Man, the Y is Annoying

I went to the local YMCA today to do some lifting and swimming. (My foot is bothering me a lot right now, so running is out during this ‘break.‘) The last time I went to the Y I had to share the pool with “Princess” while I tried to water run.

The YMCA has not gotten a whole lot better since then.

Have you ever seen the Seinfeld episodes where those super old guys, the Mandelbaums, keep challenging Jerry to weird and obscure physical challenges and try to get him in shape, even tying him to the back of a car to make him run. I’m pretty sure those guys go to my Y.

The weirdest part is the attitude. When I went to get into a swim lane, I gestured to the guy ‘Hey, can we split the lane?’ and he just stared at me and kept swimming. I waited until he came back to the wall again. ‘Hi, sorry, can we split the lane?’ He kept staring pointedly away from me. ‘Hi. Excuse me. Hello. Hi. Hey. Can we split the lane?’ He finally turned and stared at me. ‘The lane, can we split it?’ I’m pantomiming now. S-P-L-I-T. He stares some more. Finally, he sighs. ‘It’s not allowed.’

It’s not allowed? No, splitting the lane isn’t allowed. They won’t let you. But, he says, he’s almost done. Or, I could always swim in another lane. OK, fine, I jump in the fast lane and apparently my ability to swim scares away the woman in that lane.

Then, I accidentally hit this guy in the lane next to me with my hand — apparently my stroke is wider than it should be. This is not uncommon and I’ve been knocked on accident plenty of times. Usually at Masters I would just keep swimming. But, this is the Y and I sort of doubted that would go over well. I stopped right away and say, “Are you ok?”

The guy stared at me, mouthed some swear words and mumbled an insult under his breath, stared some more, and then turned away and started swimming. Um. OK.

And, that is why, even though it is the cheapest, closest gym to my house, I don’t belong to the Y.


Is Crossfit Stupid?

I’m up and down on this. Sometimes, I think Crossfit is the dumbest thing ever. Sometimes, I think it’s awesome.

Short answer: Crossfit is great for general staying (or getting) in shape. It’s not really much different than any other bootcamp or personal training, though the emphasis on lifting and variety of workouts can be more interesting and effective for most people. It really depends on the place and the instructor, however. Is Yoga dumb? Sometimes. It depends on who’s teaching.

But, for triathlon/running/cycling/endurance sports? Crossfit can be effective as functional strength work. You have to be smart about it, though. Find a trainer/instructor who understands your goals and isn’t going to yell at you to do more max weight squats when you’re planning on a long hard run that day. That’s how you get hurt. (And, not fast.)

For all that there is Crossfit Endurance and people use it to train for half-marathons or marathons or triathlons or whatever, let’s be real. Crossfit is fundamentally a fast-twitch exercise. If you’re power lifting and sprinting and jumping, you’re not training your slow-twitch muscles. Just watch the 2012 Crossfit Games championships and click to 37:45 or so to see all the ‘fittest athletes in the world’ walking the run leg of their fake triathlon. So, yes, I often Crossfit to work on my strength and that helps me not get injured (or it has, in the past), but I’m still going to actually train for whatever event it is I’m training for. Swimming requires getting in a pool. Biking requires getting on your bike. And, running requires running.

Long answer: I started doing Crossfit sort of an accident a few years ago. My friend, Nate, is a personal trainer and I would workout or train with him. He became more and more interested in functional movement and strength and started incorporating a number of moves and exercises into our workouts, which in retrospect were all Crossfit.

When he went full Crossfit and got certified and started coaching Crossfit, I just sort of transitioned and started going to his new gyms on-and-off. Until the end of 2011 my only experience with Crossfit was with Nate. I know Nate and know he knows his shit. I also know he knows what my weaknesses and strengths are and that he has a background in triathlon coaching. That meant that he also tended to put on classes and programs specifically targeted at endurance athletes, understanding what exercises would help your biking and running or what weaknesses might need addressing before they become injuries. It worked. It was also different, apparently, then just going to a regular Crossfit gym.

Then, though, Crossfit got crazy popular and there were always Groupons and LivingSocials for new gyms. At the end of 2011, I bought a Groupon for Ross Valley Crossfit and went 1-2x/wk (and still every now and then to Nate’s in the city) while training for my first marathon. After that Groupon ran out, I bought another one for TJ’s and went there for three months 1-2x/wk last summer.

Because I lacked an overall training plan last year, I didn’t particularly care if we were flipping tires one day or doing max deadlifts another. Whatever. It was interesting. It was different. And, I got to flip tires, which is what I’m trying to demonstrate here on my way home from a bar in Austin:

I got one of the tires to flip eventually.
I got one of the tires to flip eventually.

On the whole, general Crossfit gyms made me stronger and kept me relatively fit. Both those gyms i went to are also pretty legitimate and the coaches, generally, go through practicing the lifts and warm-ups and understanding technique. But, it varies drastically. One day, I was nursing a sore ankle and wasn’t going to do 400m running sprints in between lifting rounds. I’d row or something instead. The coach/instructor/banker-doing-this-in-her-free-time started to give me a whole talk about: ‘Was it that I couldn’t run or that I didn’t want to run.’ And, well, she got a full dose of bitchitude from me.

The experience at these gyms was my first experience with Crossfit as a regular workout/gym. Most of these places seem to do some kind of warm-up (which is usually rounds of simple exercises, like sit-ups or squats), then some mobility or stretching, some technique practice, and then the workout. The workout is nearly always between 10-30′ and is almost always a set of exercises that you’re usually supposed to do as many of as possible or as quick as possible, ie. 20 box jumps-10 power cleans (weight lifting)-15 pull-ups-200m run — repeatedly as many times as you can in 15′. It’s not hard to see how that can go bad quickly. So, my general rule is if you want to do Crossfit as part of an overall training program that also includes other things like running or biking or playing basketball or, I don’t care, dancing, then you need to not be stupid. You need to not hurt yourself or get injured and you need to not get sucked into some ego pissing match that’s just going to fuck you on your run later, because, you know what, that guy you’re trying to do more box jumps or lift heaver than probably isn’t going to run later. Sometimes, this means ignoring the instructor and sometimes it means working with them. Usually if you explain why you’re there and what you want to do, they’ll be on board, but sometimes they’ll try to talk you into some other version of things that isn’t what you want to do. Annoying.

If you want to do Crossfit as just some general fitness program, then do whatever you want. It’ll probably hurt a bunch at first, then it’ll stop eventually. If you want to do it as part of an endurance training program, then you need to know enough to know it’s not your priority and how to balance a couple of these workouts a week with the endurance workouts that are actually your key workouts – even if there’s no one yelling at you to go harder during those.

A couple of other observations about Crossfit:

– I almost always am the last one done on the first round of anything. But, I almost always am one of the first people done by the end. Why? Because no one has any endurance.

– Oh, and you’re supposed to write down your times or reps or weights at the end, so you can compete against yourself later. But, this information is like never recorded anywhere, so I guess I’m just supposed to remember and care?

– It’s become the go-to workout of stay-at-home moms, so if you want a more low-key workout go to the mid-morning or afternoon classes.

– It’s sort of clique-y, so if you go to the same workouts you’ll get to know people. But, they probably go 4-5x/wk to the same class, so they all know each other and all are doing the Paleo challenge together.

– Eating Paleo is like an integral part of every Crossfit gym and they’ll probably try to talk you into doing some 30 day challenge. I really do not care about this shit.

– The explosion in popularity is causing an explosion in gyms and certified instructors, without a ton of quality control. The gym I have a Groupon to right now in Corte Madera is eh. I’ve been twice and it doesn’t involve any lifting, which is the primary point of Crossfit to me, and I’m not sure the instructor knows what he’s talking about. This is a danger. But, you know, that’s apparently a huge problem with Pilates and Yoga too, though those are a bit more low-key, so less can go wrong.

Have you done Crossfit? Used it to train for a triathlon/marathon? What did you think?

Why you should be bothered by the fingerprint scans at 24 Hour Fitness

When I was in Phoenix this past weekend, I did the standard pretend-I-just-moved-here-and-get-a-trial-pass-to-24-Hour-Fitness. (It wasn’t my idea. I swear. But I didn’t complain.) The 24 Hour Fitness Sport Clubs are amazing. They have pools and full gyms and classes and hot tubs and studios and cycling — and they’re like $30/month. They don’t have the little luxuries like pull buoys and kickboards and towels, but in all fairness it’s likely no one at 24 Hour has ever heard of a pull buoy. I was genuinely hoping we would get one of the nice Sport clubs around here.

Except that apparently 24 Hour Fitness doesn’t use ID cards anymore. They instead require you to enter a 10-digit code and scan your fingerprint in order to enter the gym. So, now, I’m not as keen on the chain.

The fingerprint scanners are being rolled out nationwide and an informal poll on twitter suggests plenty of people have them — even if I hadn’t heard about it. And, while most (but not all) people are weirded out by it, very few are concerned.

Here’s why you should be bothered by the fingerprint scans at 24 Hour Fitness:

  • It has nothing to do with convenience for YOU — which is what lots of people have said. It has everything to do with cutting costs for them and limiting the amount of fraud, like when a store implements some super invasive anti-theft system “for your convenience.” Just say: we’re frisking you so that you don’t steal, which in theory should keep our costs down, because if we lose too much business through fraud then we’d have to raise prices, but we’re not going to lower them obviously with the installation of this system. Sucks to be you.
  • It’s a solution without a problem. This is a gym. Not the Pentagon. You could achieve virtually the same thing by just having people enter their 10-digit code and have their picture pop up on a screen. No fingerprint data necessary.
  • It’s all part of the normalization of a police state — and I’m well aware that’s something a totally crazy Berkeley hippie would say. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not partially true. I am not ok with requiring fingerprint checks to go to the doctor or get into your office (unless you do work at the Pentagon) or buy things from a store or exist in society. The logic behind 24 Hour’s system — it’s easier, it’s cheaper, it’s safer, don’t you want the convenience, don’t you want us to be able to weed out criminals easier, why are you against it unless you have something to hide — can be applied widely and poorly. What these little steps teach us is not to ask those questions. It normalizes the idea of putting your finger on a scanner and not wondering why you need to or what happens with the biometric data generated that scanner.
  • It’s your biometric data. Yes, they have your name and your credit card number already. But, that’s easier to fix or change if stolen. You know what you can’t change? (Well, easily.) Your fingerprint.
  • And, that brings us to the biggest problem. It’s your biometric data and you don’t know what they’re doing with it. Do you know if they plan to store it? Sell it? Track it? Keep it secure? The company says that it’s just a system that reads unique points on your finger and then deletes that information — though that doesn’t totally make sense, so if someone can explain the science there I’d appreciate it. So, the question is do you believe that and do you trust them. I don’t particularly think 24 Hour is lying, but I also don’t have any reason to think they’re not.

You can opt out, apparently, though I was told you couldn’t — so that’s not an encouraging opt-out. But, I don’t know why you should have to. If I joined, I would opt out. But, then again, I probably wouldn’t join.