Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Middle Way of CrossFit, a.k.a. Why CrossFit isn't just for the "badasses" and also isn't going to kill you

There's no shortage of opinions out there about CrossFit. A visit to Dr. Google will tell you whatever you'd like to hear. Do a search on a phrase like "CrossFit kills" and see all the reasons why a visit to your local affiliate is the exercise equivalent of smoking while pumping gas… while joining a doomsday cult. Conversely, the opposite type of search will reveal an abundance of pro-CrossFit exhortations and dogma: Be a "badass," yo, and "crush" things like weakness, fear and the competition.

And really, I don't care whether you fall into one of those extreme categories: the CF hater or the CF fanatic. I just want you to know that there's a less, um, intense position on the subject.

I'm a 51-year-old guy who does CrossFit for reasons that have nothing to do with all the "badass" hyperbole. For me it is a lot simpler: I can't find a more efficient way to stay fitter than most of my age group without grinding myself into bits.

See, I have a lot of stuff going on. I bet you do too. Life is busy, and doing things like I used to do in my pre-CrossFit days -- like going to the globo gym six freaking days a week, sometimes seven, for well over an hour each day -- seems particularly counterproductive, ridiculous and a giant time-suck on my already-busy life, when three days a week of one-hour CrossFit classes (that's one total hour from warmup to the time I leave) have me fitter, faster, stronger and happier than all that treadmill/machine-filled hoo-hah that I did way back then.

When I showed up in the garage gym of my CF trainer Justin a few years ago, I couldn't air-squat below parallel without a huge amount of effort. Forget squatting with a barbell. Just the simple flexibility needed to do the most basic air squat over and over was missing from my exercise ability. Fast-forward to today and, after three+ years of CF, I am no superhero, but my one-rep front squat is getting close to 300 pounds and my back squat is a few pounds more. My deadlift just hit 400 pounds, and I farmer's-carried 430 for fifty feet across the gym a couple weeks ago. In other words, I am doing some decent work on some powerlifts for a guy my age.

But let's not pretend that all my lifts are even competent, let alone decent or credible. Drumming injuries, and a resulting inability to lock out my right elbow, have left me with a pretty awful strict press. And, let's face it, doing really well with the Olympic lifts (clean, jerk, snatch) requires full-body speed that I don't really have at my age. I'll do those lifts occasionally -- they are fun -- but my current versions of them are sad imitations of what they could have been were I doing them in my teens or twenties.

And even on lifts where I am doing solid work, the harsh truth is that there are Masters athletes -- folks my age and older -- at the CrossFit Games that crush those numbers.

But I don't care. Those guys (and gals) are working at a whole different level than I am, and I am good with that. The same is true of some uber-fit mostly-younger folks at our gym who do local CF competitions that I would never think to enter. In other words, their goals are different than mine -- and that's cool; to each his or her own -- and it doesn't stress me out or make me feel bad that they are hitting performance levels that I am not.

I go to CrossFit for one simple reason: to feel good. And I feel very good. Happiness is not overrated. A lot of smart trainers (CF and otherwise) will tell you that the exercise portion of the path to better body comp and injury-free health and longevity goes something like: lift heavy a few days a week, walk every day that you can, do some sprint-style metabolic-conditioning (metcon) work a couple/three times a week and, with a little additional mobility emphasis, you are good to go. Three days a week of CrossFit at a gym where we do mobility work, a strength lift plus a metcon in the course of a single one-hour session does all that for me (except the walking -- that's on me), and does so with an efficiency and a general absence of a major sustained beatdown that I haven't found anywhere else. Is it intense for that hour? Sure. Is it easy? No. But it also isn't the complete physical meltdown that some of either the extreme detractors or the extreme proponents of CF want you to believe it is.

And I also tailor CrossFit to my own needs. It's a rare day when you will find me grinding out a metcon that lasts more than 15 minutes, and, more often, I am focused on the five to twelve-minute range. You know: sprints, or the equivalent. The Filthy Fifty? No. I'm not doing it. For me it is a needless cortisol bomb akin to distance running. It does very little for me in the way of positive progress, and it just wears me down and spits me out, probably causing me to retain body fat, not shed it. The same is true of "hero" workouts like Murph. I salute the heroes, and then I do a much shorter workout. 40-ish minutes of "chronic cardio" is not why I do CrossFit. And there are CrossFit skills, like double-unders, that I don't have much interest in because I don't see a translation for double unders into everyday life, so I don't bother. If I were entering competitions, yeah I would need them and learn them. But I'm not. I am just having fun and doing things to enhance the rest of my existence. Put differently, CrossFit is not my "sport" and I am not "competing" with anyone, except perhaps myself. It is just a way for me to stay fit. Sensibly.

So, in my middle-ground approach, I'm not "forging elite fitness" or a training like a potential CrossFit Games competitor, but I am also not a burgeoning case of rhabdomyalysis or some other horror-story scenario that the haters will paint for you. I am just an older dude who feels really freaking good by doing this stuff a few days a week -- better than I ever did when I appeared to be trying much harder (but failing) to be this fit by six days per week of attendance at a globo gym.

CrossFit: it can be a "sport" but it doesn't have to be. It can also just be a great way to stay fit. It's your choice, and, either way, if your gym is anything like ours, you'll get invited to more great parties than you used to.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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