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Intelligent, Strong & Bad Ass

“A woman should be 3 things- intelligent, strong, and bad ass.”  r.h. sin

My life is full of women who embody these characteristics. Intelligent, strong and bad ass. Some are ridiculously physically strong while others inspire me with their mental and/or emotional strength. They are also beautiful.  Brilliant.  Resourceful.  Creative.  Funny.  Sassy.  Witty.  Kind.  I admire and stand in awe of each and every one of them.

Yesterday I watched a woman snatch an INSANE amount of weight both before and right after a 9-minute workout. SO impressive.

A while later she showed me a picture, it was of her hanging her head looking defeated after just failing her last attempt and she said,  “This picture sums up the workout.” Meaning, she wasn’t satisfied. She was upset and didn’t feel it was good enough. Both snatches were 90% or greater of her 1RM.  Oh, and did I mention she smashed the AMRAP in between lifting all the weight in the gym?

It was obvious she genuinely meant what she said and it broke my heart a little bit.  14 minutes of greatness and she was hanging her head looking and feeling defeated.

Another friend who is in the middle of planning a wedding, building a house, working a full-time job and raising her step-daughter also spoke more about the negative aspects of her workout.  Ummm, does she realize how amazing she is for fitting in her workouts when she has an incredibly busy and demanding life?  

And me?  Well, I hit a PR today but my focus and attention was solely on my poor performance in the conditioning pieces of my workouts. I couldn’t stop thinking about what went wrong, and questioning if I’m good enough. I am every bit as guilty as my friends.

Why do we get so caught up on the negative? Why do we focus on what we can’t do yet, or how we aren’t where we want to be? Why is it so easy to get down on ourselves and forget all of our blessings and abilities?

The very best thing about CrossFit is that it empowers women and celebrates our strength.   For the last 7 years I have watched women (and seen myself) become more confident and courageous.  Women have muscles and it is a beautiful thing. We stopped focusing only our looks and started paying attention to what our bodies could do- climbing a rope, performing  pull-ups, throwing around weight became more exciting than losing a few pounds on the scale.  We discovered that when we put our minds to something (finishing Murph no matter how long it took) we could not be stopped.  

However, at the end of the day I still see that we often fall into the habit of comparing ourselves (and falling short) to others, ignoring (or simply missing) the moments of greatness we experience because we are focusing on what “we should have done” and most devastating of all (at least to me and for me),  defining ourselves and our worth by what happens in the gym.

Can we come away from a day of training or a competition and just replay the good moments?

Can we celebrate our accomplishments and not feel guilty about doing so?

Can we build ourselves up instead of looking to others to do so?  

Can I?  

To be honest the thought is a bit terrifying, but it is also thrilling.  I want both for myself and all my friends to see that we are incredibly fierce and talented, capable of anything and everything we sets our minds on.  

So, can we do it?  Is it possible?  YES.  Yes it is.

Maybe it starts with how we treat ourselves. We start reminding ourselves that we are all on individual journeys. We are where we are, and others are where they are. We can be more intentional about celebrating our accomplishments.  We can be talk to ourselves in the supportive way we speak to others. Each time we finish a training session, we can write down 1-3 positive takeaways so that we focus on what we did WELL and right. These are just a few suggestions, ones I have tried and found great success with over the last few months.

Can you think of other ways to help build yourself up?


April Lowe is a competitive CrossFit Athlete (Master’s 40-44) who’s been pushing her limits in the sport for the past 8 years. She’s been to the CrossFit Games 1 time on a team, and 2 times as an individual. April loves sharing her life experiences and passion for fitness by blogging.
You can connect with her @cfaklowe on instagram and!

How I Set Myself Up For Success

Success is largely a result of the work I do in the gym, but I would say all the work I do out of the gym is equally important and at this point in my career (going into my 8th season as a competitive CrossFitter) maybe even more important.  I have had to create certain habits that set me up for success.

In order for me to be successful in the gym, I want to keep up with certain habits pretty much everyday.  I can get by once or twice with skipping them, but anymore than that and I quickly become a shit show.

On the other hand, when I keep on top of them, make time for focusing on certain practices(even if it means sacrificing gym time),  I have the ability and mental fortitude to handle whatever gets thrown my way.

Here are my priorities

  • Sleep is number one.  My body needs 7 hours a night minimum, but really it prefers 8.  For years I got away with 5-6 hours but that doesn’t cut it now.  I have an agreement with my coaches that if I get less than 7 hours, I don’t come to the gym to train.  This agreement helps me stay accountable and disciplined with my bedtime routine.  No social media at least 30 min before sleeping and in bed at least 45 min before the time I want to fall asleep.  Also, I try very hard to cut out caffeine after 12pm.  This helps me to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep the entire night through.
  • Nutrition and Hydration are next.  I have to be intentional about eating and drinking enough b/c it is so easy to lose track during the day.  I work with a nutrition coach who helps me stay accountable and I plan out my meals around my training on Sundays.  I like to write everything out so I can see what my day looks like and this helps me plan accordingly to make sure I get all my macros.
  • Journaling/Devotional Time/Meditation–  Sometimes it’s a little bit of all three of these, sometimes it’s just one of these. Being still first thing in the morning, praying and staying in a place of gratitude for a period of time strengthens my head, my heart and my spirit.  Writing my thoughts, my worries, my concerns, whatever is on my heart…takes weight off my shoulders. This practice lightens my load and helps me handle the adversity my day brings me.  

  • Mental Prep/Breathing Exercises– Prior to beginning a training session, I sit off by myself and focus on my breathing and what I want to accomplish in that training session.  Sometimes I will visualize, but not always.  I then go through a progression of stretches that help prepare me for my warm-up and my training session.  

  • Positive Self-Talk and Outer Talk– Being aware of my self-talk as well as how I talk to others is very important for me.  Little negative comments or thoughts build up over time.  By focusing on the positive, with myself and with others, I tend to stay more positive and encouraged when I am going through a tough training session or am on the struggle bus in a wod.  Keeping my “positive” tank full will always pay off and help get me through tough times.  

  • Mobility– I came into the sport with mobility issues and it has long been a limiting factor for me.  Getting older does not make this area better.  So I have started devoting time nearly everyday to improving my mobility.  It helps me move better, move faster, and it keeps me from getting injured.  

    These habits and practices take time out of my day, they require effort and discipline.  But in the long run, they save me time, they make training more enjoyable and they increase my chances for success.  

What do you do to set yourself up for success?


April Lowe is a competitive CrossFit Athlete (Master’s 40-44) who’s been pushing her limits in the sport for the past 8 years. She’s been to the CrossFit Games 1 time on a team, and 2 times as an individual. April loves sharing her life experiences and passion for fitness by blogging.
You can connect with her @cfaklowe on instagram and!

Breaking up with the Leaderboard

I made the decision going into this season to break things off with the leaderboard.  Our relationship over the years was a very unhealthy one- I allowed it to dictate my emotions and feelings.  I even based my self-worth on that darn thing.  

As with any break-up it was messy, hard and I was tempted to go back several times.  My first test was going through the WZA qualifier. Initially, I experienced the symptoms similar to an addict going cold turkey.  I experienced feelings of restlessness, anxiety and irritability.  It was scary having no idea where I stood or how I matched up to the other competitors.  

But then over time I started to feel a sense of peace I had never experienced during a qualification period or competition.  Yes, it was unsettling not knowing where I was sitting but I discovered when I wasn’t checking that dang board every 5 minutes there were other things I could do with my life.

I could read, write, go to the beach and spend time with my friends and family.  And even more valuable, I was able to be present in the moment because I wasn’t worried about my placement.  I wasn’t thinking that I would have beaten so-and- so if only I had gotten two more reps.  I couldn’t obsess over the qualifier because there was nothing to obsess over.  

I did the workout, gave my best effort and then left it at that with no regrets and no what-ifs.  I don’t think I fully appreciated how much energy I wasted over the years obsessing over the leaderboard, beating myself up because of where I was placed or because I didn’t beat an athlete I thought I should have beaten in a workout. I WASTED ENERGY ON THINGS I COULD NOT CONTROL.

The greatest benefit I discovered while competing in WZA this past January was that the leaderboard no longer had control or power over my emotions.  What I mean by that is, over the years when asked during a competition where I was currently placed, my responses were always along the lines of…  “I am sitting in so-and-so, hoping for a better day so I can keep moving up.”  The feelings associated with that response were disappointment, embarrassment, frustration and fear.  

However, at WZA it was a different story- my response was…  “I have no idea, I am just going out there and doing my very best and based on that I feel great.”  And you know what?  Not one time did I feel defeated or anxious talking about the LB.  Rather, it boosted my confidence and made me feel empowered.

When I use my effort as a gauge for my performance,  I have the power to to control what I can control, (sticking to my strategy, giving my best effort and keeping a positive attitude) AND to affect change. I have the power, I am in control.  I become a much stronger and confident athlete.   


April Lowe is a competitive CrossFit Athlete (Master’s 40-44) who’s been pushing her limits in the sport for the past 8 years. She’s been to the CrossFit Games 1 time on a team, and 2 times as an individual. April loves sharing her life experiences and passion for fitness by blogging.

You can connect with her @cfaklowe on instagram and!


What it Means to Build the Anti-Fragile Self – Podcast

Craig Marker recently appeared on the Rdella podcast. He is a former coach at CFE.

Dr. Craig Marker is this week’s guest in a great interview session. We discuss his approach to building strength, with specific programming concepts and training applications. This session is literally jam-packed with specific training ideas to improve strength and performance.

Craig Marker, Ph.D is a fitness enthusiast who’s published over 50 articles, chapters, and textbooks on psychology and research methods. Craig is a researcher and psychologist who understands the cutting edge of strength, sports performance, body composition, and nutrition.

Craig’s upcoming book, The AntiFragile Self, takes on the topic of building a stronger person in the mental and physical domains.

Here’s what you’ll learn about this week in a fantastic interview:

  • How his background connects to strength and performance
  • Important considerations when looking at research
  • The most valuable lesson he learned from Pavel Tsatsouline
  • Who influenced Craig’s approach the most
  • What makes a great coach
  • Advice to those considering a StrongFirst certification
  • The articles he’s most proud of and why
  • How and why he uses an “intentional community”
  • The rationale of “Plan Strong” and Soviet Weightlifting
  • The rationale for Hybrid Power Conditioning
  • An explanation of the “What The Heck” effect
  • Hear about the very latest project from StrongFirst
  • The biggest misconception about strength training
  • The most valuable exercise???
  • Biggest mistake with the kettlebell swing
  • What is The Anti-Fragile Self


Hybrid Conditioning Model

The below article summarizes some recent research on conditioning done in collaboration with StrongFirst. It emphasizes anti-glycolytic training and has been successfully applied in CrossFit athletes and in training for the StrongFirst certification. We are currently working on a hypertrophy based program building on these principles.
Below comes from (see also the strength program that accompanies it)
The program below utilizes the slow aerobic energy system to burn fat, while still providing enough energy for strength training.
calm kettlebell swing
High intensity training gets the headlines, but properly paced conditioning gets the job done.

The Science

Understanding how this program works will keep you from being tempted to change it based on how you feel, and that is imperative for success. The goal of the program is to avoid the burn, which many have come to crave and is often associated with hard work. This program allows you to work efficiently without going deep into the pain cave to achieve even greater results.
The three main energy systems described below are divided based on how they create fuel. You engage all three during training, but you use more or less of specific systems through different activities. Read this primer on the energy systems for additional information.

The Alactic System

This is your turbo system that supplies quick, intense bursts of energy. It also runs out quickly. You primarily tap into this system during sprints or heavy lifting. It is also referred to as the anaerobic (without oxygen) system. Without getting too heavy into the mechanics of this system, it relies on your storage of creatine phosphate. Mitochondria turns the creatine into fuel. Taking creatine as a supplement helps this system, but your body can only store so much. The program below will make this system as efficient as possible so you can lift heavier weights.

The Glycolytic System

This is the in-between system; both anaerobic and aerobic. It turns on if you try to sprint for as long as possible, do more than 15 reps of an exercise, or complete a 20-minute high-intensity workout. This is where you feel that addictive burn and that makes you feel like you have “worked out.”
Our goal with this program is to train the body, not to “work it out.”
New athletes often see impressive fat-loss results when starting a program that relies on the glycolytic system. Eventually, the stress response causes the body to break down. The neuroendocrine system kicks in during stress and utilizes our resources, a response that comes at a cost your body. Over time, this stress can cause damage to mitochondria. This is a bad thing, since you want more mitochondria to facilitate the development of fuel.
Additionally, this system relies on glucose to create creatine phosphate molecules. You want your body to learn to burn fat for fuel. High intensity programs can lead to cycles where you crave sugar as your body is using so much of it for energy. For this reason, the glycolytic system will be avoided in the program outlined below.
For the rest of us, it can be hard to move away from glycolytic training. First, people become addicted to the feeling of satisfaction after completing a hard workout. Second, the initial success in fat loss often leads people to want to do more glycolytic work. This is why it’s important to understand the science behind the program. You cannot listen to the post-workout high or the initial fat loss because over time, too much glycolytic work will break down your body.

The Aerobic System

This is the long-term system that relies primarily on fat sources for fuel. It is highly efficient, but low in power. The program below will utilize this system to burn fat, build peak endurance, and rely less on the glycolytic system during competition.
Phil Maffetone has trained many elite athletes by building a strong aerobic system. The off-season is the time to build an aerobic base where no training in the glycolytic zone is allowed. The key here is to avoid going into the glycolytic zone as it triggers a stress response. Peter Park trained Lance Armstrong in this manner during his peak years.
The simplest method to know if you’ve entered the glycolytic system is to use the “talk test.” If you can keep a conversation during a workout, then you are probably in the aerobic zone. If not, you’re probably in your glycolytic zone. Maffetone’s “180 Rule” is a simple method to use to know if you’re training in the right zone. The maximum heart rate you want to achieve to stay in the aerobic zone is 180 minus your age.
double unders
The goal of conditioning is to increase your body’s efficiency to the point where work that was glycolytic becomes aerobic.

The Hybrid Power Conditioning Program

Pavel Tsatsouline and I have conducted research using these types of conditioning programs. Our pilot study improved strength, endurance, and body composition among CrossFit athletes.
Al Ciampa, working with Pavel Tsatsouline, has called this program the A+A (Alactic + Aerobic). It uses the two outside energy systems and avoids the middle glycolytic system. The goal is to harness the fat burning aerobic system to replenish the quick alactic system. This program does not rely on hour-long treadmill sessions. Rather, you will train your body to use the alactic system, back off before you get too glycolytic, and then let the aerobic system replenish your creatine phosphate stores. Basically, you push to the edge of discomfort and then retreat to fight again later.

How It Works

This program consists of 3 days of conditioning and 3-4 days of strength training. In this article, I am only discussing the conditioning piece. You are allowed to do strength training as you desire, but stay away from going too glycolytic. Aim for 3 to 7 reps of 70 to 85% of your training maxes. You can combine strength training and conditioning on the same days. I suggest that you perform the conditioning first thing in the morning as you will be able to burn fat more efficiently on a fasted system.
Conditioning will require only one exercise: the kettlebell swing. If you don’t have a kettlebell, you can adapt this program to running stairs, sprinting, or jumping rope. I like the kettlebell swing as it builds explosive lower-body power. The basic concept is to do rounds of 15 seconds of work followed by 45 seconds of rest. If you are sprinting, you would sprint at 85% effort for 15 seconds and then rest for 45 seconds.
You repeat a round every minute on the minute. When you begin the program you will do ten rounds (ten minutes). It should feel easy. Don’t be tempted to do more. You want to allow the alactic system to go at full speed and then let the aerobic system refill your creatine phosphate stores. You will not feel the burn and you will not collapse to the ground after this type of training. If you do, then you did it incorrectly.
Here is the format for the program:
  • 10 kettlebell swing every minute on the minute
  • 3 days a week for 6 weeks
  • Make one day longer than the other two (e.g., Monday 10 minutes, Wednesday 14 minutes, Friday 12 minutes).
  • Each week, try to add two minutes to your average time (do not go over 30 minutes)
  • Use the talk test to make sure the rest is long enough. If you can talk comfortably before the next set, then you are okay. If you are too out of breath to talk, then you need to add more rest in between sets. If you have a heart rate monitor, make sure it does not go above the number given by the Maffetone formula (180 minus your age).
This table outlines 6 weeks of conditioning using kettlebell swings. Numbers represent rounds performed every minute, on the minute.

Tips for the Swing

Hinge, don’t squat: The swing is a simple exercise that is done wrong in so many popular media sources. It is not a squat movement, rather it is a hip-hinge movement. That means that the hips go back (hinge), and the knees only bend slightly (they bend fully in a squat). Think about this position as a jump. If you try to jump as high as you can, the bottom position is the same position that you use at the bottom of the kettlebell swing.
Be explosive with the hips, not the arms: The swing is a ballistic movement. If you think of a bullet fired out of a gun, it receives all of its power initially and then relies on momentum to get to its destination. The same goes for the swing. The hips provide the explosive power throwing the kettlebell up in the air and the arms are there just for the ride. Do not worry about how high the kettlebell goes. Your goal is to let it float up once the hips have used up their power.
Protect the back: Do not let the kettlebell pull the lower back into a bad position at the bottom of the swing. Pull your shoulders back and down to engage your lats. I like to approach the kettlebell like a gorilla with my arms out. By keeping my upper back tight, I provide more protection to my lower back.
Also, ensure the kettlebell passes between your legs on your upper thighs. As Dave Whitley says, it is like playing chicken with your man or lady parts. Wait until the last second to hinge back and let the kettlebell go between your upper thighs. If you find your forearms hitting your lower thighs, you are putting too much strain on the lower back. 
Use the Right Weight: If you are proficient with your swing, a heavier weight will use up more of your alactic system. 24kg (53lb) for men and 16kg (35lb) for women will work fine for most people. Extremely strong men can use a 32kg bell (70lb) and extremely strong women can use a 20kg bell (44lb). Adjust the weight according to your experience and proficiency with the kettlebell and your heart rate. If you do not feel comfortable with swings, short sprints and stair climbing might be a better alternative.

Fat Loss and Endurance With No Treadmills

Follow this program for at least six weeks, and you will lose fat and increase your endurance. Test yourself after 6 weeks by doing a high-intensity style workout or endurance event. Do not do any high-intensity training during the program as it will reduce your results. It is important to continue strength training in this cycle, but do not go into the glycolytic zone.
Resist the urge to push a bit more. The program may not feel challenging, but it is optimizing your energy systems for maximum fat loss and muscle gain. If you feel like you are bored or this program is too easy, then you are probably doing it correctly. Give it a few weeks for greater fat loss, endurance, and strength.

Bone Broth

Bone Broth
by Dawn Cameron

I am sitting here trying to figure out how to begin writing something that anybody will want to read for interest sake…about food. Many of you who have met me during my 3 years at Empirical know that I am seriously into both food and nutrition. I have spent a lot of time and money and effort learning and traveling and eating and generally immersing myself in these topics. Food came first, the drive to nutrition came much, much later. It has blossomed into a subject I am most passionate about.

People have expressed interest in some of my food photos, or have asked for recipes. Writing a food blog seemed like a good way to get the word out there to more people.

As this is my first attempt, I am not sure how we proceed, other than to say I will write, and put some photos here. Some weeks will be short and sweet, others maybe not so much. I will get better with experience. Time for me is currently at a premium due to my current employment as a yacht chef (for those who don’t know what I do). Hopefully someday soon this will change and my smiling face will appear more regularly in person!

So here we go….week 1. Bone broth, or meat broth or stock is basically just boiling a bunch of meat/bones and some vegetables in water, with a bit of acid in order to get all the yummy goodness out of them to either drink on it’s own, or use as a base in any kind of soup, sauce, etc, etc. In culinary school, we spent a hell of a lot of time learning how to make traditional stocks in the French manner. All well and good, tastes amazing. Also, can be daunting, a pain in the ass, and frankly, who has the time for a perfectly executed stock base??? I don’t. I barely even do it at work and they PAY me to do this stuff.

Why is this stuff so good for you? Bone broths and stocks are a great way to extract gelatin, collagen, minerals, good fats, amino acids, vitamins and flavor out of parts that you are probably a) not going to buy, or b) are the leftover bits from stuff you have cooked and are going to throw away. They are a great way to add some of these components into your diet, and are a great way to improve the health of your gut (intestines) because our modern diet and way of life seriously hurts us. Bone broth is healing. Think of Mom’s chicken soup… It is also a value-add.

If you have ever suffered digestive disturbances, or have had a bacterial or viral infection, bone broth is a good tool to use. Having some healing bone broth is a great way to put back some of those lost nutrients. This is the real deal. It is worth making and freezing and always having some so you can easily heat up if you are feeling like crud and need a boost. It will help your recovery, not just from illness, but athletic performance also. There are some people who swear by having a little mug every single day. Also supposed to help you grow lovely hair and nails and skin. Winning all around.

Making it easy: I am going to show you how I make an easy bone broth out of chicken bits. It is tasty and it takes about 10 minutes to start the process. You walk away, come
back 6-8-12 hours later, and it’s another 10 minutes of effort.

First thing is to source your chickens…I like pasture-raised birds preferably fed non-GMO feed. They cost a little more, but the meat tastes fantastic and they really are worth the money. There is a Georgia producer called White Oaks Pastures that sells to Whole Foods. Marando Farms also has some good options. Look around, not hard to buy. Roast said chicken for a meal. 1 chicken = family of 4 adults for 1 meal. Or family of 2 for 2 meals…you do the math. There is nothing quite like a roast chicken. Usually when you carve the meat off the bone, you throw away the remaining bones/carcass. I am asking you to stick it in a zip lock bag and put in your freezer. Next time you roast another chicken, do the same. We are making use of what you would normally throw away.

When I roast my chickens, I like to stuff them with parts of onion, celery, garlic and rosemary/sage/parsley/thyme/lemon whatever I have. I leave this stuff in there when I freeze it. Alternatively, you can go to the market and see if they are selling frozen chicken backs, feet and parts for cheap. I know they have this at Whole Foods.

Time to make the bone broth…

Put 2 chicken carcasses into a crock pot or stock pot.

Add some veggies. I like to put a medium onion (peeled) or half a large onion, 2 or 3 cloves of garlic whole, about 5-7 peppercorns, 2 or 3 celery stalks (use the ugly ones from the outside of the bunch, wash first), 2 carrots (use ugly carrots, top and tail, maybe peel, but definitely wash first), maybe 3-6 slices of ginger, if you like ginger, (rinse first), and optional: if you have some seaweed and want to increase your iodine content in your diet, a sprinkle or a piece will do.

Fill crockpot with filtered water to cover everything.

Add about 1 or 2 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. This is important. The acid of the vinegar helps to leech the calcium and magnesium and other goodies out of the bones.

Put the lid on, set to about 4 to 6 hours on high or 6 to 8 on low…or turn on low and go to bed and deal with it in the morning…
If you don’t have a crockpot, sucks to be you!…no seriously, why don’t you have one of these brilliant little things? This one is a bit more fancy (it’s the one I use at work). At home I have a 6 quart basic model that cost me $24.99 at Target. Buy one. So useful for so many things…

If you are doing this on the stove top, then follow all the directions and set your pot at a very, very slow simmer. But you can’t really leave the house or leave it overnight on the stovetop…so see? Crockpot is the way forward!
This is what you are left with:

So at this point, let it cool a bit. Strain out all the veggies. A doggie might find these mushy carrots a nice treat on their food…hint, hint….Drain the bones and throw them away. Now, you could also pick the meat off the bones and save that for a snack, or for a beloved pet too. Everybody wins!

To save this, I like to ladle pint size amounts into 1 quart zip lock freezer bags, label and lay flat in freezer. When frozen, they will fit just about anywhere and you have it in manageable amounts for use later.

Bone broth in a nutshell! Done and dusted. You can do this with fish bones, beef bones, lamb and pork (if raw, better roasted at about 375 degrees for an hour first before following the directions above). The pork, lamb and beef bones will need a good 24 hours in the crockpot to extract the goodness out. If you are fearful of fat, then I suggest you allow the liquid to cool completely in the fridge and skim the solidified fat off the top. This is also incidentally a great doggie treat or useful fat for roasting veggies at a later date. Nothing needs to go to waste! I personally fight with my husband over the slow cooked bits of marrow, collagen, fat and meat, but maybe that makes us a little strange. It’s damn good, that I know.