Honestly, I thought this would be one article with a few brief comments on the old CrossFit Journal. But, then… I had a lot to say. Here are the 5 blog posts leading up to this one, if you want to catch up:
- CrossFit History Lessons, Pt. 1
- CrossFit History Lessons, Pt. 2
- CrossFit History Lessons, Pt. 3
- CrossFit History Lessons, Pt. 4
- CrossFit History Lessons, Pt. 5
Ok. Look past that bit of Greg Glassman’s body-shaming over there in the corner and let’s talk about the actual merits or flaws in the content.
I personally love the sport of Olympic Weightlifting and I’m indebted to Glassman for introducing me to it. In the early days of CrossFit North (the first CrossFit affiliate on the planet), I had the pleasure of being instructed by the great Nick Nibbler in his Hangar Weightlifting Club. I also attended the very first CrossFit Specialist Seminar, when Dave Werner arranged for Mike Burgener to come up and teach Oly lifts to a bunch of us Seattle folks. I’ve taught these lifts to hundreds of people and I’ve even been to a competition (once) to try the genuine Olympic Weightlifting experience.
I acknowledge the benefits of these lifts and their utility to athletes. I mean, it’s no accident that Power Cleans are so ubiquitous in collegiate strength & conditioning programs. Greg holds up the deadlift, clean, squat, and jerk as the foundations of a good lifting program, praising their functionality as multi-joint compound movements. I’m loving this.
On the other hand (and of course there has to be an “on the other hand”, doesn’t there?), he says some things in this section that are just flat-out wrong. Let’s start with “these movements are the starting points for any serious weight-training program,” and, “they should serve as the core of your resistance training throughout your life.” Consider those statements in the eyes of a completely untrained, 45 year-old call-center operator. The starting point for their weight-training program DOES NOT, CANNOT, and SHOULD NOT include cleans & jerks. Trust me. I have put a lot of gen pop (general population) through weight training programs over the years. Many of them actually need to start with bodyweight movements, then very simple lifts, and–dare I say–bodybuilding techniques long before they are ready for complex, coordinated actions like cleans & jerks. Taking someone with no proper motor-control patterns for the hinge movement and asking them to clean a barbell is a recipe for disaster. They might have years of waiter’s bows, good mornings, and deadlift variations in their future before they’re ever ready to try the clean. Same goes for the jerk.
Now, let’s assume that we’ve trained this individual well for a couple of years, built a great base of strength & coordination, and now they are ready to try the Olympic lifts. In fact, they take to them quickly and enjoy them immensely. Does that mean they ought to continue doing them until they’re 90? Well, maybe. Some people are certainly like that. But, it isn’t fair for us as fitness coaches to tell them what they “should” and “should not” want to do for their entire life. They may also get to a point, as many people do, where these lifts are causing them more harm than good. Inviting injury is not a good recipe for health & longevity.
Next, Greg says that “body building movements have no place in a serious strength and conditioning program”. This is the statement of someone who has never undergone a serious strength & conditioning program, or even witnessed a serious strength & conditioning program being followed by professional or elite athletes, or maybe never even seen one on paper. Bodybuilding movements have tons of utility in serious S&C programs. I’m not saying that bodybuilding protocols and goals are the same as those of athletes. Bodybuilders are pursuing body composition and aesthetics (looks), not athletic performance. However, the single-joint movements are not “relatively worthless” as Greg says. They are excellent for rehab, prehab, and correcting structural balance. Google “functional bodybuilding” if you want to open an interesting door into that world.
Following that little detour into the absurd, baseless, and dogmatic elements of CrossFit philosophy, Greg returns to a sensible position. Now he’s talking about Powerlifting and the utility of the bench press, squat, and deadlift in training programs. Yes. Lifting for strength is good.
The last part of this article is a brief justification for these “very demanding and very athletic” movements as a way to keep athletes entertained through sport, rather than bored by training. It is obviously accurate, but I object to the way of thinking behind it and the way of thinking it encourages. Some people are athletes, some people are not. Athletes cannot perform sport all the time without any periods of training. Non-athletes need training before they are able to participate in sport in the first place. So, training always has a place and a role. Also, fitness as entertainment is a flawed concept that lacks long-term consistency and success. The marketplace is clearly demonstrating that now.
In addition to weightlifting and powerlifting, Greg expands the weight training discussion to include throwing work with medicine balls. This section is very brief. I think the concept is sound. Med ball work is great and I’ve employed it successfully for years. It’s important to acknowledge that many people will need to start slow and light before they are ready for fast and heavy (always an important principle to remember).
He talks about Hoover Ball, which is still to this day one of my favorite sports. This game was invented for president Hoover. It involves a volleyball court and a 6lb. medicine ball. Careful you don’t try to bump, set, and spike!
I commented on Greg’s nutrition prescription from the “100 words” back in Part 1. He is absolutely correct here in saying that, “nutrition plays a critical role in your fitness”. Nourishment will absolutely impact your ability to perform and your body’s ability to create beneficial adaptations to training. He’s also correct in calling-out the high-carb/low-fat/low-protein diets that were fashionable at the time as contributing to higher risks of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Hopefully, most people in 2020 have deprogrammed themselves from the 30 years of propaganda put forth by the grain and sugar industries that fat and protein were bad for us. This is a topic I’m sure I’ll write much more about in the future, but I’m thankful to Greg that he helped get that conversation going on a wider scale so many years ago.
Then Greg goes into the Zone Diet stuff. This is essentially his end-all-be-all diet for everyone at all times. I don’t want to attack the Zone Diet here, but it’s the idea that there is one best macronutrient or general dietary prescription for all people and all purposes that I disagree with. I have practiced dozens and dozens of different diets. In fact in 2003 alone (the year I first read this article), I attempted the Mediterranean Diet, Water Diet, Food Pyramid, and Protein Power Life Plan, amongst others. After discovering CrossFit, I got into Paleo and Zone. I’ve been a Vegetarian and a Vegan. I’ve tried a lot of different stuff. There is no one size fits all diet for every person all the time. There’s probably not even a single diet that works best for a single person throughout their entire life time. People change. Goals change. Habits and priorities change. Nutrition programs need to fit the people who practice them and need to change with those people as they go through different seasons of life.
In addition to the nutrition concepts I learned at my CrossFit Level 1 & Level 2 seminars, and what I’ve learned through attempting a wide variety of diets, I have also received a Nutrition Coaching Certificate through the OPEX Coaching Certificate Program, and a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. I will tell you from a position of experience, training, and education that a personalized nutrition program works best.
Here Greg praises sport. I praise sport right along with him. Here Greg says that sport is better at expressing and testing physical skills than it is at developing them. I agree. Training is an important companion and support system for sport. Here Greg says that sport, “more closely mimics the demands of nature than does our training.” Yes, I agree. He encourages his athletes to engage in sports regularly, in addition to their training. I do the same with my clients and I think that’s a great principal for life.
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