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Narrative, Data and Method by Greg Glassman - CrossFit Journal

Narrative, Data and Method

By Greg Glassman

In CrossFit, Videos

September 12, 2009

Video Article

On May 30, 2009, Coach Greg Glassman told participants at a CrossFit 101 seminar at CrossFit By Overload that he has a big problem with the fitness industry in general and even some CrossFitters: there is too much in the way of unsubstantiated claims and too little in the way of evidence. At the heart of the issue is the failure to distinguish between narrative, data and method.

Narrative is a story. “I’m the greatest trainer in the world” is an example of narrative. If not supported by data and method, narrative has little value. But, too often, discussion about fitness begins and ends with narrative. Nothing else is offered.

Data is concerns something that is measurable, observable and repeatable. “All 35 members of my gym, 20 of whom are female, have muscle-ups” is an example of data. But not everyone with data is willing to share it.

Method is the exact approach you took. What did you do that worked? Implementation of the Zone Diet would be an example.

The most useful structure is to begin with data, follow with method and conclude with narrative. But sometimes the narrative comes first and is used to justify data and method that are sketchy or non-existent. Don’t make the mistake of attaching any importance to that form of discussion.

10min 41sec

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26 Comments on “Narrative, Data and Method”


wrote …

It is amazing that is has taken so long for someone to apply a practical and scientific approach to fitness. Coach is brilliant for developing CrossFit, but when you step back and look at it, it just makes sense. Besides no desire to put in real work/effort at the gym, why wouldn't any one do this?! Useless workouts have lasted so long in the industry. Sure, guys like Rippetoe and others have always been doing barbell training, but it's baffling that it isn't mainstream. And it's not yet, but CrossFit is clearly improving that as it drives machine filled globo gyms out of business.


Cody Limbaugh wrote …

Sure. Tease us with the iPhone vids...


wrote …

My "narrative": I CrossFit. It is the best program in the world.

My "method": I CrossFit. I base my WODs as closely to Mainsite as possible.

My "data": I CrossFit. I have been doing so for nearly 2 years and have lost 80lbs. Lift heavier, run faster, and last longer.

Anything wrong with this inverted structure, Coach? :)


wrote …

I have nothing but respect for coach what he has developed is truly fantastic.

That being said, does Coach drink his own Kool-aid? Does he do the WOD? I hate to say it but it doesn't look like he does (gut). If any one has seen him doing the WOD or can ask him I'd be very interested in hearing his response.


Rob Barrese wrote …

Always Gold in the way of information. Thanks coach!


wrote …

Does Phil Jackson have as many records as Michael Jordan? Did Phil Jackson hit the court during practice with MJ?

No and No.


replied to comment from Justin Treptow

I completely agree with this question. I've been doing scaled Crossfit WODs for the past two and a half years and have seen great results but this has been something resting on my mind as well. Also, with absolutely no disrespect to any of the founding Crossfit coaches, the coaches I have seen that are in incredible shape, or actually doing the Crossfit WODS, are the Crossfit trainers in the actual videos and Tony Blauer. I feel a coach/leader should be able to do whatever it is they ask of their subjects. I'm just curious why Glassman hasn't been seen doing a WOD.


replied to comment from Max Willey

Make a list the top 10 greatest coaches of all time and ask yourself if they fit your hypothesis.


wrote …

OK, I don't normally weigh in on these types of flame-esque discussions, but here's a theory on Mr. Glassman not necessarily practicing Crossfit on a daily basis (and, to be honest, I have no idea whether he does or not). If he did, would Crossfit's detractors be more inclined to measure the efficacy of the Crossfit methodology by its founder's physical achievements, instead of the massive data set we, as Crossfitters, are helping build every day? Is Mr. Glassman heading that possibility off at the pass, to keep the focus on the science behind his methodologies rather than a myopic measure of one man's fitness? I mean, by way of a thought experiment, think of a man with cancer developing a new treatment that is incredibly successful for thousands of patients, but that is unable to save its inventor. Would that discredit the treatment? I think we all know the answer.

Anyone asking if Mr. Glassman drinks his own kool-aid clearly has lost sight of the forest for the trees (or, in this case, the tree). There's something to be said for practicing what you preach, particularly from a leadership perspective, but at the end of the day it is of little consequence from a scientific standpoint.


Brandon Nugent wrote …

Good video, I like the information presented. What was the context of the talk? What was the end-goal for presenting the info? Most of the time, I can see a clear reason why a particular talk is useful/beneficial to the audience, this one, not so much. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important for people to present themselves with performance and talk later, but why spend an afternoon talking about it? I think if the video was tagged with "Narrative, Data, and Method - How to Be a More Effective Trainer" it would be clearer.



Matt Charney wrote …

Take a look at the date this video was shot. I was there. The question was actually asked about his appearance. I few things were brought up. In the prior 5 weeks Coach had been on 4 continents or something like that. No excuse just the facts, he hadn't been hitting the WODs and had been horrorable about eating and sleeping. Someone asked when was the last WOD he had done and it was a couple weeks he couldn't remember but Dave or Lisa gave the time frame.

Now go look at the videos from the interviews with Tony Budding or the intruduction of Dr. Barry Sears video.

I think those videos are 2 months apart. Do you think Coach has been hitting the WODs more often lately? I was at both events and there was a difference.

Is Coach carrying a few extra pounds in this video the narrative or the data?

I think it is only the data if we are specifically talking about Coach and his use of CrossFit. It is narrative if we are talking about CrossFit in general.


Matt Charney wrote …

Brandon, This was something he brought to the table at a CrossFit 101. I believe it was the first CF101 and since it was the first of its kind Coach wanted something to discuss or share. Coach opened with this and it then went to an open Q&A. He did not spend the whole afternoon talking about this.

It was a good time and if you have a chance to attend one of these events I say do it.

I'm scheduled for another one at CrossFit Monrovia next month. This time I'm taking 4 of my clients.


wrote …

I never weigh in on these discussions, but I think that a coach should be judged much more by their coached results rather than weather they themselves can accomplish what is being taught. Nick Bollettieri can't serve 130+ mph in tennis, but he's taght a lot of great athletes to become super athletes and master the game so to speak. I'm pretty sure that I would listen to a coach because he/ she can make me better, not because they can do what they're teaching. Physical stuff like this, is different from intellectual teaching. I think that coach is very methodical, very deliberate, very clear, and very scientific, as well as cautious as to not overestimat without proper investigation of his assumptions. Does he believe whole heartedly in his approach.. absoulutely. Does he believe in the CrossFit way.... absolutely.. but I think that he's always looking to improve that model and to increase performance. We're really all his lab rats in a way, but we're getting some good cheese, real cheap. So I'll keep on squeeking and being thankful for a person who's not %100 greedy and only interested in lining his pocket, but also interested, genuinely I might add, in adding to and bettering his overall profession and all who partake in his approach to fitness and health.
-Anton Gross


wrote …

Coaches impress with their coaching, with their systems, knowledge and organisation of those things, in their ability to motivate and teach, and in their ability to lift the performance of others.For appearance issues it may be worth checking out the modeling industry or playboy.
cheers NickB


Darren Coughlan wrote …


wrote …

I want to thank Max Willey, Scott Bolan, Michael Dimitruk, Matt Charney, Anton Gross, and Nick Beharrell for weighing in on this discussion (and keeping it civil). The input you've offered is all useful to my previous question.

It seems that the progression from athlete to trainer to coach really is a personal choice and one of time management. In order to coach/teach/instruct you really have less time to work on your own PRs (a sacrifice for the benefit of the community). Without a doubt I'm sure "Crossfit" is an immense time consumer and it is understandable the Glassman would have to specialize in order to spread this methodology.

Still I am glad to see that Coach does get some WODs in every once in a while.


wrote …

I have a lot of respect for Coach, but this is an odd situation. Everyone compared him to other athletic coaches (eg the tennis serve wiz, Phil Jackson, etc), but those athletes are training to be elite. There was no mention about all the people that use CrossFit as a tool to be more healthy and functional. Just because you can't, or have no intention to, qualify for the CF Games, doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. Coach and Tony Budding (and probably others) have argued all the health benefits of exercise and diet, using CrossFit and the Zone, respectively, to accomplish those goals. The Zone Chronicles stoked discussion about how easy it is to zone anywhere, anytime. And you can scale CrossFit for any situation.

While I don't expect him to become 'elite', although if he wants to - I bet he could design a kick ass program to do it. I do expect him to use CF to be healthy. In the same way that I expect doctors not to smoke. They don't have to live picture-perfect "healthy lifestyles", in CF terms 100% Zone, never miss a WOD. I have no idea whether he is healthy or not or whether he does the WOD or not. I have never met him. I only know what I see on the website. There is a big difference between doing nothing and training like OPT, and everyone should be able to fit in somewhere along that spectrum.

So I offer no views as to why he has a few extra pounds, he knows why and it has nothing to do with us - but I have been surprised by it for some time.


Daniel Schmieding wrote …

a) I'm willing to bet Coach can do a better front/back lever than you. And a better handstand.

b) Look at the videos of Coach at his latest discussions (this one is a couple/few months older, I believe): the man looks trim in comparison to the recent past!

Congrats on the twins, Coach! I'm sure they're keepin' you up!


Don't get out of the forest here....
Does it really matter how 'trim' a coach has to look?

For some us, the real question should be, how 'fit' the coach is.


replied to comment from Michael Dimitruk

There's an interesting human psychological phenomenon in folks' interest in Coach's appearance. I have a hard time imagining why anyone who benefits from the vault of free info on this site, available for the taking, with nearly unlimited potential to make one's own or another's life better, would give ten cents for whether or not the giver of the info meets your or anyone's standards of fitness or appearance.

You should have seen the man at the Games - walking around, speaking and ATTENDING to everyone who approached him, making the effort to be more than courteous and downright generous with his time and attention - and person after person walking away with a smile on their face.

You should be asking yourself "what's wrong with me that I care whether or not someone else wants what I want, chooses what I choose, or doesn't." You should be asking yourself, "Given how Coach extends himself for the people in this community, and how many have benefitted from the knowledge he gives away for free, why don't I do more with my time than wonder what he eats or how he works out."

The people who ask the question reveal a lot about their own baggage. I suggest with all the humility I can muster that you put it to use in a way more beneficial to yourself. Paul


Although i see where your going, i do not fully agree.

This site provides both free and paid info (subscription).

And although i don't give 2 cents what someone looks like, in a forum on a paid journal, that's sole purpose is focused on 'fitness', i would expect some of our peers to be concerned with the fitness level of our leaders.

Many of us are drawn to CF for similar reasons, and it just seems as though inquiring into the fitness level of all those that we consider leaders in our fitness community and that also provide a filter for the information provided on this site - should be expected.

You know...the XO that is telling the ship to focus on how they need to field-day the ship, and providing training to the crew on what the priorities for cleaninless should be, and finally what accepted cleanliness is and is not, yet his stateroom is a mess. That may cause issues with the crew.

Thanks for the discussion points.


replied to comment from Apollo Swabbie


There is an interersting psychological phenomenom about it, but that doesn't mean it isn't a valid query. Maybe your comment wasn't directed at my response, since I took more of a 'it's good to be healthy' approach instead of 'it's good to be fit/look fit'. It just feels odd, when all the trainers on the videos look fit and healthy, even the 60+ year olds, but the one who came up with the idea doesn't fit the mold?

It's not my business (or anyone else's), so I have no right to ever find out why, but it clearly comes up a lot - at least in people's head, if not on the message boards. The fact that Coach is really attentive and friendly is great and good to know, but irrelevant.

And it's not because of my 'baggage' that I posted, or even wondered.


wrote …

Weight and/or bodyfat are weak correlates to good health IMO. It's all about Work Capacity.


wrote …

Well, this video was a breath of fresh air after the NLP article :).


Richard Meurk wrote …

good one.


Richard Meurk wrote …

I use this method to sort all informaiton now days.

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