The Proving Grounds

By Greg Glassman

In CrossFit Games, Rest Day/Theory, Videos

September 02, 2009

Video Article

“How can a set of workouts prove anything?”

Coach Glassman explained that you can’t claim to be the best hockey team in the world without winning the Stanley Cup, and you can’t claim to be the world’s fittest athlete unless you win the 2009 CrossFit Games.

“We’re going to get this thing to the point where, if you’re not participating, then it really has no meaning to claim to be fit or fitter than other people,” Coach Glassman said.

As the pool of elite CrossFit athletes becomes exponentially larger, the top competitors from previous years will find themselves battling—perhaps unsuccessfully—to remain at the top.

Coach Glassman disagreed with the athletes and spectators who weren’t sure how driving a pole in the ground during the row/sledge/row workout could measure fitness. Swinging an implement is as functional a movement as squatting or picking something up off the ground.

“This is ancient. It’s functional. It’s one of the most significant ways you can impart power from your body... to a third object....I think that if you can’t with just minimal proficiency wield a bat, strike something with a hammer, defend yourself with a club or work a machete to some advantage, it speaks to a deficiency in your fitness.”

The idea for the sledgehammer WOD actually came from the real world: Coach Glassman thought it up after struggling to drive a grounding rod into hard earth a few years back. “It was remarkably not fun,” he said.

Tony Budding poses the questions and Coach Glassman responds in Part 3 of this interview captured by CrossFit by Overload on Aug. 8, 2009, in Tustin, CA. Additional reading: How Fit Are You? by Greg Glassman, published April 1, 2003.
9min 25sec

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23 Comments on “The Proving Grounds”


wrote …

There are so many comments of varying inanity posted in various parts of the CF world that it's easy to believe that because Coach allows them he buys into them.

When I watch this I see Coach sending the same consistent message about what CrossFit is that he did in the first journal articles.

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to have that reinforced.

Thank-you for this video series.


wrote …

I really enjoyed hearing coach on this topic and totally agree with his take on the complaints of the sledge/row WOD. Having grown up having to use a sledge for functional work I can tell you its a lot of work and involves multiple fitness aspects. Can't wait to see of next years CF games WOD's.


wrote …

About driven the stakes. I still do not think it was an even playing field. For one most of the athletes did not have technique. Two the soil varied from athlete to athlete. I know a few hit rocks or other obstacles in the soil, you can tell by the amount of force applied and how much the stake moved. As the coach said before about striking a tire and being able to measure the amount of force applied is not usable cause people will cheat - same thing applies. I love you coach, and I do agree with it being a functional movement. I drive ground rods down manually from time to time and sometimes it sinks like quicksand and some time you struggle, so the soil plays a great part of it. But technique is also a big part of it, just like the Olympic Lifts or Martial Arts you got to know how to apply POWER. And quite frankly most of them did not know how, but their athletic abilities got them through.


wrote …

"Regularly learn and play new sports"

Maybe we should expand that to include new physical activities in general?


wrote …

If not being able to efficiently transfer power with a stick implement (bat, racket, golf club, sledge) is a deficiency in an athlete's fitness and a drag on WCABTAMD (which I tend to agree is true) then what programming element can shore up that deficiency? Certainly nothing I've seen on the main site WOD. And this ties into the comment I posted on the value of incorporating sledge, punching bag etc. into programming even though there is a problem with measurability (

I think the lesson is that the main site WOD programming (or any programming for a large group where standards are difficult to set) has some limitations on its ability to produce work capacity in some domains. Perhaps an answer is affiliate programming where more movements requiring accuracy with the manipulation of external objects can be implemented in a uniform fashion more easily (because of a smaller and more controllable "n"). Or maybe Russ is onto something with more emphasis on "learn and play new sports/ physical activities" as the way? Either way I think the fact that so many elite CrossFitters struggled with the Row/Sledge workout exposes a chink in the CF programming culture, main site WOD included. If elite CFers struggled then maybe the programming needs something besides wallball for accuracy.

My solution would be to chop some wood or wail on a tire with a sledge.


wrote …

Everybody is right when they say that the row/sledge/row workout is unfair. That's the point. We do not train for just the known. We train for the unknown and the unknowable. We are not specialists.

Some of the workouts highlight our strengths and others exploit our weaknesses. Sometimes we succeed and other times we fail. Get over it, that's life...that's Crossfit. If you don't like it; then work harder, tighten up your game, and travel through more domains of fitness.

Each W.O.D. gives us the opportunity not only to test our fitness, but also our character. The exercises and events will continue to expose us to failure and through those failures we will become stronger. And I believe that is the true test of a crossfitter, the ability to adapt and overcome no matter what the obstacle.


replied to comment from Dan Kennedy

Agree! It was unfair for everybody participating. The difference in the ground density/make up is no different than having to do a hill run (or the like) across a new terrain. You constantly have to make adjustments to your stride length, speed, balance etc. Solid running technique helps to negotiate and manage this, but doesn't replace the need for focus and 'active brain'. Ditto for the hammer swing - you can feel how heavy the hammer is (strenght) , you can feel the force of impact (power), you can see the target (balance and accuracy) but the crux is to apply all these effectively one swing at the time.


wrote …

"This was horrid. I knew that eventually I would have to share this with the world."

-- hilarious! I'll remember this apropos any discussion of 'What makes Coach tick?'


wrote …

The area that was used for the sledgehammer drive was specially prepared for the event. It was not ground "as is" on the Ranch. A trench was dug and uniform fill of the same uniform substance was used. Random "rocks" were not present. While it is impossible to have a truly uniform trench, the ground had been rendered effectively uniform. The variability in the amount of drive and distance driven between competitors was easily observable to be due to vector forces applied to the stakes (direct blows vs. glancing blows that slid off the top of the stake).

The "unfairness" of the event itself was effectively uniform. Inter-competitor unfairness attributable to prior experience could certainly have been present.



Rob Barrese wrote …

I fail to see what part of the "unknown and unknowable" we're not putting together. Coach hit it on the head perfect (no pun intended). If you've ever spent a day, or some time swinging a machettee to clear brush or using an axe to take down a tree you'd understand. Further, the precision and accuracy necessary to strike the top of a stake is unquestionalble. I would liken the aggitation to doing double unders in a fatigued state and constantly hitting your feet with the rope as time runs out. It is an open measure of several physical skills.

What if the hill run had a wheelbarrel at mid point... contenders must grab their weight sprint half way, load the wheelbarrel then push that up the rest of the way. Do even the suburbanites understand the function of a wheelbarrel? If it is a modality, skill, movement or any combination of the three that can be measureable, observable and repeatable and used as a functional test of fitness it is fair game. The few grips I'm hearing seem to be from the category of sore loser, taking the toys and going home - genre.

Maybe next year will involve skydiving to a water source, swimming to shore and trail running to a 10k rally point?

I'm very pleased with CF and the more I learn the more accurate I get. One of the large lessions I learned a year ago was stop picking and choosing. I do the mainsite with 99% accuracy and I specifically work with things I'm not very good at. constantly varied, functional movements. Keep up the good work CF


Dale Saran wrote …

My only complaint was Coach and Tony mocking my grandfather - the hairy, short guy who's knuckles dragged who first used the club. :-)


wrote …

It's true, the sledge part of this WOD was unfair. It is unfair for everyone doing this type of difficult manual labor. It's difficult and unfair for the firefighter ventilating a roof after the chainsaw fails--remember, The Axe always starts!!

It's a snapshot of life, sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes, you're the bug. Or sometimes you're the hammer and sometimes you're the nail. I teach my students: "Be the hammer, not the nail." Works great with football.

I'd say that specifically, this workout drew on the degradation of the efficiency of accuracy vs. power. As power increased, accuracy often decreased and vice versa. Most were accurate at tapping, but when they swung harder, their accuracy and effectiveness dropped off.

I'm predicting some terribly varied and incredibly unfamiliar workouts for next year's games. I would even guess that there will be very little use of CF implements. I'd guess there will be more odd objects, dummies to drag/lift, big rocks, cars, whatever and less med balls, bumpers, KBs, and rowers. Just a little prediction. Who knows? I don't even thing coach knows, yet.


wrote …

I was actually hoping to see more stuff like the stake driving contest. The arguement that it's unfair because some of these guys don't have their technique down really misses the point of Crossfit as I understand it. The point of the fitness we are trying to develop is that it is transferable to novel tasks. Deadlifting, pressing, cleaning etc. don't just prepare you to deadlift, press and clean; they train the universal motor recruitment patterns of functional movements which apply to things many of us NEVER do. Paddling, Hammering, Shoveling, Punching, Wood chopping, Sawing, bailing out a boat, odd object lifting, stair climbing, rock climbing; the list is limited only by imagination. Some of these kind of "random" functional tasks are not easily quantified, but some really are.
The point is that Crossfit prepares you generally well for them even if you've never done them or even thought of them.

I was actually hoping to see MORE stuff like hammering a stake in the games (shoveling gravel comes to mind) and less stuff that is somewhat unique or specific to Crossfit.


Dale I believe we may be related!

I think some of the comments are contradictions in and of themselves. I would also argue that most of the folks creating the issue hadn’t even competed in the games! I do not own a box, nor do I train in one. Although it amazes me what some people, closest to the sport still don’t get. There is little point to arguing internet forum. I generally comment to the presenter (Kelly Starrett, ect) and not on member comments but I couldn’t help it on this one. I seriously don’t understand how some folks don’t get this stuff. What appeals to me about CF is the opened-ended, anything, anywhere, anytime training. If we’re going to be cry babies about it then we’re no better than the current professional sports and globo gyms. The disinterest the general CF community has with that group IS this very behavior. Although Coach said it best last video this is a co-selection process. Perhaps we are hearing who wants something for nothing? Any who, that’s my two cents. Thank you Tony and Coach for the great videos.
Tony: a year ago you gave me advice on the zone… going strong 12 months later, thank you much.


Yes sir! You got it.


wrote …

i dont thaink that issue was that the concept of te sledge/stake drive WOD was not a measure of fitness. the issue was that the ground was not the same for everyone. i was at the games and i watched two or three large male competitors in the middle of the area strike the stake numerous times without it budging, where i saw female competitors having the stake moves inches on every strike. i dont think that it was bad programming, i just think that logistically it was not a level playing field for everyone.


wrote …

I think the discussion of the recent games illuminates what crossfit represents in fitness, and more importantly thru organic growth shows physical boundaries being extended and performances pushing beyond expectation.

The stake/row wod was only limited by the control, ie inconsistency of the ground, which may fall into the unknowable. Im sure the unknowable also referred to deadlift loads, who would have imagined 20 reps post run?

Planning 2010 Games will be a challenge elementally; I loved the run,snatch, sandbag,couplet,triplet,and chipper as bordering on perfection. Absent a rope climb and an olympic pool its a tough act to follow. T minus 300 days + -

Good luck to all training for 2010


wrote …

It's Crossfit- as long as its a measurable physical activity (and driving a stake into the ground with a sledge IS a measurable physical activity) then it's fair game.

Personally, I loved it. Bringing an actual real-world functional movement into the games gives it a sense of realism. After all, what we're training for is functional movement applied to real life. If it becomes all about the core workouts, or the core exercises, then what you've done is essentially crossed the line into sport-specific training, and you've lost that general physical preparedness aspect. In that case, it becomes the same as training for the decathlon, except on a larger scale.

If it becomes about that, then it can be predicted. If it can be predicted, you can specialize in it. If you can specialize in it, It's NOT Crossfit. The details- like soil content- don't matter; Its luck of the draw, just like life.

Sledge swings, tire flipping, atlas stones, pushing weighted vehicle chassis moderate distances, dragging a 200lb dummy across a tarmac, moving large blocks of cement.... hell, running up some stairs with 45lbs of weight in a grocery bag; If there's a chance-however remote- that you can encounter it in real life, it should be fair game.

If you want a list of training criteria, then that list should be very large indeed; Start with Crossfit's workouts/movements, the lumberjack games, the Strongman, the firefighter challenge, the Ironman triathalon, a Marine's PT obstacle course, those off-road/off-trail running races, my summer vacation hiking the Bruce Trail, and your cousin Sancho's job working construction, and put them all together in hopper of functional yumminess. Stir liberally, and then add whatever the hell you think will be fun to do and/or try.

Bottom line; The Games should draw from everywhere, not just what people do in the workouts. It shouldn't stop to consider the intangibles, but rather embrace the randomness of it all; If you're the best at being good at everything, one event won't matter.


wrote …

If I listen really hard I can already hear the sound of thousands of stakes being hammered and many, many tyres being thumped all the way from over here in Oz. Sounds like fun, (in a horrid sort of way).


wrote …

I'll prolly get smoked out there by all the randomness freaks for this but I just don't see the "elite" in a stake drive. I see the functionality, accuracy, precision, ya da ya da ya da in it but does driving a steak in the ground really scream I'm a mastadon riding, megaladon swimming, saber tooth tiger killing spartan to you? Sounds more like the playing the violin end of the spectrum that coach is always talking about. I want power...lots. I want Josh Everett's 330# jerk not some rando activity that someone thought was hard once. But, like my dad always says, people in hell want ice water. Great program coach...just my 2 cents.


Dane Thomas wrote …

Some suggestions for future events:
- Post-hole digging (with meticulously prepared ground to make it fair)
- Shovel x pounds of pea gravel into a wheelbarrow and push it a set distance uphill
- Rope climb up and over a wall
- Net climb with a sandbag (or two)
- Sledge-hammer a tire sideways along the ground a set distance
- Get sponsored by Doughboy pools. Install a few in-ground 3'-4' deep at the ranch. Build large containers 5 feet above ground and maybe 20 yards away from the pool with some form of water meter and a hose running back to the pool. The athlete must first transfer a set amount of water (at least 10 bucket loads) from the pool to the container using a large bucket (or two), then run back and rescue a heavy crash-test dummy from the bottom of the far end of the pool, drag it back across the pool and heave it out. (Do this one early in the games, before people rip their hands or skin their knees to keep blood out of the pool.)


Frank DiMeo wrote …

Having served with a Combat Engineer unit, driving stakes into the ground was a regular part of our various tasks.
Good choice for the games!
Taking something that many people are not used to doing, and testing them on it.
We do this at our gym in different ways (unannounced, of course).
For instance, see how long you can last on the Battling Ropes.


wrote …

Coach, you are an evil,evil man. thank you so much for bringing that evil to bear so effectively in the world of fitness.

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