Is Crossfit WEIRD ?

There are plenty in the world that would call Crossfit a little weird, but could it be argued that Crossfit is too WEIRD.  This isn’t weird in the sense that Crossfit and the folks that have drank the Crossfit Kool-Aid are bizarre and strange, but more in the sense of Joseph Heinrich’s concept of W.E.I.R.D.

WEIRD is a psychology/sociology concept that was introduced by Joseph Heinrich.  His concept proposed that a disproportionate amount of behavioral science theory was being based on the American population. In this case, A recent survey of the top journals in  psychology revealed that 68% of subjects were from the US and fully 96% from ‘Western’ industrialized nations (European, North American, Australian or Israeli). That would mean that the studies on human behavior had a 96% concentration on only 12% of the world’s population. Or, to put it another way, you’re 4000 times more likely to be studied by a psychologist if you’re a university undergraduate at a Western university than a randomly selected individual.  In this way he supposed that much of research was being based off a biased sample of the population.

But what does that have to do with Crossfit and fitness? Is there a similar pattern reflected in the people who Crossfit?  Is there a sociological between these factors and the masses that Crossfit?  Joseph Heinrich coined the concept of WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) to define the distinctiveness of those identified in these studies, but can the same imbalance be found in Crossfit? Is Crossfit participation or biased towards a more WEIRD population?

W – Western

There are two ways that I have found this to be a distinguishing feature.   The first is through simple geography. Below was the listed allocations for Crossfit Games Regionals Qualifiers.

10 men and 10 women from Asia, Africa,  Latin America.

20 men and 20 women from Canada West,  Canada East and all U.S. Open Regions

30 men and 30 women from Australia and Europe

To put this in perspective, there are more than 7 Billion people in the world and of that three of the top five are from Asia (China, India, Indonesia), with that region representing just under 60% of the world population. However from this region there are only 10 Men and 10 Women invited to Crossfit Regionals.

1 Asia                          4,478,315,164      59.6 %
2 Africa                       1,246,504,865      16.6 %
3 Europe                     739,207,742           9.8 %
4 Latin America        647,565,336           8.6 %
5 Northern America 363,224,006          4.8 %
6 Oceania                      40,467,040          0.5 %

Based off the selection ratios this will bring about a higher “western” or primarily American or European representation despite the higher “eastern” population.  Some of this is by design in that the methods used by Crossfit to determine these allocations are to support the the relative competitiveness and spectator ship anticipated.

For a better breakdown of the Crossfit regions. Crossfit Games Regional Breakdown

I also like to take this a little bit deeper. Even in the break out of the higher percentage of “Western”  athletes, there is another “W” to be aware of.  Much of Crossfitters tend to be “White collar” workers. Business men and women of different levels,  teachers, nurses, etc. These is not a high showing of construction workers, plumbers, and other specific trade skills.  The exception here is military, Law Enforcement and Firefighters. This may because of the need for physical ability in the performance of their jobs.  “Blue Collar” workers may have physically demanding jobs, but most are not working all day and then coming into the gym.  Next time you are working around look around and see how many grease stained, dirty or calloused hands before working out.  These is nothing against Blue’collar workers but the reality is that if you spend your day outside working with your hands or in the environment and weather, then you tend to be less likely to come to into your local box before or after work.

E – Educated

This doesn’t mean that everyone who Crossfits has a degree or even a diploma, but when we talked previously about the preponderance of “White Collar” athletes, that is because most of them have received some form of Western education, regardless of level or institution. High School, Associates, Vocational, Bachelors, Graduate;

I – Industrialized

There are plenty of people that have had to do some workouts in some austere conditions. Military serving overseas in remote areas tend to be the bulk population for this. Most of us attend our local box down the street. They may not always have the latest and greatest equipment from Rogue, but generally they have some decent equipment in the form of barbells and plates, kettlebells, rowers, and a collection other implements. Some places will also have tires and sandbags, but these tend to get used less frequently.   Our equipment is steel bars, formed rubber places, forged cannonballs with handles.  Far and few are the people routinely lifting logs and rocks and other improvised items to work out.

R – Rich

Lets be honest Crossfit is not cheap. It’s not. I have seen a variety of different pricing options for memberships. Most places tend to do a monthly membership, but i have seen places that have punch card options.  With the monthly memberships I have seen some places charge on the low end of $100 a month and to the high end $325 a month.  Compared to the $19.95 memberships that are available at some non-crossfit facilities, a three digit Crossfit membership is an investment.  I believe receiving quality coaching is a much higher need for most of the population than just having access to equipment and a facility, but the reality is that we all do not have the time or the funds to justify having a Crossfit membership.  This is another reason that much of the crossfit population tends to be white collar workers with more disposable income.

D -Democratic

Democratic society may not be the biggest factor so much as being a capitalist society. It is no secret that Crossfit founder Greg Glassman is an Libertarian and it is reflected in the way that he manages his corporation and affiliates.  Each affiliate is essentially its own independent small business and is “allowed” to succeed or fail based on its own merits. This format has allowed Crossfit affiliates to flourish in countries / regions that are more small business friendly. This has not prevented affiliates from opening up in countries that are traditionally communist, or have increased government restrictions.

 

In the end, Crossfit is at its heart an “American-made” product.  Its draw has allowed it to become popular throughout the international community.  Despite the the spread of its popularity, there is a strong argument that Crossfit participants are strongly biased towards a WEIRD demographic.  Even though there is a stronger opportunity for Crossfit to be more popular and accessible in more Western or Democratic cultures, it has started to see growth all across the world. The question remains whether Crossfit will maintain this degree of bias but across higher participation numbers or will this bias begin to “even” out as the more people across the globe begin taking sips of the “Kool-Aid”

 

For Further Reading

World Population

The Weirdest People in the World

 

Tonic and Phasic – Why you can’t treat your muscles the same.

The basics are the same.  Our nervous system sends a signal. Groups of muscle fibers respond and contract.  Muscle groups work in concert with each other to create motion in our skeleton.  The action of this muscle contraction is across the hinge of any variety of joint.  Using this joint as a fulcrum, the two lengths opposite the joint either increase their angle or decrease their angle.

Got all that?  Ok good.  When our muscles contract and result in an increased or “opening” of this angle we call it extension. When we decrease or “close” this angle we call it flexion.  There are plenty of other actions that can occur. Rotation, supination, pronation… but we are going to focus on extension and flexion.

Read More

Crossfitters and their Gear

Through the years that I have been involved with Crossfit I have seen quite the evolution in the amount of gear available, as well as the styles of gear that is now available. Some of the obvious styles changes is in the shoes that everyone is now wearing, but then there is also an abundance of specialized gear that has become more prevalent on the market. I think that some of it has been for the better, but at the same time not all of it has. Read More

Moving Dirt

As crossfitters and coaches we always ask for everyone to always give 100% effort. The reality of this statement is that from day to day your 100% may have varied results from day to day.  Results are not promised. The only thing guaranteed is the process.

Sometimes your 100 percent is a sprint, other days it might be a walk or even a crawl.  We all have days where we come in to the gym breathing fire, ready to Clang and Bang some weights and hit a few PRs. Other days we come in and we are measuring our success in the simple fact that we got to the gym that day.

We have all had those days, the weight seems a little bit heavier than usual. We aren’t moving quite as fast. Sometimes its because its the end of the week, or that we worked a crazy work schedule prior to getting to the gym. This should not be an excuse for not putting in the work, it is just realizing that everyday is different and everyday our performance may vary.

One of he best analogies that I have heard came from John Welbourne at Power Athlete. Training is like building a mountain. Some days you are moving dirt and building this mountain with a shovel, and other days all you have is a spoon. You can still give a 100% effort with what ever you have that day. thJTJ6DIHN

Every day is a chance to get better. I know for me that sometimes those are the best days to just find a workout that I can grind though. Not necessarily heavy Olympic lifting or very technical gymnastics, because I know that on these days I am just going to miss lifts I normally would make and end up walking away feeling defeated and beat up. These are the days I drag or push some sleds, throw around sandbags, flip some tires, hit some sledgehammer. I’m not working to PR anything, I am working on being able to grind out some work and move some dirt. Doesn’t have to be pretty.  All you need to do is supply the effort that you got available.  Rather than it being a day where you didn’t feel like you are firing on all cylinders, you can walk away having actually put yourself through a nice training session.

So on those days where you don’t need a rest day, but you aren’t up for an elaborate or technical workout, you can still get out and Move some dirt and still work on that mountain.

miracle-gro-natures-care-wet-large-7

 

The Laws of Fitness: The Law of Diminished Returns

Improving performance is a process.  It doesn’t happen over night and it doesn’t come without a lot of work. In fact,  one thing that becomes apparent as we progress as athletes: The better we get, the harder we have to work to get better.

Everyone starts their path of training at different times, with different levels of experience and for a multitude of different reasons. There is commonality in the things that happen to us when we all start, regardless of whether we are trying to run faster, go longer, lift heavier and more. quads

We get started on a new program, we start training and for the first week or so, we are sore. Our body is trying to get used to the “abuse” that we call training.  Soon after that we quickly see increases in strength and speed.  We start to see progress and it seems like all we have to do is more and the results will keep coming. The day eventually comes when the progress starts to slow down.  We have to do twice as much to get half the results.

Depending on our level of experience, the first 1-3 weeks of a new program is all about Inter-Muscular Coordination. This means that we our Central Nervous System is learning which muscles to use and when. We may be able to start moving more weight but it has nothing to do with strength. Imagine that you and friends were going to push a car. This phase would be like trying to pick which friends and how many you need to push.  The car is obviously going to be able to move faster, based off the fact that you have learned to recruit more to your cause.

The Next 1-3 weeks, is about Intra-Muscular Coordination. Now that our body knows which muscles to use, we now have to get all the muscles to work together.  This involves developing timing and balance. Not just getting one muscle to work at the right time, but being able to properly utilize a whole muscle group or groups.  Back to our car pushing analogy, this would mean getting everyone in our group to heave and push together and at the same time.

These first two phases are often considered the Novice phase. This has nothing to do with your level of experience or athletic background. This is solely based on how your body is responding to the stimulus. In these phases, it seems like everything that you do is making you stronger or faster and that all you have to do is keeping doing more. dyel

After so many week we finally hit the prized phase of Hypertrophy. This is the point where I body realizes that it has turned on the right muscles and that they are working together, but they need more. Your body then turned to increases muscle size and density in an effort to increase contractile force of the muscle.  In order for this phase to continue, we must continue to provide stimulus that our body will respond to. In addition to this we must also be able to provide the correct nutrition for our body to be able to grow and develop our muscles.

The unfortunate part is that most people do not always make it to this point.  They assume that because their progress has slowed down that the program is no longer working. This could not be further from the truth. Reaching this phase is where your body actually begins making changes. Far too many people will start a program and only do it for 6-8 weeks and then stop because their growth slowed, and then start something else. They then wonder why it seems that they never get any stronger.  People will consider this an insurmountable plateau and move on to a new program. In fact, once you reach the hypertrophy phase there will be several plateau’s that one will work through. gain-muscle-protein-meme-284x300

In contrast to this, muscles take a lot of protein and nutrients to be maintained and develop.  This is why if we take too much time away from training our muscles begin to atrophy.  Muscle mass that is very nutritionally expensive to build, and if it isn’t being used our body begins breaking it down so that the body will not need so many resources.

The worst part is that you can’t always just do more for the sake of doing more. There is only so much time in the day and so much volume that our bodies can endure without reaching the point of exhaustion and potentially causing injury.

There is no escaping it. The harder you work, the harder you will have to work. This is what will separate the novice athletes who are perpetually jumping from program to program, and the committed who work day in and day out.

The Laws of Fitness: Wolff’s Law

We work out with the intent of increasing the strength and size of our musculature.  At that the same time that we are working on our muscles, our body is also thinking about our bone structure.  Without a skeleton to provide support our muscles become practically useless. Our bicep cannot create flexion with out a joint and to structures with which to create flexion. Just like a crane is useless without a cable AND a boom, we are not able to create the movement we need without both parts. Luckily with all the time that we spend working on our muscles, our body is smart enough also strengthen our skeleton. Read More

The Laws Of Fitness: Davis’ Law

We do Yoga. We stretch. We work our mobility.  We do all of these things and more and generally with a few of the same basic ideas in mind. We want to improve our range of motion and reduce our chance of injury.

Davis’ Law is details how our soft tissue (tendons, ligaments and fascia) adapt under stress and lack of stress. Read More

The Laws of Fitness: SAID Principle

When it comes to fitness there are very few things that are set in stone.  There are so many techniques, movements, and varieties of methods. It can be argued that some may be better than others but to some extent they may all hold some value. Our bodies are wonderous devices capable of far exceeding the limits that we believe them to have. So when it comes to training and preparing our bodies, there may not be a wrong or right way, but there are things that we do know to be true and are the standing concepts with which all of this running around, lifting weights, biking, running, and pure simple hours of sweat are based on.

That being the case there are several “laws” that we do know exist and operate with out fail. The first is known as the SAID Principle. For the sake of this conversation we will acknowledge it as being a “law”.  The SAID Principle is “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands”.  In simple terms our bodies get better at what we make them do. Read More