Five and a half years ago on August 25th, 2008, I started on this crazy CrossFit journey with a workout called Murph. I started CrossFit in the same way I start lots of things in my life. I heard about it on a website, spent about 5 days researching it and then said, what the hell. Of course, I had no clue what I was doing. Murph is what’s called a Hero WOD in the CrossFit terminology. What that means is that occasionally CrossFit chooses to honor a fallen soldier, police officer or fire fighter with a workout named after them. Murph was Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., who was killed in Afghanistan June 28th, 2005. The Hero WODs are always a step (or two or three) above the normal workout. Murph is a WOD consisting of run 1 mile then do 100 pullups, 200 pushups and 300 squats partitioned anyway you like (meaning you don’t have to do all the pullups before moving on) and then run another mile. If you have a 20lb vest or body armor, wear it.
As a CrossFit newbie, I looked at that workout and seriously didn’t understand it. Not the meaning of it, the effort required, nothing. At the time, my workout regimen was go to the gym, run a little, lift some weights, play some softball or soccer occasionally and I thought I was in good shape. I couldn’t imagine doing bodyweight squats so I decided to at least do it with a bar to make it hard. Ha! Experienced CrossFit people are shaking their heads in sympathy I hope. Anyway, I ran that first mile at 24 Hour Fitness on the treadmill and then moved over to the squat/pullup rack. I did 6 sets of 3 pullups, 10 pushups and 15 squats. Then I went and ran another mile.
People doing the main site WODs typically log their workouts in the comments so that the following time, they can know what they did for comparisons. Here’s what I said: “First time crossfit exercise. Both miles, 6 sets of 3 pullups, 10 pushups, 15 squats. 35 minutesish. Looking forward to the next Murph to see the changes.” Ha again! I took a workout that required 100 pullups and did 18 of them. Changes indeed. It’s weird how you remember certain things in your life. I distinctly remember that day at lunch at 24 Hour Fitness, feeling distinctly out of place as other people did their arm raises and leg curls while I stared at the bar on the squat rack wondering what in the hell I was thinking when I decided to add weight to this workout.
I didn’t know anything about scaling at the time but somehow, I essentially did the Buttercup scaling from CrossFit BrandX. This is one of the beauties of CrossFit, that each workout can be scaled appropriately. Good coaching and good scaling make all the difference in CrossFit. It took me about 8 months to be able to complete Murph and when I did, it took 60 minutes and change. I’ve done it in full sans vest probably 4 times since then. Today was one of them which is why all of this is relevant. My PR (personal record) before today was 49:51. Today, five and a half years after starting CrossFit, at the age of 41, I did it in 41:26. I doubt we’d ever do Murph in the Games but it sure would be OK with me.
Today, in the Wylie News, there was an article highlighting several “new” fitness programs. They included Pound (apparently a way to channel your inner rock star to improve muscular skeletal conditioning), Bar Method (a class that uses a bar from ballet in a variety of ways, hot with the ladies, not so much with the guys, did I ever mention the time I was in beginning ballet but I was 14, the only guy and all the other students were 7 year old girls? I didn’t tell you for a reason), Flywheel (a spin class on drugs, those drugs being a cross between black tar heroin and meth from the sounds of things because it’s $40 a class and you have to wear earplugs because they turn up the music so loud), Fusion (a method nebulous in description but apparently it is a fusion of whatever people want it to be, most people probably choose pizza eating and napping) and CrossFit. These methods were reviewed by two fitness experts from California, Meg Jordan who is editor-in-chief of American Fitness Magazine and Kathy Stevens, educational director at The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.
Not surprisingly I suppose, they loved The Bar Method and thought CrossFit was horrifyingly dangerous. Of The Bar Method, Jordan said:
“I think it’s a great thing. It was founded here in San Francisco. It’s so huge in San Francisco. It’s the high-end in terms of calorie-burning moves. It’s well known as being a fat buster…You talk to someone who has done a bar method and their butt is so sore…”
Sigh. Of CrossFit, they had the following to say:
Stevens:…CrossFit is definitely reigniting the idea of group exercise with the younger generation in a more jockish, less aerobic-y way with a regimen that offers a changing mix of weight lifting, aerobic exercise and body weight exercises. But these workouts are based on highly athletic and competitive exercise routines and not for the faint of heart or joint compromised. It’s great for the already fit who want to be the fittest they can be. Jordan: Chriropractors say they have more patients now with CrossFit injuries. The workout is notorious for people doing too much too soon. Low back and disk injuries. The overhead presses and deadlifts are too competitive.
Double sigh. How can something be less aerobic-y but still have aerobic exercise? Not for the joint compromised? What does that even mean? And how many people who are joint compromised got joint compromised because they didn’t do any multi joint, functional exercise for 20 years or so? If CrossFit is only great for those who are already fit, how did Caitlyn from CrossFit Incendia do so well? What about Sue who couldn’t walk up 13 stairs without being out of breath? These people weren’t extremely fit athletes. They were people who were tired of being weak. They were tired of the dieting yo-yo. They didn’t care about being the fittest they could be, they wanted help and through CrossFit found a purpose.
The quote from Jordan is just vitriolic and misguided. This is our friend who loved that The Bar Method made people’s butt sore. Deadlifts are too competitive? That doesn’t even make sense. Her offhand remarks about low back and disk injuries show no understanding of basic coaching and scaling not to mention deadlifts are the very type of exercise that prevent those injuries. How many people have hurt their back because of deadlifts versus picking up their kid the wrong way?
The exercises in CrossFit transfer directly to life. Increase your ability to squat and you’re more likely to be able to bend down and pick something up without throwing out your back. Pick up heavy weights off the ground and you won’t get a disk injury getting the Christmas decorations out of the attic.
I’m not out to bash other exercise programs and most people in CrossFit aren’t either. Greg Glassman famously says that any exercise is better than no exercise. It’s amazing how many other fitness programs and so called fitness experts bash CrossFit though when it’s not too much to assume that any proficient CrossFitter is going to be healthier and more fit than a similar participant in most other exercise programs. I could walk into a Bar Method class tomorrow and hold my own. Would I get a good workout? Sure. Would I be sore? Maybe. But I could hold my own. My guess is that 90% of people from that program or any other couldn’t do the same in CrossFit. CrossFit prepares you for the unknown and the unknowable through constantly varied functional movements at high intensity. Nothing else does so in as an efficient manner.
And I guess that’s my rant for the week. Games prep continues apace. Diet has been pretty good though gluten free tortilla chips are currently a problem. Good salsa makes them a bigger problem. Tomorrow will probably be a lifting day since I skipped yesterday. Haven’t even done snatches recently and given their prominence in the Games the last few years, I probably need to start focusing on them.