Friday, March 22, 2013

CrossFit - What and Why?

"What's it about the internet that makes people lose all perspective? Greg {Glassman, co-founder of CrossFit} didn't invent functional exercise, nor intense exercise. Nor did he claim to. Greg offered a measurable definition of fitness, an elegant and effective formula to achieve it, and a gym model dedicated to pursuing it.
"Do you guys remember what the fitness industry was like just a few years ago? Around 2000 I got started in a globo gym. They put me on a low weight machine circuit. Lift "weights" 3 times a week, mix with some cardio and yoga, etc.
"I rapidly realized this model was bullshit. But what was the alternative? Yes, you could deadlift, squat, and do intervals to get "fit", but there was no coherent concept of what fitness was or how to measure it, and very few gyms equipped with the environment needed to get fit. Getting fit in the pre-CrossFit gym environment was like trying to conduct chemistry experiments in the library.
"One of the few people who wasn't a complete idiot was Dr. Ken Leistner. Believe it or not, back in the day people would get in their cars and drive for hours just to hang out with people who weren't idiots about working out. Now you just have to drive down the block, and you've got options."

Many CrossFit critics - one of which I presume inspired this response - don't understand what CrossFit is for; and instead of looking at the results and thinking "how'd they do that?" they compare what they think they know about CrossFit to what they believe is "real" about strength and conditioning.  But of course - if their models and learning and experience were different, then one of the S&C professionals with a bunch of academic credentials would have invented CrossFit, not a rebel coach bucking the industry and the conventional wisdom.

The best thing about these critics is the opportunity they provide to teach was CrossFit is and is not, and why we do the crazy workouts.

This week's CF Games Open WOD is:  150 20# wallball shots (squat and stand and throw a 20# med ball to a 10' target), 90 jump rope double unders, and then as many muscle ups as you can complete before the 12 minute time cap.

Many non-CFers question wall ball shots - "what are they even for?"  I have done 150 wall ball shots in under 8 minutes a couple of times (I have done 50 or 60 shots in a row - sounds pathetic but it was a great test).  It's just a matter of how much you are willing to suffer to take the next shot.  There are folks who can do this in under 5 minutes.  How do they do it?  Well, first they can squat with great ease; they have great mobility in their hips and ankles.  Second, they have incredible work capacity - heart and lungs like a horse.  Third, they are coordinated - moving a 20# ball with speed and grace through a near 10 foot range of motion - and then catching it as they squat to start the cycle again - is demanding of many elements of the nervous system.  Last, they are accurate enough to not miss reps.  This would not be a skill to spend years working all day to master, but as a training element to throw into "constantly varied" workouts, it is incredibly potent.

Any of these elements that the wall ball shot demands and therefore develops would serve virtually any athlete well.

WB shots also fit well within a larger element of CrossFit that is not mimicked in any other training system I am aware of - it lets you practice high skill movement at maximal fatigue (we worked this element in martial arts training, but rarely or never under a load other than body weight).  The drive to get the reps done can only be best met by maintaining efficient movement and precise ball placement.  This ability to strive for quality movement and precision, while gasping for breath and forcing yourself to keep moving is one of the parts of CF I like best.  I fear the discomfort, I fear that I will not bring enough gumption to the workout I'm about to do, but as I continue to CrossFit, all of those experiences diminish as my desire to perform increases.  It's a laboratory for sorting out how one can get the best performance from one's self.  I'm in the top 20% of athletes my age at this point in the 2013 Games, there's quite a bit of room for improvement.

Which I think is why Greg Glassman says "the biggest adaptation to CrossFit takes place between the ears."  One has to be willing to be humbled and come back for more.  One has to know they fell short of their best and come back to do better.  In this way it is unlike other athletic endeavors, but few provide the laboratory like setting to work on these elements 1 v 1 with your own demons.  I think this chance to get mano a mano with the demons every day is the thing that leaves most all CFers feeling triumphant.

For the critic who wants to know "what wall ball shots are for" I suggest you try 150 for time - and I know if you don't work on it already you won't do the squats with full range of motion - and get back to me.

I'll be facing up to 13.3 this weekend.  The wall balls are the torture you have to get through in order to get the double unders done.  Double unders are difficult for me and many CFers due to the high skill requirement - doing 90 in two minutes is possible, but doing 90 when wrecked from 150 wall ball shots can be like trying to grab hold of smoke.  Double unders don't respond to "trying harder", they come when you can relax and let them happen.  So, this WOD is a monster hurdle, and getting through the wall balls and DU in time to get a few muscle ups would be a great accomplishment for me. Tip of the hat to all who throw themselves at this, 3, 2, 1 go ...

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