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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘fitness’

“Lift”, Fitness, and the CrossFit Games

Here we are, a couple of weeks away from the CrossFit Games. Getting pretty exciting, huh? Sadly, once again, due to an illness in my extended family, I will not be able to attend the Games in person this year. Last year turned out to be our last with my Dad. This year we are spending as much time as we can with Beth’s Dad. No need to feel sorry for me, though. I think I’ve made it to 8 of the Games, each time as a guest of Greg Glassman who is a most gracious host. I’ll  surf over to the Games site and check out all the different ways to watch our annual extravaganza from home. Maybe this is the event that finally pushes me to get that new, “big ass” TV I’ve been planning to buy for…oh…3 years now.

Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal has a book review on “Lift” by Daniel Kunitz, a history of fitness. According to the review, Kunitz is very complimentary of CrossFit and Coach Glassman. Interestingly, the author of the review is a gentleman named Michael Shermer. His personal fitness journey sounds remarkably like that of so many of us in the CrossFit community. Indeed, he even references both “What is Fitness?” and the Ten Essential Characteristics of Fitness. Shermer’s discussion of fitness, sport, and training brought me back to thoughts I have had about fitness as sport.

There is a tension that exists between CrossFit, the strength and conditioning program and CrossFit, the Sport of Fitness.This tension is usually expressed in the guise of criticism of various versions of CrossFit programming. What’s very interesting is the lack of tension on this topic among the truly elite CrossFit athletes. If you look at their programming it looks like they are training to become…wait for it…really good at CrossFit.

Weird, huh?

What does that mean, anyway? Good at CrossFit? Follow Mr. Kunitz’s lead. This is a perfect time for you to both re-read the seminal article “What is Fitness” in CFJ #2 and to recommend it to anyone who is either curious or unsure as to what constitutes CrossFit, and for the sake of this musings, CrossFit programming.

CrossFit is the pursuit of a broad, inclusive general fitness where fitness is defined as work capacity across broad time and modal domains. In the vernacular, CrossFit trains and tests us to move larger loads further over a longer period of time. In order to do this Coach Glassman has identified 10 Essential characteristics of Fitness as so defined and noted in the book review, each of which needs to be equally expressed. Cardiovascular/Respiratory endurance; stamina; strength; flexibility; power; speed; coordination; agility; balance; accuracy.

Fitness as defined by CrossFit and Greg Glassman includes a precisely balanced degree of each of these 10 elements, with no one element being more of less important than any other. The CrossFit Games, and the athletes who take part, are simply an expression of the farthest right side reaches of the fitness Bell Curve. Look carefully and you will see that the events ask for equal competence in all 10 Elements; the athletes are simply better than the rest of us across the board. They get there because they do more work on all of the 10 Essential Elements.

While we here, and most folks in CrossFit Affiliate gyms, can assume agreement on the benefits of seeking Fitness as defined by CrossFit, this is not to say that either our definition of fitness or our particular way of seeking it (expressed through our CrossFit programming) is appropriate for every individual. Some people just like to run really long distances, while others are happiest when they lift really heavy stuff. Still others are interested only in the appearance of their body, and their entire fitness program is geared toward achieving a particular vision or visual. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these desires, nor anything inherently wrong with the programming necessary to achieve these outcomes.

It just may not be CrossFit.

Because of this, the issue of programming is always on the table, especially during the Crossfit Games season that starts with the CrossFit Open and culminates in the spectacle in Carson, CA. Is there an optimal version of CrossFit programming? People take turns at supporting and denigrating the programming on the Main Page and in various CrossFit Affiliate gyms. Countless efforts are made to “improve” on the model you see on what we call “.com”. Some of these alternatives make sense, while others IMO are not really alternative CrossFit programming but alternatives to CrossFit itself. Most of these, indeed most of the conversations in general, have to do with strength and strength training. Are you (is anyone) strong enough? Will CrossFit.com or another version of CrossFit make you strong enough?

The 10 Essential Elements found in CFJ #2, “What is Fitness”, are also posted on Workout  030530 ( ironically on a day when heavy Deadlifts were prescribed). Pretty much all of the conversations noted about programming revolve around the premise that strength is somehow more important than other elements of fitness. Reasonable people can disagree on this point, but as a premise in discussing CrossFit the notion that strength is a, or the, primary element of fitness has no standing. There are 10 elements of Fitness, each no more and no less important than any other if we are seeking a broad, inclusive general physical preparedness that we call “fitness”. Full stop.

Whoa, wait a minute there pal, aren’t you the guy who co-wrote an article called “Strong Medicine” introducing a programming alternative called “CrossFit Strength Bias”? Hasn’t your home gym programming had supplemental strength training per CFSB principals since it opened? Isn’t that statement there just a bit, oh, duplicitous? Forked-typing?

Nope. Not at all. You see, if you read the original article you will see that CFSB is one way to address a DEFICIT in strength relative to the other 9 Essential Elements, not a program meant to gain strength at the EXPENSE of the other 9. As such it, like some others, is a program for the masses, a CrossFitter who perceives a hole in his/her fitness that needs to be addressed, not at all unlike a CrossFitter who does supplemental work on balance or flexibility. Additional Element-specific work, be it strength or agility or whatnot, that drives continued balance and improvement in all 10 Elements is very much CrossFit. All versions of CFSB (I am now using v3.2) are designed to be one way to address this imbalance. There are others that you may enjoy more (Wendler, Westside, Conjugate, etc.), and just like having personal goals, there is nothing inherently wrong with another supplemental strength program as long as it works without the need to sacrifice other competencies.

Whether you are looking at members of a CrossFit Box or competitors at the CrossFit Games, CrossFit is outcome based. The outcome desired is a broad-based fitness comprised of equal quantities of each of the 10 Essential Elements. What goes into the left side of the hypothetical Black Box should produce Work Capacity Across Broad Time and Modal Domains if the Black Box is a CrossFit athlete of any type. An increase in your Deadlift brought about by concentrating on strength training at the expense of cardiovascular/respiratory endurance will be accompanied by a decrease in your 5K run time and vice versa. This may be precisely in line with your goals, but it is not CrossFit as defined by Coach Glassman and expressed at its limits by Games athletes.

Programming for CrossFit should be aimed first and foremost at CrossFit outcomes. For most people, ever increasing fitness as described and defined by CrossFit results in increased health. What you find on CrossFit.com, and what you should probably expect to find as the primary goal in a CrossFit Affiliate gym, is programming that seeks to balance all 10 of the Essential Elements of Fitness, doing extra work in a lagging domain, and increasing all of them in an effort to produce increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.

A demonstration of CrossFit programming will be available in a couple of weeks online and on ESPN. We call it the CrossFit Games. While I won’t be able to accept my invitation to visit my CrossFit friends and see it in person, rest assured that I will be glued to my (hopefully big ass) TV and watching nonetheless.

 

–bingo

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 data 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’.

 

Comet CrossFit/CrossFit Bingo: End of an Era

Everything changes. Sometimes change means that something comes to an end. So it is with the White family’s CrossFit Affiliate. It’s a CrossFit story for sure, but it’s really more of a family story, actually. While it is surely sad–I’m certainly sad–it’s actually quite a nice story, and the ending is really very OK.

Randy gave college a try in the fall and winter of 2010 at the same school where Megan was a junior. After 2 trimesters it became very clear to him that he wasn’t really ready for a traditional college path, and that his journey would start another way. Randy and I hit up a CrossFit L1 at Rogue (my 4th, Randy’s 2nd), and then Beth and I packed him off to Brand X for a 3 month internship with the Martin Family and theCrossFit Kids team. He and I had done our original CFK cert in January 2010 as part of my 50th birthday gift from Beth: a Dad/Son Kids’ cert and surfing camp! That summer he spent his weekdays in Ramona coaching both kids and adults and his weekends traveling from London to Australia spreading the word about CrossFit and CrossFit Kids. He came home ready to begin his career as a CrossFit gym owner. When the application for Comet CrossFit was accepted by HQ he became the youngest Affiliate owner in North America.

While this was going on Dan was in his senior year in college, coming into his own big-time as student after a couple years of, oh, let’s call it intellectual wanderlust, making the Dean’s list to close out his days at DU. Home he came as a sorta/kinda pre-med grad, albeit one who managed to make it through college without taking physics, Continuing on the pre-med course would mean 2 years of classes and applications BEFORE starting the 8-12 years of medical training. Pretty daunting. He asked if maybe his brother could use some help in launching and running Comet, and thus was formed the Affiliate ownership team universally known in greater Cleveland as “The Boys”.

Those were heady times in the CrossFit Affiliate world. When Coach Glassman met the boys he was thrilled about their plans, telling them “it’s fun, and it’s easy!” Comet would be the 3rd CrossFit gym to announce its opening on the west side of Cleveland. In what can only be considered quaint now, The Boys insisted that their gym be located far enough away from CrossFit Cleveland and Coca CrossFit that there would be no way that anyone would consider them in competition with the first 2 gyms; athletes would choose their gym based on geography. This quite righteous and honorable decision made their row all the harder to sow because they chose a location far outside the reaches of their parents’ considerable contact list, but it also ensured that their successes would be built solely by their own efforts.

Comet CrossFit opened for business on Monday, October 11, 2011, with programming based on CrossFit.com and the original CrossFit Strength Bias article in the CFJ. The first WOD started out with 5 sets of Front Squats aiming for a 3-rep max, followed by 4 Rounds for Time of Run 400M/15 HSPU/15PU. Since that time Comet (and CF Bingo) have followed the classic training patterns outlined in “What is Fitness?” and on the pages of CrossFit.com, a traditional General Physical Preparedness gym with a modest strength bias. Literally hundreds of athletes have come through, coached by The Boys and eventually by their parents as well.

In time it became clear that Dan was destined for something else. He came home one day armed with a rather impressive score on an LSAT prep test asking for parental support to apply to law school. Off he went to THE Ohio State University, along with the bride he met at Comet CrossFit ( Brittany herself an accomplished CrossFitter and coach in her own right!). After 2 years of running an Affiliate now named CrossFit Bingo on his own, Randy has also come to the conclusion that he, too, is destined for something else. Randy will join his fiancé Katelyn as a full-time student, he to become a physical therapist.

And so it is time to wind down our CrossFit gym. Comet/Bingo has been an amazing experience for our whole family. We have among us more than a dozen certifications (Randy, Beth, and I are all L2, for example). Megan became a CrossFitter when she and her husband moved to South Carolina, like everyone else we/you know, finding a group of best friends in her new Box. The White family gym afforded both of our boys the time to grow that each needed in order to discover the next path they needed to take, while at the same time giving them the priceless experience of making people better. Indeed, no fewer than 3 neighboring gyms were spawned from Comet/Bingo. For Beth and I, well, we not only got the precious gift of being able to give our boys this opportunity, but we were also able to spend countless hours with them–right there WITH them–enjoying the adventure.

We leave behind our beloved gym, and we say “see you later” to our many member friends. We are not leaving CrossFit by any stretch of imagination. Both Randy and I will have little garage gyms at our homes, a literal and figurative return to an even more classic CrossFit (al la CFJ #10) than our gym. The White family is eternally grateful to CrossFit, CrossFit Kids, the Martin Family and the CrossFit community both in greater Cleveland and abroad for the love and kindness extended to us over the years. Randy, Dan, Beth and I are especially thankful for the support and friendship extended to us by Coach and the Glassman family over not only the 5 year life of Comet CrossFit and CrossFit Bingo, but also the entirety of the CrossFit experience that began with that fateful November day in 2005 when I picked up a Men’s Journal and read about this crazy new fitness thing out of Santa Cruz created by Coach.

Everything changes, and sometimes change means loss. I am so very, very proud of my boys and what they created and accomplished. I loved being with them, and my darling Beth, in their gym, and I will miss seeing my little guy, no longer little, almost every day for 5 years. Doing CrossFit in a CrossFit gym is a very special thing, all the more special when you have a hand in running that gym. We will all, each of us, miss the experience of helping our fellow CrossFitters become better. Beth and I are so very proud of what our boys did and how they did it. We are excited to see what they will do on these new journeys, journeys made possible because they owned a CrossFit gym.

I will miss our CrossFit gym, my CrossFit gym, immensely, but I continue to be comforted by the fact that I will see you all on CrossFit.com next week…

–bingo

Measuring Health Part 1: Rationale, Definitions and Background

In 2010 I had a bit of an epiphany. At the time I was a bit over 4 years into my CrossFit journey. It became painfully obvious that the genius that Greg Glassman had applied to physical fitness–a definition of fitness that invited measurement, and in turn the critical evaluation of the efficacy of different fitness programs–was nowhere to be seen in the fields of health and medicine. Indeed, an informal survey carried out in person by my friend Dr. Kathy Weesner and I made it clear that the majority of physicians couldn’t come up with an actionable definition for health despite the fact that we are charged as professionals with helping our patients become “healthy”.

At around this time Coach Glassman published a theory that health was precisely defined as “fitness over time”. In CrossFit Fitness is work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Fitness over years could be depicted as a 3-dimensional graph with axes time, work, and years. As I thought about his thesis, that a backward looking view of an individual’s fitness as defined by CrossFit was a proxy for health, I found myself with the feeling that the definition was intriguing but incomplete. In response I took it upon myself to develop a broader definition of health, one in which fitness was a primary, but not the sole marker or metric. That April I submitted a draft of my definition of health along with a new, broader base of proposed tests that would generate the data that could be used to measure an individual’s health. Over the years it has become clear that Greg and I are more in agreement than not, but a key CrossFit employee at the time had a fundamental disagreement with my thesis, and consequently the article was rejected by the CrossFit Journal. I published my draft here on Random Thoughts later that year.

For almost 6 years I have been mulling this over, threatening to return to the problem of defining and then measuring health in much the same way that Coach Glassman defined and then measured fitness. The quest was derailed by all of the usual time sinks of mid-life. In a humorous irony, the majority of my real, true free time was consumed by the task of helping my sons run their CrossFit Affiliate gym. It is time, now, for me to finish what I started in 2010 if for no other reason than to establish the provenance of the theory.

In order to effectively address any issue whatsoever it is first necessary to have a clear understanding of the definition of terms that may be important to the discussion. I made a similar statement in one of my earliest posts on the importance of understanding the difference between health, healthcare delivery (medicine), and healthcare finance. Here again I fall back on the genius of Greg Glassman: just as one cannot evaluate either fitness or fitness programs without first defining what it is that you are discussing when you say “fitness”, one must first have a definition of “health” before one can begin to measure it. What exactly is “health”? What does it mean to be healthy?

Let’s return for a moment to the physician survey that Dr. Weesner and I did in early 2010. During face-to-face meetings we asked groups of physician colleagues to give us their definition of “health” or “healthy”. The majority of the answers couldn’t have been less inspiring or more disappointing. Indeed, the most common answer was “I don’t know”! Not very comforting, that. The second most common answer was as anticipated: health is the absence of disease. In our American medical system of “disease care” this is an understandable response, of course, but as the basis for the development of a true measurement of “health” it is obvious on its face that this definition has never translated into any actionable metric. Why? Well for one it fails entirely to take into account the very real importance of “fitness”, the expression of health. More specifically, like fitness as a proxy for health, “absence of disease” also fails to address a key requirement for any measurement of health: there is no forward-looking predictive value to simply stating that you have no disease today.

A measurable, actionable definition of health is one that takes into account the degree that disease is present or absent at any given time. It must address physical fitness; to be without a named disease but to be unable to walk up a flight of stairs should not ever be construed as “healthy”. Of equal importance to these factors, any definition of “health” that will generate a meaningful metric must have a predictive value. Your Health Value should provide some measurement of your future likelihood of being disease free and fit. Our little survey of our physician peers did produce just such definitions. Given these requirements I propose that the following are actionable definitions that can be used in healthcare to create measurements in precisely the same way that Greg Glassman’s definition of fitness is used in that realm:

HEALTH: The state in which no infirmity of any kind suppresses, or has the possibility of suppressing the ability to express the full extant of an individual’s potential capacities.

HEALTHY: Able to perform in all ways at the farthest limits of one’s potential capabilities.

With these definitions we can move on to developing a “health metric”, one that can not only assess our present degree of health, but can also predict to some degree our ability to remain healthy. I believe this metric has three component parts: physical fitness as defined by CrossFit, well-being or emotional health, and a factor that addresses traditional or standard medical factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, genetics and the like. Furthermore, I predict that these three variables are as evident and as logical for “health” as Coach Glassman’s definition is for fitness.

One can have an otherworldly degree of fitness as defined by CrossFit, but what good is it to have a 500 pound deadlift and the ability to run a 4:00 mile if your physical achievement is driven by self-loathing? By the same token, in addition to having a normal result in every conceivable medical test your countenance is as sunny as an 8 year old on vacation, your disposition so Zen-like that the Dali Lama himself wishes he were as happy and serene, but you can’t walk a mile. This surely cannot equal healthy. You are a world-champion long-distance runner, and yet you drop dead from a heart attack, unaware that you have a cholesterol of 800. Fit for sure, but hardly healthy. Fitness, well being, and modern health metrics all have a role in an actionable Health Measurement. Vigorous debate will be necessary to parse the relative weight given to each of these factors, but as I first proposed and wrote in April 2010,all three are clearly necessary components.

In short order I will offer follow-up posts that delve more deeply into each of these three components. I will include suggestions for what and how to measure them. I will conclude with a re-statement of my proposal for a single measurement of health with my suggestion as to the relative weight of the three variables, hopefully inciting the above-mentioned vigorous debate. By doing so I wish to document the originality and timeline of my proposal, acknowledge the intellectual debt owed to Greg Glassman for inspiring me, and reassert my contention that healthcare cannot reach its fullest potential without first agreeing on both a definition of health and how to measure it.

 

 

 

Fitness as Health Marker

The human body as a machine is an endless source of fascination. Designed at this point in evolution primarily as a vehicle to carry a brain, our bodies can withstand famine, thirst, and physical stress beyond what our brains can imagine. When one part starts to fail we have a series of “fail-safe” backups in many cases that allow us to carry on. Interestingly, the greatest harm to our “vehicles” is actually excess (gluttony) and lack of physical stress (sloth).

Kinda Biblical, eh?

There is a complex daisy chain of effects that can ever be traced back to a cause when our bodies begin to break down. My own musculoskeletal system is failing me miserably, and it has taken the eventual unavoidable breakdown of one of those fail-safe mechanisms for me to finally figure out the original cause. Last month’s programming with its emphasis on our core was the last straw.

For the better part of a year I have struggled on and off with progressively worse failures of accessory muscles for mid-line stabilization. The posterior chain (gluteus maximus, hamstring, erector spinae) precisely balances your anterior chain (rectus abdominus) in maintaining a rigid core so that you can do, well, everything. Progressive movement failures in the gym (massive retrograde numbers in lifts, need for major scaling of loads) has now given way to rather plebeian challenges: spasms of the gluteus medius, priformis, and obturator (not to mention that rat bastard the extensor fascia lata) which sometimes drop me in the simplest of movements.

My initial reaction, of course, was to address what must be a weakness in these accessory muscles due to inattention. Surely this would be all that I needed to return me to my previous level of physical prowess. Naturally, since these “failures” were actually the fail-safes going down, accessory work on these muscles only worsened the problem by OVER-working the already overburdened.

How, then, did I figure it out? Well, as I noted, the chariot that rolls along carrying our brain is ever set to do its job, and eventually it sends up a signal when all of the backup systems failed. A tiny little dull ache appeared in my lower abs, an annoyance that escalated to Def-con 1 whenever I braced my anterior chain for any task whatsoever. There was no difference between a back squat or a “bear in the woods” squat–I could not use my abs to secure my midline, and guarding against the pain had shifted that burden to all of those little helper muscles.

A tiny little tear born in an area of inherited weakness turned out to be the cause. My friend the general surgeon describes the defect as “a dime with aspirations of becoming a quarter.” A half-dozen really smart folks had failed to see it, all of them equally fascinated by the epic failure of my Piriformae. And so it is that I will engage the knife as I seek relief on behalf of my accessory warriors such that they may return to their proper roles behind the front line of the midline stabilization battle.

What’s the point of all this sharing you ask? It’s pretty simple, really. Very basic. Each one of us is, or should be, engaging the CrossFit prescription of strength and metabolic conditioning aligned with proper nutrition in the pursuit of better daily function. Better, clearer thought. Stronger, leaner, faster bodies. In order to do so it is necessary that we are ever aware of those bodies, ever vigilant in our pursuit. CrossFit provides us a metric that allows us to monitor the machine that transports our brain. My performance began to suffer. I stalled, then backed up. Measurable and observable that I was failing at repeatable. To discover the root cause I eventually used the degree and manner of those failures to work back to the source. I think fitness as we describe it is best seen as a real-time marker for health. CrossFit approached properly is the thinking athlete’s fitness program, the inquisitive athletes health monitor.

Now to be fixed and resume my quest.

 

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

Sunday musings 3/15/15 (By the Numbers)…

Sunday musings (by the numbers)…

1) 3.1415. Oh, why not? Pi on March 14, 2015? That’s really kinda cool.

2) 15.3. I will never get a MU (torn supraspinatus), and will be forever shut out of any event that requires one. So be it.

One should be ever mindful of the difference between CrossFit the fitness program, and CrossFit the Sport of Fitness(™). My “inter-mural” competitive juices have long run dry (more in a moment), so competing at the Sport of Fitness is of little interest to me. The Open is a measure of my fitness relative to my peers, a chance to experience the unknown and the unknowable, and the experience surrounding the Open is just fun.

CrossFit for me remains my fitness and health prescription; 15.3 is just Friday’s dose.

3) 90. Humans sleep in cycles of ~90 minutes. Each cycle is centered by an interval of REM sleep, the deepest type of sleep. There is some teleological thought that the natural tendency to be wakeful at intervals is a vestige of our hunter/gatherer origins, a brief time to assess threat before continuing to rest.

Our best sleep over a night is one that is an even multiple of our particular cycle (it’s not precisely 90 min. for everyone). Mrs. bingo and I have known this for some time, and I have tried to time my sleep/wake schedule to coincide with either 4 cycles (6 hrs.) or 5 (7.5 hrs). Multiple factors intrude on this strategy of course (alcohol intake, age, gender), and multiple outside agents conspire to make it more difficult (sunrise, canine appetites, spousal sleep).

In our over-scheduled/over-pressured world I am not advocating an intense evaluation of sleep, or any particular method of doing so (we are playing with the UP24, for example). I am simply noting that there is both a quantity and a quality metric if one does evaluate sleep, and for that matter rest in general. Recovery is worthy of your attention whether you do CrossFit as sport or fitness.

4) 1. A moment ago I made mention of my competitive juices having run dry. That’s only partially true. It’s probably more accurate to say that I have chosen to de-emphasize the competitive aspects of most of my activities.

For certain this does not include the existential threats that surround my business, my vocation, those competitors who would gladly contribute to its and my demise. In that arena I am certainly as competitive and driven to win as I have ever been about anything. In this arena my battle simply is one of waning energy and the ennui of competition that ever waxes. No unknown and unknowable at 3, 30, 300 or even 3,000 feet here.

What has changed over the years is the incessant, all-consuming need to win at everything else. Not desire mind you, but need. I grew up in one of those hyper-competitive families where everything was a game to be played and every competition a zero-sum game in which you only won if someone else lost. I had to win. We all had to win. We competed for EVERYTHING. Board games, backyard basketball, philosophical discussions. Everything. Seriously, there would be blood drawn as we wielded our knives and attacked a new tub of butter in the race to make the first mark.

Now? Not so much. I find myself drawn away from all sorts of quasi-competitive activities, fearful that I will either feel torn about letting loose my competitive devil, or having done so feel badly about an all-out assault toward victory. Some competitions are so silly that they simply cannot be taken seriously; these I enjoy deeply. I “beat” my buddy Scot in a deadlift WOD by 0.5 seconds by my account, and he “beat” me because his bar was 40# heavier by his. I “won” a game of “Cards Against Humanity” by expertly playing the “Tasteful Side-Boob” card. That kind of stuff.

A middle ground exists, of course, but it seems to be one I personally am not very good at identifying. There are times when I burn to compete. Times when all I want to do is win. As I have evolved and become aware of the risks of collateral damage my impulse is then to turn away. I miss the joy that is to be found in the game for fear of the consequences of the unbridled quest for victory. How does one find that space in which the competition itself is enough?

For you see, I haven’t forgotten how to win.

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at March 15, 2015 8:19 AM

Why I Coach and Why I Care About Your Coach

Why do I coach? I mean, I already have a day job, and 24 hours in a day is a lie. Why do I care about CrossFit coaching that occurs, or as the case may be doesn’t occur, in other Boxes? Heck, I’m fortunate in that I have personal access to our CrossFit Subject Matter Experts (great video by Coach Burgener on CrossFit.com. Keep ‘em coming!), and one of my favorite places–CrossFit.com–has no real coaching to speak of. There are lots of demonstrations but no real feedback, and you need both for true coaching.

I coach for rather selfish reasons. It’s unbelievably satisfying to see someone achieve a goal they could barely even imagine, even more satisfying to have that athlete give thanks for whatever small contribution I might have made. I enjoy it so much that I took a huge bite of humble pie and went to a clinic where better coaches dissected all aspects of my coaching in order that I might be better. My son Randy  and wife Beth came for the same reasons. I coach for the pure enjoyment of helping people get better, and I coach CrossFit because it’s simply the the best way I’ve found to achieve that.

Why, then, would I care about coaching anywhere else by anyone else? Greg Glassman has not only given us the CrossFit system of creating fitness, he has offered a clear path to a greater role for a coach in the production of not only fitness but also health. I am part of that coaching lineage. What am I to make then of the athlete who comes to my gym with 2 years of membership in a CrossFit Affiliate who cannot perform an air squat? What is the appropriate reaction when I see athletes from other Boxes participating in fitness competitions who perform basic lifts at opening weights with grossly dangerous form? It makes me wonder if they were ever coached at all.

If you are a CrossFit athlete at an Affiliate gym you should demand coaching. More than that, you should demand coaching excellence. You’ve chosen to join a gym and you’ve put yourself in the hands of a coach who should be teaching you CrossFit and teaching it well. Otherwise you might just as well hang out on CrossFit.com. Perhaps you would be better off.

For CrossFit coaches out there I’m throwing down the gauntlet. It’s no longer enough to just roll out some rubber flooring and hang a few pull-up bars, if it ever was. You’ve been hired to coach athletes and make them better. Do it. You are trained to coach CrossFit, so for the love of God coach CrossFit. Teach mechanics, then consistency, then and only then intensity. Seek for them and on their behalf virtuosity in both your coaching and their CrossFit. You, too, are part of that same coaching lineage as I, one that began with Coach Glassman and includes thousands of others. How you coach reflects on each of us, and frankly it reflects on CrossFit itself.

That, my friend, is why I care.

 

 

Sunday musings 8/10/14

Sunday musings…

1) Blondetourage. Should be a word.

2) Donovan. Landon Donovan has announced that he will retire at the end of this MSL season.

In other news, Johnny Manziel.

3) Burpee. “Talk Burpee to Me”, a full length article in today’s NYT on CrossFit and CrossFitters socializing. All in all very positive.

End of the beginning, or beginning of the end?

4) Rank. In a similar vein, Sports Illustrated and Men’s Health magazines published Top 50 lists of the fittest athletes in the world. Kinda funny that they would publish them in the same week. Perhaps this whole CrossFit Games thing really is breaking through into the main stream.

Neither list is as outrageous as the Outside list of a couple years ago that ranked only endurance athletes; both lists include our own Rich Froning at 19 (SI) and 4 (MH). As with all such lists (50 greatest MLB players, etc) one should never discuss these lists without proper preparation.

Start with beer.

5) Villain. While I’m thinking about magazine articles, SI posited that MLB is less interesting and less compelling because it is without a single villain in its ranks. No A-Rod orRoger Clemmens, not even a Reggie Jackson to love/hate. It’s an interesting proposition, and one which naturally prompts me to turn to our CrossFit world (shocking, I know). Try as I might, at least in the competitive arena we, too, are notably lacking for a villain. Heck, we barely even have any intramural enmity among the competitors. What passes for anything like this is a single couple of Games athletes who ignored each other on the field, and the only reason this was evident at all is because everybody else was so busy cheering for each other.

What do you think? Is Sports Illustrated correct? Is it necessary to have someone to cheer AGAINST in order to have competition that maintains its interest?

6) Mission. As we exit our Games Season and enter the 8 months between the Games and the Open, this is a good time to remember the true mission of CrossFit, the program. Now is the time that we quietly go about the work of making ourselves, and others, better. Even for the 250,000 or so of us who signed up for the Open and made neither The Games nor Regionals, it’s not about 8 months to prep for Open 15.1, it’s 8 months to quietly go about the business of mechanics, then consistency, and then intensity. These are the months when those of us who coach do our most important work, helping people become better versions of themselves for no reason other than that, to become better.

The CrossFit Games are a spectacle, one meant to show the world that a wholly different level of physical and mental fitness is possible. They are an advertising vehicle meant to let the world at large know that it is CrossFit, the program, that best allows the creation and expression of this level of fitness. The Games and their run-up, like other fitness competitions in which CrossFitters participate, are also ways for us to commune with like-minded souls, to foster our rather uniquely positive community on a scale much larger than that to be found in a Box or a garage or the corner of a commercial gym.

For almost all of us, though, the competitive aspect of the Games season is not what CrossFit is about at all. The Sport of Fitness is our spectator sport, and for some it is our weekend warrior pursuit, but these 8 months of the “Quiet Season” are what CrossFit “the program” is really all about. Now, without the siren song of The Games or The Open, we quietly and not so quietly go about the business of the core, essential competition that speaks to the mission of CrossFit laid out so eloquently so many years ago in “What is Fitness?”: you vs. you. The daily effort to move along the health/wellness/fitness curve as we strive to become a better version of ourselves tomorrow than we were yesterday through the toil and effort we endure today.

The Games are over for 2014, but you and I are still in season. We are always in season, always competing. It’s you vs. you. Still. The most important mission for CrossFit, the program, is to help you win.

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at August 10, 2014 6:02 AM