Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Answering a Coach

Dave Tate posted some awesome clips of the seminar he hosted with CF.  I weighed in on a few, and it led to a thought provoking post by "Coach Quail". 
I thought the audience here might enjoy my response, or find it more relevant, than the folks at Elite FTS. 
Coach Quail, you said "I have well over $100,000 put into my education and still have much more to learn to be the coach I want to be." That is the attitude I aspire to. Results with clients is the test.
No offense taken, by the way, from your comments.
Coach Quail, I will respond in the even handed fashion that you chose, blunt but not personal.
In summary of your post, you have put heart and soul into your pursuit of being a professional coach, and a lot of coin (surrogate for time, really, not that it matters much). 
You think Greg Glassman has belittled your profession.  You don't think folks can become "professionals" by attending certs, reading the CFJ, and taking it from there to a point of competency. 
You cite a link to a list of "facts" which to you is all that one need know about what CrossFit is, or what it is for, or at least makes it "clear" to you that there's nothing serious about it - I think you are trying to say "CF is a smart marketing gimmick, but nothing to be taken seriously." 
Am I correct so far?

I have been to the link you cite before, and since I know most of the stories behind those "facts", and understand the context, it's just a hit piece to me.  Facts/events are a piece of info, context provides meaning.  My context is not the same as yours.
In my opinion it is a mistake to confuse Greg Glassman and your like or dislike of him with CrossFit.  I admire Greg deeply and am in debt to him for his kindness, generosity, and what his program and community have done for me and my family.  What Greg gives to anyone who will take of it is a miracle.  Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous.  If you had told me five years ago "You'll find a fitness system that lets you rejuvenate yourself, beat PRs from your 20s, and find a way to spend your life helping people while doing something you love", I would have thought that ridiculous also.
That said, I would stop doing CrossFit if it didn't get me where I want to go.  Likewise, I would not stop doing CrossFit if I found out that Greg was not someone I admired.  There are folks who don't know Greg and folks who may dislike Greg that get the same results from the program.  At the most impersonal level I can manage, I could do what I do and call it CrossFit, or not, and still get the same results and still get what I love from the work.  It's the results that matter.
If you want to begin to understand what CF is and what it is for, they can get the white paper here:

Based on what you wrote, my assumption is that you do not know anything about CrossFit.  It appears you have not read "What Is Fitness."  You probably have not been exposed to the definitions of fitness which CF set as the desired outcome.  You probably have not gathered that CF is a performance model, first and foremost.  I doubt you have been exposed to the testimonials, unsolicited, of people who's lives have been changed by the work they did using CrossFit.  Perhaps you have not seen Silver Star winner Brian Chotosh explain why he thinks CF is right for Marines, or one of several Navy SEALS explain why CF worked for them, or any of the folks on this list:  Firefighters, police officers, the elderly, young people, injured people, disabled people, Wounded Warriors, or just plain old Americans who had typical American health (poor) who rebuilt their body, mind, and spirit.  Given that, and assuming my assertions about how these folks use CF to better their lives, wouldn't you agree it would be worth spending some time understanding CF prior to judging CF based on one link and one guy's laundry list of dinks against CF, CFHQ, or the CrossFit owner?
I don't think you mean to say that one should have $100,000 education before they can coach athletes using squats, deads, etc, in an S&C program.  If you do think that, I disagree.
I do get the difference between a home made coach like myself using anything I can find that helps my trainees, and someone that gains both academic credentials and invests a lifetime in learning to apply what has been learned.  Much like the difference in an F-150 and a Striker, both have a role, and neither is necessarily better than the other despite the differences in cost.

There are plenty that scoff at the notion that a guy like me (career Naval Aviator, athletic experience but no academic training and without the benefit of having had professional S&C coaches to guide me) can go to a 2 day seminar and know how to teach the squat or deadlift or anything. And I didn't. After attending the cert, I applied what I learned to myself, and went back for more training. I also taught my co-workers for free - because I couldn't stand the useless BS some S&C professional had designed for the USN - and learned. I had a group of folks to work with for 24 months and I learned how to teach the squat and dead and quite a bit of other human movement to deconditioned, mobility limited athletes. There were many who trained with me only 2x/week and it changed them (for one, they no longer feared taking the fitness test that could get them fired). I kept going from there. I have less than $10,000 of money invested (aside from my gym equipment), more in time (acquired while I was in the full time employ of the USN and a husband/father of four). I'm well aware that I know a fraction of what you should know, but I don't need to know what you know to get the results I get now. I get better each day.  I tell clients they will get stronger, they will learn to move with skill, and they will be challenging themselves and improving for a long time. That is what happens.
If you can show me a 22 year old with a BA or a Master’s degree in sports/fitness/S&C or whatever who can teach people to move as well as I can, you have the very beginnings of a point about the significance of academic credentials to CrossFit trainers. 
In the end the market place decides who offers the best value in physical training, not folks sitting around playing the role of critic.  The market place is paying hundreds of dollars per month for CF – the results obtained are the only possible explanation for why folks will shell that kind of cash when they can get a 24/7 gym for $15/month.

As to Greg Glassman's comment on professionalizing trainers, consider two options:
1. Some charismatic guy/gal who looks good in gym clothes is getting$25/hour to move a personal training client through selectorized machines while taking notes and chatting and then setting up a 30 minute cardio session
2. A CF gym owner who's taken the role of coaching seriously and aspires to teach athletes how to squat, deadlift, press, clean, and etc with skill, and who challenges their athletes with appropriately scaled workouts.
Rhetorical questions: Which will get the better result over time? Which would you rather have in the marketplace (on the assumption that a fitter nation in control of its own health sounds good to you)?

My point - in the pre-CF world there was a small group of folks like yourself who had the impact you have, and there were selectorized training machine baby sitters. There was very little in between.  The result was that most folks didn't have access to anything like what you could teach them. Today, there exists a group of several thousand trainers who are in pursuit of excellence as trainers, and they bring squats and deads to the masses. The impact is profound.

When I meet folks who CrossFit, they rave about it. They love it. It changes how they live. I think it's a good thing and getting better as CFHQ learns every week how to better teach what they teach. Every year the skill of trainers is raised, the ability of a home grown coach is bettered, the information anyone would like to have to help athletes is more widely available, more skillfully delivered.
Rhetorical question: how many lives positively impacted would it take for you to think “I have to apply what I know of the scientific method to find out why this program makes such an impact.”  Or, “I have to apply the SM to find out how to improve this promising system.”
What I think (and thought at the time) Greg meant about "professionalizing training" was just this - thousands of people are making a decent living giving people useful fitness and diet info in CF Affiliates. My clients get off of their meds, and heal their backs, and find out that they love to work out. In that process, I get the absolute pleasure of continuous learning and teaching. That would not exist without Greg's "crazy" CrossFit vision.  I am not kidding when I say he did the world a favor.

A thought experiment:  Assuming Greg took his program to S&C pros like yourself in say 2003, and said "I have developed a program, this is how I define it, these are my models of the desired outcomes and how to measure success, and here are the data on my athletes. Cops love it, fire fighters love it, grandmothers love it, SEALs drive hours to train with me, have a look." What percentage of your peers would have said "we don't know anything about this sort of programming, but we'd like to study it"? And given the dichotomy between the results Greg was seeing and the "profession's" dis-interest and distain for what wasn't their creation, would it be a surprise if Greg had some contempt for the profession? 
It certainly raises a pointed question – why didn’t all the folks who have a mastery of the “literature” create a system with a similar impact before CrossFit arrived?  There are two answers.  One – “there’s nothing novel about CF as a fitness training or S&C system, it’s just Glassman’s marketing genius”.  Two – “because we have been outdone.”  It’s pretty clear where the S&C professionals in general are lining up, and in general they do so without examining the results CrossFitters achieve.

My experience with the S&C professionals was not inspiring. I was invited to a group to discuss aspects of my service’s fitness training system.  They could cite the literature but couldn't see that every Sailor is a firefighter, and agree on the common sense notion that whatever works for firefighters would be a good place to look for what would work for Sailors. They weren't even willing to engage on the simple and obvious idea that since the human power train is based in hip extension through a stable torso, training should include elements that would increase strength and skill in those two fundamental capacities. They would cite the literature, but then fell back on anecdote as a barrier to what might work or what could be done or even tried or tested. I watched a PHD NSCA guy do a demo of a “burpee”, and the thing was so reduced to components it was completely devoid of any athleticism. I left there thinking they were smart but all too human and of very little value to Sailors who desperately need a warrior's S&C program (what they have to do to be rated “combat ready” is a joke:  a few pushups, situps and a 1.5 mile run, which is at best better than nothing).  In the end, it didn't matter, my service wasn't looking for an improvement, just a perfunctory review so the boss could say "what we are doing is working great". But considering that setting, I suspect you have seen what I saw - a room full of guys that were good at academics, and played their role in their jobs, but didn't really know anything useful for a real world application of S&C.  I don't mean that in any way as a slam on you or what you know as I'm unqualified to make a judgement on your ability not having seen your work.   My point is - just as there are idiots out there who give CF a bad name, or Sailors a bad name, there are folks in your profession that might come off as academics who have a degree but can't teach anyone to squat (and say ridiculous things like "women cannot do pull-ups") and are best suited to writing and reading "the literature."  No profession is above reproach.

Greg's been commenting on all of the paparazzi who say "his business model is genius" for a long time, and his thought was "No, my method works." The funny part to me is his "business genius" - which I can't question but it's a small part of his genius - was to have:
1. A method folks love and benefit from
2. To surround himself with bright, hardworking, loyal folks who love the mission of giving CF to the world
3. To take care of his team such that he has sustained his relationships with them over very long time spans
4.  Following the recommendations of folks using his method, such as:
            a.  “You should write a monthly magazine”
            b.  “You should let me be an affiliate and use your branding”
            d.  “We should start a competition to test the concepts you proposed”
            e.  “Please come out and certify us”

You or anyone in your profession could do the same, either start a CF competitor or own/run a CF gym alongside your powerlifting gym. I don't think there's anything in CrossFit that can't be used with attribution. The entire model would be easily replicable on a national scale.  Many of CF's best athletes have done just that (see “OPT”). The competition in the marketplace is only just beginning.
So let me ask, why did it take a guy in a gym in Santa Cruz to bring real S&C to a world wide marketplace full of people who crave it?

The only thing about CF critics that matters at all is how many otherwise intelligent folks will criticize CF and never learn a thing about it.  There seems to be little genuine curiosity about why CF has seen such growth, or what CF is for. The critics don’t have an inkling of the intellectual underpinnings, or the scientific rigor that is behind the system.  If a critic hasn't even bothered to read these ten pages, their comments are too uninformed to have value: http://journal.crossfit.com/2002/10/what-is-fitness-by-greg-glassm.tpl
I don't care if anyone approves of CrossFit, or doesn't. I don't care if folks think Glassman's methodology, as explained above, works or doesn't. It's not a matter of opinion to me, I have seen the results for myself and for others. Folks that don't like CrossFit or don't want to do CrossFit – “peace out”.  But for a learned man to pretend to judge CF and not know anything about it – that is a shame.

At one level, CrossFit is a chance for Joe and Jane Anyone to engage in a strength and conditioning program that provides strength and conditioning (vice selectorized BS and "cardio"), in a community format, that is both challenging and supporting. Overweight non-athletes set PRs and are cheered by their peers (and lose staggering amounts of weight when they change how they eat). Firebreathers do competitive WODs in unbelievable times and set the example for all. First responders prepare for life saving professional excellence. Both ends of the spectrum can thrive in a well run CrossFit gym. That's why folks will pay a price that would have seemed impossible in the fitness marketplace five years ago.
It's the results.
Why your profession does not support this change is a bit of mystery to me. There should be droves of you guys saying "finally, here's a way I can drop $40K or so up front and train folks with all that I've learned the last 5-10-15-20 years and earn a decent living" (or better if you happen to be good at it).
The market place had a gaping hole - people will trade time and money and pain in exchange for physical improvement, the life changing improvement people get when they can test their courage AND gain life enhancing work capacity.
As for your anecdote about the freak of nature - I see that, and agree with your stated premise.  If your implication is that we who think CF is doing a lot for us or our clients don't know whether it is our system - CrossFit - that works the magic, or if some other program could get the same results in the right setting - OK.  Point taken.  I don’t have a peer reviewed study that demonstrates the superiority of CF in all of those cases (although the Canadian Military and the Jacksonville, FL police departments do have such studies).  That circumstance puts me in the same boat as all the folks who say “that can’t work”, except I have seen what CF does for me and my family and my clients, and they have not.  As you know from the scientific method, in a battle of strongly held belief, there is no victor, both sides are even.
In my admittedly limited perspective, there is an obvious role for the academic study of human performance using the scientific method. But one doesn't need a degree to teach people how to move, nor to program, nor to help people sort through all the BS about diet and health that has confused a nation for the last 40 years. Peter Senge, writing in the 90s in "the Fifth Discipline" made a point like what I'm getting at, which was that there should be a symbiotic relationship between folks with PHDs and folks in the trenches (aka actually leading a company in making a profit or actually on the floor training athletes), but they don't have to have the same skill sets. Right now, I don't see that in the SC profession. I'll be glad if I'm wrong. If I had a guess, you may be one of the exceptions that proves the rule.
I think in ten years we'll see the emergence of S&C professionals who will be interested in applying the scientific method to CrossFit. That's going to be very interesting. If I had unlimited time/money, I'd do it myself.
I agree 100% with your thoughts about criticism of Dave Tate. I don't train anything like he does but I still read what he writes because I learn from him.  A guy who chooses to devote himself to excellence in competition earns every injury - too bad we can't talk to Junior Seau about this topic.
There are many web critics, and most do little more than say "I'm a genius and you are an idiot" but folks who do that pay for it with sustained ignorance.
I am in your debt, too, Coach Quail for writing what you wrote.  I doubt you were looking for a five page answer, but I hope after all the writing and re-writing my points are clear.  With best regards, Paul

Edited for clarity January 11, 2013


  1. I think it's interesting how the Weightlifting community was much quicker to partner with CrossFit than the Powerlifting community has been.

    Even though I know a handful of powerlifters who definitely respect CrossFit it seems different to me. Do you agree? Why is that?

    After reading the article and comments from both EFT and here I think you Paul, have made a great argument. Not assaulting but well said.

  2. Mike, Chris Mason made an interesting observation about the PL community - essentially, he never looked into CF. Then, wehn HQ went to Columbus to meet with Louie, they were impressed because they more less realized "CFers are serious." You can see his explanation on his web site. I think mostly PLers have distain for folks that "only want to look good naked" and thought CF was more of that.
    Thanks for weighing in. I think of how for all of us have come in the last five years - you, Rob, Doug, Chris and CFM generally. What a ride!

  3. Paul,

    Thank you for your stance and passion for CF. I have a matrix of that can be followed for more than a decade of what fitness looks like of me; measured in time and distance and what it looks like now after commiting to CF since August 2012. The PR's in strength, distance/endurance are staggering not to mention outward physical changes. I'm almost 40 years old and my 20 something meat head self could not hold a candle to what I am capable of doing now. CF may not be for everyone and that is understandable, but for those who want to strive to acheive max effort from and for themselves CF is for you. I Love this SPORT and the challenges it will put you through... CF for LIFE!!!

    Best Regards,