Ask Me Anything! – Coach Erik

Ask Me Anything – Coach Erik
by Erik Castiglione

Ask Me Anything

In this rendition of “Ask Me Anything”, Coach Erik takes a turn answering your questions. Many questions were asked, and some required long answers. To make your lives easier, Coach Erik inserted a table of contents so you can jump to each question.

Mia Singer asks: When did you start listening to the music you enjoy the most today, and what influenced that?

My favorite types of music all involve great guitar work: rock, metal, and their various subgenres. It started when my dad would take my brothers and me out to breakfast on Saturday mornings. He would play the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and other classic rock bands on the car stereo. From there, I got my own crappy little Mickey Mouse radio that only received one channel. As luck would have it, this channel was 107.1 WCCC, which eventually changed to 106.9 WCCC – the Rock. They played new and old rock during the 90’s, so I was introduced to Ozzy, Sabbath, Judas Priest, Van Halen, Metallica, Ted Nugent, the Scorpions, Candle Box, Silverchair, Soundgarden, Rancid, and many others.

In the late 90’s/early 2000’s, Nu Metal started gaining air time. This included bands like Slipknot, Korn, and Disturbed. My tastes grew heavier along with the music of the day. In 8th grade, I was introduced to melodic death metal. It combined the awesome, dueling guitar melodies of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest with a vocal style even grittier than Nu Metal – the death growl. I dealt with anger issues in high school, and this music was cathartic for me. The lyrics ranged from cryptic, global themes to personal/introspective issues. It is still my favorite genre today. Here’s a great example, with lyrics so you can understand!

Doug Bowman asks: Describe the thinking that led you to functional vs. aesthetic fitness?

I have always been competitive, and never liked to lose. First, I was tired of my older brother beating me up, so I wanted to get stronger. I was tired of not having the fastest mile time in 4th grade, so I spent 5th grade working on it. As I participated in sports, I found that greater effort in training, particularly off-season training, gave great benefit in season. I had little wrestling experience before high school, but often made up for less experience with superior fitness and work capacity. In other words, I could overcome lack of skill by being physically better. Not always, but in my day, often (I gather the skill level of youth athletes has greatly increased in the last decade, so this might not work now). Since performance was always my goal, I never really cared about aesthetic fitness.

Christie Lombardi asks: I struggle with motivation/self-discipline, particularly as it pertains to getting to the gym. Do you have any strategies to help with this?

At the beginning of the year I wrote a blog post on motivation, which you can find here. The bottom line is that motivation is an emotion. When we feel motivated, working out is easy. The key is to implement strategies that will help us work out when we’re not feeling motivated. Self-discipline is easier when you have systems and strategies in place to follow. For example, if you look at people who follow rigid diets, they are self-disciplined with junk food because they don’t have it in their house. It’s easy to not be tempted to eat crap when it’s not available to you.

When it comes to getting to the gym, I have a couple strategies.

  1. Put it in your calendar. I live and die by my calendar in my phone, so if something is scheduled, I’m going to do it
  2. Pick a gym buddy (NOT your significant other). Hold each other accountable – meet at the gym, and bug each other if you don’t make it. It’s easier with support than going it alone.
  3. Pack your gym bag the night before, and put it in your car. Getting organized eliminates the excuse “well, I forgot my stuff.”
  4. Just show up. Even when you’re not feeling motivated, once you get moving in the warm-up, motivation my return to you

All of this can build a positive feedback loop. Self-discipline is built through repeated action. Make it a habit, and then you’ll have an easier time.

Bill Pratt asks: What do we (the athletes, not you or the other coaches) don’t do enough of that we should be doing more of? Conversely, what do we do a lot that probably doesn’t make that much of a difference or even hurts us in our quests to become better athletes?

Excellent question. In general, our members do a great job in the gym. They push hard, work on form, and do what is asked of them. The problem is that this accounts for 1 or maybe 1.5 hours out of a 24 hour day. It’s what happens (or doesn’t) in the rest of the day that really matters, and this is where everyone can improve. Are you getting 7-8 hours of sleep? Are you spending hours on end sitting, or do you make a point to get up and walk around? Do you mobilize regularly? Have you taken charge of your nutrition? Are you drinking enough water? Do you have healthy outlets to manage your stress? Are you spending enough time with your loved ones? It’s in these areas outside of the gym that we can all improve to become truly healthy.

Social media can be great – it allows for information to be shared, and it makes it easy to keep in touch with one another. However, it can be a double edged sword. When we watch videos of our friends and professional athletes, it’s very easy to compare ourselves to them. If you use this to motivate yourself, great! On the other hand, it can be tempting to see other people’s accomplishments and use it to demean yourself:

“He’s only being doing this 5 months, why is he stronger than me?”
“She eats like crap, I see her cheat meals all the time. Why does she have abs when I don’t?”

Our Wodify whiteboard can lead to this as well if you spend too much time comparing your scores to other people’s. This can derail your progress. Remember that your fitness journey is yours, and yours alone. Ignore what other people are doing and focus on you.

Liz Devaney asks: If you could only have 3 pieces of equipment in your home gym what would they be?

I’m going to call a bar and plate set 1 piece of equipment, so that would be piece number 1. Piece 2 would be a Rogue Yoke. It serves as a yoke, squat rack, fat pull-up bar, and plate storage. Lots of options for exercises there. Piece number 3 would be a kettlebell – it’s an awkward object, and there are so many movements you can do with it besides swings (Turkish get-ups, anyone?). Stay tuned, we’re going to be doing some this summer.

Doug Bowman asks: Are you considering Nordic-centric names for the baby? Any Thors, Ragnars, Astrids or Ingas on the horizon?

We named our baby Molly, an Americanization of the Norse “Mally.” It’s not as obvious as Ingrid or Astrid, but it was my great-great-grandmother’s name. More importantly, it sounds good with my Italian last name, Castiglione. Not much sounds good in front of it.

Danielle Mailloux asks: Need more pictures of baby Molly! Who delivered the baby?

Dr. Larry Lazor delivered Molly. We (and by we, I mean Boo) will continue posting photos on social media. I highly recommend you follow her on Instagram: @stigstomyboo. She frequently posts photos in her IG story.

Katie Husband asks: What are the best and worst parts of owning your own business?

The best part: I’m my own boss. I don’t have to deal with malignant narcissists with inferiority complexes (my first boss), or office politics (plenty of horror stories from working for the government). I don’t have to deal with partners, either. My last partnership had too many cooks in the kitchen; there were 5 of us. Roles were not clearly defined, and the workload distribution was wildly uneven. Worse, the compensation scale didn’t reflect the workload. I still have PTSD from that mess. I answer to the membership – as long as you guys are happy and seeing results, we’re good.

The worst part: criticism and complaints are rampant, but we rarely hear praise when it comes to feedback. This is especially true where finances are concerned. All our members are also our friends, and having financial conversations is always awkward, and often unpleasant. This is largely due to 3 erroneous expectations that members have, which are at odds with business reality.

First, most people expect their membership rates to remain fixed, and balk when rates go up. I think the assumption here is that I’m pocketing the increased revenue. In fact, the opposite is true. In hard months, my paycheck is the first thing to be sacrificed. I’ve actually had a number of payless months over the last 3 years, and it’s scary as hell when you have a family to provide for. The fact is, we live in a world of rising costs. Each year, city, state, and property taxes increase, rent increases, and utility costs increase. People also assume that more members means more profit. In point of fact, as membership increases, other costs increase. We put more wear and tear on the equipment resulting in more repairs and replacements, and we require more paper goods for the restrooms. Additional revenue helps cover these costs so that we can keep the doors open, the lights on, and keep this community going strong while staying safe.

The second expectation is the expectation of discounts. To be truly fair across the board, we shouldn’t have any. Why do we? Because I inherited the practice when I took over. “Now you’re just being cheap, Erik”, you might be thinking. Well, let me ask you the following questions: if you’re here with your spouse or are a first responder, you currently get a 10% discount. Are you receiving 10% less coaching than everyone else? Are you building 10% less fitness? Is the service you get worth less than that of your spouse? No? Then how is it fair that you pay a lower price than they do for the same service?

Finally, there’s an expectation that because other gyms in the area charge X, our prices should be about the same. The reality is, we’re a hell of a lot better than every other gym in the area (and I’d wager the world, no joke), and we grossly undercharge for our service. There are 4 factors that make a great gym:

  • A welcoming, supportive, and fun community. We have this in spades, you guys are awesome and make the community what it is. Stop by any event or competition and you’ll see!
  • A knowledgeable, interested, and caring coaching staff. Knowing your stuff is one thing but taking a personal interest in each member and delivering the best possible service is another. Our coaches continually help our members, even when they’re not running class. We give you mobility and accessory work to do outside of class, we stay after to help you work on skills, and we’re constantly in contact through social media and email to ensure you have all the tools you need to be successful in your fitness journey. In a money hungry gym, there would be no free advice; you would pay for every conversation on nutrition, and personal training fees for every bit of training received outside of class.
  • A progressive, effective program custom tailored to the abilities of the membership. Many gyms program either random workouts with no rhyme or reason to them, or they employ cookie cutter programs that they pay for online. There is nothing unique about these programs, but it takes the programming workload off the coaches’ shoulders. Additionally, these programs are comprised of 1 element: you warm-up and then lift, or you warm-up and then condition. This leads to a lot of down time during your hour-long class. Our program is written for our athletes. It is meticulously planned to ensure that you make progress each cycle while staying injury free. We show you your progress by testing you with benchmark workouts and max lifts. Don’t take my word for the efficacy of the program, look at your own progress.
  • A clean facility with enough equipment for everyone. We are truly blessed here at CFR. We have more bars, plates, and rowers than most gyms I’ve seen. We have enough space to comfortably run multiple classes at the same time. During our metcons, our members get their own equipment. I have been to many gyms (and part-owned 2) where members were forced to share bars, boxes, rowers, wallballs, and everything else during their WODs, because there wasn’t enough space or equipment to accommodate everyone. Don’t believe me? I encourage you to drop in to other gyms when you travel and see for yourself.

Many gyms out there have a couple of these elements, but very few have all 4. I may be biased, but I firmly believe our gym is head and shoulders above any and every other.

Katie Husband asks: Looking back over the last few years, is there anything you would do differently?

There are a few things I would change:

Number 1, I would go back and enlist community/membership help earlier than I did. For the first t-shirts we ever did, I used the same company that designed our logo, and I was quoted a reasonable price per shirt. When the order came in, they slapped on project management fees, redesign fees, and other hidden costs, and basically tripled the quoted price. I lost a lot of money on that order, because I wasn’t going to charge $45 for a t-shirt (to break even).

Number 2, I would refrain from doing most of the traditional advertising that we’ve done. We’ve been in numerous publications, local fliers and events, and the vast majority have done nothing for us. The worst offenders took our payment and did nothing with it (there have been 2 of those).

Finally, I would hire full-time help a little earlier. It’s impossible to grow the business when you’re always running the business. Derek has been a tremendous help, and I would go back and hire him sooner.

Michael Shelby asks: What is your all-time favorite band?

My favorite band changes with my mood, so I’m going to cop out and name my all-time favorite musician instead: Zakk Wylde. He’s a phenomenal guitarist, and a highly underrated pianist and vocalist. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Rockstar” with Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston, he plays Ghode, the guitar player of the band Steel Dragon. (Another fun fact: that movie is based on the story of Tim “Ripper” Owens, and how he replaced Rob Halford as the lead singer of Judas Priest). Zakk’s other works:

Founder, lead guitarist, pianist, and singer of the heavy metal band Black Label Society (Also played bass and drums in earliest albums)
Lead guitarist of the Ozzy Osbourne Band (1987-1995, 1998, 2001-2008, 2017-present):
Guitarist and lead singer of the southern rock band Pride & Glory
2 solo acoustic albums
Guitarist and lead singer of Zakk Sabbath, a Black Sabbath cover band
Frequent member of the Experience Hendrix tour
Frequent member of Generation Axe tour
Guest guitarist for numerous bands, including the Allman Brothers, Guns & Roses, My Darkest Days, Fozzy, and Damage Plan

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Michael Shelby asks: What are some real, actionable/measurable steps to lean out past the age of 50? I swear I don’t gorge and eat clean most of the time. Is there a pill against being old as f***, or do I switch to eating only an apple a day like Christian Bale for “The Machinist?”

Yeah, let’s not use Christian Bale as an example. Food quality is great, and it helps many people shed some weight because many people eat calorically dense crap. Eating the same volume of good food results in significantly fewer calories consumed, hence weight loss.

So, what steps can you take? Step 1, figure out your needed caloric intake (see the next question for more info). Step 2, reduce your maintenance calories by 500 per day. Step 3, weigh and measure your food to make sure that you’re not exceeding your daily caloric intake. This can be in the form of the Zone diet, macros, whatever. Step 4: write it all down so you can be sure you’re not going over. Bottom line, quantity matters. Shameless plug: we are revamping our nutrition coaching program in the near future. Stay tuned for introductory offers!

Kate Calyore asks: Do you have any recommended resources for determining daily macro goals?

Excellent question, Kate. As with most things fitness related, the answer is “it depends.” In this case, your macros will depend on your goals. Are you trying to gain weight, lose weight, or just maintain? Generally speaking, step 1 is to determine your daily caloric intake. There are numerous methods out there to do this, all of which require you to multiply your bodyweight by a factor that is determined by your activity level. The most comprehensive is using the Harris Benedict Equation which also accounts for age, and body composition – check this link:

Once you have your daily calories, you can determine your macros. As a starting point for someone of your activity level, assuming maintenance is the goal, I would set your protein level at 1g per lb of bodyweight and divide the remaining calories equally between carbs and fats. These numbers can be tweaked depending on goals of weight gain or loss and depending on how you feel. Playing this out with some easy math, let’s assume we’re talking about a 135 lb female under age 30, who is active in our competitor’s program. For the sake of whole numbers, our multiplier will be 17, which is just about right (maybe a little low).

135 * 17 = 2295 daily calories.
1g protein = 4 calories -> 135 * 4 = 540 calories
2295 – 540 = 1755 calories to come from carbs and fat
1755 / 2 = 877.5 calories each for carbs and fat
1g carbs = 4 calories -> 877.5 / 4 = 219.375 g carbs per day
1g fat = 9 calories -> 877.5 / 9 = 97.5 g fat per day

So, there you have a simple example. Generally speaking, we would increase carbs and protein over fat for weight gain and increase protein over carbs and fat for weight loss. Everyone is unique, so it’s a matter of tweaking things to find what works best for you.

Kate Calyore asks: How do you determine if you need to gain, maintain, or lose weight for optimal performance?

Another great question. Generally speaking, you should only be concerned with weight if you are severely overweight, dangerously underweight, or competing in a sport with weight classes. Otherwise, focus on performance and feel. Since your question explicitly pertains to performance, allow me to answer with a question of my own: are you still making strength gains? For you, if so, I would keep your weight where it is.

In general, CrossFit as a sport involves trade-offs. To be able to lift the most weight, you’ll likely have to gain weight. However, this can hurt you when it comes to high volume gymnastics since you’ll have more weight to move around. Conversely, if you lose a lot of weight to get better at gymnastics, you may find a dip in your high end strength. So, what’s the optimum point? It’s different for everyone. If you’re currently able to handle high volume gymnastics, keep a solid motor, and are still making strength gains, then stay put. If your strength has stalled, you may consider adding some lean mass. If your strength is solidly increasing but you’re not making progress with gymnastics, or your motor is lacking, you may consider losing some weight. The bottom line: don’t worry about it until some aspect of your performance stops improving.

Charlotte Hillery asks: What is your all-time favorite beer? who (alive/dead/human/alien/cartoon – no rules!) would you want to share one with?

My favorite beer of all time is the Samuel Smith Organic Chocolate Stout. Good for any time of year, but especially good in winter.

ask me anythingHmmmmm, I would pick a fictional character with a very long lifespan and wide range of experiences/activities – they gotta have some stories! The 2 that come to mind are Duncan MacLeod, main character of the Highlander tv series, or Wolverine.

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Rob Bard asks: How important are rest days? Is it okay to use active rest days in place of total days off or do you need to give yourself complete rest once in a while?

Rest days are arguably the most important part of fitness. We do not get fitter by training; we get fitter by recovering from (and therefore adapting to) training. If we can’t recover, we lost the benefit of training.

Everyone needs at least 1 day a week of complete rest (mobility work is NOT included in this; you can and should mobilize every day). If you’re accustomed to training 5 days a week, you could potentially add in a 6th day of active recovery. This would mean long, slow cardio. Examples include a leisurely hike or bike ride, an easy row or jog, or something similar. It should be boringly easy – you should be able to maintain a full conversation with ease during these activities. Getting out of breath is NOT active recovery, nor is doing some monstrosity of a workout where you “just keep moving and don’t push hard.” As CrossFitters, we have a hard time with the idea of anything being long and slow. If you’re going to do active recovery, make sure you go easier than you think you need to.

Tiffany Christner asks: Can you give us some good recommendations for mobility WOD videos? I tend to just search a random body part and watch the first video that appears; some are better than others.

Kelly Starrett (founder of mWOD) has broken down mobility into 7 archetypal positions: the squat/hinge, overhead position, the front rack, the pistol, hanging, the lunge, and the press. These positions are archetypes because you will see them in all sorts of movements, even when less than obvious. For example, your arm position when running is the same position as the bottom of a push-up or bench press.

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I know, right? So, the way mWOD works is that he tackles each of the 7 archetypes for 1 day each week. I would start with his 14-day challenge. It dedicates 2 days to each of the 7 positions. Next time you log in to mWOD, click on the “Programming” tab and pick “New Subscribers Start Here.” The 14-day challenge is at the bottom of the page. Start with that, and then I would just follow along with his daily drills after completing it.

Jessa English asks: What was your favorite toy as a child (4th-5th grade agish)?

When I was 10-11, my parents bought us a Super Nintendo, and my grandparents bought us a Sega Genesis (my parents were PISSED). It worked out for me, because my brothers would play sports games on the Genesis (sports games are BORING) leaving me to play action/adventure games on the SNES. My favorite games were Donkey Kong 1-3, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy IV, The Secret of Mana, Illusion of Gaia, and Super Mario World. Also, SNES had a couple of throwback games where you could play some original NES games – Ninja Gaiden Trilogy, and Mario All-Stars.

Neil Leary asks: What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Since you nerded out with a Monty Python quote, I’m tempted to nerd out and actually take you through the calculations that would get you the answer for a European Swallow. However, I’m almost at 4000 words in this post, so I’ll just post the Monty Python clip and be done with it. Enjoy!

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