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.

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