SECTION 1: Intro
This is a collection of reviews about a handful of the groovy programs offered within our physical culture these days. Even though it is part one of a bigger project, it is still broken into 4 separate sections, so feel free to click below to shoot over to any of the other pages. It became a big endeavor. No one wants to read a 24 page article, even if there are lots randomly placed pictures throughout, and the possible use of the word “quidnunc.” So for your reading confusion, this has been broken into 4 parts. Now to make it more mind-boggling, this 4-part series is actually only the first part of this project, so expect another handful of posts in the near future making up part 2.
Feel free to click below to shoot over to any of the other pages.
The pictures throughout this massive virtual tome have little rhyme or reason, featuring either shots from the dustbins of physical culture, or the good folks and toys here at Bodytribe.
Strength geeks have dwelled in caves, basements and garages for decades, doing stuff that the modern fitness industry, what we call the Fitness Industrial Complex, pretends doesn’t exist. The raw goop of blood, sweat, tears and the occasional remix of lunch might be the proven recipe for a better you and me, but it’s a tough sell, so the corporate fitness world had to use shiny things and catchy words to make their millions, uh, billions, off of insecurities and fears. As I’ve written before, the entire fitness industrial complex is built around this concept:
You are ugly. We can help.
So hard work was out. Gadgets, gizmos and apparel were in. And people bought it. They ran in place, cycled in place, sat on benches and lay on the ground to ‘exercise,’ hoping that someday the mirror and the scale were going to tell them they didn’t suck so badly.
Meanwhile, those caves, basements and garages were cranking out people who could DO things and prided themselves on accomplishments beyond the mirror and scale. And what the fitness industry had a hard time avoiding was that these folks usually looked pretty damn good, since that is the required outcome of hard work and eating right. Ya look strong because you ARE strong. And strong is, in a word, hawt!
But that was still hard to sell. So real strength and fitness remained underground. We’ve dubbed this brand of heavy playtime as the Physical SubCulture, It was a small handful of strength freaks, and an even smaller number of gyms around the world, creating strength and ability in the tradition of the physical culture movement of a century ago, when people who cared about themselves worked hard, played hard and experimented with their limitations. They’d also write groovy prose like this:
Action is life, power, success. Inaction is failure, impotence, death. Proper action is the basis of all physical, mental, and moral progress. – David P Butler, 1868
But over the last half-decade or so, the previously unaware general public has been slowly introduced to some of these concepts and tools, despite the best efforts of the Fitness Industrial Complex working even harder at promoting uneducated marshmallow workouts or aesthetically driven bodybuilder protocols… stuff that is easy to teach, sell and market, but doesn’t actually make for a capable human.
Over time the modern physical culture movement has been inching its way out of the ‘subculture’ status as the curious and hungry masses began actually wondering if they were, all this time, being duped by a bullshit industry. The bravest among them began embracing movement and strength traditions that had lived so quietly in the shadows for so long, and programs, techniques and philosophies about strength, ability and maybe even a little embodiment, began to find new eyes, ears, muscles and minds.
This has been both good and bad.
Folks are now a bit less hesitant to at least shake hands with these odd and old ways of moving. Some programs and philosophies, such as ours here at Bodytribe as well as several being compared in this article, are being embraced by a fitness world ready to accept that real movement and strength, not the packaged fitness that’s been sold for so long, could be what their personal journeys are supposed to be. Not bad, right?
Well with new blood often comes diluted understanding. The new breed of teachers and coaches often haven’t spent the time under the bar, or time at the master’s feet, needed to truly pass on the lessons and traditions that sometimes need a few lifetimes to appreciate. Anything resembling an apprentice process has become a 2-day certification, and now there are too many folks teaching what they, the teachers, barely comprehend. That’s the new trend amongst the popularizing of the once underground Physical Culture. Despite the growing trend of barbells and this pseudo-physical culture that is spreading, most of the new breed of coaches (which seems to be the preferred term over ‘trainer’ these days) are still in proverbial diapers when it comes to introducing force to the body in strange and intense ways. Passion alone doesn’t create a trainer… sorry… coach, nor does a weekend certification or a few initials after your name.
Not only are many of the coaches new to applying movement to other people, but they’re painfully unaware of the many, MANY possible better options for movement, technique and even program design that might be out there. It’s like getting a bachelors degree in a particular subject without even realizing there were other majors, higher levels of degrees or even other colleges.
This article is a comparison of a handful of the modern physical culture programs. If your favorite program is missing, fear not, there will be a part two soon. Now if your gym or workout program enjoys machines and neon, or if you love your single leg bicep curls while standing on a half-ball balance thing, you won’t find your system on here. Also left out are most modalities that completely surround an entire tool, like TRX. This isn’t a product review, more of a culture review. Kettlebells will be the exception here, simply because those giant iron balls have spawned physical culture communities, and a discerning eye needs to review these claims, which will appear in the second part of this article soon.
So let this essay be a simple peer-reviewed comparison of what is going on in the physical culture community. Shop accordingly.
In part one here, we’ll be looking at CrossFit, RMAX, Training for Warriors and Westside Barbell Club, each having a unique culture onto itself. I should begin with the admission that my own Bodytribe concept has borrowed, shared, taught, manipulated and sometimes discarded ideas from and with all of the above (and many more). I’m not reviewing what I do (and have been doing for quite some time), but feel free to take a look.
Who am I? My time and travels within this iron game give me a perspective not offered to most. I’ve tripped over more barbells and kettlebells than the average young coach or trainer has tossed, heaved or hoisted. Physiologically and anatomically (mostly), I’m the quintessence of average. I’ve been blessed with so much middle-of-the-roadness that I easily blend into crowds, which has enabled my spy career to skyrocket, but makes every new kilogram on my barbell a struggle Sisyphus would nod knowingly at. Very little has “come naturally for me,” yet through diligence both physically and metaphysically, some might actually label me an athlete. My small trophy case continues to grow, but my lessons and experience have kept me humble, perpetually inquisitive and now stronger at 41 than I was at 21… without believing there are limits yet. From this history, both genetic and earned, I offer up a perspective that can see through hyperbole, hubris and that oh-so-common scenario when lack of exposure creates a potentially dangerous understanding of a movement or idea. Fitness, this first-world luxury of an industrial complex that most of us reading this are somehow part of, is one of the easiest ways to fall into this scenario. So lets see if a few observations on my part might at least clear up some misconceptions or enlighten a few brain cells.
Now this little consumer report will be through the lenses of what we call holistic fitness, meaning that the motivation behind this comparison stems from a true curiosity of completeness, mostly of individual and tribal empowerment. In other words, if someone with motivation and a modicum of capability were to follow the program being reviewed, would they emerge a truly improved member of society, or simply a semi-skilled (or single-skilled) athlete without much else to offer beyond their big squat numbers or rock hard abs? Are we asking for a lot? We don’t think so. This was a goal of the original physical culture movement over century ago, and we think we shouldn’t ask for, or aim for, anything less.
Keep in mind this premise. Two of the key components of our inquiry are to test longevity and tribal correlation. Can you follow this program forever, or are the risks greater than the outcome? And will following this program potentially add to the betterment of your tribe, your family, your community? Is the program, in a pair of words, healthy and empowering?
Each modality will be compared within the following categories:
This is part one of a collection of reviews about a handful of the groovy programs offered within our physical culture these days. Even though it is part one, it is still broken into 4 separate posts, so feel free to click below to shoot over to any of the other pages.