Sunday, May 13, 2012

Battle Lines

One of the hazards of the internet is that it’s very, very easy to find yourself embroiled in an argument. Tone of voice, often so vital for effective communications, is lacking. It’s very easy to believe the worst about someone when you can’t see or hear them. Wars are fought on the internet, words are bullets, cleverly edited pictures and videos serve as weapons of mass destruction, the wounds are emotional but the hurt is real.

I remember when the internet first got “big” back in the 90’s. It was heralded as a way to finally cast off racism, classism and a host of other -isms.  It was supposed to be a pure meeting of minds. All of our problems could be solved by meeting in a neutral space and talking them out. Collaborating over the internet was going to fix everything. Now we watch porn, caption funny pictures of cats and argue about everything from which reality TV star has a better ass to “important” things like who God wants to marry and which political party should win and force their views on the other 49% of the country.  If there was an opportunity here, it didn’t slip through our fingers, we never really tried to catch it.

I’ve been involved in many such battles before. Many times willingly. Recently I’ve made an effort to stop participating in them. One, it’s not good for the blood pressure. It adds stress to your life that you can easily avoid by closing the browser window and walking away to lie in your hammock or play with your dog. Second, it’s better for humanity as a whole. The less time we spend pointlessly bickering as a race, the better chance we have of actually accomplishing something worthwhile with the internet, however slim that chance may be at this point.

Removing myself from internet arguments is one step I’m taking to reduce the amount of stress in my life to aid my health and training. Less stress seems to equal better recovery in my experience and the health effects are well documented. Another step is curtailing my expressions of anger. I’m very good at expressing anger. I can go on a rant and be funny and no one objects as they would if I were screaming profanity and making threats. So in the past I expressed a lot of anger. One of my targets was often Crossfit. 

This is an apology of sorts. In attacking and expressing anger over things I didn’t agree with and didn’t like I lumped a lot things into the category of abjectly evil that didn’t belong there. Yes, I disagree with a lot of the methods, claims and philosophies of Crossfit, especially those espoused by the founders. However, there are people out there who are doing good work with the program and have kept the best parts of it, including the community and its willingness to help others and brought those to the forefront while discarding the dangerous and ineffective. I know a few personally. In my desire to be “right” I have indirectly yet still unfairly labeled those people with the same brand as the ones that have taken the program to its dangerous extreme. For the record, every program has a dangerous extreme.

I’m walking a fine line here for two reasons, one, I don’t want to write something slanderous and second, I don’t want to start this war all over again. I could write a scathing and detailed critique of what I see wrong and what I don’t like but Google will give you hundreds of them, many written by people more intelligent and experienced in such matters than me. What I will give instead are my reasons for not doing Crossfit. I will leave the rest for other internet warriors to fight over somewhere else. I’m retired.

Understand this first, logically your personal philosophy and/or preferences should have no place in training. The only thing that should matter is the question “Will this help me meet my goals?” If you don’t have defined goals to meet, well, we have a whole different issue there. But a 100% rational decision should not include doing a program because you like being pushed to your limit in one way or another, it should be based on doing things that helped others succeed in achieving a similar goal. Obviously, none of us are 100% rational, but for the moment let’s pretend we are. Looking at my goals we have two primaries and two secondary. The primary goals are; Throw heavy things further and Get stronger to assist with throwing. My secondary goals are; maintain a bodyfat level and run time that allows me to pass the AFPT test.

Crossfit is not the optimal path to strength. Nor is it the optimal path to the type of power generation needed to throw heavy things further. I don’t need a long list of studies, essays and anecdotal evidence to make this statement. Just using common sense we can look at elite throwers and weightlifters the world over (again we’re talking the top 10 to 1% here) and see that very few (or none) of them got there doing Crossfit. You will find statements from those in the Crossfit community both celebrating this and yet making thinly veiled claims that you could make it to that level with Crossfit. I will not speculate on which the official view of the community is. However, at the elite level, if something works well many athletes will be doing it and the majority of throwers seem to be training for strength and throwing heavy things on a regular basis.

Crossfit could help some in my secondary goals and I have often used HIIT (seemingly a cornerstone of their program) in the past for conditioning and fat loss. I’ve found it very effective for fat loss but not as effective for helping to maintain my run time. Following Dan John’s postulate that Thowers throw is the corollary that Runners must run. If my goal is running then again it would seem to be common sense that running would be a better investment of my time and energy than 200 burpees.

For fat loss, or rather maintaining a reasonable bodyfat level, I believe the largest portion of this is diet. Diet is my preferred method of cutting fat as I already exercise frequently and it’s required for effective fat loss anyway. So rather than doing 200 burpees in an effort to lose fat, I’ll simply restrict calories or carbs or whatever for a couple months at a time as needed.

So, all of my goals can be met by what I’m already doing. I’m lifting weights in what is widely held as the optimal path to strength, throwing heavy things frequently and I’m following the most logical choices to improve my run time and maintain my bodyfat level without compromising my primary goals.

This, people, this is the real focus of my essay. I’m not trying to discourage people from doing Crossfit if they love it and even if I were I doubt it would change anyone’s minds. Enjoyment and a strong community can have that kind of effect. What I am proposing is that people apply the same kind of logic I have here to their own goals when they choose a program to follow or what parts of it to follow. If your goal is simply to lose weight and pass the AFPT, then Crossfit may be a valid and effective choice so long as you are prudent in its application.

Do you need to use high rep Olympic lifts for fat loss when you could grab a couple of dumbbells and do some simple complexes or even just do hill sprints? Is a complicated semi random routine involving varying methodologies across broad modal domains needed to get rid of a beer gut? Will the community frustrate me or help keep me motivated? These are the kinds of things that need to be taken into account. Most often people simply read the claims in the brochure and assume that because the guy selling them the membership looks pretty fit, they are accurate and factual.

There are people out there who recognize the validity of this process and yet are still part of the Crossfit community. I recently spotted a Crossfit challenge that stated that “no Olympic lifting was required”. As much as I love the Oly lifts I was happy to see this because it’s a sure sign of someone moving away from doctrine to both reach more people and adjust a program to match the needs and goals of their customers. 

That is why I’ve stopped the Crossfit hate. The community and the program are maturing. True, there will always be hardliners who take things too far. There will still be videos of dangerous and disturbing things on the internet. There were videos like that long before Crossfit and if it were wiped off the earth tomorrow, more videos would be made without it. People will still get hurt. People get hurt using other programs besides Crossfit. But overall things seem to be evolving; the best parts are being distilled out of the crap. For the sake of those who can benefit from Crossfit and its strong community and also for the sake of my peace of mind, I’m letting it be.

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