the spaz of fitness has arrived

Gymnastics: the Anti-CrossFit?

In Rhetoric, Training on July 30, 2012 at 11:15 pm

I assume that you all are as captivated by the Olympics as I am. Particularly gymnastics. I remember the first time I saw a gymnastics competition on tv as a kid. I couldn’t even conceptualize these athletes as normal, everyday people. What they achieved was so far beyond my understanding of human physical potential that it was akin to watching a superhero movie or a fantasy epic. These were real-world heroes performing superhuman feats. And I think the broadcasters underscore that same drama in their presentation. Have you noticed the melodramatic biographies and narratives? The way they demonize the opposing teams, and the hopeful bildungsroman-esque backstories that they build for each American competitor?

For those of you catching up, I’ve mentioned how my dissertation work regards the cultures and values we enforce or produce in our physical practices… so my thoughts wander into that territory a lot even while watching the Olympics in my basement cave, on summer vacation, with a bowl of coconut mousse. This morning, I also read this article by Dvora Meyers, writer, blogger, and (I believe) former gymnast, which furthered my meditation. In the post, Meyers discusses how the nature of gymnastics distance the athletes from the spectator. Whereas we can watch sprinters and sympathize with the feel of running (albeit much slower), most viewers cannot even conceive of how it would feel to perform acrobatic twists off a high bar, above a balance beam, or suspended from gymnastics rings. The gymnast becomes the Other– so entirely alien from our own perspective. In this way, gymnastics is a bit of the anti-CrossFit. Though we’ve appropriated certain gymnastics elements (the kip, the muscle-up), we’ve only stolen the basics (and they become some of our most difficult movements), and we market the sport as “universally scalable.” Accessible to anyone. I’m thinking of the sledgehammer WOD in this year’s Games. Who hasn’t swung a hammer before?
But there’s another way in which CrossFit appears to be the polar opposite of gymnastics.

Gymnastics strikes me as a sport of perfectionism. Routines are made or ruined by tenths of a point. I marveled last night at how the reporters could remark on so-and-so’s “HUGE mistake” when she took a big step at the end of her dismount. Yes… it was a step. But all I could think about was “wow, this girl launched her body into midair, managed several twists and flips at a speed at which I can’t even count, and didn’t die.” I noted on Facebook how I was surprised that teammates congratulated one another with half-hugs and offhand “good jobs” whereas I wanted to leap up and down with sheer delight at the remarkable, impossible sh*t they were doing. A friend who happens to be a gymnast and capable of said impossible feats commented on my post that gymnasts were expected to perform with precision. Good scores were a given, mistakes were catastrophes.

Not to be too inflammatory, but… I think this is where CrossFit sits on the opposite end of the spectrum. (For more on problematic CrossFit rhetoric, see this post). We have mantras like “Death before DNF” (DNF = Did Not Finish), implying that an athlete would/should do anything rather than leave a workout incomplete– anything at the potential cost of form, technique, safety, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I was awed by the tremendous talent, strength, and endurance of the athletes at this year’s CrossFit Games, but did anyone notice the very, very sloppy ring dips during Elizabeth? Or perhaps the myriad of discussions afterwards regarding the number of no-rep pull-ups overlooked during Fran? We’re criticized widely for bastardizing the Olympic lifts, and yeah… there were some very hideous snatches performed by strong, but exhausted athletes. In CrossFit, we have two ways to measure our workouts: everything is done either “for time” or “for rounds.” This places emphasis on speed or quantity. But what about quality?

I’m not arguing that gymnastics should be suddenly gentler on its athletes, or that CrossFit should change its format. I’m just asking how understanding these values can help us in our training. Perhaps “Elizabeth” should be done for time in a competitive setting, but in training… even when shooting for time, that time should involve quality cleans and dips. By demanding perfection of ourselves in training, we can minimize injuries (and the dreaded no-rep) in actual competition. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, we can be attentive of when perhaps our perfectionism prevents us from celebrating what we’ve already achieved. Yeah, perhaps that Elizabeth time took longer than it should have– but hey, you cleaned 25lbs more than you could last month, for 21-15-9 reps, and followed them with ring dips with precise form.

Just Jo’s thought for the day 😉

As for my own training… The squats are starting to stall out again. I got my first set of five for only four reps on Sunday. I’m not too crushed about it this time because I felt it coming… the weight on Sunday was my former one-rep max. Jefe estimates that I may have reached the end of my linear gains for squat. However, my bench continued to increase, and I deadlifted 190 for 5 reps today. So… I feel like I can milk this program for just a tad bit longer. I may just have to play around with my squats in the meantime. But soon, I will have to make a decision about what to do next with my strength training. I’ve been oggling Outlaw CrossFit’s programming for a long time, but I’ve enjoyed participating in the box’s normal classes again and following Outlaw would prevent me from doing that. I do, however, enjoy CrossFit Strength Bias’s methodology and doing so would allow me to program my own conditioning, which would let me continue to use the box’s WODs. I still realize, though, that this would be a less efficient approach as the box’s programming would not quite align with my different strength days… I’ll think more about it, and am open to suggestions.

Oh! Also, I retested my “baseline” today. For our box, that’s: 400m run, 40 air squats, 30 sit-ups, 20 push-ups, 10 pull-ups. Rx’d at 4:04. I shaved 6 seconds off my former PR, but I won’t celebrate it too much because I feel like those 6 seconds could come from anything such as having my abmat and pullup bar closer to the door than I did during the last test. But I am relieved that it’s not slower. Next time, though, I’m hoping for a sub 4:00.

(and even as I type this, I realize, I was disappointed that I didn’t hit below the 4-minute mark this time… but neglected to realize that… a year ago, I was doing this workout with banded pull-ups and this time I did them unassisted, without dropping from the bar… I should listen to my own advice more often, huh?)

Today’s message: you do crazy awesome sh*t every day. Revel in it.

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  1. […] over 2x my starting max Deadlift) and at least equally fast as I was before (gauging by my recent baseline retest), I’m also just a little more rounded. My strength-to-bodyweight ratio, however, remains […]

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