Mental 86

    “The Pursuit of Preparedness”

    My 2002 introduction to CrossFit came in the form of standard bodyweight exercises combined into a short, challenging circuit at the end of kickboxing class. I had recently transitioned away from more traditional martial arts into Muay Thai and grappling, and realized immediately that the strength, power, and conditioning demands were enormously different and needed to be addressed. I remember our group DREADING the “CrossFit” part of kickboxing class, and we hadn’t seen anything yet!

    The goal of our very savvy coaches (2 of the 8 participants in the 2nd ever CrossFit Certification class in Santa Cruz) was to hook us on the brief conditioning pieces and then deepen the water… and once they did, our performance improved immediately and dramatically.

    We began to create adaptations of the training methods that suited our needs, environment, and larger goals- all the while assuring that we kept the “Ready for Anything” idea at the front of our minds. We took the fantastic blueprint that CrossFit provided and began to make it ours. The cops in the group would practice scenario-training with short intervals of explosive exercise, grapplers would use exercises like kettlebell swings and rowing (and later, 360 situps, maces, Airdyne, hammers…) in between rounds of live rolling to build durability and mental endurance.

    For us then at CrossFit Long Beach, and now at Wolf Brigade, training was the vehicle… not the destination. The quality of each movement is immensely important, but in our brand of training, the movement is not the point. We want to finish quickly, or lift heavy, or whatever our prescription dictates not because we want to win the workout, but because we have seen that when completed with proper form, a progressive mindset, and an absence of excessive gym ego, the exercises and combinations of help us improve in all ways possible- both mental and physical, both in and out of the gym.

    When I left CrossFit Long Beach and Integrated Martial Arts in 2008 to move back home to Rochester, I had been “hard wired” (as my grappling Coach Joe Pena put it), to integrate fitness, strength, and conditioning seamlessly into an environment that never favored speed over form, and DID focus on composition over simple completion. My trainers did not then, and we do not now see ANY variation in priority between being able to do a pullup, fall to the ground and get up without a second thought, lift heavy weight overhead, escape a bear hug, apply a choke, or strategize with a group to perform a specific task. The idea of not producing an athlete as well rounded as my coaches strived for us to be wasn’t even on my radar, and it never will be.

    The simple idea of using the physical and mental skills we are developing in training to do more than train well is a mindset that will never get lost in the shuffle at Wolf Brigade, or in any group setting that I am given the responsibility of managing. There is an ocean-sized gap between being “ready for anything” and able to apply it anywhere, and being able to speed through 30 butterfly pullups and 15 hang power cleans x 3 followed by a short emotional breakdown.

    Taking some of the vaguery away: With the exception of extremely heavy lifts, we don’t use chalk at Wolf Brigade, and safety considered, we don’t drop our weights (lifting the implement off the ground or ourselves over it isn’t nearly as important to us as developing the ability to hold on to it). We don’t lay on our backs after completing a workout, (you didn’t quit during, so don’t quit after…) and we don’t rest with our hands on our knees and our eyes on the ground (…the universal signal for “done”). We don’t accept sub-standard form or range of motion in favor of a shorter completion time.

    NONE of those things are meant in criticism of anyone else’s methods or application, they are just some simple manifestations of our belief that strength, progress, and successful training are measured not only by times, movements, and loads, but by the composure and quality that surround the entire event, and subsequently carry over into… everything.

    “Training is the vehicle, not the destination.” That, among other valuable but hard-to-quantify ideas, has definitely gotten lost in the current translation of “Functional Fitness”. I want people to lift the heaviest shit possible of their own volition (which if we’re doing our job well will increase forever…), I want them to be able to hold on to things (human and otherwise) moving in any direction, and we want them to be “comfortable in chaos”. I want their performance of those tasks and attainment of their goals to include the same composure, character, and personal dignity that the training itself is intended and proven to build.

    As I said in our short 2009 Preparedness is not Paranoia article: If all of that sounds like too much thought, effort, and seriousness to put into “working out”, then we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    One thing that nearly everyone reading this WILL agree on is that smart, hard training can change lives, turn corners, build character, and begin to ready us for many challenges; We want those arms to reach as far and wide as they can into ensuring and improving the safety, happiness, mental acuity, and physical longevity of each and every person we train.

    It is a responsibility we take very seriously, and intend to succeed at well into the future.

    “Strength without preparedness is a half-empty glass.”

    Thank you for your time in reading today.

    Greg Walsh