If you’re a crossfitter you probably can’t have missed the current controversy. Actually, there’s always a controversy: why don’t the winners of the Crossfit Games eat paleo, what’s the hissy fit between Crossfit HQ and Reebok about, has Rich Froning signed a pact with the devil for special Crossfit powers? (okay, I invented that one, but it’s my job to make things up, so bite me!) etc.
Crossfit Syndicate has a typically fire-breathing commentary on the debate de jour and I suspect that it covers a lot of the ground that people are debating on twitter, facebook and in boxes today.
Having just come back from Barbell Club, where my strict presses sucked like a black hole in space, I felt, at first, like I had nothing to say about this issue. I didn’t enter the Open – why would I? I can’t Rx bodyweight movements, let alone heavy lifting and I have no particular desire to humiliate myself further than I do already, on a regular basis, at my box.
But then again … one of the reasons that I can, and do, humiliate myself regularly, is that in a certain kind of humiliation there is also integrity – maybe even virtuosity. I may be rubbish at things, but I am regularly, consistently and effortfully rubbish. I do my best. I try to understand what I can’t achieve so that I can achieve that which is within my reach. Press ups, for example. I could probably push on and produce around 100 skanky, snaky, non-consecutive press ups, but what would be the point? I’ve got an aim, which is 100 strict press ups and while it might take a year or more to get there, I will have had the absolute certainty that I got there. I get a coach to check my exhaustion test to be sure that my press ups are not no rep because who, exactly, would I be cheating?
Me, that’s who.
So when I heard about competitive athletes entering scores for the Open that included no reps of standard movements, I was, at first, confused.
And then I wasn’t. Because not only is there pressure – immense pressure – to be good enough, there’s also something about crossfit that drives us to be innovators of the self, personal experiments, and hackers of physique and technique.
Tonight another lifter showed me a technique that helped me with my strict press. I showed somebody else a trick that helped me get my front squat form better (Wow, I actually showed somebody something that worked for her – that was a moment of real joy for me, given how often I have to be shown, again and again, how to do things). And, as always, I spent some time stepping back and watching athletes with good form complete lifts that are beyond me. All that is good, and if somebody could show me, for example, how to improve my press, other than cheating by lifting my heels or tipping backwards to get my chest muscles into the equation, I would definitely take it (if that Rich Froning deal was available to me, I’d probably take it too!) and I might not really recognise where I stepped over the line into no rep.
We’re all about shaving a second off a benchmark WOD, shredding our bodies and getting a PB – even somebody like me, who has absolutely no hope of ever achieving anything significant in Crossfit terms, has ambitions way beyond her current capacity. And it’s not always easy to see where that line gets crossed – personal integrity is one thing, but when that pressure is on, when you are THE one who might get your box into the national or international limelight, when you are THE one whom all other athletes look up to, locally, it’s really tough to step back from performance into integrity because you have to LET PEOPLE DOWN.
Ask Lance Armstrong. Ask Mike Tyson. Rosie Ruiz. Diego Maradona. Ben Johnson.
The point for Crossfit is not to complain that this stuff happens – human nature says it will happen – but to effectively police our own activity so that we never end up with somebody else coming and telling us that our claims are lies and our records are spurious. We seem to be doing a pretty good job of keeping clean – and that’s what we should be celebrating right now.