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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Sunday musings 2/28/16

Sunday musings…

1) Sleep 1. 9 hours of solid sleep last night. While I don’t recommend major surgery as a means to more sleep, still, that was nice.

2) Sleep 2. Over the New Year’s weekend I changed my nutrition strategy. After 10 years as a strict Zoner I am now using what I consider to be a version the Zone (Macro) in a timed fashion. I’ll expand on this another time, but one of the main reasons to have done this is to improve my sleep, both quantitatively and qualitatively. I think it’s better, sleep that is, except for the effect of…

3) Sleep 3. …alcohol. Seriously, is there a weirder substance out there? On a macro level, drink too much and your life expectancy is lower, too little and ditto. Drink juuuuust enough and you live longer. Except the sleep thing. Alcohol messes with your sleep.

Still working on that particular sleep hack. Let me get back to you on that one.

4) Sleep 4. Man, lots of sleep apparently lost by Affiliate gym owners over 16.1, eh? It appears that the WOD has a couple of, ahem, logistical challenges when it comes to running it in a Box. Apparently there are a whole lotta boxes (boxen?) out there built like the classic big-city shotgun apartments of yore: long and narrow. As a partner in an Affiliate who writes most of the programming, I certainly understand the need to take architecture into account when designing the local version of our international kick.

Here’s one man’s take on it: I love 16.1. I think it’s everything we’ve come to know and love about CrossFit, both in a CrossFit Affiliate and in garage gyms and big box commercial gyms the world over. It’s a classic triplet with three easily scaleable movements utilizing one of the most time-tested formats in our quiver, the AMRAP 20:00. It’s inclusive; very few people will drop out of the Open because of these movements and these loads. Indeed, Mrs. bingo’s observation was spot on: “I’m proud of CF tonight; those two regular folks could be from our gym.” Frankly, if you’re looking to criticize (and I’m not, at least not here), you could very well quibble with the fact that it’s taken so many years to get a longish WOD programmed for the Open. At that, it’s more a quibble for folks outside of CrossFit who still think fitness equals long, slow, runs or rides.

The CrossFit Open is our annual “Big Tent” event, one in which we all gather both literally and figuratively to celebrate our shared experience. It can be a challenge for the Affiliate owner, and neither gym members nor HQ should dismiss this. But the Open is ours. All of ours. The Regionals and the Games are for the professionals and the wanna-be professionals, as near to what we do in the gym as Rory McElroy is to Joe Sixpack at the local Muni. When I recover rest assured that I will do all 5 Open WODs so that I, too, can be under the Big Tent that is the Open.

I imagine I’ll sleep pretty well after each one, too.

5) Sleep 5. I’m pretty sure no one at HQ is losing any sleep over this, but I wonder if maybe someone should. In the WSJ this week was an article about the buying habits of different types of gym members. The results of that part of the study were so predictable, reinforced stereotypes so completely that they were comical. My only surprise was that CrossFitters paid more for monthly dues than any other group including boutique cycling gym and yoga studios, but that turns out to be because those members don’t use their boutiques as often as we use our Boxes.

We spend less on pretty much everything else we buy than everyone else. Oh, except fitness clothes that is. Time for a big, fat “thank you” from Reebok right about here; CrossFit gear has sold at a rate 4 TIMES the internal Reebok/Adidas predictions. No matter what you think about the CF/Reebok deal, it looks like CF is underpaid. Of note is that we spend less on food than athletes in other genres, both at the grocery store and out to eat. Funny, that. The assumption is that eating healthier is more expensive, that it must take up a greater percentage of your finances. I’m going with that would make Coach sleep better, except he probably already knew that. Plus, I’m not sure Coach ever sleeps, anyway.

Here’s the part where someone, sometime should probably be losing some sleep: only 13% of CrossFit Newbies who sign up and pay in January are still paying for CrossFit in December. Whoa. This “fall off the cliff” decline was seen in pretty much every group of gym members over their first year, so it’s not just CrossFit. Again, not surprisingly, the big commercial gyms with a low-price business model that actually seeks non-attendance saw the lowest drop-off in membership after 12 months.

13% though. What does this say? What does it mean to the Affiliate owners and by extension to CrossFit, Inc.? We all, Affiliate owners and members alike, tend to think more about the people who are there in the gym every day and every month, working hard on their health and on being the kind of people we would remember. For me that 13% number is a punch-in-the-nose red flag that those nagging feelings about folks who drift away are real. It’s a big ol’ wake-up call about the constant need to attract new members to the gym to replace that 87% who for whatever reason just drift away. Man…13%.

Coach told my boys “[it’s] easy, and it’s fun!” Lil’bingo and The Heir (and for that matter Mrs. bingo) would certainly agree that the 13% who stay real DO make it fun. Those folks who are there in your class every day, 3 on/1 off, cheering you on whether you PR or end up DFL…yah, that’s all kinds of fun. But it ain’t easy, at least it hasn’t been for quite a few years now. There’s nothing easy about replacing that 87%, and knowing that the number is that high doesn’t make it any easier, either. The professional trainer seems to need a bunch of sales professional in them according to these numbers, and as far as I can see that’s not really on anyone’s radar screens. Lots of really smart, dedicated folks who run Affiliates are up nights thinking about this. I used to be comforted by the fact that CrossFit has about a 2% penetration in the fitness market, that growth could come for everyone by moving into that 98%. This new number bugs me, though. 13% stay.

Eventually, someone might have to lose some sleep over this.

I’ll see you next week…


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.


Doc or Trainer: Owning Your Own Job

We are starting to see some turnover among the OG CrossFit Affiliate owners. Some, like Skip, were in literally on the ground floor, and a successful Box rode them into the sunset (enjoy your retirement!). Others, like Steve and Kelly, have nearly 10 years into ownership as they approach both mid-career and mid-life. They turn over a highly successful business and take on the role of “Founder” (can’t wait to see what’s next for you!). Some owners have left the CrossFit fold and changed the name and structure of their gyms. There have certainly been some closings, typically folks who either didn’t really know what it was they were getting in to, or found that being the owner of a job is more than they bargained for.

As such, the successful CrossFit Affiliate is much like every other small business where the owner is also operator. My day job is like that: if I don’t show up for work no revenue is generated. A huge percentage of small businesses run just like this. What you own is not so much a business as it is owning your own job.

With all of the talk of exercise as medicine lately, it’s interesting to compare and contrast the megatrends at work in the fitness industry and medicine when it comes to practitioners. In medicine we are in the midst of what is nothing short of a diaspora with physicians leaving the private practice of medicine for employment in ever-larger organizations. It should be noted that this phenomenon is in direct response to government action. Men and women who once owned their job, with all of the responsibilities (payroll, rent, etc.) and freedoms (hours of operation, client experience, etc) now work is settings where process and protocol is dictated to them, and fidelity to the organization has primacy.

Thanks to CrossFit and the CrossFit Affiliate model, the megatrend in fitness is exactly the opposite. Trainers have been unleashed from the corporate environment where salesmanship is the most highly regarded skill, and put in charge of a job where outcomes drive the business. Affiliate owners are the new private practitioners of fitness, in charge of everything from programming to toilet paper.

A certain tension has always existed between large medical organizations and smaller private practices. It should come as no surprise that similar tensions exist between CrossFit and its Affiliates and large fitness businesses and their partners. Large organizations crave control and abhor independent competition. Indeed, for those behemoths the only thing worse than independent competitors is being shown up by them. You know, like getting better surgical outcomes or having clients who look like the crowd at the Games. Large organizations often turn to government to suppress this type of competition and make the megatrends flow their way.

There are several important points to be made from this comparison. First, of course, is that every Affiliate owner and every member at every Box should fight alongside HQ is this battle. Trainers get better with more experience, not with more certificates.
Trainers who own their jobs also own not only their outcomes but everything about the experience of their clients. Just like a private physician. I’m biased, of course, but this is well worth fighting for.

For those fortunate enough to train people for a living the reality is that you don’t, and likely never will, own a business. There are very few large CrossFit businesses. For every CrossFit NYC or CrossFit Eado there are 3 or 4 hundred boxes run primarily by the owner. What you own is your own job. You’ll need initiative, passion, and resilience. A thick skin is helpful, too, because you’ll get plenty of feedback on that job. With a little luck you, too, may one day leave behind something significant enough that there is someone there to carry on when you leave.

There’s some turnover in Affiliates. At the moment nothing like a trend exists. Owning your own job is not for the faint of heart, and some will find it not their cup of tea. Others, like the OG’s above, will leave for that next thing on the horizon. What mattered is that they had the opportunity to own a job and took it, creating something that will live after they have gone.

The best boss is the client (or patient) who chooses you. The chance to work for them is worth fighting for.

I’ll see you next week…

Sunday musings…The End of Volunteerism?

Sunday musings…

1) Supercilious. What you call it when the punctilious escalate.

2) Fears. “I’ve started harassing the guards at the borders surrounding my fears.” How one of my patients has described her late-in-life efforts to get outside her comfort zone.

Everything about that is cool.

3) Volunteerism. In our world of ever-increasing transparency, willful or otherwise, how long will the phenomenon of volunteerism in support of any type of organization that generates revenue in excess of expenses be expected to continue? An obvious example is the CrossFit Games of course, but that’s hardly the only, or even the best example. In the sports world alone there are organizations that hold events on a nearly weekly basis that cannot be run without the toils of volunteers who work for the pleasure of being involved.

Think about it. Track and swim meets, road races, so-called adventure races, now and for as long as such things have been held. Heck, even all of those huge soccer festivals that dominate the weekends in my little corner of the midwest, run by volunteers and providing the revenue stream for the coaches of “elite” travel teams. Local fitness competitions run as a revenue generator by a Box owner. All kinds of stuff like that.

By no means is this phenomenon unique to the world of sports. In my day job I am a physician in private practice. As such I have provided specialty coverage and care for the ER at several local hospitals over my 25+ years in practice. This type of volunteerism was such a normal part of the medical landscape when I graduated that neither I nor any of my peers ever gave a single thought to why we did it. It simply never occurred to us that the hospitals could not function without our participation, nor did we ever really think about the egregious imbalance that existed in the deal, the docs so far on the losing side that the “D” in MD could have stood for “Dupe”. As the hospitals have grown ever larger, generating ever greater “excess revenue” by paying their employed doctors for work they still accept (and expect) from others, the volunteers have revolted.

I begrudge no one the pursuit of profit, even hospitals. Indeed, I have, and will continue to volunteer at events local and national for the same reason most other folks do: to feel a sense of belonging, to be a part of a whole. I might even continue to provide emergency coverage at the local hospital. Sometimes, though, I just wonder whether some tiny societal tipping point has occurred, disrupting the jewel that is the bond between organization and volunteer.

To offer your services without compensation one must believe in the mission of an organization or institution. That mission may be maximizing profit, and rightfully so. One should not find it surprising, though, when no one volunteers for that kind of enterprise.

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at August 16, 2015 8:02 AM

Lessons from a CrossFit Athlete Moving On

Gutted. Just a deep, sickening sadness when I heard the news. I confess, I wasn’t watching the Regionals feed, just reading and studying and occasionally glancing at various SM feeds. They all blew up at the same time, precisely 5 minutes after Julie Foucher’s achilles tendon did the same.

I wanted to throw up.

To be honest, while I would be saddened by any injury to a Regionals competitor, Julie is a friend, someone I know face-to-face. Seeing her hurting was a more personal thing for me and for all of Clan bingo. We know her story and we know her people. It felt like watching my neighbor’s kid get hurt, the one who always made you smile when you saw her outside playing. Her tears brought ours.

There is some anger out there in CrossFit land about this, and we will soon be hearing condemnation of not only the movement during which the injury occurred, but also by extension the entirety of CrossFit itself. Julie does not seem angry (we’ve not yet spoken; I’ve seen the same videos you have), and for whatever little it’s worth I’m not, either. I think this is misplaced, this anger, and that it speaks to a continuing and fundamental misunderstanding of the differences between training and competing, between CrossFit and The Sport of Fitness®. As such it bears examination and illumination. Again.

Julie Foucher, and competitors at her level, is a professional athlete. She is paid for her outcomes. Paid for performance. As such, like every other professional athlete, she accepts a higher degree of risk in both her training and her competitions. This is a fact of life in every athletic pursuit. Full stop. As sports evolve one hopes that leaders strive to make essential aspects of those sports safer, but at some point it becomes impossible to increase safety without removing essential.

Smaller engines and slower speeds would certainly reduce crashes at Indy, but then it would be a commute, not a race.

Being injured in the heat of competition is very disappointing; being injured in training more so, because that which you do to become better has made you worse. The safety bar is therefore raised higher in the gym than in the arena. Indeed, the further we are from the pinnacle of performance in any competitive endeavor, the more important it becomes to emphasize safety.

Regarding the movement in question today, the Box Jump, this is rather straightforward: step down in training, and step down in competitions entered for your own entertainment and enlightenment. Again, Full Stop. You are not Julie Foucher. I am not Julie Foucher. It is folly to conflate a competition in which you perform functional movements at relatively high intensity against a clock and fellow recreational athletes with the CrossFit Games.

This, in turn, illustrates the folly and fallacious thinking of extrapolating a ruptured achilles tendon in an elite athlete at the highest level of competition to the conclusion that CrossFit is dangerous. Poppycock. Constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity is as safe as any other fitness methodology. It is especially so if you adhere to the classic progression, still taught at every CrossFit seminar: technique, then consistency, then–and only then–intensity.

The Sport of Fitness is also as safe as other sports. Injuries to women? How about the epidemic of non-contact ACL tears in young women playing soccer? The higher the level of amateur soccer played, the greater the number and higher the percentage of girls and women who blow their ACL. Not at the pro level though, because they train differently. Where is the outrage here? Achilles tendon injuries, you say? Ask your buddy the orthopod about middle-aged men who play basketball and racquet sports. It’s so common it’s a cartoon.

No, anger is misplaced here if it is directed toward either CrossFit or The Sport of Fitness. The best example of why? None other than Julie Foucher. What makes Julie such a special person is what she did and is doing after her injury: moving on. There is sadness to be sure. A sense that the journey ended too soon. A quest not quite fulfilled. After the tears, though, came a smile. Perspective. There was talk of fun. CrossFit with CrossFitters as fun.

We welcome Julie back to our world of training to be better at life. As she now steps down like the rest of us she has offered us one final gift as she moves on from competition: a smile and a hand up to each of us, a reminder that what we do is fun because we do it together. For that, and for the joy of watching her compete these many years, we in turn should holster our anger, dry our tears, and smile back at her in thanks.



CrossFit and Controversy: Virtuosity in Running

It’s hard to nail down a single, signature aspect of CrossFit. That’s in part what makes the whole gig so compelling, that there very well might be something different that is singularly significant about CrossFit to almost anyone. The candidates for “signature component” would have to include irreducible movements–movements that cannot be broken down into component parts which can in turn be trained separately–and the uncanny ability to create controversy where one wouldn’t imagine it could arise.

Take, for example, running. Is there anything which is more elemental, more basic, more intrinsic to human movement than running? Sure, there are other movements which are equally so (e.g. squat, pick something up), but surely there is nothing more so. And yet CrossFit and CrossFitters manage to be controversial and contentious even here, with running.

At the moment I am sitting with Beth in an otherwise deserted airport in Vermont on the day of the Burlington Marathon. Of note is that we/I are LEAVING while others are running; I find the notion that running 26 miles is somehow a good idea to be, well, odd to be honest. Not running except when called for in a WOD is considered not only odd in the greater fitness community but rather subversive as well. There are surely runners in today’s Marathon who did nothing but CrossFit to train for their odyssey. That’s not just controversial, it’s downright heresy.

Randy and one of his members are at the CF Endurance cert as I type. Here, too, we court controversy by embracing the insights of individuals who believe that there is a better way. Not just a better way to train, but in fact a better way to do the running itself. Less is more when it comes to the volume of training to run distances both long and short, as long as your training and your running are of higher quality. Imagine, teaching human beings that there is the possibility of virtuosity in something as elemental as running.

As a community we are open to the possibility of both true genius, as well as genius by extension (taking a genius concept and creating a practical application). It’s hardly a blind acceptance of either, nor are we necessarily too very quick to accept either, whether we are talking about HQ or the community. Here, too, running is an apt example.

For several years criticism has been applied to Regionals competitions for not including running. How, it was asked, could you stratify the fit if you didn’t ask them to run? In rather classic CrossFit fashion the answer was somewhat slow in coming, and it arrived gift-wrapped in controversy: we would have running on a treadmill. Cue righteous outrage. Talk about controversial. CrossFit, the anti-machine, anti-commercial rebel would use very expensive treadmills in its signature event.

Controversial? For sure, but actually not in the way folks first thought. This is CrossFit, after all, and what appears on the surface is rarely the entire story. There are treadmills at the Regionals. Not just any treadmill though, but one that rewards technical virtuosity as well as everything else one can measure in a run. Athletes will not only need to run fast, but also run well.

One need not engage in any of the intellectual aspects of CrossFit to reap the fitness and health benefits there to be found. There is a nearly endless bounty of inquiry and response to be found if you do, beginning with the exploration of that part of CrossFit that instantly makes sense to you. Like irreducible movements for me. Digging deeper by seeking to see why seemingly innocuous topics are rendered controversial when run through a CrossFit filter is one way to achieve a deeper understanding of what it is you are actually doing when you do CrossFit.

You know, like discovering that there’s more to running than farther and/or faster, there is also better. And that the pursuit of virtuosity is as worthy of your best efforts in the simplest, seemingly least controversial exercises. Like running.


The Immortal Mariner

We are but mortals. Billionaire or barkeep, the vessels of our voyage will all come to rest just as deeply, just as empty. Born low or high, eventually we shall all be bourn aloft or below, our sails forever furled. Shod in buckles and bows, or like my Father, with cardboard to cover the holes, each of us enter and exit equally bare.

None of us are to be spared.

There exists a path to immortality, though, at least of a sort. However shod, however adorned our vessel, the course of our travels is forever marked by its intersection with that of our fellow wayfarers. The power and character of that immortality depends on the depth and character of those encounters.

You see, no memory is spared.

Who will remember you? How will you be remembered? As your vessel slows, becalmed in an ever more shallow breeze, will you be accompanied? Have your travels brought other vessels closer, tenders still knotted? How large was your fleet? At the end will it be your vessel or your voyage that is remembered? Your shoes or your footprints?

“Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heav’n did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear,
He gained from Heav’n (’twas all he wish’d) a friend.”
–Thomas Gray

The journey to immortality travels through friendship.

Minimum Effective Dose: CrossFit Version

CrossFit HQ just published the CrossFit Games ticket information. Pretty exciting. Now that Games Open 2015 is complete, we , and trust me, everyone in every Box is gonna start thinking about how they will prepare for next year’s Open experience. Really. There are some very high quality CrossFit sites with a proven track record of producing CrossFit Games competitors who are publishing supplemental training programming for 2016 Open Athletes. Heck, I’m “borrowing” some stuff from Ben Bergeron (thanks Ben!) for my son Randy’s Box. Innumerable FB threads and blog posts host spirited discourse on “Competition Training”. Too much/too little. Goldilocks is lost in the forest of Open training.

Fear not. I am here to guide you.

Why do you do CrossFit? This is a proxy for “What are your goals?” It’s really that simple. Really. That’s not to say it’s not hard, though. You must sit yourself down and have that little chat. Why am I doing this? What is the outcome I seek? It goes back to Coach Glassman’s Black Box theory of research: define the right-side output you want and keep changing the left-side inputs into the Black Box (YOU!) until you churn out the desired result. Fuel. Volume. Technical emphasis. But it all starts with knowing what you seek to achieve.

I’d like to introduce a concept from my day job (with attribution to Mark Sisson for reminding me) that applies here, especially when it comes to the siren song of CrossFit and other fitness competitions: Minimum Effective Dose. That amount of left side input that is the lowest amount of whatever–lowest dose–that will produce a desired outcome. How much food and what type. How much training. How much time. Unlike above where we do not know what talents we may or may not possess until we have completed the Crossfit Open, we know exactly how much time we have in every day, and we have a pretty clear idea about what else must be accomplished in our lives outside of CrossFit. You know, stuff like your day job, napping, nookie and such.

Whether you are a Games aspirant, a Regionals shoo-in, someone who routinely competes at a local level, or the rest of us just trying to ensure that we will be able to get up off the loo when we are 80, this is a concept that you should embrace. Start on the right side of the Black Box that is you and define a set of goals, outcomes. Seek to find the MED of the CrossFit Prescription (WOD, skill work, nutrition, recovery, etc) that maximizes the likelihood of achieving those outcomes while minimizing negative results (injury, lack of balance, life losses due to inattention to other priorities, etc.). Relentlessly re-evaluate your own MED in light of both your desired outcome and other essential priorities, putting equal emphasis on both the “Effective” part and the “Minimal”. While not particularly easy, it really is that simple.

I have long held that the most important competition in CrossFit is actually the one you wage with only yourself, the battle to be a better version of you tomorrow than you were yesterday through your efforts today. The Minimum Effective Dose is as personal as any other part of you vs. you.


Facebook: Rehearsal or Showtime?

Facebook has been accused of many things, but of late I’ve been hearing more and more about how unhappy reading other people’s timelines makes some folks. Apparently their own lives, or at least how they view their lives, seems to pale in comparison to what is being posted on someone else’s FB page. I actually used this to poke fun at a professional friend. I accused him of purposefully trying to make my life seem lame by posting pictures of himself at the NCAA Final Four and the Masters.

We can use CrossFit as a useful analogy with which to understand this phenomenon. 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 Box 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, the contestant to be focused only on herself and the judges. Invariably though, both judges and judged compare the contestant with others, for this is an openly zero-sum game. Someone will only win because everyone else lost. There is a subset of Facebook users for whom posting and viewing is a win-lose thing.

I’m more than OK with this for the CrossFit Games, 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 external controls like Facebook to judge our internal view of our own outcomes.

Why? Well, 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 dry 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. We were pretty successful youngsters, at least in the eyes of the community and  by the standards then in place by which we (and by extension my 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].” Mom would politely nod and smile, all the while thinking “oh boy…if you only knew!”

You see, my Mother remembered all of the hard work, 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” experiences with my 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 but alas, ’tis not. The lesson is as simple as making sure that you are always comparing things that are alike. Your rehearsals with someone else’s rehearsal. Their highlight reel, perhaps shared on Facebook, 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.


Sunday musings 4/5/15

Sunday musings…

1) Easter. For my young life two days each year were always tough. Easter and Halloween. Seems I always got sick. Turns out I’m allergic to chocolate. There you go.

Happy Easter, anyway!

2) Failure. “A stumble may prevent a fall.” Proverb of some sort.

That’s pretty good. Whether the endeavor is physical, mental, or spiritual, the act of righting oneself before calamity is instructive, no? One sees the upcoming fall and is somehow able to remain upright through recalculation, recalibration, and then realignment to the new reality.

Learning from a mistake in progress, as it were.

3) Competition. We finished up the Open season at CFB yesterday with the first competition held there in its brief history. We did something radical, at least as it relates to the various and sundry fitness competitions held at CrossFit gyms and elsewhere over the last several years.

We did CrossFit WODs.

I know, I know…that’s just crazy talk. Have a competition in which you do WODs that you do every month in your gym, WODs that have come up time and again on CrossFit.com. Classic couplets where the work lands squarely in the Phosphagen energy pathway. “Every Second Counts” kinda stuff. WODs where you have history, where you can track your progress, done in a competitive setting where proper form is required. Measurable, observable, repeatable with a dose of virtuosity.

The athletes did “Fran”, followed by “Grace”. The top five men and top five women then faced off in “Diane”. No epic beatdowns. No exotic or esoteric movements. Nope, this was the CrossFit we all thought of and all did back in the day when CrossFit.com and CrossFit Santa Cruz were all there was. Pretty much everyone came to the event with a history in all three WODs, and pretty much everyone left with a new PR in each one.

The strong did well. The technically proficient did well. Lots of lessons were learned by both the athletes and the spectators, most of whom are relative newcomers to the CrossFit world. Most of what they learned came from watching who won: the winners were both strong and proficient.

One lesson was particularly telling, although not at all unexpected by yours truly (10 years a CrossFitter). One athlete who competes at many an all-day slog-fest said afterwards that she almost didn’t enter the competition because she found the announced WODs “too easy.” During a congratulatory fist bump (she came in 3rd) she said how hard it was and how thankful she was that she participated.

Go back and read “What is Fitness”, CrossFit Journal vol. 1, #2. It says something about the evolution of CrossFit in the wild that a competition in which the athletes do “Fran” and “Grace” is considered novel. That classic “Girls” now constitute something that you program as a novelty. That after only 10 years an event named “The Three Girls Showdown” is considered somehow retro.

Once upon a time all you needed to stratify a group of athletes in a competition was one WOD per day, and I get it that the evolution of CrossFit as sport means that it is now necessary to ask more from the 1/%. I understand that there are individuals who need more volume in their training in order to perform at their highest level on the job. More of everything is called for in these small cohorts.

For the rest of us, though, whether in the gym getting our daily dose or in the arena competing against our last PR, we could certainly do worse than returning to what it was that made CrossFit what it is. Constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity. Start with yesterday’s WOD, “Angie”, the very first WOD I ever did. The one that left me in a quivering mass on the floor of a commercial gym 10 years ago.

Simple. Elegant. Brutal. Go get you some.

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at April 5, 2015 6:11 AM