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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Hubris and Humility

“You want to shine but not so bright that you burn everyone in the room.” –Pharrell Williams

The hubris/humility axis an interesting ride, isn’t it? Like you I am watching Matt Frasier run away with this year’s CrossFit Games men’s competition. How will he respond when he is interviewed after his victory/coronation? Where will he land on that H&H line? It’s fascinating to watch someone who is truly extraordinary at what it is that they do walk the line. Indeed, it’s probably not possible to stand out if you don’t stand way to the ‘hubris’ side at some point, at least while you are at whatever it is you do.

This year marked the 26th annual White Family visit to Cape Cod. Like so many of our recent trips this one was filled with talk of illness and cures. We told stories from my Dad’s past (the world’s most arrogant heart surgeon was a favorite) and sadly from my mother-in-law’s present. The morning of my departure was spent seeing patients for whom I’d done surgery, alternately sharing in their delight at vision re-discovered and fending off what felt like over-enthusiastic praise. Like Matt, I’m really good at what I do, and quite frankly when I am about doing what I do I literally go into each “contest” convinced that there is no one in the world better than I am at that particular time.

Is that hubris, or just the confidence that any “athlete” must take into the arena at game time?

The difference probably rests on a couple of things. One must be ever aware that everyone has limits. True, if you are very, very good at what you do your limits may be so far to the right of the Bell Curve that it can seem like they don’t exist. Succumbing to that sense is precisely when confidence becomes arrogance; someone or something is going to break, eventually. One wonders how that arrogant heart surgeon handled the inevitable defeats in the OR.

Pharrell’s quote likely points us to what it is that separates the arrogant from the humble, the realization that what you do well does not necessarily elevate you above those for whom you do it. One who allows himself to bathe too long or too often in the reflected light of his excellence gets burned just as surely as everyone and everything else.

Frasier, like Froning before him in the CrossFit world, will quite likely acquit himself well in his victory interview. He will allow that he worked very hard at his craft, and that his hard work paid off handsomely. His humility will show in that he will also point out that he was given many gifts, born with certain skills that he could then hone through his work and thus produce this singular achievement.

In the end what humility means is the difference between thankfulness and self-satisfaction. Again, Pharrell Williams: “As long as you’ve got your light, people will see you.”

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

CrossFit is for Whom?

It’s really incredible what’s been said about our CrossFit on the information highways this week. The amount of opinion masquerading as fact-based advice is off the charts. Anyone’s who’s been here for more than 2 years will realize that it’s just that part of the cycle, that time when CrossFit has reached another Tipping Point size-wise and has therefore come to the attention of another outwardly spiraling circle of “experts.” Trust me, it’s Groundhog Day in the gym, so to speak.

This is a wonderful opportunity to take a moment to reflect upon what CrossFit actually is, what it is not, and for whom CrossFit is appropriate. Let’s start with the last and work forward. CrossFit is appropriate for almost everyone. The group for whom it may not be really the best option is actually counter-intuitive: elite single sport athletes in highly skilled endeavors. Waaaiiiit at minute here, you might be saying. The highest-skilled elite athletes may NOT be the best CrossFit candidates, but the great unwashed masses of the obese, unfit, and unhealthy ARE?! You bet, Bucky. That’s exactly what I’m saying. The .01% probably need to spend 100% of their time on their specialty.

CrossFit is for the other 99.9%.

Why? How can that be? Well, that runs into what CrossFit is not, namely a dangerous, hyper-intense program that has a high injury rate, something too over-the-top for “regular” folks. Uh, uh. The real “dirty little secret” of CrossFit (if I may crib a rather recently famous phrase) is that scaling the stimulus and subbing in favor of more approachable movements is decidedly the norm in almost every setting where CrossFit is done. Technique. Then consistency. Then, and only then, intensity. Says so everywhere. Are there small pockets of CrossFit or CrossFitters who jump the gun and go straight to intensity? Sure. But that is hardly an indictment of the program, especially since the program and the company incessantly beat the drum: technique, then consistency, and only then intensity.

Which brings me to what it is that CrossFit can actually be said to be: the solution to the adverse effects of overabundance. A viable answer to the problems created by an unhealthy population. While the CrossFit Games have been an incredibly effective PR vehicle for the CrossFit Affiliates (which is also true, paradoxically, of all this silliness on the web right now!), they have confused a vocal segment of the opinionators about CrossFit and CrossFitters. Peek through the door of any CF Box and guess at who’s inside. Here’s a tip: it ain’t Jason Khalipa and Miranda Oldroyd! It is, however, everyone else. What do you think they will be caught doing? Again, likely not what Jason and Miranda are doing that day! They will rather be doing approximately an hour’s worth of work, some of it skill-based, some of it directed toward some hole in their fitness, and almost certainly culminating in something that we would all recognize as a WOD. Look very closely, though, because if you do you will also see that there will be many subtle variations of that particular WOD going on, maybe as many subtle variations as there are CrossFitters in the gym.

CrossFit is a highly customizable system built on the core principles elucidated in the Classic CrossFit Journal Issue no.2, “What is Fitness”, for which there is a link on the left side of the Main Page of CrossFit.com. A prescription for not only fitness but also health that includes a universally scalable program of exercise in combination with an easily followed guideline for nutrition, all geared to produce incremental and sustainable gains in 10 very specific physical domains. All of this results in health, and when we combine this individual health with the wonders of the communities that have grown out of gatherings of CrossFitters we end up with something that could be called Wellness.

None of this is new. Nothing I’ve said here is unique or original. It does bear repeating, though, because you might be relatively new, and this latest round of “CrossFit is dangerous” or “CrossFit is only for people like Jason and Miranda” might actually be your first rodeo. It’s OK. Relax. It’s still technique, then consistency, and only then intensity. It’s still eat to support performance in the gym but not production of fat. Still learn and play new games. It’s still CrossFit.

CrossFit is still the answer.


The CrossFit Open: You’re In!

Once upon a time I came to the “comments” section of CrossFit.com several times each day to check in on my cyber-gym mates. Heady days, those, with >1000 posts on a “Fran” day, for example. The explosive growth of the Affiliate model has drawn most people to a local Box, and what we shared so many years ago is now shared locally and regionally rather than in one central place.

Except during Open Season, that is. This is our soccer World Cup, Olympics, and Mardi Gras, all wrapped up into 5 weeks. More than 200,000 of us are signed up, doing the WODs, posting our results, and Scoreboard Watching, “Leaderboarding”. Who got what? Where do I stand? Did you see that score from Kenya? Even if you, like me, simply use the Open WODs as a check on your own fitness, or even as just another day of training, there is still something just enough different, just special enough to make it seem like a bigger deal even if you won’t even see the middle of the Bell Curve of results.

I think it’s because you’re in. For the price of 3 Mocha Grandes at ChichiBucks you are as in as anyone and everyone else. For 5 weeks the Leaderboard is today’s equivalent of the old Main Page CrossFit.com “comments” section. And if the previous 3 CrossFit Opens are any indication the WODs will allow pretty much everyone who signed up to STAY in, too. I’m sticking with my contention that the Open is a great, big, wide open funnel that not only feeds into the Regionals but also stays open at the top each week so that most of us will stay somewhere on that Leaderboard. Everyone with the CrossFit basics in their quiver can take a shot each week. The folks running this show will see to that. The CrossFit Open is nothing less than the largest single participatory athletic event in the world today.

This is fun. The CrossFit dinner table becomes a banquet hall for 5 weeks, the old CrossFit.com writ large. So pass the Kettlebells and don’t hog the Wall Balls. Yell and cheer as loud as you’d like. Don’t worry a bit about making too much noise. Grandma and Grandpa signed up, too!