How to Make Slosh Pipes and Why

Here are two videos on Slosh Pipes. How to make them, and some basic ways to use them. Picking up things that are unstable and shift or move while you hold them may be a more effective way to train stabilizing muscles than standing or laying on a surface that is unstable. See below for details.

 

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The subject of strengthening the trunk muscles and the body’s core has become prevalent over the last 20 years. When we look at the use of unstable surfaces (physioballs a.k.s. Swedish balls, balance disks/platforms, Bosu balls, etc) and the use of unstable objects to lift (slosh pipes, slosh balls, weights suspended from bars, etc.) the topics of upper and lower extremity strengthening, and that of stabilizing muscles at the shoulder joint and hip also have been studied. These investigations go way back to the late 1990’s. Additionally, the subject of using the breath and specific breathing techniques has been studied. To effectively use any tool (slosh pipes, etc.) or method (anatomical breathing, biomechanical breathing or Valsalva maneuver) one must look at the available research to make appropriate decisions.

Starting with some older studies, research by McCool FD et al (1997) concluded that the cross-section of the diaphragm was increased (made stronger) by general (weight lifting) and specific (breathing) exercises.  This increase strength of the diaphragm should aid in increasing intra-abdominal pressure and assist in trunk stabilization. Mel Siff in Facts and Fallacies of Fitness (2002) further states that the holding of the breath and timing of breathing during exercise allowing the belly to distend automatically is of greater relevance than trying to pull it in (navel to the spine) during heavy lifting and pushing. He further suggests that reactive transversus abdominis activation is set off by changes in breathing pattern and tension changes in the diaphragm.  Similar evidence has been put forth more recently by Stuart McGill who also prefers the “bracing” maneuver to the “drawing in” maneuver for trunk and spine stability.

A full body approach to training the trunk and spinal stabilizers is currently overtaking the specific abdominal crunch and transversus abdominus activation methods. This is in part because the only time the trunk muscles will work independently of the limbs is when the body is suspended in water or air.  During activities, the body stabilizes as a whole which includes contributions from the periphery and the muscles, ligaments and soft tissues that stabilize the adjacent vertebrae. The speed at which the body must stabilize is very important and so a specific internally focused conscious activation of muscles may slow down the automatic processes by which we stabilize.  Although we may prepare and be able to stabilize slowly before some activities, many times (during falling, being pushed, etc.) we must stabilize in a dynamic, fast, explosive, or ballistic manner.  This recruitment of stabilizing muscles all over the body is under the control of preprogrammed processes (feed forward) and ongoing feedback from the proprioceptive and vestibular systems.  The proprioceptive system plays a larger role when the support is stationary and the vestibular system when the supporting is moving.

Balance on an unstable surface requires that the feet remain in a fixed position. Typically when a perturbation (destabilizing force) moves our center of gravity (COG) off of our base of support (BOS) we step to widen the base of support to stay balanced. When we do activities on balance apparatus, we now keep the feet and the space between them, the base of support, fixed so we must use another strategy to maintain our upright position or balance. These other strategies are different than what we use in life, work, sports where we would move the feet and change the base of support. Research has shown hip and ankle strategies to maintain balance when the feet are fixed in position on a balance apparatus in trained dancers. Studies showed may differences in the hip and ankle strategies used by subjects including inclining the trunk to maintain balance.

This post however isn’t about balance training, it’s about lifting unstable objects. When we begin to explore the research on lifting stable vs. unstable objects we find studies that compare barbell (stable) to dumbbell (unstable) exercises. One such study looked at changes in muscle activation during a barbell (BB) (coupled) and dumbbell (DB) (uncoupled) chest press exercise performed on an unstable surface. The results suggested that demands on the core musculature to provide stability are increased with the use of DBs (uncoupled) as opposed to a BB (coupled).

A similar study states that “Many believe that the most effective way to recruit the core stabilizing muscles is to execute traditional exercise movements on unstable surfaces. However, physical activity is rarely performed with a stable load on an unstable surface; usually, the surface is stable, and the external resistance is not.” In this study, the results indicated that as the instability of the exercise condition increased, the external load decreased so there was little support for training with a lighter load using unstable loads or unstable surfaces.

Two studies looked specifically at unstable load devices. The first examined a biceps curl exercise with a type of slosh pipe or unstable water filled tube.  The findings indicated that though bicep activation remained unvaried, compensatory activation of postural muscles contribute to postural stability and thus, the device may be a useful tool for neuromuscular training leading to improved stability and control. The second examined the differences in ground reaction forces and muscle activation in the trunk and leg muscles during unstable load (weights suspended from the bar by an elastic band) load training and a stable condition (a normally loaded barbell). The unstable load resulted in a decrease in ground reaction force compared to the normally loaded barbell condition. The unstable load id however produced greater muscle activation in the rectus abdominis, external oblique, and soleus. The authors concluded that “The findings of this study suggest that squatting with an unstable load will increase activation of the stabilizing musculature; and while force decrements were statistically significant, the decrease was so small it may not be relevant to practitioners.”

A third study compared holding a slosh-pipe-like device called the Attitube to lifting while laying on a swiss ball. A standard bench press on a stable bench was performed as a control. The effects of the location of instability (under the shoulders vs. in the hands) on kinematic and electromyographical patterns during the bench press exercise were examined. The results found trunk muscle activation was greatest during the bench press with the slosh-pipe-like tube and smallest during the standard stable bench press. Range of elbow flexion was decreased with the slosh-pipe-like tube and the pipe itself showed increased medial-lateral movement. The authors concluded that “The results further support the notion that instability devices may be more beneficial for trunk muscles rather than prime movers.”

As the position paper of the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists suggests, using instability exercises (whether balance like exercises or lifting unstable objects) can be part of a program but should not take the place of other traditional exercises as the results of the different types of training tools and methods are different.

“Since the addition of unstable bases to resistance exercises can decrease force, power, velocity, and range of motion, they are not recommended as the primary training mode for athletic conditioning. However, the high muscle activation with the use of lower loads associated with instability resistance training suggests they can play an important role within a periodized training schedule, in rehabilitation programs, and for nonathletic individuals who prefer not to use ground-based free weights to achieve musculoskeletal health benefits.”

Here are links to the studies mentioned above as well as some others comparing exercises on stable and unstable surfaces.
http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2010/02000/Muscle_Activation_Patterns_While_Lifting_Stable.4.aspx

http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/h09-128#.V64L36SFOM8

http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/h09-127#.V64MZaSFOM8

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00421-011-2141-7

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00228972

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v414/n6862/abs/414446a0.html

http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2008/01000/No_Difference_in_1RM_Strength_and_Muscle.14.aspx

http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/publishahead/Seven_Weeks_of_Instability_and_Traditional.99486.aspx

http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2008/07000/Not_All_Instability_Training_Devices_Enhance.46.aspx

http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2014/07000/An_Evaluation_of_Upper_Body_Muscle_Activation.7.aspx

cut to the chase
http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/publishahead/Core_Muscle_Activation_During_Unstable_Bicep_Curl.96520.aspx

http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2015/11000/Location_of_Instability_During_a_Bench_Press.22.aspx

http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2015/10000/Effects_of_an_Unstable_Load_on_Force_and_Muscle.35.aspx

Suspension Training
http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2014/11000/Effect_of_Using_a_Suspension_Training_System_on.5.aspx

http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2016/07000/Activation_of_Spinal_Stabilizers_and_Shoulder.17.aspx

Do You Have Exercise ADD?

Do you LiveSocial, FitPon or GroupPass?

Do you move from class to class to find a bargain?

Do you rate a class or trainer on;

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How tired/wrecked you are after?

How much yelling and loud music there was?

How much fun you had?

If others seemed to like it?

 

If you answered yes to any of the above, you may have – EXERCISE ADD.

Now, ask yourself this – Do you think you may be missing something? Do you have a nagging feeling that you’re “not getting it” and that there is actually something to “get.” Do you think there may be a big joke that you’re missing, and it may be on you? What you know, you can’t explain. But you feel it. You felt it your entire life. Is this you?

If you answered yes to any of this second set of questions, then read on. If you answered yes to the first set of questions and no to the second set, then this article probably isn’t for you. If you answered no to the first set of questions, and yes or no to the second set, you may still want to read on, even though you probably don’t have EXERCISE ADD.

WHAT IS EXERCISE ADD?

Truth be told, I just made it up. There isn’t really such a diagnosis in the ICD-10-CM but, maybe there should be. We all hear, and see, that there is an epidemic of poor fitness and health in the U.S., obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypokinesia, poor movement patterns, back-pain and other orthopedic issues. Approximately 20% of Americans exercise regularly, which means that 80% don’t. I’m not talking about the 80% here, I’m discussing the possibility that the 20% is actually much less because of EXERCISE ADD.Attentionanigif

There are many similarities between the way most people approach exercise and the characteristics of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.) The problem is that this stops most people from getting the true benefit of exercise as opposed to the benefit of activity. The irony is that the non-pharmacological treatment of ADD/ADHD that has been shown to be one of the most effective is EXERCISE! Or at least lots of physical activity.

According to HealthLine, there are 3 main types of ADD/ADHD; Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive, and Combined. As a trainer, coach, instructor and entrepreneur/solopreneur working in “fitness” for more than 20 years, I have noticed these behaviors or symptoms in the way a majority of American Adults approach health and fitness. Fortunately, I”m not trying to make a living training the majority. Here are some examples of the similarities between adult American’s fitness behaviors and symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
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Some other behaviors such as getting up from a seat when remaining seated is expected and running around or climbing in inappropriate situations are appropriate for exercise situations but they would be classified as activity, not exercise and when done at inappropriate times, even in a gym or fitness setting can create potentially injurious situations for all involved. Likewise, the benefit of a program is mitigated by the inappropriate application of work (climbing) and rest (sitting) intervals. Possibly more insidious is the likelihood that these behaviors preclude the individual from more focused skill based pursuits because they are unable to quietly play or take part in leisure activities.

According to HealthCentral, some of the manifestations of Adult ADD/ADHD include; beginning, but not completing tasks, being easily distracted and missing important details of conversations, and a lack of self motivation, even if the project sounds like something you would like to complete. Additional symptoms of adult ADD/ADHD that make participation in any meaningful (involving progression and requiring precision) exercise pursuits include;

AdultADDEmotionanigifSelf-efficacy and coachability are things we look for in those attempting to learn and become expert in sport or other pursuits. Coachability is a criterion and section in most sports combines. Certainly someone that doesn’t deal well with frustration, is easily stressed out, is hypersensitive to criticism, and has trouble staying motivated will have difficulty participating in any meaningful (again, involving progression and requiring precision) fitness pursuit. Our society and the fitness industry especially has taken the path of least resistance in its approach to exercise and catered to this EXERCISE ADD/ADHD problem instead of trying to fix it. This starts with participation trophies and extends to walk-in classes with no progression or precision that use the most simplistic movements/exercises to cater to the masses. It continues with fitness organizations that advocate “finding something you like and sticking with it” as if any and all exercise has the same result and benefit. Methods that claim to teach proper technique, movement, posture and strengthen the core are also at fault as they cater to those that don’t know that have been fooled into thinking these things are an end in themselves and not a foundation for actual work/exercise. The problem is further compounded by a blurring of any distinction between activity and exercise and completely distorted by fitness gurus that offer quick and easy solutions and explanations to a problem and process that is neither quick nor easy to explain or solve. Quite literally, this is a form of HEALTH/FITNESS CENSORSHIP.

In the coda to a reprinting of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury discusses the more insidious form of censorship that occurs in the interest of mass-appeal and, sadly, profit and market share;

“Some five years back, the editors of yet another anthology for school readers put together a volume with some 400 (count ’em) short stories in it. How do you cram 400 short stories by Twain, Irving, Poe, Maupassant and Bierce into one book?

Simplicity itself. Skin, debone, demarrow, scarify, melt, render down and destroy. Every adjective that counted, every verb that moved, every metaphor that weighed more than a mosquito – out! Every simile that would have made a sub-moron’s mouth twitch – gone! Any aside that explained the two-bit philosophy of a first-rate writer – lost!

Every story, slenderized, starved, bluepenciled, leeched and bled white, resembled every other story. Twain read like Poe read like Shakespeare read like Dostoevsky read like – in the finale – Edgar Guest. Every word of more than three syllables had been razored. Every image that demanded so much as one instant’s attention – shot dead.”

Ray Bradbury

Other fitness experts admonish Personal Trainers for being biased in the programs they design. They accuse other trainers of not focusing on the clients’ goals and needs but instead using the methods and exercises the trainer likes regardless of the clients’ goals. This is an oversimplification. Is the Trainer, Coach, or Teacher a servant pandering to the wants of the client or participant? Or, is the Trainer, Coach or Teacher an Expert Physical Educator leading the clients and participants on a journey to self actualization through a curriculum of physical education, culture and skill? Many of the same fitness experts fail to call “foul” on the Method gurus that clearly teach one biased method as that is all they are trained to teach. The marketing and pseudo science of these Methods overshadows principles and research but somehow that is okay in the fitness industry. Has our fitness industry and physical education system succeeded in making good consumers but failed in making a physically literate population? Are exercise and fitness simply entertainment or are they more profoundly linked to the very core of what it means to be human? Certainly Physical Educators would agree to this profound linkage between physicality and our humanity but the fitness industry instead promotes or even takes advantage of the EXERCISE ADD/ADHD of our population and compounds it with a pandering, slederized, demarrowed version of exercise that won’t demand so much as one instant of attention. We have succeeded in making good fitness consumers but failed in making a physically literate population. Planet Fitness epitomizes how far we’ve strayed from meaningful exercise pursuits. Look here to see just how bad it’s gotten.

 

 “The great thought of physical education is not the education of the physical nature, but the relation of physical training to complete education, and then the effort to make the physical contribute its full share to the life of the individual”

Thomas Wood, 1893

 

QUANTITY AND QUALITY

There’s a difference between exercise and activity. There is a difference between programmed, progressive exercise and activity masquerading as exercise. The definition of exercise is “activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness. Physical Activity on the other hand is defined by the World Health Organization as “as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure.” Notice that in the definition of Physical Activity, there is no mention of its purpose of improving health. Also, notice that neither definition mentions anything about progression, precision, variety, quality or quantity of exercise or activity. In order to begin to examine the aspects of quantity and quality (intensity necessary to make a change) of exercise or activity we have to look to American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM and most authorities define moderate exercise as 40-60% VO2max: 3-6 METs (an intensity well within the individual’s capacity, one which can be comfortably sustained for a prolonged period of time (45min). Whereas, vigorous exercise is > 60% of VO2max; > 6 METs; exercise intense enough to represent a substantial cardiorespiratory challenge.

Although one should start of slow and progress (e.g. low to moderate to vigorous) and although the main disease prevention benefits are obtained by those at the lowest end of the fitness spectrum adding a minimal amount of activity, this certainly does not make better citizens ready for labor and defense or citizens able to live lives filled with quality experiences and pursuits. Instead of raising people up, we’ve lowered the bar for all but the elite few with athletic potential. When ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) released its first recommendations regarding quality and quantity of exercise for development and maintenance of fitness in adults, Military Readiness was the established criterion for their recommendations of exercise frequency, intensity, duration and mode. These recommendations would achieve in healthy adults the development and maintenance of a level of fitness similar to that required by all Military Troops for readiness. Note the change in goal or objective in 2000 from fitness to health and the concurrent change from the recommendation of continuous activity to a cumulative total.

ACSM’s recommendations for Frequency, Duration and Intensity of Cardiovascular Exercise 1975-2000.

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Starting with ACSM’s position stand in 1990 and subsequent exercise recommendations there was a shift away from an exclusively “performance-related fitness” paradigm to one that includes activity recommendations for both performance and health-related outcomes: “ACSM recognizes the potential health benefits of regular exercise performed more frequently and for longer duration, but at lower intensities than prescribed in this position statement.” This was repeated in the 1998 position statement. Additionally, over the years, ACSM has added more complete recommendations for Resistance Training, added flexibility training guidelines and most recently added recommendations for and about Neuromotor exercise.

Neuromotor Exercise

  • Neuromotor exercise (sometimes called “functional fitness training”) is recommended for two or three days per week.
  • Exercises should involve motor skills (balance, agility, coordination and gait), proprioceptive exercise training and multifaceted activities (tai ji and yoga) to improve physical function and prevent falls in older adults.
  • 20-30 minutes per day is appropriate for neuromotor exercise.

Despite all this useful scientific inquiry the split between recommendations related to “performance based fitness” and public health related “disease risk reduction” activity and the lesser known swept-under-the-rug because it will discourage people weight maintenance recommendations, we still lack a realistic and sustainable system of exercise. The aforementioned Institute of Medicine study recommended  60 minutes per day for the purpose of weight maintenance going against other public health recommendations for 30 minutes per day. The primary recommendations, for health and fitness tend to focus on cardiovascular exercise, probably because it is easier to study and quantify, the fitness and/or disease prevention recommendations for resistance training, flexibility and neuromuscular exercise are not as well established, reported on, or disseminated. Conversely, methods of exercise such as Pilate’s, Yoga, Crossfit and others are advertised but lack evidence to support their effectiveness, efficacy, or the underlying principles that make them effective. If they are effective.

“After the release of the IOM report, headlines and articles in the popular press focused on “twice as much exercise as before.”

Although the ancient Greeks, early European exercise systems and early American physical educators understood the connection between physical education, fitness and the whole human. Instead of appealing to our better nature, we’re being duped by a fitness industry that caters to the ADD/ADHD, edutainment, reality TV, exertainment basest side of our nature. Which wolf wins? The one you feed.

 

runAmokAlthough the ancient Greeks, early European exercise systems and early American physical educators understood the connection between physical education, fitness and the whole human. Instead of appealing to our better nature, we’re being duped by a fitness industry that caters to the ADD/ADHD, edutainment, reality TV, EXER-tainment basest side of our nature. Which wolf wins? The one you feed.

PHYSICAL LITERACY, PRECISION, PROGRESSION AND RAISING THE BAR

I’ve often had potential students/clients that introduce themselves as “experienced boot campers”, “experienced exercisers”, or say they “just need a few sessions to get started” because they “played ball” in college. I’d like to have a Fitness-SAT or Exercise-SAT to measure these people with. Or, more importantly, use as a mirror by which they could measure and see themselves in a more realistic way. Just because you participate in the things that you are good at and have success in them because they are the things you have an aptitude for and therefore like them does not mean you are good at everything else. Nor does it mean that you will continue to grow beyond your initial success. This is a form of cognitive bias is called illusory superiority. The Dunning-Kruger effect is an extension of the behaviors of those with illusory superiority which seems, by my experience to be rampant in fitness settings – once a person knows a few exercises and has achieved some minimal result, they fancy themselves and expert. Additionally, the advertising and acolytes of a specific method or technique tend to be very vocal while the experts tend to be more quite. Fitness marketers and advertisers seem to prefer incorrect information disseminated loudly with confidence over correct information that is complex delivered with humility and deference.

Wait!!! I almost forgot. There is a way to determine what “level” a potential client is at with respect to fitness and physical literacy, it’s called fitness testing. Sadly, though there are many appropriate fitness testing batteries (FitnessGram, YMCA, Eurofit, and many customized batteries for specific populations most commercial gyms do not use these tests because it may create a barrier to entry. A barrier to entry. Actually educating someone may stop them from participating. That in and of itself demonstrates how far our exercise ADD has gone. We don’t want to make people think or have them understand where they are in relation to fitness or even understand what fitness is.

Fitness testing batteries typically focus on the main aspects of fitness; cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal (endurance, strength, and flexibility) and body composition. Since most exercise ADD sufferers don’t have the bandwidth to devote to ALL these aspects, they just want to do ONE of them. They just do “cardio”, they just do “weights”, they just do some method for “flexibility” and “core strength” but they miss the complete picture. Their ADD distracts them from attaining a full, balanced picture of health and the fitness industry supports this. At least their buying something. Most fitness clubs don’t want to pay trainers more than a minimum wage and dismiss college educated physical education, exercise science, or fitness management majors as being over qualified and too expensive. Instead, the foster the prolific sales people and the prolific sales people typically sell by appealing to the basest nature of the populations ADD. Keeping them ignorant and happy.

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Even within the realm of resistance training, the microscopic focus on one way to use weights (e.g. bodybuilding) nscatableas opposed to the way weights can be used to foster many different aspects of human performance (muscular endurance, strength, and power) is fostered by a lack of an understanding of what a true “expert” in weightlifting really knows. The NSCA has a developed a table which can be found on page 350 of the Essentials of Personal Training, 2nd edition by which a clients’ weightlifting experience can be determined, yet the distraction of big biceps draws the limited attention of most exercisers and puts acolytes on a pedestal while the true experts must be sought out. Seeking out experts is beyond the attention span of most of the population and so they are relegated to the substandard pandering product of commercial gym chains.

A person with enough experience in resistance training to be considered “advanced” would need to know >15 free weight and machine core (multiple joint, load the trunk, safely test a 1RM) and assistance (single joint) exercises and most power/explosive exercises. Most commercial gyms don’t allow lifting chalk, much less have bumper plates or qualified staff to teach these exercises. Yet so many adults that have taken a few circuit classes or know how to do a few dumbbell exercises consider themselves advanced and nobody calls foul on them or the industry that allows them to have this distorted view of their own level of expertise. Once again, though them measurable elements of musculoskeletal fitness can be qualified, it’s only the Method Gurus that hold the ersatz credibility of teaching something deep, meaningful and worthwhile.

In addition to being able to qualify what it means to be advanced as a “weightlifter” or resistance training participant, we can also quantify it through fitness testing. Based on one’s body weight there are strength ratios considered to be average for specific lifts which can be adjusted by age and gender. With other methods, the discretion of what is advanced in either quality or quantity is left to ersatz experts and subjective assessment. It maybe too far to say these subjective assessments are designed to keep students needing the instructor instead of fostering their journey to self actualization, so I’ll let you decide. Not giving criteria, a road map, lesson plan or specific learning outcome for exercisers to focus on appeals to the ADD nature of the typical American fitness consumer.

The man who grasps principles can successfully handle his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Methods are a million and then some, but they appeal to those that want simple answers and can’t muster the attention to take control of their fitness- those with EXERCISE ADD. A better solution would be to run gyms and fitness education like a dojo. Starting in grade school physical education class children should be taught the basics of Physical literacy: Locomotor skills, Object Manipulation skills and Body Management skills. This can be done through a structured curriculum that includes gymnastics, track, and swimming as well as various martial arts and weighted objects such as Indian Clubs, Medicine Balls, Dumbbells and Barbells. Sports and games as well as free play can be part of recess while PE classes focus on education and structured movement. Perhaps then, we’ll have an adult population with a better appreciation of how the physical is a means to the full life of an individual. There was a golden-age of physical education in the U.S. we need to get back to it and stop letting corporations, venture capitalists and private equity make money by taking advantage of our EXERCISE ADD.

“With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.”

Ray Bradbury

 

 

 

Five Reasons I Should Love CrossFit

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1- It’s the Punk Rock of the Fitness Industry

There are two main areas in which CrossFit is like Punk Rock. The first is that it seems to be a reaction to the the mechanized, commercialized, corporate owned fitness industry in much the same way as Punk was a reaction against the Prog Rock bands of the 1970’s. Many a rock historian and article has described the stripped down composition, instrumentation, and delivery of Punk Rock as a reaction to the oft described self indulgent virtuoso guitar and drum solos of the Prog Rock era. The bare bones garage gym aspect of CrossFit tools and workouts is very similar in its juxtaposition to the rows of treadmills, elipticals, and selectorized equipment found in the corporate owned chain gyms that have become the industry standard. Punk’s roots in the garage band era make the garage gym aspect of CrossFit a poetic connection further supporting the analogy.

The second similarity between CrossFit and Punk Rock is the any-man, every-man inclusive nature of both. It’s often said that every Ramones’ show spawned a number of local musicians or music fans to start their own bands. The idea that forming one’s own band and creating one’s own music became accessible through early Punks as opposed to only virtuoso musicians getting corporate backed record contracts is a hallmark of the Punk era. This is parallel to the CrossFit affiliates opening their own garage gyms and boxes with little formal education in fitness but just an enthusiasm and love for exercise and movement. 

2- A Modern Turnverein

In 1811 the roots of American Physical Culture were laid down in Germany. Friedrich Ludwig Jahn started an open air gymnasium called a turnplatz to build the spirit of his countrymen after their defeat by Napoleon. The Turnplatz (later Turnverein or Turner Hall) aimed to develop the moral and physical powers of Germans through the practice of gymnastics. The German Gymnastics System founded by Jahn was became the basis for physical education and military training in the United States. There are many similarities between this Turnverein or German Gymnastics movement and CrossFit, not the least of which is the seeming cult-like following or loyalty that Cross-fitters have for CrossFit. The Turnverein movement was largely used to build Nationalism in the German people and to train them to resist and defend against FrMilwaukee_Bundesturnhalleench and other invaders. Group gymnastics and training is a well utilized method for creating esprit de coure and loyalty amoung groups which countries around the globe have used to train their soldiers. The Turnvereins are the start of the modern use of this technique for building loyalty and gave birth to United States physical readiness training with military units of German Turners fighting in the Civil War and becoming some of the first to be responsible for physical training of U.S. soldiers. It’s no wonder that this type of group training would inspire loyalty among Cross-fitters or that the largest concentrations of CrossFit boxes is in the areas around Washington D.C. and San Diego where so many military families are stationed. The development of loyal members and brand ambassadors is something CrossFit has accomplished better than the corporate owned gym chains and mainstream fitness industry which sadly focuses on the individual (Personal Training) instead of on developing better citizens which was the goal of the Turnverein movement.

The similarities between the German Gymnastic System and CrossFit are also found in the tools and methods used. Crossfit uses gymnastics and German Gymnastics clearly used tumbling/gymnastics (which is what the name Turner comes from.) Turner Halls were filled with bars, horses, ropes and ladders. The Turnplatz o1800Gym(medium)r outdoor exercise parks originally created by Johann Christoph Friedrich Guts Muths  a contemporary of Jahn before they moved indoors (Turner Hall or Turnverein) had large rig-like climbing structures the basis for children’s jungle gyms, monkey bars and now the “rigs” used in many CrossFit boxes commonly known as “CrossFit Rigs”.

 

Jahn and GutsMuths German Gymnastic System required complicated movements or exercises and used external resistance like dumbbells. The use of barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls, complex gymnastic and Olympic Weightlifting movements in CrossFit is more in line with the German System than the Swedish Gymnastic System of Per Henrik Ling which utilized slower exercises that could be corrected more easily by an instructor than the more complex exercises of the German System. Both Systems, Swedish and German were based on creating a sense of Nationalism and training citizens to be ready for labor and defense of their countries. These Systems became the foundation for military and physical education training in the United States.

As a “modern turnverein”, CrossFit has possibly brought us back to a focus on the group and not the individual. It has brought back exercises, tools, and methods that ready the individual for labor and defense, not just decreasing disease risk, improving quality of life and personal satisfaction or the aesthetic goals that are inward and individual as opposed to focused on being a contributing member of society. The Turners often served as the firefighters in their towns and this social responsibility aspect of fitness is something CrossFit may be leading us back to.

 

3- Low-Tech High-Effect

The idea that people need complex computerized equipment in order to be strong, mobile, healthy and fit doesn’t make sense. Clearly it makes money, the equipment manufacturing business is going well, but it doesn’t make sense. Recently we’ve capitalized on this nonsense and managed to monetize it by creating a new term “functional fitness.” Of course, I’m not sure if you can call it fitness if it’s not functional but the point is that we did very well for 1000’s of years without treadmills, ellipticals and a separate selectorized weight machine for each movement/muscle group at each joint.

During the golden age of physical culture and education in the United States (1885-1920), the Four Horsemen of fitness were Dumbbells, Medicine Balls, Wands, and Indian Clubs. The wands eventually became barbells, the dumbbells transitioned from wood to iron and got heavier, the medicine balls morphed from their origin as an animal bladder filled with sand, to stitched leather, to rubber and synthetic materials that can bounce or not depending on your preference. Sadly, the Indian Clubs got lost in the basement storeroom of many a YMCA and schoolhouse only to be taken out occasionally and used as bowling pins until they we’re finally discarded or ended up as a curio on someone’s shelf or coffee table. The point is that these implements for external resistance and gymnastics (calisthenics, tumbling, climbing and hand balancing) are more than sufficient for development of body, mind, and spirit. CrossFit certainly has brought back this Spartan low tech equipment. Event Indian Clubs or Clubbells are making a comeback in the CrossFit boxes across the country and in some cases even the Health Wands.

Part of the effect of using these low-tech tools comes from the concentration it they require. It seems that somewhere along the way, the concentration and mental aspect of training was put into the design of the equipment so that the exerciser would not have to focus, think or be present in anyway other than in body.

This certainly increased revenue for equipment manufacturers and commercial gym chains with membership fees and at least in theory decreased litigation as the machines are often designed to be “dummy proof.” However, it’s the very stimulation of the nervous system that increases the effectiveness of most types of exercise. Whether that is recruiting more motor units in a given muscle or requiring the nervous system to plan and execute complex and organized movements requiring many different muscle groups and body segments. At the very least the attention to breathing during skilled movements adds to their effectiveness.

The use of these low-tech tools has been made popular again in large part due to the popularity of CrossFit. The ubiquity and notoriety of CrossFit has attracted many to Olympic lifting and “strong man” type training. Since most people don’t know what a Black Iron Gym is and they are hard to find, a CrossFit box is where someone looking for a place where they can drop weights, do Olympic Lifts, use chalk, climb ropes, and do other things that aren’t allowed in Planet Fitness can go.  United States Weightlifting (USAW) has seen a resurgence in the popularity of Olympic Lifting and many other instructors and educators of these “Old School”, “Low Tech” methods have seen an increase in the number of workshops, speaking engagements, and participants in the disciplines they teach.  Where the average exerciser used to “do the elliptical”, now most advertisements for fitness related products feature kettlebells, ropes tire flipping and other images the general public now associates with CrossFit type training.

 

4- Do It Yourself (DIY)

I like building, making and the sense of accomplishment I get from doing something myself. Although it’s beyond the point of this post to discuss the lack of art and shop in schools, these, along with the lack of funding and emphasis for music and gym have created a deficit in problem solving skills and three dimensional thinking in our population. The skill set of citizens 100 or 200 years ago was much larger and varied than that of our current population and I think we’re poorer as a society for it. But I digress, the point is that I have not since the early days of the NSCA seen the volume and emphasis on how to build one’s own equipment and training tools that CrossFit has brought back.

The goal of the Turner Movement mentioned above was to create better citizens and develop their moral and physical power. More skills, more problem solving, more attention to learning and expanding one’s scope with respect to things outside of the actual physical exercise makes for a more robust experience and culture. Making one’s own equipment and setting up one’s own “garage gym” certainly fits this bill especially when compared to the economy of scale, compartmentalized, operating procedures of commercial fitness chains and franchises.

I fondly remember an article in the NSCA journal on how to build your own plyo boxes and one from on how to outfit your team training facility on a budget with items from the hardware store. There are many CrossFit journal articles, youtube videos, and blog posts that show how to make your own equipment. This explosion in the DIY equipment has at least in-part been fueled by CrossFit.

The other DIY aspect of CrossFit is it’s business model. The barriers to entry and cost is very low compared to franchise opportunities in fitness which can make opening a “box” very much a DIY proposition. CrossFit operates as an affiliate system with a licensing agreement.

 

So, Why Am I Not a CrossFit Affiliate?

Because I am a teacher and Dean at a health professions college, because I teach continuing education courses for fitness professionals, and have been in the “fitness industry” for 22 years, students and other professionals as well as clients often ask me what I think of CrossFit. Like most things about health, fitness and exercise, this is not an easily answered question for me. The easy answer is that I simply wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member. There’s more to it though, as I’m conflicted by the positive and negative aspects of CrossFit as well as by the positive and negative aspects of National Certifying Agencies for Personal Trainers, the Health and Fitness Industry, Physical Education, and Commercial Health Club Chains, our healthcare systems, etc and they are all related.

The Ramones are more popular now than when they were making records and touring. It’s better to be the first than to be the best and being part of a group or movement can have both positive and negative results. There are many interviews and articles that discuss the possibility that the nefarious behavior of the Sex Pistols made the radio stations shun the Ramones. This may have set the Ramones up for not having the commercial success they might have otherwise achieved. I don’t think that commercial success for a band or a fitness brand is a mark of “selling-out”. Regardless of the amount of financial success a business or venture achieves, it should remain true to itself and, as Simon Sinek says “Start with Why.” What that “why” is and what the actual beliefs, mission, and purpose of a brand, business or venture are versus what their marketing and advertising say they are is important and influences who I associate myself with. What is their Noble Purpose? How brands and businesses actually represent themselves in public speaks more to me than what they say they believe.

In the 1920’s we moved away from the structured physical education based on the Swedish and German Systems to a physical education system based on sports and games. Now we have a physical education system that is geared toward identifying and developing athletic talent instead of improving moral character and making better citizens. The mainstream fitness industry, national exercise organizations, and corporate fitness gym chains have not addressed this, but CrossFit a reaction against this fitness status quo, hasn’t either. The slogan “The Sport of Fitness” takes the potentially powerful similarities CrossFit has with the Turner Movement and directs them toward perpetuating the actual problem as I see it – we need to use exercise to build moral and physical power to make better citizens NOT to funnel a select few into sports or create a new sport by turning fitness into a sport. “The program prepares trainees for any physical contingency—not only for the unknown but for the unknowable, too.” sounds good but based on what I feel the real issues are regarding Physical Culture in our country- Sports Culture not Physical Culture is contradicted by calling CrossFit “The Sport of Fitness.”

The more low-tech the tools are the more high-tech the execution progression, variation, and precision needs to be to use them safely and effectively. With great power comes great responsibility and these low tech tools are certainly powerful so the responsibility of teaching people to use them increases exponentially. The low barrier to entry for coaches and trainers is a problem with the fitness industry in general that CrossFit has not addressed though they claim to the alternative to the mainstream fitness industry. Few national certifying agencies required more than a high school diploma to qualify for exams and the few that do only require secondary education for some of their certifications. Only one organization still has a practical exam requirement for certification. The original Swedish and German Systems were taught at Universities and those physical educators and physical education majors were actually the equivalent of today’s premed students. That is, students that studied phys ed could go onto medical school and practice medicine or go on to teach physical education in schools. Exercise was medicine and still is medicine but the practitioners (today’s personal trainers and coaches) are often just acolytes following a prescribed method or technique with no real understanding of the underlying principles and natural laws. CrossFit is not very different from the fitness status quo in this respect.

“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it. The man who knows how will always have a job. The man who also knows why will always be his boss. As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

 Ralph Waldo Emerson

01principleIn any field including the fields of exercise physiology, training, coaching and exercise instruction there are certain principles or “law or facts of nature” that underlie why things work and why we organize or do things the way we do them. One of these principles is the SAID principle- Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. Adaptation means that you will adapt or get better at what you are doing or practicing. However, if you always do the same thing, the principle of accommodation will become relevant as the system stops adapting, plateaus, or becomes more efficient and is able to use less energy to do the work. The system will settle instead of continue to change or grow. Staying in the phase of adaptation and not moving into accommodation requires that the stimulus (exercise) increase in its intensity or duration. Randomly changing the type of exercise doesn’t cause us to continue to adapt be cause of the principle of specificity. That is, you’ll specifically adapt based on the type of demand or stress you put on the system (provided it is not too great a demand to break the system.) If 03methodyou run you get better at running but not swimming or cycling though they could all be considered cardiovascular or aerobic activities; if you lift lighter weights for many repetitions you get good at lifting weights for many repetitions but it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to lift a very heavy weight one time though in both cases you are using weights. Likewise if you consistently do something to exhaustion (As Many Reps As Possible) you learn to become slow and fatigued instead of fast and powerful. So, although I agree with the statement “The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind.” I cannot agree with the statements “CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity.” and “Our specialty is not specializing.” because these statements go directly against the laws or facts of nature (e.g. principles.)

02systemThe website DifferenceBetween describes the differences between a system and a me04techniquethod as “While system is all about principles, method does not revolve around principles. This is the main difference between method and system.” and that “Method refers to a special form of procedure especially in any branch of mental activity. Method is all about orderliness. In other words it can be said that method is related to regular habits.” So, CrossFit is a method in the same 05toolway that Pilates, Feldenkrais, Alexander, and Yoga practice in the U.S. are methods. These methods can be useful at different times but they do not offer an answer or way to fully actualize all aspects of health, fitness, and social responsibility the way the older Systems did. These methods often employ powerful techniques and tools but their effectiveness is due to the principles they may in some cases by accident, luck or by intuition stumble across. This is not okay. Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said, and clearly I agree

“If you want to think the world is flat, go right ahead. But if you think the world is flat and you have influence over others, as with successful rappers, or even presidential candidates, then being wrong becomes being harmful to the health, the wealth and the security of our citizenry.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

definitionsThe Germans, the Swedish, The English and The Americans had Systems in the 1800’s and there was a “Battle of the Systems” in the U.S. as physical education was introduced into the public schools in 1855. But, systems are based on principles and principles are laws or truths. Somewhere along the way we’ve become too focused on methods and have stopped seeing the forest because we’re too focused on the trees. Any “method” that causes us to move away from the principles that can actually allow us to help people is something I cannot condone.

Do it yourself is great if and when it leads to self expression, growth and self-actualization. But when downloading workouts and following along with videos takes the place of structured, precise programs, when variety for the sake of variety becomes the norm, when the systematic approach of professionals is considered to be on par with the application of methods and techniques by enthusiasts and amateurs, we need to be cautious and stand for what is most helpful for the health, the wealth and the security of our citizenry.

I will continue to use circuits, Olympic lifts, gymnastics, Pilates’s and Feldenkrais exercises as they fit the needs, goals and level of the people that I have influence over. I will continue search the past and the present to view, understand, organize and catalogue exercises, methods and technique based on the principles, laws and research in the fields anatomy, physiology, neurology, motor learning and exercise physiology that I have studied. I won’t be spending large amounts of time and money to gurus and false profits that created methods but don’t understand principles and though in some ways it is has parallels and similarities to my philosophy and system, I won’t become a CrossFit affiliate.

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Best,

V