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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for July, 2013

Virtuosity and the Traveling CrossFitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtuosity travels well.


Sunday musings 7/14/13

Sunday musings…

1) Aquisitive. Covetous, with a bonus syllable.

2) House. Downsizing, but upgrading. Mrs. bingo gets it right, again.

3) Festival. The CrossFit world is chock-a-block full of weekend competitions. Some, like “CrossFit for Hope”, “Hope for Kenya”, and the annual FGB, are a uniquely CrossFitty way to support large, grand charitable goals. We’ll have one for the “Hotshots” on August 19th I believe it is, to remember and support the families of the Prescott firefighters who recently died.

Those are all examples of CrossFit and CrossFitters playing “long ball”, going for the home run, the big hit. Just as CrossFit is growing in what seems to be inexorably exponential on the grand scale, so too are smaller, more intimate, local gatherings becoming the norm. Every weekend there’s a place in your town where one or two or twelve boxes are doing something that involves a competition

In my neighborhood this weekend it was the “Team Williams Showdown” at CrossFit NFT. Way out in the country, not in the least bit suburban, no fewer than 20 gyms sent athletes to compete and members to cheer. A get-together for the fun of feeling butterflies flip (no prize money), meet some new folks, and provide a little bit of financial support for Kim Williams as she travels to Carson. I knew almost no one there, and yet it felt like what Aromas 1 must have been like. I felt like I’d known everyone forever.

All we needed was a little Coors Light.

4) Amateur. The last amateur to win the U.S. Open in golf was Bobby Jones, Jr. in 1930. Indeed, the last true amateur, someone who doesn’t play golf full time, who won the U.S. Amateur did it more than 20 years ago, perhaps longer. Track and Field, swimming, ski racing, you name it. The days of championships being won by amateurs, especially part-time amateurs, are over. As extinct as your favorite Dodo or Rhino or what have you. Survival of the fittest is a full-time gig, now with a paycheck.

Willy B. Sutton could have been quoting Darwin.

As I look around at the CrossFit Games I find much the same. Mind you, this is neither good nor bad on its face; it just is. The athletes who have a truly legit chance at a podium spot simply cannot be described as part-time. There are no hobbyists. There are hardly any we could describe as amateur. We had our Roger Bannister moment last year as we watched Julie Foucher take Silver. That may have been it.

Did anyone know this would occur? Was this all carefully planned, the result of some CrossFit “Star Chamber” years and years ago? Well, you’d certainly have to ask the people at the very center of the Games (Dave, Tony, Co@ch, etc), but I think they all expressed very honest surprise that two entire teams of sponsored (paid) CrossFit athletes (Pioneer awards to Rogue and Again Faster) could be assembled for the Tahoe Throwdown; Co@ch said as much on film. CrossFit as a sport should certainly be credited to HQ, but I think CrossFit as a PROFESSIONAL sport was a bit of a surprise, at least the speed at which it has become so.

Is it good? Is it bad? Does it even matter? Well, it’s certainly not for me to say. Personally, I am enjoying watching that tiny group of men and women who do the CrossFit that I do and do it for a living. Just like I enjoy a Sunday in front of the tube watching Tiger and Phil and Rory, or Natalie and Sun Re and Patty make a living playing golf so much better than I ever did. I pretend to see myself in Rich and Dan and Speal just like I did in college as a very average DB watching Ronnie Lott and Michael Haynes and Lester Hayes play my position. Lester even wore my number.

I still root for the amateur, though. Still harbor a secret little desire to see some Justin Rose win that British Open as a 17 year old, or some 32 year old stockbroker who plays on the weekend steal a U.S. Amateur from one of the Flatbellies one win away from turning pro. There’s a little catch in my throat when I think of Roger Bannister, the medical student, breaking the 4:00 barrier during a study break. SIR Roger Bannister.

Yeah…that was pretty cool. I still root for the amateur.

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at July 14, 2013 10:31 AM

Eat to Live: The 9% Solution

“Eating healthy is too expensive.” How often have you heard some version of that phrase. Whether it be Zone, Paleo, Whole 30, or just “stay out of the middle of the grocery store”, this is uttered with some degree of exasperation and oppression with a kind of mind-numbing, self-fulfilling frequency. I recently gave a talk to a group of CrossFitters and, as always, this was the instantaneous response from the crowd.

How so? Per the folks at Whole Foods, regularly skewered for being too expensive (seriously, they sell fancy potatoes), on average we in America spend 7% of our disposable personal income–that’s SEVEN–on food. 50 years ago that number was 16%. We now spend less than 1/2 of the after-tax income on food compared with what we spent 50 years ago.

And eating well is too expensive?!

If we dig deeper into that stat alone we see that modern food production has decreased the cost of food relative to both income and inflation. The cost of producing food of all kinds has risen much more slowly than income. Why? Partly because junk carb-laden food is cheap. High-fructose corn syrup costs a fraction of grain sugar. Corn-fed protein with or without pharmaceuticals is grown faster and cheaper than grass-fed. Stuff like that. Less expensive to produce/incomes risen at a greater rate across the entire spectrum, top to bottom.

How then is it too expensive to eat a more healthy diet? We have 9% of our after-tax income to play with, right? 16% 50 years ago minus the 7% we now spend. Is some other necessity (shelter, transportation, medical care, etc) eating that up? What are we doing with that 9% that we can’t find some of it to eat better? Ah, Grasshopper, now we begin to see. It’s a ‘Nando thing, superficial. It’s not how healthy you are, it’s how you look, or something like that.

Some stuff might be more expensive, but the seemingly obvious culprits are actually false targets (eg. healthcare which for this audience represents only a tiny % of new cost c/w 50 years ago because of insurance, govt. programs, etc.). Housing as a percentage of take-home pay is roughly flat. Basic clothing is no more expensive than it was 50 years ago, and in some instances is actually less. That 9% hasn’t been shifted to another necessity.  How we CHOOSE to spend that freed-up 9% is the issue.  .

Think about that household in the 1960’s or even the 70’s. One car. One TV. One radio. Once purchased all data was free. A pair of shoes and a pair of boots. Sneaks if you were a jock. You didn’t get your hair done if you were a guy, you got a haircut. You didn’t get your acrylics touched up every 2 weeks; if you wanted long nails you grew ’em. Stuff like that.

Fast forward to today and think about the stuff you’ve acquired, stuff you are convinced you can’t live without, stuff that costs money that you choose to spend every single day. The ratio of drivers to cars in a household is seldom more than 1.5/1 and closer to 1/1 in Middle Class America. The ratio phones to people over the age of 10 is seldom less than 1/1. It’s not enough to have a phone, or even a phone with an unlimited text plan, nope, it’s gotta be a phone that will let you post your thoughts on today’s weather in Bimini to FB. Right now, from anywhere. If you don’t have Netflix available on each of the 4 flat-screen TV’s in the house you are considered a Luddite. Look around; you know I’m right.

Listen, I certainly am not saying that all that stuff isn’t great, that it’s not a ton of fun and really convenient (as I type on one of the Apple products that literally litter our household, through my WiFi network, in front of my LightBright lamp), or anything like that. What I most certainly AM saying, though, is that people who whine about how hard it is to afford to eat better almost always do so via a FB post from their iPhone 5 while sitting in the salon having their hair done, hungover from too much Bellevedere they consumed last night while noshing on Doritos smothered in Cheez-Wiz.

9 %. The stark reality is that we have let our things become more important than ourselves. Our choices speak for themselves.

Driving While Black: Thoughts on the Zimmerman Trial

No matter what the story eventually turns out to be, there is very little that is good that is likely to come out of the Trayvon Martin debacle and the ongoing Zimmerman trial. Not for the Martin family, not for Zimmerman the neighborhood watch guy, and probably not for society as a whole, at least for quite a while. Why? For the simple reason that it is now 2013, we’re still having this conversation about race and profiling, and nobody has yet demanded the kind of change that would have prevented this tragedy.

Let’s go back a bit, shall we? How about a trip to 1979 and suburban Rhode Island. I’m driving the family beater, my close friend in the passenger seat waves at a police car as we drive by on our way to the mall. My close friend, STILL my close friend, happens to be a very large Black man. You guessed it–flashing lights followed by “license and registration (no please).” Why? A version of Driving While Black. Not a lot of young Black men in my home town. At the time this particular young Black man was a student at Williams College and would go on to have considerable business success as adult.

“Come on, Darrell. That’s ancient history. Things are different now.” Well, let’s move forward a bit. Dinner at the White house (ironic, huh?) sometime around the year 2000. My good friend the Rev. Mel and his beautiful wife are joining us at our house for dinner. Mel, a black Baptist minister, drives a bullet-proof Mercedes sedan. Never more than 5 mph over the speed limit. The Woodards were late for dinner. When I teased him about it Mel just shrugged his shoulders and said “DWB.” Even impeccably dressed for a dinner out, Mel was still a Black American man. Apparently not a lot of Black men driving Mercedes in Cleveland at that time.

Now? A young Black man in a hoodie returns from an errand, surely guilty, in the mind of the security agent, of something until proven innocent; apparently not a lot of young Black men in hoodies in that neighborhood. A non-Black man approaches the youth, surely someone to be feared (by the young Black man) until proven otherwise. The fault, my friends, lies on BOTH sides of the conversation. At this late date in history it no longer matters what came first, you know? One side of the conversation needs to openly acknowledge that the vast majority of the other side does NOT participate in violent criminal activity. This part of the community needs to openly acknowledge this unassailable fact and aggressively teach that lesson to people of all ages. The other side of the conversation needs to openly acknowledge that their ARE small parts of their community who DO engage in violent crime, and to go about the hard work of isolating the criminals as the outliers they are and shunning them as a pox on BOTH communities.

We need to be done with the blame game. Indeed, indulging in finger-pointing at this late historical stage is also a type of enabling. By taking the easy way out, blaming this one for not fighting harder against unsupportable prejudice, or pointing the finger at that one for some weak justification for criminal behavior based on whatever, is quite simply enabling the prejudiced and the predators to both continue their pathologic behavior patterns. In my opinion the fault lies on both sides of this divide. There is no rational way to decide who goes first when it comes to solving these two problems.

NONE of us could have personally influenced the tragic outcome of that encounter in a random Florida neighborhood. ALL of us…Black, White, and other…have the duty and the responsibility and the ability to do the hard work necessary to prevent what STARTED it. There is no “you/he/they” have to go first.

We should all start now.


CrossFit and Recovery.

You can’t do a search for “CrossFit” without wading through countless articles about CrossFit “injuries” and whether CrossFit is safe, or how to do CrossFit safely. Heck, half of my “Zite” CrossFit section is polluted with that genre. The CrossFit community itself is awash in comments and stories of folks who are over-worked. Rashes of niddling little injuries pile one upon another until the recipe brews up not a finely tuned soufflé but rather something more like the cheesy crust rimming the pan that contains the remnants of over-baked mac n’cheese.

How can this possibly be? We watch our Games athletes in this run-up season to our Games, parse their programs and compare their 3-a-days to our 3-a-weeks, and yet it is we who fall apart, not them. We marvel at the Princes and Princesses of our kingdom like the wondrous Christmas above, see them parachute into view leaving behind shock and awe, only to find ourselves reading about this or that danger or catastrophe or calamity from an “over-trained” CrossFitter. How come?

It’s simple, really, and that’s probably why it’s so hard. The sensational stories about danger? Meh, nothing more than tabloid folderal, no more common in reality than teenage vampires in bikinis on page 3 of some magazine at CVS. Oh sure, they both exist, but the noise made about their existence is laughably out of proportion to their true numbers.

No, the real reason we as a group struggle with this is that we forget a couple of really fundamental things about CrossFit, the fitness and health program. The WODs here on CrossFit.com are openly described as created to challenge the fittest athletes on earth. Period. Sorry, but that’s not you, and that’s not me. If we do these as Rx’d and as scheduled the vast majority of us will have a “wheels come off” experience, either a little at a time or in one spectacular crash.

Again, why? Well, because of the other CrossFit fundamental that we all too frequently forget: OUR CrossFit is a training program to allow us to be fitter, healthier, and therefore better at LIFE. Christmas, Jason, Rich, Julie et al are our equivalents of Andy Murray (now playing in the Wimbledon Finals) or Danica Patrick (driving a car and turning left this afternoon): they are paid in part to excel at CrossFit. Each day is carefully planned and includes a healthy dose of rest and recovery.

Ah, there it is. Rest and recovery. Not only that but carefully planned rest and recovery. You talk to your Coach about loads and time domains but when’s the last time you sat down and talked with your trainer about your schedule? Have you EVER discussed recovery? Whether you work out in a Box or on your own, do you have an injury prevention plan? Think about it. If we are doing Crossfit in order to be better at something…anything…whenever we have some sort of Crossfit malady that decreases our functionality we’ve achieved the exact opposite of our goals. Maybe we can’t go to work. Even worse, maybe we can’t go to the Box. CrossFit is FUN and the gym is FUN; not being able to go to the gym stinks.

Here’s my bid: pushing ourselves to our limit 3 days on/1 day off is part of who we are, and we should continue to do just that. Go ahead and take a full dose of the CrossFit prescription. Be inspired by Christmas and her peers and occasionally give in to the temptation to do something extraordinary like “CrossFit for Hope” as Rx’d. Or really crazy, like “Eva”!

At the same time follow their example and consciously build recovery into your own CrossFit program. Can’t fit 10 hours of sleep into your 24 hour day like Jason? No time or money for a couple of massages and the chiropractor every week? Me either. My day job really messes up my CrossFit, ya know? I can’t remember the last time I took a nap. So go hard when you workout, but schedule in breaks. Make them mandatory. Allow those little aches and pains that prove that you are, indeed, working hard to heal before they become an unstoppable cascade of real injury. (Do a search on the Message Board for “Larry Lindenman” and “rest”, “scheduled rest”, or “de-load”). Accept that you may need to make tiny compromises in order to prevent injuries. For example, if you can’t afford to have your hands rip from pull-ups, do whatever it takes to prevent them regardless of the sniping you may encounter here or elsewhere about gloves, wraps, or tape.

There are three fundamental aspects of CrossFit: business, sport, and fitness. The few and fortunate among us who participate at the highest levels of the first two often have the luxury of fewer non-CF priorities and can apply laser-like focus on training, including recovery. You and I, on the other hand, must remember that CrossFit is a tool, the best tool, that we use to make ourselves better. Like all powerful tools it must be accorded respect.

We must plan our recovery lest we recover from our wreck.


Live to Work/Work to Live

The topic of “live to work vs. work to live” has been on the table in one form or another in our house for weeks now.  It’s a moving target for sure. What does it mean at 50+? How has the conversation changed now that Beth and I are living “Empty Nesters 2.0”? The inexorable, constant change that has been forced down the throats of physicians since January of 2009 has totally upended how I feel about my job. Since Beth is now intimately involved in my business she has been drawn into this part of the conversation.

Why? Well, how many folks do you know who have managed to fold together their vocation and their avocation? Their employment and their passion? How many people do you know who give the same answer to the questions “What do you do for a living?” and “What is your hobby?” Not many, eh? In the world of my day job I can name exactly two. Cleveland has been good to me, but the fact remains that I moved to Cleveland solely for the job.

Cleveland has neither ocean nor mountain.

Not every gig is like this of course. It’s quite a bit different in the CrossFit world, for example. One of my very good friends, met through CrossFit, is an attorney who openly calls his day job his dream. You guessed it…he’s CF’s corporate counsel. Work and passion, vocation and avocation all wrapped up into one whole. No real “live to work or work to live” stuff for him, or indeed for most of the 7500+ Affiliate owners like my sons. I’m not entirely sure if they, or Coach Glassman, truly appreciate how monumental this is. I know my friend Dale does.

For the rest of us, though, we must sit down and have a little chat with ourselves. Is there something that makes us truly happy? Is there a place where we have a greater likelihood of achieving that happiness, some locale where it might be more easily attained? Sure, there might be additional responsibilities we must shoulder (support a family, repay an obligation) that complicate the conversation, but that still leaves room for each of us to LIVE. Could you do whatever that is? Could you move wherever “there” is? All of the folks I’ve met in Key West or Park City or San Diego who work at however many whatevers it takes in order to fish, ride, or surf come to mind.

How about me? How am I doing with this work/live thing? Actually, I’m doing better now than at many other points in my life despite the fact that my new business reality is a somewhat lesser version of past realities. I’m really good at what I do, and I accept and fulfill the responsibility of continuing to improve; the people for whom I work, my patients, fare better now than ever before.

But more and more what I do for work is just that…work. My day job is what allows me to do the stuff that is probably a truer indication of who I am, of what makes me tick. I live as fully as I possibly can when I am at work; I’m good at what I do and it’s easier to enjoy something when you do it well. But I work to live. I’m ever at the process of figuring out just what living means.

Must it be thus? Is it somehow my destiny to not share the lives of those for whom live to work is synonymous with work to live? Meh, I dunno. It takes a certain type of courage to make that leap sometimes, whether that leap is to jump back in or jump all the way out.  I have a friend who lives in Del Mar who once asked me “when are you going to leave that dead end job and work with me?” I clearly didn’t have the courage at the time to fully explore that. Now? Who knows? The courageous decision might be just staying where I am, jumping back “in” as it were.

In the end, though, I think it’s important to sit yourself down and have that conversation with yourself. Working to live, or living to work? It’s especially important if who you are and what you do are not both found where you work.

Think of it not so much as a work in progress, but more as a life in progress.

Real Life vs. Reel Life: Comparing

Real life in many ways is more like the CrossFit Games than it is like CrossFit training. In the Games we have winners and non-winners; in the Affiliate Gym we have you vs. you. We are trained it seems from early in life to not only compare ourselves with others, but to allow ourselves to be compared BY others. In this we somehow allow the creation of a zero-sum game of our own sense of self, and we allow the scores to be kept by others as well as ourselves.

Kinda like all those singing contests now on TV; the judges are supposed to be judging only the contestant singing at the moment, and the contestant is supposed to be focused only on herself and the judges. Invariably though, both judge and judged compare the contestant with others, for this is an openly zero-sum game. Someone will only win because everyone else has lost.

I’m more than OK with this for the CrossFit Games, CrossFit as sport, and I’m quite fine with this for all of those silly contests (which I admit are a guilty pleasure in the White house). There is a real problem, however, if we allow this kind of process, this kind of judging, to be a metric for how we view ourselves. We have an unavoidable frame of reference bias that threatens even the healthiest among us when we use these externalities to judge our internal outcomes.

Why? We tend to compare our “behind the scenes” moments, our rehearsals and our trial runs, with everyone else’s “highlight reels.” We are not usually privy to someone else’s practice runs, the failed efforts that eventually culminate in the masterpiece before us. We cannot forget our own struggles, the efforts we ourselves have made out of the limelight, and we all too often use these memories as the “compare to” when we evaluate ourselves against others.

I’m reminded of a story that my Mom tells often and well. I am one of 4 children. We were pretty successful youngsters, at least in the eyes of the community, and at least by the standards then in place by which we (and by extension Mom and Dad) were measured. My Mom would listen as fellow parents bemoaned this or that child-rearing difficulty, often followed by “oh Anne Lee, you wouldn’t know anything about this; your kids are all [whatever].” Grambingo would politely nod and smile, all the while thinking “oh boy…if you only knew!”

You see, Mom was remembering all of the hard work that went into raising us and not really thinking so much about the finished products we became. She was focusing on  the heartaches when her kids disappointed and the battles fought so that they, the kids, might succeed. The other parents were comparing their “behind the scenes” with Mom’s “highlight reel”, but she knew better;  she couldn’t help but remember her own “work in the gym” so to speak.

What’s the ultimate lesson here? We all compare, and we are all compared. It would be simply lovely if life were a non-zero sum game where everyone could win, where winning is not necessarily at the expense of someone else losing.  Alas, ’tis not the life we live. The lesson then is as simple as making sure that you are always comparing things that are alike. Your rehearsals with someone else’s. Their highlight reel with yours.

When you are comparing apples to apples you must be sure that you are either looking at the fruit itself, or recalling the labor required to fill the basket.


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