Filtering gnats but inhaling camels
Filtering gnats but inhaling camels?*
(see Matthew 23:24)
CrossFit claims that health and fitness can be concisely and precisely defined as increased work capacity across broad time, modal and age domains. The prescription for achieving this fitness is constantly varied high intensity functional movements. Coach Glassman recognized many years ago that training is only one of the important factors involved in increasing work capacity, so the CrossFit mandate very logically expanded beyond the realm of training to encompass a nutritional component as well.
The commitment to evidence-based fitness and the open-source nature of CrossFit support the aims of building a broad, general and inclusive fitness program. If increased work capacity (sustainable over the entire span of life) truly is the holy grail of performance improvement, we as CrossFit trainers should open-mindedly embrace all measures that have been shown to effectively, efficiently and safely improve our capacities.
With that in mind, is it time to look beyond training and nutrition? Are there other areas of our lifestyles that can be tweaked to better help us reach our health and fitness goals?
Studies indicate that getting less than the ideal amount of sleep on a consistent basis can be detrimental to cognitive and physiological functions. Further studies show that the amount of REM sleep that we get is a more accurate factor than simply measuring the total amount of time spent sleeping. Additional studies indicate that it is possible to increase the proportion of REM sleep time to total sleep time by controlling the timing and duration of naps taken on a daily basis. Is it time to evaluate whether the use of a “Siesta Model” can be shown to support increases in work capacity? How much of a difference would it need to make before it would become part of the general CrossFit doctrine?
If training, nutrition and sleep patterns might all conceivably play roles in improving work capacity across broad time, modal and age domains, are there other as-yet unaddressed patterns of human activity that might also be optimized to achieve even better results?
What about the consumption of alcohol? What about the use of tobacco? Does it make sense for a person to adhere to strict dietary principles while smoking a pack a day? Can we justify the emphasis placed upon controlling macronutrient ratios while turning a blind eye to a potential alcohol problem, just because the person in question is not burdened by excess body fat?
Many of us have come to grips with the application of the Pareto (80-20) Principle when it comes to training and nutrition. We accept that the last fractions of potential improvement in any specific area are often not necessarily worth pursuing because the time and effort spent doing so would be detrimental to the overall picture.
We skip workouts to take care of sick friends or family members. We schedule cheat days around important holidays. Doing so might potentially make us miss out on some measureable benefit in work capacity, but we accept that because as important as work capacity is, it is not the only meaningful measure of the quality of human existence. Perhaps these principles can also be applied to the use of alcohol and/or tobacco, but shouldn’t we at least try to look into how much of an effect these might have in order to help people make informed choices? Our humanity may indeed lie in our imperfections, but it might be instructive to attempt to list and rank-order some of the potential gains that can be reasonably expected from a gluten-free or sugar-free lifestyle as compared to those that can be reasonably expected from giving up alcohol or tobacco.
When it comes to the best way for CrossFit to address these issues I have more questions than answers. What I do know is that a wise person observed that we fail at the margins of our experience. We as a community cannot continue to ignore areas of human activity that have obvious impacts on human performance while remaining true to our charter. We will need to explore this unfamiliar terrain in order to expand our ability to improve work capacity over broad time, modal and age domains. It need not become a moral or ethical issue. We should strive to focus on the objective and measurable aspects of the issues rather than the subjective and emotional baggage that we all bring to the discussion. The road forward won’t be easy and it won’t be fun, but it cannot remain untaken without exposing us collectively as hypocrites.