Greg Glassman, the founder and CEO of CrossFit, Inc., once stated a quote that rings through the CrossFit trainer community as if it was the word of God. Glassman states that “Virtuosity is performing the common uncommonly well.” As a CrossFit trainer and affiliate owner myself, I can tell you that no words mean more to me in this gym and also in my life. Doing the common uncommonly well is a mantra we have built this gym on.
That’s why you may have noticed that our strength has been slightly different this week. We will be including a whole lot of accessory movements that are intended to balance out any muscular imbalances you have (we all do) and to make you better at the basics. As a competitor in CrossFit, this is something we constantly return to. The only way we ever get better at mastering the high-skill movements and techniques is to break them down to their bare bones and get good at those.
I’d like for you to read an excerpt from Glassman’s Open Letter to Trainers, 2005:
“In gymnastics, completing a routine without error will not get you a perfect score, the 10.0—only a 9.7. To get the last three tenths of a point, you must demonstrate “risk, originality, and virtuosity” as well as make no mistakes in execution of the routine.
Risk is simply executing a movement that is likely to be missed or botched; originality is a movement or combination of movements unique to the athlete—a move or sequence not seen before. Understandably, novice gymnasts love to demonstrate risk and originality, for both are dramatic, fun, and awe inspiring— especially among the athletes themselves, although audiences are less likely to be aware when either is demonstrated.
Virtuosity, though, is a different beast altogether. Virtuosity is defined in gymnastics as “performing the common uncommonly well.” Unlike risk and originality, virtuosity is elusive, supremely elusive. It is, however, readily recognized by audience as well as coach and athlete. But more importantly, more to my point, virtuosity is more than the requirement for that last tenth of a point; it is always the mark of true mastery (and of genius and beauty).
There is a compelling tendency among novices developing any skill or art, whether learning to play the violin, write poetry, or compete in gymnastics, to quickly move past the fundamentals and on to more elaborate, more sophisticated movements, skills, or techniques. This compulsion is the novice’s curse—the rush to originality and risk.”
The guy’s got a point right? It’s just too easy to look at all the “cool stuff” like handstand walks, butterfly pullups, muscle ups, heavy ass Olympic lifts, etc., and decide that that’s what you want to get good at. The hard part is staying focused on the essential movements and getting really, really really good at those. And that doesn’t mean you can’t practice the hard stuff once in a while, it just means your focus should lie in *ALWAYS* seeking to get better at the foundational things: keeping the weight in your heels for your squats, keeping your elbows in on your push ups, maintaining a hollow position, working to be able to do several strict pullups…I could go on for days. It’s all the stuff you hear us saying to you over and over again in class. Even though I really love to hear myself talk, I love even more when I see an athlete doing the little things. Because those are the people that will stave off injuries and get those higher skilled movements quickly.
Think about your air squat. Common movement. However— when we really look at the squat and what it demands from the body, we see there are many, many ways to improve it. We can break the air squat down into ankle mobility, hip mobility, and thoracic spine mobility; core strength and leg strength. I can make your squat look better by utilizing many mobility exercises and strength exercises. Basic things that challenge your joint stability and core strength. I don’t know about you but I think that is pretty amazing.
So take the strength that we have planned for you over the next couple of weeks as serious as a heart attack, because it IS! Common movements that are intended to be executed uncommonly well. We promise you with 100% certainty that everything else will start to improve along with them.