Thursday, May 3, 2012

Don't go against millions of years of evolution

Recently a friend on facebook shared a link to this article series: 

It's hosted by my good friends Dallas and Melissa of Whole 9, but it features guest spots from some great coaches. There's a short bio for many of them, but suffice it to say that several (Dan John, Eric Cressey, Greg Everett, Michael Rutherford) have either decades of experience or several published works or both. There's some heavy hitters in there!

I shared this piece on the Full Circle facebook page and it received not a single comment. Not one. To be honest, this troubled me quite a bit. Not only are there several awesome contributors, but it's not every day that you can glean this much info (give me your top five, GO!) in this short a period of time (I said five, not six!), from such a collection of diverse but unquestionably highly qualified experts. 

So here I am, thinking this article is totally profound, what if I had read this in 2000? It's helping me be self-reflective about our programming for group training, and how what I want for my clients aligns with or conflicts with the demands of a group setting or teaching to the Crossfit. I am doing some soul searching, but what about my clients? What about our 300+ followers on Facebook? In particular, what about those 30-45 year old, overweight and de-conditioned members who have recently (6 days to 6 months ago) decided to make a change for the better and to improve their lives. What are they thinking about this incredible nugget of gold.


They are not considering it at all, and if so they are not saying it. Perhaps this is why they pay me. I know for a fact in many ways it is. But I have to call all my members out and say this unequivocally: We aim to empower our members. As such, sitting on your ass and letting others do all the thinking for you, or worse yet, assuming no thinking at all is necessary is NOT ACCEPTABLE. If you aren't asking how to make things better, it is no mystery to me why things are not getting better. 

As a coach, there is in fact very little I can actually do for you, especially if you are part of a group. You must take account for yourself, and you must start asking yourself some tough questions if you want to actualize all the potential that I SEE IN YOU EVERY DAY. The article above is a great start. Let's take a closer look, shall we?


There are 6 experts in each article, all are allowed 5 movements to suggest as indispensable. You can look at it two ways; how many times does a movement appear absolutely, or relative to how often it could come up. Either divide by 60 to see relative to the total, or divide by 12 to see how many experts couldn't exclude it. 

Lets examine some of the top contenders:

The deadlift
Appears six times (if you count Dan John's swing/dl hinge category). Take away, hip hinging is fundamental to most powerful extension based movements, and the harder, faster and longer you can do it the better at life you are.

Any Squat
Appears seven times. There are some back, some front and some overheads (almost equally distributed). The experts are undecided as to which squat is the best if you can only choose one, but most agree you should choose one and do it.

Appears 5 times
Take the deadlift and make it explosive. Accomplish a functional task. 

Press (includes loaded overhead presses and horizontal presses of any kind)
4 times
You have to push stuff. Simple.

Pull Ups
5 times
Can't climb and you can push if you don't have the pulls. Always important for balance and health, in some sports equal to or greater than the push.

Rows/Horizontal Pulls
4 times
See above.

Sprinting or Sled drag, carry or push (farmer's walk, prowler etc)
Appearing six times (excluding walking, crawling).
You gotta work son. And you gotta travel distance fast. This to me is the real eye opener for some. In a evolutionary sense, someone whose sprint capacity declines or doesn't exist is prey. EASY PREY.

Turkish Get Up
4 times
Sometimes I think of the TGU as a novelty, but whatever it's true functionality really is, the skills and strengths learned in it's practice are real. 

These seven movements comprise 41 out of a possible 60 selections. One interpretation of this data is that 12 eminent experts agree that 68.3% of your training time should be spend on these 7 domains. Special mention goes out to Airdyne, Lunges and jumping. If you expand your search to those, you rise to over 80%. 

One extrapolation I will offer is that if you combine crawling, sprinting, drags/pushes/carries and the Airdyne, what you have is a high intensity, full body locomotion domain that is most likely presumed to be high intensity interval training oriented. This broader category encompasses by far the largest single group at approximately 12 results, ie NO COACH could live without something from this domain. It might appear like 20% of training time, but what it really is is 100% of respondents had to include it, and many included more than one, such as both sprinting and swimming.

I am getting at two things. The first is that a good student of physical culture should not be satisfied to leave any stone unturned. If you have the opportunity to compare your performance in these domains to normative data (and if you come to Full Circle you have that opportunity every day) and find it to be substantially below average, you make an earnest effort to address this as quickly as possible. If you can't squat, sprint, press overhead or do a pull up, YOU ARE BROKEN AND YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. These primal movement patterns listed above are what got us from family bands in Africa to mining asteroids, and if you can't perform them you are the part of the herd that is soon to be 'thinned'. Whether it be Zombie outbreak, alien invasion or Russians coming up through Mexico you must have these basic skills to not only survive but thrive. 

I am saying this because I love you. "I can't run", "My doctor told me not to go overhead", "Squats are bad for my knees", "Pull ups are hard" are all inexcusable answers. So you can't do a pull up now? NOT A BIG DEAL. We'll work on it. Not willing to work on it? GTFO. That goes for every domain on this list. Not running is not accepted. Running poorly, and being willing to work on it is.

First rule of Zombieland: Cardio.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Beating a Dead Horse

I would like to preface this post by stating unequivocally that I think Steve Maxwell is one of the baddest mother fuckers in America. I am not sure if I have all my facts perfectly straight, but I think it's pretty spot on when I say he was the first American BJJ black belt. One of the first guys to adopt KB training over ten years ago. A collegiate wrestler. His son Zach just fought and beat Kron Gracie at the ADCC trials. Basically most of the things that I think are cool, Maxwell excelled at a decade ago, or more. Here's some pics:

That being said... He just posted a statement against Crossfit on his blog. I run a Crossfit. So I read it. He is one of my heroes after all. The gist of my response is that he failed to state anything new, and made some broad generalizations that aren't necessarily wrong in many cases, but far from true across the board. I think it's helpful to understand that ALL Crossfit affiliates are different, and attempting to describe 'Crossfit' will always require either clarification or always risk being generalized and thus lacking specificity, accuracy or legitimacy. At the article's worst points, he makes statements without support that I think show an unclear explanation of his premise at best, and perhaps some incomplete or biased logic. I have copied and pasted the headlines he used, and I will address the issues discussed therein. For a primmer on this topic, consult Mike Boyle and Gray Cooke from like 4 years ago HERE.

Notice below that most of the material is kinda SOS, DD.

Here's the Steve Maxwell article: Blog

The use of high-rep Olympic lifts for time

I agree with this one in principal at first. If you wish to be an olympic lifter, you need to train very low rep sets. The bulgarians are famous for the ME every day approach and the Russians have Prilepin's chart. No denying the evidence and the crowd are all suggesting mostly 3 or less reps with rests of 45-300 seconds between sets. If you're goal is to use the O lifts for power development more broadly as an athlete, then you can interpret 'the rules' a little more loosely. HOWEVER, one of Steve's principal arguments is that the O lifts are not best for developing power and do not transfer well for athletes. Furthermore that they are not safe in general (citation?) and that Olympic lifting specialists get injured all the time (citation?). If the O-lifts are such shit, what does it matter how many reps I do?

Where the logic really falls apart is when we then read that Maxwell suggests KB's instead, which are in one sentence 'designed' for high reps, and in another also highly technical and at risk for causing injury. Two thoughts: KB's where designed for marketplace weighing, and why is the movement not dangerous but the implement? How are KB's inherently safer than barbells? This coming from an RKC (me). By the end of this section, I have to admit I lose track of where he stands. But I will say this: MOVEMENT MATTERS. Not implements. Your body doesn't know or care what you are lifting. Just how heavy it is, how fast you move how many times etc. The O lifts are really hard. 90% of people who do them suck terribly, and should not be doing them for more than 3 reps, and this includes almost ALL Crossfitters. Sorry guys. Practice harder.

If you are going to argue that explosive lifting for high reps is safe (girevoy sport) than you have to allow for Grace.

Making exercise into a competitive event

This does suck some times too. It's a double-edged sword, with pros and cons. Crossfit WORKS because it's empirical and participants share results, and inherently this leads to competition, which pushes everyone to do better. If you compete every single day, if you NEVER have training days, only competition days, your career will last months. That's it. After that you will start to get worse or hurt. That's not Crossfit's fault. That's the culture of a gym. Coaches have to make it clear that there are differences. If you went in to a BJJ gym and every single person treated every roll like Mundials, that would suck too. But it's not BJJ's fault. Selling a martial art that incorporates non-cooperative sparring as more effective is a delicate balance between death matches every night and chi hugging at opposite extremes. But it can be done. In judo and in Crossfit.

The use of kipping pull-ups and other joint-harmful gymnastic-type exercises

This argument is structured very similar to the Olympic lifting one. Again there's no citation of the claim that gymnasts get hurt a lot. This is then extrapolated to say that if competitive gymnasts get hurt, then regular trainees should not do kips. Furthermore, women and weak people do kips because of their inability to do real pull ups (harsh).

This could all be true. I think that the kipping pull up is very similar to the push press, and isn't much more inherently dangerous except that the weight is fixed at an intensity (BW) that's usually too high for beginners. If you can't do deadhangs, it's inherently unwise to try and do kips. Why do a power movement when you can't handle the slow lift equivalent? This is just logical progression.

WOD (Workout of the day)

Steve argues that there's no rhyme or reason to the selection of training. I believe he intended to refer specifically to HQ, and to be honest I can't really argue for or against this point. At the affiliate level this changes a great deal from gym to gym.

At our facility, we try to overcome some of the obstacles that Maxwell points out. We have multiple levels of classes, an entry program prior to them, and we are offering more and more specialty classes (barbell, yoga etc). These classes all have their own 5-10 week long periodized cycles.

CrossFit encourages over training

Yeah. If you aren't super fit, you can't train hard 3 days in a row. Lip service is paid to scaling and progression, but it's up to coaches in gyms to make it happen. We all work under different constraints to get this done. In a group setting, you do the best you can to make sure that a client is doing the right intensity, and training the right frequency and finally give them a sense of whether they need to go 50%, 70% or 100% on any given day or as a rule. And it's an art form that takes years to figure out, and every client will be different. It's a tough job.

CrossFit is no way to prepare for specific sports


CrossFit is primarily a social phenomenon

Huh? I don't think most people acknowledge a desire to join a cult either. To argue that the social interaction that takes place at a Crossfit is a problem is strange to me. Team sports have social elements. BJJ is highly social. When you care about something, you make friends, you talk shop, and you form bonds. I don't get this one on the positive side, but I do get it on the Kool-aid warning negative side. There is a kool-aid problem. If you don't make your own decisions, and you don't want your coaches to think critically, you are beyond help. And you won't be reading Steve's blog anyways. So that's just a nod to his readers who already think that anyways. I have seen gyms that make poor decisions on behalf of their clients because that's what everyone else (HQ, the games competitors, whomever) is doing. That does suck.

CrossFit's Greg Glassman is obese and unfit

Bela Karolyi never made it as a female gymnast, and was apparently a giant douchebag. That didn't stop him from coaching some of the most successful female gymnasts of all time (thank you Rhadi Ferguson, PhD and also black belt for that analogy).

Glassman is a highly divisive figure. He's not fit from anything I can tell. But he's good at communicating, and he's led a group of people that have mustered 2500 gyms, with 50-200 members each, doing KBs, o lifts and handstands, where before there were almost none. Think about that... a quarter of a million people exposed to snatches, and the idea that you can try do gymnastics after 16. Is it perfect? Is it pretty?

Neither was UFC 1, but it got Americans thinking about grappling again, and it led them away from TKD in droves.

Aren't you just a little bit skeptical about why all these dudes who sell competing products are all trying to make broad, generalized and unsupported claims about why something someone else is doing is all wrong and dangerous and stupid? Especially when they only have their facts sorta straight? On the balance, Crossfit fucking rocks. But buyer beware. SHOP AROUND. Would you buy the first house or car a salesperson showed you, without asking for an inspection or appraisal? Do your homework. If you want to do Crossfit, just make sure the affiliate your going to is what you want. And if you're happy, healthy and making progress, then tell the haters to fuck off.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Phone's Ringing Dude

You doin' the Open?

Dear Level 1 Crossfit trainer with almost no other training or competing background other than when you quit the globo and started doing Crossfit like 18 months ago: "You are like a CHILD that wanders in to the middle of a fucking movie and..."

Well. I suspect you get where I may be going with this. You have no perspective. Seeing as how this is only the second girl you've ever dated, don't make too many sweeping generalizations about women, or your love-making prowess just yet. Were you listening to the Dude's story? Since you have only a limited grasp of what has come before you, what training was like "pre-Crossfit", and since your familiarity with those not officially ordained by HQ is limited at best, save your comments until the end of the presentation.
Sometimes I am afraid that they will turn me in to Walter:

I definitely don't want to turn this in to a thing where I am the wise old smart one. I don't want to be that hipster kid that liked everything before it was cool, and I don't want to be the cranky old fart that hates everything new either. Let me start with the historical evidence...

So this is purportedly from the desk of 'Coach'. It would appear that the fear of HQ in 2005 was that newcomers to Crossfit would not have the patience or take the necessary steps to gain mastery over the fundamental movements that form the foundation of Crossfit training. Looking over the early journal articles from 2003-2005, I would take this to mean the Clean, Jerk and Snatch. I would also assume the slow lifts: Bench, Press, Deadlift, Squats. I also observe numerous references to the basics of gymnastics on the floor, ring and parallel bars. I remember the days when there were short runs, but HQ also posted WODs with swimming for example. On a personal note, I can't recall ANY jump rope work (I hate jumping rope).

Well, I feel it's safe to say that despite many intentions to the contrary, a lot of trainees new to Crossfit ended up skipping that mastering the basics phase, and jumped right to 'leet' competition phase. Using language and imagery such as 'elite fitness' and 'athlete' is a double-edged sword I am afraid. While I think there's great potential in helping every day folks to see a new passion for training through the lens of competition and the psychology of the athlete in training, there's also a terribly strong pull towards over-confidence, narcissism and foolish decisions that lead to the injury of earnest trainees, or at the very least a lack of progress towards other goals outside of the gym.

This article elaborates on why it's important to consider what benefits outside of the gym the things you do inside the gym will have. WHY? Why are you training? If you don't have clear goals, then you are not training. You are exercising. Some people enjoy exercise. To be honest, despite my degree, my CSCS, my RKC, my affiliate and my years of doing this... I don't really like exercising. I find it fatiguing. What I like is empowerment. I like getting better at practicing my sport, and I am perfectly happy to tell you that my sport is not fitness. I don't compete at exercising. If I could do one set of 3 reps at 135lbs and get stronger and do better at my sport, than that would be ALL I do. However, that's not how it works. It takes exponentially more work to keep getting better, especially the more progress you make. So I do what is necessary to keep my lifts creeping up in so much as it doesn't take away from running my business, completing my school work or training on the mats.

This brings the issues of eliteness, expertise and progress right to the front. What is 'elite'? Well, I think it simply means you are in the top small percentage of the field right? Being an expert can be considered perhaps to have competency in all the known aspects of your field. Chase and Simon (1973) and Ericsson et al (1993) both argued that exhausting the already known will typically take at least 10 years or 10,000 hours. If you consider that a hard working dude will spend 4 hours a week in the gym, that's 2500 weeks, or about 48 years to attain expertise. I bring this up, because it will probably help you to see that it takes more than some time in the gym to really be an expert in the field. If you're not reading books or articles, watching instructional videos, taking courses, seeking mentorship and practicing coaching every day, you should probably wait until you're asked to offer your thoughts on training. It's also important to consider that if ALL the information you have comes from only one source, that is a major weakness. It's nearly impossible to reach an expert level with practice and feedback only coming from a single domain.

The Open is a really cool thing. It's probably the best way to get a lot of people involved in the games, and on balance, that's a good thing. The Crossfit Games are a great way to capture a lot of people's attention and imagination. It's a clear and concise image that, once broadcast in places like ESPN, will give much larger chunks of America a fucking clue what you're talking about when you say you're doing muscle ups and snatches, and on balance, that's a good thing. But it's not the right thing for everybody all the time. So far we've seen 7 minutes of burpees, followed by 10 minutes or less of 90 or more barbell snatches. Being an RKC, the first thing I thought was basically they really misread or misunderstood the Girevoy Sport rule book. While I suspect they were trying to help delineate some of the lesser athletes with a high skill, high intensity movement, having male Crossfitters wait to snatch 210lbs until after they've done 90 other snatches (30 each at 75, 135 and 165) sounds like a pretty ugly scenario for anything other than the absolute beasts. Basically, I have only trained a few people to ever snatch over 165lbs, and I'd imagine that the ratio of trainees reaching that level is similar at most affiliates. Ie, at most gyms there are only a couple of guys and girls that could even possibly complete this workout, IRRESPECTIVE of whether or not it was necessarily a good idea or if it were possible to reach 90 in under 10 minutes. However, I suspect what happened was you had 60,000 people already signed up who said, "Well, shit, this is what I gotta do. I will not quit, and I will do my best."

While that sentiment is admirable, what I suspect followed at most affiliates was a bunch of driven Type-A hard chargers FORCING their way through about 5-20 AWFUL, dangerous and nearly pointless 165lb snatches. In an effort to constantly raise the bar, the absurdity has also risen. I don't care what your background is, plain old ISABEL (30 reps at 135 as fast as possible) is a shit kicking, fucking bad ass workout for almost anyone that has some strength, decent technique in the power snatch, and the self awareness to maintain technique over speed as best they can. But somewhere along the way, this workout became insufficient. This is basically where I have to draw a line in the sand. Workouts don't need to be bigger, longer or heavier. They need to be more intense. 1RM's need to go up, times need to go down, skill needs to improve. But we don't need more volume for the sake of it, and we don't have to make up new bullshit moves for the sake of novelty.

Expertise rarely comes about via novelty. It takes years and thousands of hours of BORING, REPETITIVE work designed to make you perform better. You need information, support and feedback. If you're alone in your basement, training for 18 months, I guarantee you are not going to the games, brah. Let's face it, to go to the games, you need to have immense strength and power, and you have to have work capacity at an incredibly high level. Finally, you have to have some specialized skills: handstands and muscle ups, double unders, snatches etc. Look at the facts... Last years regionals and games included many events with C&Js in excess of 200lbs for reps. How many of those 30,000 guys signed up for the open do you think can legitimately C&J over 225lbs? Dude, if you can't do that simple low threshold task, why don't you skip the next open workout, and just go work on your O lifts?

So, am I doing the Open? No. I can't snatch 210lbs. I hate burpees. I'm not much for double-unders. But that doesn't mean that I think the games or the Open are bad. There are going to be some out there, who have an amazing level of fitness, and they are going to want to make exercising their sport. If I had a client who had the requisite capacity to make it to regionals, I would encourage them to consider it and help them to train for it. Thankfully though, most of my clients love to watch the games but harbor no fantasies about their belonging there. Most of my clients are 30-45, and they just want to get in better shape with real fitness. You know... Cleans, Jerks, Snatches. Powerlifting. Pull Ups and handstands. Running, rowing etc. If they ask me why we don't do 50 box jumps in a row, I tell them. If they're curious about when we are going to do a hero workout that has 500+ reps or takes the average Crossfitter 45+ minutes to complete, I tell them (probably never, no more than once a year).

I am blessed to have friends in collegiate S&C, who train powerlifters and strongmen, and who train MMA fighters. I still have to face these guys, so I can't do too much stupid shit at my gym and get away with it. THANK GOD. It's a nice checks-n-balances. I know how it can get, when you don't leave the compound and all there is to drink is Kool-Aid. I don't want to be like that, and I kinda hope my clients and members get that. I am about to finish my master's degree. I have other certs beyond Crossfit, and other interests. In short, if Crossfit never happened, I would still be doing barbell snatches, KB swings and pull ups. The difference is, now, thanks to Crossfit, lots of people want to do them with me. I want to make it clear: I don't want to condemn the Games, but rather to make the most out of the positive aspects for a sustainable future for our brand of functional fitness. I just hope we can maximize the exposure they bring while minimizing the cost, both in injuries and misrepresentation they cause. I don't want to lose clients because they think people do shitty heavy snatches when they shouldn't be doing them at my gym. Let's face it; there's enough barriers to real exercise as it is.


Check your ego, and work on getting better.

Remember better is a lot more than just doing more work all the time.