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March 14, 2009

“Furious activity is no substitute for understanding.”
– H. H. Williams

How true when it comes to understanding proper movements during our workout of the day. When the only focus is weather or not you have the fastest time over other people- you are missing a big part, probably even most, of the picture. Even in a scored event where it literally is a race-Furious activity is no substitute for understanding, proper technique. Efficient movement that is done well and executed at high intensity is nice to watch. When someone is working with full capacity for power,and speed and they are moving safely people admire the athletes abilities. (Think gymnasts and olympic sprinters or swimmers) This approach, and striving for this type of ‘Virtuosity’ will vastly improve the odds of a long and satisfying career as CrossFitter. The opposite, someone that is only concerned with speed…well it’s ugly and they won’t last. This is the case in any sport. Lets say that a race car driver was only concerned with speed and ignores developing his handling skills thinking that they are too tedious and he will just pick it up or rely on his ‘experience’. I probably don’t need to say much to get you to imagine the inevitable outcome-he is going to loose control and get hurt-there is no question about that. Imagine a baseball pitcher who has the same mentality-he furiously hurls the ball as hard as he can only concerned with velocity. He would be untouchable…only when he threw the rare strike, and wasn’t beaning or walking people- If his arm could even last for more than one inning. These guys have the right idea in the sense that they want to be the best and they want to be fast-but they have lousy technique and it is costing them the race/game.

Please take the time to read the following excerpts (even you Rita) from Greg Glassman’s open letter to trainers- “Virtuosity” It is also available in the CrossFit Journal archives.

In gymnastics, completing a routine without error will not get you a perfect score, the 10.0—only a 9.7. To get the last three tenths of a point, you must demonstrate “risk, originality, and virtuosity” as well as make no mistakes in execution of the routine.

Risk is simply executing a movement that is likely to be missed or botched; originality is a movement or combination of movements unique to the athlete—a move or sequence not seen before. Understandably, novice gymnasts love to demonstrate risk and originality, for both are dramatic, fun, and awe inspiring— especially among the athletes themselves, although audiences are less likely to be aware when either is demonstrated.

Virtuosity, though, is a different beast altogether. Virtuosity is defined in gymnastics as “performing the common uncommonly well.” Unlike risk and originality, virtuosity is elusive, supremely elusive. It is, however, readily recognized by audience as well as coach and athlete.

There is a compelling tendency among novices developing any skill or art, whether learning to play the violin, write poetry, or compete in gymnastics, to quickly move past the fundamentals and on to more elaborate, more sophisticated movements, skills, or techniques. This compulsion is the novice’s curse—the rush to originality and risk.

What will inevitably doom a physical training program and dilute a coach’s efficacy is a lack of commitment to fundamentals. We see this increasingly in both programming and supervising execution. Rarely now do we see prescribed the short, intense couplets or triplets that epitomize CrossFit programming. Rarely do trainers really nitpick the mechanics of fundamental movements.

I understand how this occurs. It is natural to want to teach people advanced and fancy movements. The urge to quickly move away from the basics and toward advanced movements arises out of the natural desire to entertain your client and impress him with your skills and knowledge. But make no mistake: it is a sucker’s move. Teaching a snatch where there is not yet an overhead squat, teaching an overhead squat where there is not yet an air squat, is a colossal mistake. This rush to advancement increases the chance of injury, delays advancement and progress, and blunts the client’s rate of return on his efforts. In short, it retards his fitness.

If you insist on basics, really insist on them, your clients will immediately recognize that you are a master trainer. They will not be bored; they will be awed. I promise this. They will quickly come to recognize the potency of fundamentals. They will also advance in every measurable way past those not blessed to have a teacher so grounded and committed to basics. Training will improve, clients will advance faster, and you will appear more experienced and professional and garner more respect, if you simply recommit to the basics.

If some of these things were missed in our fledgling phases-Now is when we will fix them. I am happy to announce that the entire week of March 16 through the 21st will be devoted to scheduled (meaning that each of you will sign up for the class times that you will participate) sessions where groups no larger than 5 people will participate in reassessment and testing of our foundational skills. We will recommit to basics, sometimes covering several in one session then playing some games and doing brief but intense couplets or triplets involving the movements we cover. Strength will not be neglected either and we will surely cover those movements as well. I am going to nitpick..a lot. These sessions are mandatory and there will not be any self programming or non participation taking place during these sessions. I know that we will all benefit from this and really do all I can to make sure it is valuable educational and maybe even fun.



BASKETBALL…CrossFit Style. Come at 1pm and wear your high-tops.

Nice to have some friends from Nantucket stop by. Jose, Brooke, Johanna,and Anjelica (too shy to be in the picture) it was good seeing you-thanks for coming by.

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  1. Nicole Reply

    Great analogies and the letter from Greg Glassman, I think, is a necessary reminder to all of us at times. Safety should be at the forefront of the decisions that we make about how much weight, which band, and any scaling that should be done. It’s hard when you are in the heat of the moment to step back and say, “I can’t do that Rx’d today.” But, the precision needed to keep the fundamental movements safe is more important than a spot on the whiteboard. Like you said, when the movements are executed well, I am in awe of that movement!

    Thanks again for posting this and reminding us about virtuosity.

  2. jmiles Reply

    you had me at furious.

  3. Mark Lee Reply

    Thanks Nicole I hope you will be available as an assistant coach- and when we go over squat technique-yours is definitely the best example.

    Jon-I wish I could quit you.

  4. Jane Reply

    Mark, thanks for the reminder of how important technique really is. Like Nicole said, sometimes it’s easy to get carried away by the clock, and we lose focus on the fundmentals. I’m really looking forward to this week.

  5. Littles Reply

    Thanks for nitpicking Mark, it makes us better, which I think we all are striving to be.

  6. Mark Lee Reply

    This seems to be working out already. I am excited for the week ahead.

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