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Fitness Theory and Practice. CrossFit's rationale & foundations. Who is fit? What is fitness?

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Old 02-23-2003, 08:13 AM   #11
Geoff Sample
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In the exchange on Supertraining, it seemed that Mel was taking strong exception with the application of CrossFit for development of sporting prowess, prefering instead SPP - but once Tyler suggested (something to the effect of) CrossFit being perhaps the finest detailed program for General Physical Preparation (GPP), Mel agreed. This left me with the impression that Mel really only took issue with the value of CrossFit (for example) being the ideal program to make a volleyball player a better volleyball player, but agreed that for those seeking excellent general fitness (along the lines of the CrossFit definition of fitness), it really is an excellent program. Did I read into it, or was this the impression others were left with after the discussion ended?
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Old 02-23-2003, 09:52 AM   #12
Coach
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Thanks Tyler,

The outpouring of support for our program after Siff’s critique has been amazing. If this is the kind of response CrossFit will receive taking on hallowed “exercise scientists” than rather than you being sorry, Tyler, I should pay you to gunsling for our cause.

Which brings me to, what is for me, the most important part of the interview and Siff’s response (or lack thereof). In the interview I said: “We’ve repeatedly and publicly challenged the exercise science community to name a single major contribution to sport coming from their ranks – steroids don’t count!” To which he offered not one peep, and I know why!

On “conjugate training”: our experience strongly suggests that training for one quality while putting others “on the back burner” then shuffling foci and expecting a superior total, final, result doesn’t work as well as keeping every parameter active and challenged.

Mel’s criticisms of CrossFit seem to be to me, and to many of you who emailed me, largely that CrossFit is neither Russian nor “Supertraining.” I will not and cannot take it on faith that because the Russians did it that it has value, worked, really happened, or anything else.

As for Supertraining, the number of athletes and coaches who read Supertraining (I tried) and came away with nothing, is huge. The supremacy of Russian methods, sports science, and athletic supremacy has all the legitimacy of the high carb/low fat diet. Dan John is an expert on this exact subject of Russian methodology and his tales are very illuminating. I hope he’ll chime in here and share some of what he shared with me about the Russian approach and successes – he’s dead on.

I watched up close and personally a bunch of kids and a few coaches largely centered in L.A. and with moderate resources, compared to the Soviets, snatch Gymnastics dominancy from the Soviets in one ten year push. The Soviets were crushed. The American response was, amazingly, to formally and systematically eradicate high school and collegiate gymnastics programs nationwide and now the Russian method is once again demonstrating its superiority. Yeah, right. Where we focus, we try, we care, we dominate and that, still, to this very moment, trumps, Siff, Verkhoshansky, “Conjugate Training”, and exercise science.

Here is the essence of the Russian system: enslave several hundred million people deny them any avenue of escape other than being participants to the enslavement or athletic performance. Build sports training centers in every little town and village and stand back. It had nothing to do with science. If you think I’m wrong, again, get Dan John going on this subject.

On speed: I was told that the toes of a gymnast on the Horizontal Bar during the last few giant swings prior to a dismount were moving during “the tap” at some ungodly speed that made a baseball pitchers fast ball look like it was standing still. I’m going to tell you that gymnasts are slow. I was referring to useful speed, and yes, Tyler, hip speed in particular and it’s transference to useful, i.e., athletic movements.

We’ve had professional basketball players, an Olympic Javelin thrower, two current Major League Baseball players, BJJ champions, NHB and MMA champions and countless others comeback amazed at their improved speed (and power) and put the credit smack dab on the O’lifts. Siff mentions baseball, here is what the pro baseball pitcher said, “Dude I’m throwing BB’s I can’t believe it – I love you.” When asked if it was the C&J and Snatch, his laugh and face made it clear there was nothing to talk about. I don’t think it was the wall-ball, or the muscle-up, I think it’s the quick lifts. The reversal of hip direction, explode in – explode out, trains for spooky speed.

Tyler, I thought Siff’s observation that “the movements in weightlifting are by no means as fast as those in table tennis, badminton, baseball pitching or any throwing or striking action and in many cases the most competent performers in these activities have not all trained with the Olympic lifts” had to be a deliberate bit of disingenuousness offered only to be contentious, that is solely intended to offer disapproval of CrossFit because the observation is so wide of the mark logically (my contention is that the quick lifts improved speed dramatically not that they were the fastest thing on earth – why didn’t he include snapping your fingers, that’s even faster), so incredibly missed the essence of what largely generates speed in the examples he sites (hip power), is amazingly blind to the easy, yet painful, observation and undeniable fact that many elite athletes in many sports have yet to be introduced to effective S&C (tennis, golf, badminton, baseball,…), and suggests he’s spent too much time in the classroom and not enough on the field for suggesting that throwers don’t O’lift, that if he isn’t just being an ******* (look at his insistence on “Glassman”, not “Mr. Glassman”, “Coach Glassman”, or even “Greg”, picking on my spelling – count the “sics”, and he apparently doesn’t know the word “contrarian” and the difference between “regime” and “regimen”, and the general tone with me and everyone else he encounters, oh…and the bald faced lying about his diet) he is some combination of stupid and completely out of touch with athletic training.

Which brings me back to “name one contribution exercise science has made to sport performance.” Just one! This is what infuriates Siff, not CrossFit, but his irrelevance to those of us who either perform or have dedicated our lives to helping those who perform – the athletes and coaches.

On stretching: I am not a stretching expert. I can’t keep up with the stretching theories. I’m even having trouble grasping and accepting the differentiations being commonly offered between competing manners of flexibility. I’ve read – O.K., skimmed thoroughly - several of the stretching books touted in training circles and still don’t know what to make of it all. This could all be my shortcoming. I am by choice, by design, by professional standard and philosophical temperament (skeptical), the last to accept new techniques not the first.

But, let me give you some background on stretching and yours truly. I came up in the company of super-elite gymnasts. Not once did I in over a decade of sitting in the company of the world’s best gymnasts and coaches for six hours a day six days a week ever here anyone discuss how it was that you became flexible or how you stretched. Maybe we did it wrong but to this day I’ve not seen any athlete or yogi approximate the flexibility that even ten year old little female gymnasts developed on their own, uncoached, and yes without benefit of modern theory. I recently was invited to attend a local performance of a traveling yoga troupe. My intention was to hire as stretching coach the troupes lead for a contract we’d won with a yachting syndicate. Yoga is so popular in Santa Cruz and among the members of this particular yachting syndicate that I thought it would be cool to hire a yogi for this crew. What I was most impressed with was the lack of strength and balance, coordination and control of the entire troupe and, yes, believe it or not the lack of flexibility in the participants. I’ll give here one example, but saw dozens. Several times, too many times, I watched as the yogis transitioned from sitting upright, legs in front and together, by swinging the legs laterally toward the split and, “ooops”, lifted the hips to allow the legs to swing back together leaving the performer now face down legs together lying straight. There’s but one reason for the intermediate transition move of lifted hips, inadequate hip flexibility.

Hold on, now, I think yoga’s fine. It is a formalized somewhat systematic approach to improve flexibility and has captured the imagination and attention of hundreds of thousands. This is good, very good. But yoga, and other stretching protocols don’t muster up to the flexibility that gymnasts develop without ever giving it a thought. Try a back flip into splits to give but one example and to convince yourself, which is by the way a low difficulty/value floor exercise movement.

Bob Anderson? Cheap, effective, honest, self-published, simple. Good enough. Again, Siff’s *****, is, I suspect, that Bob doesn’t give his stretching a really cool sounding scientific name like, how about, “proaxonal myofacilitated stretching” (PMS!), doesn’t have a PhD, and isn’t Soviet. (What’s with the South Africans and the Soviets anyway?)

It’s important to realize that I’m not necessarily advocating a gymnasts degree of flexibility. The point was that they are peerless in this capacity and don’t know about all the cool scientific theories. I strongly suspect that super-flexibility may confer an increased likelihood of ligamental injury in sport performance. I actually witnessed an experiment to bring gymnast like flexibility to a D1 football program and we witnessed exactly that, increased ligament injury, but man, were these guys flexible. There is it seems a balance or tradeoff between tendon and ligament risk with increased flexibility.

Finally, the “mental, physical and spiritual qualities”: did I see this right or did he chide me for including medical considerations, and mentioned the inappropriateness of “evolutionary” considerations (a clear slap at De Vany – his sin is being an economist and having the audacity to contribute substantially - for which I beamed in that he saw the connection, I’ve made no mention of it!) in defining fitness and then by harangues end chides me for not including transcendental meditation, astral projection or some other spiritual bull-**** in my program? All I can do is shake my head.

Let me offer this: I’ve published on my profound belief that the greatest benefit derived from athletic training is not the physical but the psychological, that the greatest aspect of fitness is learning from the physical domain that you can become, can do, anything you want through dedication and commitment. The physical domain is actually, in my belief, the easiest place to begin a journey of self-mastery and from that example we can develop greater more important realms of self-control, accomplishment, and mastery. I’ve called this phenomenon the “transference effect” I’m known to regale, some say endlessly, coaches and athletes with examples personal and public of this most wonderful aspect of fitness.

Oh, by the way, Dr. Mel Siff is one of my favorite exercise physiologists and I recommend that everyone read his Facts and Fallacies of Fitness. It is a breath of fresh air in a world dominated largely by fitness superstition.
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Old 02-23-2003, 10:39 AM   #13
Coach
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Hi Geoff,

Welcome to the board. I understand how you'd get the impression that the discussion was about Supertraining. Dr. Siff has the same problem. In fact, that's his problem with everything: it's not Supretraining.

No, Sir, the discussion was about CrossFit and specifically an interview I'd done for Girevik http://girevikmagazine.com

He also inquired as to how many "Olympic winners" we'd worked with suggesting we've little experience with elite athletes. I never responded and I'm not sure what an "Olympic winner" is, but we've worked with numerous Olympians, Olympic medalists, repeat medalists, and repeat Gold medalists. We've had athletes collectively in possession of as many as six or seven Olympic Medals in our gym at the same time, and given our small venue this represents a density of "Olympic winners" that approaches the Olympic Podium itself at anthem time.

We make a difference by finding chinks in an atheltes armour by administering a, O.K. I'll go with it, GPP program. The weakness is found through administering routines (WOD, and others identical in impact) that are engineered to broadly and aggressivly tax general athetic capacity. Failures or weakness demonstrate the weakness and repeated exposure fixes them which enhances performance.

It is my contention that the bulk of sport specific S&C for most sports is best garnered through daily training within that sport and that nearly every athtlete has some weakness that is part of general physical capacity and is hindering improved performance. If anyone still believes in their complete and total physical capacity they need to come on by and meet the boys! You will be treated kindly, respetfully, and with great defference and then handed an ***-whopping that you'll never forget. We make friends that way! I'm not kidding.

We are perfect in but one respect, our committement to the athelte. Most if not all of what we do was stolen from people smarter than ourselves. It is only through open mindeness (stealing and amalgamating), persistence, and subjugating our colective egos to the needs of the community that we've won the successes and respect with which we've been blessed.

Thank you, all.

Coach Greg Glassman
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Old 02-23-2003, 04:39 PM   #14
Tyler Hass
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Greg, thanks for the detailed response. I'm especially interested in what you said about gymnastics. I just recently dove headfirst into gymnastics training, so I'll probably be picking your brain as much as possible. It's hard to find knowledgeable male gymnasts. It's truly a shame that gymnastics programs are getting shut down everywhere you look. Mens gymnastics has practically disappeared because of some ridiculous notion that it is a girl's sport. However, even the women's programs are disappearing at many schools. At my own school, we are trying to bring it back, but the administration thinks it is too dangerous (yet they fund boxing and skydiving clubs!). Despite all of this, American women brought home 2 gold medals and a bronze at the recent World Championships in Debrechen, Hungary. Postell was gold on beam, Kupets on bars and Sheehan won a bronze on floor.
I'm curious what you meant by gymnasts being slow? Do you mean at sprinting?
I agree that gymnasts are way more flexible than yogis. Furthermore, in these positions, they are much stronger. Can you see a Yogi doing a "glide on the side" on P-bars? Nonetheless, as you said, Yogis do have valuable information to share and it can be a good source to draw from. I'm really working hard on my flexibility right now. It takes a serious warm-up and some pre-stretching before I can even get my legs to from a 90* angle in the seated straddle. This could be an impediment in press to handstands, so I'm attacking the problem.
I think part of the reason gymnasts get their flexibility is that it is just part of that sub-culture to be flexible. When you are around people all day that are extremely flexible, it becomes normal and less scary. I would think this might have a psychological effect of disinhibiting your body's natural reaction to prevent such extreme positions. Of course the simpler explanation might just be that, gymnasts use their flexibility on a daily basis and maintain it from an early age.
I also completely agree with you that GPP and sports practice is enough for any athlete. I have never seen Mel Siff design a program for a specific type of athlete. So until he puts something out there for the rest of the world to critique, we will not even know what a sports specific program even looks like. My guess is that it would incorporate a lot of the same functional movements that are present in CrossFit. The only examples I have ever seen of sports specific training being effective is in cases where a specific level of hypertrophy is desired, such as a lineman. However, there was nothing scientific about it, just a common sense look at the needs of an athlete and a program to address it (and food!). Coaches, teachers and parents have been doing this long before there was such a thing as a sports scientist.
Thanks for your response, it was very interesting!
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Old 02-23-2003, 05:04 PM   #15
Dan John
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For the next few days, I think I might add random posts about the topic...but, I am just a touch too busy for a formal review of some of this discussion.

First point: whenever someone tells you that they "coached" an American athlete to the Olympics, you must stop and think. Did a five minute telephone call constitute "coaching" or does the person mean the full Alpha to Omega process of recruitment, grooming, tapering, peaking and teaching over a two to three decade relationship fullfil itself in an Olympic dream?

These are not the same thing! Anyone who tells you they "coached" 400 Olympians means that they talked or watched or BSed a superstar at some time of the process. There is literally not enough time in one life to "coach 400 Olympians."

Everyone misses this point: Just because you wrote a book or held a clinic does NOT mean you "coached" the athletes for their career.

No question Bondarchuk coached Yuri Sedyck. He almost killed a young Yuri...a soccer player...and Yuri saw the hammer and started to compete. At Montreal, Bondarchuk got the bronze and his pupil, the Gold.

That is coaching an Olympian! From seed to fruit, if you will.

Now, I had a mom ask me to teach his son the "basics" of lifting in the fifth grade. Three years later, he asked about the discus. Four years later, he was the National Leader in the High School Discus (Paul Northway). Yet, I saw a flyer for a discus clinic a year later where a local guy advertised that he had "coached Paul Northway." Everyone in the "know" laughed their asses off.

We here at this forum need to be in the "know." If you think about a guy like Joe Montana, the football player, certainly you can point to Bill Walsh. But, didn't Joe graduate and play for a rather famous college program, Notre Dame? Even in a superstar's case...it ain't one coach.

I have bad news for people like myself...coaches. You can't make chicken salad out of chicken poop!

My point, and I have one, is that anytime you are challenged with the question: "How many Olympians have you coached?" you can laugh at the person asking the question.

Go to the single finest High School Football program in your area. Look at the record over the past five years...maybe 54 wins and no losses. Five state championships.

Ignore all that!

Look the head coach in the eye and say: "How many guys in the NFL from your school?" If he says "none," tell him point blank:

"You don't know nothing then!"

This, my friends, is idiocy...oh, and a real chance to get your *** kicked.

How many or how few Olympians "you have coached" is not the proof of a solid program!!!


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Old 02-24-2003, 09:34 AM   #16
Dan John
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Ah, "Exercise Science!" Go to ANY university in the USA and walk the halls of the P.E. department or Exercise Science and look around. It is a rare school that will welcome an athlete. In fact, usually, it is the last thing they want. When I was at Utah State, I found a prof who had written in an article that he was the assistant coach to Ralph Maughan during the "glory years" of Aggie throwing. He was a Phys Ed prof who had written dozens of booklets on teaching various sports.

Of course, Ralph Maughan was my coach, but Coach Maughan was "stingy" with his old stuff...files, films, workouts...so I asked to talk to this guy.

At best, he had the level of information of our Team Manager. EVERYthing he wrote was stolen or, at best, oblique to real training.

Oh, I have no point here. Basically, if you want sports information, go to the track or the weightroom.

When I was at the United State Olympic Training Center in both 1990 and 1991, I was videoed and biomechanically analyzed...under great expense I was told. I asked one guy how to improve my technique.

Let me quote his answer:
"Try a cycle of anabolics and see if that helps."

The next summer, I started working with John Powell and Brian Oldfield. AFter one throw, they showed me that my right foot didn't turn in the middle and my head was shooting off the axis of that right foot...making me lose a LOT of feet and fouling all the time.

Take your pick, my friends. If someone's advice is to take drugs (What was it that Nancy Reagan said?), we call them a "pusher" back home. If someone watches you for a minute and fixes your technique...

You have a Coach.
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