Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Sunday musings 4/17/16: Thoughts on CrossFit.com Rest Day

Sunday musings…

1) Falernum. An exotic ingredient in mixed drinks. Often appended with “velvet”.

Your coolness factor jumps by 10 with each sip.

2) Aviary. 60 and sunny in CLE. The aviary at Casa Blanco is open once again. All manner of birds have returned as our annual migration rhythms heat up with the sun.

Welcome back.

3)Art. While discussing art and whether food and cooking could be considered an art form, QuestLove expressed his skepticism: “[Food] leaves no evidence.”

I simply leave that here for you to digest.

4) Digital. While I am surrounded by things digital, both at home and at work, it is clear to me that I am not in any way truly conversant with any of them. Not, that is, in a way that bespeaks any kind of understanding about how they work on a “cellular” or “nuclear” way. It’s as if I learned a very basic skill once upon a time, and then just evolved along with all of the instruments I use as they “grew”. My wiring has really never changed it seems, whether or not the basic underlying wiring of the my digital world has changed despite what appears to be a smoothly evolved user experience built on a smoothly changed architecture.

It makes me wonder if I’m missing something in my knowledge base, even though my skill set has continued to grow. Is it necessary to understand the inside of the digital black box in order to excel at its use? If so, how does one go about doing that?

5) Offensitive. It’s Rest Day here on CrossFit.com. In our online 3 on/1 off workout regimen, our day of rest is no different than it has been since Coach evaluated his athletes at the mythical original CrossFit Santa Cruz and determined that the greatest fitness gains were occurring in those who followed this schedule. Mind you, these were regular folks, just like you and me, even those who would one day go on to mythical status themselves. As such today is just another day of recovery for the 99%ers among us, doing CrossFit for the sole purpose of increasing our fitness, our health, our general ability to surmount the unknowns coming at us tomorrow.

Rest Day on CrossFit.com is not the same, though. Not even a little bit. T’was a time when Rest Day was an opportunity to exercise your brain muscle around a bit of mental mischief in the form of a quote, link, or other prompt. The comments section was a veritable sea of ideas and ideology then, roiled by Coach’s choices of topic, and stoked by his taste for intellectual conflict. “Coach likes it a bit rough” was how it was explained to me by my friend “Mitymous”, one of the moderators.

Almost everything about Rest Day back then was fun. Even the “Groundhog [Rest]Day” exercise of explaining to newcomers that yes, this was done on purpose, and no, it’s not going to change because it makes you (pick one): uncomfortable, anxious, marginalized or angry and offended. We all either engaged in the rough and tumble debate of the day, or just skipped the Main Page every fourth day and waited for the next WOD. Those who stayed for the intellectual intercourse had the opportunity to sharpen their debate skills against foes left, right, and center, while, at least in my case, fine-tuning how they really did feel about any number of complex and timely issues (global climate change, wealth redistribution, the politics of nutrition, etc.).

What makes me think about this today? We have a perfectly lovely story about a 90+ year old fellow living well because he has looked decrepitude in the eye and said “not me”. Not very controversial. Not too very likely to generate much give and take. As is my wont I was reading this morning before sitting down to muse and I came across this gem from Leon Wieseltier, a critic: “A democratic society is designed for the giving and taking of offense, and if you have the privilege of living in one, you should thicken your skin.” How wonderful is that? Make just a couple of tiny little changes–substitute “Rest Day” for “democratic society” for example–and I would have been thrilled to have written that in response to any one of the many who were offended by the mere posting of Coach’s articles.

Make no mistake, I understand where Rest Day has gone and why. We were once insiders here, the early adopters, enjoying a bit of the privilege of being among the first on a newly discovered planet if you will. We shared that rebel’s spirit, a bit of the “us against the [fitness] world crusade. Pushing back against other orthodoxies on Rest Day was just another way to join Coach in thumbing our noses against any number of issues that were seemingly “solved” by a consensus built upon opinions rather than data. We honed our games on Rest Day topics so that we were on our games discussing CVFMPRHI and WCABTMD.

Think about it. Our American form of governance was once like that, like CrossFit the program in the early days. America itself was like CrossFit the company. A tiny little rebellion forging its own way in the face of a worldwide consensus just waiting for them to fail. Neither is so small any longer. Neither is new or tiny. Both have proven that each is at least some sort of correct or right, perhaps even better. “Living” in both is a bit of a privilege, whether we pay taxes (pay membership dues) or not (use CrossFit.com programming in a garage). Both are still boiling pots filled with controversy, ripe with offense for the taking if you are so inclined. Me? I’m an old Rest Day guy; I’m inclined to agree with Wieseltier. It’s a privilege to be able to be offended by issues that in all probability have no relevance to your day-to-day, minute-to-minute life. Debate issues not personalities or people. Strive for better. In so doing we should collectively thicken our skin.

Perhaps Coach will resurrect the Rest Day of yore to help us train.

I’ll see you next week…


In Memoriam CrossFit Bingo, nee Comet CrossFit

The dreams are weird, man. If I dream at all I rarely remember them, but it’s been one dream after another these last couple of nights, and I awaken with a memory of each one as clear as if I’d just walked out of a theater. They all follow the same pattern, though the details of the story differ a bit. I’m invited to join a group that’s far outside my usual fare. We combat others outside our group who wish us harm, but as the group grows internal turmoil brings danger within, and some I once knew as colleagues become something else. It’s always dark, sometimes with a faint brown or yellow tinge, but always too dark to see more than a city block ahead. In that block’s worth of view are people, both in the group and out, who look to me for…something. To stay or to go? The dream always ends the same way, my back to a door closing behind me, a nearly unlit street filled with these people ahead.

Friday marked the last day for our family’s Affiliate CrossFit Bingo/nee Comet CrossFit.

We finished up a week of CrossFit benchmarks with “Fran”. It was eerie: everybody PR’d. 15 hearty souls remained of the more than 200 who became CrossFitters at Comet/Bingo, joining the 50 or so who’d started elsewhere. It was hard to see the clock; I kept getting something in my eye.

Parts of this story have been told before. 4 1/2 years ago my sons opened a Box far from where they’d grown up, opting to strike out on their own while at the same time respecting the zones around the 2 Affiliates then open in the area. It was a much more innocent time in all ways CrossFit. The CrossFit Games had just moved to LA from the Ranch. The 5,000 or so Affiliates were still spread out, buffer zones between most, at least outside of SoCal. Coach Glassman  told The Boys “It’s fun, and it’s easy!”, and by and large it was both. “What’s CrossFit” was the first question you answered for 95% of the people who walked through the door. It wasn’t so much a business as it was a bit of a calling, really.

As parents it was a thrill to see our boys working together, although we knew that part of it was surely temporary. My oldest Dan was the leader; he found his effective voice while launching Comet CrossFit. “The Heir”, despite his vehement discussion-ending declarations that “this is my career”, soon enough found his true calling in the law and headed off to Law School and Business School. Comet/Bingo gave him the time and space to learn a bit more about who he was and what he was meant to do. Beth and I are forever grateful that Comet/Bingo and his brother were there for that, for him.

For Lil’bingo, though, we were quite convinced that this was it. That this CrossFit thing was what he was supposed to do. In many ways we were right, and in many ways he would agree. Randy, you see, was more than a bit shy around people he didn’t know, and not quite sure of himself in new settings. But boy, could he coach. From the very start he had an exceptional eye for movement, and an uncanny ability to present just the right cue to his athlete to effect the change necessary to improve. In time this repeated success brought a greater, broader confidence to him, one that made him defer less and be more willing to share his mind in all aspects of his life.

And like so many other instances of transference in CrossFit, where lessons and actions in movement translate into similar behaviors in life, we saw that strong desire to help manifest itself literally every waking moment in his life. His repeated success as a coach has given him the confidence he lacked when he graduated from high school, and now he will take this newfound confidence with him to college. We, his Mom and Dad, are forever grateful for these 4 1/2 years of personal growth for him as a gym owner and coach.

So was Coach Glassman right? Was it fun and easy? Well, like most things, the answer is yes and no, and that’s probably where my dreams come from. Beth and I had a chance to be coaches at our sons’ gym, and there’s no question that the coaching is fun. It’s just a thrill to see people get better, to go beyond what they ever imagined for themselves. Physical changes and newfound abilities translate to a confidence in self that is nothing short of amazing, and we got to share that sense of accomplishment with other trainers who can trace their lineage to that gymnast in Santa Cruz. No doubt man, that was fun.

Our sons have both grown into the next version of who they are destined to be, helped along in the process by the priceless experience of running a business whose sole purpose was to make their clients better. Each of our boys in turn is now a better version of their potential selves for having done this. As parents we are grateful for this, for CrossFit.

And what of us? Well, for me and my dreams, I’m going to go with that door being Comet/Bingo and leave it at that. Those folks in the dreams who seemed to wish me harm because of my association, whatever my mysterious group may have been? Well, they may or may not be real, and since I can’t really see them clearly in the dark and the mist, I’m not going to look too very hard for them or at them. No, I think the dream is really about those folks in front of me who seem to be looking for help, or maybe looking with a bit of sadness as they, too, watch the door close behind me. I feel what they feel. I’m pretty sure I’ll always feel what they feel.

If you’re wondering, I’ll aim for that little bit of faint yellow in the sky beyond the mist, beyond my view. Maybe some of those friendly souls in my dream will follow. I really have no idea what’s there, just a sense that there’s a next for me too, something that I’ve grown to be from having Comet/Bingo. Like my sons.

I’m pretty sure my darling Beth is already there, waiting for me.

CrossFit Programming: Basics

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? 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 essay, 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, 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 Coach 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 overall 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 people who work off of CrossFit.com, 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. Is there an optimal version of CrossFit programming? People take turns at supporting and denigrating the programming on the Main Page of CrossFit.com and in Affiliate gyms. Countless efforts are made to “improve” on the model you see on .com. Some of these alternatives make sense, while others in my opinion 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 Darrell, 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 (we are now trialing a new protocol) are designed to be one way to address this imbalance. There are others that you may enjoy more (Wendler, Westside, 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. What you find on CrossFit.com, and what you should probably expect to find as the primary goal in an Affiliate gym, is programming that seeks to balance all 10 of the Essential Elements of Fitness, 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. It’s called the CrossFit Games.