A New Guy’s Take on Crossfit and Family

This is a peice I wrote a few years ago. I am reposting because I am missing my gym family…

Six months ago I had only heard of Crossfit in passing. I didn’t know what a wall-ball was, had never heard the term Olympic Lifting, and would have checked to make sure my kids weren’t around if someone had started talking to me about snatches or improving their clean and jerk.

I am a Crossfit New Guy.

A Lifetime of Fitness

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

I am not new to fitness. As a former collegiate gymnast turned rock climber, I spent much of my life in a gym and have been a part of some sort of fitness family for about 27 of my 33 years on this planet. Rock climbing has consumed the majority the last 10 years of my life, but due to a nagging injury that seems to only surface whenever I climb, I begrudgingly have been keeping myself out of my home away from home.

My wife and I have some friends who are part of a local crossfit gym and we have seen the transformation it has had on them. Thus, with some prodding from my better half, I decided to go check it out. I had always been skeptical about crossfit gyms as I thought they had a certain reputation that I wasn’t a fan of, but judging things by their reputations is something I try not to do. So on a sunny Saturday morning I drove myself to our friends’ gym.

Boy was I shocked by what I discovered.

Crossfit is so much fun! The reputation of aggressive weightlifters that talk about eating nothing but meat and more crossfit was completely unfounded. In fact the coaches don’t even use terms like “box” or “paleo”. The first coach I met was super mellow and quite receptive to my newness to the crossfit world and quickly tailored my first basics class to my strengths and weaknesses. Being that I have an extensive gymnastics background and came from 10+ years of climbing we mostly focused on how to do the barbell movements and olympic lifts.

The Importance of Family First

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

What shocked me the most on that first day, was the family feel that the gym had that was so similar to my current climbing gym and gymnastics gyms of the past. In fact there seems to be almost more of a family centric feel since the crossfit gym doesn’t have college night, birthday parties, boy scout troops earning badges, or boyfriends trying to get their girlfriends to “just grab that hold!”. Fewer transients coming through the gym means you mostly see regular members…something that only strengthens that family aura.

Now crossfit isn’t for everyone. I LOVE to work out and leading a life of fitness is a big part of who I am. For me crossfit is perfect for what I want in a workout regiment and once I figured out that all that crossfit is, is a bunch of people who really like to workout and be healthy, I was all in. Perhaps I’ve been lucky with some great coaches, but I think that I have found a sport/workout routine that I’ll stick with for a while.

How Does Crossfit Help with Climbing?

Photo by Tristan Pineda on Unsplash

Good question.

I don’t actually know yet. Due to that climbing injury I mentioned, I’ve forced myself to stay out of my climbing gym which can be really tough to do. I’m sure that my climbing specific endurance is not good but I know for a fact that if I went out and climbed a moderate 1,000 foot climb I’d have a lot more overall stamina. If you ever get to jump on a big wall like Half Dome in Yosemite, you’ll find out that 75% of your energy isn’t spent climbing but doing everything from hauling, ascending ropes, and more. You have to be in shape if you want to last on a big wall and I know that crossfit has whipped me back into shape fast.

Is crossfit for you? I don’t know but I encourage you to at least give it a shot. Even for just a workout or two.

As for me, I have some big Yosemite plans this spring and I know I’ll be ready…thanks to my Crossfit family.

This was first posted over on Medium. If you like these longer form posts, you can get early access to them by becoming a Patron for $1 a month.

Crossfit Should Reward Virtuosity

As a former gymnast, watching new athletes in Crossfit can be terrfying at times…

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash
Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

When I first started Crossfit I did what I normally do with any new interest…started researching and reading about it. A few of the first few things I came across were straight from the Crossfit HQ website. The founder of Crossfit, Greg Glassman, wrote about what is known as “virtuosity” in the sport of gymnastics and how those participating in Crossfit should strive towards this…especially those new to the sport.

Glassman’s definition of virtuosity as it applies to Crossfit

Virtuosity, though, is a different beast altogether. Virtuosity is defined in gymnastics as “performing the common uncommonly well.” Unlike risk and originality, virtuosity is elusive, supremely elusive. It is, however, readily recognized by audience as well as coach and athlete. But more importantly, more to my point, virtuosity is more than the requirement for that last tenth of a point; it is always the mark of true mastery (and of genius and beauty).

Fundamentals, Virtuosity, and Mastery

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash
Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

As Glassman says in his article, just completing a routine does not award 10 out of 10 possible points – only 9.7. The last 3 tenths of a point come from performing the routine and included skills with exceptional mastery. In gymnastics, every competitor will finish, but the real question is who can finish and demonstrate the technical prowess and perfection that will warrant those last 0.3 points.

Crossfit on the other hand isn’t geared towards rewarding technical excellence at all. At least Crossfit the sport isn’t and Crossfit the workout program only emphasizes virtuosity if a coach is of that mindset. The sport of Crossfit is primarily about whose time is fastest, who can lift the most, and reps versus no reps.

Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash
Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

An Example

Many may think of a possible example with the Josh Bridges incident during the 16.4 Open workout. Being the elite athlete that he is, he had to submit a video of his workout and after being named the winner of that week’s workout the internet exploded with accusations of no reps on his deadlifts…which was in part supported by Crossfit HQ. Was this a case of Crossfit HQ docking him for a lack of virtuosity?….Nope. It was merely the enforcement of a rep versus no rep for the actual movement based on preset standards.

So what might be an example of rewarding virtuosity in Crossfit? Let’s look at any Open workout that includes the bar muscle up.

While it was super exciting to see a thousand videos of people kicking and flailing their way to their #firstbarmuscleup – I would not say their execution of the skill demonstrated mastery…obviously. Not to bring anyone down, but we’re looking for as close to perfection of the movement as possible. For the bar muscle up that might include, straight legs that don’t separate, pointed toes (if shoeless), almost no bend in the arms when coming over the bar, smooth kipping motions, and hey…why not stick the landing when you come off before running to those light power snatches? (ok, that last one my be a bit much)

Perhaps an elite athlete who submitted a video of their beautifully performed Open workout would get a 5% – 10% virtuosity bump in their score. That might be worth it enough for people to actually strive towards this technical mastery. (Bridges got a 15% reduction in reps as a major penalty so this would be in line with that scoring system)

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash
Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

Should Crossfit Reward Virtuosity?

At this point you’re probably thinking “Seriously?…Stick the landing? Ok new guy, go back to your Box and I’ll show you where you can stick your landing. That is just going to slow me down”.

Well that is part of what virtuosity is. Should your snatch also be judged on form and if you take a couple wobbly steps as you stand up? Should your deadlift reps be reduced if you are one of those people who tend to round their back a little as the reps go on? If you do 30 beautiful muscle-ups should you be rewarded with 5 extra if performed with perfect form and finesse? Perhaps your Diane time would be reduced if you do strict handstand push-ups with good form vice kipping?

Personally I think it would be cool to incorporate a bonus for virtuosity at a Crossfit Qualifying Competition or even at the Games but I don’t think it would work in the Open. Also I don’t believe there should be a penalty for less than virtuous form as Crossfit the sport is still primarily geared towards rep completion and “for time” workouts.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash
Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

Ultimately Glassman spelled it out correctly, athletes new to the sport should strive for virtuosity but typically don’t….which is often their downfall and leads to easier injury. Striving towards this technical mastery actually creates efficiency of movement and will, in the long run, make you faster and able to complete more reps with less energy.

However, I would venture to guess that this is not emphasized enough in Crossfit affiliate boxes even though proper movement is what they teach in the Level 1 certification course. We are a monkey see monkey do society at times, and if all we see are the highest level athletes going 100 miles an hour in every workout, with no emphasis on “virtuosity” in the scoring system, then most other lower level athletes will believe that completion of a movement is paramount; not form, efficiency, and safety.

Crossfit HQ has made a lot of changes recently. This one might be worth it too.

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