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.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mountain Skill Training

I just finished running a four-day course on mountain movement. I'm pecking away at a book on the same subject, and I wanted to test some ideas I had on how to help people move better in the mountains. I had a good response to the course outline that I put up, and selected eight brave victimsto take the course, thanks! The overall goal of the course was to increase the participants ability to move well in non-technical mountain terrain. I have a lot of theories and years of experience teaching mountain skills to people, but often we focus just on climbing or kayaking or whatever, not the equally if not more important ability to move well in the mountains. I was especially looking for people who were less than totally confident in the mountains; if my theories were solid then they would benefit the most, and provide a real acid test for the ideas in my book.

After four days of intense abuse ranging from falling at the Canmore gymnastics centre to hiking with my dad to scrambling up and over Mt. Yamnuska with Mr. Blanchard I felt that we had all learned a lot. I was repeatedly surprised by how well people would learn a skill in a relatively safe environment (the "Playground" I built in my back yard) and then apply it in a real situation. This "train and then do" idea was definitely effective, although I need to refine parts of it. On the final day everyone absolutely rocked over Mt. Yamnuska; I don't think anyone fell down anywhere on mountain, although I fell down once on the trail. My own movement was a lot better, every time I really focus on understanding how to teach something I learn a tremendous amount from the process.

One of the many small things I learned is how important good lugs on your soles are for gripping on steep slabby terrain with loose bits on it. This type of terrain is a real PITA for many people, including me, and we were able to test various shoes on the sliding board (rocks and gravel on steep plywood) I built. Movement was important, but footwear was much more important than I had thought it would be. What is excellent for, say, Grand Teton style rock hopping (sticky dot-style rubber) is truly horrible in other conditions. Because most of us don't test our footwear carefully in controlled environments we don't get to see the pluses and minuses. Anyhow, I learned a tremendous amount on many topics, thanks!

Now it's back to work on the book, and thanks to everyone who took part. I'll put some photos up later today I hope!