So you must be thinking, "Enough of the pleasantries, did the cert make a difference in your training?" Yes, it did, in many ways. First, even though I've been lifting weights and squatting since 1980, and even though I had worked up to doing 400 air squats in 15 minutes before I started CrossFitting, I found out how little I knew about that fundamental body movement. I found out that even after reading Mark Rippetoe's articles carefully four times on my own, I was still missing big experiential chunks of how to tell what a deadlift should feel like. I can complete a front squat now, correctly, and without pain in my forearms/ wrists. I found out how to do a dumbbell thruster correctly (so much easier than I was making it!). I can "feel it' when I do the Burgener Warm-Up correctly. I am no longer intimidated by squat cleans and have some clue about how to do them right. (The clean is a movement I detested but now am eager to learn, which brings to mind Coach's quote from the cert: "It's amazing how useless an activity can seem to be when you suck at it." It also leaves me eager to attend one of CrossFit's Olympic lifting certification seminars.) When people ask, I can say, "CrossFit is constantly varied, functional movements, performed under load at relatively high intensity and over relatively long distances". Most importantly, I can better feel when I'm using my body— especially my hips, my spine, and their coordination—correctly.
This has opened up a world of opportunity for learning and highlights how fundamentally applicable CrossFit is. Athletes of all ages, sizes, athletic abilities, and fitness levels need to master essentially the same movements. Knowing how to deadlift, one can efficiently lift objects from the ground the rest of one's days. Developing a fundamentally sound squat is a gateway to a lifetime of mobility. I predict that if you don't see it already, a cert (or perhaps the equivalent 16 hours of personal training with an expert CrossFit trainer) will give you an intuitive understanding of what functional movement means, and that understanding will help you sort out the exercise wheat from the exercise chaff.
The only downside of attending the cert is that I now know how poorly I had been coaching my training partner from Baghdad, the stalwart Captain David Pollock. Sorry Dave. I am glad you thrived in spite of my shortcomings.
I believe my new understanding of better movement will drive better performance, but I won't know until my next bouts with the benchmark "girls"; they are my measuring stick. The only one I've tried since the certification delivered a marginally positive result, with a nine-second improvement on "Fran." What is significant, though, is that I was able to complete much improved—legitimate—pull-ups, which meet what I now realize is the CrossFit standard.
So, that's (some of) what you can expect to learn. As for the answers to the other questions I had: "No, it's not just for those who want to train others." "Yes, old and/or mediocre athletes can attend." "No, there's no (written) test." So, yes, go to a certification, enjoy the CrossFit community through a greater depth of engagement, and learn to use your body better. As with the WOD, what are you waiting for? 1, 2, 3, GO!
Paul Eich, a.k.a. "Apolloswabbie," is relatively new to CrossFit but brought with him the baggage of over 30 years of uncoached weightlifting, cycling, and running. He was awarded instructor rank in Shotokan karate in 1997. A Naval Aviator with 18 years on active duty, his three most recent deployments were to the Central Command Area of Responsibility and included a tour launching combat missions from the deck of the USS Enterprise, flying combat missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and serving with the U.S. Army on the Multi-National Corps - Iraq.
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The use of dumbbells gives you a much more comprehensive strengthening effect because the workout engages your stabilizer muscles, in addition to the muscle you may be pin-pointing. Without all of the belts and artificial stabilizers of a machine, you also engage your core muscles, which are your body's natural stabilizers.