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Archive for March, 2016

Sunday musings 3/27/16

Sunday musings…

1) Crenellate. Create multiple indentations on an otherwise smooth edge.

No reason. Just a cool word.

2) Eyelash. The normal lifespan of a normal eyelash is approximately 5 months.

Nope. I didn’t know that, either.

3) 16.6. Recovering from surgery from a non-CrossFit condition, I sorta kinda did a couple of the 2016 Open WODs. At some point over the rest of the year I will eventually do them (hopefully Master’s Rx), but for now I’m about to embark on CrossFit Open 16.6: constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity, with the intension of improving my work capacity across broad time and modal domains.

The CrossFit Games Open 2016 is an interesting and fun diversion, one that gives us a common experience across time zones and geographic variance. For me, though, the real magic happens in the other 47 weeks, the 47 week experience that you could call “16.6″ and heading into “17.0″.

That’s why I’m here.

4) Easter. Does it strike anyone else as odd, or something like odd, that it is only the two major Christian holidays (Christmas and Easter) that have superimposed, widely followed non-religious traditions? Try as I might I find no such superimposition on such equally important annual religious observations like, say, Ramadan or Yom Kippur . More so, if you do a little digging into the Easter Bunny’s origin you find that in his original incarnation he, like Santa Claus, kept a ledger of “good and bad”, with the good receiving eggs/candy/gifts. While I have no insight into why this might be, I find it odd.

In the Christian world there is no more important celebration that Easter. Indeed, the very concept of Easter is as difficult and complex as that of the Trinity. Judaism and Christianity share the Old Testament, and presumably therefore share a belief in the same Deity. It is in the interpretation of the Messiah that most people understand the difference between the religions (interestingly, the Koran recognizes J.C. as a significant prophet), but the more profound difference between Christianity and all other religions as far as I can see is the chasm that faith must leap to accept both the Trinity and Easter miracle.

While I am best described as having faith in a deeper, greater Presence, I am not a very religious person any longer (this makes Grambingo very sad). However, not unlike the CrossFit we all practice here, it is instructive to note the secular attempts to nullify the religious aspects of both Easter and Christmas, while noting how hard it is to hold tight the two beliefs that are the crux of Christianity.

For those who do the hard work of Christianity I offer a heartfelt and sincere Happy Easter.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Revisiting Thoughts on Meaning in Life

“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent.” –Stanley Kubrick

Man is the only species, on Earth at least, that seeks meaning in life. Once food, clothing, and shelter are secured, Man then turns his attention both inward and outward, in the quest for for some understanding of why we exist, a quest to make our existence meaningful. Alone among all creatures, we do not subsist (I eat, therefor I am) so much as insist (I think, therefore I am).

The great Religions of the Near East and Near West define a meaningful life in terms of fealty to a deity and His edicts. Further East and meaning is acquired by coming ever closer to enlightenment. New World religions such as those of the indigenous people of North America assign meaning to the achievement of harmony among all life forms. But what of the emerging worlds in which the great Religions hold little sway? Death is immutable, and it is death against which all meaning is measured. What came before can be ever and always dismissed as abstract, but what comes after is inextricably tied to what constitutes a meaningful life today.

Again, Kubrick: “If we can accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death–however mutable man may be able to make them–our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment.” How is this necessarily so? Why would it be so? Is it because Man as a species can and does sit down to think? If the universe is indeed indifferent and it is Man who introduces meaning, may it not be that our universe is man-made? Whether through acts of omission or commission, consequences intended or unintended, it’s hard to escape this conclusion.

Herein lies the essential challenge of seeking meaning in life: meaningful for whom? Adherents to the great Religions are set here. Meaning is parsed by some higher being. For the rest of us an epic societal tug-of-war exists externally. The furthest to one side posits that meaning ends at the tip of a nose, while the other extreme holds that it knows better and will tell you what you should find meaningful. The truth, at least the actionable truth, lies as always somewhere in between.

Once more, to Kubrick: “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” Herein, I believe, lies the lesson. Meaning, writ small or large, can only truly be created within. The light of meaning is self-generated, but like all light it can be shared. Must be shared. It is in sharing whatever light we might have or create, however dim we might find it, that makes a meaningful life. What light we create is what separates us from all other life, for Man is alone in his ability to shine that light for others, then see and act upon that which is illuminated.

In the end, the Universe may very well be indifferent, but we need not be. Meaning, in life, may be as simple as the absence of indifference to others.

Three Rules to Guide a Life

Sleep was late in coming the other night. I was up texting with a West Coast friend and professional colleague, thinking and reminiscing about the 3 core guiding principles that helped me (and in many ways him) make it through our training and early professional careers. All 3 have stood the test of time, have continued to inform my best decisions both professional and personal, and over the 30 years now since I first said these out loud I’ve only needed to add one additional guideline.

“Knowledge is power.” One is at such a profound disadvantage if there is asymmetry in the amount of information they possess relative to those with whom they interact that at a certain point those with less knowledge cease to be independent entities. Without knowledge, awareness of the ground as Sun Tzu would say, you are at the mercy of another and must depend upon their kindness for, well, almost everything.

“Perception is more important than reality.” The explanation of this, of course, is that perception is the reality of perceiver. While you could say that this is simply an extension of the first guideline–creating the perception is in some way controlling the knowledge–I would simply say that one need only look at the deeply held worldview of some of the U.S. voting public, their perception of what is real and what is important, to illustrate that perception comes from within. Indeed, two individuals can be presented the same set of facts, or have the identical experience, and have a perception 180 degrees apart. Understanding this should inform your approach to any situation whatsoever. What does this individual perceive at this moment? That becomes the reality with which you will deal, your version notwithstanding.

“Evolution is better than revolution.” This was first written as Sunday musings; funny to state something like that on CrossFit.com, the home of a truly disruptive revolution in fitness, eh? Again, this CrossFit that I have so wholly embraced must be the example that renders this guideline moot. Here is where my conversation with Dave last night was so helpful, for Dave was (and still is) a man in a hurry to effect change for the better: evolution involves a conscious attempt to minimize unnecessary collateral damage. Sometimes that damage is directed at oneself, and thinking more along the lines of the “long game” is also sometimes a very reasonable approach to self-preservation. The fire of revolution burns brighter the nearer it gets to the revolutionary. My friend Dave now seeks change in the cool contemplative glow somewhat removed from the fire, conscious always of the need to care for, and be careful for, the growing flock that surrounds him.

These 3 guidelines have served me well lo these 30 years or so. They may or not work for you; they may be nothing more than tinder to light the fire of your own guiding principles. Some day perhaps I’ll share the epiphanies of 9/11 and Heinlein that underly the tactical application of these 3 strategies, but there’s plenty to think about in these simple suggestions. “Knowledge is power.” “Perception is more important than reality.” “Evolution is better than revolution.”

Sunday musings 2/28/16

Sunday musings…

1) Sleep 1. 9 hours of solid sleep last night. While I don’t recommend major surgery as a means to more sleep, still, that was nice.

2) Sleep 2. Over the New Year’s weekend I changed my nutrition strategy. After 10 years as a strict Zoner I am now using what I consider to be a version the Zone (Macro) in a timed fashion. I’ll expand on this another time, but one of the main reasons to have done this is to improve my sleep, both quantitatively and qualitatively. I think it’s better, sleep that is, except for the effect of…

3) Sleep 3. …alcohol. Seriously, is there a weirder substance out there? On a macro level, drink too much and your life expectancy is lower, too little and ditto. Drink juuuuust enough and you live longer. Except the sleep thing. Alcohol messes with your sleep.

Still working on that particular sleep hack. Let me get back to you on that one.

4) Sleep 4. Man, lots of sleep apparently lost by Affiliate gym owners over 16.1, eh? It appears that the WOD has a couple of, ahem, logistical challenges when it comes to running it in a Box. Apparently there are a whole lotta boxes (boxen?) out there built like the classic big-city shotgun apartments of yore: long and narrow. As a partner in an Affiliate who writes most of the programming, I certainly understand the need to take architecture into account when designing the local version of our international kick.

Here’s one man’s take on it: I love 16.1. I think it’s everything we’ve come to know and love about CrossFit, both in a CrossFit Affiliate and in garage gyms and big box commercial gyms the world over. It’s a classic triplet with three easily scaleable movements utilizing one of the most time-tested formats in our quiver, the AMRAP 20:00. It’s inclusive; very few people will drop out of the Open because of these movements and these loads. Indeed, Mrs. bingo’s observation was spot on: “I’m proud of CF tonight; those two regular folks could be from our gym.” Frankly, if you’re looking to criticize (and I’m not, at least not here), you could very well quibble with the fact that it’s taken so many years to get a longish WOD programmed for the Open. At that, it’s more a quibble for folks outside of CrossFit who still think fitness equals long, slow, runs or rides.

The CrossFit Open is our annual “Big Tent” event, one in which we all gather both literally and figuratively to celebrate our shared experience. It can be a challenge for the Affiliate owner, and neither gym members nor HQ should dismiss this. But the Open is ours. All of ours. The Regionals and the Games are for the professionals and the wanna-be professionals, as near to what we do in the gym as Rory McElroy is to Joe Sixpack at the local Muni. When I recover rest assured that I will do all 5 Open WODs so that I, too, can be under the Big Tent that is the Open.

I imagine I’ll sleep pretty well after each one, too.

5) Sleep 5. I’m pretty sure no one at HQ is losing any sleep over this, but I wonder if maybe someone should. In the WSJ this week was an article about the buying habits of different types of gym members. The results of that part of the study were so predictable, reinforced stereotypes so completely that they were comical. My only surprise was that CrossFitters paid more for monthly dues than any other group including boutique cycling gym and yoga studios, but that turns out to be because those members don’t use their boutiques as often as we use our Boxes.

We spend less on pretty much everything else we buy than everyone else. Oh, except fitness clothes that is. Time for a big, fat “thank you” from Reebok right about here; CrossFit gear has sold at a rate 4 TIMES the internal Reebok/Adidas predictions. No matter what you think about the CF/Reebok deal, it looks like CF is underpaid. Of note is that we spend less on food than athletes in other genres, both at the grocery store and out to eat. Funny, that. The assumption is that eating healthier is more expensive, that it must take up a greater percentage of your finances. I’m going with that would make Coach sleep better, except he probably already knew that. Plus, I’m not sure Coach ever sleeps, anyway.

Here’s the part where someone, sometime should probably be losing some sleep: only 13% of CrossFit Newbies who sign up and pay in January are still paying for CrossFit in December. Whoa. This “fall off the cliff” decline was seen in pretty much every group of gym members over their first year, so it’s not just CrossFit. Again, not surprisingly, the big commercial gyms with a low-price business model that actually seeks non-attendance saw the lowest drop-off in membership after 12 months.

13% though. What does this say? What does it mean to the Affiliate owners and by extension to CrossFit, Inc.? We all, Affiliate owners and members alike, tend to think more about the people who are there in the gym every day and every month, working hard on their health and on being the kind of people we would remember. For me that 13% number is a punch-in-the-nose red flag that those nagging feelings about folks who drift away are real. It’s a big ol’ wake-up call about the constant need to attract new members to the gym to replace that 87% who for whatever reason just drift away. Man…13%.

Coach told my boys “[it's] easy, and it’s fun!” Lil’bingo and The Heir (and for that matter Mrs. bingo) would certainly agree that the 13% who stay real DO make it fun. Those folks who are there in your class every day, 3 on/1 off, cheering you on whether you PR or end up DFL…yah, that’s all kinds of fun. But it ain’t easy, at least it hasn’t been for quite a few years now. There’s nothing easy about replacing that 87%, and knowing that the number is that high doesn’t make it any easier, either. The professional trainer seems to need a bunch of sales professional in them according to these numbers, and as far as I can see that’s not really on anyone’s radar screens. Lots of really smart, dedicated folks who run Affiliates are up nights thinking about this. I used to be comforted by the fact that CrossFit has about a 2% penetration in the fitness market, that growth could come for everyone by moving into that 98%. This new number bugs me, though. 13% stay.

Eventually, someone might have to lose some sleep over this.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Measuring Health Part 4: Fitness ‘F’

Health should be defined along the lines of individual human potential. An actionable definition would go something like “the ability to live at the limits of your fullest potential without any encumbrance now or in a foreseeable future”. Fitness as defined by Greg Glassman and CrossFit–work capacity across broad time and modal domains–should therefore be seen as “applied health”. As such, since fitness at any given time is an accurate measurement of one’s functional ability, our variable ‘F’ should have the heaviest weighting in our Health Index.

Let us begin our discussion of Fitness by reviewing and dispelling several myths and misconceptions about the interrelation between health and fitness. First, is it really necessary to review all of the date which now stares us in the face as far as the importance of exercise in health? By the same token, it should be clear to any sentient being that not only is what we eat important (although we must concede that this may differ across populations) but how much? ¬†Simple carbohydrates, manufactured substances meant to cheaply replace real food, harmful (trans-) fats–it doesn’t matter what KIND of nutrition plan you follow, these are all BAD.¬†As I write this I am recovering from surgery and I am not able to exercise. Does anyone believe that I will NOT gain useless weight if I maintain my pre-operative food intake? This part isn’t rocket science, folks. Coach Glassman says it as well as anyone: “Eat [protein] and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.”

Next up is the canard that fitness is simply being able to do something for a very long time. This view, promulgated and propagated by the likes of Outside Magazine and others, is not only insufficient but has been shown to be false as well. In the last couple of years there have been a number of very important studies showing a degradation of heart function in so-called “Ultra” athletes in any area. Decreased cardiac output and an increase in cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation have been shown to be caused by excess endurance training. Endurance as the sole defining characteristic of fitness is as incomplete as would be strength. One need only look at the life expectancy of the strongest humans on record to see that strength in and of itself is not sufficient to produce health.

The question of what constitutes fitness is one that has been answered, at least insofar as health is concerned. It is not enough to be able to run or bike or swim long distances if you cannot also lift heavy things, including your own body. In the same vein one is not truly fit if one can deadlift or squat 3X his or her own bodyweight but cannot run a mile in under 15:00. One must have some measure of BOTH. As such the inescapable conclusion is that Greg Glassman is correct when he says that fitness equals work capacity across broad time and modal domains. You must be able to lift heavy things over a short distance when necessary, but also possess the ability to carry lighter things a longer way for a longer time as well. While I am not naive enough to expect that this will be accepted without spirited debate, when it comes to any measurements of health now available, all arguments to the contrary are not supportable. Glassman has won this battle.

As an aside, this should once and for all put to rest the myth of the “healthy obese”. What good is it to be happy, ‘W’ off the charts, with a stratospheric ‘M’ because all of your bloodwork is perfect, to go with your BP of 120/70, if your joints will cave under pressure decades sooner than they need to? You simply cannot escape the reality that health requires physical fitness.

If fitness can be described as “applied health”, it stands to reason that it will have the greatest contribution to our eventual Health Index. As such it is especially important that our chosen tests meet the criteria outlined in Part 1, that the measurement be as broadly accessible in all ways as possible. In the purest sense we would be able to measure an individual’s “work capacity”, the totality of his or her expression of fitness as measured by many tests covering different loads, distances traveled, and time. In CrossFit we talk of this as the “area under the curve” of a graph that records Power (lbs-ft. per second) on the X axis and Time (in minutes) on the Y. In a perfect world this would be part of every individuals ongoing pursuit of health, but alas, even in the CrossFit world where a very committed everyone records everything, this has proven to be problematic. In designing a series of tests to be applied to the broadest possible swath of humanity this ideal must yield to a more pragmatic approach.

What, then, should we measure, and how? Let us first propose a couple of general characteristics of the tasks in our test and then see what fits the bill. We should test an individual’s ability to move from one place to another under their own power–running is a fundamental human trait and should be part of our evaluation. Likewise, the ability to pick something up off the ground is a pretty basic, everyday movement and would qualify as our test of strength. Lastly, in the U.S. we have a storied heritage from the 1960′s, The Presidential Council Fitness Challenge (PCFC), in which candidates are tested on their ability to perform calisthenic exercises for both speed and endurance. It would be fitting to include something that evokes this historical element.

Once again I anticipate a vigorous debate about the particular elements we include. I’ll go first. We can reward both speed and endurance by starting with a timed run in which the result is distance traveled. The most common example of this comes from athletic programs and the military: a 12:00 timed run for distance. We live in the U.S.; the unit is yards. Pick up something heavy? Sure sounds like a deadlift to me. Any deadlift you wish, standard or sumo, will do. My bias is that a lifting belt is just fine, but except in very special circumstances (e.g. one-armed subject) I would say that straps to help you grip the bar are not a good idea, especially for the very inexperienced subject.

After giving considerable thought to the exercises and format in the original PCFC I think we should simplify the test while at the same time bringing it into the modern fitness world. In the PCFC one sought a maximum number of reps in 2:00 of pull-ups, 2:00 of sit-ups, and 2:00 of push-ups. What exactly are we testing with sit-ups that reflects true fitness? I would favor swapping out sit-ups for air squats. With a nod to CrossFit and Greg Glassman’s outsized contributions to this discussion, let’s use the format made famous by the CrossFit WOD “Cindy” with a small adjustment. To test our subject’s ability to perform bodyweight movements and move quickly, repeats of the triplet of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats in 6:00, counting as our result the total number of repitions achieved.

There you have it. A definition of “Health” and “Healthy”. The introduction of the three variables that go into the measurement of “Health”: traditional medical values ‘M’, emotional well-being ‘W’, and Fitness ‘F’. Next I will address how we will value each of these measures, and then ultimately how they will be combined to give us a meaningful, actionable health measurement ‘H’.

 

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