This is one of my favorite videos that captures and emphasizes the values of CrossFit. Not only does it exude the awesomeness that is slow motion, it also demonstrates at the same time feminine and masculine qualities found within typical gender expectations of sports. I’ve described in an earlier post how feminine sports like gymnastics emphasize skill and grace and masculine sports emphasize strength and precision. Here, I think the video shows the meshing of these two qualities. And not even in this video, but in the movement of the Olympic lift, performed by men and women, these qualities of strength and grace are demonstrated. Here is where CrossFit is challenging men and women to make the best of themselves, and to be feminine and masculine as they do it. The movement doesn’t have to remain within the elite sport of Olympic weightlifting. It can be instructed, with caution and guidance, to everyone. The limitations of people’s fitness based on gender will be dismantled.

Crossfit, People

“The aim of CrossFit is to forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness”

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Credit: CrossFit Instagram.
“Armless athlete Daniel Ritchie performing a modified deadlift. Photo: Austin Aycock, CrossFit Wilson (NC)”

Jennifer Hargreaves, in her book Sporting Females, discusses the aspect of disability in sports, or more specifically, its exclusion from sports. She writes, “It has been argued in capitalist societies, disability is individualized and medicalized…and in common with the conventional image of the aged, the popular image of disability embodies physical inability and is associated with the idea of sports for therapy” (Hargreaves 268).

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Credit: CrossFit Instagram.
“Davey Lind – Former Recon Marine and #CrossFit L1 Trainer.”

Eli Clare, a writer who focuses more specifically on disability, believes that activists, but I think everyone involved within an institution like sports, should “add disability to their political agenda” (ix). Largely, he argues that disabled people have been “institutionalized” (x). Rather than thinking of ways in which society can adapt to different identities, our society tends to reject and ignore these identities and they become marginalized. The image of disabled people and fitness is tied with sports or physical therapy, as Hargreaves notes. However, “disabled sportswomen [and men] are rejecting the conventional concept of the handicapped participant and are keen to be recognized for their sporting abilities and successes and not their problems” (268).

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Credit: CrossFit Instagram.
“”The bottom line is that everyone is very different and yet again strikingly similar. Often the genius is to know where to look for similarities and where to look for differences. Everyone needs to deadlift – in that regard we are similar, but not at the same weight – in this regard we are different.” – Greg Glassman. Photo: Aaron Wyche.”

CrossFit is a forerunner in this “issue” for a “political agenda.” Although other sports, like individual running, have seen the included disabled athletes, CrossFit is sport and a fitness regime that is unique from those other sports. CrossFit allows for athletes to adapt themselves to the workouts, or reversely, the workouts can be adapted to a person’s level of fitness and ability.

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Credit: CrossFit Instagram
“Gustavo Marquez (@gmarqx). #Repost from @garret0329. #CrossFit”

Chris Stoutenberg’s YouTube Channel demonstrates the ways in which the workouts can be adapted to different levels of ability. In one video, an athlete demonstrates a burpee from a wheelchair, and at one moment has everyone cheering him on to complete the ground to overhead movement. This moment shows the power and adaptability of the human body because the athlete must get the weighted bar overhead. Nondisabled people are able to generate power from their hips to move heavy weight from the ground, rather than expending more energy with other, smaller muscles, like in the arms. But here, the athlete essentially deadlifts the bar while in the wheelchair, and then flips the bar position to get the bar overhead. The movement, although different, is just as invigorating to watch as a nondisabled person’s execution of the movement.

It remains to be seen whether the CrossFit Games will included a division for disabled athletes, but that isn’t keeping athletes from adapting workouts to their ability, rather than being excluded for not being adaptable to the movement.

EDIT, 12/19/2013

If you follow us the by this point you should be familiar with Steph and the obstacles she has overcome on her Path to Fitness. For those not in the loop, (@iadaptfitness) Steph has Cerebral Palsy and is the first CF L1 coach with CP. She has competed as an adaptive athlete and was just featured with our CEO on the CF main page last week. Here's a video today of her doing unassisted sit ups (modified) for the first time. She is encouraging others to hash tag #thinkicanthursdays to highlight something you achieved that you never thought you could. List your accomplishments here and DM us your videos or pics and you may get a repost to highlight your achievements. #adaptandconquer #thehammer #cpcantstopher #crossfit #crossfitgirls #wodlikeagoddess #wodgod #achievements #inspired #neverquit #girlsthatlift

A post shared by The WoD GoD (@the_wod_god_apparel) on

This is another demonstration of exercise being adaptive to other athletes. “Steph has Cerebral Palsy and is the first CF L1 coach with CP. She has competed as an adaptive athlete and was just featured with our CEO on the CF main page last week. Here’s a video today of her doing unassisted sit ups (modified) for the first time. She is encouraging others to hash tag #thinkicanthursdays to highlight something you achieved that you never thought you could. List your accomplishments here and DM us your videos or pics and you may get a repost to highlight your achievements,” from the_wod_god_apparel on Instagram

“The aim of Cro…

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Crossfit, People, Women and other Sports

Christmas Abbott, CrossFit, and Changing Tires

On the official website for CrossFit, it describes its philosophy as “the aim…to forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness. We have sought to build a program that will best prepare trainees for any physical contingency — not only for the unknown, but for the unknowable.”

That inclusiveness has led to men and women competing in the intense CrossFit Games that have been conducted for several years now, including workouts with ocean swims, burden runs, and skillful demonstration of heavy Olympic lifts.

But CrossFit doesn’t just prepare people for its unknowable events in the Games, it also prides itself on preparing people for and strengthening their skills in other avenues of their lives. Specifically, CrossFit has aided in including women in areas typically dominated by men.

Eric Adelson, in his article, outlines the first woman’s break into a NASCAR pit crew. Adelson dramatic subtitle–“where few women have gone before”–indeed captures the impression of Christmas Abbott’s determination, which she claims is partly derived from her involvement with CrossFit, in the pit of NASCAR.

picture from Adelson’s article

Adelson details the physical strength needed within a pit crew: “the laws of physics explain why there aren’t any female members of a NASCAR pit crew: The average woman of 5-4 weighs around 130 pounds, and the average racing tire weighs between 55 and 70 pounds. So physics explains a woman of average size would have to lift and move half her weight – twice – and bolt two tires in 12 seconds or less to succeed in a NASCAR pit. Physics never met Christmas Abbott.” Or probably any other elite athlete from CrossFit. Her interest in changing tires for NASCAR was able to be conceivable from her training in CrossFit.

In a related article, Matt Fitzgerald describes how Abbott’s interest in NASCAR “strengthens female presence in racing.”

CrossFit’s potential in re-imagining gender is not focused solely within the fitness program itself, but also in its influences in other aspects of life. Because of the training and instruction she receives, not only is Abbott challenging typical gender norms, that women are not athletic (though expected to be somehow magically fit), she is applying herself to areas of work where women aren’t present. CrossFit is disrupting common notions of gender by challenging its members to achieve new but also applicable levels of fitness: women are then armed with the fitness and the instruction to aid their body in new and challenging ways, which can involve entering spheres of work that men dominate. Although Abbott made the team, she left a few months later. Reasons for why aren’t known yet, but the videos demonstrate her ability to be part of a pit crew team.

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Controversies in CrossFit, Crossfit, Women and other Sports

CrossFit and Pregnancy

Kat Grosshaupt, from the Huffington Post, writes, “Wow. There’s been a lot of backlash lately regarding CrossFitting and pregnancy. Funny how one picture or one article can start a wildfire. It’s like that with anything, really. Especially things that are misunderstood or where there is a lot of fear or resistance to changing the norm.”

CrossFit has received a lot of backlash for its emergence into popular culture. One major “issue” in CrossFit that everyone wants to cash in their opinion on: pregnancy. Google images for CrossFit and pregnancy and hundreds of results are provided; pregnant women in all stages of pregnancy are doing muscle ups, overhead squats, bench press. The reaction to these images have been like what Grosshaupt said, a wildfire.

Keri Lynn Ford, a personal trainer, takes a firm stance against CrossFit during pregnancy in another article for the Huffington Post, though not necessarily exercise in general. Her argument for this is her assumption that the majority of the population are not elite CrossFitters, which is probably true, but at the same time, it is good to keep in mind that everyone is responsible for how they exercise. (Additionally, much of CrossFit’s movements can and are performed all the time in globo gyms already. It’s not just a unique CrossFit exercise.) At the same time, of course, women should refer to their care providers for advice or guidance on their exercise routine, but as pointed out in Ellison’s story, most practitioners encourage some form of exercise if the person was active before pregnancy. Common sense is needed when it comes to exercising. Most people who workout are adults, and they can make their own modifications to exercises when they feel it is needed. In a workout, pregnant women might substitute burpees for a different exercise that can still provide them active, healthy movements. Instead of providing advice for how women could obtain a healthy fitness level during pregnancy–compared to not exercising at all, and gaining too much weight, which can be just as potentially harmful–Ford seems to cross off CrossFit entirely as an outlet for exercise for pregnant women.

Not just personal trainers are lamenting about the “irresponsibility” of pregnant moms’ exercise. Lea-Ann Ellison received biting backlash, in yet another Huff Post article, for posting photos that show her dedication to health during her pregnancy. Instead of receiving support for her attention to her health, people criticized her about her potential as a mother: “If anything happens to your baby due to your stupidity, I hope you’ll be able to handle your guilt. Pregnancy is NOT the time to be taking stupid risks.” However, Ellison didn’t back down; instead of taking the harsh comments personally, she rose above them. If anything, the comments showed her that people are uncomfortable with things they haven’t seen. Just like Grosshaupt was saying, people fear change to the norm. And so far the norm has been that pregnant women pretty much turn invisible when it comes to exercise, as if they float away into a bubble of absolute protection and “health” that involves remaining far away from the gyms when exercise is mentioned. In theory about the body, women’s bodies are seen as abnormal and ill. Menstruation is viewed negatively as a sickness that takes hold of female bodies, in order to prepare them for their later medical emergencies like pregnancy. In other philosophies about the body, the medical institution is seen as treating the birthing female body as one that is unnatural and one that has to be treated, or fixed. Of course, many pregnancies can have things go wrong, but as Grosshaupt points out, “Birth is normal. It’s not a medical emergency waiting to happen.” Additionally, in her defense of exercise–and CrossFit–for pregnant women, she contends, “Moms have a monumental responsibility to their growing baby(ies) to provide them with the best environment possible: air, water, quality food, and exercise. It is irresponsible to lay around and use pregnancy as an excuse to eat crappy food and lay on the couch for 9 months.” Her claim is strong, but her point is straightforward: pregnant women can exercise, but they have to be smart about it.

But this backlash has an obvious root to it for me. Pregnant women further exaggerate the gender norms placed onto women. Obviously pregnant bodies are gendered by the way that women are seen as mothers, but further, pregnant bodies are gendered in the way that pregnant women are seen as weak but also as immobile, for the “sake” of their child. Women have typically been seen as frail and weak, hence the slow adjustment to women within sports. CrossFit as well as pregnancy makes this view of women explode. The backlash is a reaction of “fear,” as Grosshaupt believes, to women performing athletically. Since women are not “supposed” to be athletic, seeing them in CrossFit upsets gender expectations. Pregnant women in CrossFiit only amplifies this anxiety. As Judith Lorber explains, “gender is such a familiar part of daily life that it usually takes a deliberate disruption of our expectations of how women and men are supposed to act to pay attention to how it is produced.” Additionally, “a sex category becomes a gender status.” Female means woman means potential, or eventual, mother.

CrossFit already receives a lot of attention, and backlash, in social and popular mediums. This controversy further adds to what I think is the core anxiety: seeing women, whose gender connotes an absolute aversion to athletics, performing to the best of their ability, no matter what condition they’re in.

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Crossfit, Women and other Sports

You Handstand like a Boy….Oh…

A common adage heard throughout childhood: “You throw like a girl.”

“No one, male or female, throws like a girl. They either throw like someone who has had ample instruction on how to properly throw, or like someone who has not.”

Rick Paulas from vice.com sums this up nicely. It’s absurd that imagined social constructs are lifted from society and placed onto young girls, thus discouraging them from sports before they can see what women can do in sports.

The adage that we probably all heard as a kid has drastic implications: what does it mean to throw like a girl? Could “girl” be replaced with other nouns? How might that change the power of the sentence? Throw like…_____? Imputing race would be atrocious. Cultural references, too, abhorring. Imbecile? Idiot, moron, freak? Isn’t that what we’re saying? But the phrase isn’t amplified to much degree in society. It maintains social ideals for boys and girls which were based off of incorrect biological assessments in the 1920s: a “medical report was a reaffirmation…of constitutional overstrain…By compounding the social with the biological, the discourse of the report shared the ruling class’s moral concern for social progress and national welfare” (Hargreaves 7). Women in sports used to be unheard of.

But women can be hurt, injured. Their bodies can’t handle it. They shouldn’t be exerting themselves. They must “conserve [the body’s] energy for the great work before it”  (Elliot-Lynn).

So from the time girls are born they should be stowed away to be protected? Sports are dangerous but being a kid isn’t?

Obviously, times have changed and women’s participation in sports, as it went long unrecognized, broke those “biological limitations.”

Instruction, too, has to be incorporated (for the most part, some people do have natural talents) for anyone to become skilled at something.

Take, for instance, handstands. Typically sequestered within gymnastics–often considered a sport appropriate for girls–handstands require flexibility and strength: motor skills are needed to balance the inverted body stacked over the shoulders, and the shoulders have to be flexible and strong enough to support the weight. Since girls are seen as “more” flexible than boys, couldn’t girls torment each other in the gym? You handstand like a boy. Sounds ridiculous, of course.

A handstand is a good example, I think, of a somewhat standard form of fitness that is also able to strip itself of typical constructions of gender upon the body. Gender expectations collapse within it as it requires a “masculine” trait of strength (to hold the body up) and a “feminine” trait of flexibility (to invert the body). This combination of gender “traits” creates a “gender-neutral” movement at the same time as it removes gender performance from the body. Many men can do handstands, even handstand push ups (whether free or kipping against a wall), and handstand walks. Oh, and women can, too.

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The 2013 CrossFit games had a handstand walk as a part of its final event. The walk not only strips itself of gender, it even warps our common views of how the body moves. Watching people handstand walk can be strange; we don’t see the body move like this every day. The lower body is on top, and the legs often bob this way and that. The handstand walkers move their “feet” in stiff, awkward movements. The walk itself demonstrates the skill needed to maintain a handstand and the strength to mobilize the body in that position. The handstand walk is a movement that is strange to be in, and strange to watch. And that’s what I think has the chance to change the representations of the body and how gender is created out of it.

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Once we realize that the body doesn’t have to move according to strict, rigid demands of gender (women are graceful, men are strong) I think we can begin to move past gender (inequality) within sports.

Sources:

http://www.vice.com/read/why-women-will-never-beat-men-in-sports

Hargreaves, Jennifer. “Olympic Women: a Struggle for Recognition” Women and Sports in the United States. Eds. Jean O’Reilly and Susan K. Cahn. Lebanon: Northeastern University Press, 2007. 3-15. Print.

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People, Theory, Women and other Sports

The Perfect Female Shape?

This post caught my eyes a few days ago because it provides a stunning array of the female body under different levels of conditioning. Truly, this collage shows us the capability of the human body to adapt to what it is given. The women here are tall and short, slender and graceful, powerful and strong. Their sports are different: the skills, the demands. Their bodies are different: the facticity, the achievements. What no one can deny is that they are all athletes, and the beauty is in what they can do.

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