Basics are formidable. Virtuosity trumps all.

“Significantly improve your 400 meter run, two thousand meter row, squat, dead, bench, pull-up, and dip. Now you are a more formidable being.”
– Greg Glassman

I am constantly, still, marveled at Greg Glassman’s brilliance. Obviously I’m a little biased, but far too many others agree for that to be in error. Whether his brilliance is in raw knowledge or just articulating that knowledge, regardless of its’ depth, I find myself time and time again thinking, “Of course it’s that simple. That makes perfect sense.”

As we enter the CrossFit Open and dive into five weeks of arduous tests let us not forget what we strive for. The things that make up a truly formidable being are far simpler than we let ourselves believe. Because of the nature of the most modern image of CrossFit and it’s competitive season we are enthralled with the shiny objects, fancy methods, and breadth of knowledge available and tend to complicate things. In reality, the pieces that matter most always seem to rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times putting us back in our place . . . hard. A few examples come to mind that make it quite comical to poke fun at ourselves and bring us back down to earth. 

A few years back there was a row event at the Games and as most recall there were two scoring opportunities: 1) the first 2000 meters and 2) the 21,097 meters as a whole. Obviously many athletes wanted to game plan a bit, and rightly so, for a smart pacing strategy. On the other hand, points are points at this stage. Jason Khalipa saw an opportunity to take out the 2k row hard, win it, and just plain suffer the rest of the way hoping for the best. Where as most thought there’d be two distinct winners, the one that chose to go out hard and fast and the one that chose to pace a bit more and take the longer event points, no one predicted one individual would be able to snag both. Khalipa did just that. He was an example that just as in other types of training the more powerful athlete may have a better chance to perform on both ends of the spectrum. We could imagine that a decent sprinter could force him or herself to suffer through an endurance event for a decent score, but an endurance athlete would have a noticeably difficult time mustering up the power to post a decent result in a significantly faster domain. Now, repeated efforts bring up a whole new discussion, but we’re talking about the CrossFit Games and a single event. The folks with a great ability to perform in an endurance only category were no match for a guy that could post a 1:35 split for 2000 meters and just plain suffer after that. It was pretty incredible. I’m going to go ahead and guess that Khalipa’s personal record 2k row time is pretty solid. 

A second example is the truth serum movement some hate and some love in the Pull-up. It’s funny how basic it is, but also levels the playing field so much in so many different situations. It seems logical that the folks with the greatest ability to perform sound, hollow, strict pull-ups could perform the same range of motion using a sound kip to do the same work faster or scale a wall if necessary. Those folks will probably fair well when asked to pull their bodies up to an object or surface. We can’t say the same for someone that is simply phenomenal at using momentum in a kip of some kind and takes full advantage of that technique when available, no matter how smooth the technique appears. Enter the Peg Board at the CrossFit Games. This tool showed many athletes’ glaring weaknesses and got the peg board on everyone’s training map in the following year. What they seem to forget is the importance and beauty in being able to perform a basic strict, hollow pull-up well. Imagine how different that event could have gone if those athletes simply had a better ability to show mastery in a basic function of bodyweight prowess. 

If you scan back to the top quote in which Glassman hits several elegant ideas to begin seeking the road to mastery you’ll notice each of the two examples included. It truly is amazing how if we rewired our thinking a bit to not get so distracted by things out of our control how much more formidable we could become. 

The point is this. There will be a workout with muscle-ups at some point in this year’s Open. If you are one of the folks that presents a problem for you will have two ways to approach it after the workout. During the workout you’ll either struggle and fail or maybe even get your first muscle-up ever . . . YAY! After the workout you’ll either be pissed that you sucked it up and will commit, however aimlessly it may be, to getting better at the muscle-up. The second option is to extrapolate that back to a Pull-up and begin seeking mastery in being able to control your upper body, overall develop strength, and get your bodyweight to strength ratio moving in the right direction through hard work in diet and exercise. 

Be wise in choosing which athlete you’ll be and become. It could have large scale implications in other areas as well. Master the basics. Then take a step back and do it again. 

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