The Good the Bad the Ugly and the Open: The Bad
Five weeks of competitive fitness for points begins Thursday at Reebok CrossFit ONE as Rich Froning (a guy with a better garage set up than myself) and Mat Fraser, the man who many believe will be Froning’s replacement as Fittest Man on Earth, square off in what has been dubbed the 15.1: Title Town Throwdown.
For elite “Gamers” the Open is just the start of a competitive journey toward the CrossFit Games. For regional hopefuls and dark horses it’s a chance to announce their arrival. For the majority of Open competitors it is simply an opportunity to demonstrate, test, and experience competitive CrossFit. A strong argument can be made that the intensity, community and challenge brought forth through the Open and CrossFit’s emphasis on competition serve to help athletes achieve “elite” fitness. Check out the first installment of this series for more on what I believe to be the Good side of the Open.
However, the Open isn’t just personal records, sweat angles, and community bliss. The Open also serves as a wakeup call to a disillusioned segment of CrossFit athletes that believe they are elite athletes. Blown out Achilles, inconsistent standards, and biased speculation of every big scores that is attached to a new name are a few of the issues that have risen every year since the Open’s inception in 2011.
In part two of this series; The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Open I took a look, in a book, READING RAINBOW … wait… what… sorry! Momentary slip into childhood bliss. I was saying, I went back to Diamond Dave’s Judy Chopin Video with a fuck shit ton of Sntaches to further examine the full effects of the Open, and the competitive environment it creates. Yes, I know the video is a joke – at least the commentary is. However, the two athletes are very much, and for realz, entrenched in 12.2,a ten minute ascending snatch AMRAP (and a workout I faired pretty well in).
As hard as they appeared to be working, you quickly realize that all out thick, hot, sweaty, and competitive intensity comes at a price. This is common with all exercise. CrossFit however, takes this concept to a strange and confusing place. Letting technique slip in hopes of moving faster is a key teaching point in CrossFit curriculum. Greg Glassmen, the creator and founder of CrossFit, makes the case here.
In this video he says you have to “fuck up” to learn the mechanics. Really!?!
Games Director Dave Castro, further clarifies this concept in a more recent video, explaining that CrossFit encourages getting more work done at the expense of proper technique.
Castro explains, “You should strive for perfection but if you’re maintaining perfection in every rep you are not hitting intensity. You need to go to this realm where you are getting dizzy…”
This idea is often exploited by CrossFit athletes and coaches, especially during the Open. I understand what Glassmen and Castro are expressing. They want athletes to push their limits and increase work capacity through increased intensity or effort – as Castro puts it, “by moving faster.” To some degree that is correct. I just don’t believe that is the case with high risk movements like the snatch. Even if I did believe it to be the case I wouldn’t go and attempt to “spill my tea” every training session, which many CrossFitters feel is necessary. CrossFit has placed such an emphasis on competition through the promotion of the Open and the Games that many CrossFit athletes feel that every session is a chance to compete, win, and without putting yourself on the floor you’re not working hard enough.
In Glassmen, Castro, and CrossFit’s defense there have also been discusses like this one.
Here, Glassmen discusses the importance of teaching proper technique before ramp’ing up the intensity. Also, in the Video posted above, Castro explains that backs rounding and knees coming in are no good, to a point. However, I can say with confidence the latter are simply not the norm within the CrossFit Community. Many gyms do not have on ramp programs. Many gyms do not have Weightlifting or gymnastic specific classes, taught by experienced coaches, where technique and skill are emphasized. Regarding the Open, many gyms pressure members, regardless of experience level or history to participate in the Open and compete.
Let’s go back to the video and explore the snatches of the two athlete’s finishing up 12.2. Something tells me that neither of these guys could comfortably overhead squat the loads they are trying to snatch. But, that is speculation because I don’t know them. At best you could say the two CrossFit athletes are muscle snatching, maybe power snatching. What is not up for debate is the notion that these two CrossFit Athletes are “spilling their tea,” pushing the limits, and going to that dizzy place. I’d have to assume the coach/judge in the background has been through the CrossFit Level 1 seminar and Judges Course. Why not step in and stop the movements completely?
I have been fortunate to work with some great Weightlifting coaches in private settings and even hold a few Weightlifting specific certifications outside of CrossFit. Nowhere have I come across the training benefits of performing poor and unsafe snatch variations such as those in the video. And, I bet we can all agree there are safer ways to illicit the same biological responses.
The exercise the CrossFit athletes appear to be performing is a muscle snatch, which does have tremendous value in a well-coached program. There are multiple reasons to do them. Developing upper body strength, a more efficient bar path, and timing to name a few – no no, TIMING – not for time. Developing work capacity is not one of them. There are also right and wrong ways to perform the exercise as well. Take a look at these good examples.
The second one is interesting for sure, please, if you aren’t awesome don’t imitate. The guy doing them is. So is the guy in the first example. Lu Xiaojun is an Olympic and world champion and world record holder. He is also performing this snatch variation, with a hyper extended back, somewhere near 60% percent of his best snatch, only for a single, and under the watchful eye of experienced coaches. Before muscle snatching you should read, watch, and learn why to do them; or find a coach who has (pick me pick me!).
Not only is the movement and technique unsafe in the Diamond Dave Video but the excessive reps are also questionable. High rep Weightlifting and questionable behavior by elite athletes, not just CrossFit athletes, isn’t going anywhere – and shouldn’t, especially in competitive settings. However, a distinction must be made between high level competition and the Open; Gamers and CrossFitters. Watch top Gamers. They rarely, if ever, look as out of control as the two CrossFit Athletes finishing up 12.2. In fact, each and every year top Gamer’s seem to distance themselves in terms of movement competency and strength, from typical CrossFit Athletes every year. In the speed clean heats, most, if not all of the competitors display a solid Weightlifting and training base. Even in the double Grace that concluded last year’s Games, the athletes held their shit together while doing a fuck shit ton of clean and jerks after days of doing a fuck shit ton of other fucking shit. I have no issue with this type of programming in the Games. The athletes earned their way, understand the risks involved at competing in such a high level, and have displayed a capacity to handle the load. Not to mention there are a host of qualified coaches, emergency and safety personnel present. If an epic fail or emergency situation rises in a Games or Regional setting, having competed in both, I’m convinced it would be handled appropriately.
The point here is that epic fails happen in high level competition, Weightlifting included. Mattias Steiner is seen here winning gold in the 2008 Olympic Games in tribute to his lost wife.
Four years later in the 2012 Olympic Games he was not so fortunate.
The difference between Steiner having a bar fall on his neck in the OLYMPICS and two guys trying to break theirs while snatching in the OPEN is not even close. A lifetime of snatching versus a minute is probably a fair comparison. What is probably pretty close in comparison is the athletes mind sets going into their performances, and that is very wrong. The two guys really think their snatches matter in this workout – they don’t, and they are prepared to prove it.
Ratchet up speed, weight, volume, and competitive mojo and something has to give. If you are training hard there are moments in every workout where technique slips. However, too much intensity can turn a good idea bad in a hurry. Regarding 12.2 and the Daimond Dave Boys, the time domain is unreasonably long, the movement is exceptionally complex, the athletes seem extremely inexperienced, and a competitive setting was unduly dialed up; creating an unsafe environment.
Working hard is also not the issue. The issue is you can’t go for “IT!!!” every day, with every exercise, all the time, throwing your body in harm’s way. CrossFit athletes also need to be realists about their capabilities, yes, even in the Open. We all aren’t Gamers, even if we once were. There is a huge difference between two guys twisting, pulling, pressing, kicking their feet, head, and spine to the side, dying for each snatch in an Open WOD in which they have no chance of moving on to anything CrossFit related, Gamers proving their fitness on the big stage, and a Weightlifter chasing Olympic Gold. In two of the situations competing at the risk of trading intensity for technique is ok. In the other it’s no Bueno.
Continuing, my point is that in a controlled setting under experienced eyes exercise prescription and intensity can be pushed. When is the last time you experienced a controlled or experienced coaching in a CrossFit Open setting? I firmly believe that even experienced and qualified CrossFit coaches far too often tip the scale toward upping the intensity during the Open. Note to gym owners, your box isn’t the Home Depot Center or the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds. At best, most “Boxes” put the risk reward equation in the hands of the athlete during the Open. In to many instances gym owner see on ramp as a hurdle, not an opportunity. This is especially true during the Open. I have seen gyms push all athletes; young, old, new, broken, veteran and novice athletes into competing in the Open, myself included. Why? Its time for us all to grow up and realize what the Open is to each of us, and our athletes.
Please gang. Compete in the Open. But, gang, please, take advantage of the scaled option if you don’t feel up to the task. If you are like me, what you do in the Open really won’t matter. I have said it before and will say it again. When I went to the games with 808 in 2012 and when I went the USAW Nationals last year, when I came home life didn’t change a bit. If you aren’t earning your lively hood competing in CrossFit, or anything else, why should competing in CrossFit, or anything else, cost you your living hood.