27th February 2020
When Tiger woods was 6 months old he could stand and balance on the palm of his father’s hand as he walked all around the house. By 9 months he could swing a makeshift club. Tiger couldn’t talk at this point so his father drew pictures to communicate. It was clear at an unbelievably young age that he had a great affinity for golf and his father seized the opportunity and pushed young tiger to specialization. Tiger fits the traditional model of ‘start young and specialise’ in order to create high levels of success, and while Tiger has certainly achieved that he came tumbling down because other facets of his character were under developed.
Roger Federer is undoubtedly one of the greatest tennis players of all time but surprisingly he didn’t start to specialise until he was 14/15 years old. He tried many different sports first. Like Tiger, Roger rose to the height of his sport but unlike Tiger, Roger has stayed up there, defying statistics and age.
Obviously, this is just one, hardly scientific example of how specialism isn’t always the best path to success but there is a lot of truth to generalism giving the highest chance of success overall.
There are more possible combinations of moves in chess than there are atoms in the universe. That much we know is true. Chess grandmasters study patterns of movements in order to predict what their opponent is going to do. They’ll recognise a pattern of play (because they’ve studied the patterns) and counter them with moves of their own. They are actually masters of patterns and it’s the same in all sports. In a test, a grandmaster was tasked to sit at a coffee table while a van drove past with a chess board picture that had been left mid game. Immediately he was asked to re-create the board he just saw and he did so with 100% accuracy. The van then turned around and on the other side the chess pieces were arranged in such a way that just wouldn’t occur naturally in a game of chess. When asked to re-create that board he got 10% of the pieces correct. It seems that a task outside of his area of specialism caused a processing problem.
What has all this got to do with CrossFit? If you hadn’t already guessed, it gives some power to the generalist over the specialist argument that CrossFit so effectively demonstrates. Ask a power lifter to run 5k and they could be in trouble. Ask a runner to deadlift 300kgs and its very unlikely. I could give endless examples of where one specialist couldn’t step into another specialists shoes and perform even moderately well.
However, ask a CrossFitter ( an experienced CrossFitter) to perform a task that is completely outside their area of training or expertise they generally perform well. This is evident in the CrossFit games where they will bring something new out every year to test who’s training had prepared them the best. The CrossFitter with the broadest experience of training will generally outperform all the others over a broad set of tests, thus could be termed ‘the fittest’ by virtue of the fact he was the best prepared overall.
To demonstrate this further, back in the old, old box, about 5 of us were hanging around after training during the day. This turned into a ‘shall we get the crash mat out and the parraletts?’ type session! I said, ‘ I wonder if we could go from a pike position, tuck under and strict hand stand press up without our feet touching anything and hold the balance for 5 seconds. It was a task that no one was familiar with. Within 30 mins. 4 out of 5 of us had done it. It demonstrated to me that CrossFit is perhaps the very best training methodology that prepares you to be successful at any given task that life could throw at you. CrossFit term this as ‘General Physical Preparedness’ and it is the staple of their methodology. Throw a ‘out of comfort zone’ task at a CrossFitter and they’ll be infinitely more likely to be successful at it.
The strong to not survive, the species most ADAPTABLE to change survives.