Sigh… What a week… A Wise Ape once told me if I wasn’t getting hate mail, no one was reading my stuff. Well, people are definitely reading my stuff… This past week, I leaned heavily on my faith and asked myself many times WWTGD? (What Would The Gorilla Do?).
I think I’ve turned a corner on Practical Paleolithic – I think this blog – and my blogging – has evolved beyond the raw rants I was doing last year and become more intelligent. Sure, the sharp sarcasm remains and my usual brilliant and charming wit ;-), but the ranting just isn’t as fun as it was. Or, maybe all the yoga and the uber-spiritual, hippie-in-remission girlfriend are just making me go soft… Either way, I think my writing and YOUR reading on this blog evolved beyond the pseudo-negativity of the massively sarcastic rant. Time will tell though…
Either way, CrossFit is seriously taking off and, IMHO, some really important parts of it are getting left behind. This happens. It reminds me of the Ninjutsu boom that happened in the 80’s or the Kenpo Karate boom the decade before. Remember how there were Martial Arts guys in black masks in EVERY movie, TV show and Cartoon back then? That happened because there was an explosion in popularity and fascination with the Ninja and their Martial Art. So, Ninjutsu went from being this devastatingly effective combat art with a pragmatic Buddhist spiritual side to being something that showed up on Cereal boxes and Saturday morning cartoons. From there, there ended up being all sorts of arguments about who the actual Grandmaster of the art was (it was and is Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi) and if he was even for real, if his technique was any good and on and on…
Then new “Masters” showed up and opened competing schools (Sounds kind of like the “bootcamps” that are popping up everywhere to take some of the CrossFit popularity spillover, huh?). It got to the point where everyone was a “Ninja Master” and there were “Ninja Schools” everywhere. Then people started saying Ninjutsu wasn’t a “real” art. All sorts of arguments started about “effective” martial arts and who’s “Ninjutsu” was better. There were arguments that Ninjutsu “didn’t work” and counter-arguments that it was the most effective fighting art known to Man. This kind of stuff has been around in Martial Arts for a LONG time and you can actually make a case for these arguments being the basis of the original UFC events in the 90’s. In fact, I think there was a “Ninja” in the first UFC and I’m pretty sure he got his ass kicked…
Just like in Martial Arts, I think the TEACHER and the SCHOOL are everything when it comes to CrossFit. In CrossFit the teacher is called a “Coach” and the school is called a “box,” but it’s the same thing. At this point, the name “CrossFit” doesn’t necessarily indicate guaranteed quality anymore. At the same time, NOT seeing the name “CrossFit” on a “warehouse-style” gym doesn’t automatically mean it’s NOT a good gym either. It could be one of the many former CrossFits that either lost it’s affiliation or chose to disaffiliate. Some of those “original” CrossFit people like OPT, Melissa and Dallas from Whole 9 and Robb Wolf would make OUTSTANDING coaches if they were near you – regardless of whether or not it says “CrossFit” over their door.
Yes, I hate CrossFit and, yes, this blog is about YOU…
You’re so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain
I’ll bet you think this song is about you
Don’t you? Don’t you?
I guess the 21st century version of that song is “You probably think this blog post is about you…” The point is NO I don’t hate CrossFit and NO I didn’t write this post about any gym or anyone in particular. No more than writing that I eat some brown rice or goat yogurt once in a while means I hate Paleo and Robb Wolf…
If I routinely quote Glassman and have been saying we lost our way from stuff he said back in 2002, I’m probably not a CrossFit hater now, am I? In fact, maybe I should call myself a CrossFit Fundamentalist and run around thumping old reprints of CrossFit Journal…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: CrossFit is an AWESOME methodology and community. It’s done some great things for training and it’s connected a lot of great people. Some of my best friends are CrossFitters.
Those NEW to CrossFit, take note…
I believe CrossFit should ALWAYS be about Elite Fitness. Not so much always elite PERFORMANCE, but always Elite Fitness. What is “Elite Fitness?” Well, as it happens, Glassman wrote an OUTSTANDING paper called “What is Fitness?” back in 2002. I’m routinely amazed at how many “CrossFitters” haven’t read that incredible article and how many “CrossFitters” don’t even know who Coach Glassman IS…
It doesn’t really matter where you START when you come into CrossFit. The point is: where do you go and what’s your attitude? If CrossFit truly IS Elite Fitness – and is going to remain so – the people involved in the sport need to check their motivations. Yes, CrossFit changes lives and it’s great that it can scale and be accessible to all. I’m all for diverse groups of people seeing the benefits of CrossFit. But I think that CONSTANT IMPROVEMENT is a cornerstone of what CrossFit is all about.
“Master Chen was renowned for his skill in Taijiquan, perhaps the greatest teacher of his day. At the end of a long life, surrounded by students, Chen lay dying. Chen gestured for his chief student. The student approached and kneeled by Chen’s bed.
‘Yes, Master,’ asked the student.”
‘It is a pity,’ whispered Master Chen. ‘I was only just learning how to punch.'”
(Thanks to my awesome Facebook friend Robert for digging up that quote for me!)
Here’s the thing: I’ve been a coach for a while now. Something I feel I’m exceptionally good at is seeing the potential someone I’m training has – even if they can’t see it themselves – and moving them toward that potential. All of us can always be better than we are today and it can be surprising how small the daily changes are that add up to BIG changes over months and years. (This is true in LIFE, not just training, BTW…)
But what about the people aren’t pushing the edge of their potential? What about the people who don’t care about pushing the edge of their potential? Or, what about the people who would push the edge of their potential if they had a coach who could help them do it and lend them some vision for who they could be? And, beyond that, what about the coaches who need to be pushing their OWN potential on TWO fronts – their own training and athletic ability AND their coaching ability?
Far from saying I think we should exclude new people from CrossFit or have some massive performance standards, I ACTUALLY think new people should get MORE coaching and MORE attention and A LOT MORE encouragement to SLOW DOWN until they’re ready to go faster and move bigger weight. As coaches or just those who have been in CrossFit for a long time (and training for an even longer time), we have a very big responsibility to teach people stuff the right way right from the beginning.
Everyone is Watching and There are No “Do Overs…”
I’d like to see our community continue to be elite – IN QUALITY – and not have us start looking like a bunch of clowns in knee socks and Vibrams pounding the shit out of ourselves with bad form and too much weight way too often. The truth is, I think there’s a fork in the road and some of us are going one way and some of us are going the other… Time to choose a direction, folks…
There’s a REAL danger of CrossFitters being the 21st Century version of the Ass Clown Gym Guys in the stupid pants who EVERYONE thinks of when you say “bodybuilder.” (Credit to Alysha for the “Ass Clown” terminology…) I sure as hell don’t want THAT to happen. If we’re going to avoid that though, we need to make sure our community stays on track and doesn’t get swept away and wrecked by this latest popularity surge. The world is watching us CrossFitters (Paleo people too…) and we need to step up and do the right thing. We need to show the world our BEST…
CrossFit is MORE than MetCons…
One of the big factors that drew me to CrossFit back in 2008 was that it incorporated so many different disciplines AND had fast and effective methods for teaching them. CrossFit incorporates running, Powerlifting, Gymnastics, Olympic lifting and a WHOLE LOT of other cool stuff. But the fundamentals in those disciplines take YEARS to develop…
Maybe not years in CrossFit, but years in training them. A runner coming into CrossFit is going to be AWESOME at running and likely have not-so-great barbell skills and be lacking a lot of other stuff. A Powerlifter or bodybuilder will have (hopefully) some really good barbell skills and probably not be able to run to his car and back to get his whey protein recovery shake. The beauty of CrossFit is that it is AWESOME at exposing your weaknesses and showing you where you suck currently. But, once you know where you need to improve – PLEASE start systematically working on improving!
One of the things that’s happened in CrossFit – and I started seeing it when I ran my own affiliate – is that people think the MetCon IS CrossFit. They expect – and demand – that every workout crushes them and leaves them in a pool of sweat and vomit at the end. As a coach, you walk a line because you can be seen as “soft” if you dial people back and make them hold back some adrenal capacity and recovery. I’ve actually used a Gymboss Timer to enforce longer time between sets in the Powerlifts with people. As in, Max Deadlift for 5 sets of 5 reps with 3 MINUTES between sets. You should see everyone go NUTS wanting to grab the bar after about 30 seconds! Three minutes feels like an ETERNITY to a CrossFitter who’s been doing a ton of Metcons…
My point is, a “CrossFit Workout” can be skill work with the Barbell Snatch followed by a few singles with 60% of max. It can be a WALK with a weight vest. It can be an hour or two of rolling in Jiu Jitsu. YES, the crazy MetCon stuff is COOL and it DOES increase your capacity (as long as you don’t drastically exceed your capacity and then come back for more before recovering – and then take a two mile run after coming back before recovering…).
What I’m starting to see is a lot of newer people coming in to CrossFit and thinking it’s ALL about the MetCon. There is a tremendous amount of complexity and depth and BEAUTY within CrossFit that has NOTHING to do with MetCons and vomiting in chalk buckets. But, people see stuff on YouTube and think the MetCon IS CrossFit. Then they want to “do CrossFit” so you end up with people running before they can even walk.
If you can’t do a technically VERY GOOD Barbell Snatch or Clean and Jerk, you really have NO business doing those movements in a MetCon with high reps and a focus on speed.
Specializing in not specializing isn’t the same as specializing in sucking…
As far as I’m concerned, CrossFit is like a Martial Art in that it involves – and demands – constant practice, refinement and learning. First off, you better have an EXCELLENT coach is committed to lifelong learning and improvement herself or himself. Second, YOU need to take personal responsibility for your training and learning and improvement. The thing about “not specializing” is another VERY misunderstood deal in CrossFit…
Even though CrossFit doesn’t “specialize” in anything, this doesn’t mean there’s no point in being good at anything. Here are the three standards of fitness in Coach Glassman’s own words from “What is Fitness?”:
“CrossFit makes use of three different standards or models for evaluating and guiding ﬁtness. Collectively, these three standards deﬁne the CrossFit view of ﬁtness. The ﬁrst is based on the ten general physical skills widely recognized by exercise physiologists. The second standard, or model, is based on the performance of athletic tasks, while the third is based on the energy systems that drive all human action.”
Here, he expands on the First Standard:
“There are ten recognized general physical skills. They are cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, ﬂexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. You are as ﬁt as you are competent in each of these ten skills. A regimen develops ﬁtness to the extent that it improves each of these ten skills. Importantly, improvements in endurance, stamina, strength, and ﬂexibility come about through training. Training refers to activity that improves performance through a measurable organic change in the body. By contrast improvements in coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy come about through practice. Practice refers to activity that improves performance through changes in the nervous system. Power and speed are adaptations of both training and practice.”
Note the use of the words “competent,” “training” and “practice. The sports and activities CrossFit draws from are diverse and we don’t “specialize” in any one of them. But we do – or should – strive to be very, very good at any of the training modes we use as CrossFitters. This requires time and practice.
And, here, Coach expands on the Second Standard:
“The essence of this model is the view that ﬁtness is about performing well at any and every task imaginable. Picture a hopper loaded with an inﬁnite number of physical challenges where no selective mechanism is operative, and being asked to perform fetes randomly drawn from the hopper. This model suggests that your ﬁtness can be measured by your capacity to perform well at these tasks in relation to other individuals. The implication here is that ﬁtness requires an ability to perform well at all tasks, even unfamiliar tasks, tasks combined in inﬁnitely varying combinations. In practice this encourages the athlete to disinvest in any set notions of sets, rest periods, reps, exercises, order of exercises, routines, periodization, etc. Nature frequently provides largely unforeseeable challenges; train for that by striving to keep the training stimulus broad and constantly varied.”
Here again, Coach is saying “performing well at any and every task imaginable.” Performing tasks “well” isn’t the same as just barely being able to perform them – or not being able to perform them at all without being injured. And, if someone can’t perform a task somewhat “well,” they have no business performing that task in a timed workout (MetCon). At least not with the Rx’ed weight…
Bringing this all together, Glassman goes on to say:
“Our ﬁtness, being ‘CrossFit,’ comes through molding men and women that are equal parts gymnast, Olympic weightlifter, and multi-modal sprinter or ‘sprintathlete.’ Develop the capacity of a novice 800-meter track athlete, gymnast, and weightlifter and you’ll be ﬁtter than any world-class runner, gymnast, or weightlifter.”
But, remember, the “capacity of a novice weightlifter” is still pretty high in both technique AND raw poundage. Even if we aren’t at this level, it’s at least a level we need to aspire to in our training and in setting our goals.
The Martial Art of fitness…
My martial arts teacher, Chris Wright-Martell, told me recently that his core purpose in running his school is to touch everyone who comes to train there in as positive a way as possible, for as long as possible. That’s what HIS teacher taught him because that was his teacher’s ideal as well.
So, I’m not advocating we become a bunch of elitist douchebags who don’t respect or nurture the improvement of EVERYONE who comes to train with us. But I DO expect that we – as coaches – instill rock-solid fundamentals and safe training habits in those we train. If you spent 5 nights a week at a martial arts school I’d expect you to have a good grasp on some basic fighting and self-defense techniques after 6 months. If you told me you were training MMA kickboxing for 6 months and, when we squared off to spar, you had your chin up and out (a nice way to get knocked out) and kept dropping your hands (leaving your face and head open to get hit), I’d wonder about who your coach was and how serious you were about your training. It can be the coach, the student or both.
This really IS Elite Fitness and we really DO need to have a higher standard. I don’t think that’s a raw performance standard as much as it’s a standard regarding heart, commitment, desire and attitude. Some part of that – in my opinion – is a commitment to constant learning and improving in everything your chosen athletic activities entail. One of the things I LOVE about CrossFit is that it can scale and virtually ANYONE can get a great workout that challenges them mentally and physically. But scaling is very different from having lousy form.
If the WOD is Grace (30 Clean and Jerks for time), I’m going to expect – and enforce – outstanding form. And I’m going to drill a whole bunch of movements that are foundational to the Clean and Jerk in the warm-up – Deadlift, Clean, Front Squat, Strict Press, etc. – so that we all know the weak points in each student’s lift and so that I know the weight everyone needs to do the WOD with. If you can do the Rx weight, fine. If you can’t do the Rx weight – with strong form – then you need to use the weight that WILL allow you to use exceptional form so you can start training in proper movement patterns. THAT is scaling. Too much weight with lousy form is bad for everyone – the coach, the trainee AND CrossFit as a community AND as a business.
I wrote this article about coaching my friend and the wife of my Jiu Jitsu teacher through her first run-in with Grace. That workout was after a few MONTHS of working her Clean, her Rack and her Jerk to the point that I could put her on the clock and push her with regard to the weight. CrossFit – especially the weighted and barbell stuff like Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Kettlebells, Strongman, etc. – IS NO JOKE! You CAN get hurt and you CAN mess yourself up long-term doing things wrong. You may not feel it today and you may not feel it tomorrow, but you WILL feel it sooner or later and it likely won’t be pretty.
Incidentally, I STRONGLY believe the COACH should be setting the weights for each individual when getting ready for a WOD as opposed to the athletes – particularly in the beginning. I’ve had people train with me who were choosing their own weights almost immediately – with maybe some gentle suggestions from me – and I’ve had people who I ALWAYS prescribed weight for based on form, strengths and weaknesses, what they were working on currently, how tired they were, number of workouts that week and a bunch of other stuff. And, it wasn’t always about going LIGHTER either. Some people need to be encouraged to go HEAVIER once their form improves – in that case, it’s about “lending them your vision” as a coach and seeing where they can go.
It’s time to raise the bar…
CrossFit is really something great and unique in the athletic world. The fact that it’s spreading and growing and reaching the mainstream could be a really good thing. And I think it’s up to EVERYONE in the community to keep the standards high and make the community and the methodology accessible to everyone who comes into it. It’s also up to us to keep CrossFit from becoming another “Everyone is doing it, no one does it anymore” kind of thing. We’ll know it’s over when Spencer Gifts is selling CrossFit T-Shirts right next to the UFC and Tapout stuff. If that happens, I’m out…
Some people have gotten pissed and said I made it sound like CrossFit (or me personally) doesn’t want new people to come in. Absolutely not. But, at this point, you need to be DAMN careful about where you train. Check out as many CrossFits as you can in your area and don’t commit to one until you’ve really gotten a good look at it. AND, check out the videos on CrossFit.com so you know what GOOD form is on a lot of the exercises and see if people are doing that same form at the classes you’re checking out. Someone just coming into CrossFit with little past experience doesn’t know what a good rack looks like in the Clean or not to round out their back in a Deadlift. They shouldn’t get 10 minutes of instruction and then feel pressured to go as fast as possible with as much weight as they can handle. THAT’S NUTS!
In fact, if you’re new to CrossFit – or not so new – you should be LIVING on CrossFit.com. There’s more information on there than you could consume in a lifetime or two and there’s some really educational and awesome stuff to be found. I’ll never forget when I first got into CrossFit with my friend Merle McKenzie from CrossFit Relentless‘ encouragement. I stayed up half the night reading “What is Fitness?” and a bunch of other stuff from CrossFit Journal. One of the things I loved about CrossFit – and that made me decide to jump into it – was that it offered exposure to so many diverse training modes. Instead of having to “choose” to specialize in Powerlifting, for example, I could train the power lifts within a more broad program. It meant I could train to be good at a wide range of stuff while still having a single overarching training methodology AND a great community of like-minded people around me. Sold!
Put it this way, if you buy a guitar and take three music lessons, are you a musician? No. And would you really want me to throw you on a Moto GP bike after a few quick rounds of “here’s the clutch, that’s the front brake, don’t lean over too far, look where you want the bike to go…?” Of course not. This stuff is HARD! You don’t get good at it overnight. It takes a while!
“CrossFit” on the sign above the door IS NOT an automatic indication of quality training and coaching the way it used to be. Beyond that, it’s very important to realize that EVERY CrossFit gym will have a different culture and feel. Just like one Jiu Jitsu school can be VERY different from another right down the road, some CrossFits are GREAT and some are not so great. You might need to drive an extra few miles to get a GREAT one, but it’s worth the trip…
So, for all the new people who flamed me about making CrossFit sound “uninviting” or “elitist,” the CrossFit I’m proposing would actually be the best place for new people. They’d get A LOT more instruction on form and they’d be encouraged to train at a pace and load that was appropriate for them. Really, who would you rather train with: Someone like me who has devoted the last several years of his life – full time – to learning everything he can about coaching and training CrossFit and Kettlebells or someone who thought CrossFit looked fun and lucrative and went off and got a Level 1 a few months ago instead of doing that online Certified Personal Trainer course they were thinking about.
Look into the people who own and coach the gyms you’re looking at and thinking about investing your time and money in. Read their blog posts (hopefully they HAVE a blog) and make sure you like their ideals and ideas.
Incidentally, when I was coaching full time, MY affiliate was where a lot of people came AFTER they got hurt at another box and realized they needed more hands on instruction with form and technique. I heard that story a bunch of times during the initial consult… (A little quality time with Google will tell you what kind of gym you’re getting involved in ahead of time.)
Elite fitness isn’t just about going “fast” or “heavy.” It’s about great form and technique, health on all levels, building a healthy and sustainable lifestyle and strengthening your body for the long term. It’s not about grinding the hell out of your joints and endocrine system for a few years and then suffering for the rest of your life. As coaches we have a responsibility to teach people how to do stuff RIGHT and we have even more of a responsibility to know what RIGHT is.
Where’s the fun if no one is getting hurt?
Something I’ve learned from Robb Wolf and Dr. Mark Cheng (among others) is how fragile the human body can be when it’s not fed well and moved properly. I think there is A LOT of underestimation of the damage we can do to ourselves with poor movement patterns and bad dietary practices and lifestyles. And a lot of this damage doesn’t show up until it’s too late and there isn’t a lot we can do about it or it’s a lot of work to correct.
I don’t want CrossFit to be associated with bad form, funny looking shoes, people getting hurt and some fad “low-carb” diet. It’s as simple as that.