Okay, so I took a pretty long maternity leave from coaching classes (or entering a gym). Just to be clear, “pretty long” was about four years. Needless to say, my CF-L1 had expired and I needed to take the Level One Course again to brush up on things, re-invigorate my coaching self, and stay on the up-and-up. I knew I’d feel refreshed afterwards but I didn’t expect to take away certain things that I did.
Just to put things in perspective, the first time I took my CF-L1, Rich Froning hadn’t won the Games, I just got my first kipping pull-ups, my cheat meals were 60% of my diet, Nanos didn’t exist yet. In fact, there was no Reebok + CrossFit connection. The CrossFit Games were held at a privately owned ranch in California. I think we can all agree that was a different CrossFit world than we are living in now, and my goals and mindset were certainly much different then than this time around.
Although almost a decade passed between my two Level One courses, here’s what didn’t change: CrossFit; the way it defines fitness. I was talking with a member and they made the comment that CrossFit has been diluted. I agree, sort of. CrossFit has been diluted only in the way the original message from a game of telephone gets diluted: by people. Greg Glassman, the co-founder of CrossFit, has recently compared the athletes at The Games to clowns at a used car lot. If you go to a used car lot, you’re there to buy a car, and the clowns are just entertainment but also a bit of a distraction from buying a car. In this sense, the athletes are distracting (yet definitely entertaining) us away from CrossFit’s purpose: health; more specifically, fighting chronic disease.
Even if you never plan to coach a CrossFit class, take your CF-L1. You’ll spend the entire weekend drilling foundational movements like the air squat, the deadlift (with a PVC pipe), the overhead press (with a PVC pipe), and more over and over again. And you’ll be sore. And they’ll correct your form, over and over again. They’ll preach virtuosity: performing the common uncommonly well, and they’ll talk about The Sickness-Wellness-Fitness Continuum (more on this later). This is CrossFit: concentrated, not diluted. The message they’ve preached at the CrossFit Level One Course has not changed.
So, back to my first Level One. I just wanted a muscle-up, I wanted to do all the benchmarks, my closet was full of Inov-8s, and my biggest takeaway was my first Fran time (6:30).
Fast forward to my second Level One. I needed to feel the love of CrossFit again (check), I wanted to find a way to connect WODs and diet to complete the whole picture of Fitness that CrossFit strives to facilitate (double check).
My answer was the Sickness-Wellness-Fitness Continuum. This is taken out of the CF-L1 course material.
Essentially, our Fitness journey starts somewhere. Maybe yours started at Sickness, or halfway from Wellness to Fitness, or just past Sickness and on the verge of Wellness. Here’s the point: you haven’t arrived yet. None of us have. The more we balance technique/intensity in a WOD to get results, and the more we balance our diet to give us energy without adding fat, the closer we get to Fitness. Note that one doesn’t achieve Fitness by working out alone. Muscle Mass is listed as ONE out of at least SIX measurements of health. If you have a good proportion of muscle mass but your triglycerides and HDL/LDL cholesterol are out of whack, you’re not even at Wellness, and certainly not at Fitness. These biomarkers are predictors of chronic disease. Chances are, if there are multiple biomarkers out of whack, you have or are headed down the path of chronic disease. Alzheimer’s, diabetes, most cancers, severe depression would result in your A1c, blood pressure, body fat, and/or triglycerides, for example, being less than ideal.
I recently listened to a talk Dr. Christopher M. Palmer, M.D. had with Paul Saladino, MD tying all of this together. Dr. Palmer has been in the field of psychiatry for 20+ years and has focused on treatment resistant cases with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He is assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is the director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital.
He found that people with mental issues like paranoia, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder are 300% more likely to have diabetes or insulin resistance than someone who does not suffer from severe mental issues.
What this states, as with the biomarkers in the Sickness-Wellness-Fitness Continuum, is that these diseases are bi-directional (paranoia and diabetes, for example).
Diabetics are twice as likely to have depression than those that don’t have diabetes, and when diabetics do get depressed, the depression lasts four times longer than those that don’t have diabetes.
Dr. Palmer also explains that if two people of equal weight and the same age have diabetes, the depressed person is more likely to have elevated A1c and vascular complications of their diabetes. So now we’re seeing diabetes, blood sugar, and cardiovascular biomarkers trending toward the same direction as well. (1)
This is an example of multiple biomarkers trending toward the same direction, and it’s not good. This falls in line with what Glassman is talking about with the Sickness-Wellness-Fitness Continuum.
Doctors can prescribe drugs to treat the symptoms of these diseases (specific biomarkers like cholesterol or blood pressure, for example, or anti-psychotics), but they’re not fixing the root cause of the chronic disease problem.
Eat like we tell you to and work out. That’s what will fight chronic disease.
Now I’m going to get a little quotey, but it’s worth it. Plus, you might need a little break from me.
Continue reading while I go grab a coffee…
“Seventy percent of deaths in the United States are attributable to chronic disease. Of the 2.6 million people who died in the United States in 2014, about 1.8 million died from chronic disease.
The other 30 percent are dying from accidents that come in four “-ic” variants: kinetic, genetic, toxic and microbic. Kinetic: physical trauma, car crash, hit on a bike. Toxic: environmental toxins, such as lead poisoning. Genetic: genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis, you are born with it. Microbic: virus, bacteria, prions.
This is where treatment can be symptomatic. This is where the miracles of medicine are. If you have got a genetic disorder that is making you sick, you need a doctor. If you have been poisoned, you need a doctor. If you caught a nasty virus or a flesh-eating bacteria, you need a doctor. You do not need to go to the gym, and you do not need burpees.
Seventy percent of what kills people can be addressed by what CrossFit trainers do, and the other 30 percent of deaths occur based on luck, so get fit and do not think about luck.
Doctors are like lifeguards; CrossFit trainers are like swim coaches. When you are drowning, you do not need a swim coach. You needed one, and you did not get one. What you need is a lifeguard. We will teach people how to swim, and when they do not pay attention and they go under, the doctors take care of it.
Fitness + Luck (bad) = Health
It is the part you can do something about plus the part you can do nothing about that sums to your outcome. So make the most out of fitness and you will not be part of the seven out of 10 who die unnecessarily due to lifestyle. In the end, chronic disease is a deficiency syndrome. It is sedentation with malnutrition. “ (2)
-Greg Glassman, from the CrossFit Journal
The cool thing about the Continuum is the further you move toward Fitness, the more of a buffer you have between you and Sickness. For example, let’s say you’ve just arrived at Wellness (great job, that was probably tough). Now your loved one is admitted into ICU and you’re eating and sleeping in the hospital with your loved one to provide support. Chances are you’re not eating the best diet, and greater chances are you’re not making it into the gym. Well, after a couple months you’re back to Sickness.
Now let’s say you’re pretty close to Fitness. You’re eating Paleo (or some variation of), you have very little body fat, your muscle mass is considerable. Now, when you’re spending a couple months nursing your loved one back to health and your diet goes to pot and you haven’t made it to the gym, you’re just around Wellness or a little less, but you’re not at Sickness.
Isn’t this a beautiful example of maintaining and constantly working toward health? Since we aren’t worrying about luck and what we can’t control, let’s take responsibility for ourselves, more specifically our own health.
This was the biggest impact my most recent Level One course had on me. It’s a bigger picture, an "I'm in-it-for-life” attitude. The point is to keep doing all of this until you’re 100. I want to create such a buffer between me and Sickness that when I’m 90 and I’ve cut back a bit, I’m just like, “Okay, maybe I’ll just do Murph without a weight vest this year, you know, casually.”
Saladino, P. (2019, September 30). Fundamental Health with Paul Saladino, MD [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/fundamental-health-with-paul-saladino-md/id1461771083
CrossFit Inc., Adapted from Lectures by Greg Glassman. Fitness, Luck and Health. The CrossFit Journal. Retrieved from http://journal.crossfit.com/2016/08/fitness-luck-and-health.tpl