Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fitness, Women and Muscles.

A week ago the Crossfit Games ran in California. The parts I watched were hugely inspirational, and had more "real" athletic or non-scripted events than I've seen in previous games. Overall super cool, but I gotta go off on a couple of things.

First, Crossfit pumps the games as finding the "fittest athlete on earth;" I have a little problem with that slogan as I don't believe in the idea of "fittest on earth." I care about performance in sports; I respect every top Crossfit athlete anywhere for their performances at Crossfit, but I also respect top climbers, power lifters, or anyone who practices his or her sport and performs at a high level (except the dope-sucking cyclists). "Fittest" is a meaningless term without context; fittest at what? The people who won the Crossfit Games are the fittest at Crossfit, and specifically those events in the combination presented at the Crossfit Games. Those of us who train Crossfit get good at Crossfit, with some degree of carryover into other ares of our lives. An average high-school runner would destroy the top finishers at the Crossfit Games in a run, same for every individual event in the games.

This searching for the "Fittest Athlete on Earth" is a sign of insecurity to me. The top marathon runner in the world doesn't try to call himself the fittest person alive, they are just the best marathon runner, cool. The men and women who even made it to California are rad in my book of radness, lay off the hype, it takes away from their accomplishments.

This leads into my next bitch fest (bad coffee will do that to me), the topic of which is Women and Muscles. During the Crossfit Games I heard the announcers repeatedly say something along the lines of, "those women down there sure are pretty, and doing some amazing stuff!" I didn't hear him say, "Those men sure are handsome mofos, and doing some amazing stuff!" It would have been ridiculous. But he could get away with it with the women because there's somehow this idea that women competing should be pretty, or that women with muscles can't to be pretty too, or that how hot a woman looks doing a muscle up has some bearing on the worth of the muscleup, or some conflicted mish-mash of all these ideas. What the announcer was really saying at the CF games was, "Well, those women are attractive despite being able to do muscle ups." Or maybe, "Amazing, there's a chick down there doing muscleups who isn't ugly!" Or something along those lines, comments like that are a savage mess just under their surface and lead to stuff like this.

I don't want to hear comments about "pretty" or "handsome" during an athletic event, I want to watch people do their absolute damn best. I'm fully capable of judging whether I think a chick looks hot, or a guy is handsome. If a female announcer were saying something like, "Boy, Iginla sure looked sweaty and handsome when he took that shot on goal" I'd want to penalize her for irrelevant drivel. Same with the CF announcers. And no person, male or female, can ever be ugly doing something she has trained hard for and is doing at her limit and with all her might, as the men and women in the CF games were. That level of effort literally brings tears to my eyes. How"pretty" someone looks doing their sport is irrelevant to performance anyhow, and therefore doesn't belong in the commentary of any competitive event but a beauty pageant.

Let's drop the "we can lift weights and look pretty too, amazing!" nonsense. Same with the women who worry about getting "too bulky" doing Crossfit. Most women I hear say that don't have a hope in hell of ever getting "bulky," same as most men. Fit-looking maybe, but not "huge." Our bodies adapt to what we do; lift heavy weights fast and you'll put on some muscle, but likely not much unless you've got the genes. Look at the top male and female competitors in Crossfit; they are "built," but not huge. I heard the "I don't want to get bulky" comment from a rather skinny (not fit, skinny, no toned muscle at all) woman the other day, and it sounded a lot like she was cutting on muscles as somehow being unfeminine, possibly because she was unlikely to ever grow muscles due primarily sitting on her undeveloped glutes... It was one of those sideways backwards compliment/stab comments that some people are very good at and I seldom understand.

Anyhow, there is obviously some sort of conflict around the idea of athletic women. All I've got to say to that is that every human has within him or her the seeds of an amazing athlete, or they wouldn't be here today. Everyone alive today is the end result of a tremendous, epic selection process that involved athletic suffering not as sport but as survival, and our ancestors all passed those tests somehow. Every woman who has or will give birth is up against a workout that makes a mockery of almost any athletic event I've ever seen, and most women do just great at it if left to go at it on their own terms (in north America a lot of women end up with C-sections, not so in the rest of the world). As a man you're here because of athletic women who could carry your sorry newborn ancestors for miles and not drop 'em on their heads. Athletic women rock. When women are being athletes publicly I want the public commentary to be about their athletics. Leave the commentary on how hot they are off the air, women and men can make their own decisions.

Finally, beauty and and athleticism (bodies that get used to celebrate motion) are inherently linked in my eyes, after some thought that's why the comments at the games and the confused "I don't want bulky muscles" comments irritate me. It's the equivalent of saying, "Gee, look, that car has tires" or something, only slightly pejorative in a confused way.

Edit later in the day: On the whole I thought the commentators at the 2010 CF games did a good job--much, much easier to identify athletes, hear some stories, overall really good. The problem with doing anything well is that the problems then stand out. If it's all a junk show then it's not even worth commenting on.


Anonymous said...

word to that.

ianL said...


never seen a makeup or manicure booth at an ultramarathon aid station.

showers might be good though.

Anonymous said...

very nicely done rant!!!! couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

"As a man you're here because of athletic women who could carry your sorry newborn ancestors for miles and not drop 'em on their heads." Made me laugh. Great writeup.

lisa nelson said...

I love being beautiful and muscular and sexy for that matter. They don't have to conflict each other....thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

""Fittest" is a meaningless term without context; fittest at what?"

glassman gave "fitness" a definition and that is what was tested at the games.

1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance
- The ability of body systems to
gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
2. Stamina - The ability of body systems
to process, deliver, store, and
utilize energy.
3. Strength - The ability of a muscular
unit, or combination of muscular units,
to apply force.
4. Flexibility - the ability to maximize
the range of motion at a given joint.
5. Power - The ability of a muscular
unit, or combination of muscular units,
to apply maximum force in minimum
6. Speed - The ability to minimize the
time cycle of a repeated movement.
7. Coordination - The ability to combine
several distinct movement patterns
into a singular distinct movement.
8. Agility - The ability to minimize
transition time from one movement
pattern to another.
9. Balance - The ability to control the
placement of the bodies center of
gravity in relation to its support base.
10. Accuracy - The ability to control
movement in a given direction or at a
given intensity.

by testing ALL these physical skills, we have the "FITTEST" on earth, according to crossfits definition of fitness.

if you can find a better definition of fitness, we would love to hear it.

Anonymous said...

The definition of fitness is not about developing some objective universal definition of fitness. It’s pointless, and shouldn’t even be attempted to be universally and absolutely defined. The very simple reason for that is that different kinds of fitness can be applied in so many different ways (or to put it differently because so many different allocations of fitness amongst the 10 points above result in “fitter” athletes depending on the application of that specific fitness).

Usain Bolt runs circles around all the other short distance sprinters in the world. Is he, at this point in time the fittest sprinter in the world? Absolutely. Would he get his ass kicked at CF workouts by other top CF’ers? Absolutely.

Sharma, Ondra, etc. (insert good climber here…) are capable of climbing circles around most others in world. Are they the fittest climbers in the world? Absolutely. Would they get their asses kicked at CF workouts by top CF’ers? Absolutely.

Pick your sport, the list goes on and on….

Graham Holmberg, Rich Froning, and Chris Spealler have just been anointed as the fittest CF’ers in the world. Are they the three top CF’ers in the world? Absolutely. Would they get asses kicked by Usain Bolt at sprinting and Sharma, Ondra, etc, at climbing? Of course.

Think about it this way – what if the events at the CF games had been different? And I mean each and every single event was completely changed (but all of those events still fit within the CF framework), would Holmberg, Froning, and Spealler still have been the top 3 finishers (in that order) of the CF games? Perhaps, but likely not. Why? Because the application of fitness would have been different, and given that different and specific application of fitness, the results would likely have changed.

The debate shouldn’t be about getting into a fight over who is the fittest or what the best definition of fitness in the world is because it isn’t something that should universally or absolutely defined. There shouldn’t be a debate at all, because there is an infinite number of sets of applications you can use to assess fitness.


furry said...

Crossfit has always been prone to hyperbole, no secret there. Truth be told, anyone who can comprehend any of Glassman's most recent CF Journal lectures deserves a medal. That aside, it remains a uniquely effective regime for rounding out your training and fitness.

I was excited to see event 4 (the sandbags): a wonderfully simple, true test of work capacity without the imposition of arbitrary movement standards and equipment. The Crossfit Games produce the fittest athlete in the world at Crossfit. Is it a pretty good, general definition? Sure. Is it by any means dispositive? Hell no.

Perhaps the truest definition of fitness is the evolutionary one, which is simple to means to survive. Who would win in that sense? It would of course depend entirely on the environment. I'd be willing to bet that my 500# deadlift isn't going to do a lot of good against Usain Bolt when we're outrunning a pack of wolves. When I get trapped under a fallen log, maybe things are evened out a bit, if the wolves haven't eaten me first...

Arguably Decathletes are the most well rounded of conventional athletes, but in Crossfit terms their event isn't "unknown and unknowable." Nonetheless I'd be interested to see how those guys would stack up.

My bottom line is this: Crossfit should drop the infantile boasting which makes them sound like the new kid on the block telling everyone, "pick me first, pick me first!" Just put your head down and let the training speak for itself. Now, if your goal is big money, advertising, and recognition (which seems to be more and more the case these days) perhaps that "Fittest Man in the World" line will get you somewhere. However, in my opinion its just setting you up for some embarrassment when Bryan Clay shows up after two weeks of training and kicks everyone's ass.

furry said...

Oh yeah, and the "hot girls" comments were definitely annoying. But if the spandex hotpants and Journal article about being "sexy" hadn't made the sexual overtones of the "Forged" and tribal tattoo culture apparent, well, I can't help you.

Anonymous said...

I watched part of the CF games and heard the announcer say something like Olympic decathletes would have a hard time winning this event. Perhaps. But if CF is serious about wanting to lay claim to the title of "world's fittest" they should also ask how these lumbering firemen would place against the decathlete in a marathon, or a 100m dash, or throwing the javelin, or whatever. It would not be pretty. It just sounds so much like the skateboarder who thinks he deserves a medal because an Olympic weight lifter can't do the trick he's been practicing for 5 years. Whatever.

Brendon said...

The general idea of "fittest" athlete is not an athlete that specializes or is the best at any one event but rather excels at multiple events. That's the whole idea behind CrossFit. CrossFitters train for the unexpected, the varied and the unforeseen. A true CrossFitter is the jack of all trades in the fitness world. Can an outstanding highschool track athlete beat most of them in a mile. Sure. Can a powerlifter lift more weight? Yep. But when it comes to running, lifting, jumping, climbing, and anything else in between, the CrossFit athlete on the average will be better than the specialized athlete. Which is why CF'ers can be compared to Decathletes, very good across multiple events but not the best in any one. Therefore, "fittest athlete", in this regard is the fittest or best athlete among multiple events, movements and disciplines and justly earned.

In defense of the announcers, often enough in our society muscles and women are linked to grotesque-ness. It seems magazines hype the skinny, malnourished fitness models to promote what fitness looks like. We disagree and promote the functionally fit female body every chance we get. CrossFit women do have bigger shoulders than the average women. But they can also do a REAL pushup and pullup (among other things), which most women can't do. They are generally healthier and stronger than the average "fit" woman. It's very easy for CF women to feel uncomfortable in their own skin, especially when they are bombarded by what fitness looks like in media. Any chance we or I can get to reinforce them that they are beautiful muscular women is gladly taken.

CF can be its own sport or used as a supplement to others with great success.

Anonymous said...

Crossfit's para-military, quasi-religious, self-aggrandizing, and generally over-stuffed attitude is getting old. Kinda reminds me of the "No Fear" dorks of fifteen years ago.

Working out and getting strong is fun. Ditch the Crossfit hype and blather, and get on with it.

Josh Briggs said...

RE: "CrossFitters train for the unexpected, the varied and the unforeseen. A true CrossFitter is the jack of all trades in the fitness world."

I disagree. I believe this was the original, stated, intent of the programming. However, what it has become, at least in the context of the games, is hardly "unknown and unknowable." Save for one event (the sandbag move) all of the events consisted of various combinations of standard crossfit movements.

Unless and until the games consist of more events with movements or activities that have not been specially trained for (such as the sandbag carry, sandbag hill sprint, and stake hammer events) the only thing the games can claim to define is who is best at crossfit, not who is best or fittest at the "unknown and unknowable."

Unsurprisingly, crossfit makes you better at crossfit. It remains undetermined whether crossfit makes you better at "the unknown and unknowable" or whether it is superior to other training programs at improving capacity for the "unknown and unknowable."

The original "10 components of fitness" was a great, general, definition. However, the standard programming appears to have lost its way in developing many those components, such as agility, balance, coordination, accuracy.

Brendon said...

@Josh. It has been tested. Which is the reason the Navy Seals, the USMC and other Military Special Operators (US & non-US) use CF as their training program. Some of the top "CrossFitters" are firemen, SWAT operators, etc. As a matter of fact, it was developed for these guys. Have you done CF? If you're familiar with the movements, then you would also know that what is done in the gym is replicated in real life ie. joint function/mobility and range of motion.

furry said...

I agree with Josh, but the entire term "unknown and uknowable" is misleading. We all know what the world will or won't throw at us to a certain degree. Crossfit attempts to utilize movements that best prepare you for the range of life's challenges that might bet thrown at you.

However, in doing so and promoting the Crossfit Games as a test of this preparation, they've defined the parameters themselves and created a self fulfilling prophecy. Are elite Crossfitters generally prepared for challenges presented across broad time and modal domains? Yes, but the breadth of those preparations is still limited.

A clear example of this is the strength bias in Crossfit. Chris Spealler is arguably the fittest Crossfitter out there, especially when it comes to moving his own bodyweight. However, nobody is going to win the Games without the ability to lift really heavy things. The gauge itself is predetermined in favor of a bigger, stronger athlete.

Speaking anecdotally, I would rather take a gymnast or yoga practitioner climbing than a Crossfitter 9 times out of ten. The gymnast and yogi will have a much higher developed sense of balance, body awareness, coordination, and grace than the latter. This is because Crossfit minimizes those aspects of athleticism in favor of others. Can the Crossfitter lift bigger things than them? Sure, and he can does so because the "real world" Crossfit has chosen to embrace and prepare for places that skill as a higher priority.

That choice is an arbitrary one, and not mandated by anything more than Crossfit's predilections in choosing their own challenges.

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Carolyn said...

WIll another great blog. I have a slightly different take on all the "pretty" comments going on in and around crossfit. It has to do with people (men but sometimes women too) attempting to reassure each other of the femininity of muscular athletic women. There is a very real fear and discomfort many have about women with muscles. Heck every time I read an xfit article about women and working out it has to remind us that unless a women is taking HGH or some other hormone she won't get big and muscly like male xfiters. Many women at my local xfit don't want to workout w. big weights. they are afraid. they don't want to get "big." I am optimistic that w. time we can move beyond all of this. Standards of beauty and the role of women in basketball, climbing, hockey, xfit is changing the culture. In the meantime I think we can expect more "strong is beautiful" sloganeering (and of all the xfit slogans thats a pretty neat one.

Tanner said...

I think your ugly Will.

Anonymous said...

Nice rant. LIke everything crossfit has its own silliness and the games put that on display.

Anonymous said...

Nice Will!
As a climber people often comment on my Forearms and shoulders in a negative way. I am happy with My body as a powerful vessel that can do the things I require of it. Glad to hear of people seeing the beauty in that.

Will Gadd said...

Brendon--Josh has done a lot of CF, he's the one who introduced me to it five or six years ago in Brazil. Josh knows CF very well, and has put a lot of time, sweat and money into becoming better at every movement in the CF game.

Firefighters, the military, and definitely me all use CF as a component of our performance training, cool. Nobody is trying to take anything other than the hype away from CF here, CF's insecurity with its position is showing in some of the comments. I'm a fan, so is Josh in his own way. We're just not buying the "fittest" comments, it's somewhere between silly and condescending to other athletes. See my next blog post for some more on this, now I gotta go hit the WOD.

lian said...

nice post!

Walter Tully said...

Perhaps I could suggest one, but he's already a PRO. For me, Manny Paqiuao is the fittest sports man I have ever seen. His training I must say is extreme CrossFit. He is very disciplined when it comes to his training that's why he is the world's best boxer. He won 7 titles already; all of them mark as champion!

He is my inspiration during my class in Glendale fitness center. I work hard to be like him, disciplined and determined. I am thankful that Glendale parks and recreation is also a very inspiring place to work out for beautiful and healthy body.

Lilly said...

actually woman can`t look pretty if she is competing in athletic sports. she looks even ugly with those muscles all over her arms and stomach (they are clearly visible if she uses those ab belts). it`s a strictly men`s prerogative to lift weight, compete and have visible muscles. but nowadays all is messed up((.. doh.

Will Gadd said...

Lilly, that ab belt thing is about the funniest, scariest, weirdest piece of marketing I've ever seen. I may have to re-edit it into satire, thanks for your post and that.

Now get back on the ab belt!