Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jeff Chapman and Indy CrossFit

Jeff Chapman is the owner of Indy CrossFit, the gym where I do my strength and conditioning work. He sat down with me one afternoon after our workout to do what turned out to be a very long Q&A. I normally wouldn't publish an interview in its entirety, but I think in this case the juice is worth the squeeze.

What is your athletic and fitness background?
I started competitive powerlifitng when I was in high school, played Football and track in high school. I was good enough to play football and track in college as well (Anderson University). Got my CPT when I was 18, my freshman year in college. Pretty much from then it’s always been a part of what I’ve done. I worked at several YMCAs as a wellness director, taught classes at a YMCA or another fitness facility. The big thing I do now is Highland Games. I have martial arts background, BJJ – I started doing that in ‘96, and Krav Maga, I started that about two years ago. (Also competed for a time as a sprint triathelete)

How did you get into CrossFit?
About eight years ago, even before the CrossFit website went up, there was a couple of guys from Indianapolis went out to California to train at the Gracie Academy. The came back and told some of us who were training up at Greg Eldred’s at the time about some CrossFit programs. I did a little research, called some people I knew in California, and started doing some of the crazy stuff they were doing out there. About three years ago is when I started in earnest, doing the website WODs. Eight years ago I was actually doing them at the YMCA. The WODs were not very advanced back then it was like, “Deadlift and go run, deadlift and go run, deadlift and go run, ok, you’re done.” Most people didn’t look at us too crazy, then about three years ago I just started doing it in my garage.

So much of it is open-source, how can you tell who is a legitimate CrossFit trainer and how do you become a CrossFit affiliate?
I made the decision that I really wanted to open a gym. I ran several very large YMCAs and it’s always been a passion of mine. There was really no place to do CrossFit except in my garage and there’s got to be a faction of people like me who like more aggressive workouts. The wife gave me the blessing and I basically took my life savings and opened the gym. At that point I realized I needed to get CrossFit certified as well so I went to CrossFit certification. To answer your original question, you can tell a good CrossFit trainer if they understand the methodology, if they understand the exercises, and if they know how to structure a workout for people to get a full-blown CrossFit experience. Are there a lot of people doing CrossFit from the website? Absolutely, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Are there people doing CrossFit from the website and calling themselves CrossFit trainers? Probably. But I think you can tell the difference right away.

What are metabolic pathways?
We want to look at strength training, the aerobic, and the anerobic. When you look at a workout like we did today, the double-unders are almost aerobic conditioning, then you throw in the pullups, the dips and the pushups and you get some strength training in there and an anerobic program.

What do you say to critics who say you can’t effectively train all three at the same time?
CrossFitter vs. Distance athlete – Over the first 800 meters I’m going to be a lot faster than you and a lot stronger than you. Do we go out and hammer mileage and get really good at distance running or do we stay in the gym and hammer strength training and get really strong or do we do a combination of both so we’re kinda strong, kinda can run, and can do other stuff.

Why do you think people are so loyal to old-school isolated movements?
I would much rather do a set of bicep curls, work up a sweat and go home and have a good pump on and feel good than do what we did a few minutes a go where you’re completely trashed and laying on the mat. I only have once chance to do this in life, I only have once chance to live my life the way I wanna live it, and to me, the body is a special portion of that. I might as well push it to the limit. A lot of people see it as stupid and hard and they think, ‘I’m going to go do my bench press and preacher curls and call it a day.’

Some critics say that CrossFit is dangerous because you’re throwing weight quickly, training for time, working to capacity and beyond, and that it’s not ideal for most people.
I struggle with that myself, sometimes. I don’t want anyone to think I am a CrossFit Kool Aid drinker because I’m not. I’m a CrossFitter because it works for me. Does it work for everybody? I don’t know, but it works for me. I do think you have to have some level of virtuosity in your technique. I do believe that you have to have a strong basis of being able to (move) weight with good technique. If Joe Smith comes in off the street and says ‘I’ve never worked out before,’ am I going to have him do the same thing we did tonight? Probably. Am I going to have him do the same weight and repititions? Absolutely not. Am I still going to try to get him to use full range of motion and proper technique? Definitely. I do think once you understand the technique you’ll have the ability to do a greater workload. Are there people out there that are doing it on their own and getting hurt? Absolutely. I hate to say this but I think that’s the difference between doing it in your garage and doing it at an affiliate where there’s a trained observer to tell you, ‘That’s total crap, you’re not doing it right.’

You mentioned CrossFit Kool Aid. As loyal as people are to traditional training methods, CrossFitters tend to be even freakier when it comes to promoting what we do. What’s up with cult references and people getting so defensive about CF?
It’s tounge-in-cheek now, people make fun of the cultish behavior. I think it’s the way with anybody that finds something that works, something that makes them a better person. I do feel like a better person, a lot of stress has been relieved from my life since I started doing CrossFit. Your natural reaction is what? To share it with someone, especially when someone says, ‘Hey, I notice a change, you look different, you’re acting different.’ I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t tell people when they asked. I think that’s the cultish behavior. Proselytyzing…some CrossFitters take it a little too far. It is a tight-knit community. You can find out about any CrossFitter in the world in a minute online.

How do you taper workouts so CF doesn’t interfere with athletic competition?
I’ve always been a big believer in tapering. My rest is really important. I believe if you are going to do something as strenuous as a mixed martial arts fight there’s no way you’re going to be able to come in here and do CrossFit two or three days out and be 100% for the fight. Two weeks out maybe too much (rest) but a week and a half is probably about right. For Highland Games I need to take off two or three or days off so I feel like a spring ready to go off.

This is the first time I’ve never had goals in a gym. What do you say to people who see that as a drawback?
I look at the workout and think, ‘I can do this in X amount of time, can do this in X amount of time, can do this in X amount of time, so I should be right around this amount of time for the whole workout.’ Set goals of doing 25 repetitions in a row instead of 10, or 100 straight squats. Those are big things to achieve. If you break things down, and I hate to say compartmentalize, you’re probably going to do fairly well.

Boutique, “high performance” training has gotten more popular. Have you seen an uptick in interest recently?
I think it’s just too damn hard. I really thought there had to be about 100 to 150 people in Indianapolis that would probably be interested in something like this. I have not found that to be the case. I think it’s the simple fact that most people don’t want to work hard. In fact, I just had this conversation with someone before you came in tonight. Most people don’t want to work hard at their job. Most people don’t want hard at home, they don’t want to work too hard on their families, so why in the hell would they want to work hard in a work out? I hate to say it, but maybe this goes back to the cultish behavior. People like us have have a tendency to be a little bit off.

Is CrossFit hard on joints?
You know what, I tell people this and they don’t believe me; I’ve had knee problems most of my life and since I started doing CrossFit, deep squats, I’ve had no knee issues, knock on wood, and my shoulder, from bench pressing, power lifting, I’ve always had range of motion issues. Since I started doing full range of motion pull-ups, again, knock on wood, I’ve had no problems. However, CrossFit has a tendency to breed tendonitis. I have no scientific analysis to back that up but from my small sampling of the group of people we have here, tendonitis has been bred I think from the pull-ups and the increased workload.

What do you think about my progress from November to now?
The big thing I’ve noticed is that I think you understand now what it takes to work hard. It just wasn’t there. I don’t know if it’s been a humbling experience, because a humbling experience is when some people all of the sudden excel and other people say, ‘I’m never going back there because they’re a bunch of jerks.’ I do see now that it clicks in your head. You do truly understand that it takes a lot to put forth 100% effort in this workout. Obviously I’ve noticed that you’ve lost weight, it looks like you’ve firmed up, but I think more than anything is the ability to master your mind. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve noticed.
I’ve seen the progress and I think you’re starting to understand the techniques. I think the next step is to get you to lose a little more weight and start hammerin’ it hard. If we can get you down to 220, 225, I think you’ll start hammerin’ it hard, I really do.

What’s the learning curve where people really start to see gains with CrossFit?
I think it’s three to six months. If you’re a former athlete or a pretty good athlete maybe less time than that. Usually it’s about six months. You spend a lot less time looking around and a lot more time looking to your next exercise.

Could you explain the Ferrari theory?
The Ferrari theory is something I came up with while selling high-performance vehicles. A guy I used to work with said the Porsche was capable of doing a lot more than I was capable of doing with the car. I was fortunate enough to finally buy a Porsche and I had it out on 465 one day and I was doing 125 miles per hour and I got scared, like, shitless scared, and the car kinda sat low, like, dude, whatever you got, bring it on. I talked to they guy and he said ‘the car is capable of going 180 miles per hour. You are not capable of driving it that fast because you are not trained to drive it that fast.’ Your body is capable doing a lot more than you ever, ever imagined. However, we’ve got a built-in mechanism by whoever engineered us that says, ‘Neal, whenever you reach 120 miles per hour you need to ratchet it down because you’re gonna kill yourself.’ But once you train yourself to go up to 120, 130 miles an hour, you realize, ‘I can do this.’ You can push your body that far, keep yourself within a good zone, and the next thing you know you’re doing stuff you never thought possible. That’s the Ferrari theory.

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