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.


John said...

Good summation Jason. I get tired of the haters who take a look at a few bad examples on youtube and make sweeping generalizations about how bad CF is. It's almost as frustrating as people who get exposed to their first WOD and think that every workout needs to leave you in a sweaty heaving mass on the ground and if you aren't sore, you didn't accomplish anything.

Jason Struck, CSCS RKC said...

I would add to the last point about coaches, that it's a common mistake to assume that someone who is in better shape than you will make the best coach.

I know that if I ever get the opportunity to train with Steve Maxwell, I would take it. I think that I could learn a ton. I base that on his experience as a coach, as well as his achievements. It's pretty intuitive to want to learn from a legend.

WayneC said...

After reading it several times now, if I were to sum up my interpretation of Steve's post in a single sentence it might go something like this:

"Crossfit has the right idea (cross training for general physical preparedness), but HQ (and by extension some affiliates) program in a way that encourages beginner athletes to attempt advanced stuff too soon."

Assuming my interpretation is generally correct, then I think he could have shortened his post considerably, excluding the personal attack on Glassman and the other flawed arguments that just seemed like reaching or bone-picking.