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Archive for August, 2015

Sunday musings 8/30/15

Sunday musings…

1) Summer rain. Out my back window I look our upon two guys riding jet skis in the rain.

They might get wet.

2) PC. My alma mater, in what seems to be a trend, is calling the students beginning their college journey “First Years” instead of “Freshmen”. WTF.

I am now officially part of a small but hopefully growing rebellion against ludicrous speech.

3) Easy. Easy? No, it isn’t easy. It’s never easy. Simple, perhaps, but never easy.

Trust me.

4) Victory. “You know, in the old, old days there was no World Series, no real championship. For most teams, the idea of winning was finished by July. So what was there to care about? Each series, each game. Day by day. The rest of it, the big dream [of victory] was not their business. It’s a better way to live.” -Cubs fan.

A number of folks in the CrossFit community have recently weighed in with thoughts on the essential tension between training and competing. Some have a standing of sorts, and others just have a keyboard. It’s a topic I’ve pondered and one I’ve certainly discussed, here and elsewhere.

As is so often the case I’ve struggled to find a fitting vocabulary, one with terms that more adequately express both the issue and my viewpoint. Freddy Comacho, Master’s athlete and OG with chops, recently offered his take and in so doing shared with all of us a very nice diad: training v. testing. My anonymous Cubs fan above (a vet, incidentally), adds a little poetry to Freddy’s prose.

One of Coach’s many strokes of brilliance is the concept of measurement. You know, observable, measurable, repeatable. We measure our results pretty much every day. For most of us, indeed for most of the rest of the exercise and athletic world, measurement is the stuff of competition. We keep score so that we can declare a winner. Winning begets a champion.

Herein lies a fundamental misunderstanding of Coach’s creation: measurement in itself does not necessarily denote competition. At least not one in which we make a conscious decision to push on to some sort of concrete thing we might call “ultimate victory”. The training/testing conceptualization is very helpful.

If I give you notice that you will participate in a task, one in which all of the variables are known to you beforehand, a reasonable person will go about preparing for that task by mastering the specific skills necessary (practice), and acquiring capacity in the specific areas of fitness required to express those skills (training). A very nice example of a program set up to accomplish this is CrossFit Football. All of the domains in the competition are known beforehand, and the fitness program is targeted at those to the effective exclusion of others. A classic marathon program is another very good example.

A training program without metrics is one that is unlikely to succeed. Measuring in training allows one to assess micro-trends of the program. One accepts discomfort in training, but at the same time one is mindful of the need to avoid true injury while doing so. Testing, on the other hand, is different. By definition testing requires the exploration of limits. The limit of strength or endurance. The point at which technique fails for whatever reason. Testing identifies the macro-trend: am I/is my program succeeding? One must necessarily push beyond discomfort, push on to some version of victory.

It’s here where the wisdom of my Cubs fan is evident. One must be ever mindful of our place in the standings. There are meaningful games to be played for all of us, even those “playing” on a team that has been mathematically eliminated by July 4th. “Each series, each game. Day by day.” This is us. For the most part we are the people Coach was thinking about when he went all mad scientist on fitness. Freddy (and Chyna) can indeed dream “the big dream”, but for the rest of us it’s really “[d]ay by day”.

We measure, as Coach has taught us, because it improves our training. We should be looking for a trend toward IWCABTMD in the measurement of our training, but in doing so we should be testing our limits, pushing to those points closer to failure, a bit more infrequently and more cautiously perhaps. We have much to gain by focusing on the daily training, caring about each at bat or each game rather than the overall standings or a championship. To be in the game, to choose to be measured, to care about each individual game no matter where you stand is a concrete victory itself.

My Cubs fan, the Iraq war vet: “It’s a better way to live.”

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at August 30, 2015 7:05 AM

Doc or Trainer: Owning Your Own Job

We are starting to see some turnover among the OG CrossFit Affiliate owners. Some, like Skip, were in literally on the ground floor, and a successful Box rode them into the sunset (enjoy your retirement!). Others, like Steve and Kelly, have nearly 10 years into ownership as they approach both mid-career and mid-life. They turn over a highly successful business and take on the role of “Founder” (can’t wait to see what’s next for you!). Some owners have left the CrossFit fold and changed the name and structure of their gyms. There have certainly been some closings, typically folks who either didn’t really know what it was they were getting in to, or found that being the owner of a job is more than they bargained for.

As such, the successful CrossFit Affiliate is much like every other small business where the owner is also operator. My day job is like that: if I don’t show up for work no revenue is generated. A huge percentage of small businesses run just like this. What you own is not so much a business as it is owning your own job.

With all of the talk of exercise as medicine lately, it’s interesting to compare and contrast the megatrends at work in the fitness industry and medicine when it comes to practitioners. In medicine we are in the midst of what is nothing short of a diaspora with physicians leaving the private practice of medicine for employment in ever-larger organizations. It should be noted that this phenomenon is in direct response to government action. Men and women who once owned their job, with all of the responsibilities (payroll, rent, etc.) and freedoms (hours of operation, client experience, etc) now work is settings where process and protocol is dictated to them, and fidelity to the organization has primacy.

Thanks to CrossFit and the CrossFit Affiliate model, the megatrend in fitness is exactly the opposite. Trainers have been unleashed from the corporate environment where salesmanship is the most highly regarded skill, and put in charge of a job where outcomes drive the business. Affiliate owners are the new private practitioners of fitness, in charge of everything from programming to toilet paper.

A certain tension has always existed between large medical organizations and smaller private practices. It should come as no surprise that similar tensions exist between CrossFit and its Affiliates and large fitness businesses and their partners. Large organizations crave control and abhor independent competition. Indeed, for those behemoths the only thing worse than independent competitors is being shown up by them. You know, like getting better surgical outcomes or having clients who look like the crowd at the Games. Large organizations often turn to government to suppress this type of competition and make the megatrends flow their way.

There are several important points to be made from this comparison. First, of course, is that every Affiliate owner and every member at every Box should fight alongside HQ is this battle. Trainers get better with more experience, not with more certificates.
Trainers who own their jobs also own not only their outcomes but everything about the experience of their clients. Just like a private physician. I’m biased, of course, but this is well worth fighting for.

For those fortunate enough to train people for a living the reality is that you don’t, and likely never will, own a business. There are very few large CrossFit businesses. For every CrossFit NYC or CrossFit Eado there are 3 or 4 hundred boxes run primarily by the owner. What you own is your own job. You’ll need initiative, passion, and resilience. A thick skin is helpful, too, because you’ll get plenty of feedback on that job. With a little luck you, too, may one day leave behind something significant enough that there is someone there to carry on when you leave.

There’s some turnover in Affiliates. At the moment nothing like a trend exists. Owning your own job is not for the faint of heart, and some will find it not their cup of tea. Others, like the OG’s above, will leave for that next thing on the horizon. What mattered is that they had the opportunity to own a job and took it, creating something that will live after they have gone.

The best boss is the client (or patient) who chooses you. The chance to work for them is worth fighting for.

I’ll see you next week…

Sunday musings…The End of Volunteerism?

Sunday musings…

1) Supercilious. What you call it when the punctilious escalate.

2) Fears. “I’ve started harassing the guards at the borders surrounding my fears.” How one of my patients has described her late-in-life efforts to get outside her comfort zone.

Everything about that is cool.

3) Volunteerism. In our world of ever-increasing transparency, willful or otherwise, how long will the phenomenon of volunteerism in support of any type of organization that generates revenue in excess of expenses be expected to continue? An obvious example is the CrossFit Games of course, but that’s hardly the only, or even the best example. In the sports world alone there are organizations that hold events on a nearly weekly basis that cannot be run without the toils of volunteers who work for the pleasure of being involved.

Think about it. Track and swim meets, road races, so-called adventure races, now and for as long as such things have been held. Heck, even all of those huge soccer festivals that dominate the weekends in my little corner of the midwest, run by volunteers and providing the revenue stream for the coaches of “elite” travel teams. Local fitness competitions run as a revenue generator by a Box owner. All kinds of stuff like that.

By no means is this phenomenon unique to the world of sports. In my day job I am a physician in private practice. As such I have provided specialty coverage and care for the ER at several local hospitals over my 25+ years in practice. This type of volunteerism was such a normal part of the medical landscape when I graduated that neither I nor any of my peers ever gave a single thought to why we did it. It simply never occurred to us that the hospitals could not function without our participation, nor did we ever really think about the egregious imbalance that existed in the deal, the docs so far on the losing side that the “D” in MD could have stood for “Dupe”. As the hospitals have grown ever larger, generating ever greater “excess revenue” by paying their employed doctors for work they still accept (and expect) from others, the volunteers have revolted.

I begrudge no one the pursuit of profit, even hospitals. Indeed, I have, and will continue to volunteer at events local and national for the same reason most other folks do: to feel a sense of belonging, to be a part of a whole. I might even continue to provide emergency coverage at the local hospital. Sometimes, though, I just wonder whether some tiny societal tipping point has occurred, disrupting the jewel that is the bond between organization and volunteer.

To offer your services without compensation one must believe in the mission of an organization or institution. That mission may be maximizing profit, and rightfully so. One should not find it surprising, though, when no one volunteers for that kind of enterprise.

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at August 16, 2015 8:02 AM

Sunday musings 8/9/15

Sunday musings…

1) Iron. The iron is always hot. Be ever ready to strike.

2) Walker. “I’m a guy with a wife and two kids and a Harley. One could call me aggressively normal.”

I like that, but I’m also struggling with it a bit. I mean, do you have to have a Harley to be normal? And what about that two kids thing?

3) Navy. Rum, as you probably know, was the traditional spirit onboard ocean going vessels for at least a couple hundred years. Rum that is particularly strong, say 57% alcohol strong, is said to be “navy strength”. If you spill it on your gunpowder, the gunpowder will still ignite.

I like everything about that.

4) Grit. In a post on last week’s “musings” that nobody saw (it was caught in the filter TWICE) I ruminated a bit on opportunity in America in response to a link on FB offered by my CrossFit friend JT, and an op-ed in the Sunday NYT. For the second week in a row a commentator is taking up space on the first page of the Review section bleating about an indelibly institutionalized LACK of opportunity the U.S.


For whatever it’s worth, I’m not going to go back to that well here today (though I will in Random Thoughts for both of you who care) except to say that you can show pretty much anything you care to simply by cherry-picking your cohort. Instead, let’s take a look at the singular ingredient necessary to seize and take advantage of opportunity when it arises: grit.

What is it that produces vastly different work products, outcomes, from similarly situated and talented individuals? Why do two equally gifted athletes similar in every way achieve at different levels? How best to explain widely disparate test scores in math, for example, from the “best and brightest” students? There is something within those who succeed at the higher level that is somehow missing in the others, or at least missing the same degree of expression. It’s likely that there are a number of words or expressions that capture this quality, but I kinda like “grit”.

Grit begins with a belief in self, a sense of self-worth, of being worthy of success. Without this first step it’s rather easy to see how anyone might just give up before ever starting. Here, as my cousin Rick has pointed out, might be a true variable when discussing opportunity: those of us who grow up in a demanding family characterized by firm boundaries, unfailing support, and high expectations may actually have an unfair advantage. People with this type of upbringing truly do believe that the iron is always hot and that they are worthy and capable of striking. Without this foundation of belief in self it’s easy to see how one might look at the same iron and think only of how not to get burned.

By the way, this is why neither poverty nor wealth is a valid predictor for success. Think of people who grew up in dismal poverty and climbed to literally dizzying heights in life, or the opposite, scions of wealth who grew up to be self-loathing under-achievers. A look in the window of the former would find an atmosphere like the one Rick describes, one in which that deep belief in yourself is instilled. The wealthy family from which opportunity is squandered is more likely one in which little or no support is offered to a child, one in which the child is continually found wanting and told as much.

To have grit one takes this core belief and puts it into action. Angela Duckworth, professor at Penn, calls passion and perseverance the two actionable components of grit. You have to want it, whatever it might be, and you have to work at making it happen; the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of people looked upon as lucky actually worked their asses off to get that way. Perseverance might very well be defined as ongoing maximal effort. One who has grit might not necessarily get the best outcome, but it’s not likely to be due to being out-worked at that thing called “it”.

An important sub-category of perseverance is resilience, and this is the final core attribute to grit. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from defeat with faith intact to resume the quest for “it”. Think about what comes to your mind when you hear someone described as “gritty”. It’s someone who has a passion, a commitment and a willingness to work toward an achievement. More than that, someone you think of as gritty has faced adversity or moved on after defeat. No one has a straight line to success; the gritty move on, secure in the knowledge that they are willing and able to do the work needed to succeed.

Grit is passion and perseverance bookended by a sense of worthiness on the front side, and the resilience to overcome setbacks on the back.  Opportunity is wasted without it.


I’ll see you next week…


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