In the last ten years CrossFit has exploded.
With every new gym or "box" that opens it seems the opinions from believers and non only get more heated. We decided to get the straight talk from a veteran coach, Matt Brockhaus, at one of San Francisco's best CrossFit centers, Flagship CrossFit. After earning a degree in Athletic Training and working with a number of Division 1 athletic programs, Matt found CrossFit in 2007. Over the years, he's seen it change and evolve.
Q: How'd you end up as a CrossFit coach in San Francisco?
A: I have been a strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer for many years. I had been working privately with clients and coaching CrossFit in Los Altos since 2008, but had been living in San Francisco. When I heard about Flagship Athletic Performance (Flagship CrossFit) opening, I jumped at the chance to coach closer to home. Working at Flagship also meant working with a younger, more motivated athlete base than what I had in Los Altos, which is mostly a more middle-aged client base.
Q: What about CrossFit interested you first?
A: CrossFit brought an intensity and variety to strength and conditioning that I wasn't accustomed to. Instead of the normal model of building focusing on building muscle, then strength, then converting to power, CrossFit reinforced the notion that one could increase all functional capacities at the same time. In addition, the way I felt after a few CrossFit workouts was undeniable - completely spent and humbled by the power of such seemingly simple workouts.
Q: How do you think CrossFit is different from other fitness programs or methodologies?
A: At it's heart, CrossFit is a program for "General Physical Preparedness". Stated more simply, its specialty is in NOT specializing. For example, P90x gets you lean; SoulCycle focuses on the cardiovascular system and the aerobic side of things; strongman training gets you massively strong in certain tasks. CrossFit on the other-hand makes its practitioners proficient at many different physical disciplines.
Q: What makes someone "good" at CrossFit?
A: There is a vast difference between CrossFit as a sport, and CrossFit as somebody's exercise program. To be good at the "sport of fitness" as CrossFit competitions are concerned, one must devote the time and resources to it the same way as any other elite sport - namely, almost like a full-time job. To be good at CrossFit as a normal athlete at a CrossFit gym is a combination of humility and patience.
Q: Do you think there is a stigma surrounding CrossFit? Why? Is it justified?
A: I'm not really sure where all of the negative attention for CrossFit has come from, or why. Like I said earlier, CrossFit is really a GPP program. With this in mind - with the exception of CrossFit as a sport itself - CrossFit was never intended to be the sole exercise program for somebody preparing for a sport. I also think that CrossFit has at times been a little antagonistic towards other training methodologies, but it has a point: no other training program puts as much emphasis on as many different physical capacities as CrossFit.
The other criticism that CrossFit gets is with some of the movements itself. The medical community loves to malign CrossFit for its supposed high injury rate. I don't think the problem is with the CrossFit methodology, but more how it is implemented. Here at Flagship, we take movement quality VERY seriously, and as a result, have a very low injury rate. On the other hand, if someone were previously a couch-potato for years and jumps into a CrossFit program without properly evaluating movement and learning appropriate techniques and progressions, then sure, injuries are likely. The same, however, can be said for starting a running program or starting to play pick-up basketball without properly acclimatizing the body to the demands of those activities.
Q: As a trainer/coach what do you see as the biggest obstacles people face when trying to achieve their goals?
A: This is a minefield of sensitive conversations! I think most people aren't honest with themselves about 1) what they actually want as their goals, and 2) what is involved in actually attaining those goals. I don't know how many clients I have worked with who want a particular outcome - fat loss, better looking butt, increased strength, etc - but are unwilling to actively change the inputs to achieve those things.
The first thing that people need to do to achieve their goals is actually objectively quantify them: "I want to improve my body composition by 5%" is much easier to measure than "I want to lose weight". The second pitfall that most people have is in laying out a plan on how to get there. Achieving fitness goals (or any goals for that matter) is NOT rocket science - it just takes plans and diligent work. That is what, unfortunately, is missing the most.
Q: Did CrossFit change the game?
A: Yes and no. Interval training, mixing different movements and rep schemes is nothing new. What Crossfit has done, and done very well, is to make exercise interesting and varied for the masses. Olympic weightlifting used to be such a niche sport that most people had never seen, let alone participated in. I think CrossFit is rightfully responsible for the resurgence in this amazing sport in the US. CrossFit has also really pushed the fitness industry to quantify its results. Few people were really keeping track of their gym performance the way CrossFitters do. Where else will you see desk-working men and women discussing not just their 5k times, but also they best back squat and how many pull ups they can do at one time?
Q: What has CrossFit taught you?
A: CrossFit has done a lot to teach me how I look at exercise and movement. There is so much carryover between movements - the backswing of the arm while running resembles the bottom of a dip - that performance should really be looked at as achieving various shapes of the body under different loads, instead of discreet movements that need to be trained separately. It has also informed a different philosophy and program design. For most people, getting a desired physiological effect does NOT have to involve complicated rep and set schemes, but rather very simple combinations of large range-of-motion exercises that exploit the limits of one's work capacity.
Q: Where do you think CrossFit will be in 10 years?
A: I hope that CrossFit as a sport will continue to thrive and grow. In the 10 or so years that it has been a competitive sport, it has changed dramatically. Like any young sport, though, it will need to put more rigid constraints and rules in place to make it more uniform and universally approachable.
As an exercise program, the sky is the limit. There are so many smart and progressive coaches and gym owners that are really pushing the envelope on what constitutes "CrossFit" and how to make it better. The old notion of "the black box" - putting different things in and seeing what comes out - is still very strong in the CrossFit community. Coaches are really stepping up their game when it comes to their education and professionalism that some can compete with any exercise science professionals with regard to scope and knowledge. It will be exciting to see coaches apply the "measurable, observable, and repeatable" model into other aspects of health and wellness for the betterment of their clients and athletes.
Q: If you only had a minute to teach someone something new about training or fitness that they would never forget--what would it be?
A: I think the most important thing to teach anyone about training and fitness is that a variety of movement is the best. You can be an elite level cyclist, a retiree who golfs 3 days a week, or a parent struggling to find the time to exercise. Getting more movement, and in a variety of different things will be the best thing for your fitness.
Q: Can you lay out a typical week of Training (Monday - Sunday) to give us a better idea what it's like to be Matt Brockhaus?
Mon, Wed, Thu, Fri:
In the mornings, I train clients privately focused on any number of health and wellness goals: Fat loss, athletic performance enhancement, injury/pain management, rehabilitation, general fitness. I really pride myself on developing a comprehensive program for each client based on his or her needs first, and using my experience and knowledge to come up with the best combination of exercise, motivation, education, and lifestyle modifications to help them achieve lasting success at their respective goals.
Coach athletes at Flagship CrossFit - this is mostly in our performance classes, but also help on-ramp new clients, conduct a mobility class, and periodically help with our weightlifting and competition-team classes. We take all athletes through a comprehensive program helping them achieve competence in all of CrossFit's 10 domains of fitness
This is my "catch-up" time. I usually start the day with a long walk or park day with my dog, followed by responding to client emails, reading (both for personal and professional growth) and getting through a lot the life stuff that just gets pushed of the rest of the week. This keeps me feeling fresh and allows me to manage stress and sleep better.
This is always a moving target. I strive for 5 days per week in the gym: M, T, W, F, S. I usually take the same classes that our athletes do at Flagship CrossFit, although sometimes I will add in some extra work for what I feel I am specifically in need of. This is often a mixture of gymnastics and weightlifting. Taking class with the athletes allows me to get to know them on a more personal level, as well as demonstrate to them how they can achieve their goals through what they do in class.
Over the weekend I like to relax, sleep in, and spend as much time as I can with my dog and girlfriend. This usually involves heading out to hike somewhere in the vast beautiful hills surrounding San Francisco
Photography by Dylan Nord