Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Crossfit Level One Certification--quick notes on it and CF

I just returned from a really interesting weekend: A Crossfit Level One Cert. Just to be clear, I paid for the certification out of my own pocket (and for my wife), and I have no affiliation with Crossfit or any other fitness program, and never have. I started doing Crossfit workouts with my friend Josh Briggs while down in Brazil about five years ago; we had no equipment really, so it was mostly body-weight stuff, but I felt the impact of the workouts and loved the intensity. I continued to use CF occasionally and while on the road over the last few years, but last summer and fall I did a few months of direct "Workouts of the Day" or "WODs" and loved the results (one reason I think I survived the 24-hour climb I did with the dZi foundation). I'm now doing the WODs again after my winter season; I'm not sure how it all fits together, but I am sure I will never again go into a gym and do a set of bicep curls or really any isolation exercise unless it's to fix a specific injury or something. CF works better than that by any measure I can think of, as does sport-specific training for specific sports. (if the above makes no sense at all to you go check this out, thanks).

I learned CF's moves primarily on my own or with friends. This winter I spent a day in Calgary with Peak Power learning the Olympic lifts a little better, but I wanted more, and to understand more. This is why I went to a Crossfit Level One Cert (L1). These certs aren't cheap; $1,000 for the weekend. There were 55 people in our certification, and five trainers from CF. The trainers were damn good--professional, knowledgeable, charismatic and just all-around great at presenting. Seeing the presentations alone was worth the money for me, I learned a lot. Well done to them, thanks. I'm going to do some sort of critique of the cert at some point, but right now I'm just thinking too much about what it means to be fit, why, nutrition, and a bunch of other mental and physical fires the event kicked off in my head. That too was worth spending the money. My real short review of the certification is this: it's worth it from a value point, a learning experience, and many other metrics I use to evaluate an experience. There were problems, but for Christ's sake if there aren't problems in an intense two-day experience then there's not much point to it. I will go through those problems at some point, but I'm just on fire mentally thinking about fitness and CF and am more interested in that than going through relatively small problems with the cert.

Anyhow, I've spent the last 36 hours trolling the web, working out, and thinking a lot about fitness due to my experience at the cert. I've been training myself and others now for over 25 years. Crossfit has really shaken my view of fitness up a lot, and I am sincerely grateful for that. I can (and did at the certification) argue with various pieces of CF, but the whole is damn effective for life fitness. Not for sport-specific fitness, but at having a functional and strong body to work with. As I get older that is becoming more and more important to me; the first time I did a CF workout in Brazil I had to do Burpees. I realized I couldn't jump for shit anymore. I've been doing Burpees ever since. CF corrects my weaknesses because I don't create the workouts... Some of my friends do their own fitness programming along CF lines, but for me this isn't the way forward. I want the randomness that the CF main site WODs give to me. I'll get strong for my sports through doing the sports, and use CF to keep my body functional as I age.

One thing about CF is that, like anything successful, it has its haters and proponents. I've been reading like mad on the web about fitness theory, and of course getting an eye and brain full from the fully indoctrinated and the haters. Just so I can get this out of the way, I believe certain parts of CF are just wrong, or at least fully deserving of mockery. I also believe most western governments are disasters, but I'd much rather live in Canada or the US than say, oh, Somalia. A classic logical fallacy is to look for specific problems in a system and then take the whole system down as a result.... I'm good at that, and I could chew on CF's problems (I think the Zone diet is utterly useless, the CF games are in the same category as figure skating (a judged sport isn't), and that anyone using gothic fonts on T-shirts with things like "FORGED! should be drop-kicked in the head on the spot). There, I've outlined my main problems with CF, now can we move on? Seriously, the pluses are much, much larger.

The biggest training realization I've had in the last year is that I'm now training for two events at the same time: The rest of my life, and the specific sport I'm up against next. By the rest of my life I mean maintaining a high level of physical function as I get older. I want my joints to retain strength through a full range of motion, and to be able to broadly do anything I could at 20 now that I'm 43. Failing that, I want to be as functional as I can be as I age. This is what the CF is for at my stage in life. I'm also training for sports as diverse as kayaking, paragliding, rock climbing, ice climbing, alpine climbing and kid chasing. If I have basic strength and full range of supported motion in my body then I can train specifically for those sports through doing them. At 20 I trained hard specifically for climbing, and specifically for hard technical climbing, and I likely lost some function by doing so much isolation work... Now I need that function back. I refuse to accept that 43-year old guys shouldn't be able to jump. Or even 80-year old guys, at least more than any other 80-year olds. I've been thinking about this idea a lot, the CF level one cert really drive this idea home to me. The trainers are probably going, "Dude, that's what you got out of all our lectures???" but that's a great gift.

Now I gotta go train for life a bit, and maybe go train for climbing this afternoon by going climbing. The life training likely won't make me a lot better climber, but I'll be a fitter climber, and I'm not going to throw my back out when I lift a box of paint out of my basement like I did yesterday (no pain). And when I have to bust ass fast up a hill to a climb I'll do a better job of it. CF isn't the only way forward by any means, but it's a decent way forward, and it's open to interpretation and change. It's a bit like running Linux on your computer; it's an "open source" system, so you can customize it, tweak it, play with it, and argue with it. That's more fun than Windows if you're into that sort of thing, which most of us who claim to be into training are.

Give 'er! Direct cert review coming at some point, I'm just too fired up by some of the ideas to deal with that right now.


Aimee said...

I'd like to hear your thoughts on CF as a tool for endurance training. I frequently read reports that say something like "I used CF exclusively to train for my marathon, and I did better than ever!" I have a hard time buying that this type of result will be seen on a wide scale. It's obvious that being stronger overall will help prevent fatigue from setting in. But what about those marathon days in the mountains???

Will Gadd said...

I hear those same comments. We probably don't hear the comments as much from the people who go and totally blow up, ha ha! I'm going to bet that a lot of wanna-be marathon runners over-train like mad, and under-training distance as I believe a CF athlete would be, is better than that. And if there's one thing a CFer can do it's suffer, which would help in finishing a marathon no matter what. I'd want to dig through the results of CFer into Marathoner carefully before trying that one. Could be, and that would be impressive, I'm just a bit naturally skeptical. Maybe somebody with more CF background could comment?

Broadly, I believe that the person who has the most hours under his or her belt will do best in really long events, like being out in the mountains all day (10 or more hours). A marathon is a relatively short event compared to a big day in the mountains. But the most successful athletes in even moderate duration events (marathoners, bike racers, nordic skiers, etc) put in a lot of time doing the activity compared to the time spent doing high-intensity training. If all I cared about was my time in the marathon then I'd train like a marathoner. I suspect that if your goal is to slog for 12 hours on easy ground in deep snow then doing that a lot would give you the best results... You would of course totally lack any power.

The problem with really big days in the mountains from a training perspective is that they are very hard to train for as you don't usually know what's gong to happen. There's only so many stadium stairs a person can handle before going insane. And unless you're totally rabid, the total number of big days out in the mountains is likely to be relatively low in any given season, meaning there are a lot more days in the two to six hour range that I think CF or other HIT is going to be very helpful for.

So, assuming you have a job and not an unlimited amount of time, I'd do CF or other high-intensity training, and go big on the weekends either with a big day "for real" or trying to create one. I know I do a lot better at big days when I've done one in the previous ten days or so. Let me know how that works! I'd also likely back the HIT down a notch during the week--your body can only handle so much abuse. I have to cycle CF a bit or I get too torn down.

Interesting question, and I'd be suspicious of anyone who says, "This is the only way forward." A big day out can be incredibly varied, only you will know what elements need to be there to make your training successful. If I had no idea what I was training for at all I'd CF happily away as I do in my "shoulder" seasons, then get sport-specific as the sport's season comes around. It's been working really well for me the last year or two.

HOpe that helps, I'm thinking a lot about this both for myself and the people I work with. You're welcome to email me directly if you want to talk more. Let me know how it goes no matter what you do, and good on you for training, that's 90 percent of it!

e said...

twight (hey, his name had to come into this some time) has things to say about CF and CF-style training and endurance.
i wont repeat it here as its not totally my own opinion, but its certainly relevant.

seems to me that anything that makes you stronger and more efficient is good for whatever you do - the only real detriment being time taken away from sport specific training.

i run mountain ultras (at no amazing level mind) and find incorporating some of the CF and CF-style concepts makes a big difference - particularly as will says, the capacity to suffer.

im a firm believer in training for the unknown and reckon (experiment of one here) that between the runner who runs a 90km week alone and the runner who runs a 70km week but does a session or 2 of something radical like CF, the latter will be better prepared.

i think theres also much to be said for enduro CF/style training ie CF type workouts done for 3 or so hours and maybe incorporating an hour or so of running stairs, training in full gear, nutrition on the hop etc.

its a good subject with so much to go into, every generation blowing the previous theories out of the water - exciting stuff to be part of the experiment.

Will Gadd said...

Interesting, thanks for that. I have no dog in the hunt on the whole Twight/CF/Mountain athlete game, I'll take whatever I can that advances my knowledge and performance, as I think you are too, cool.

The equation that few have unlocked is the relationship between head, fitness and skill. All are dependent and also independent variable that mesh in all kinds of interesting ways to define performance in a given situation...

I like your approach and thought on this, good luck with your results, yeah!

Will Gadd said...

Aimee, just found a good discussion on using just CF for marathon training: http://board.crossfit.com/showthread.php?t=29754&page=3

I think you could do a lot worse than doing main site CF workouts or local affiliate workouts or whatever HIT protocol you follow and getting a long movement workout once a week. Those doing the "CF Only" prescription may have been using CF Endurance, or another protocol involving CF.

The best training for a long day in the mountains is a long day in the mountains...

yarington said...

I love this discussion and I love this website! Keep up the good work!

Bruno said...

Hi Will,

I thought folks might be interested in the following link about endurance training (cycing). Scroll down to the questions about raising heart rate. It is interesting not so much for the particular questions (although that is interesting) but also the perspective it gives about how cyclists are currently training, and about how much hard training people can generally sustain. Enjoy.

Scott said...

Hi Will,

After being inspired by your CF posts and being pushed by c.Stoltz to join (who now flaked out and will not participate, probably because I will crush him), I just did my first CF intro at Crossfit Van, growing up playing hockey for new 20 years, playing HS football, dabbling in Trail/Ultra running, some climbing, Mountain Bike racing. I can tell you I have never had such a workout/thrashing as my first CF session. Cannot wait for the next. I am pretty sure this will help be bring my Test of Metal course time down this year(mountain biking is now my sport of choice). Will be interesting to see how it unfolds. Looking forward to some more CF insight posts.

Will Gadd said...

Have fun Scott, and remember, form first! Real easy to get real worked without proper form and mechanics, but CF Van sounds like a good operation. However, Stoltz is a wuss. Wuss!!!

Bruno, can't see your link, could you please repost it? Thanks.


Billy Shand said...

Interesting dialogue here.

I came to CrossFit from a running background; in fact it was a close friend of mine who eventually talked me into trying CrossFit as we began doing races and eventually club runs together. It took about a year of prodding before I gave it a shot, and the impetus was that my friend in question was progressively getting better and faster on our runs whereas I seemed to have reached a plateau and found it increasingly difficult to keep up. I figured that perhaps there was something to this thing called CrossFit and finally went in. I immediately fell in love with it. My initial goal was to supplement my running with CrossFit workouts in order to increase my metabolic conditioning and hence score better timed runs. I got so much more out of it than I ever expected, though. It's to the point now where I do (mostly interval) runs (mostly through the CrossFit Endurance programming) in order to perform better during CrossFit workouts. Why? Because besides the fact that CrossFit training is so much more effective than what I was doing, it is also way more fun!

CrossFit not only flipped my paradigm, but also changed my outlook on fitness and taught me the importance of diet. Before CF I measured how fit I was by one standard: how far/fast could I run, never mind that I was physically weak. Not only has my endurance increased dramatically, so has my work capacity. Through the CrossFit programming and nutrition, outstanding coaching, and supportive community (a huge part of it all), I've made gains in every of the ten areas of what CrossFit considers the measure of fitness including "cardio" endurance, strength and power. Now, not only can I perform better at both short and long distance runs (I ran the 2009 Chicago marathon exclusively with CrossFit training in 3:30), I've also become much stronger in the process of developing truly functional fitness.

It's important to note here that I'm referencing fitness and not running, per se. CrossFit punishes the specialist by forcing one to become well rounded through their fitness training. Likewise, only employing CrossFit will not lead one to the top levels of any single sport be it power lifting, gymnastics, running or even climbing, even though it implements facets of all of the aforementioned disciplines in it's training.

I do it because I'm looking for functional fitness and I enjoy the workouts very much. If I was aiming to be the best climber possible however, well, the best training for a long day in the mountains is a long day in the mountains...

Billy S

Anonymous said...

congrats on attending the cert. I took it last year and am studying for just the exam coming up this weekend. Any information or tips you could pass along to your fellow crossfitter about the test would be greatly appreciated! email is marshallscanlan@hotmail.com

kamagra said...

get this kind of certifications is one of the most important thing to people who like the extreme sports, I would like to participate in similar competitions!