Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘method’

The Outer Edge of Inside: Where Innovation Occurs

“[True] innovators are on the edge of the inside.” Friar Richard Rohr

I once wrote that “if you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much space.” This is a bit different. Effective innovators and those who are early extenders of their ideas cannot be so far outside of present orthodoxy that their innovation is ignored, however correct they may (turn out to) be. An innovation or discovery that is too radical to even be examined might be shelved simply for being too far outside the inside, thereby denying countless individuals its benefit. Incrementalism occurs in the middle, but innovation that scales happens just barely inside the border.

Think about my fitness program, CrossFit. What would likely have been the result if step one had been the spectacle of the CrossFit Games, ca. 2017? We all know the answer to that: Constantly varied functional movement at relatively high intensity (CVFMHI)  would have been deemed ludicrous for all but the elite athletes we are seeing perform in the East and South Regionals this weekend, rather than a legitimate option as we seek a public health solution to the well-being of a broader population. The sentinel signal of the innovation was initially ever so slightly inside the outer boundary of the fitness/health orthodoxy: train consistently using irreducible full-body exercises at higher intensity utilizing proper movement patterns. Others have noted the importance and effectiveness of interval training, notably Michael Joyner, M.D, at the Mayo Clinic. While a sense of the importance of the glycolytic energy pathway existed before CrossFit, it took an innovator far enough outside the middle to realize its potential and make it the primary focus of a program.

The world of my day job is also populated by innovators who were just radical enough to nearly become outcasts. I always think of the great Charles Kelman, M.D., the inventor of what we now know as phacoemulsification. When Dr. Kelman began his research on using high frequency ultrasound to dissolve a cataract through an incision roughly 15-20% the size of what was then typical, no one could fathom why that would even matter. Fast forward to our present day ability to remove a cataract through a 2mm incision. Because of that first innovation I can now replace a cataract with an implant that allows someone to see both near and far with no glasses. Imagine!

Once true innovation occurs it moves inward, but a next wave of innovators lurks near the edge. Like so many benign Salieri’s to Mozart they build upon the original innovation within their own, smaller zones. This is no less disruptive than that original innovation; it simply occurs in a different part of the world. Shortly after CrossFit erupted in the general fitness world a second wave was brought by innovators in youth fitness by Jeff and Mikki Martin of Ramona California. Their program is now known as The Brand X Method and they lecture on their evolved programs for youth fitness all over the world. In a similar fashion Brian McKenzie, an ultra runner looking for a way to train more efficiently and with fewer injuries, used the principals of CrossFit as applied to endurance training in what was originally known as “CrossFit Endurance”. B Mack is also continuing to push the envelope in his PowerSpeedEndurance program.* It was only the growing acceptance of the original innovation that prevented these next-wave innovators from being OUTSIDE the edge of their particular parts of the fitness world.

The logical extension of CFVMHI, what we are witnessing each weekend as The CrossFit Games season is upon us, has long since passed me by. It turns out that for me all I’ve needed was an early update to the original inspiration (classic, early vintage CrossFit.com with CrossFit Strength Bias v3.3 layered on); more and more actually brings me less of everything. Others who I am quite fond of have had a different journey. One of my daughters-in-law is doing a modified CrossFit Endurance protocol for example, and is winning her age group in 5K races while pushing my granddaughter “The Nugget” in a race stroller. My grandson “The Man Cub” will doubtless train using the Brand X principles that have evolved from the original CrossFit Kids program. My friend Julie continues to push the limits of human everything as she competes on a CrossFit Games team while developing new medical paradigms, all before graduating from med school here in Cleveland. Unlike yours truly, more and more brings Julie more and more. Innovators in the world of eye care similarly bring us new techniques from the edges of our world, the latest being the once unthinkable ability to treat floaters with a laser.

CrossFit is now firmly established as both a system and a business. Small incision cataract surgery using ultrasound is the standard of care. We would do well to remember that time when this was not at all the case, a time when only one innovator sat just inside the outer edge. What is to come in any number of other areas–medicine, finance, digital, what have you–will come from the same place. Some of us caught on to CrossFit really early. Wouldn’t it be great to be out near the edge and catch something like that right in the beginning again?

*To my knowledge neither the Martins nor Mr. MacKenzie are presently associated with CrossFit, Inc.


CrossFit Programming and the CrossFit Open

CrossFit Open workout 17.2 will be announced tonight. This is a good time to reflect on the different aspects of CrossFit. 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 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 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 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 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 and in Affiliate gyms. For example, I think there are legitimate criticisms that can be leveled against gyms that do not emphasize proper movement. Countless efforts are made to “improve” on the model you see here on .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 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 Mr. bingo, aren’t you the guy who co-wrote an article called “Strong Medicine” introducing a programming alternative called “CrossFit Strength Bias”? Didn’t your home gym programming have supplemental strength training per CFSB principals since the time 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, for 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 the  newest protocol, v3.2) 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 CrossFit 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 online tonight. It can be used as a workout or a test.


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…