This past weekend I trekked down to San Diego for the Rumble in Paradise CrossFit competition held at CrossFit Elysium. Joining the Elysium crew were athletes from CrossFit Mission George, CrossFit 858 and CrossFit Flood. It was a two-day event with an intermediate division competing on Saturday and the advanced group competing on Sunday.
Three workouts were held each day. In the intermediate schedule, the first workout was an 8-minute AMRAP of burpee/box jumps and kettlebell swings. The second workout was a 10-minute period of time to work up to a best snatch, and the third workout was another AMPRAP couplet, 10 minutes worth, comprised of squat cleans and hand-release pushups. For the athletes in the advanced division, the first and last workouts were built out with additional skills (handstand pushups and muscle-ups) and significantly more weight.
This was my second time in the Rumble. One of the things I came away with this time around was due in part to the divisions put in place this year. I think one of the things the Elysium coaches do a great job of is consistently pushing the athletes in the course of their training in sort of a “just enough but not too much” way. I imagine that it’s a tough sweet spot to find—to watch athletes closely enough that you, as the coach, know when it’s time to up the ante (going from using a 1.5 pood kettle bell to a 2 pood bell, for example) and profitably increase the discomfort level, in ways both physical and psychological. Finding this sweet spot means that the athlete is pushed to avoid treading water on a plateau but not being pushed so quickly that an injury results. One of the things quite impressive about Elysium’s Coach Paul Estrada is his knack for getting this right, as well as his rather supernatural memory for recalling–often times as well if not better than the athletes–what an athlete’s PRs happen to be.
I recall many times when Estrada would watch athletes in the gym load up their barbells for a met-con, or grab a kettle bell, and he telling them it was time to go up a level with weight. This disclosure was sometimes followed by the wide, panic-stricken eyes of the CrossFitter who knew that yet another potential comfort zone was about to be dismantled.
In regards to the Rumble in Paradise competition, it was clear that this policy was applied to which division the Elysium athletes were encouraged to sign up for. If the athlete had the strength to make it through the met-cons, they were encouraged to sign up for the advanced division, even if it meant sacrificing a higher placing that they surely would have been in line for in the intermediate grouping. I was very impressed to see how much the likes of Alex Toomes, Greg Vallarino and Scott Caraveo have improved in the last year, and the guts they showed in signing up for the additional rigors involved in the advanced competition. I was certainly inspired–this year I was an intermediate. If I’m not ready for the advanced category next year I will have to come up with some clever excuses that I can tell you right now will not fly very far.
At any rate, this all sort of boiled down for me the real value of these “Throwdown”-style local competitions: that they can be used to shock an athlete with a stress and stimulus that will open up new pathways for improvement. You could see the fear in some of the eyes of those more new to CrossFit in general that somehow a coach had talked them into signing up for the competition. And the same for some who had been talked into registering for the advanced category. The “Am I ready for this?” fear-response of taking on a new challenge.
And not just a challenge. The workouts that make up the competition of a Rumble in Paradise are performed in a situation where your peers are watching and cheering from just a few feet away. There is nowhere to hide. In the middle of a pack of a road running race you are not under such severe scrutiny. Not in a CrossFit competition workout. If you’re stepping into a workout that contains a movement or skill you don’t feel particularly confident in, there’s the fear that you may absolutely embarrass yourself right in front of a throng of people.
And not just that, it’s a throng that goes delirious with noise and screaming when it’s the last minute of the workout, at a time when heart and ventilation rates have the quality of 50 bats confined to a milk crate. In fact, watch the following video–particularly the last 2 minutes after the 10-minute AMRAP, as Sara West and Alessandra Wall–both with children and medical careers–go after muscle-ups:
Ultimately, the crowd—mostly CrossFittters who get what’s going on–are not so much concerned with how much you do, how much you lift or how well you score. Rather, it’s about the effort in proportion to the athlete’s capacity to give it. It’s about not cracking. Whether you come in first or last is far less important than how much you give in the way of effort, and how much courage you tapped into in toeing the starting line in the first place.
Of course, it’s the expression of giving all you can that is what creates such a tight bond between the athletes in a box. What I saw at the Rumble in Paradise this weekend, from all the gyms participating, was kind of an echo chamber of support, inspiration and brotherhood-sisterhood.
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.