Friday, October 2, 2009

Why I Resigned my Affiliation with CrossFit

John Sheaffer- Greyskull Barbell Club

Recently I’ve received a lot of emails asking me why I resigned my affiliation with CrossFit with plenty of paid time left in my agreement. I decided that to set the record straight and/or dispel some of the rumors, I would share some of my reasoning behind that decision.

First and foremost, my resignation was fueled by my observation of the precipitous decline in the quality of the average CrossFit affiliate. When I got involved in the organization, most affiliates were garage gyms, some were operating out of parks, or backyards like mine, and most were relatively legit. The people were those who abhorred what was the norm, the Bally’s, Gold’s, 24Hour Fitness crowd selling long term gym memberships to facilities staffed by individuals deemed incompetent to teach one about fitness and promoting near useless exercise regimens. Over the next few years I watched the CrossFit community in general become more and more like the very people and chains that they set out despising at the onset. Now, hundreds of people get certified every weekend in a course that lasts two days and has no testing or requirements to pass. This certification then entitles them the right to affiliate with CrossFit after paying a fee, and filling out the necessary paperwork (I know, I did it). So now we have a flood of these people taking out business loans, buying all sorts of rowers, kettlebells, cheap bars, bumper plates and the like, and opening up shop in a strip mall or warehouse space. There, they dish out a one size fits all exercise prescription for all who come through the door, and prescribe a starvation diet for them to subside on. They pack classes with 20 people and turn them loose, with some Will Smith pumping, to go to town on the twenty minute “met-con” “chipper” “WOD” nonsense that someone pulled out of their skinny, zone eating ass as a one size fits all prescription for all who enter that morning. The people love the community aspect, the camaraderie and the atmosphere. They bring more people in, charge them $150 a month, and build a nice little business. Their people make progress as any human will when taken out of their normal habitat for a while. The fat people lose a few pounds and inches, the weak males that can’t press 75lb become weak males that can’t press 100lb. The women lose their dreaded tits and asses that they all despise. They get “progress” out of these individuals on a short term basis not because of their phenomenal coaching prowess, but because a chimpanzee could elicit positive adaptation out of an untrained couch potato for a few weeks (and would undoubtedly be stronger). Meanwhile, down the street is a serious facility where serious training occurs, and where people pay good money for help and guidance towards reaching their personal fitness or athletic goals. This place addresses the needs of each individual client, the ones who need to lose fat are put on programs to help them lose fat, the small, weak males are put on programs to make them big, strong males, and everyone is put on a program to make them physically stronger in the absence of adequate strength before getting crazy complicated with anything else. Problem is that both facilities share “CrossFit” as a part of their business name, and as such become universally interchangeable to the layperson. This results in the business owner hearing things like “my cousin does CrossFit”, or “I did CrossFit for a while in _____ so I know what I’m doing”. Between this and things being said like “CrossFit makes girls into men and men into girls” it doesn’t take long for anyone with any integrity, or concern whatsoever for the legitimacy of their name being damaged to realize that they are not benefiting in any way by being associated with that organization.

I’d like to add that my comments regarding the programming, if you would like to call it that, that these shit affiliates dish out are based on the idea that these individuals know next to nothing about programming for conditioning, let alone strength training, and that it is their erroneous application of misinterpreted ideas that causes this problem. While I don’t whole-heartedly agree with everything that Greg Glassman teaches in terms of exercise prescription and design, I do respect the man. He has always been nice to me, and he is very knowledgeable and well meaning in his own right. I like many others was impressed with the performance of some of his Santa Cruz athletes in the early videos that I watched years ago. That served as the major catalyst for my involvement with the organization. Interestingly enough, I’ve scolded many an affiliate that I have met who proudly spoke about showing prospective clients those videos to entice them to join, and yet would not have the faintest idea as to how one would train an individual to get to the level of the athletes featured in the video. This crap that we see today was not supposed to be the norm; it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. “CrossFit” and “HorseShit” were not supposed to become synonymous at any point. If a person meets ten people from France in their lifetime, and eight of them smell like shit, then one can make a generalization about people from France, and they aren’t an asshole for doing so. Likewise, if people are bombarded by shit smelling CrossFit, then what are they to do but make a generalization about that name? It is unfortunate because there are many in the community that are good people doing good things. (a decent litmus would be if you are offended by this, you probably suck, and if you are nodding your head and/or laughing then you probably don’t. That or you’re delusional and think you don’t suck when you really do in which case weigh yourself for step two. If you weigh 160 and you aren’t 5’2” and your name isn’t Dutch Lowy, go eat and then come to terms with the fact that you suck). Ok so a bit of humor there, but there really are good people out there in this thing, and I really do feel bad for them.

I am not sure of the current count on worldwide affiliates, nor do I care. Over a year ago I spoke with a very well respected member of the CrossFit community who is near and dear to the HQ staff (no it’s not Rip I’m referring to in this one) he told me at that point that he estimated that one in thirty affiliates was actually decent, and wasn’t actively damaging the reputations of everyone who shared the common name but was doing good things with their little piece of the world. That was over a year ago. The count on affiliates at that time hadn’t broken 1000 yet. I spoke with him again a few months later and he said that it was probably one in fifty at that point. Wow, I wonder what his figures would be today. Now, of course that is a representation of one man’s opinion, but given the person’s status in that community, I think that it speaks volumes.

So what then to the person who says that some people just want to go and work out and meet people and have fun, or it’s better than them going to Bally’s or being fat. First of all, no, it’s not necessarily better than going to Bally’s by default. There are many, many strong, capable athletes training in chain, commercial gyms, and many people have transformed their bodies and lives in such establishments, some while even under the tutelage of a not yet so qualified “pin setter” who would grow to be a good coach. Second, I don’t have a problem with those people who want to go have fun and don’t care about actually progressing or being serious about their time and monetary investments. Those types get fired by me as clients quickly and I therefore don’t have to worry about dealing with them. I say let them have their fun. What I have a problem with is their use of the term “elite” fitness in all of their advertising and promotional materials. If you want to go to a fitness themed nightclub during the day to model your expensive yoga wear, do it, but for the love of God don’t pretend or claim to be elite. This goes for the guys as well. The emaciated, pussified, faux hawked nerds who I see at my platform while working certs with Rip who can’t press 105lb for a set of five (true story here, I have had the biggest guys in the group at three consecutive Barbell certs, and not one of them could press 125 for 5. You better believe though that they critiqued Andy Bolton’s bodyweight and appearance, and Vasily Alexiev’s press technique during the video portion of the seminar, and of course they were all wearing cool affiliate shirts with cute tough guy catch phrases like “CrossFit_______ : I’ll fuck your mother” or I’ll beat you to death like I caught you fucking my mother”, elite athletes can talk that talk you know.) Bottom line, I don’t mind that those people exist per se; they just shouldn’t be lumped into the same category as those who aren’t like them. Hence since that type is now the majority, the real people become the minority by default and need to exit promptly.

Since I brought it up, and since they don’t like me by now anyway, I’d like to add that the HQ staff’s reluctance to effectively give a shit about the information brought to the community by their SME (subject matter expert) crew is another reason for my departure. I have listened to numerous lectures on nutrition given by the level one and two staff that tout the Zone as the end all and be all of nutrition. Meanwhile, their resident nutrition guru whom they entrust to teach the Nutrition Certification, Robb Wolf (a great guy, and good friend) has always taught quality first, and focuses on improving the quality of the food people are eating before concerning them with zone blocks or other variables, an approach that myself and others have had tremendous success implementing on clients (unlike the jackasses that tell a recovering anorexic to weigh and measure her food, or tell a binge eater who subsides on french fries to eat 8 “blocks” of foods that Michael Jackson would think were weird, I know a bit insensitive to the now deceased MJ, but hey, he was a homosexual pedophile people). Likewise, and even more apparent to me, working for both the level one staff at one point, and my good friend and mentor Mark Rippetoe currently, is the lack of concern for the fact that you can’t effectively teach the barbell lifts with a piece of pvc pipe. There are significant differences between the way that the CF staff and the way that Rip (their former expert) teaches the lifts which he and others attempted to rectify numerous times in the level one and two curriculum but were met with the old “this is the way we’ve done it” routine. On the subject of Rip for those that are curious as to why he left, the reasons are many, but not unlike mine. Additionally, in his case, was the horrendously shitty communication, or lack thereof at the HQ level which had gotten so bad as to become personally offensive to him.

So now I’ve ranted, made some new friends, pissed some more people off, and filled in the reader on my observations for whatever they are worth. I again would like to say that there are many good people still involved in CrossFit, and that there are probably even some that suck currently that will develop into people that don’t suck. For many (Like several in my immediate geographical area, including one in particular that just keeps ra-ra cheerleading their way into a bigger and bigger business) I don’t see that ever happening, they will go on to suck forever. I would also like to add that I don’t claim to be the smartest, nor the best at what I do. I don’t have all of the answers, and I am a perpetual student of my discipline. I have contradicted things that I have said before, and I am sure that I will years from now as well. What I do have is passion, and integrity, and a commitment and desire to deliver to the best of my ability a valuable service to those who employ me. My door is always open to anyone seeking to discuss these matters or any others.