Ten years ago when I lived in Long Island City I discovered Crossfit. It maintains cult-like elements which allowed it to spread virally. If you have ever met an apostle who was still in the indoctrination phase you might have AMRAP’d your eye-rolling muscles. You could have done worse than snuck ketchup on their non-grass-fed burger. One thing you didn’t get to do, is get a word in during a conversation with a newly-converted. Blah, blah, WOD, RX, blah. My favorite parody of it never fails to amuse me.
Now for all the great comedic material its beacon generated, Crossfit did repackage and admirably bring awareness to timeless principles like functional fitness and eating real, unprocessed food. It’s rise coincided with the growth of Netflix health documentaries and Facebook. The influence of Crossfit can be seen almost everywhere. Many gyms and trainers are white-labeling Crossfit practices, creating unbranded classes and camaraderie with a mission of having members push one another to look and feel better,
I was heavily influenced by my coach Vadim Noskov. I could say a lot about him but just imagine the respected people in your life who were wholly devoted to their craft, unyielding in their approach, and, yet, as teachers made you feel that helping you was the reason they woke up in the morning. That is Vadim. (He has no idea I’m writing this and I haven’t done more than exchange FB birthday greetings since I left NYC in 2012). One of the lessons that stuck with me occurred when a student asked if they could wear gloves during a pullup-heavy workout. While calloused hands were a CF badge of honor, Vadim’s objection to gloves wasn’t about some fleeting totem. Vadim replied, “If you were hiking on a ledge and slipped and had to catch yourself, would you be wearing gloves?”. Whoa, calm down, Rambo, it’s just pull-ups.
It’s not just pull-ups. The reason Vadim’s Socratic nudge sticks in my head didn’t crystallize until years later. It’s not just about preparation in the Boy-Scout sense of the word. It’s about preparing so that you are confident in your own flexibility. It’s not about “just-in-case”. It’s about, “the thing to expect is the unexpected”. The framing is subtle. I don’t assume X most of the time and have simple fallbacks in case of Y. It’s being ok that I don’t have a great sense of what the Xs are. And I’m at peace with that because my default value is pure flexibility. (I’m not pretending I live up to this btw).
I’ll give 2 examples
- I have been intermittent fasting for 2 years. More cult-stuff. I was hardcore paleo for 7 years so we’ll see how long this fasting thing goes. I read Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat which gives a comprehensive survey of the research around IF. It’s my go-to rec for people interested in the topic. I’m not going to go into all the purported benefits. The truth is I don’t do it for the advertised benefits, many of which, I think, are speculative. Like most health ideas in the 20% bucket of the 80/20 rule, the signal to noise ratio is invisibly small. So why do I bother to fast 18 hours a day most days and 24 hours every 2 weeks? Because it’s empowering to discover a truth that you guys will vehemently deny. You have never felt biological hunger. I know you have used hunger as an excuse. “I can’t think right now”. “I can’t work out right now”. Your hunger is and always was psychological and associative. Biological hunger takes several days before it comes knocking. If you get in the habit of fasting, you will discover this on your own. And then you are free. Liberated from ever using hunger as an excuse. If fasting has physical benefits then that’s a bonus, but I’m more than satisfied with the unintended psychic benefit. The cold acclimation crowd will tell you a similar story.
- Recently, I went to a strength coach who specializes in Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength approach to powerlifting. I’ve always leaned towards compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, but I wanted a proper form refresher. After all, injury is the most looming risk to being consistent. Coach Jeremy Tully at Bay Strength in Berkeley (I would highly recommend him if you want to learn powerlifting) introduced me to the Rate of Perceived Exertion scale. The scale asks the user to rate how many reps they have left in the tank for a given weight. So a typical workout might say do 3 sets of squats where the first set you use a weight that you could have done for 3 more reps, the second set choose a weight where you’d leave 2 reps in the tank and the final set, a weight that leaves just a single rep in reserve. Contrast this to a workout that prescribes the weights explicitly. If you have a poor night’s sleep or eat poorly you may intentionally avoid the gym because you’re discouraged by the prospect of falling short of the prescribed weights. But when you use the RPE scale it allows you to adapt the weight to whether you are having a strong day or a weak day. The system’s design recognizes that no single day’s performance is important but it’s more crucial to go to the gym and be consistent. The good days and bad days will vary but the goal is to have the trend ‘up and to the right’. The RPE system gives you the mental permission to try without the tyranny of a minimum required score, which might otherwise have deterred you from the main goal — showing up.
Vadim’s rhetorical question, fasting, and the RPE scale all defang your future excuses by liberating you from self-imposed psychic limitations. These little mind dams are blocking the flow of your progress by trapping you in stagnant pools of repetitive thoughts. This is a reminder that your biological ceilings are far taller than the imaginary ones you’ve trapped yourselves within.
(If you are near Montclair, NJ Vadim is at Noskov Fitness)