Monday, July 28, 2014

The lemming state of mind, or why there's a valuable lesson in "Crossing the Line"

There's an ESPN video about CrossFit called "Crossing the Line" that is circulating the blog/Facebook-sphere. Your reaction to it is, quite possibly, going to be governed by your opinion about CrossFit itself.

If you are a CF hater, undoubtedly you will find something to rant and rave about. "See! CrossFit is dangerous. Women and children (and possibly puppies), are being killed by overzealous, untrained Olympic lifting and crazy gymnastic movements."

And if you are a CrossFit devotee, you may be a little riled. "How dare you, ESPN?! Right in the midst of the CrossFit Games that you are televising, no less! Heresy! Where is your loyalty?"

I'm going to go against the grain a little....

As you may know, I love CrossFit. It changed my life. 

But that video doesn't have me annoyed, feeling defensive or otherwise wound up. I think there is a lot to like about some of it.

As I just recently told you with regard to food choices, I don't think you should be ceding any of your health decisions to others. Sure, get all the good advice you can, but, in the end, whether or not someone else is telling you to eat, or not eat, something, it is going to be you -- You! -- who has to put on the big-boy/big-girl pants at some point and make the call whether a particular food item is going down your own piehole.

Unsurprisingly, I feel the same way about exercise.

Just as it's a bad idea to approach food with the attitude of "Just tell me what to do and I will follow your instructions like a robot," that same mindset is going to cause trouble in a CrossFit gym.

"I'm following a list of rules on The Paleo Diet" teaches nothing but blind adherence to someone else's dogma that may or may not be right for your body.

The same is true of unthinking worship at the altar of CrossFit. "I'm doing whatever the CrossFit trainer says is today's workout even if it hurts me" just may (surprise!) get you hurt.

On that video is a guy who tried to beat his old PR of 30 straight toes-to-bar by doing 40. Not 31, mind you. He wanted to go straight from 30 to 40. In one shot.

If I told you that a guy with a 300-pound max deadlift tried to PR with a 400-pound deadlift, what would you think? "Durrrrr," or something similar, I imagine, right? But this guy is blaming the "culture of CrossFit" at least partially for his resulting injury from the same percentage leap in a toes-to-bar PR attempt. (And I know... he fell on the 31st one, but he was aiming for 40. In his head, a 33% PR seemed just fine, and that's lunacy. And yes, to his credit, he seems to have learned, and changed his subsequent approach to CF).

Look, there's no doubt that the competitive mindset in some CrossFit boxes is greater than others. Hell, I regard the gym that I go to as being full of smart trainers who care about the clients, and, still, I see people trying to do things -- often because their friends are encouraging them -- that are nearly guaranteed to get them hurt. Whether it's trying to do kipping pullups before you have strict pullups, or doing high-speed Olympic lifts even though your body is screaming, "No more!" there are a myriad of ways to royally fuck yourself up in a CF gym.

But a little good sense goes a long way. And that good sense needs to come from you, not anyone else.

Because this is your life, and you're the one responsible for it.

If you get the idea that I am virulently against "just going along" and being a lemming about almost anything, then yeah, you're catching on. And I don't mean contrarianism for its own sake. I mean just simply thinking for yourself. Just because everyone else is doing it makes it neither correct nor appropriate for you.

Something to consider: there is no sport called "High-speed Olympic Lifting" just as there also is no sport called "High-speed Powerlifting." If high-rep/high-speed snatches (or cleans or deadlifts or whatever) leave you in serious pain, this may be a sign that you should sub in another exercise that day. Or maybe always.

An example: I love deadlifts for strength, but I rarely do deadlifts in a metcon. If I try to do them at high speed, I lose the necessary tightness in my abs and lower back and it hurts. In fact, thanks to various non-CrossFit injuries, mostly drumming-related, I often don't use a barbell in a metcon. If I do high-speed overhead work, I leave the gym with an inflamed elbow and in a world of pain. I feel the same way about high-rep pullups for time. I'd rather do weighted pullups with good form for strength.

It's all -- like your food choices, or like, I dunno, life -- a work in progress. You test your limits and sometimes you surprise yourself. But other times your limits rear their ugly heads on what may be a more permanent basis. Maybe, no matter how hard you want it to be otherwise, every time you eat gluten, you feel like shit. I'd suggest maybe permanently backing off the gluten in that instance.

Somehow, though, the ego seems to take more of a hit when the limitation is exercise-oriented, instead of based on food. You see your buddy doing high-rep/high-speed deadlifts with ease in a metcon, but every time you do them that way, you can't walk without pain for three days. The answer really may be that they just aren't your thing, and that you need to sub in something else that will give you just as intense of a workout without the accompanying discomfort.

We aren't all made of the same stuff. That fact seems more palatable to the average person when considering food tolerances, so when your bestie orders double-cheese fries and you're lactose-intolerant and fries always make you feel awful, you have the good sense to pass on that magic. Or if not and you slip up, you "get" that the only person to blame can be found in the mirror. But when your CrossFit friend does 30 butterfly pullups and you don't even have one strict pullup, somehow you still feel the need to try to match her by doing what Greg Everett calls "kipping labrum tears." And then the "fault" lies in the "culture of CrossFit?"

Yes, you should choose your CrossFit gym carefully. Yes, there are all sorts of different skill/competence levels out there amidst the CF trainers in the world. I'm lucky, like I said; our gym is awesome.

You can can still get hurt at our gym. 

Unless it is very (very!) early in your CrossFit "career" when you truly know nothing -- and I'd argue that if you join a CF gym (or, hey, anything else in life...) really "knowing nothing," you should be doing everything you can to catch yourself up to speed with research on your own time -- if you get hurt by pushing far past your limits, the blame for that is on you. Not on the "culture" of CrossFit. Not on your trainer. Not on your friends.

Use your head. Put your ego away. Your successes, and your injuries, are your own. Don't just blindly follow someone else's plan for food, exercise or anything.

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