Jeff and Mikki Martin are not associated with CrossFit Inc. or CrossFit Kids. Neither am I. Or my cats.
My wife gets all eye-roly and elbow-chucky if I make comments about Satan at parties. She’s not what you’d call deeply religious, but I mention Lucifer and suddenly she’s devout and I’m inappropriate. She thinks I’m trying to get a rise out of whoever happens to be in earshot, that I’m saying things just to shock people.
To what end? What do I gain by vexing the prude? Auto-amusement? A hedge against my simmering social anxiety? Am I being passive aggressive* as a defense mechanism? Okay, sure, I can see how someone might think that, and what’s so bad about wanting to get a rise out of someone anyway? What the fuck else is going on out there every day in our mediated world? Grow up.
However, I never just talk shit in a vacuum. There’s always a context.
Prior to deafilliation, Brand X could distinguish itself from other CrossFit gyms in a few ways. One of which remains the demographic that we serve. Our clients are families. For one, that means a lot of children. Apropos when you consider what the Martins have accomplished in the world of fitness. It also means moms and dads. It means rat race and school and packed schedules and overtime and all the rest of the enervating trappings attendant with rearing a family in a somewhat isolated semi-rural community in modern society. (As an aside, if you take the Martins’ profound devotion to developing the best kids fitness program possible and their unusual ability to self-critique and bring those traits to bear on an adult clientele of these regular folks engaged in high-intensity exercise involving movements many of them have never done [properly] before, you have a perfect storm for the development of the Brand X Method™.)
Of relevance here is that some of our adult clients find themselves in unfamiliar territory when they arrive at the gym. They discover immediately that they’re in a learning environment, confronting sometimes complex exercises and trainers talking about the importance of developing good mechanics to get the most out of the program. Some guys are not down with that idea. Especially if they’ve come from a traditional fitness center where they tossed around the iron with their buds and with abandon, hanging around the bench, talking good-natured shit and having fun. Or where they got their sweat on by sauntering through the machine circuit. Nobody buggin’ on them. Trainers? Aren’t those the dudes with the maroon polo shirts (with white piping) who wipe down the machines and ask people to rack their dumbbells**?
After years of (1) working out unmolested by movement cues in the aforementioned environment or (2) not working out much or at all and (3) modern living, people can develop and embed troublesome movement issues. Adult motor patterns can be obstinate things. Suddenly we’re asking people to not only think about stuff they’ve given little or no thought to, but to move in ways they never have. When the body won’t perform something as easy-seeming as a correct squat to a box, people are struck with a disturbing sense of betrayal. This alien environment can be frustrating, discouraging, and even humiliating to some, and it requires an adjustment. That’s why sometimes Brand X is like one of those parties in that I’ve been known to make comments of a certain… timbre. At first blush, it might be perceived as a sad attempt at comedy. But I do, in fact, have a reason. I have a context. And yeah, I’m looking to get a rise.
There comes a time for every new client who demonstrates consistently safe movement to begin delving into intensity. For example, and for many reasons, the Brand X Method is a strength-bias program, and this puts us on the lifting platforms where intensity means exploring incrementally heavier loads. Barbells that have thus far been underloaded for training purposes begin to pick up some gravity. Meanwhile, trainers up the technical ante with ongoing refinement of movement and bracing technique. Things begin to get interesting.
Over the years, the gym has had guys whose only metric for good lifting is how much is on the bar, and it offends their manhood when the load doesn’t meet their standard. It’s an outrage that they’re lifting less than the tiny woman on the platform next to them. When I tell them to put down the bar and maybe even strip the weight for unsafe or otherwise crappy movement, belligerent black diamond beams radiate from out of hooded eyes. They want to lift heavy now—they’ve lifted way more than this no problem—and maybe they want to sock me up too. I’m sure that’s true. They don’t like to hear that there are issues with their technique, not from me. Maybe because I ain’t a big dude, which for some guys doesn’t confer upon me much authority in matters of meatheadedness. I don’t care. My eyes are hooded too. Through them, I’ve seen more than a couple guys of this ilk get hurt when they’ve progressed too fast with too much ego and not enough sense or proper mechanics. More importantly, I had to learn to lift properly nearly from scratch (and am still learning and refining and learning and refining); I’ve made mistakes; I’ve allowed the siren call of the heavy weight to smash my ego against the rocks—I’ve hurt myself, gone rogue, and fried my CNS to the point of near Clockwork Orange-type visceral reactions—but I’ve also made real gains, whereas many of these dudes hover near their current limits without ever surpassing them.
Also, I may have on occasion insulted a woman’s manhood. It’s a sad commentary on contemporary society that I feel compelled to goad a woman to lift like a man in order for her to lift like a woman. But women learn dainty and demure and women learn sashay and women learn their station and none of that has a place on the platforms. When the weight increases, tentativeness deeply rooted in social mores, in artifice, becomes an injury risk. That’s the practical side. The other side dips into the realm of Henry Rollins. “The iron will always kick you the real deal.” However, you gotta return the favor. It’s a matter of respect. But this stuff lies outside the experience of many ladies. Suggest to a particular woman as she steps on the platform to lift more weight than she ever has in her life that maybe, at this moment, she not be a pussy and, after her eyes debug, you can see the gears whirring behind them. Then you see the weight move. And then something different shines through those windows. One of CrossFit’s greatest disruptions was to put barbells and gymnastics rings in the hands of women. Is it disruptive enough to undo rigid sex roles? Don’t know. But a woman who stands up with a barbell that weighs more than her husband is likely to sashay with a bit more swagger. That’s a start.
It should come as no surprise that I’m not invited to many parties, but it might be surprising to know that so many of the ladies and gentlemen of our gym, the housewives and working stiffs who respond positively to an occasional bit of shock therapy, lift a lot of goddamned weight and lift it well. Don’t think for a minute that I’m trying to congratulate myself or that I think I’m some squid-dick version of Terence Fletcher. Our clients did all of the hard work that allowed them to do all of the fun (also hard) work. Their success belongs solely to them.
Should every client be “cued” so bluntly? Of course not. But I will say this: at Brand X, we do our best to learn about all of our clients. What’s your background, what are your goals, how do you approach the program, how do you move and why, what kind of weekend did you have, how fatigued are you today? That’s context. If one of us thinks you’re behaving like a meathead, if one of us thinks you’re acting all mousy and June Cleaver-like, we’re going to cue you. Our job is to keep you safe and teach you how to move so you get the most out of the program. At Brand X, we always try to kick you the real deal.
By the way, lost in the hallowed mists of Brand X history are a couple of workouts named affectionately and with all due respect Satan’s Circus. Nobody chucked an elbow in my side when I briefed the whiteboard for them, and the only eye rolling was the kind you might see in a horse cornered by a pack of wolves. Doubt we’ll see these workouts again, but should we, I might just do the whiteboard as Regan.
* Interestingly, a Facebook commentator accused me of passive aggressiveness toward CrossFit Inc. in an earlier blog post. Weirdly inaccurate as I think I’ve been fairly direct. The vagaries of Facebook meant I couldn’t engage the commentator who posted on a friend of a friend’s page, but I assume—and I’m not entirely sure—that he didn’t care for my remarks on how we see IWCABTAMD being applied and how Jeff adjusted the programming to avoid some of the problems we experienced ourselves. Casting a critical eye on a fundamental pillar of a disruptive technology (CrossFit has radically shifted the fitness paradigm forever and in many positive ways) is not, in my opinion, a case of passive aggressiveness. There was nothing indirect about it. There was nothing aggressive about it. Progress often requires that we are open to questioning the orthodoxy. However, such challenges are bound to be met by backward-ass, zero-sum, knee-jerk apologists with closed minds and offline critical thinking skills. Dickheaded reactionary defenders of the realm spooked by the possibility that what they think is all that might not be all that. Sounds a lot like the first wave of haters who dismissed CrossFit.
** Frankly, I haven’t been in a globo-gym for years, so I really don’t know what the fuck is happening inside there these days—nothing like I remember, I’m sure, but I’m no kind of investigative reporter so sorry if this is inaccurate.