Identifying weak links

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Last week I was on vacation with my girlfriend Gretchen on the island of Kauai. One thing we did was along the Na Pali Coast to the Hanakapi’ai Falls, an 8-mile out-and-back of fairly technical trail. Gretchen is the true-blue hiker of the two of us. She’s an Outward Bound veteran and there’s no keeping up with her on tricky descents of water-slickened rock.

The Falls.

By the final miles of the hike I was in bad shape. This was not a matter of cardiovascular endurance—on that end, I was absolutely fine. But two weak spots of mine that have hindered my running in the past flamed up. I had significant trouble generating power with the right leg as my right knee seemed to be completely unstable. And my left leg was weakened by an ankle that was tiring. On a simply flat or uphill I could zip right along. But on the descents, particularly the rocky ones, I slowed to a crawl, grabbing onto any available tree trunk or branch that I could use to help stabilize my movement.

I considered my observations of how my facility on the trail degenerated in the light of one of the classic points that CrossFit’s Greg Glassman makes when he talks about the value of general fitness. He makes the case that the weaknesses that are revealed when, for example, a runner joins a CrossFit gym, are weaknesses where tremendous opportunities exist for performance development.

In my case, some of the movements I still have trouble with during CrossFit workouts are single-leg squats and pistols. I can’t do a full pistol to save my life. I can barely do a quarter pistol. Other movements I suck at: Turkish get-ups. I also have trouble with double-unders because of my left ankle.  So what I imagine Glassman might say to me that these weaknesses are practically shouting at me in regards to what I need to work on, and that perhaps by working on them in the gym the benefits will translate to applications like hiking and running.

This is precisely one of the things I plan on asking Brian MacKenzie about tomorrow in an interview we have planned. MacKenzie’s new book, “Power Speed ENDURANCE” is due out soon. I imagine he’ll have some fairly specific advice about how a runner can not only flesh out various “holes” in performance with CrossFit movements but also work on fixing them.

In taking on the CrossFit Endurance approach to training for a running race, I’m convinced that I won’t get far without first repairing these bits and pieces. One of the things that’s clear about adapting the Pose Method-style of running–one of the signature aspects of MacKenzie’s method–is that you’re essentially learning how to run all over again and the feet, ankles and muscles of the posterior chain are coordinated and used in a new way. I sense that without directly addressing that weaknesses exposed during the hike and during basic CrossFit classes I will struggle to adopt the program.

In Inside the Box, veteran journalist and marathoner T.J. Murphy goes all in to expose the gritty, high-intensity sport of CrossFit®. From staggering newcomer to evangelist, Murphy finds out how it feels, why it’s so popular, and whether CrossFit can fix his broken body.