CrossFit Certification Seminar, Puyallup, Washington

I spent all weekend in a CrossFit gym, along with some friends and loads of other CrossFitters. The place was packed with students and trainers with about three trainers for every four students, so it was hard to tell how many of which group were present. This was a lot of time to spend in one place with so many people I didn’t know, and a few years ago I would have been too intimidated to do it, but faced with this challenging seminar I just told myself I can roll with whatever happens, because I’ve been working hard at CrossFit North for two years.
It was more difficult to maintain that frame of mind on day two, when I was sore and fatigued from day one and knew we were going to do a hard workout at some point, ready or not. At the same time, I knew that working out would make me feel better, no matter how difficult it might seem going into it.
CrossFit founder and coach Greg Glassman is the main presenter at these seminars along with a very accomplished trainer named Nicole. Both days contained alternating talks, demos, and workouts or skill drills. Skill drills were done in small groups with several students and at least three trainers. I was not able to take notes, and it is already hard to remember everything we did and in what order. Every minute of it was engaging and valuable.
Some of the ideas I want to hold onto:
Evaluate new trainees by watching them exercise. This elicits better information than any questionnaire. Coach Glassman walks upstairs with them and puts them on an exercise bike. If they’re winded just by going up stairs or very easily on the bike, he knows to start with a greatly scaled workout: concentrate on the basic movements such as air squat, light deadlift, easy row, very light overhead presses or reaches.
Build skill before adding weight. Example: a fire-station crew was doing CF workouts and got their commander involved. They rashly had him snatch the KB and he wound up in the hospital (with shoulder problems, I assume). He hadn’t been taught the skills leading up to slinging a weight over your head. I can imagine this mistake could be made by a lot of DIY CrossFitters who charge full-speed ahead without enough practice.
Goal setting might not come from a new trainee in a meaningful way. Goals might be obscured by fears–I don’t want to get bulky muscles, I don’t want to do exercises that might hurt my knees. Talk about their idea of goals, but also ask them after they’ve gotten hooked on the workouts and seen the examples set by other trainees. (For instance, first the trainee didn’t want to get big muscles, but six weeks later she wants to be able to do a muscle-up.)
Programming (how you pattern or mix up workouts over time) is important in several ways. For client retention: Give new people a workout that will challenge them but will not make them refuse to come back. For content: Always use large muscle groups, but vary the emphasis. Example: Day 1 is a series of deadlift sets going from heavy to light and from few reps to many; day 2 is handstand push-ups and farmer’s walk for three rounds. For scalability: Design each workout for the firebreathing CrossFit monsters and scale it for others, not the other way around. For skill: Scale the workouts for new trainees in such a way that you can teach and reinforce basic skills as thoroughly as possible before start adding intensity and weight.
Approach a goal from any and every direction you can think of. For a five-minute mile: run a mile; next time try to run it faster. Run for five minutes; next time try to run farther. Run at a five-minute-mile pace and see how long you can maintain it. Eventually you get a five-minute mile. This may be oversimplified but I like the clarity of the approaches. Another example: To get Nicole up to the ability to do “Fran” using 95 pounds like the guys use, and to get a similar fast time on it, Coach Glassman took a similar variety of approaches. Do the whole workout as fast as possible with no weight at all and with “pretend pull-ups” (pulling the arms through the air); over time, get the speed down to the guys’ real-life speed. Build up to the 95 pounds going slowly, then add more reps over time. Build up the speed using light weight. Do the whole workout with big breaks in between sets, then start shortening the breaks.
If a trainee can’t get properly into a position such as a correct squat, gently rearrange them and support them if there’s a balance issue. If you are able to arrange them into position, the problem is not a flexibility problem, but one of balance, skill, or strength, and can be overcome through either practice (for balance and skill) or through training (for strength). I ran into this myself with the squat and with the one-arm overhead dumbbell squat.
A deadlift set-up does not use the same back position as a squat. In the deadlift, shoulders are forward of hands even though shoulder blades are being “pulled together” as part of midline stabilization. This position allows the bar to move straight up and down without the knees getting in the way.
How to explain to a skeptical acquaintance (my coworkers) that kipping pull-ups are more intense and a better workout than strict pull-ups: Have someone do 20 strict pull-ups and someone else do 20 kipping pull-ups. The kipping ones are faster and move the same (or greater) amount of weight the same (or greater) distance, so they’re a better workout. Or have the skeptic practice nothing but kipping pull-ups for a while and then rest up and try strict ones. They’ll be able to do more than before. This makes me think we should start calling “strict” pullups “bodybuilding pull-ups” since the only thing they do is isolate the lats.
What the hamstrings do: extend the hip flexors; act as a brake/stabilizer for the quads and knees (for example as you descend–not freefall–into a squat). Learning to sense and engage the hamstrings and glutes in a squat “is teaching your brain what your ass does for a living.”
The three best abdominal strength developing exercises (which also recruit the most muscle, not isolating anything): the L-sit; situps on the glute-ham apparatus; and sit-ups on the AbMat with soles of feet touching. The AbMat slips under the lower back to provide a fulcrum. Fulcrum schmulcrum, I could not do a single one!
I’m going to try to list what we did, though I may have some mistakes:
Saturday:
Lecture: Explanation and demo of the squat and the deadlift. Introduction of the midline stabilization concept: the back and pelvis are a unit. Strength and athletic versatility come from being able to stabilize them in the right position for the move. Midline stabilization also prevents injury. Strength and power flow out from this core to the extremities.
Small-group practice: squat, deadlift , military press (put your shoulders in your ears).
A workout: bottom-to-bottom Tabata squats. (Video–not of our group). My score: 14 (i.e., lowest number of reps from among the eight sets). This killed everyone’s legs and made the upcoming workout harder.
Lecture: More on midline stabilization in various activities and exercises. Discussion of various people’s (in the fitness world) idea of what core training means. Description of “Swiss balls” given to the gym by well-meaning friends being destroyed/devoured by his dogs, implying that’s all they’re good for. (“We like the red ones best–it’s easier to see the pieces in their poop.”) Demos and discussion of the next three movements.
Small-group practice: front squat; sumo high-pull deadlift; push-press (dip straight down, not forward, and drive straight up; put your shoulders in your ears).
Full-group warm-up outside in the sunshine: jumping jacks, etc.
Workout: “Strung-out, backwards, and upside-down ‘Fran'” (no relation–“Fran” happens to be the name of the workout)
For time:
Run 800 meters; 9 pull-ups; 9 thrusters, 65 pounds (for women)
Run 600 meters; 15 pull-ups; 15 thrusters
Run 400 meters; 21 pull-ups; 21 thrusters
My time was 19:27. Everything up through the 400-meter run was just “normally” difficult. Doing 21 pull-ups and 21 thrusters (thrusters video) at the end, though, made me feel like I was going to fall over with exhaustion before I finished. I broke those sets up quite a bit. Two female coaches were cheering me on the whole time, which was great!
Lunch break
More lecture and demos: how to get something from the ground to shoulder height (the clean). How to get a weight overhead.
Small-group practice: medicine-ball cleans; push-jerk (dip/drive straight down and up, shoulders in the ears); overhead squat.
Sunday:
Powerlifting coach and author Mark Rippetoe’s two-hour lecture and demos (with audience volunteers) on deadlift and squat: When deadlifting, different people will have a different back angle–whatever allows them to reach the bar with their shoulders slightly forward of their hands and their butt high enough to keep their knees from getting in the way of the bar. When squatting, point your toes (thus your femurs) out to allow the kneecap to track in its groove. The correct set-up for a deadlift has three elements: which I tried to memorize but failed. Something about scapulas perpendicular to the bar (whatever that means), maybe the flat back (not rounded), and the knees far back enough not to get in the way?
Lecture: the importance of proper form in the overhead squat. A young, fit, male CrossFitter helped with this demo, which was an overhead squat contest between him and Nicole. They used the same weight. Coach Glassman told them to do 21 reps. The young man failed at around 12. Coach Glassman used this to make a point about what a difference it makes to use the right technique when lifting overhead: the shoulders in the ears, the weight accurately positioned in the frontal plane (which divides the athlete front to back), the athlete’s body evenly distributed in front of and behind the frontal plane, and the back straight.
Lecture: the L-sit. Learn this by starting in a tuck, then sticking out first one leg, then the other. Why is it that when both legs come out, the whole thing collapses? The legs aren’t connected to each other. And if you hold a weight in each hand and stick out one hand, then the other, they won’t both collapse like the legs do. Coach Glassman thinks this may be because a Golgi tendon organ somewhere senses the tension put on the back by extending both legs, and causes the brain to drop both legs. Really strong midline stabilization absorbs this tension and allows both legs out.
Demo of L-sit, glute-ham apparatus sit-ups, AbMat sit-ups.
Whole-group warm-up: 800-meter run, jumping jacks, etc. Whole-group training on medicine-ball clean and jerk in phases: set, clean and squat, stand, dip/drive/press, stand. We were made to hold the squat position several times for what seemed ages. This was like torture to the sore and tired legs.
Whole-group medicine-ball clean and jerk practice: 35 reps that had to be done in phases and in unison; if anyone got out of phase we had to wait in position until everyone had it right. Excruciating! Somehow we got through it.
Lecture: (???) What, was I brain dead by then? Apparently.
Demos and workout: Fight Gone Bad. Women’s weight for the push-press and the sumo highpulls was 65 pounds, I was told afterward. Wallball ball weight was 14 pounds. My score: 214. With the heavier ball and the fatigue from the previous day and the morning, this was the most difficult FGB I’ve ever done. I thought I was gonna die, as Rosanne Rosannadanna would say. Sean and I were each other’s scorekeepers. He was the second to work out. At the end of the last round of that second phase, all the coaches and scorekeepers were yelling so loud it was like a riot was breaking out. Fun!
Lunch (a well deserved long break)
Lecture: (???)
Small-group practice, rotating through stations: slam-ball and kettlebell swings; row and rope climb; dips, push-ups, and muscle-ups on rings; glute-ham apparatus and L-sits and AbMat; one-hand dumbbell snatch and overhead squat; handstands and handstand push-ups. I’d forgotten how exciting and fun it is to climb a rope! And it was easier than ever, even though I hadn’t done it in a year. Every time I do it I burn my ankle just a little bit on the way down, and that’s why I stopped doing it after I was satisfied I could do it more than once in a row. And I was really glad to have a chance to practice some handstands, as usual.
When and if I remember more of what I don’t remember right now, I’ll update these notes. (If I don’t post this now I never will.) It was a great experience and very informative, and an honor to be trained by and with such generous experts.

2 thoughts on “CrossFit Certification Seminar, Puyallup, Washington”

  1. that sounds like a great workshop. (oh how i wish my gym had a rope to climb — i am vaguely working toward climbing with no legs).
    i love the line “first the trainee didn’t want to get big muscles, but six weeks later she wants to be able to do a muscle-up.” i think that’s what makes crossfit, acrobatics, martial arts, etc so much more exciting and engaging than straight weightlifting. it makes me so happy for women to realize that the things they can do with their bodies are more exciting than how their bodies look.
    and finally, i like all the different ways you listed in your examples of approaching goals from as many ways as possible. i’ve been thinking about this in terms of hspus recently. do them with a spot. do them lowering as far as you can (just negatives). do them unassisted just at the range you’re able. do them with a kick. so many ways to get at it, and i bet there are more.

  2. Rippetoe’s three requirements for a good deadlift setup.
    1) The back must be locked in extension.
    2) The bar must be touching the shins, with the feet flat on the floor.
    3) The shoulders must be out in front of the bar so that the shoulder blades are directly above the bar. [That’s waht “scapulas perpendicular” to the bar means.]
    He’s got a whole article on this in the upcoming
    CrossFit Journal, fyi.

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