Today it dawned on me that I am due to write an after action report for Friday's afternoon of functional fitness (aka CrossFit) training on Ft Meade. Without a doubt it was a success, although I can't be sure how many of the attendees "got it" or took away the desired message. What I am sure of is that each person who went through the lecture, instruction, demonstrations and work-out on Friday at the very least was exposed to an outstanding alternative view of fitness. I suppose the best way to begin is with how it got started.
The second week in September of 2007 I attended the CrossFit level 1 certification seminar held in Quantico, VA. It was a two day whirlwind of fitness training that challenged the widely held paradigms of modern body building, endurance training, nutrition and fitness at large. Personally I was in awe for the greater part of both days--mainly because I had been following CrossFit Inc's fitness regimen through their website (www.crossfit.com) since the summer of 2005. Until the August it never dawned on me that I would ever attend one of their trainer certification seminars, but right after my birthday the September Quantico Certification showed up on the main page. With some trepidation I clicked until I received my attendance confirmation e-mail.
The certification was enlightening and felt like somewhat of a homecoming, if you'll pardon the heady reference. It was the first time in two years that I was surrounded by people to whom CrossFit was "it". There have been others whom I exposed to CrossFit who 'got it', there were time when I had visited affiliates, even the CF HQ in Santa Cruz, CA--but this! This was a two day seminar of roughly ~75 individuals who not only follow the program, but who had taken the next step and sought out a higher level of training just like I had. Not only that, but there was the man who'd started it all, Greg Glassman, and his whole crew from Santa Cruz! I was truly blown away.
The stage was now set for me to put in motion the training we eventually conducted Friday October the 5th. In the seminar I picked up as much knowledge as I had picked up trying to train myself for two years via the web and my sporadic visits to affiliates. The real reward, however, was the chance to meet others who trained using the CrossFit methods. All stood out, all impressed me, but I'll highlight two here. One, Nick, turned out to work nearby me in Maryland. Also he was training in the local affiliate, CrossFit Annapolis, that I had at that point still failed to visit. The other, Andrew, was a fellow Marine officer, a Major who runs a like-minded group of individuals in their pursuit of elite fitness on board Quantico. I got contact info for these two and others, and when I got home I sent out a quick e-mail to make contact and express my thanks for their part in my two day experience.
After a few weeks went by and more and more folks sought me out to ask about CrossFit. I was showing people how to do a kettlebell swing or a squat, putting together workouts for Marines, then for my wife's friends and for my Marine Corps Martial Arts classes. It was affirming that people not only came, but came back. Since long before I knew exactly what I was doing (or was in any way qualified to do it) I was trying to spread the word about CrossFit. I toyed with the idea of trying to get a CrossFit seminar for my Marine Corps unit as others have done. After some inital exploration the high price, even with a military discount, was too much to bring up the chain of command without first demonstrating the suces of the program. EVen this seemed so daunting that I shelved the idea. Then I went to train with Dale at CF Annapolis (and experienced firsthand that he was a really good trainer.) For a few weeks I also continued corresponding with Andrew, the Major from Quantico, and he had said to let him know if there was anything he could do to help get my unit's program going. Over the course of a few days an idea formed in my head--this is what my wife would call a dangerous time to be around me.
In the Marine Battalion I am a part of I bear the honor and privilege of leading one of the three companies of Marines. As a company commander I had been slowly gaining ground up to that point by showing the brutal efficiency of CrossFit workouts during my once a week Commander's PT session. My approach was based on my experience with seeing many 'new idea guys' come and go in the Marines. My willingness to finally go out on a limb and introduce my success with CrossFit was due in most part to the new Concept for Functional Fitness. The Marines released this as guidance and a general statement on how/why the Marines need a greater level of all encompassing fitness to support our combat operations. This was the kind of all encompassing fitness I had gained training in the CrossFit methods. With mission type orders to get this level of physical preparednesses for my Marines I now felt armed to go forth and spread this to all who'd listen.
To date I had already found 'allies' among the other companies who saw the need for better fitness training. The training chief and company commander of the largest of our companies knew about CrossFit, and wanted to know more about what I'd learned. This set me up to attempt to give the entire company some training, but I still held back. What tipped me over was about ten minutes of working out with a SSgt during martial arts training. We did 3 rounds of a 400m run, 15 over head squats, 10 dips and 5 pull ups, or some such workout to that effect. So 3, 2, 1--go! And after my old carcass beat him (slightly) and we moved on to our martial arts training he brought up a point worth lingering on: this type of physical training evoked the same physical responses in his body that combat had evoked in Iraq. Stress like that is pretty difficult to prepare for; the fear, the unknown, the adrenaline, the endorphines, it all came about through this type of physical fitness programming. I had read and seen video to this effect, but hearing the SSgt's firt hand experience upon his intro to CrossFit tipped me over the edge, this training needed to happen, and it needed more credibility than just my own.
I put out a call for help to the local CrossFit community, asking Nick, Ryan and Andrew for their assistance in giving a short period of instruction, demonstration and exercise so that I could introduce as many of the leaders of our three companies to CrossFit as I could manage. To keep the training simple I wanted to have 20-25 Marines and limit attendance to those who actually plan and conduct their small unit training--the martial arts instructors, platoon commanders, executive officers, and training chiefs, etc. I wrote up an operations order and then with a bit of good faith and the help of the company training chiefs I locked on training spaces and crossed my fingers.
My requests for helps were answered quickly. Andrew and Ryan were on board, so was Nick who although not an affiliate, was also a CrossFit level 1 trainer and hey--the more the merrier right? Before long we had even more to be merry about, as Jesse from Primal fitness heard about our training from one of my Marines. Each one of these guys volunteered their time, their expertise and brought their equipment to boot! Within the space of a few phone calls and some e-mails all of them eagerly adjusted their own schedules and committed to help me train a group of Marines whom they had never even met. Fortune truly smiled on us, because these guys all really stepped up to the plate.
All four volunteered their time, made the drive in, dealt with my constant communications, endured the security process of getting on base and also brought gear. Our Marines had some weights, some space and a desire to learn. These guys brought rowers, kettlebells, olympic bars, bumper plates, plyometric boxes, rings, chalk, you name it. It was humbling to see just how generous and sharing this part of the larger CrossFit community was willing to be to spread the word.
We started the day meeting up for lunch, where we shared thoughts on life, politics, employment, gyms, and of course--fitness. We quickly sketched out how the day would roll and went back to it. In the Marine Barracks there were 24 Marine leaders waiting for us, the trainers regrouped and after a short intro we kicked off with Andrew giving a three part class to cover 1) What is CrossFit 2) the hierarchy of physical development and 3) the 10 general physical skills defined by Jim Cauley of Dynamax. In about an hour through his lecture and a short question and answer period he put the work of Coach Glassman and the physical skills into a perfect context for the Marines in attendance.
He highlighted where the needs of athletes and the military are linked and where they differ. Whereas the athlete needs to develop their body through nutrition, metabolic conditioning, and strength training ultimately for sport, for the military combat operations is highest order of endeavor. This context really set the stage for the importance of what we were trying to teach in that half day. Second place can mean the loss of life, limb or eyesight for you or your teammates. The value of this training, as the SSgt had pointed out to me, is that it can simulate some of the physical stress of combat, and we in the military should be training like we fight. CrossFit espouses (and proves to me regularly) that men will die for point. History shows us many examples were there honorable men and women of the armed forces have died for one another.
With this in mind we moved with purpose outside for practical hands-on instruction. Ryan and Jesse took turns explaining some basics movements for the planned workout, you may have heard of it: Fight Gone Bad. We went through a progression leading to all exercises needed for that day: the press and the push-press, the squat and front squat, the deadlift and the sumo deadlift high pull, introduced box jumps and ended it with a brief introduction to the rower. Everyone moved through every exercise for a number of repetitions with PVC pipe. The whole time with all the trainers available moving around the crowd and making fault checks and improvements to technique. We were all impressed by their skill and professionalism. I thought this was going to be the best part of the day, but FGB later proved me wrong.
Before we went to the workout we went inside for a short discussion on programming small unit PT. At this point the idea was to emphasize the importance of learning the methods, getting consistent then, and only then, ramping up one's intensity. We walked through this, then launched into a short but intense debate over how to implement an individual motivation based fitness regimen among Marines who at times are less than motivated. My observation was that although this problem will exist, this isn't a functional fitness program problem--its a leadership issue. Nothing is wrong with the leadership, my point is that leadership must address the true causes of the lack of motivation or effort among their Marines. The lack of effort or motivation is an indicator, not a problem. We had to cut the discussion short based on time--we could spend a week long seminar discussing motivation alone.
The problem with shaking up people's beliefs about fitness is its hard to explain why anyone should change what they think they should do to stay fit and healthy. I have always felt it is better to show them. To show them, we set up three gauntlets of 'Fight Gone Bad' at a heavy (CF men's standard), medium (CF women's standard) and light (half the men's standard) sets of weight. For those not familiar with it Fight Gone Bad (FGB) is a workout which is timed to simulate a UFC fight: 3 five minute rounds separated by a minute's rest between the 1st and 2nd rounds, 2nd and 3rd rounds. 17 minutes total, 15 minutes total work. During each 5 minute round there are 5 stations, each of which is executed for 1 straight minute. After each minute every athlete switches immediately to executing the exercise on the next station. Every repetition must meet the standard to count. The athlete's total number of repetitions is what counts as their score.
We set out to do FGB with two heats on all three gauntlets. Of the 24 who attended I believe we had about 90% participation in FGB. I'm just simplifying and sugar-coating it when I say it was INTENSE. To the best of my knowledge we had only one who did not finish (this due a sharp drop in blood sugar that was quickly fixed with some shade, water and a candy bar) but he was on the last exercise of the last round. Although I saw some powerful looks of suffering there was powerful work done by one and all who knocked it out. The best looks were on the faces of the second heat after the first heat was done. If I could read minds I may have been hearing things like "I have to do that now?!" and "oh my Fu&^%$g god!" all around. But they stepped it up.
I collected the sheets from smiling faces coated in sweat, most of whom were laying prostrate on the concrete making sweat angels. People were breathing hard but spirits were high--the braved a challenge and passed through to the other side. Our highest score among the wide range of fitness levels present was a 231, but that was irrelevant. The scores were not my goal, nor was a full FGB as prescribed by the standard my goal. In truth my goal was not to wreck anyone either. What I wanted to do was open a door to everyone who would attend. The Marines gave us their time, we showed them a world of possibility. It will be up to them to take it from there.
We ended the day soon after when everyone caught their breath. For short while I gave the floor to Jesse and Ryan to talk about Primal Fitness and CrossFit Annapolis, respectively. Then we thanked all of them: Nick, Ryan, Jesse and Andrew for their expertise and volunteerism. Without them this could not have been such as successful training evolution. I hope to bring them back, either individually to Ft Meade or to take groups down to their facilities for training. This was a great beginning. There will be more to come.
The CrossFit website introduced me not only to a fantastic workout program that changed me, it also introduced me to the CrossFit community. These guys hardly knew me and had no vested interest in coming to the Fort to train these Marines. Yet each one sacrificed their time and made the commitment to pass on part of the excellence they have found in their lives. I'm struck mute by their passion for fitness. All I can say is thank you Ryan, Nick, Jesse and Andrew. And once again I find myself saying thanks CrossFit, thanks Coach and Lauren. The workouts are world class, but the community which they have engendered in us all is truly amazing.