Friday, February 2nd, 2018: 15 years of CrossFit

February 1, 2018

10 burpees
10 ghd situps
10 pass throughs
10 figure 8’s

5×3 @80-90%

“Catcher in the Rye”
For time: 15min cap
SDHP 95/65
Thrusters 95/65
Push Press 95/65

L1: 65/35
L2: 75/45


Comments 11

After 15 years of CrossFit training, I have finally completed Fran in less than three minutes.

This is a dubious distinction. I suspect I have taken longer to reach a sub-three Fran than anyone else—ever.

So why should anyone listen to what I have to say about a decade and a half of CrossFit training?

To learn from my errors, of course.

Train With Others

I have been the guy training alone in the corner and making the same mistakes for months on end.

My most important advice: Don’t be that guy.

ALT TEXTRuss Greene, two-time CrossFit Games competitor, learned that community, camaraderie and competition are key to success.

We have all likely heard the phrase “men will die for points.” It’s true. Competition is probably the best motivator. And it’s a sly cognitive trick: If you’re thinking about winning or performing well in the workout, you’ve already assumed you’ll attend and complete the workout. If you lose the WOD, you still get fitter. Hence the hardest problems in exercise—compliance and attendance—are neatly solved.

If you have trained for years, it might be hard for you to find someone who can keep up with you in the average group. Train with others anyway. As I was doing Cindy a few years ago at CrossFit DC, two thoughts occurred to me:

  1. There is no way I’d do this on my own.
  2. I am not competing with anyone.

What’s that about? Why do we push ourselves harder in the presence of others, even if they are not competing with us and have no idea what round we’re on? I can’t quite answer that, but you’d be dumb to give up that extra boost of intensity.

“But,” you say, “my gym programs too much X and not enough Y.”

I get it. No gym is ever going to program in a way that matches all your personal beliefs and specific weaknesses every single day.

That’s OK. Programming probably does not matter as much as you think. As Ben Bergeronsaid, “Programming is overrated and coaching is underrated.” Community and coaching will make more of a difference than how often you do thrusters. And if your gym’s programming makes you uncomfortable because it’s not what you’d program on your own, that might be a good thing.

Also, it cracks me up when people debate group exercise versus individualized training. No one said you have to choose. Train in a group, then you can fill in any gaps on your own—which brings me to some bad news.

You Have to Run

It’s become fashionable in some fitness circles to hate running. And no, running is not the singular key to fitness. It has never appeared in the Open, affiliates generally do not program many single-modality run days, and if you run too much it can detract from your gains in other areas.

None of those statements is a good reason to avoid running.

Your affiliate might not program many run days because members come to the gym with the expectation that they will actually train in the gym. That’s fine, but don’t make it your excuse. At least a few times a month, program running for an outside-the-gym training session.

ALT TEXTNothing replaces running. Not even kettlebell swings with a weighted vest. (Courtesy of Russ Greene)

If you avoid running, you will almost certainly be a slow runner at any distance. That itself is a major gap in your fitness.

But running also makes you:

  1. Deal with weather. How prepared for the unknown are you if you’re only used to working out in gyms at 68-72 F? Your body and mind can get used to training in a wide range of conditions if you force them to do so.
  2. Tame the voices in your head. It is a very different mental challenge to keep going out there on your own, without the benefit of blaring music, coaches and training partners.
  3. Load your joints. No matter how many Assault AirBike calories or Concept2 meters you put in, neither machine will come close to running when it comes to joint impact. As Tony Leyland explained in the CrossFit Journal, avoiding this impact might make you more vulnerable to injury.
  4. Keep going. There is no hiding in a 10K, no excuse to chalk your hands, stop and sip some water, or break up your sets early. You just have to keep going. And regularly forcing yourself through this experience will make other CrossFit WODs seem less daunting, physically and mentally. A 12-minute AMRAP won’t seem like a “long” workout for you.

Massive Cheat Meals Can Set You Back

I admit there’s something glorious about breaking a strict diet with a bunch of doughnuts or a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. I don’t think, however, that it is good to do this regularly.

Let’s say you enjoy a large cheat meal twice a week and eat well the rest of the time. A single Krispy Kreme Chocolate Iced Glazed Doughnut contains 20 g of sugar, 33 g of carbohydrates and 240 calories. I don’t know about you, but back in my days of massive cheat meals, I could easily put down six of them. That’s 120 g of sugar, 188 g of carbs and 1,440 calories—and that’s not including the pizza, candy or whatever else you eat along with the doughnuts.

A one-meal intake containing 120 grams of sugar is more added sugar than the maximum the American Heart Association says an adult man should eat in three days. And these are the same people who partnered with The Coca-Cola Co. and endorsed Cocoa Puffs as heart-healthy food. Imagine how little sugar the AHA would have recommended if it had never collaborated with the junk-food industry.

Maybe you have more self-discipline than I. Maybe you can eat a single doughnut, log the macronutrients into your iPhone and call it there. Good for you—but that’s not what I’m warning about. I’ve personally found it significantly easier to avoid added sugar completely than to attempt moderation.

My name is Russ, and I’m a sugar addict.

ALT TEXTThe original CrossFit gym in Santa Cruz, California.

Don’t Become a “Competitor” by Default

If you are half-decent at fitness, it’s tempting to start considering yourself a “competitor.”

My advice is to pause and think before joining a competitors group at your gym or following a competitors program you found online. Ask yourself: Are you really willing to commit 10-plus hours a week to the Sport of Fitness? Are you really ever going to be competitive with those you see at Regionals or even those at the top of the Open leaderboard? Unless you can see yourself snatching 245 lb. for reps in the middle of a met-con and doing 20-plus ring muscle-ups in a row, the answer might be no.

Video: “Games ’07 CrossFit Total Highlights”

Maybe competitive fitness is indeed the right choice for you, but don’t become a competitor by default. Competition is not the next step just because you finish first in the 6-a.m. class or do benchmark workouts as prescribed. You have other options. You could simply use CrossFit training as the general fitness program it was originally intended to be and take on other sports and activities. Take an adult gymnastics class, start Brazilian jiu-jitsu, sign up for a local race, etc. Or maybe you just train in CrossFit five days a week and live a long, healthy life free of the chronic diseases that kill millions each year.

ALT TEXT“Maybe competitive fitness is indeed the right choice for you, but don’t become a competitor by default.” —An older, wiser Russ Greene (Agust Sigurjonsson/CrossFit Journal)

Ask yourself this: Are you doing snatches and burpees to get better at snatches and burpees or to be more prepared outside the box?

All this connects to a larger point. If you want to commit to fitness for the long term, it has to be about more than seconds and pounds. That external motivation might not last. The longer you train, the more time you will spend between PRs.

When I first started training with CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman as a high-school student back in 2004, he said, “Strategies, paradigms (and) successful mechanisms are best imparted and received in the physical province.”

I did not get it at first. I do now.

What Greg meant is that you should apply the habits you develop in the gym to schoolwork, learning a new language, starting a business, investing or even literature. If you do so, you are not just exercising; you are improving yourself as a human being.

And if you do this work in a group, it is hard not to gain some true friends while you’re at it.

I can think of worse ways to spend 15 years, or a lifetime.

Additional reading: “Best of CrossFit: Russell Greene Edition”

Additional reading: “Where I’ve Trained, What I’ve Learned”

About the Author: Russ Greene is CrossFit Inc.’s Director of Government Relations and Research. His work on scientific conflicts of interest has been featured in national and international press and has resulted in government investigation and policy changes. He competed in the CrossFit Games in 2007 and 2008, before it was necessary to qualify. For more of his content, please