Don’t fear the CrossFit

(Photo source: https://www.endlesscrossfit.com)

“I gotta run a little faster; I gotta reach for the sky; I gotta come a little closer; even if I lose, I gotta try…”
— Kansas, “Inside Of Me”

“Try not.  Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.”
— Yoda

Every Saturday, my CrossFit gym invites friends to join members for workouts (“Bring A Friend Day,” as it’s called).  It’s a little bit of a misnomer, as guests don’t necessarily have to be friends — as one coach likes to describe it, “bring your friends, neighbors, coworkers, colleagues, enemies, ‘frenemies,’ whomever.”  It doesn’t necessarily have to be by invitation; anyone interested in trying CrossFit can come to these classes — a type of “try before you buy” session, if you will.

I’ve tried to get friends to go to these sessions, with mixed success.  Those who do enjoy the sessions, but I have yet to have one friend (other than my wife) try it out and join the gym.  (Admittedly, there are fringe benefits for me to get someone to sign up — a month of free membership, for example.)

What’s interesting is those who don’t try it and outright refuse my offer to join me.  (As I tell people, joining me in these sessions pretty much guarantees that I will work out on Saturday!)  I tried to tell one friend that I thought CrossFit might benefit her.  Not only did she outright refuse to take me up on it, I got the impression that she was actually scared to try it.  She would not even keep an open mind about it; she just said, “I will NOT do it.  Don’t ever ask me about it again.”  End of conversation.

My question: why???

I would never twist anyone’s arm into trying it (well, okay, maybe friends with whom I know I can get away with it), but what I don’t completely understand is why people fear it.  I get why people won’t do things like go bungee-jumping (disclosure: I am deathly acrophobic), eating exotic foods (I’ll try almost anything, although I draw the line at anything that has more than four legs, shellfish excluded — Andrew Zimmern I’m not!), or do something on a dare.  But why are people afraid to try CrossFit?

I think part of it is that it’s human nature to fear what you don’t know.  People will see these images of CrossFit (I often post what I do on Facebook) and immediately get the impression that they’re expected to be able to lift large amounts of weights, be pushed to do double-unders, or be able to do pull-ups right off the bat.  The fear of “gymtimidation” comes into play.  People who fear it are likely afraid of being embarrassed or injured.

First, one of the selling points of CrossFit is that anyone can do it.  I’ve seen people as old as eighty (and even more!) in the gym.  I once saw a guy who had the use of only one arm in a workout (it was interesting watching him on a rower and an Assault bike).  I’ve seen newbies who struggle with weightlifting form.  Even I have my own struggles; I can’t (yet) do any moves that involve pulling myself up (pull-ups, muscle-ups, rope climbs, etc.), I have trouble with movements that involve squatting (I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my knees), and I’m not exactly the fastest runner (for me, there’s almost no difference between a jog, a sprint, or a fast walk).  Heck, even some warmups can sometime leave me out of breath.

However, one of CrossFit’s selling points is that it is scalable.  You are never asked to do anything you are not capable of doing.  If you have trouble with pull-ups (like I do), you can do barbell pull-ups or ring rows.  Unable to do a certain type of weightlifting movement?  Don’t worry about the weight; instead, use a lighter weight, an empty bar, or even a PVC pipe, and practice your technique.  Whatever movement gives you trouble, there is always a way to scale it that will allow you to perform it to your capabilities.

I’m sure the fear of being injured comes into play.  As I just said, you’ll never be pushed to do what you’re not capable of doing.  But one of the selling points for me is that CrossFit emphasizes technique.  If you are not sure about how to do a movement, coaches will teach you how.  If your form has issues, coaches will tweak it so it is better.  Technique is key to anything: the better your form, the less chance you’ll be injured.

I also think the intensity is a factor.  CrossFit can get very intense.  Admittedly, there isn’t a lot that’s enjoyable about working your tail off to the point where you’re gasping for breath and end up lying on the floor.  That’s something that can scare people off.  However, how hard you work out is up to you.  Intensity is what you make of it.  But why is it so intense?

I think it’s because the majority of people who take CrossFit seriously want to improve.  People push themselves because they want to get better at what they do.  Did a deadlift weight of 305 pounds?  Next time, I’m going to try 315.  Run 5,000 meters in under ten minutes?  Next time, shoot for nine.  CrossFit is about making yourself better.  While you are not asked to do anything you can’t do, you are asked to challenge yourself and push the limits of what you can do.  Even my own gym’s motto is “(Be)tter” (as in, “be better”).  I wrote before that you have to get uncomfortable in order to improve.  Making yourself better involves going out of your comfort zone.  How much discomfort — intensity — you decide to put into it is up to you.

Finally, there’s the phenomenon that Planet Fitness refers to as “gymtimidation.”  People are embarrassed by their lesser skill level and are often intimidated by performing in front of other people who are in much better shape.  This attitude does not exist in CrossFit.  Everyone — even the elite athletes — roots for everyone else to succeed.  I remember one time watching the CrossFit Games on TV and hearing the commentator say, “CrossFit is probably the only sport in which the person who comes in last gets the loudest cheers.”  Even in events where athletes are finished, they will often go back out into the field to cheer on and encourage those who are still working through the event.  Here’s a secret: everyone, at some point in their lives, was a beginner at something.  Someone once said that one of the worst phrases ever coined was “do it right the first time.”  It’s almost never done right the first time.  Fear of embarrassment should never be a factor in trying something new.

I wrote before that CrossFit is a supportive community.  I have made a large number of friends in CrossFit, and even though I look more like a couch potato than an elite athlete, I feel as comfortable with this group as I do as any group in which I’m involved.

Although people have their reasons why they don’t want to try CrossFit, fear should not be one of them.  CrossFit can be a fun and exciting way to keep fit.  Give it a try.  Who knows?  You might just get hooked — like I did!

And if any of my local friends are interested in hitting a Saturday “Bring A Friend” WOD, hit me up!

Advertisements

Instant decisions


(Source: New York Times)

A NY Times recap of a ballgame got me thinking about instant decisions.

I watched this game on a TV at a restaurant where I was having dinner with my wife.  I remember watching Brett Gardner getting thrown out as he was caught in a rundown between third and home.  I remember thinking, “now the man on third is erased.  What were you thinking, Brett?”

As the Times article points out, it ended up being a fateful decision by (Orioles pitcher) Dylan Bundy.  Had he thrown the ball to the shortstop instead of his catcher, he potentially could have turned a double play to get his team out of the inning.  Instead, the Yankees, with an extra life, rallied in the inning to go up by a score of 5-0 (highlighted by a Tyler Wade grand slam).  The Yankees ended up winning, 9-0 (making me, a Yankee fan, happy).

But this article isn’t about the game.  It’s about the instant decision.  In this case, a quick decision ended up affecting the outcome of a ballgame.

Think about all the times in your life when you’ve had to make an instant decision on your feet.  We’ve all had them.  How did they turn out?  Good?  Bad?  Did they end up changing the course of your life, or were they just blips on your lifetime radar screen?

I’m sure there’s some kind of psychology as to how your background — upbringing, education, etc. — might play a role regarding the kinds of split-second decisions you make, but this is a subject about which I know nothing.  Rather, it got me thinking about the idea that quick decisions can have consequences.  In the scheme of things, many of them might not have any effect.  But depending on the time, place, and circumstances, such decision-making could have disastrous consequences — or result in the opportunity of a lifetime.

Memorial Day Murph

A few of us in the office were discussing plans for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.  I mentioned that I was doing this thing on Monday called Memorial Day Murph (those of you who CrossFit know what I’m talking about).  I tried to describe the workout, and I couldn’t remember the movements and rep scheme, so I looked it up.  In doing so, I came across this article that talks about “surviving” Memorial Day Murph.

First, I want to talk a little about the article.  Doing Murph as prescribed (“Rx’ed,” in CrossFit parlance) is not for the faint of heart (literally — it’s a pretty intense cardio workout).  I generally make it a point to make sure I’m hydrated (I do this, anyway) and to make sure that I’ve had something to eat before I attack it.  I also make sure that I scale.  I am not in the class of Mat Fraser, and likely never will be.  (When I was a kid, I had a dream of playing for the Yankees, too.  You probably can tell where that went.  But I digress.)  I have yet to run a full mile; I have enough trouble running a fraction of that.  I don’t remember how I scaled it last year; I might have done something like an 800m run (admittedly, I usually end up walking a good chunk of it), ring-rows instead of pull-ups (I still can’t do a pull-up to save my life — I’m working on it), and a reduced number of push-ups and squats.  Nevertheless, even scaled down, it still makes for a pretty serious workout.  But I will say that if a longtime self-admitted couch potato like me can do it, so can you.

I also want to talk about the spirit of “Murph.”  Murph is what CrossFitters refer to as a “hero WOD” — that is, a WOD (Workout Of the Day) that is named for and to honor a hero — in this case, Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005.  (Memorial Day Murph was even made into a fundraiser.)  Hero WODs tend to be intense — moreso than the typical CrossFit WOD.  Every Memorial Day, CrossFitters around the country do Murph in the spirit and honor of this fine man who died for his country.  It is a way for CrossFit athletes to honor this hero, but it’s also a reminder as to what Memorial Day is about.

And, of course, Memorial Day is known as the unofficial start of summer, and is usually accompanied by barbecue, burgers, hot dogs, and beer.  My CrossFit gym is no different; Memorial Day Murph is followed by a cookout, along with plenty of camaraderie.  Our gym members are a close-knit group, and I’m sure other CrossFit gyms are similar.

So, I’ll be spending my upcoming Memorial Day holiday hanging out with a bunch of CrossFit athletes while trying not to exhaust myself from a regimen of running, pull-ups (likely ring-rows for me), push-ups, and squats.  And a good time will be had by all.

The mystique of March Madness


(Photo source: sports.cbslocal.com)

It’s March, which means college sports junkies are in nirvana.  As I write this article, the first of the First Four games of the NCAA tournament are on the TV in front of me.

For the benefit of those of you who either live under a rock, know nothing about sports, or refer to all things sports generically as “sportsball,” a brief primer: “March Madness” (a.k.a. “the big dance”) is a reference to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, where 68 schools compete for the national championship in a single-elimination tournament format.  It generates a great deal of excitement for students, alumni, and sports fans.  It creates a conversation topic as millions of people fill out tournament brackets, trying to predict (mostly, in vain) the outcome of all tournament matchups.  To put it mildly, March Madness is a huge deal.

I played in a pep band for a power conference NCAA Division 1 school, so my sports loyalty and school spirit are, to put it mildly, very strong.  (Side note: GO ORANGE!!!)  Those of you who know people associated with college pep bands realize that our school spirit tends to run deep (this might be another article for another time).  I’ve had friends and colleagues comment that they almost never see me without wearing an article of Syracuse gear.

However, I was spoiled at Syracuse.  We are a major conference school.  When I was a student at SU, we expected to make the NCAA tournament every year.  Anything less than a tournament bid was a disappointment; for us, NIT stood for “Not In the Tournament.”  Our ultimate goal was, and still is, to win the tournament, finally reaching the NCAA basketball summit in 2003.

There are 351 schools (as of this article) that play NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball.  68 of them make the NCAA tournament.  That’s 19% of NCAA membership.  Of those 351 schools, there are 42 schools that have never played in the NCAA tournament.  (That number had dropped by one from 43, after Lipscomb won their conference tournament this year to make it for the first time.)

I currently live in a metropolitan area that hosts two Division 1 basketball schools (Siena and UAlbany), both mid-major conference schools.  Unlike the power conferences, the mid-majors usually don’t harbor realistic expectations of winning the national championship.  For them, just making the tournament is a big deal, never mind actually winning it all.

This is a frequent conversation topic with my friend, Jim, who is an alumnus of the University of Maine (and one of the 42 schools that, as of 2018, has never made the tournament).  He has told me that he dreams of watching the selection show and seeing Maine appear in the bracket.  I understand his sentiment; for him, it is a source of school spirit and regional pride.  Seeing your school’s name come up for a major sporting event in front of a national audience is a source of pride and excitement.

Only one school will win the national championship; the other 350 will be left saying “wait ’til next year.”  For the vast majority of those schools, the possibility of winning the championship is far-fetched.  But for the 68 schools that make the tournament, it’s the idea that you have the opportunity to play for a championship, regardless of your team’s odds of winning it.  It’s like playing the lottery; as long as you get a ticket, there’s a possibility, no matter how small, that you could win it.  This is the mystique of March Madness; the majority of schools in the tournament likely will not win it, but they at least have the opportunity to compete for the big prize.

What’s in a (team) name?

Albany once had a CBA (Continental Basketball Association) team, the Albany Patroons. They were a competitive team that had some pretty good history behind it, having produced coaches such as Phil Jackson and Bill Musselman.  I told myself that I had to go catch a game sometime.

It never happened. The very next year (after I proclaimed that I had to go to a game), the team changed their name to the Capital Region Pontiacs, after the local Pontiac dealerships.  The name change turned me off completely. I said to myself, “no way am I supporting that team.” I never made it to a game.

I liked the “Albany Patroons” name.  Wikipedia defines “patroon” as “a landholder with manorial rights to large tracts of land in the 17th century Dutch colony of New Netherland in North America.”  It was reflective of the region’s Dutch heritage, so it was appropriate.  “Capital Region Pontiacs,” on the other hand, pandered to car dealerships.  What does that have to do with Albany?!?  The new name put me off so much that I vowed never to attend a game.  As it turned out, the team ended up moving (or folding — I don’t remember which).  As far as I was concerned, good riddance.

This isn’t the only time that a team turned me off because of a name change.  I stopped rooting for the NY/NJ MetroStars when they became Red Bull New York.  (I now consider myself a fan of NYCFC.)  There was once a hockey team, the Albany Choppers (named after the local Price Chopper chain of supermarkets).  I never felt any affiliation with them.  Albany also had an independent minor league baseball team, the Diamond Dogs, and a hockey team, the River Rats.  To me, those didn’t sound like names worthy of professional sports teams in the Capital Region; rather, they sounded like gimmicks.  Although I went to a few games, I was never enamored with either team simply because of the names.  To this day, I do not have — nor do I have any desire to own — a single piece of Diamond Dogs or River Rats gear.  Today, the Capital District is home to the Tri-City ValleyCats (a single-A New York-Penn League farm team for the Houston Astros) and the Albany Devils (an AHL team affiliated with the New Jersey Devils).  To me, those names sound professional, not gimmicky, and I am more prone to support them.  (As the baseball fan that I am, I do regularly attend ValleyCats games, and I do have a few ValleyCats shirts and baseball caps.)

I don’t know if any statistics exist as to how fans react to team nicknames — whether it’s by attendance, paraphernalia sales, or what have you.  I would be curious as to what they are.  If I had to venture a guess — and that’s all this is — I’d suspect that a team’s name could affect those stats.

So for those of you who are involved with sports marketing, take heed.  What’s in a name?  Possibly everything.