Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Open Season 2014

It’s Open Season both in and on CrossFit. We are now as “In Season” as we ever get as athletes as we prepare to begin the CrossFit Open, the largest, most inclusive athletic event in the world. This is the time of year when more of us extend our competition beyond “you vs. you” and put our numbers out there, up against anyone and everyone else. The CrossFit Open is when we spend a little bit of time pursuing the “Sport of Fitness”, even if, like me, one is principally concerned with Fitness as a pursuit worthy of a singular focus all its own.

Since this is competition we will necessarily push ourselves in the same manner that all other competitive athletes do. During “Open Season” we will behave like runners, powerlifters, weightlifters, and all manner of people who train for a specific event or season. There will be evidence of overreaching, of overextending, and we will undoubtedly hear of injuries in the process. Hence my opening: it will be “Open Season” on CrossFitters and CrossFit. The CrossFit Open is gonna place a big ‘ol target in the middle of your back, as well as one right smack on the front door of CrossFit HQ.

Should you care? Not surprisingly the answer is “yes and no”. There’s no question you should care enough to sign up and then care about your own CrossFit Open. The cyber-gym opens up to the world and for 5 weeks includes everyone who belongs to an Affiliate gym, too. We’re all together as one. Yes, you care about that. You are part of a community now, and this is our annual family reunion, so to speak.

Your own Open is all about caring. You need to care enough to look objectively at your level of fitness, your collection of strengths and weaknesses, and plan on how you will address the tasks we are given. Will you taper into 14.1-5 or will you do them as simply the next WOD to come out of the Hopper? How about test driving the WODs, doing them to “get a feel” rather than just going for it? What if you don’t do as well as you expected? What kind of schedule will you create if you plan on doing each one more than once? Yes, indeed, you should care about your own CrossFit Open.

Everyone else is in the Open, too! All over the world we’ll be doing the same thing at the same time. Every Thursday for 5 weeks it’s all you’ll be thinking about. That, and where are you going to be at 5:00 PDT and how will you see the announcement of 14-point-whatever that week. Oh yeah, you care about everyone’s Open because you are just as much a part of the Open as everyone else. Yup, just like Rich and Sam, Jason and Annie. Heck, you might luck out and get to watch the announcement of the Open WOD with one of the Games athletes. It may surprise you to learn, but they react to each announcement just like you do! Yes, you should care about everyone else’s Open because their Open is your Open.

Now, about that target on your back. Once we go “live” on February 27th there will be all sorts of folks out there aiming at you, at us, at CrossFit. In a world filled with regular people who day in and day out push themselves in the gym harder than all but the tiniest percentage of competitive athletes, for 5 weeks we will likely push just a little bit harder, and there will be just a few more of us who end up “off the rails” as it were. There will be a barrage, a deluge of all manner of invective spewed at our world. “CrossFit is dangerous.” “High rep [you-name-it] should not be done.” “CrossFit programming is this-or-that,” where both this and that are bad.

Should you care?

For the most part I’m going with “no”. If your Mom is concerned, or perhaps your POOSSLQ, then maybe you need to pay a little attention to the haters, the attention grabbers, and the sensationalists so that you can reassure your loved ones that you are OK. Otherwise I’m going with “no”, there’s no reason you should care about the various and sundry sticks and stones being hurled at you and CrossFit. Seriously, why bother? Why help someone make a non-story (there are injuries in competitions) into a big story? Why worry that something you KNOW to be false (eg. “CrossFit is dangerous”) might be true just because it’s posted on the internet by someone who has no idea what CrossFit is, let alone the Open? Why provide credibility by caring to commentators who have none to start with?

What matters is this: it’s Open Season here IN the CrossFit world. What we have is measurable, observable, and repeatable, and we’re going to do just that over 5 weeks. You and I will push just a little harder, even if you, like me, have exactly zero chance of moving on to Regionals. There will be more precision, more perspicacity, more virtuosity. We will be drawn even closer to one another, with or without any targeting from those outside our community. For 5 weeks we will demonstrate that what we do and what we have is both very real and very good.

Yes, you care about that.


The CrossFit Open 2014

The CrossFit Open 2014. Are you in? Of course you are! It’s a few bucks, sure, and you aren’t gonna make it to Regionals, but you’re in anyway. Right?

Of course you are!

The CrossFit Open is the ultimate participatory athletic event. It’s as if the USGA or the Royal and Ancient ran a tournament for every golfer who wanted to take a shot at the U.S. Open or British Open. $20 and you get to play a round on the same golf course as everyone else, even Tiger. Not only that, but in OUR version you get to play 5 times. Who cares if the chances that you will make it to the Big Show are pretty much exactly the same in the CrossFit Open as they are in my hypothetical USGA Open? Like golf (or tennis, or tennis, or Triathlon, etc.) we play the same sport as the pros.

You know, more or less…

How will I approach The Open this year? For people who are new to my bloviations I am at best a middle-of-the-Bell-Curve CrossFitter for my age and I have exactly zero chance of winning local Masters competitions, let alone make it through the Open. At 54 I am in the oldest group of my Masters division, but for the Open I will try the “As Rx’d” WOD each week, try to get a score that I can submit. It’s fun just to be a part of the conversation. You know, the anticipation all day every Thursday. What’s it gonna be this week. Watching the Leader Board is a hoot, even when your name doesn’t show up until page 14 or so (at least for me). Someone should come up with a “Fantasy Football-like” game we could play during the Open!

Or a drinking game. Yeah, THAT’S the ticket! A CrossFit Open drinking game.

Too heavy and too technical is what I expect to see, at least for me, so after my (likely feeble) “As Rx’d” attempt I will then either move to the 55+ group and do that level, or simply scale and do the Open WOD as my Workout Of The Day, my training. Throwing it in there, not knowing what it will be or how it will jive with the day before or the day after, it’s a little like the “Unknown and Unknowable” for which we train, right? In the end that’s the most important thing for me–the training I get from CrossFit.

Got a legit chance to break through and make it to Regionals? Very cool! Good on ya, and good luck! For the rest of us let’s try our best, give it our all, but let’s also remember that we do CrossFit for health, fitness and fun. Keep your wits about you.

As Sarge used to say on Hill Street Blues: let’s be careful out there.


Musings on Small Time Sports and CrossFit

It’s opening weekend for the NFL, the closest thing we have in the U.S. to a collective religion. The U.S. Tennis Open has finals in women’s today and men’s tomorrow night (shame on them for putting that on a school night). MLB is lurching toward the playoffs (with both Pittsburgh and Cleveland still in the hunt!). And major college football is in week 2, still in its version of the silly season.

What’s the connection? All of these, including D1 football, are examples of big-time sports. Sport as business. The only difference between them is that in football they don’t pay the minor leaguers, the college athletes. And please, spare me any sanctimonious drivel about getting an education for free–nothing is free. D1 football is a job, no less than AAA baseball or Junior A hockey. The difference is that every other sport openly pays its minor leaguers, while Big Time college football continues to wallow in the cynical swamp of exploitation of its athletes. The same is true, of course, of Big Time college basketball.

There is an antidote for this. It’s called Small Time. That should probably be all lower case, too. Should be “small time”. Sport for the sake of sport. Putting in the time in practice to play the games because the games are fun. They are meaningful as an end in themselves, not as a means to some end of the rainbow pot of gold end. All of the stuff that the fat cat moneybags trot out as justification for athletic programs in the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac10, ACC etc.–alumni loyalty, creation of a communal atmosphere, a reason to return to Alma Mater–that’s all there is in “small time” sports.

I played a couple of sports at the D III level. Pretty pitiful lacrosse player and golfer relative to my teammates, relatively OK football player. Not a one of us made a pro roster. Indeed, not a single athlete from any team sport in the entire NESCAC (comprising some 10 or so small schools in New England) in that era played a single minute as a pro in anything. As a group we all went on to do rather pedestrian things like become teachers and cops and doctors and lawyers and bankers and…well, you get the idea.

Were our games any less meaningful than last night’s ND/Michigan game? I’m certainly biased, but how can the answer be anything other than ‘no’? We sweated and suffered and sacrificed our time for the joy of playing the games. Our schoolmates came to watch us play. Alums followed the teams whether or not they played on them. Follow them still. The games and the teams keep Alma Mater connected, provide a little line that ties us to our school in a way that is no different than the pull of Ohio State.

There is a purity in the “small time” that should shame the shamans of the Big Time, so sullied are they by the continual necessity to pretend that the Big Time is nothing more than the “small time”, only bigger. It just isn’t so. There is an honesty in the “small time” that is simply absent in the Big Time. The very best D III teams, the ones that win championships, still send only a trivial number of players to the pros in any sport, and therefore have as little relationship to A-level baseball as do those teams that never see an NCAA D III playoff game.

What does this have to do with CrossFit? Fair question; like anything else written on Sunday the answer may be ‘nothing’! But I do see more than a little similarity between CrossFit as The Sport of Fitness and college athletics. What I see is that same honesty present in the “small time” college athletics, though, even at the highest levels of our sport. There’s money to be made at the top, but there is no subterfuge, no obfuscation or deceit: if you are really good you can make money doing CrossFit. Period. Not being able to make money at it does not exclude anyone else. Period.

Very few people make a living from CrossFit, as competitors or trainers or trainers-of-trainers. The ratio of participants to pros is rather similar to any professional sport you wish to use as an example. Like “small time” college sports we have all manner of competitions we can enter as CrossFitters; if you enjoy the games and you wish to compete, the games are there for you to play and for everyone else who wishes to watch.

Unlike the Big Time, in the “small time” the games are simply part of who you are, not why you are.


Virtuosity and the Traveling CrossFitter

Do you travel at all? Maybe you go to local and regional CrossFit gatherings where CrossFitters compete. What do you see in Affiliate gyms not your own, or on the competitive pitch when you watch athletes who are not from your gym? What do you hear about your own technique from your hosts when you travel, or from the spectators about the competitors from your gym when you are there to cheer them on? If you are a coach do you use the comparison between your athletes and those from other gyms as a little report card on your coaching?

It can be pretty hard to watch “amateur” CrossFit competitions where everyone is going for maxes, redlining every single WOD. But that’s competition, and it may be a little unfair (although maybe only a little) to use these competitive festivals as a coaching report card. Where do you draw the line between acceptable breakdowns (recall Coach Glassman’s famous firing range example) with technique breakdowns that are just plain dangerous? This is a hard question, and reasonable people have trouble reaching agreement. I’ll just toss out that for me these “non-sanctioned” local competitions are a slightly higher intensity version of my ‘you vs. you’ mantra, and that coaches have a responsibility to their athletes to keep them safe. YMMV.

In the gym, though, it’s a different matter altogether. When a visitor to your gym tells you that they’ve been going to a Box for 6 months and they can’t do a proper air squat, well, something’s wrong there. If their deadlift technique is unsafe during warm-ups and they are fully planning on Rx’ing your WOD because that’s what they do at home, something’s just not right. Technique comes before consistency, and both prior to intensity. You go to a CrossFit gym rather than doing CrossFit at the local Y because there are CrossFit coaches at a CrossFit Affiliate.

When people visit my sons’ Box they get coached. Technique, strategy, something. Out of town visitors are not charged a fee at Comet, but they are most certainly coached, just like all of the members. When I travel I expect to be coached before, during, and after a WOD, whether or not I’ve paid a drop-in fee. That’s why I go to a Box rather than just the hotel “gym”. I can’t help but compare how the host athletes move with the athletes at my home gym, and frankly I try to have my very best technique because I know that I am a reflection of my coaches, or should be, in the eyes of my host.

The Games athletes are different from us in many ways, but we can control one of those differences: we can try to be as technically sound as they are. I watched last year’s Finals on The Deuce yesterday. Rich Froning’s technique on “Isabel” was simply lovely. Same thing with Julie Foucher at Regionals in Columbus. Ohio on the Snatch ladder. I’ll never move that much weight that quickly, and sadly neither will you. There is no reason why we can’t move a bit less weight just a little less quickly with nearly the same form, however. As coaches it should be our jobs to get that to happen for our athletes. Should we do it fast, or should we do it with “better than good” technique? Coach Glassman always answers “yes”.

Let’s “go home” to the concept of “virtuosity”. Let’s seek it for ourselves, and let’s coach it for others. Let’s praise it when we see it, to both athlete and coach. Choose heavy if you can; go as fast as you can. Do both with technique you’d be proud to take on the road or show off to visitors. Virtuosity is the forgotten universal CrossFit element.

Virtuosity travels well.