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)
So I mentioned yesterday about getting the handstand push up (HSPU) finally, here is how it all happened (this is going to be a bit of a geek-out post, just a heads up...:
First, let's talk about what was going on before yesterdays joyous discovery. I basically had convinced myself that i had fundamental inability to perform a decent HSPU. Talking with a handful of experts I had come to a couple things: try to engage maximal muscle use, and work on stimulating smaller muscles in and around the shoulder in case any of them shut down in the HSPU position. The first of these is that I would need to look at the exercises in the same way one looks at an overhead press. With the understanding of powerlifting I have, that means to poof the chest out a little bit, allow the back to arch a bit as to get the chest engaged enough to help the pushing action. While your body is no longer in the neutral position, you can basically just muscle through the movement, if you are strong enough. The second part was to focus on the muscles used for the movement, roll out all the small ones and hope that I could "awaken" them enough to help when I needed them. Both seemed like pretty logical fixes that made a ton of sense to me. But, both did not work in any possible way. As mentioned in an earlier post, if you had been there you would have had the same face of sheer confusion as i struggled with just about every hand position, kipping style and so on that I could. I was able to get 3 total reps out of about 20+ attempts. My mindset had basically become: "grind the gears" a little (attempt to get reps whenever I could) and just prey that something awesome would happen come Friday with the workout.
Then, after a few days of bombarding the Internet looking for any and every possible hint of help and advice (my boy Jim Bathurst's site Beast Skills was very helpful for little tidbits), I finally came across Carl Paoli's blog Gymnastics WOD. Carl is a gymnast and trainer out of CrossFit San Francisco that I met a couple times while living out there, and he has some really awesome pointers for people looking to get a bit better gymnastics skills. He posted up a handful of videos on how to improve some points needed for the coming CrossFit Regionals. The first two were on the HSPU and after watching the first one, well, it was like a freaking miracle. I hopped up tot eh wall and banged out 5 solid, smooth, comfortable reps. It was only a couple hours later that I got 6 reps with a 2-inch deficit, giving me an entirely refreshed sense of excitement for the coming event!
There was one main thing that he talked about that helped the most, but honestly it was the combination of three things, along with a realization about how the body works that got things rolling for me. First, he talked about alignment of the arms and where your hands should be positioned so that your body would be most efficiently utilized (rather than going crazy here, check out the video I link through to, it’ll explain it pretty well). Next, it was how to kip. I had been attempted to kip with a major jerk form the knee joint. Carl explains that this forces you out of a “hollow”, supported position very quickly and I found that the second I fall out of that position, well, I fail. So, I needed to be sure my kip was such that my hollow position was held. Well shoot, I actually forgot one more before the main point! This is where the head should be when lowered. Carl suggests to bring the head down so to create a tripod between it and your two hands, this allows a more stable base that again helps to keep the hollow position AND in turn, a stronger press. The final, and the most effective point for me was simply to tuck the chin. I had been focusing so much on looking at the floor (like I am in the picture above) and this basically was forcing me completely out of an effective position and zapping all power out of my body. The second I tucked my chin (and focused on those other points) I got them!
So, what did I realize on my own about all this? I had been focusing on replicating the overhead press for the HSPU and this actually turned out to NOT be a smart move! The overhead press is an open kinetic chain exercise, meaning your limbs are moving through space (you press against something hard enough that IT moves); while the HSPU is a closed kinetic chain exercise (you push against something so hard YOU move). These demand totally different things from your body. With open chain movements, it’s all about engaging more muscle; that is why a slight arch in the back and a poofed out chest on an overhead press is so helpful, you are using more muscle. In closed chain movement, alignment is king. If you are not aligned perfectly, you are killing your ability to move efficiently, you are draining power.
This closed and open chain movement concept, while learned in basic personal training certification tests, seems to have much deeper impact on how we function. And as a trainer I am always searching for new and improved ways to approach how to get better. This just makes sense to me, so much! It is also a pretty new concept to be taken this seriously by me so I am still in the process of understanding it at a greater level. Meaning: I am open to discussion. Moral of the story is twofold: when you feel like you just cannot do something, try to think outside the box a little. And, not every movement is created equal, even if it the same movement. This explains why some dude who can bench press 400 pounds can not do more than 30 push ups (by the way, it is almost always transferable the other way; a gymnast can translate his/her abilities quicker to a barbell than a barbell practitioner could translate to gymnastics). Something to consider very seriously: before trying to set a personal record on the power and Olympic lifts, perhaps try to perfect some of the main gymnastics movements first. You’re barbell lifts will benefit that much more from it.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Today I made my way for the well-known Noon Class at San Francisco CrossFit. What a time it was! San Francisco CrossFit has situated itself as one of the more well-known affiliates and this is for a few different reasons. I found each of them stood out noticeably during my time there.
First off, location an feel:
Yeah, for those of you who don't know about where this place is, you are missing out like crazy! Head down to the Presidio and to the awesome sporting goods store The Sports Basement. Now, find your way to the back of the crazy store, right next to the incredibly scenic view of the water flowing under the Golden Gate Bridge. Walk through the gate to what would be a loading dock/storage area of the store and you'll see a big old tent and a couple trailers in the corner. That's it, that's San Francisco CrossFit. There's a row of equipment leading up to the gym/tent, some tires, GHD's a port-a-john, and more, all resting up against a trailer that houses the master of mobility Kelly Starrett's work space. Then there's the huge tent. They have rubber flooring spread underneath it, a handful of racks, and one of the most rugged, thrown-together pull racks I have ever seen. Pressed right up to the flooring is an old truck trailer where they house all the equipment. Plates, bars, KB;s and all that galore stacked inside the trailer, along with a little desk as the main office.
All I know is that these guys prove that it has absolutely nothing to do with your set up, your equipment, your gym location and so on; it is completely the level of coaching and programming that make the gym. Sure it's great to have fancy bars and platforms and racks, but hell man, those are not NEEDED. What's truly needed is a program and a coach that gets you in the damn best shape of your life. And when a place does that, it brings in people. And when a place does that as well as San Francisco CrossFit, it brings in people by the truckloads!
Looking through their list of coaches, it is basically a who's-who in the CrossFit world. Kelly Starrett and is insanely popular and ingenious Mobility WOD leads the team in an effort to offer top-tier training to anyone who cares to embrace it. Angel, Carl, John, Kimarie, Roop, Corrine, Tonya and Robert, all of them top of the line! And for the noon class, we had Diane, an extremely well-educated and motivating coach. She had us get warmed up, split up into groups and then wandered amongst us as we all went for our 1 Rep Max thurster. She was very approachable, laid back and welcoming. This personality was clearly something all the coaches there go for, and when the entire class stated off with making sure everyone met each other, you know you have just stepped into a very, very awesome community.
Holy crap, these guys practically define the perfect fitness community. Kelly told me when I strolled in there that they print out waivers by the 500, and go through them faster than he can imagine. Basically, San Francisco CrossFit is THE go-to CrossFit in the Bay area, people will go out of their way to come check it out. I would say there was about 20 people there and besides me, I think I counted 6 or so other first-timers. So, there's a place that is practically thrown together, rusty equipment, barely any protection from the rain (oh yeah, it was raining pretty hard for our entire workout, nobody seemed to mind at all, so cool!) and it still stands out as one of the most attractive places to get a workout in. For sure, this is hands down the best example of "it's not the gym, it's the coaches" I have ever seen.
Establish a 1 rep max Thruster
5 rounds of max reps of:
push ups / pull ups
I was feeling a little tight, and wearing my pants and sweatshirt I felt a little constricted, but I ended up throwing 225# overhead with ease and was pumped up! I went ahead with 235# and missed it. Well shoot, I missed it three times before calling it a day. I was a bit frustrated especially with how easy 225# felt, but I'll take it. Not totally sure if that's a PR for me, but the fact the bar felt so light, I'm happy.
The pull ups and push ups were fun. Their pull ups rig shacks and wobbles like crazy but we all just took our tuns and went all out. I was able to bang out sets of 40/36, 30/27, 24/20, 17/13, 18/15. I felt like a body builder with the pump from that workout, and my right hand is missing a fair amount of skin, but I was very happy with those numbers.
All in all I enjoyed my tine with the Noon group very much. I really hope to get back there a few more times over the coming months, and I really suggest checking it out if yo are ever in the city. There is nothing like throwing around heavy weights in the great outdoors. And having the Golden Gate Bridge looming in the distance is an inspirational backdrop. An all around cool place. Tons of support no matter who you are, great (and I mean GREAT) coaching and programming, friendly faces and cool surrounding, what more do you need?!
San Francisco CrossFit
610 Old Mason Street, The Presidio
San Francisco, CA 94129
I re-scheduled Mad Dawg Fitness to next week, needed a little recovery. Tomorrow I have an epic showdown at LaLanne Fitness!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
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