Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Arts’

Education and Trust

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Mar 04 2015


“The authority of those who teach is very often a hindrance to those who wish to learn.” Michel de Montaigne, “On the Education of Children”

We try to strike a delicate balance in teaching you how to do CrossFit. Much of what we do could be considered techne, which is “craft”. We are trying to get you do “do” CrossFit well.

We don’t spend a lot of time on episteme, or “justified true belief.” You either want to be there or you don’t. If you do, we are going to get you to spend as much time as possible on the art of CrossFit. And we’re also going to try to let you explore CrossFit in a way that excites and interests you.

Much of my coaching cues as I’ve become more experienced in coaching end with “let me know if that’s better or worse.” Meaning, “did you get more weight”, “did you go faster”, “did it feel more comfortable?”

If the answer to those questions is yes, than maybe what I told you is good for you. If not, than we need to try something else. My skepticism of both my doctrinal beliefs, or episteme, and my specific coaching cues has grown rather than lessened over my now six and a half years of coaching CrossFit as a full time job.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff work, and a lot of stuff that I thought would work not work. Part of this is the shared experience, between teacher and student, of learning. “The tutor should make his pupil sift everything, and take nothing into his head on simple authority or trust.” We have a wonderful laboratory where we can collectively try new things, practice them, and get accurate measurable, observable, and repeatable data. This is wonderful for me in terms of both learning about human nature and learning about human movement.

The goal of this is the same goal that Montaigne lays out in his education: to be free. I take this to mean, in terms of human movement, free to accomplish whatever task we wish to accomplish or more importantly, that which we need to accomplish. Whether that’s snatching your body weight, running a Spartan Race, losing 15 lbs, or getting a sub-4:00 “Fran”, we hope that we’ve equipped you with the tools to pursue those goals. We also hope that you can go through your day pain free, you can play with your kids, you can pick up a bag of groceries, and you can have some self-confidence in your abilities.

Whatever your goals or necessities, remember to try to have fun while you’re doing it, follow the courses that intrigue and excite you, and don’t believe me unless you have overwhelming evidence that you should.

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 150304]

Say It or Be A Fraud

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Feb 25 2015


“If you see fraud and don’t shout fraud, you are a fraud.” -Taleb

Part of what first interested me in Paleo and what honestly continues to interest me most about reading and studying about the diet is the ethical coda above. Gary Taubes was the first person to come on my radar in his article “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” in 2002. The biggest eye opener in the piece is not that fat is good for you, but that Ancel Keys and then George McGovern manipulated data and public perceptions in order to get Americans to eat a way that dramatically aided large, government subsidized food companies and caused the death and disease of millions of Americans. Taubes went on to write “Good Calories, Bad Calories” which is a beautifully written book that expands on these themes as well as the good science and bad science done around human nutrition.

The second great body of work and someone who was willing to stand up and say “this is a fraud” is Lierre Keith in her book “The Vegetarian Myth”. Lierre was a vegan for almost 20 years. She accepted the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle and paradigm as a way to be spiritually, physically, and environmentally conscientious. She had noble instincts that led her to this way of life. She said she wanted “…my life to be a battle cry, a war zone, an arrow pointed and loosed into the heart of domination“. But what she found was that while her animus was noble, her means were wrong. She finally concluded, after years of living and preaching this lifestyle, that “The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us.”

I honestly think the eating the Paleo Diet long term is pretty easy, and is summed up neatly in CrossFit’s dietary prescription “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.” But what motivates me far more than abs or Fran times is first, exposing the frauds that are trying to get you to eat “whole wheat” and “fruit sugar” and claiming it’s good for you, and second, destroying the kleptocracy that makes up the US government/food industry hydra that subsidizes harmful foods and places impossible hurdles in front of healthy, natural foods.

[Originally posted Paleo Challenge 150127]

The Cure is the Process

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Feb 23 2015


As we approach the end of the Paleo Challenge, I want you to think about unicorns wearing football helmets.

No reason there, but I think wherever you are and whatever you’re doing the idea of a unicorn wearing a football helmet is funny. Obviously, the horn would go through their helmet and they wouldn’t be playing football, because if you have a horn and too much head protection, that’d be dangerous.

Anyway, Irvin D. Yalom is a pretty smart guy sometimes and he has a great quote “The cure is the process.” Yalom is a psychotherapist who is a big proponent of group counseling sessions where individuals simply (or not so simply) discuss their thoughts, feelings and emotions to a group.

What was confusing and enlightening for me when I first got into his work were two things: First, that he had a hard time describing what the end state of therapy was. Second, that a lot of the group dynamics and the patient/therapist relationship had a lot of similarities to CrossFit training and coaching.

Part of this similarity is in describing the goal, or “end state”. I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of “end state”. It’s something that’s drilled into us in the Marine Corps. The task you assign may have to change constantly, which is why we are always drilled to give “task and intent”: what do you want to have happen and what are you planning to accomplish with this?

The end state of Yalom’s methods are described in a variety of ways: “courageous engagement with…life’s predicaments and personal distress”, “claiming our own freedom”, “overcoming existence pain.” I find these descriptions similar to the end state of CrossFit “increased work capacity over broad time and modal domains.” What’s the thing that jumps out at you immediately when you look at all these: they are relative, not absolute.

Secondly, his group therapy techniques and description of the client/patient relationship is pretty similar to what we do in the Paleo Challenge and in CrossFit. So partly because you are getting quasi-kicked out of the nest soon at the end of the Paleo Challenge, I want to equip you with some knowledge bombs that will help you out.

Obviously, you can still ask me questions, but because you won’t have a defined “end state” anymore, e.g., the “Paleo Challenge Finale” on the horizon, I want you to have some tools you can use:

1) Get some Paleo buddies. Folks you can reach out to and hang out with and enjoy some Paleo chow together.
2) Continue to try to get better. Get a little wackier with your food. Try a CSA, buy some new kinds of meat, try some different restaurants. In short: don’t make your diet boring.
3) Ask for help. Coaches and your fellow athletes like helping you. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

[Originally posted Paleo Challenge 150126]

Variety is Good

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Feb 19 2015


Come morning
it was as though the songbirds of the valley
had drunk spiced old wine
they winged and warbled so.
And the wild life,
lost drowned in the farthest reaches of the flood,
looked like pulled up bulbs
of wild onion.
-The Muallaqat, Imru al Qays

I was just looking for an excuse to put some IAQ in a paleo blog post, so there you go…..

But it brings us to an idea of “what the fuck do I do with all my time now that I can’t drink!?!?!?!?!?” Great question.

Taleb (and others) talk a lot about changing your scenery. As hunter gatherers, we would have been exposed to different sense stimuli constantly. Variance would have been a constant: temperature, colors, shapes, sounds, tastes. Everything would be changing all the time.

But now what do we do? We get up in the same bed every morning with the same temperature that we set on our wifi enabled thermostat. We drink the same coffee made the same way on our programmable coffee maker. We make the same breakfast, take the same route to work, sit at the same desk every day, and do the same thing.

This is not what we’re designed for. Here’s a couple things you can do to stimulate yourself the way we’re designed to be stimulated:

Play. Don’t care if it’s hop scotch or basketball or water polo or even bridge. Get a group of people together and play (CrossFit should be like this most of the time). Double bonus points for playing music (not listening, go get a recorder and watch some YouTube and get playing!).

Get outside. Realize this is coming from somebody who hates “the outdoors”. As a former Marine, anytime anyone asks me to go camping or hiking, I’m convinced I’m going to walk for three days straight with one MRE and a canteen of water and only sleep for 30 minutes at a time because with only two people we’ll have to set up alternating watches at night and I don’t want to dig a fighting hole. Now they say you don’t need a fighting hole in Great Falls, but I think that’s just what Charlie wants you to think. But you can go camping and shit, it’s probably good for you. Bang. This is pretty self explanatory.

For more on Taleb, getting outside and fun maths!, click here.

[Originally posted Paleo Challenge 150115]

Focus on the Fundamentals

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Feb 18 2015


During the kick off we talked about setting up a “Paleo Framework”, which is very similar to what Andrew talked about on Monday and Tuesday’s posts.

The big system we’re trying to get you to understand is the difference between via negativa (to take away) and via positiva (to add). Lots of folks that join the gym go out and buy new shoes, new workout clothes, etc. While I see this as not necessarily a bad thing because it has a lot to do with tribal identity, which is programmed into us. But where it is bad is that we live in a complex world that we’re not designed for. Constant aerobic stressors (which we talked about during the kick off) are not something we are equipped to deal with, just like we’re not equipped to handle grains, dairy, legumes, and sugar.

So the biggest bang you get for your buck healthwise is not buying supplements or adding volume or drinking kale juice, it is taking things out of your life. As may things as you can handle.

For further reading on this social paradigm, check out Marshal Sahlins’ The Original Affluent Society.

[Originally posted Paleo Challenge “Focus on the Fundamentals”]

Keep Calm and Get Fired Up!

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Feb 17 2015


Love me some Ted Lasso. But the point is that you both need to chill the fuck out about new years resolutions and figure out what motivates you to show up to the gym.

This is a constant puzzle that we try to figure out: how to get people to have fun (and hence keep coming) and how to get them to work hard. Lots of different schools of thoughts on this, but I think a lot of it comes down to the individual. There’s a great piece in the book “From the Horse’s Mouth: Selected Thoughts on Small Unit Leadership” about this very conundrum.

The basic gist is that a Civil War general has three regimental commanding officers, and he knows that to be effective he has to give them each different orders. The first CO has to have everything spelled out to him, and he’ll execute exactly what you want him to do, no more and no less. The second CO hated to be told what to do, he only wanted to be told what the end state needed was and wanted to figure everything else out himself. The third CO had to be told the exact opposite of what the general wanted. The general would frame it something like “Colonel, there’s just no chance that you could take Hill 172 by 1600 on Tuesday, it’s impossible.” The Colonel would then move heaven and earth to prove the general wrong, which is what the general wanted in the first place.

Generally, I think having fun and getting people results is a good start.

Russ Greene had an interesting take on this with respect to a recent T-Nation article:

“Quit trying to make exercise fun” – Dr. John Rusin
“Have fun with it.” – Rich Froning.
Hmmm. To whom to listen?

And I agree, so we try to make class fun, but we also try to tailor the class experience for each individual. I talked about this before in “How To Teach a CrossFit Class.” Our coaches are expected to engage with each client individually and try to address that specific client’s needs on a one-on-one basis. While the group class limits that ability to a degree, with time and commitment on both the coaches’ and athletes’ parts, you should be having fun and seeing progress.

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 150114]

Don’t Listen to Experts

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 19 2014


“Rashness is one of the properties of illness – outlaws that we are – and it is rashness that we need in reading Shakespeare. It is not that we should doze in reading him, but that, fully conscious and aware, his fame intimidates and bores, and all the views of all the critics dull in us that thunderclap of conviction which, if an illusion, is still so helpful an illusion, so prodigious a pleasure, so keen a stimulus in reading the great. Shakespeare is getting flyblown: a paternal government might well forbid writing about him, as they put his monument at Stratford beyond the reach of scribbling fingers. With all this buzz of criticism about, one may hazard one’s conjectures privately, making one’s notes in the margin; but, knowing that someone has said it before, or said it better, the zest is gone. Illness, in its kingly sublimity sweeps all that aside and leaves nothing but Shakespeare and oneself. What with his overweening power and our overweening arrogance, that barriers go down, the knots Run smooth, the brain rings and resounds with Lear or Macbeth, and even Coleridge himself squeaks like a distant mouse.” -On Being Ill, Virginia Woolf

What Woolf is trying to say, I think, is “don’t listen to experts.” This is for two reasons: first, you need to exercise your wits otherwise you’ll either be bamboozled. Second, if you make it instinctive to listen to experts, you’ll lose confidence in yourself as a thinking being. On the flip side of this as a CrossFit coach, you pay me to be an expert at CrossFit and you need to listen to me to make progress.

But as a consumer, you need to not believe anything I say unless and until you see results. If you’re not seeing results there are only three options: either I’m hustling you, I’m wrong, or you’re not doing what I told you to do. If the first is true, stop paying me. If the second, please tell me so I can fix my model. If the third, either ask for help or try harder.

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140513]

Basic Play into WODs

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 14 2014


Playing Music and CrossFit: One of my absolute favorite essays on education is “Lockhart’s Lament” about how bad the current public and (most) private school systems teach math. The gist is that you couldn’t really design a worse curriculum to get kids to learn and get excited about learning math. Lockhart asks us to imagine if we taught music like we teach math: learn the notes in elementary school, the scales in middle school, and organizing music notation into musical pieces in high school. Maybe by college you’d get to pick up a recorder and actually hear and play music!

We try to teach you CrossFit similar to how kids play learn music. We give you some basics to play with (the squat, the Deadlift, the Pushup, etc). We then let you play, i.e., we have you do our WODs. We give you some instruction, but we want you to actively work on the movements by practicing and having fun doing it. For some people it’s hard to do CrossFit this way. Everything is about answering a question with one right answer and/or getting a grade. While we do compare your abilities using time and load, just like in music some folks are going to be better at some things than others, but everybody’s got their strengths and weaknesses.

So have fun playing and learning to play CrossFit, and don’t focus too much on your “grade” or always getting the right answer.

[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140428]

Health and Longevity

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Aug 12 2014


“Don’t talk about ‘progress’ in terms of longevity, safety, or comfort before comparing zoo animals to those in the wilderness.” -Taleb

This is the most succinct explanation of the Paleo/CrossFit model that I’ve seen. I have been putting statistics on zoo animals in my Paleo Challenge briefs for a while now because they are staggering. For instance wild Asian elephants live for THREE TIMES LONGER than their relatives in zoos.

By inhibiting animals natural freedom and hence their natural instincts, activities and diet, no zoo animal can be called as healthy as their wild counterparts. We try to recreate some of our more “natural” conditions within Potomac CrossFit. We eat the way we’re designed to eat, we change our physical stimulus frequently, and we are all a part of a pack to one degree or another. But we’re definitely not as healthy as our hunter/gatherer ancestors in terms of the type of chronic disorders that are killing the majority of the western population.

I like to just keep this in mind the next time I sit in front of a computer for several hours at a stretch and meditate on how to eliminate the stuff that’s causing my slow march towards a non-infectious disease driven death. Standing desk is on the list, what’s on yours?


[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140408]

False Heuristics

Uncategorized | Posted by Kayla Castro
Jul 18 2014


“It takes a lot of intellect and confidence to accept that what makes sense doesn’t really make sense.” -“The Bed of Procrustes”, Taleb

I wrote last week about some of the false heuristics (rules of thumb) that “make sense” to people but cause major health issues: saturated fat, cholesterol, and heart disease; calories in versus calories out; and the fact that CrossFit “looks dangerous.”

It seems that all of us have some innate desire to obey authority (Milgram and Zimbardobeing the most famous academic examples) and to conform to tribal norms (Milgram and Zimbardo again, and everybody since Aristotle). One hopes that we can reason our way out of false heuristics by observing the negative effects of our actions and then make adjustments, but it seems like even both folks that are very sick and folks that aren’t make bad decisions that they know is bad for their health.

I don’t really have a solution to this and I’m not super interested in bringing enlightenment to the world. I guess I’m just wondering if anybody wants to contribute an answer to the question: why do you (or somebody you know) continue to make bad decisions once they’ve been presented with significant data that what they are doing is bad for them?


[Originally posted Potomac CrossFit 140114]