The break with CrossFit Inc. has generated a certain amount of ferment and frisson at Brand X. In such a state, questions begin to sprout and people start seeing causation in coincidence. A question that I sense hovering about the gym is what’s gonna happen when CrossFit Inc.’s deaffiliation of Brand X takes effect?
The short answer: nothing.
“But it seems like we haven’t really been doing CrossFit for a while. Are we still going to be doing CrossFit?”
Now that’s a far more interesting question.
The Long Answer
We’re aware that some of the clients feel that the programming doesn’t seem as “CrossFitty” as it used to be and are worried that Brand X will be forced to program “different” stuff come the 15th.
First, let me make this clear: Deaffiliation is a business decision. CrossFit Inc. sees value in its brand and is quite discriminating when it comes to who it wants representing that brand, which I suppose explains the mere 11,000+ CrossFit locations around the world. Simply put, CrossFit Inc. no longer wants Brand X trading on its name. So on July 15, we have to stop marketing and otherwise presenting the gym as a “CrossFit” facility; this is mostly about signage and web presence.
CrossFit Inc. rightfully owns the word “CrossFit,” but, obviously, doesn’t own any of the exercises through which Glassman’s method is expressed. No, we can’t advertise ourselves as a CrossFit gym, but our programming will continue just as it always has.
Which brings me to client concerns regarding the character of Brand X programming. I think the current legal crap and impending deaffiliation has some people paying attention in a way they hadn’t before.
To understand this, we gotta go way back to the beginning. Jeff and Mikki discovered CrossFit in 2003. At the time, the entirety of CrossFit programming existed on Greg Glassman’s website. Glassman pieced together workouts that combined exercises from different athletic realms and posted them to the Internet for people to do. They were unscaled and quite sundry. In fact, through about 2005, at the Level 1 courses Glassman would describe CrossFit as a strength-and-conditioning program designed around varied, if not RANDOM, functional movements performed at high intensity. Remember the hopper?
Glassman must’ve realized that he was wrong about that random bit, that training can’t be effective or safe if it’s random, because that notion has disappeared from the CrossFit parlance.
We also need to understand that Jeff is equal parts (mad) scientist and tinkerer. His enthusiasm for doing CrossFit was soon matched by his enthusiasm for programming workouts for Brand X. To put it mildly, Jeff’s gotten quite good at it. But I think many people don’t have a clue about programming and think it’s no big deal. Making up a workout can be fun and easy. Anybody can slap together a triplet and say, “Look at me! I programmed today’s workout.” You can even come up with something the next day, and the next. “Look at me, I’m programming.” No, you’re not. It might even be “elegant,” which has been presented as a metric of sorts for programming quality (a seductive idea—more so even than “varied, if not random”—and quite misleading), but you’re not programming. Not for (good) effect anyway.
Jeff spent years CrossFitting and programming for a growing gym clientele, obsessing over the right balance between elegance and efficacy. Remember that the start point for his journey was Glassman’s seminal definition of fitness: increased work capacity across blah-blah-blah (IWCABTAMD)*. So for a long time, Jeff programmed with the goal of increasing his clients’ work capacity. As anyone who has CrossFit for two-three years knows, the gains train runs on a pretty steady schedule for a while. It’s the greatest thing ever, right? But one thing Jeff learned after doing CrossFit longer than most anyone else is that the schedule is difficult if not impossible to maintain without undoing the very thing you’re pursuing.
IWCABTAMD => TEOTWAWKI?
If increased fitness is your eternal goal, and fitness is increased work capacity across blah-blah-blah, then all of your gym time is spent trying to increase your work capacity, meaning, essentially, that your goal is to go faster and/or heavier every session. Whatever Glassman’s original intent, your goal, really, is to get good at CrossFit. This was reinforced, perhaps unintentionally, when the Games—the Sport of Fitness—assumed its role as CrossFit Inc.’s public image—the image that has drawn in so many new adherents in the last five years. What starts to happen is you come to the gym to perform rather than to train. Every day, harder and faster. Every day, a little deeper into the discomfort zone. Look at me, Mom, no pain, no gain; no excuses; no way out.
If we accept fitness as sport, and we accept the idea that we’re “forging elite fitness” within this template, we then take for granted all things that come with the territory. Including injuries. As far as I’m concerned, performance as a proxy for fitness is a fundamentally flawed and, ultimately, unsustainable idea. It is anathema to the precepts of general physical preparedness and physical literacy.
As a coach and gym owner, Jeff not only casts a critical eye on everything he does but also always looks for better ways to accomplish his and Mikki’s mission: doing what is best for clients. This trait along with years of training kids and seniors as well as their own personal experience with CrossFit led Jeff and Mikki to start rethinking their approach for carrying out that mission. Doing what is best for clients began to revolve around the idea of longevity, and programming began to evolve away from daily crushing and WOD angst toward a framework based on good (ie, safe) movement and expressed in sane doses to encourage more consistent, injury-free training throughout the year.
This might be off-putting to clients who understand fitness in terms of increased work capacity, and high-intensity training in terms of the CrossFit Games. The drive to always do more and more work with a competitive mindset privileges range of motion over safe and efficient movement. Is doing pseudo kipping pull-ups when you’re not yet strong enough to do a few proper strict pull-ups strengthening your shoulders? Is pressing out 30 snatches with an over- or hyperextended spine as fast as possible good for the back? When you do 25 disengaged, wormy, monkey-fuck push-ups, are you really doing more work than someone who does 15 perfect-plank, chest-to-deck push-ups at a slower clip? When you give little or no consideration to the quality of movement, little or no consideration to how it impacts the rest of your training week and beyond, are you really fitter just because you went faster or heavier?
The fallacy here is that people who try to go fast and heavy every time so they can be like Games athletes ignore the fact that top Games competitors have excellent mechanics. Have you seen Rich Froning move? I wonder what his training program looks like. Is it 21-15-9 and chippers and benchmark girls day in and day out? Closer to home, our own Keegan Martin has been making spectacular strength gains. Everyone wants to do what he’s doing. But you know what? Keegan spent years training under his father, Jeff, and his movement is pristine. Keegan works extremely hard, but it all starts with how well he moves. He trained his mechanics over a long period of time that required as much commitment from him as it did from his coach.
Recently, I observed that our brand new clients all seemed to be learning the basic squat more quickly. I wondered aloud to Jeff if it had to do with the refinement of our training methods over the years. Jeff thought it had a lot to do with the fact that our gym as a whole squats pretty damn well and the new clients are seeing that and emulating it. His notion is in line with the existential and phenomenological basis of physical literacy, which I’d love to bore you with, but I won’t. I also wouldn’t waste Jeff’s time blathering on about it. He’s way more interested in concrete ways to get his clients moving better. Way more concerned with the goal of keeping them active, keeping them functional, throughout their lives. Jeff ain’t got no time for bullshit about intentionality and tacit knowledge.
What’s notable here is that he intuitively understands what it takes to make physically literate clients and that’s exactly what he and Mikki are doing. This understanding comes from years of practice, years of experience actually programming and coaching.
That’s Entertainment… but This Is Not
It may seem a bit paternalistic, the Brand X Method™, but maybe that’s because the goal is not really about feeding into current mediated trends toward look-at-me extremism and amusement; it is really about preventative health care.
Brand X Method programming centers on developing the kind of strength and cardiovascular endurance that will have people physically engaged with their worlds throughout their lives. So in concrete terms, a month of the adult program has a specific character. It is front loaded with short heavy conditioning workouts. By the third week, the volume of strength work decreases, so conditioning workouts tend to be longer and lighter. The current strength program calls for a fourth-week deload. This is a chance to rack the barbell and work specifically on basic gymnastics strength, which many would argue is foundational to your lifting. Like stimuli are grouped, so if a degree of predictability undermines your amusement, then, well, sorry, it’s definitely possible that you might know what to expect on a given day. Further, particularly careful attention is given to the volume of a given stimulus. In other words, Jeff’s not gonna program AdamBrown, Grace, or something similar before or after deadlift day.
Over time, the elements composing a typical daily program have evolved in the sense that Jeff and Mikki’s research into the exercises best suited to achieve their mission have sent them beyond the confines of what are generally considered CrossFit staples. One mark of the Brand X Method is that the search for best practices never stops. Another mark is that the Martins recognize that, at some point all programs run their course and their capacity to induce stimuli fade for individual clients with prolonged exposure. So our clients should expect the programming to continue to progress as they progress.
One way this progress has manifested is in how Jeff presents intensity. Clients often run right up to the edge of beneficial discomfort (aka “productive suffering”) and stare it right in the eye. They avoid the plunge because the drop strikes them as precipitous. But Jeff has spent** years looking for ways to encourage reluctant clients to explore the maelstrom of intensity. This has led to a change in the look of the daily conditioning piece. It’s not always the straight couplet or triplet of common CrossFit movements. The girls and heroes are rarely on the whiteboard. But some dastardly mutations, tweaked to guide clients into the depths of unpleasantness without destroying them, shamble from the twisted corridors of Jeff’s mind.
What we’ve seen is a remarkable drop off in physical complaints as a direct result of the program from our clients over the last few years. Overall, our clients are able to train more consistently, and, for those clients who do their best to hit all components of the Brand X Method, we are seeing some significant gains.
What Is the Brand X Method?
Quality strength-and-conditioning programming is the consistent meeting of art (elegance perhaps) and science (efficacy) to deliver long-term physical literacy, physical fitness, and physical education, which translates into enduring engagement with physical activities across the life course.
The Brand X Method targets developmentally appropriate physical literacy from toddler to senior; thus, it adheres to a long-term development ethos. Given the complexity of development and the multitude of factors driving movement idiosyncrasies, our programming is quite deliberate and, ultimately, individualized to build and reinforce good movement patterns. Once movement patterns and mechanics are established, intensity (load/pacing) is explored with an eye toward calculated variability to ensure repetition and novelty. Intensity and volume are always carefully controlled and intended to be relative. All of this means that the good stuff we want from a fitness program takes time to flourish, but when it does, this good stuff is not only readily apparent, it’s also its own multiplier and enduring.
True fitness is a journey of diligence and patience with no ultimate destination. So we must enjoy the trip.
* There used to be this buoyant sentiment bandied about the community that just about anything performed at high intensity and intended to IWCABTAMD could be considered CrossFit. Then CrossFit became CrossFit Inc. and that Pollyannaish perspective was jettisoned to delimit and protect the brand.
** By spent, I mean he has and continues to experiment on himself (and Mikki). All of the difficult workouts programmed for clients—the ones that have them cursing his name—he has done while, I suspect, cursing his name.