Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Transference in CrossFit

Transference is one of my favorite CrossFit topics, albeit one I’ve not touched on for a bit. Loosely defined transference is the effect of our particular type of exercise on aspects of life outside the gym that do not seem to be at all related to what we do when we train.

The most obvious examples are physical, of course. We train by performing full-body functional movements, and the more we do so the more the proper mechanics we demonstrate simply become just the way we move. You set your lower back before picking up even the smallest object, or send your hips back and load the posterior chain before you squat down to a low seat. I often smile when I catch myself doing this.

By extension, proper movement mechanics transfer to physical tasks that we do not specifically train or practice. A CrossFit Bingo athlete executed near-perfect Atlas Stone lifts at a recent competition despite the fact that CFB neither trains nor teaches classic Strongman exercises; her basic, classic CrossFit training transferred to the lifting of an “odd” object. Coach Glassman has been known to use the example of pistols (one-legged squats) in a Box making linemen who work in underground tunnels move better with fewer injuries, another clear example of physical transference of our physical training to our physical real world.

It is the non-physical effects of CrossFit training that are actually more interesting, in part because they were rather surprising in the early years of CrossFit. We willingly put ourselves into states of physical duress, activating the neuro-chemical process of the stress response system. Doing so actually trains us to handle all kinds of duress outside of the gym through a combination of a blunting of the physiological effects of stress (elevated pulse, increased breath rate, etc) and the continued psychological boost we receive by completing an arduous task. For example, in the OR a sticky situation almost never produces that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach after 10 years of CrossFit.

Each time we come out of the “dark place” we so willingly enter when we have achieved proper mechanics and consistency and then seek intensity, we reinforce the notion that we can handle stress. We come to expect that we will succeed, and this transfers to other, non-physical stressors.

This, in turn, changes how one views oneself, and that is at the same time the most profound and most unexpected element of transference in the CrossFit world. Men and women alike enter the CrossFit gym and accept the challenge of the WOD. Along with increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains they quite often find an increased understanding of just how worthy they are. Where once they would automatically defer they now add their voice. No longer do they stand silent when someone belittles them, especially when that someone does so in an attempt to maintain unearned power.

No more. The achievement of an unassisted pull-up seems trivial, but not to the woman who initially looked at a pull-up as little more than someone else’s fantasy. She’s no longer going to cower when someone gets loud, and she’s for sure not going to back down if she’s the one who is right. Uh uh…she can do a pull-up. That victory transferred out of the gym and it matters.

That guy who stood as far back as he could in gym class in high school who just did “Fran” Rx’d for the first time ever? When he looks in the mirror he sees a totally different guy. He’s up front now, thinking about his next “Fran” and getting a PR, convinced that he is not only ready for that promotion at work, but that he is going to rock that bigger gig to boot.

Constantly varied functional fitness performed at relatively high intensity produces a type of physical fitness that transfers to other physical tasks we encounter outside of the gym. Frequently applied physical stress and the mental fortitude necessary to handle it creates a strong sense of self-worth and a deeply held belief that one can succeed. That one is worthy of success.

Seeing the transference of that is perhaps the most meaningful thing I have witnessed in my 10+ years as a CrossFitter.


Mindful Gifting (From Sunday musings…)

Me: “How’s our Christmas shopping going?”

Mrs. bingo: “Well, I’m not too sure.”
Me: “Uh oh.”

Sound familiar?

In the Western World, at least in the U.S. and maybe Canada, the “Christmas Season” has become in many ways more about shopping than about giving, don’t you think? Especially now as North America slowly crawls out of 6 years of economic doldrums, as rank and file citizens dust off the cobwebs sealing their pocket book and spend a bit extra. No data to share, just a feeling.

Time was when Christmas (or Hanukah) rolled around the excitement centered more around the gathering of family, and to be sure around the rel!gious meaning of the day. You’d spent the preceding weeks getting excited about being home. As often as not thoughts of gifting and gifts became actionable a day or two before Christmas rather than a day or two after Thanksgiving. Your buy, your gift, was a response and a result of an inner conversation about the recipient, not a reaction to either advertising or cultural momentum (like Black Friday).

Nope. When you thought about gift shopping you really thought, deeply and hard, about the person to whom you would give that gift. What makes them tick? What is it about them or their life that makes them (and you) smile? At this time of year I find myself, along with Mrs. bingo, thinking an awful lot about what the people in my life want rather than what they might need.

That sounds funny coming from me, huh? The “want vs. need” guy. Here’s the thing: a gift-giving time like Christmas is one time when we can help those we care about have a little something that they want, but maybe know they shouldn’t get on their own precisely because they do understand the difference between want and need. In order to do that you, the gift giver, must take the time and make the effort to know the gift receiver well enough to figure out that gift that, rather than making them relieved, might make them just a tiny bit happier.

In the end the real gift that you are giving is of yourself. Your time. Your care. Your love. In order to give this kind of gift it is necessary to do more than shop. When you decide to really give a gift rather than simply shop for one, what you are really doing is telling that person that you see them for who they are. You’ve taken the time to know who they really are. That you do, indeed, like and love them, at least for Christmas, just for who they are.

Otherwise, it’s just a trip to the mall.

Reflections of an Aging Athlete

Old. Yup. “The Heir” turns 26 today. “Lovely Daughter” is 24 and my doppelgänger “Lil’bingo” is 22. My body is screaming from yesterday’s CrossFit WOD–I ran a mile. I’m answering emails and questions from CrossFit friends about CF in the “Master’s” category. I am closer to 55 than 54, closer in age to my cataract patients than my school-age patients. My Dad had a quadruple bypass at 54. Old.

How do you do this “old thing” anyway? It seems I don’t have an owner’s manual for myself, just like I didn’t have an owner’s manual for the kids. What am I to expect now? What is it that lies just ahead, and what then beyond that? Is this muscle soreness a freak thing, the anomaly, or is it a harbinger of things to come? How about fitness gains? I’m now 9 years into my CrossFit journey. How much longer can I expect to achieve PR’s? As I contemplate these questions how far forward should I allow my gaze to roam?

There are no answers to those questions, of course. Any answers only lead to the next set of the same. To look too far beyond a couple of tomorrows is as dangerous as it is to look back beyond a couple of yesterdays. Looking behind even a little bit risks the indulgence of regret, what has always seemed to me to be a sure recipe for sadness. I have written elsewhere that to go even further back, beyond Creation or the Primordial Soup or the Big Bang is an invitation to madness.

To look too far into the future is to invite desire, to risk the creation of wants that grow into something that feels like need. If or when these fail to materialize a different type of sadness arises, this one born of resentment. If one projects these too far into the future, to retirement, to rest, to redemption and beyond, the risk of madness can arise once again.

I surely do not know the answer to the question of how to age well. There is no map for the journey that lies ahead, no cosmic GPS. I have only the strategies that have served me thus far, and the hope that they will serve me yet. I have faith, and that faith allows me to resist the temptation to look either too far behind or too far ahead. Faith is the vaccine against madness.

And I am happy. I realized it once again in a phone call with a dear friend, met through Crossfit, and once again when I said goodnight to my darling Beth last night. I am happy because I have very little desire and even less regret; I want what I have and this inoculates me against both resentment and regret.

Yes, indeed, I am older, but I have at least one more today. That’s just what I wanted.