretty functional. Though I have to admit that I’ve found these shoes to shoe wear and tear more than I’d have expected for a shoe with Kevlar – I think my 4.0s still look newer than my 5.0s, I think because of the old cage structure on the 4.0.

  • Stability: 4.5
  • Comfort: 4
  • Grip: 4.5
  • Durability: 4

Overall Score: 17

Where to buy: Reebok or Whatever it Takes

Nike Metcon 2

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These are the newest addition to my CrossFit shoe haul. I’d been meaning to get hold of a pair of the first Metcon since they were first announced, but for one reason or another, never bought a pair and actually, I’m glad I waited. From what I’ve heard the Metcon 2 is definitely new and improved!

What surprised me is just how sturdy the sole was, as I’d heard the Metcon 1 was a bit… “squishy”. But, Nike have listened to their buyers and hardened the sole, making for a really good stable base for lifting. I’ve even found them to be much more stable for movements like wall balls and lunges too. And even with this sturdy sole, the shoe itself is really comfortable! If you have high arches, like me, then the Nike is a much more comfortable trainer than the Nano, though still just pipped to the post by the inov8 (purely because of the minimal feel).

I’ve worn these for heavy front squats, as well as Olympic lifting WODs, and have found them to be ideal for the job, second only to my dedicated lifting shoes. The 4mm heel drop is the highest of the three shoes, so good for those who have reduced ankle mobility.

The fabric seems super-robust, I think with a plastic element to it, and the upper of the shoe, as well as the laces and tongue, sit nice and flat. Nike have even added a ridge to the back of the heel, helping to reduce drag for handstand push ups. Nice! The Metcons also have markings for rope climbs, though I haven’t tested these yet.

  • Stability: 5
  • Comfort: 4.5
  • Grip: 4.5
  • Durability: 4.5

Overall Score: 18.5

Where to buy: Nike or Whatever it Takes

CrossFit Shoes In Summary

I think overall It’s pretty clear which of the three shoes is my favourite – the Nike Metcon 2 surprised me with its superior design over CrossFit professionals, Reebok. Of course, comfort is a personal feel, and some may prefer the more flat-footed nature of the Nano, but for me the Metcon has too many advantages over the Nano and inov8 offerings and could well be a favourite in the boxes, even if not at the Games*!

Have you tried these or any other CrossFit trainers? What are your favourites? Are there any other criteria you would like to see included? Comment below!

* Reebok banned the Nike Metcon from appearing at the CrossFit Games, with even Nike sponsored athletes having to wear Reebok shoes to compete. Nike hit back with this billboard. Reebok 1 – 1 Nike.

All photos taken using my Olympus PEN E-PL7* and M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 45mm 1:1.8 Lens*

* Affiliate link. Affiliate links do not affect the price that you pay, but any commission earned helps me to pay the costs of running this site. To find out more about my policy on this and other matters, see my Disclosure page.

At the weekend a bus-load of us girls from CrossFit Raeda took a trip round to Reebok CrossFit Reading for a day of lifting, gymnastics and generally hanging around with ladies who like to lift! I was expecting to have a fun day working out with friends and learning some tips from the elite; I wasn’t expecting to come away with three new personal bests, improved skills and a whole load of new friends!

About Barbelles

Barbelles is a community set up by the super-strong and inspiring athletes Becky Pykett, Gina Yates and Aneta Saulichova. All three are top level CrossFit athletes in the UK – Becky and Gina have been to the CrossFit Games Meridian Regionals three times each, and Aneta reached her goal of qualifying for Regionals for the first time this year, placing 23rd in Europe.

Aneta Gina and Becky Barbelles

The Barbelles Ladies Training Days were set up to bring together ladies who like to try new things to keep fit and get strong. They are typically held at the boxes where the ladies coach, Reebok CrossFit Reading (where Becky is gym manager), In2 CrossFit Farnham (head Coach Aneta), and CrossFit Leyland (where Gina coaches and is a registered dietitian).

Suitable for all abilities, the days aim to teach new skills, or develop on existing ones, encourage and motivate… and oh my word did it deliver!

The Day

Arriving at the box in Reading, our group of 12 was clearly the exception – most people turned up in small groups of two to three, or even individually. We checked in and handed in our PAR-Q forms (to say we were healthy to train) before putting our existing personal bests for the three key lifts for the day: clean, deadlift and back squat. The purpose of this, we soon found, was to enable the ladies to allocate us to groups of similar abilities – these ranged from complete beginners and those with fairly light lifts, to experienced lifters with heavy one rep maxes.

The Lifts

After a warm-up, which Becky warned us she’s often told is more like a WOD, we started warming up for the clean with some lifting drills and technique work and then moved on to increasing the weight and doing single heavy lifts. There were some huge numbers flying around – my friend Jo got a new PB of 85kg, and had an attempt at 87.5kg, which she got into front rack but just couldn’t quite stand up with – she’ll get it next time!

Barbelles Clean Warm Up

As you may know if you read my blog frequently, it’s long been a goal of mine to get a bodyweight clean. I cleaned 67.5kg in November last year, but that’s still pretty far off bodyweight for me (I usually hover around 73kg, but am about 75kg at the moment). But, after three attempts, I finally managed to clean 75kg and I couldn’t be happier! It seems like such a big milestone for me and I’m so happy to have reached it! Now I just have to jerk it…

Next up was deadlift and, again after an introduction to the techniques, we got lifting. The weights went up pretty quickly as we’d already been pulling pretty heavy weights off the floor in the clean. I think the biggest lift of the day was somewhere around 140kg! Again, I got a new PB (it must have been the amazing atmosphere of people cheering and clapping!) of 130kg. My next milestone is 150kg (double bodyweight), but I think this will be a long way off as once you get near your max potential the increases come more slowly. Maybe something for year end…?

Georgina Deadlift

Kelly Squat

The last of the lifting section was back squats. We don’t do back squat often in the gym, usually training front squat instead, so I didn’t really have a 1RM to work from, but I’d put up 75kg, which is my current front squat PB. Again, the weights were getting crazy high – at least three of my Raeda friends (Jo, Amy and Kelly) went in for 100kg back squat attempts, with Jo finishing on 102.5kg! I got 85kg, which I was really pleased with. I tried 90kg twice, but just couldn’t stand up with it – I definitely know leg strength is something to work on!

The Challenge

After we’d all established back squat one rep maxes, the girls sprung a challenge on us… as many reps as possible with 60% of our new 1RM. Everyone groaned but quickly got to work setting the bars up. The reps were going up and up and the target a constantly moving scale.

I’ve never been that great at maximal lifts, but one thing I usually am quite good at is strength endurance but when I got to 35 reps I started to feel like I didn’t have much more in me. Amazingly though, I somehow managed to finish on double that! Everyone kept shouting out new targets for me to reach: “just get to 40”, “come on, get to 45” and I took the squats one rep at a time. After finally finishing at 70 reps my legs were done for and I wondered how I’d get through the afternoon! Luckily next up was a lunch break!

Gymnastics

After a feast of a lunch (Kelly, our resident cake-maker, had kindly made us all wraps and cookies… we’ll pretend they were protein ones!) we split off into our groups again and tackled handstands, handstand push ups and rig work, focusing on bar muscle up progressions and toes to bar. Again, the coaches were fantastic. They talked us through mastering the basics – emphasising the importance of getting it right, no matter how advanced you are – and encouraged us to push ourselves when ready.

There were girls getting their first handstand walks, RX handstand push ups, and playing around on the rig like it was a breeze – all through a couple of hours’ training. I managed to string together four or five (I was excited so lost count!) toes to bar for the first time!

Georgina Arch Hold

Kirsty and Jo Handstand Practice

The WOD

It wouldn’t have been a CrossFit training day without a WOD! In teams of three, we had to hold two objects (a 10kg disc and a 12kg kettlebell) off the floor while doing:

Run round the block

45 box jumps

45 cleans (30kg)

45 shoulder to overhead (30kg)

45 burpee over bar

The objects could not touch the ground the entire duration of the WOD, so only one person could work at a time and we had to pass the objects between us before switching. It was such a fun WOD and a great demonstration of teamwork, with people who had never met before having to communicate and work together. I worked with Jo and Kerry, both from Raeda as well, and we were first to finish in 7:40.

Barbelles WOD Run

Barbelles WOD STOH

Final Thoughts

What can I say? The whole drive home we were all absolutely buzzing. From people getting new personal bests, to getting their first rep of a new skill, or just meeting and chatting to other women who share the same interests and passions – it was just an incredible day. Becky, Gina and Aneta are lovely ladies, and SO inspiring. I can genuinely say they couldn’t have done more for us on the day – these girls know their sport, and are passionate to share it with as many people as possible!

The whole day cost just £50, which for expert coaching for six hours was brilliant value, and I would certainly go again. If you have any inclination to go, I’d definitely recommend signing up.

Keep up to date with past and future events on the Barbelles Ladies Only Training Facebook page.

Thank you to Becky, Gina and Aneta, and for hosting such a great day, and coach Annie from Raeda for organising our box trip up there!

Photos courtesy of Lucy Rakauskas Photography.

So if you follow my Facebook, Instagram or Twitter you might have seen me put up a video of my first pull up! Ok… maybe it was my second because I asked my coach to film it after I’d managed to get my first one… but that’s beside the point. I got my first pull up!

Since I put the video up I’ve had loads of you ask me how I did it and what progressions you might be able to do to be able to get your first pull up – so I thought I’d write a post!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you can do to work towards your first pull up, but it includes the exercises I would recommend along with guidance of how many reps and sets to do, and how to vary for your ability. The exercises go in a rough order of easiest to most challenging (though this may vary from person to person) – try them all to see where you need to work.

So let’s go…

Pull Up Progressions

1. Ring Rows

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One of the first progressions we do for pull ups at CrossFit is ring rows. This exercise works your back and biceps, just like a pull up does, but at a slightly different angle. The other thing this exercise does is encourage you to keep your body straight and strong – just as you should in a pull up.

  • Starting with your feet below the anchor point (where the rings are attached to) hold the rings and lean back – let your toes come off the floor so you’re anchored on just your heels.
  • Engage your back muscles by pulling your shoulders back and then slowly bend your arms to bring your chest up to the rings.
  • Straighten your arms to return to the start position.
  • To make this easier simply step back so your feet are further behind the anchor point, or to make it harder, step forwards so your feet are further in front of the anchor point.

How many?

3 x 8-12 reps at an angle that makes the last rep or two of each set a challenge.

2. Jumping Pull Ups

Another great pull up progression is jumping pull ups. These take some of the hardest part of the movement out (the initial shrug) and allow you to work on your pulling strength in the same angle that you would a pull up.

  • Place a box underneath the pull up bar that allows you to stand on it while holding on to the bar.
  • Bend your legs until you’re at a “dead hang”, i.e. your arms are fully straightened out.
  • From this position, take enough of a jump to get you to a point where you can pull yourself the rest of the way – too much of a jump and it will be too easy, not enough and you won’t get your chin above the bar.
  • To make this harder, either jump less, or pull yourself so your chest touches the bar.

How many?

You could quite easily do more reps as this is a less “strict” movement, but work within the range of 8-12 reps for building strength… for 3 sets.

3. Floor Assisted Pull Ups

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These are another great variation to work on that pulling strength. It’s closer to a pull up than a row, and you can change the amount of weight you’re supporting yourself with just by changing your foot position.

  • Place a bar in the rack at a high enough height that you can hang from it without your butt touching the floor.
  • Slowly pull yourself up, starting by pulling your shoulders down, and then bending your arms rather than initiating the movement with your arms – you want your back to do the hard work!
  • Pause at the top, and then lower back down to the start position.
  • You can have your legs straight out in front (pictured), underneath you in a half-kneeling position, or elevated on a box so you’re in a V position – whatever gives you enough of a challenge.

How many?

3 x 8-12 reps at whichever variation you feel works you hard enough.

4. Band Assisted Pull Ups

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These are probably the exercise that I feel helped me the most – to me, it’s the closest to a “proper” pull up that you can get. There are varying “weight” bands out there – I have four different coloured ones, all different thicknesses to allow me to change up how much of my body weight I am pulling.

  • Loop a band around the bar and step one foot in (you may need to step on a box to help you!). Cross the other foot over the top.
  • As always, start by pulling your shoulders down to initiate the movement, then bend your arms to take you the rest of the way.
  • Try to keep the movement as strict as possible, i.e. not swinging or hitching, then lower all the way back down to straight arms.
  • Try different thickness bands, or combinations of bands, to get to the right amount of assistance for you.

How many?

3 x 8-12 reps with a resistance band that makes the last one or two reps challenging.

5. Eccentric (or Negative) Pull Ups

In case you don’t know, eccentric is the lengthening phase of a movement (whereas concentric is the shortening phase). So an eccentric pull up is where you get to the top of a pull up with assistance and then lower back down under control. I always remember one of our coaches telling us that if you could do 7 x 7 second negatives, you were very likely to be able to do one pull up.

  • Place a box underneath the bar and hold on to the bar.
  • Jump up to the top of a pull up and pause, then lower yourself slowly and controlled until your arms are straight.
  • Start with 3 second lowers, then work up to 5 and then 7 seconds.

How many?

3 x 5-8 reps of whichever duration fits your level. I’ve put this at a lower rep-range because it’s the eccentric portion of a movement that gives you the most muscle tears and therefore aching the next day! You’ll thank me for it…

Your First Full Pull Up

When you feel ready, try your first full pull up. I tried on the off-chance and managed to do it, so keep checking in as often as you feel you can. Make sure you’re well warmed up to avoid straining your muscles, and don’t feel disheartened if you don’t get it – just go back to the progressions and keep working – it WILL come!

Here’s my first pull up below:

Hopefully this post has given you the confidence that you can work towards a full pull up – I didn’t think it was going to happen for me, but with a bit of consistency and effort it did! Keep trying, and work with the progressions that you can, either through equipment availability, or whatever you feel is bringing you the most gains in strength. If there’s one you find particularly hard, it’s probably the one worth working on the most as this can often highlight weak areas!

Let me know if you try any of the moves, or have any other progressions you feel helped, or are helping, you! And let me know when you get your first pull up! I’d love to share in the joy!