In the past couple weeks the institution of CrossFit has had a decent amount of press in comparison to the past many years. A good bit of it has been relatively critical and as entertaining as it has been for me, CrossFit HQ lights up the social media with all sorts of backhanded, argumentative remarks about the articles.
One of the articles was all about something called rhabdo (Rhabdomyolysis) which is a severely serious reaction to incredibly rapid muscle tissue breakdown. This causes all sorts of damaging toxins to release into the bloodstream and leads to some pretty messed up symptoms.
So, CrossFit teaches about rhabdo in their level 1 seminar, and even makes a joke of the condition by having created a CrossFit mascot named “Pukie”. Anyway, some people don’t understand it, others think it’s funny, some think it’s horrible, and some (like me) just choose to ignore it because CrossFit HQ has always tended to push the envelope with political correctness as they grow (maybe they think it’s cool, maybe they think it will attract attention, maybe they’re just a bunch of weirdo’s, who knows, but they’ve ALWAYS done it).
Anyway, I’ve had a handful of people reach out to me about this article and my thoughts, so I thought I’d write a little something about it.
I will give credit to CrossFit HQ on the fact that they actually raise awareness of it at their level 1 seminar. They are one of the only fitness companies that actually teach all about some of the potential issues that training in their style could lead to. Everyone who has gone to a level 1 seminar will have received a base-level understanding of rhabdo and how to prevent it. In fact, I have had some 5 trainer/coach (not CrossFit obviously) friends of mine admit to not knowing anything about rhabdo, so, credit to CrossFit there for sure.
So, because of the attention CrossFit brings upon itself, it’s easy to assume that training CrossFit will inevitably lead to getting rhabdo. It’s simply not true. Any athlete can get rhabdo, check out HERE, and HERE, and HERE. While intense exercise may increase the risk of more negative issues, it should never be a reason to avoid being intense. Sort of a simple statement that everyone has heard a million times, but: CrossFit does not cause rhabdo, coaches/trainers who push their athletes/clients too hard cause things like rhabdo.
CrossFit claims that since all their coaches have been supplied some info on what rhabdo is, they are actually better informed on how to prevent it than most other coaches. While the statement itself is true, to assume that all their coaches actually practice good coaching methods is a pretty broad and, well, dead-wrong assumption. I have met a TON of CrossFit coaches who have no idea what rhabdo is (and also have no idea how to protect their clients, program properly, or teach proper technique to most movements). To assume the thousands of coaches you put through a 2-day seminar actually care enough to remember and put to practice everything you threw at them is pretty ridiculous. And when you make a public joke of the condition by making your mascot a vomiting, rhadbo-inflicted clown, you’re not helping your cause all that much. So it should not be that surprising that people have a few negative, critical thoughts about the company. It appears as though CrossFit harnesses some sort of pride in the fact that their program has been known to potentially really break people down. A lot of people who actually understand health and fitness know that it is not CrossFit in and of itself that hurts people, but irresponsible coaches that do, as mentioned before. There are bad coaches in CrossFit, just as there are bad coaches with many other backgrounds and certifications.
But if CrossFit really has an issue with people criticizing them, perhaps they’d take a few seconds to change their very confrontational approach. Or, they should continue being confrontational (they claim to not intentionally be controversial, but libertarian), and stop acting all confused and annoyed when people question and criticize them.
Or, all of us people need to realize that this is just what they do. The people who run CrossFit have ALWAYS been pretty abrasive. And now that social media is so popular, and the concept of “trolls” has become a “cool” thing for bored people who think it’s fun to stir up conflict; CrossFit has jumped headfirst into it. And it has brought them TONS of attention. And they don’t care if it’s good or bad. They will fight incredibly established companies and people on twitter, they will talk down to established figures in their own community, they will “play dumb” to conflicts they start, and you can watch the comments and attention roll in.
In my opinion, this is a bit unfortunate and seems to be a little counterintuitive of CrossFit. The concepts that CrossFit originally promoted (and that Greg Glassman talks about when speaking publically) have been some of the most influential in the world for promoting health and fitness. Thousands of new, small gyms, eager to help people live better lives and support each other have popped up around the world thanks to CrossFit. It’s a beautiful thing. Many of the best CrossFit gyms that I have been to (the ones with the best coaches, intelligent programming, understanding of true community and support) generally choose to just ignore the actions of CrossFit HQ and continue to do good, staying out of trouble and controversy.
I suggest that if annoying arguments are something that cause you stress and anxiety, just don’t follow CrossFit on Facebook and twitter, and avoid reading the comments on the articles that pop up about it. They have said over and over again that they could care less if you follow them or not (I’m sure this has led to thousands of more followers as another CrossFit HQ employee has stated). If you like to get all worked up and pissed about stuff, read away! They will not disappoint. I personally find it entertaining here and there.
One of CrossFit HQ’s now-well-known employees made a pretty clear statement about CrossFits approach to what they choose to talk about: “Fuck PR”
My personal thoughts?
I personally love CrossFit as a sport. I train for it, compete in it, appreciate the athletes and what they can do, and how entertaining it is.
I coach all my athletes and clients in athletic performance, not CrossFit. Do you know the difference?
I love that CrossFit has helped create so much more attention to health and fitness. We’ve seen pretty dramatic growth in Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics, track, nutrition and general fitness education thanks to CrossFit. That. Is. Awesome!
I’ve made friends and been able to grow my business into two gyms and a pretty successful blog/brand with direct and indirect influences from CrossFit.
I can’t stand the way CrossFit HQ chooses to act. It used get me so worked up that I would get angry (and even now I will sometimes rant on my dislike for them, or allow one of their instigating posts to get me started on a post myself, or even engage them here and there). Now I just avoid their posts if I am feeling like I don’t need more annoying things in my life.
Nothing you or I say will make them change the way they act. So either read their craziness and engage in whatever way you will, or just stop paying attention. But if you want to get worked up, and pissed off, and question why they choose to act like they do; well, you are just wasting your time and energy. Maybe constantly defending themselves and arguing will get old to them, and they will change (I have actually seen a slight shift in wording in that they actually ask for opinions rather than just randomly post stuff with the implication that they endorse it. Also they have been on a kick recently talking more and more about how scaling and modifying workouts are so important to beginners; and understanding proper movement patterns and technique are more important than times. So who knows).
Either way, CrossFit is here to stay, no matter how they choose to act, and no matter how you feel about it and the people that run it. Take what you will from it and try to ignore the crap if it really bothers you. There are plenty of incredible ways to get into health and fitness, choose the one that helps you the most and you’ll probably have a better life. Easy as that!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
PS - If you want to see what I'm talking about with the Facebook and twitter craziness, just spend 5 minutes on either of the those things on the CrossFit page and you'll see. I don't have the patience to link to them (plus, there are WAY too many and I can't choose the best ones)
This past weekend was a great learning experience for me. First and foremost it showed that I am improving as a CrossFitter. To be able to head into such a well-respected CrossFit competition as The Hopper, and do so well says a good bit about my level of fitness. Ok, cool. Now that the positive comments are out of the way, it's time to get on to the critique!
I found out two major things over the weekend that are the primary sources holding me back from being the competitor I truly want to be. But before I go into them, I want to be sure to let you, the reader, know that the goal with this post is two-fold: to articulate an analysis of myself so that I can help myself get better; and, to inspire you all to do the same with yourself in the process of making YOU better. I am willing to bet that the two issues I detail here are two EXTRAORDINARILY common issues with most people as they drive towards their goals. Next point to be made is what my goals actually are. Well, when I moved back to the East coast I decided that I would make an attempt to calm my absolutely out of control mind by focusing on only a few things for a while. I've written about this a bit before, and if you know me, you know that I come up with a new idea to "change the world" pretty much every few hours. I have literally hundreds of pages of notes, drawings, scribbles, phrases and more, collected over the years, it's crazy. I am very aware that to actually get anything done, I need to pick a few of them and just focus. So, when I moved back I picked two: open a gym, and, make it to the CrossFit Games.
So, back to this weekend. Well, it wasn't really the weekend that showed these issues to me, it really was just the straw that broke the camels back if you will. I know that I am a very good CrossFitter. But, I also know that I am not at the level of those at the very top. If you take the top numbers of all those elite CrossFitters, I would be on the bottom of the charts for pretty much everything. But that's not what I am concerned about. I have faith in my training program and my determination that my numbers will creep up there come Games season and I'll be able to hang with any of those guys. It's my weaknesses. Just like anyone, I have a collection of weaknesses. Except mine are VERY weak. I can not do more than 3 strict handstand push ups. I can not walk on my hands for more than 6 meters. I can not do more than 5 muscle ups. While an elite CrossFitter will show strengths and weaknesses, the differential of ability is nowhere near as great as mine. That is why I placed 1st, 1st, 3rd, 19th, and 3rd on this past weekends events. Clearly I need to "kill my goats". So, upping the body weight work and incorporating that intelligently into my programming is an absolute must.
The second thing I found was that I don't have as strong a fire as the top level competitors. Perhaps it's my baseball background (that's a reference to the fact that baseball by nature is a much more passive game than most sports, and I have learned to approach my athletic endeavors a bit more "chilled" out than others), perhaps it's the marathoning (10 in a year will slow you down a bit). Or, it could be that I legitimately LOVE CrossFitting. I enjoy the struggle of getting through a workout so much, that sometimes I feel as though I just lose myself in the middle of it just to ride the wave. All those top beasts I have met have this intensity before, during, and even after a workout that I just do not share. I don't really compete with the person next to me, or to someone elses' time, I just feed off their energy and then spend what attention I put into each workout seeing what I am personally capable of. Now don't get me wrong, I am still a highly competitive person; just not at the level of most other elite CrossFitters. I feel like those guys want to seek and destroy at all times!
Now here's where the fun begins. From this weekend on I have committed myself 100% to the effort of being a "Serious CrossFitter". This means that everything I do is going to be based around achieving my goals. I will not miss workouts. I will not go on a binge week with food, or sacrifice a portion of my program to go hang with friends. I am lighting that fire as bright as it can be lit and going all out. I am making CrossFit "My Sport", and doing what it takes to get to the next level.
I can see a lot of my friends rolling their eyes at me right now. And to that I respond: everyone knows me as someone who likes a challenge and is willing to experiment with pretty much anything in the activity/fitness/sports/nutrition fields. So, I am experimenting with the idea that if I actually commit myself 100% to something, I could actually be really freaking good at it. This does not mean I am going to spend the rest of my life walking around with a cooler of steamed broccoli, grilled chicken and protein powder. This does not mean I will never again indulge in a brownie or 15, or have a drink or two, or three. It just means that from now until the Games I am going to be "that guy" I am going to be a little more one-track-minded about my priorities in life and I am going to see what I am TRULY capable of doing.
This is going to be a really fun and interesting adventure.
The fire has been lit.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
The other day I was asked a question that has been asked of me many times before, yet I have never openly talked about for some reason. I was asked if I ever just feel like NOT working out, like NOT eating cleanly and just hanging out and just being. This arose from the idea that maybe living this intense, fit lifestyle was just too much work sometimes, and maybe one can get burned out along the way. What do you do? How do you handle the strong, sometimes overwhelming desire to just sit on your ass, skip my next five workouts or more, and DO NOTHING?
Well, this is in no way an easy thing to deal with. Sometimes my first reaction to this, whether it be in myself or a client, is to just say toughen up, stop being such a pansy, put the cookie down and get to work! But then I realize the actual effects of forcing yourself or others into doing something that, honestly, at the time, you/they really do not want to take part in. There is a place for standing up to those lazy thoughts, hell, I'm sure that most CrossFitters and non-CrossFitters alike face those feelings almost every single day. And when you feel the urge to just go lay down in front of the TV, or sleep in an extra hour or two, you have to give yourself a little kick in the butt and just get after it. But, that being said, there is also a place to understand that you actually might be burned-out, over-trained, and in desperate need of a little break. This is all a part of your process, how you choose to approach your journey into the fit life. However, there is a good and bad process; and from my experience (yes, I do struggle with this as much as the next fitness nut) most people choose the bad process.
The Bad Process
"Damn it, I feel so tired, lethargic, I don't want to go to the gym today, I want to crack open a drink, watch some crap TV and eat a couple hamburgers and a huge serving of fries!" Well, there are a few directions your mind can go after that thought, and one that is all wrong is: "god I suck", "I am so weak", "I'll toughen up tomorrow", "this is going to make me so fat", "why do I have to cheat like this!" So on, so on. Do you see what's going on here? Your desire to "cheat" is making you depressed. It's a double edged sword of sorts. First off, you are taking a step back from all the progress you are making; second off, you are punishing yourself for having feelings you feel you "should not be having". Man, this is a crappy situation to be in. I mean, if you're going to have a cookie, you might as well enjoy the hell out of it, right? What's the point of taking a day or two off of exercise if you are going to mope around while you SHOULD be relaxing and recovering, and wallowing in self pity about how lazy you are? Feeling bad about doing things you know are not perfectly in line with your fitness goals will do nothing but make things worse.
Don't Trick Yourself
Everybody knows the age-old concept of giving yourself a cheat day. Well I don't believe in this idea one bit. You are fooling yourself if you think your process deserves scheduled indulgence, you are forcing yourself into your process to hard. Isn't the whole idea of you changing the way you eat, increasing your activity level and leading a healthier life supposed to be to CHANGE YOUR LIFE? Choosing to make changes in your life so that they become a part of your life is the general idea here. So, if the idea is to change your life, and you schedule a cheat day, what you are really doing is convincing yourself that you are powerless to your own decisions. You are showing that sure, you can commit to something, but only six days a week. Allowing this of yourself is defeating the purpose people. Cheating is impossible if you are looking to make a legit change in your life. You should only have things that push you forward and things that set you back. Don't fall into a mind set of your process being something you need to "stick to or else". Don't force yourself into a restrictive, single-track lifestyle that limits your ability to actually enjoy the process. If you give yourself a cheat day, you are telling yourself that the process is something too hard for you to handle. Shoot, in a way, you are setting yourself up to fail because you are consciously predicting that you will be working so hard that you need/deserve a day of indulging in something different. We are smarter than this. Give yourself a little more credit than that and know that if you venture down the path of health and fitness, you are doing so to change your body AND your mind. If you commit to the process, you may have set backs, you may need to tweak things, but you will never stray from getting better and better.
Now there is a very fine line between what I just said and what I am about to say, and I want to make clear that what I refer to here is what goes on in your mind as you live out your process. A "cheat" day is pre-meditatively, allowing yourself to stray from your process. It also is a matter of semantics. To cheat literally means to be deceitful; and, if you are setting up a cheat day within your process, you are being deceitful to yourself, tricking yourself.
The Good Process
Think about this: when you decide on a goal, you proclaim a starting point, and that starting point can be considered Zero ("I will run a marathon", "I will power clean 250#", I will eat strict paleo for 30 days", etc). Once you've reached your goal (or goals), that can be considered 100. From 0 to 100 you must hit every number along the way, this is your process. I can assure you that it will not be a perfect progression, you will not hit 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, then 5, all the way to 100 without a mishap. There will be injuries, unexpected breaks, travel, family issues, holidays, stresses and so many other things that will get in the way of the process. All that matters is that from that starting point, to the day you achieve your goal, it stays in an upward projection. So, you might stay on 35 for a few days, you may even get pushed back to 34 or 33, but the process always stays in your mind as moving forward. If you can accept this concept, then you are already at a huge advantage. You already know that negative things are bound to happen, and you are accepting of that risk. So, when something DOES actually happen, when something stops you in your tracks, you are ready and OK with it.
This honesty with yourself and your process allows you to do one of two things: you will either be able to side-step the issue and keep driving forward (think: turning down that invite to happy hour, and accepting challenge to get to the 6am CrossFit class), or, you can accept that certain situations are inevitable and fully enjoy them (think: Moms awesome stuffing for Thanksgiving, and that unreal smelling pumpkin pie). You must consider the mindset that taking an extra day off, or having seconds at dinner is NOT going to destroy your process, it is PART of the process. Look at everything you choose to do, and make the best out if it, whether it be hoisting a heavy barbell over your head, cooking the perfect fish and vegetable dinner, or watching a movie with a bag of chips. If YOU make the choice to do something, accept, understand, and enjoy it.
This is where the "good process" and "tricking yourself" become very closely interpreted. But you must remember that it is about accepting the inevitable mishap, rather than actually planning it out.
Look At Your Process, I Mean, Really Look At It
So, what do you actually DO when you hit that potential road-block as you train and eat your way to perfect health? Shoot, make the best of it! You grab a seat for a day or two, enjoy in the calm of having some time off. Take that extra time you have to assess whether or not your process is the most effective one. Perhaps, if you are burned out, your programming is too demanding. Perhaps you are being way too strict, or restrictive with your nutrition. Perhaps you need to just run for a couple weeks, or just play pick-up basketball. Think of it this way: the closer you get to having health and fitness truly be a part of your life, the less often you'll get burned out. This seems pretty obvious when I write it, but honestly people, how often do we put too much pressure on ourselves to do, and be something we are not yet? What's the point in change if we are not aware of the process as we change? What's the point in becoming healthy and fit if we do not enjoy becoming healthy and fit? In fact, ARE we healthy and fit if we are not enjoying our healthy foods and active lifestyles? The people who are the most successful are not the ones who work the hardest; they are the ones who work the most passionately. Having a sub-3 minute "Fran", a 450# deadlift and 7% body fat mean nothing if you are stressed, have no friends, and can't sleep at night. If you do not enjoy your process, if fitness is not truly PART of your life, you are just forcing it, and you will never be as healthy as you could be.
Remember to take a step back every now and then to assess what you are doing and where you are heading. If you need to take a week off, take it. If you need to do a week of yoga and easy hiking, try it out. And maybe you are craving some complex carbs, shoot, have some bread. Stop being so damn hard on yourself and you will be amazed at how quickly you will change for the better. Nobody likes a jerk, and your body and mind are the same way. If you are nice and honest to them, they will reward you indefinitely.
Don't avoid challenges, and by no means am I saying give in to every little craving you have. What I am saying is that the more naturally you allow health and fitness become a part of your life, the more effective your efforts will be. You can not force change, that will almost always fail at some point or another. You got to want it, understand it, believe in it, then, just take a step forward every day.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
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