Monday, November 30, 2015

CROSSFIT: The Ins/Outs, How To Spot A Good Coach, And Pick A Box That's Right For You

"CROSSFIT:  Increased Work Capacity, Across Broad Time & Modal Domains"

~ Coach Gregg Glassman

I get a lot of email with questions.  Questions about everything from health, to fitness, to sports nutrition to complimentary medicine.  This blog is about addressing various topics that seem to re-surface frequently.  A question I get asked quite a bit is "Almine, your posts have inspired me to try 'CrossFit,' except I don't know where to start.  I'm not sure what to look for in a 'CrossFit' gym (a.k.a. "box"), or a coach.  What would you advise?"

This is a good question.  One I wish I'd asked myself, when I first started 'CrossFit,' almost 9 yrs. ago. People may go for trophies, or entries at "The CrossFit Games," and that's all great.  That's not my goal, however.  That's almost a sacriligious thing to say as a veteran 'CrossFitter," (not to mention coach).  I don't care about competing in it at all.  I enjoy the occasional "for fun" team comp., but am not in it to win it with "CrossFit."  I actually, think that's one of my secrets of longevity in a sport that's renowned for its injuries.  The vast majority of people that seem to have a short "shelf life" with "CrossFit," are typically the competitors.  "CrossFit" is my 3x a week cross-training program for the other sports I do in my life.  It excels in this department.  Every other sport I do benefits from my foundation of "CrossFit," but that's the extent of it for me.  When I say that to other "CrossFitters" they seem dumbfounded.  It's the folks that eat, sleep, and breathe "CrossFit" that I observe to be the ones most injured.

The philosophy of "CrossFit" is to move your body in as many ways as possible in an anaerobic state.  When you recommend "CrossFitters" do this outside their "box" (gym) they almost seem panicked.  Suggest they head to a pool?  They seem bewildered.

It's important to examine any system of training you're into with a critical eye.  This is difficult when you're bias, and love something so much.  It's hard to be own's own critic.  I do think a worthy effort, however, at this is important.  It's important to be able to drop a system that has worked for you, when something better comes along, that shows more promise.  With that being said, in almost 9 yrs., something better hasn't proven itself to me in the cross-training department, more than "CrossFit."  When it does, I'm open to embracing that.  You have to be willing to change, at a moment's notice, when opportunity knocks.  That's how I embraced "CrossFit."  I let go of my previous cross-training system, when "CrossFit" proved itself to me in the gains department.  I will do that again, should something better prove itself to me.  That is what a good personal trainer, and/or coach does.  They're constantly seeking better ways to enhance human bio-mechanics for elite performance.  It's that simple.

Let's examine some critiques of "CrossFit," and some solutions to those critiques.  Some are justified, some aren't.  Let's have an honest, raw look at the ins/outs of "CrossFit," with the hopes it may bring clarity to those just starting, and those who are seasoned.

1)  HOW TO SPOT A GOOD COACH:  This is crucial to your "CrossFit" experience.  Membership at a "CrossFit" gym isn't cheap.  You have a right to interview a coach about his/her experience level and credentials.  Some things I suggest you look for:  a degree in exercise physiology, several years of previous experience as a personal trainer (before they became a "CrossFit" coach), any type of medical professional background (which will entail anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, etc.).  Even though standards are being raised by headquarters, I still feel as a medical professional, "CrossFit" coach and personal trainer, that the one weekend seminar to become a coach is insufficient.  Its given "CrossFit" a bad name, which is unfortunate, because the system works.  The vast majority of coaches are inadequately trained, however.   I would NOT be coached by someone who only has a "CrossFit" coach cert.  There are very few coaches who are GOOD coaches, with "CrossFit" certs. only.  One or two good ones, come to mind, but they are far and few between. It's not the norm.  In general, I would stay away from a box that has only "CrossFit" coaches, certified by "CrossFit."  The coaches should have a wide resume of exercise and training background experience, outside of "CrossFit."

"CrossFit" Masters, 2014 (ages 40-60)

Also, the best coaches are typically NOT competitive "CrossFit" athletes.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  This is a blaring criticism I have with the "CrossFit" community.  There's a blanket notion that if you're an amazing competitor, it makes you an amazing coach.  My experience is that they're "oranges" and "apples."  They're two different skill sets.  Rarely, do you find a person who excels at both.   They THINK they do, and therein lies the problem.  If you want to compete in "CrossFit," then great.  But, I would find a coach, who COACHES competitors...but, isn't necessarily one.  That may sound counter-intuitive, but, its not.  Think of the 5'7" basketball coach, who doesn't play basketball, but he's a strategist behind his 6'7" players.  Being a competitive analyst, and mastermind behind top athletes, doesn't actually make you one, and vice versa.  I've found, over the years, that the majority of coaches who compete, have divided attention.  They're thinking of their own competitive "edge," trying to impart that to their students also, all the while being a high quality coach.  Its too many "hats" to wear well.  Its a rare person who does.  They're out there, but once again, its not the norm.

It's also important that your coach is aware of how to scale workouts for people of all ages, and with pre-existing injuries.  Many say they do this, but it doesn't always translate.

I would also advise asking them how many years they've been coaching.  You have a right to ask all these questions.  Don't feel shy about it.  You're hiring them to do a job, and it's an important one.
Personally, I like an "age seasoned" coach.  Generally, I like people to coach me, who are in their 40's, 50's and 60's.   Here's why:  they generally coach with EFFICIENCY in mind.  They make better use of their workouts.  In other words, due to the awareness of their own age, they've learned how to train SMARTER, NOT HARDER.  This is important.  They've figured out the "holes" of ageing athletes, and learned how to fill them with efficient training methods.  This equals longevity for you in "CrossFit."  My goal is to be doing "CrossFit" when I'm 90.  This means, as impatient as I am with my own training, I need to be okay with incremental gains.  This is a hard lesson for me, but a necessary one.  A coach in his/her middle to "golden years" understands this, and encourages this.

2)  BOX LIFE:  The atmosphere and community of "CrossFit" is one of its biggest selling points.  Rightly so.  Countless studies have been done on the human need for belonging.  We can scoff at this need, but it's undeniably there, and it's powerful.  We know that its imperative for health.  No human being is an "island unto himself," no matter how hard we try.  We know that people who are depressed, or going through a rough time, tend to withdraw.  We know that a happy, healthy human is able to give and receive love with others.  "CrossFit" facilitates this need for belonging and community in a world that appears to be getting more "global," yet is simultaneously producing more isolation.  I don't belong to a church.  As a Buddhist, the "sangha" (meditation group) is paramount to support one's meditation practice.  Bend is a small community.  I have no sangha here.  I'm a lone meditator.  Sometimes I like this.  Sometimes I don't.  "CrossFit" has been a stable community for me for almost 9 yrs.  When I say "community," I mean a large one.  I've traveled quite a bit, internationally, in those 9 yrs., and no matter what country I've been in, if I walk into a "CrossFit" box there, I'm welcome.   This feels good.  It feels like coming home.  I don't negate this need for belonging.  I'm just honest about it, and am good with its function in my life.  They call "CrossFit" the "Cult Of Fitness."  There's a lot of accuracy to this statement.  This has some perks, and some drawbacks.  I'm aware of both, and choose to capitalize on the perks of this community.


With that being said, there's some basic things to assess the "health" of a box by:

- Small class sizes (no more than 7-10 max per class)
-Multiple class offerings throughout the day
-A Fundamentals or "On Ramp" class offered
-"Open Gym", where an experienced coach can help you target (and work on) your weaknesses
-A bonus is a class offered, dedicated to "Olympic Lifting," which is an art in and of itself, and deserves focused work
-A kids class.  Kids will be inspired by their parents lifestyle habits, and dedication to "CrossFit," and can also benefit from the community, and physical fitness
-A competitors class, where people who are focused for competitions can train together, get advice from a competition-focused coach, and support one another's goals.

Sometimes the above mentioned things are dictated by space.  If you have a large box, the above mentioned classes will be easier to accomodate.  If the box is small, additional class offerings may not be an option.  If you can find a box with several of the above things mentioned, it's a good plan.

3)  SHOP AROUND:  This is important.  Try out several different boxes.  They'll each have their own personality.  Since I started "CrossFit" I've been a member of 4 different boxes.  I can attest that they're each completely different.  I've gone to several different boxes in the Portland, Oregon area.  Each had it's own feel.  At one box, the coaches were wearing tie-dye, and the mothers were all sitting around in the locker room, after class...knitting! (True Story).  It was the classic "Portlandia Box."  I went to another that was nothing but "meat heads," where all they did was lifts, and strength sets.  Zero met con.  The one I went to in Vegas was "perfectly Vegas."  It was hilarious.  The coach's name was Guido, and about half the class members were strippers, who had just come off "the morning shift."  The perfect Vegas "CrossFit" experience.  Too funny!  It's like finding a shoe with the perfect fit.  Try out a number of them, if you have the option to do so in your area.  Don't rule "CrossFit" out, because you went to a box that didn't match your personality type.  Most boxes will let you try 1-2 classes there for free.  You'll want to call in advance to confirm this.


4) DON'T ACT LIKE A TEENAGER:  What does this mean?  Any parent will tell their teenager not to succumb to peer pressure.  I would admonish the same for "CrossFitters."  Here's why:  everyone feels pressure to beat the clock, their fellow classmates, and to proudly present their time on the white board.  This is okay...for AWHILE.  This is where the criticism comes into play from other fitness professionals.  They say "This is where the injuries happen."  They are right...IF...the person succumbs to peer pressure, like a teenager.   My problem with authority has pros and cons.  It makes me a good fit for being self-employed.  I don't take orders well from people I don't respect.  I also don't like to be pressured to do things "by the herd."  If you want to be 90, and still doing "CrossFit," eventually, you'll have to tell the voices in your head, the clock, and anyone else pressuring you (which they shouldn't be doing) to "Fuck Off" (with a smile, of course).  You need to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.  This is the only way to do anything.  Your coach is not a babysitter.  They are merely a guide.  They can't read your mind, and you shouldn't expect them to.  They're there to offer cues.  You must check in with where you're at, on any given day.  Maybe you didn't get quality sleep the night before.  Ladies, maybe you're having cramps.  Maybe you have some emotional things going on in your life.  Who knows?  Your coach doesn't know this.  Only YOU do.  If someone tells you to slap more weight on the bar, you need to do a mental/physical inventory on yourself.  And, be honest.  Are you in a place that day to PR your 1-rep max?  Maybe today's just a day to go light, and work on speed.  ALL of that is good training, and okay.  You don't have to succumb to some invisible peer pressure to do something you're not ready to do.  That will be a lesson to you in "CrossFit."  I'm convinced that's one, of several reasons, why I remain injury free doing  it.  I listen to myself on any given day, do what I feel I'm up for, and let go of what others think of me.  This is an ongoing process, and it's not always easy.  It's a powerful lesson that does translate into my daily life.  "CrossFit" teaches me to listen to myself.


There are many things I've not touched on, but I think the things mentioned are helpful to keep in mind.  I'm 39.  I'm not 20.  For the first time in my life, this year, I signed up for a competition (in a different sport) in the "Master's Category."  I'm aware of where I'm at in the life cycle, and am enjoying where I'm at.  I believe ageing occurs, but decline in health is optional.   "CrossFit" is a way I ensure continued fitness for all the activities I love doing in my life.  I'm both grateful for what it's given me, and am also aware of it's short comings, which makes me enjoy it for what it is.  This takes it off a pedestal, and instead makes it applicable.

I hope you've found some of the above suggestions helpful.  Feel free to share this blog post on your box website, and/or social media pages.  I think it's a helpful list of some suggestions, which can help you enjoy your "CrossFit" experience, particularly, if you're new to "CrossFit."