CrossFit Power Rankings: Futile and Fun

Once the Bulls lost to Miami in the Conference Finals, I turned my full sports-related attention to the CrossFit games.  For the last two months, I’ve watched every Competition-related video put out by the mainsite, Games site or CrossFit Journal. During the Regional competitions, I un-followed all non-Regional related tweets, making Twitter my exclusive CF newsfeed.   I even tried getting one of my friends familiar with the athletes so that we could talk CrossFit like we would the NBA or NFL.  I can’t wait to see what happens at the Home Depot Center this weekend!

During the Open Competition, someone started posting CrossFit Power Rankings.  The writer never explained the methodology, but I was intrigued, and was looking forward to seeing the projections after Regionals.  Unfortunately, the site hasn’t been updated since early May.  I did find this site with another set of Power Rankings, but no explanations as to why certain athletes ranked where.  Plus, he lists athletes who didn’t even qualify for the Games.

So on one of my days off a few weeks ago, I took some time and crunched all the Regional numbers to see how the top male competitors stacked up.  I went back and looked at past Games trends and performances.  I made a “power rankings” list and have changed the top ten at least ten times.

My conclusion?  Projecting the top male athletes is an exercise in futility (the females are a little easier because the top two are so heavily favored).  But the top guys are so good that anyone of them could win it, depending on the workouts and who happens to be breathing fire that day.  I shelved the list, but decided on a whim to write it up today.

So feel free to laugh at me in a week.  But for now, here is one fan’s amateur, unscientific projection of the top males for the CrossFit Games.

Dark Horses: Aja Barto, Gabe Subry, Jesse Disch

15. Daniel Tyminski – Has enough athleticism and craziness to make things really interesting.

14. Patrick Burke – A guy who doesn’t get the attention he deserves.  He was good enough to finish 7th last year.  Don’t expect him to finish too far from that again.

13. Pat Barber – There is something different about him this year; watching him compete in Tahoe at the Again Faster throwdown gave me brand new respect for him.

12. Tommy Hackenbruck – I have tons of respect for him as a competitor.  Second in 2009, 9th in 2010?  That is consistency.  I actually think it will be hard to keep him out of the top 10, so this is the farthest out I’ll put him.

11. Tuomas Vainio – I think he will be a big surprise this year.  It’s his first year on the big stage, though, so next year will really be the year to watch him.

10.  Matt Chan – Why the drop for Matt Chan (from 4th to 10th)?  I’m not sure.  Maybe because I haven’t seen as much from him in recent months.  But he has 95% of Rob Orlando’s power and 95% of Spealler’s engine.  That’s a formidable combination.

9. Jason Khalipa – Jason seems like he’s learned to pace himself this year, which is just scary.  No one has more heart than this guy, and it would surprise me if he finished outside the top 10 for the second year in a row.

8. Joshua Bridges –  Some of his performances are out of this world, like the 100s WOD at Regionals or Workout 6 of the Open.  I have to agree with others that he might be a little too small, like Spealler, but without Speal’s technical proficiency.

7. Austin Malleolo – I hate putting Austin this low.  Since he finished 6th last year, odds are that he would improve on that.  He had the 5th overall performance at Regionals, though, and I’m not sure I can displace any of the guys above him.

6. Chris Spealler – If the programming is even (like last year), there’s no way that he finishes outside the top 10.  Lifting heavy is his (relative) weakness, but pound for pound he’s the best CrossFitter ever.

5. Graham Holmberg – I love Graham as a competitor and think that he is totally legit.  But it’s just so hard to repeat at this level.  Plus, Khalipa finished in 5th in 2009 and Mikko finished in 5th in 2010.  That’s the reason Graham is here.

4. Ben Smith – Ben had the second overall performance at Regionals, and his numbers are just crazy.  He’s still so young though – I think he still lacks the mental edge that some of the other guys have.

3. Mikko Salo – How can you not love Mikko Salo?  He was a beast in 2009 and then got tripped up by some of the more technical movements in 2010.  If he’s been working on them (and he has) he’ll be hard to beat.

2. Rich Froning, Jr. – Everyone else has him as the favorite this year.  I think he is redefining the limits of work capacity right now.  I just have a feeling that something will trip him up again to keep him from the top spot.  I would love to see him win though.

1. Dan Bailey – He is crushing everything so much right now (the top overall Open AND Regional performance), I don’t see how he doesn’t at least make the podium, if not take the whole thing.

There it is!  I’m excited to see how it all shakes out! Let me know your thoughts!

Link to 2011 Competitors Stats

Link to 2010 CrossFit Games Results

What I’m Training For: Tough Mudder

Several years ago when I was working out at my local Globo-gym, I was stopped in the locker room by someone who asked me what I was training for.  The question took me aback, because I was just trying to get in good shape.  I didn’t think of myself as trying to get in shape for anything in particular.

Last year I was stopped in a shoe store and asked the same thing.  “What are you training for?”  I had a better answer this time.

“For life.”

This is the answer that several months of CrossFit has taught me.  We train to be better at life.  Whether this means having more energy for my kids or just more energy in general, the purpose of training isn’t looking good or even feeling good so much as increasing our capacity to be of more use to the world.

Having said that, I have found that it is valuable to me to have specific goals to work towards, competition events, challenges.   When I don’t have these, it too often feels like I am training to get better at training, rather than using my training to push myself past previous limits.

The first challenge like this was hiking the Incan Trail. Knowing that the altitude would demand a lot of me, I realized that I needed to become better and stronger than I was at the time I signed up for the challenge.  So I trained.

Since I returned, I’ve been looking for something comparable to motivate and shape my training.  I considered the ten mile Soldier Field race, but it didn’t fit my schedule.  Then I began to think of a triathlon, but it required me to buy a bike and probably to get a swim instructor as well to improve my stroke.  I still may do this in the future, but I wanted to find something that fit my current training regimen.

And so this is what I’ve settled on: the Tough Mudder Challenge in Wisconsin.

Developed by British Special Forces, it is a ten mile course with 20 military grade obstacles.  Some of the obstacles are truly epic.

I heard about it at my CrossFit box, and it very much fits the CrossFit culture.  Here’s the Tough Mudder pledge:

As a Tough Mudder I pledge that…

* I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.

* I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time.

* I do not whine – kids whine.

* I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.

* I overcome all fears.

Teamwork before individual accomplishment.  Overcoming fears (and some of the obstacles are scary). No whining.

Great training for life, isn’t it?

Church of CrossFit (11): The CrossFit Open

This is sort of an update to the CrossFit series that I penned during February.  Indeed, it’s that series that sends most of the traffic to my site.  One of my non-CrossFit-related posts even got featured on the main site’s affiliate page last month, which gave me 10X the normal page views that week.  So since a good amount of my readers are fellow CrossFitters, I thought I would pen some thoughts on the current CrossFit Open.

For those who don’t know, the CrossFit Open is a six-week, worldwide fitness competition.  Every Tuesday evening a new workout is posted. You have until Sunday to do the workout, get your score validated, and post it to the online leader board.  Scores can be validated either by performing the workout at an affiliate, or by videotaping yourself and posting it to be judged by the CrossFit community.

In this way, CrossFit HQ hopes to find the fittest man and woman in the world.  The top 60 from each of the 17 regions advance to the next round, which will trim the field to the top 100, who will compete in the 2011 CrossFit Games.

Sounds epic doesn’t it?  It is.  A staggering 25,000 people all over the world are participating.  (This kind of competition could only be made possible in the age of the Internet.)

Most of the 25,000 are better than me.  At least the 10,000 men in my age group are.  Right now I believe I’m ranked something like 8,000 out of the 10,000 worldwide, and 600 out of 800 in my region.

Still, there is something about posting a score that you think is pretty good, only to watch it get buried by thousands of people who are better, faster and stronger than you.  Something about watching a 10 year old girl score 60 more repetitions than you.  Something about being humbled by how far you have to go.

But I think the very idea of the Open showcases the tension that CrossFit tries to hold between inclusivism and elitism.  By making participation open to all, it demonstrates inclusivism.  By asking the participants to perform technical movements like the double-under, the snatch and the squat clean, it demonstrates elitism.

Real inclusivism doesn’t mean, come and do whatever you want.  It means, come, and it doesn’t matter who you are.  But once you get here, you don’t get to define things.  You tune yourself to the standards.  They are there for a reason, for your good.  Our standards are tried and true.  Doing whatever you want won’t get you anywhere worth going.

Come and do it this way.

I think it is the same way with the Christian faith.  It is inclusive (“whosoever will may come”).  But it is also elistist: we want to submit to the Truth, which means you don’t get to make things up as you go along.  We are not trying to get reality to fit us; we are trying to tune ourselves to Reality.

Come and live this way.

It doesn’t matter who you are, everyone is welcome.

But if you come, who you are will begin to change.

Question: Anyone out there competing in the open?  How are you doing?

Church of CrossFit (10): CrossFit and the Cross

In my previous post I wrote that CrossFit is often accused of elitism, and I concluded that it was guilty.  Its mission of “forging elite fitness” has indeed led its adherents to elitism.  In other words, they truly believe that they are training the most well-rounded, fittest human beings on earth.

I argued that elitism is a natural and necessary part of life.  But does elitism have to be synonymous with pride?  I asked, is it possible to embrace something that’s true in a way that doesn’t lead to a superiority complex?  Is it possible to be elitist and yet not look down at the people who don’t see things the way that you do?  That’s what I’d like to explore in this post.

[Fair warning: I know that not everyone who reads this blog is a follower of Jesus, just like not everyone is a CrossFitter.  That’s where I’m coming from, however, and I hope that I at least can help you understand what resources the Christian faith gives for holding “elitist” views with as much humility as possible.]

The funny thing is, the longer I do CrossFit, the more humbled I am.  Don’t get me wrong, I am blown away by the results.  But every workout kicks my butt, leaves me on my back, makes me think about how much farther I have to go.

And I’m thinking that’s the point: to crush my sense of superiority and sufficiency and to train myself to become somebody worth being.  Maybe that’s why I like CrossFit – it somehow humbles me and encourages me at the same time.

But if I’m not careful, something that ought to produce humility actually engenders pride.

Like almost anything else, CrossFit can become a functional Savior – it can become  one more thing to add to our image, one more fix to patch up our insecurity, one more argument to justify ourselves, to tell ourselves that we matter, to define our identities over against the “un-enlightened ones”.

“Thank God I’m  not like those Globo-gym idiots at XSport!”

The problem with most of our functional Saviors is that they engender despair when we fail (“I am worthless”) and arrogant superiority when we succeed (“you are worthless.”)

I think the same thing is true when we replace Jesus with religion.  Something that is supposed to produce humility actually leads us to pride.

“Thank God I’m not like those __________!” (Pagans, Democrats, Republicans, etc. Fill in the blank with your favorite group to feel superior towards.)

What bothers me most about Christianity is not the elitism of our doctrine.  Everyone is elitist at the end of the day.  Everyone’s a fundamentalist, we just have different fundamentals.

What bothers me is the fact that our doctrine has often led us to disdain for those not like us – even while the Scriptures say that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

What bothers me is the attitude of arrogance and superiority that we often wear like a badge, even while the Scriptures say that we are justified not because we are smarter or better than anyone else, but simply because of God’s undeserved kindness.

It’s the sneering rhetoric that we celebrate(!) on talk radio shows while affirming our belief that we are so bad that God had to come himself to bleed for us.

One of the things I love about the writings of Paul in the New Testament is he is always pointing out how Jesus destroys any ground we might have for boasting about how good we are, or for feeling superior to anyone else.

The Cross humbles us – because Jesus had to die for us, that’s how deeply flawed we are –  AND gives us confidence – because Jesus was glad to die for us, that’s how deeply loved we are.

Humility and Confidence.  Openness and Elitism.

CrossFit helps me with this during my workouts.

The Cross does it for my entire life.

Question: Any final thoughts or questions on CrossFit, or what I’ve written during the series?


Church of CrossFit (9): CrossFit Cult?

Up until this point, I’ve been examining CrossFit from a very positive light.  Is there a dark side as well?  Some in the fitness community say yes.  When I called XSport to cancel my membership, the lady on the phone said, “Oh, yeah my brother does CrossFit.  That’s like a cult.  So you’re drinking the kool-aid too, huh?”

The XSport lady isn’t alone; just type “CrossFit” and “cult” into Google.  Why the backlash? That’s what I’d like to explore in this post.

Well, some CrossFitters wear the “cult” moniker like a badge of pride. They talk joyfully about “drinking the kool-aid”; one popular site is actually called Gym Jones (a play on the name of the infamous cult leader who had his followers drink cyanide-laced kool-aid). The CrossFit in Melbourne, Australia actually calls its gym “CrossFit Cult.”

Other CrossFitters are defensive when it comes to the accusation.  Greg Glassman, the alleged charismatic leader himself, rejects it outright: “We don’t care if you come, we don’t care if you leave, how is that a cult?”

How indeed.  Is CrossFit a cult?  Well, cults usually have a charismatic leader and brainwashed followers.  Check. They usually engage in practices considered strange by the mainstream – a departure from accepted orthodoxy. Check.  But at their worst, there is usually not only groupthink but manipulation and exploitation going on.  Check?  Ok, maybe not.

So where does the name-calling come from?  In my opinion, the main thing that puts CrossFitters under fire is the attitude of exclusivism, superiority and arrogance that some CrossFitters exude.

This attitude comes out in sneering disdain about the mindless Globo-gym members.  It comes out in sarcastic disparagement for any other workout philosophy, including other high intensity programs like P90X or Insanity.  CrossFitters are quick to point out where each of these programs is missing the point and why CrossFit is smarter and better.

Of course, when your slogan is “forging elite fitness”, how can you avoid the accusation of elitism and exclusivism? Do you even want to?

Let’s be honest.  Some fitness trends should only produce satire.  The shake weight.  Forearm curls. Reading a book while pedaling a stationary bike.  When something is stupid, sometimes the right thing to do is to laugh.

And isn’t elitism necessary, especially when what you are being elite about is actually the truth?   Isn’t some music is just better than other music? (Should we accuse American Idol of elitism?)  Isn’t some food just better than other food, whether in terms of health and taste?  Should we disband the “special” forces for making ordinary servicemen feel, well, ordinary?

You get my point.  Elitism is inevitable.  This is the case whether you are talking about workout routines or worldviews.

But here’s the real question I’m after:

Is it possible to embrace something that’s true in a way that doesn’t lead to a superiority complex?

Is it possible to be elitist and yet profoundly humbled by what you’ve found?

I think that it is.  And that’s Friday’s post.

Question: What are you elitist about?

Friday: Church of CrossFit (10): CrossFit and the Cross

Church of Crossfit (8): Invisible, Universal, Online

The center of the CrossFit world is invisible, yet it connects CrossFitters and CrossFit churches all over the world.  Today’s post will investigate the Mecca of the CrossFit movement, the CrossFit HQ main site:

The focus of the site is a sort of Daily Office for fitness, the daily WODS (workout of the day).  The WOD is posted every day, along with times/loads of notable CrossFitters and instructional videos showing proper form.  Anyone with the necessary equipment can join in the workout, and then post the results to the comment section.  This allows people who live too far from a CrossFit gym to feel a sense of connectedness to the community.

This was how CrossFit began: Greg Glassman posting his workouts online.  Over ten years later, daily posting continues.  But now there are many other extras on the site.

There is a link to the CrossFit journal, an online Bible of CrossFit wisdom.  There are links to all of the CrossFit “churches” (affiliates) throughout the U.S. and beyond.  There are links to certification courses, through which serious CrossFitters can become ordained CrossFit trainers.  There is even Children’s Ministry (CrossFit Kids)!

One sidebar announces regional events and competitions, the chief of which is the annual CrossFit Games (now sponsored by Reebok!), the annual competition that crowns the “Fittest on Earth.”

CrossFit has enjoyed a warm reception by the Armed Forces, and so there is a strong military presence on the site: WODs named after fallen heroes, pictures of special forces doing CrossFit, and endorsements by servicemen worldwide.

Interestingly, there is also a daily link to something seemingly unrelated to fitness: an article from the Atlantic, a poem by John Milton, a violin Concerto by Brahms.

The fact that a site devoted to “forging elite fitness” has so much to offer beyond traditional fitness suggests that they have redefined “fitness” to include much more holistic concerns.

In other words, CrossFit HQ is forging a habitus, a way of living in this world.  And all over the world, despite geographic separation, thousands of people are logging in to participate in this way of life together.

There is something transcendent about knowing that a guy in India and I both did the same workout this morning. (There is a CrossFit affiliate at an orphanage outside of Haridwar, India.)

In the church world, the value of this kind of connection is inestimable.  The movement of Jesus isn’t about my individual church, but about the larger, worldwide body of Christ.  We have spiritual practices, particular ways of living in the world. These unite us.

There is something transcendent about knowing that a guy in India and I both woke up this morning and prayed to the One who makes us brothers.  There is something about knowing that at this moment, believers in Chicago and Chile are trying to live a life of faith, love and hope – in the face of unfaithfulness, lovelessness and despair.

We participate in His movement locally, but the movement is anything but provincial.

Every tribe, every language, every nation is invited and included.

And Jesus makes us one.

Question: When did you first realize the “bigness” of the Church?

Wednesday: Church of Crossfit (9): CrossFit Cult?

Church of Crossfit (7): Heroes and Saints

Every movement has its saints.  These individuals are the ones who embody the movement; they set the standard for what others aspire to become.  In this post, I’d like to explore the “saints” of the Church of CrossFit: professional CrossFitters.

There are two groups of sponsored CrossFit athletes: Team Rogue and Team Again Faster.  Incidentally, these two teams went head-to head last year, and watching the competition (which was like watching the Avengers fight the X-Men) one afternoon last November ultimately inspired me to join my CrossFit gym.

In any case, these athletes represent the best that CrossFit has to offer: a cross-section of the top finishers from the CrossFit Games over the last five years.  Some notables:

Mikko Salo, from Finland, who was the 2009 champion.  Salo is known as “The Cyborg” because of his machine-like feats, like doing 1000 burpees for time. It took him 82 minutes.

Jason Khalipa, the 2008 champion, who at the 2010 games had an entire section guys waving signs, chanting his name, and spelling out his name on their bare chests.

Chris Spealler, who was featured in the above Adidas commercial just prior to the 2010 Games (worth watching to understand what I’m writing about).  Spealler amazed the CrossFit community in 2010 when he embarked on a quest to do 100 pull-ups in a row.

Spealler’s quest for 100 pull-ups is worth investigating more closely (there is a 22 minute documentary of his attempts).  At one attempt in front of 45 peers, the energy in the room was fantastic: the sense of disappointed awe is palpable when, with large cuts on his hands, he falls off the bar at 97.  One trainer in particular was moved to tears at the attempt.  When asked what she thought of Spealler, she responded:

He’s an amazing human being.  He’s humble to a fault, he just gives and gives and gives….  Everything that he puts into his performance he puts into training other people too, and um, even outside of work, outside of CrossFit the way he lives his life is really inspiring.

Notice again that Spealler is a model not simply because of his physical prowess but because of the overall kind of human beings he is.  Incidentally, after failing on his first three attempts, he cranked out 106 pull-ups in a row.

At CrossFit gyms, people talk about these athletes.  They give the ordinary CrossFitter a vision of what he or she could become: it is a vision of a better future.

When the life that you are living is safe, comfortable and boring, you don’t really need any heroes to inspire you.  Those who are living for themselves have no need of saints.

People who need heroes are the ones who are staring down something big.  People with real obstacles, real dreams – people who know that to go where they are called to go will require them to become stronger than they currently are.

So it is no surprise that CrossFitters have heroes; their mission requires them.

Does yours?

Question: Who are your heroes?