Yep. So is walking down the street if you think about it in a certain way, and sitting at your kitchen table for that matter. There has been a lot of talk on my social media feeds (thanks to me being “internet friends” with a lot of fitness people) about the potential health risks of high intensity exercise, or what we know as CrossFit. So, I thought I’d offer my take on all this jabber.
_ This post is inspired by a few recent incidences where coaches have said some pretty ignorant things about CrossFit, and what I do. I completely understand the misunderstanding that so many people have with CrossFit because there is so much crap information out there. But one must only take a second or two to realize that no matter what you are practicing, it could be wonderfully beneficial, or horrendously detrimental depending on the coach and how things are programmed. CrossFit is a very generally defined strength and conditioning program at heart. And that is what I do. I train people to become the most athletic person they can possibly be, using the theory that training every aspect of athleticism in a hyper-controlled manner will do just that. It is difficult to argue the fact that if one is at his/her best athletically, they will be able to adapt to the demands of their sport better than one who is not in “complete” shape. And because this is the goal of my training, I do not practice what uneducated people believe Crossfit to be: a random collection of exercises thrown at you in a violently intense circuit with the goal of moving heavier and heavier weights as fast as possible. Perhaps I don't actually practice "CrossFit"; but again, it's a vague enough definition, and I enjoy being a part of the growing community, so i will continue to claim to be a part of it.
So, to the coaches and people who refuse to take the time to understand what it is that I am actually doing. I will offer a two-fold post. One point is to explain how what YOU are doing is might not the best for an athlete’s optimal performance and slow gains (kind of a dick thing to do on my part, I know, but every now and then it is deserved). The second point is what it is that I do. After that, if you still insist that I randomly create workouts that are goofy and crazy, and just meant to get people running around, I can do nothing but feel bad for your ignorance.
I’ll start by asking a few questions. How much do you make your athletes run, and how often do you have your athletes max? I have found it to be very, very common for coaches and trainers to use maxing out on lifts (establishing the max amount of weight a person can perform for 1 rep) as their go-to test for where people stand. They then use this number as a base, run the athletes through their program before re-testing to make sure their maxes are higher. Well, it shouldn’t really even be a discussion about how wrong this approach is. It makes me cringe to think about 40 young athletes, or 1 beginner client walking into the gym and building up a to a bar with as heavy a weight as possible for one rep.
“But Courage, how am I supposed to get a baseline” you might ask? Simple, have each person perform an air squat or two. If they can’t perform this basic movement through an adequate range of motion while keeping a stable midline and engaging the proper muscles in the proper sequence, they shouldn’t be loading ANY weight to their body! Your program should begin with basic fundamentals of each movement, mobility, and proprioception training, and incrementally heavier loads to prep their nervous systems for growth. If one person proves to have trouble squatting under control, keep them away from the barbell until they prove they can handle it (and this goes for all other lifts as well).
I could go on for days there, but I’ll leave it at that. Now, on to the running question: I get running, especially for high school athletes and teams. But from my perspective it is a tool to build teamwork and enforce discipline, NOT to “get them in better shape”. The thousands upon thousand of studies and articles out there proving that short interval sprints and exercise are the most effective for anaerobic capacity training should end any argument about longer distance running for athletes (unless you are a long distance runner). But again, for teamwork and discipline purposes, I get it, and I support it (as long as it’s done intelligently). Unintelligent programming of high volume sprints and/or long distance running is just asking for injuries and even worse, negating all the hard work and effort the athletes have put into their other training. And this goes double for doing this stuff pre-practice or pre-gym session. If you want an athlete to get better at shooting a basketball, hitting a baseball, running a very specific route, or l lifting a flawlessly performed clean, you better make sure they get the majority of their reps in as fresh as possible. If they are always practicing under high levels of cardiovascular and/or muscular fatigue, you force them to perform movements sub maximally, forming injury-building habits and sub-maximal performance.
When you are halfway through your season, or a client has been training with you for a few months and all of a sudden minor to major injuries start popping up, it should be pretty clear where they are coming from: the coaches programming. The more difficult thing to process is crummy performance, or, plateau-ing. It’s when a baseball player all of a sudden doesn’t have that fire under them each play, or swing; or that person in the gym has low energy and can’t seem to make any gains at all. This is when a good coach takes a step back, looks over the progression of training this person or people have been through (if it’s not written down somewhere you might as well write yourself off as a good coach now, keep everything charted!) and make an adjustment ASAP.
So, “mister perfect” you might say, how would you do it? Well, first off, I am far from perfect, and that is step one: be humble. You are not the best coach in the world; you do not have it all figured out. If your methods do not change over the years it means you are not learning anything from anyone or anything, and the same issues will continue to occur. If you are not adapting and growing as a coach, your athletes will never be able to grow to their potential. Simply put, if you are not constantly evolving, you're not a good coach.
If you have a good year, or you have a good client, here and there, and it is common thing the majority of the time, generally it is because you had a more talented person/group of people who were able to overcome your flaws as a coach with raw ability. What I mean is that if you tend to have a decent percentage of clients that just don;t seem to get any better; or, a few years at a time on a regular basis of a crappy team, with a good team on some other years, you are clearly not a good coach/trainer. If what worked one year does not work the next, adapt, change and continue to grow.
You must spend so much of your time reading studies and articles, and talking to other coaches and athletes about their thoughts and ideas. Try new things, keep notes, and always be open and available to discuss and question anything. One of my three rules to all athletes/clients is ask questions. They, and of course, I, should know why I am having them do all the things I program. I want my athletes to question what I am doing because then they can learn more. The more they learn, the more they understand about what they are doing, and the better they become and faster they progress.
Know exactly what is you are doing. Have a program. I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to a coach or trainer and learn that they have an idea of what they are having their athletes do, but there is zero progression (and yet I have some of these people think that I program complete randomness…hm…). As stated before, if you want your athlete to perform at maximal potential, you will give him/her a program that allows for proper sequential growth. This means that you assess their ability to move, correct flaws, correct imbalances, prep for volume and load, then progressively increase volume and loads through balanced exercises and rep schemes. Attention will always be towards loading the muscles in the proper sequence, performing each exercise as properly as possible before overly loading it, and understanding the program well enough to avoid over-training individual muscles, joints, and the body as a whole. There is no need to go into more detail than this. If you are a good coach, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about and you are probably doing this. If you are an athlete/client, you should be asking your coach if this is what they do, and paying attention to what you are doing and how you are feeling (you should be feeling better and better by the way, and if you are not, you should be able to ask your coach why and be able to easily talk with them about it).
Finally: food. If you are not paying attention to what your athletes/clients are consuming, you are not doing them any good what so ever. As a coach, it is your responsibility to pay attention to the health and well being of your athletes because you are their leader. If you are open and honest with them, they will learn how to take care of themselves pretty quickly, making your job that much easier. But, you cannot expect someone who pays you to help them get better at sports, fitness, and/or life to figure it all out on their own. Simply put, do your job right.
It breaks my heart the amount of coaches/trainers out there that just have no clue what they are doing. It actually scares me because the people who choose to turn to a professional to help them out have no reason to know if that person is total BS or not. Yes, each individual should take at least some responsibility and understand the basics. But, if a person chooses to be a coach, or a trainer, or anyone that puts themselves in some sort of “leader” roll, they better respect that roll enough to know exactly what they are doing. Hopefully what they are doing is good.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
But just with writing! While I have not been posting on any sort of schedule, plenty has been going on. I am re-committing to getting back on the writing, so be sure to read away through the holidays! So what's been going on? Well, I am now working out of a temporary gym space out behind White Flint Mall in North Bethesda. This is not the final stop for Courage Performance unfortunately (but fortunately, the last stop will be not so far away for so many people!). I am in the process of negotiating a lease at a spot that is about as ideal as anything I have ever seen. Fingers are crossed!
What else? Well, in terms of training i have been feeling very, very good. Friday I hit 1RM deadlifts in an empty Garage and was able to PR by 30# with a 535# pull!! So stoked about that one. Today I hit a 200# snatch. While this should be warm up weight for someone who has other lifts like I do, I have struggled so much with Olympic lifts that my numbers hover where my technique keeps me. This actually was a PR for squat snatches for me by 15#! Again, pretty stoked. This Saturday coming up I have competition out at CrossFit Hoboken, and the first is a snatch ladder. I fully expect to hit another big PR there. And on that note, please make sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter over the weekend as I'll be giving constant updates as things moves along.
Food update? Well, it hasn't been perfect I can tell you that much. But as stated before, I'm not too worried. I am feasting on plenty of food to keep up with the work-load of my training. My plan is to clean it up around January once i am feeling real good with my strength work and begin to cut the body fat down a little to make the running and gymnastics a but easier!
Ok, enough of the update crap, I know how badly you all want to keep completely up to date with all the inner workings of my life! No, no, let me get a little into some other stuff that I've been missing writing about for a while. Something that's been on my mind the past few weeks is leadership. I have been talking with and dealing with more coaches and trainers recently as I've been looking into expanding the company. What I have found is hours upon hours of conversation on what it means to be a good leader (while I speak of coaches and trainers in particular, i am sure it can be translated to any other form of leadership). I know there are plenty of points to be made here, but one that has been on the forefront of my mind has been the idea of having your students (I'll refer to them as "athletes" from here on out) respect you. I do NOT understand in any way why a leader would choose to scare the living crap out of his/her athletes. A great way to test how your athletes feel about you, or how you as an athlete feel about your leader ("coach" from here on out): how does the athlete react when the coach walks into the room? If there is a bit of excitement, a "hey coach!", a smile, a bearing down and getting ready sort of feel, then, I am willing to bet that coach is a damn good leader. But, if the coach walks in the room and it becomes silent, uncomfortable, stiff, and even awkward, well, that coach sucks! This does not necessarily mean the coach does not know how to coach his/her sport. It merely means he/she is a bad leader. I say this because I know plenty of people who are incredibly good at teaching the materials they need to teach but are horrible at motivating their athletes and making them feel comfortable challenging themselves each and every day.
I really want to touch more on how to react to this as an athlete rather than come at it from a coached perspective. I have been on the athletes side plenty, and perhaps that is why I have taken the time to find the best ways to become a halfway decent coach myself. So, if you're an athlete and don;t respect your coach, are scared of your coach, intimidated by your coach, feel uncomfortable around your coach, so on and so forth. Well, the most obvious response is to leave, go somewhere else! If that is not an option, go talk to him/her. Perhaps this should be the first step to be honest. One would assume that a crap coach probably won't take to criticism of concern very well, but it's always worth a try. After all, you are practicing your sport for YOU, not for them. And you never know, maybe the coach will open up an you things could change. But if he/she gets pissed at you for trying to be open and expressing your concerns, well, find a way to GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE. STAT!
But I'm sure there are still a bunch of you that can;t get out of the situation despite all of this crap (for example: a young athlete who can't just leave school becuase their sports coach isn't all that great), what do you do? What did I do? I nodded and smiled when the coach told me to do something I KNEW was wrong, then I searched like mad for coaches I thought were great and that I could truly believe in and practiced what they taught me. You see, sometimes you can;t escape from a crap situation. But what you can do is change they way you respond to the crap.
Always question, always voice your opinion and concern, always challenge. If people don't like that, do what you an to not be surrounded by those people, they will do nothing but bring you down.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
If you head out and grab the November issue of Men’s Health, you’ll find an incredibly good article about CrossFit tucked into the middle of the thick magazine. I was initially amped up about this piece because I bought the magazine to entertain me during my plane ride out to California. Much to my delight, I opened the pages to see a picture of my good friend and old training partner Blair Morrison! Pretty cool.
Well, as I write this I am actually on the plane (will probably finish n my old Starbucks in San Mateo seeing how we are only 20 minutes out!) and I am so eager to keep my eye on shit-show that will be CrossFitters complaining about how stupid the article was. Interestingly enough, my initial reaction was similar. How dare this guy rip on the fitness methodology and now sport that I believe in so much? How dare he go so far as to even use the nutritional upper-lord Robb Wolf as a resource to strike up more controversy about the program? Well, once I put my angry kettlebell down, cleaned up the chalk, and put my short back on I realized something: this was one of the best articles on CrossFit I have read in a long time. I say thins because the truth was written.
My frustration with the piece was similar to that of one written by a Washington Post Express journalist who decided to try out the whole minimalist shoe craze. He bought a pair of Five-Fingers and went out on a 5 mile run. He then promptly ripped the craze a new one because he couldn’t walk for a week! Well, any somewhat smart human would understand that he was an idiot. If you spend your whole life running in moon-boots and then one day go barefoot, you can’t expect run for hours and be cured of all your problems. That would be like an obese person deciding to eat healthy, doing so for one day then saying it doesn’t work and is stupid because he didn’t lose 100 pounds! The writer of the CrossFit piece became so turned off by CrossFit that after one final humiliating day where he finished dead last in a workout surrounded by women, he walked out, never to return.
Well, my immediate reaction was: out of the now 3000+ affiliates around the world, perhaps you just went to a crappy one? Perhaps if you went to an affiliate who’s coaches understood that learning the kip as part of foundations is probably going to lead to a lot of injury. Or where they don’t program 4 days of weighted, heavy loaded snatch work in one week. Or, where they don’t ask you to deadlift 225# in a 15 minute AMRAP on your first day! Unless you’re “drunk on the kool aid” you’re probably going to burn out at some point pretty quickly at a place that pays no attention to your needs. I mean, all of the problems this guy had at his “box” pissed me off because I would never let those happen at mine. So, I found his article stupid.
Then I realized something. His article was clearly NOT stupid. I mean seriously, I have been to some 50 CrossFit affiliates and I would say that well over 30 of those could easily be placed in the category of CrossFit that the author was writing about. If you went and talked to the coaches you’d hear them talk the same way founder Greg Glassman talks about the program, that it’s about become generally physically prepared, that it’s about becoming overall athletic, and not specializing, and that their program is the best thing you could do for your body. Most coaches (and depressingly, nowhere near all of them) could even go into the science behind why CrossFit style of training is so beneficial. They talk about the need for good form over good times, about how they teach a full understanding of the basic movements. They talk about avoiding injury and how their program is scalable and modifiable. Then you walk into their gym and see 15 people thrashing around trying to complete “Fran” as fast as humanly possible. Backs are rounding, heels are off the floor, hands have a death grip on the bar, people who cannot perform 2 consecutive pull ups are swinging around the pull up bars, screaming as they push out one more rep. And those coaches who talk so wonderfully about their program, about how focused they are in avoiding injury and taking care of each and every one of their athletes? They are standing their screaming at everyone to get back on the bar, fight through, keep going, don’t stop, go faster and on and on! All of a sudden everything they just talked about is thrown out the window and the truth comes out as to how this place is run.
Damn, I guess this guy was right! I guess when we step out of the crazy cult following CrossFit has become and look at the whole thing objectively, you find something pretty damn scary. Step back in and do a little searching and you find some really freaking great places that take the time and energy to do things right. But with 3000+ affiliates around the world, how many of those do you really think do it right? Judging by the poor quality of gyms, trainers and coaches out there in general, we can probably assume that not too many of them are all that great. So what does that mean for you? Well, this is where you, as the consumer must take on a bit of responsibility and take the time to make sure you’re finding the right fit. And of you find that fit, I can pretty much guarantee that your life will change for the better! If you don’t take that time, if you just expect things to work out for you the first time you walk into any CrossFit gym, well, as sucky as the truth is that you’re probably going to be let down, just the writer was.
Oh, and a HUGE point that should not be taken lightly: just because a head coach knows how to talk about CrossFit, does not mean he/she knows how to teach it. Think of it this way: if some guy is really good at pithing his amazing new smoothie, how healthy and good tasting it is, would you just go ahead and buy ten boxes of it right then and there? If you would, your kind of an idiot. No, you’d probably want to see an official ingredients list, and taste the damn thing, right? Same goes for finding your perfect gym. If a coach tells you that he/she has the best training program, yet tons of the athletes there are getting hurt, are out of shape, complain, or just don’t; represent what the coach is pitching, well, maybe it’s not the best place for you! But don’t write off CrossFit gyms in general because of that; just write off that one! What I really need to write actually is a note to all CrossFit coaches to stop putting out crappy programming and so on and do better! And well, I have that post started already. But please, please, please, as a consumer, as athletes or soon-to-be-athletes who want a better lifestyle and are looking to CrossFit to be that change, take it upon yourself to find the perfect fit. Find a gym that programs intelligently, supports each and every member equally and passionately, supports an honest, healthy lifestyle, and doesn’t just talk about it. If you take the time, you should be able to catch on to this within one or two classes. And if the gym won’t let you try their space out for a few classes before committing to some crazy membership scheme, well, go find another place!
Remember, finding the right gym for you is just as important as eating the proper foods, working at a good job, finding a great partner and so on. It should be a complete part of your entire lifestyle, one that YOU want a part of. So be patient, be demanding and be open. And to all those would be CrossFit bashers out there, if you want a better view of CrossFit, give me a call, if you can’t come to my gym, I have a pretty good list of gyms you could go to to have a great experience!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
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