A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit CrossFit Palo Alto in hopes of learning more about CrossFit and the hard-working, fit people who are involved with this form of training. The visit was tremendously beneficial in terms of acquiring data about the information needs of athletes and fitness enthusiasts, but it was also rewarding on a personal level.
Shortly after reaching out to Tim Dymmel, the man behind CrossFit Palo Alto, I quickly realized that I was on to something. My plan was to observe one of Tim's afternoon classes and then chat with him and his athletes after the workout. Although Tim graciously opened his doors for my research project, he followed up by strongly suggesting that I take part in the class.
His e-mail read: "Do the class and people will believe that you want their input, because you'll have experienced it the same as them. Otherwise, you'll be some market research guy that they could meet at the mall."
Needless to say, I experienced my first CrossFit workout on the day I visited CrossFit Palo Alto. It was challenging, eye-opening and entertaining, but the workout itself was only one of many things I ended up liking about CrossFit Palo Alto.
Here are the others.
1) Tim Dymmel
Tim is the driving force behind CrossFit Palo Alto and one of the main reasons the facility is so beneficial to anyone looking to train hard and get better. Tim was a collegiate athlete, and he has more than 20 years of experience as a strength and conditioning professional. In addition to being extremely well-versed in the science behind general training, Olympic lifts and developing high-level athletes, Tim emphasizes a team environment that stresses full accountability.
Anyone who shows up late to a workout must perform 20 Burpees before being allowed to join the other athletes in the training session. After showing up two minutes late, I experienced Tim's rule firsthand and appreciated the type of punishment that is usually reserved for team sport practices. (Read more about Tim's background and expertise.)
It is clear that CrossFit Palo Alto is less of a gym and more of a community. At your typical mega-fitness club, people pop in and work out whenever they please. If they don't feel like working hard or even showing up, they don't. However, CFPA exudes the feel of a varsity weight room, where stopping short or letting down the teammate next to you is inexcusable. The athletes have tight personal bonds, spot each other and cheer each other on throughout the workout.
When someone is fortunate enough to hit a new max on a lift, they ring a bell and celebrate the achievement. Everyone's accomplishments are scrawled across a massive dry-erase board as a constant motivator for the group.
3) Doing Things Right
The CrossFit training methodology has been criticized as a one-size-fits-all workout that does not take into account an athlete's fitness level, ability or weightlifting experience. However, CrossFit Palo Alto's workouts follow a progression specific to each athlete's current conditioning and how long he or she has been training. For example, while some athletes were working with heavier weights for sets of three reps, others who were earlier in the progression performed fewer sets of eight reps with lighter weight.
Another knock on CrossFit is the claim that technique is often sacrificed for speed, more reps or heavier weight, which can lead to injury. This couldn't be further from the truth at CrossFit Palo Alto, where Tim puts his expertise to use by constantly coaching proper technique. He always recommends a weight that allows for perfect form. PVC piping is available for beginner athletes looking to practice their Olympic lifts before adding weight.
CrossFit Palo Alto stresses the little things that go a long way before and after the workout, as well. The session began with a thorough dynamic warm-up that mimicked that of a pro athlete and concluded with a post-workout stretch, something that is frequently overlooked by athletes elsewhere.
4) Zercher Squats
When Tim posted Zercher Squats as the first exercise of the workout, I was bit perplexed because I had never done them before. I became a fan immediately after the first set. The movement is similar to a Front Squat, but the athlete secures the bar across the inside of his bent elbows rather than supporting it across the front of his shoulders. (Learn how to perform the Zercher Squat.)
This is a great lift. It builds strength and power in the lower body and core like a traditional Back Squat, but it doesn't put as much stress on the spine. In addition, the position of the bar is much easier to maintain than the Front Squat position, which irritates many athletes' wrists and elbows.
5) Cesar Agustin
Cesar Augustin was one of the eight or so athletes taking part in the workout. He was laser-focused on the training from the beginning, and I quickly singled him out as my training partner because of this. He kept a notebook with him at all times and logged every set and rep he performed throughout the workout. After a few sets of Zerchers, I realized that Cesar was working up to a PR attempt that day. He got all the way up to 240 pounds and performed a flawless, powerful rep at that weight. The bell rang and Cesar happily strolled over to his notebook and charted the new max.
Cesar's effort, focus and disciplined tracking of his workout were on par with some of the elite athletes I have worked with over the years. This was quite impressive considering he had to hustle back to work after the workout wrapped.
The journey of athletic improvement doesn't end when the CrossFit Palo Alto athletes exit the building. Along with Tim, they are true students always looking for new training tips, workouts and nutrition advice online. They were generous enough to share some of their CrossFit-inspired online resources, and we've listed their top choices below.
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