What It Takes

What It Takes

Virtuosity

By Callie Oettinger | Published: February 18, 2011

I visited a CrossFit “box” last week.

CrossFit came on our radar two years ago, when it referred thousands of CrossFitters to Steve’s site, via one small mention on the CrossFit site. Between that first link and last week’s visit to one of their “boxes,” I realized how much I’d forgotten—and then had to refocus upon—the fundamentals.

Here’s how things went down:

CrossFit linked to Steve’s site.

I checked out CrossFit’s site.

Bruised ego trying to do “pistols” exercise listed on CrossFit site.

Gave up on CrossFit exercises.

Tried to find human at CrossFit Washington, D.C., corporate office. Left voice messages. Sent e-mails. Didn’t hear back.

Told everyone who’d listen about proactive CrossFit. Lots of talk. No action.

Wrote article for Steve’s site, about power of reaching out to certain people and groups. Linked to CrossFit.

CrossFit linked back. Tons of people visited Steve’s site, including Camp Pendleton CrossFitter P.J., who left a comment:

“We focus on constantly varied function movement to produce the best overall general fitness possible; why shouldn’t a pursuit for constantly varied, functional marketing work just as well?”

Agreed with P.J.

Went back to CrossFit’s site. Skipped exercises. Pulled up corporate contact info.

Same drill. Called corporate office. Sent e-mails. No reply. Frustrated. Stopped trying.

Ran into Kamran Popkin on Twitter. E-stalked Kamran and found article about him, written by Olivier Blanchard. Read Kamran’s Fight Club-inspired rules for Swag Club. Thought about CrossFit. Replaced Swag Club with CrossFit. Kamran’s Swag Club rules with Crossfit spin:Fight Club movie poster.

1. You don’t talk about CrossFit.

2. You don’t talk about CrossFit. (Unless you need great CrossFit.)

3. The search for great CrossFit is over only when you say “Wow – that nails it!”

4. Only two guys to a fight. Unless we need help, then we bring in the big guns. We know a guy.

5. One CrossFit project at a time.

6. We work with no ties or socks. Even on Sundays, always workin’ but never stressin’ the work.

7. The quest for great CrossFit goes on as long as it needs to.

8. First projects are often the start of a great relationship. Or the end of a bad one.

9. Great advice @CrossFit is always free.

Went to rule #3. Searched for CrossFit.

Found this on CrossFit’s site:

“In this 2005 open letter to CrossFit trainers, Coach Greg Glassman discusses the importance of virtuosity, defined in gymnastics as “performing the common uncommonly well.

“Unlike risk and originality, virtuosity is elusive, supremely elusive. It is, however, readily recognized by audience as well as coach and athlete. There is a compelling tendency among novices developing any skill or art, whether learning to play the violin, write poetry, or compete in gymnastics, to quickly move past the fundamentals and on to more elaborate, more sophisticated movements, skills, or techniques.

“What will inevitably doom a physical training program and dilute a coach’s efficacy is a lack of commitment to fundamentals. . . .

“It is natural to want to teach people advanced and fancy movements. The urge to quickly move away from the basics and toward advanced movements arises out of the natural desire to entertain your client and impress him with your skills and knowledge. But make no mistake: it is a sucker’s move. Teaching a snatch where there is not yet an overhead squat, teaching an overhead squat where there is not yet an air squat, is a colossal mistake. This rush to advancement increases the chance of injury, delays advancement and progress, and blunts the client’s rate of return on his efforts. In short, it retards his fitness. . . .”

Clueless about squats and snatches, but know about jumping from basics to fancy stuff.

Had forgotten about fundamentals in search for CrossFit. Went to big phone number and e-mail addy on site instead of going to local CrossFitters—had forgotten about building relationships and looked for quick help instead.

Contacted CrossFit near home. Human answered the phone.

Rambled about Steve and CrossFit and asked if I could visit.

Co-owner said sure, come on by.

Trekked over at 9 am. Drove in circles trying to find it, tucked away in a corner, back between storage/warehouse type buildings. Had to squint to read size-of-a-business-card door sign.

Didn’t look friendly. Doubted choice to visit.

Walked in. Loved it.

I was met by two firefighters who were working out.

They were friendly and happy to share information about CrossFit.

When I asked the co-owner how he shares info. about CrossFit, he said they don’t do any advertising. No outreach to the masses.

“I’m not an elitist,” he said. And then he pointed to his friend, who was still working out, and said that if his friend brought someone in, he knew the person would be the same quality and have the same interest as his friend. If he marketed to the masses, he’d get people who weren’t committed. It was better to encourage word-of-mouth sharing through certain people and groups, than to market to the world and deal with people who visit for a promotion and then take off. He wanted to work with people who wanted to be there.

He verbalized the strategy for Steve’s outreach.

There’s a lot of change in publishing right now, with everyone trying to outreach, out-promote, monetize. All sorts of crazy circus moves are on parade—click here, post there, walk ten miles on your hands, do two spins on your head, and then you’ll be entered to win a prize. These promos ask readers to do a bunch of stuff, and then they’ll get—or be entered to win—a prize. There’s no relationship building. It’s all costume and makeup fakery. There’s a big production just to get people to do things. No caring. All about getting.

Here’s what we’re doing:

We’re going to share information about Steve and his work—kind of the way the CrossFit co-owner sat with me for 30 minutes (see Swag Club/CrossFit Rule #9).

We’re going to be honest and tell readers that we need help. We hope they’ll share and buy the books. We don’t have any prizes to offer in return, but we will:

1) Respect Steve’s readers. We’ll share with you and hope you’ll share with us in return. The entire team is interested in learning about different readers and getting to know them. *It’s hard to contact everyone, but we’re trying to reach out one-by-one.

2) Provide stories, articles, series, books, whatever it is, that are of interest, and listen to and respect the feedback offered in return.

3) Say thank you—and show our thanks—over and over and over again.

Those are our fundamentals. Sometimes we’re great at them and sometimes we crash and burn.

Above all, we’re looking for virtuosity—”performing the common uncommonly well.” There’s nothing sexy about calling and e-mailing and getting to know people. It isn’t flashy or high-tech. It’s basic stuff. It takes time. It’s also the coolest and most important thing we do. Nothing beats getting to know readers. It’s fun to meet new people and wonderful to have the opportunity to say thank you. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!  And while we take care of the fundamentals, we’ll try new things, as P.J. commented. We’ll look for new ways to connect and share, to respect and to say thank you.

And, yeah, it would still be cool to talk to CrossFit’s Coach Greg—and the person posting the WOD links. Why? We want to give them a proper thank you and ask if there’s a way we can work together.

The CrossFitter I visited asked if I can still do cartwheels. I can. If it takes a few cartwheels and maybe even a backbend to show that I’m serious about doing what it takes to connect with CrossFit myself, I will. Just need a little help hooking up with Coach Greg and more of the CrossFit team.

Thanks!

(One more thank you: to Kamran Popkin. Thank you, Kamran, for inspiring this post and for writing this post, for your unconventional approach, for your kindness and for your humor.)

UPDATE 2/22/11: Jeff Tincher is the co-owner of CrossFit Fairfax, in Northern Virginia. He was beyond generous with his time, when I dropped by in the middle of his work out. He didn’t have to spend time sharing his passion for, and the history of, CrossFit with me, but he did—and I owe him a huge thank you for doing so! I wanted his permission before I ran his name and “box” in the post, hence the late addition. We didn’t reconnect until after the post ran. (I e-mailed him to ask permission and should have picked up the phone.)

Posted in What It Takes

37 Responses to “Virtuosity”

  1. February 18, 2011 at 8:00 am

    Sometimes, the best marketing in the world is the absence of marketing altogether. The vacuum sucks you in. All that’s left is the core. The essence. The stuff that attracts real fans, not just tourists.

    I was surprised, the first time I saw an ad on TV for the Navy SEALs a few years back. I even caught some Navy recruiters sponsoring triathlons for a short while, selling young athletes on the virtues of trying out for the program. My initial reaction was “why do SEALs need to advertise?” It seemed absurd. Turns out, the teams weren’t really hurting for talent. They were just lending their legend to the Navy recruiting effort on the whole. Still though, SEALs advertising seemed dissonant, just as Crossfit suddenly deciding to go commercial would spell the end of something unique and powerful.

    It all boils down to what kind of business or movement you want to build, I think. Who you want to pander to often defines the nature of your business better than what it is you sell. It is at the core of the difference between P90X and Crossfit, passing a SEAL PT test and being an operator, being just another koozie peddler or a dude like Kamran.

    It isn’t the guy with the biggest marketing budget that worries me. It’s the guy who knows he doesn’t need one at all.

    Cheers, Callie. I enjoyed your post. Thanks for the props.

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 22, 2011 at 6:16 am

      Thanks, Olivier. I’ve learned quite a bit reading your blog—these past two weeks, that’s meant learning a little more about Kamran’s work, too. THANK YOU! Callie

  2. February 18, 2011 at 11:47 am

    I am the Head Coach/Owner of CrossFit VictriX in Roseville, CA. I have found Pressfield’s book “The War of Art” to be very inspiring.
    I have a few pages left in “The Virtues of War”, then only a couple more of his books to have read them all. “The Virtues of War” is really good. There have been many stand out passages. “Virtues of War” was actually recommended to me by another CrossFiter, Mark Divine of SEALFIT.
    Until Mark’s recommendation, I had not read any other of Pressfield’s stuff since I first read “Gates of Fire” about 6 years ago while touring Greece.
    I’ve only been following this site about a week and I am enjoying watching the series “Warrior Ethos” develop.
    It’s a bummer that I missed the link when it showed up on crossfit.com main site (I typically watch that site daily and catch everything – must have been on vacation.) But that’s okay because the timing of this material has been choice and back then might not have been as good a time for it.
    Callie, I hope you start doing CrossFit regularly.

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 22, 2011 at 6:22 am

      Justin—Thank you for your comments about Steve’s books and about the series running on his site. Will you forward a thank you to Mark Divine from us? Nice of him to recommend Steve’s books, too. Am going to try to do more than read and imagine myself doing the WODs moving forward. Thanks again, Justin! Callie

  3. February 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Great post Callie. I found CrossFit a couple years ago and lurked the WODs for a while before I jumped in, and it’s been a game changer.

    I began to compare the Resistance that precedes attacking the blank screen to the nerves before an intimidating WOD, and quickly realized it’s the same thing. It was all just fear of realizing potential.

    Many CrossFitters say the mental benefits of the programming are greater than the physical. I am in this camp. Suffering through the workouts made it easier–though still not easy–to buckle down and get the day’s writing done.

    It came down to this: If “Fran” can’t kill me, my laptop certainly can’t.

    Resistance wants me to stop writing, stop lifting, stop sprinting, give up before the 20 minute AMRAP is over because it’s too hard and my hands are bleeding.

    CrossFit helped me face Resistance and say “3, 2, 1, Go.”

    And I know firsthand your team says and shows thanks uncommonly well, and it is appreciated.

    • February 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      Do they take old guys in CrossFit?

      • February 18, 2011 at 3:37 pm

        Absolutely! Just as Shawn mentioned in his last post about how certain books can scale, WODs can be scaled to any level. For example, I suck at handstands, so I start in a push-up position, put my feet against the wall and walk my feet up and my hands toward the wall until I’m upside-down. Then I plan how to get down without massive trauma.

        The official scaled WODs are here: http://www.crossfitbrandx.com/index.php/forums

        There’s even a term of respect for senior athletes: Silvers. I’ve found that gyms blessed with senior athletes appreciate those hard workers who inspire the rest of the members to keep up. CrossFit also works very hard to honor veterans through Hero WODs, Operation Phoenix, and countless private efforts.

        Steven, I’m sure any box would love to have someone with your background, passion and drive come through the door. I’m willing to bet you’ll even find some highlighted copies of your books around.

        Rest assured you will be welcomed. Then get ready to suffer!

      • February 18, 2011 at 8:07 pm

        CrossFit is for all people at all levels!
        Go get em, Steve, have some fun!

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 22, 2011 at 6:36 am

      Thanks, Jeremy! The CrossFit fundamentals that I’ve learned about transition into other arenas, too. As Coach Greg said, we’d like to do the uncommon, “uncommonly well”—and we hope that you and other readers will let us know if we’re off mark. Callie

  4. February 18, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Great piece

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 22, 2011 at 6:36 am

      Thanks, Nick! Callie

  5. February 18, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    After years in the martial arts, still love to sit in a horse stance and throw techniques until I’m tired. You can’t always do a jump spin hook kick, but you can stand and punch until you can’t punch anymore. That’s all you need, anything else is gravy.

    Mmmm….gravy.

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 22, 2011 at 6:40 am

      Thanks for leaving this comment, Ken. I like the image of punching “until you can’t punch anymore.” (Side note: Nice calming image on your site. Lovely to look at.) Callie

      • March 6, 2011 at 4:36 pm

        Thanks for the kind words about the site and sending traffic my way. Much appreciated.

  6. February 19, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    NICE post, Callie, with a lot here that speaks both to the efforts many writers are making in “platforming” — which, after all, means creating and serving the relationships of a good readership community around a topic — and to many of the issues reflected in the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference I was at earlier this week in NYC. Thanks for your candor and the wisdom of your bottom line — those fundamentals, always where the virtuosity lies. Steve: I’m sure you know this, but you’re lucky to have Callie on your team!

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 22, 2011 at 6:47 am

      Thanks, Porter. There’s still so much to figure out moving forward in publishing. There’s so much we don’t know and are trying to sort out. One thing we do know is that we have to master the fundamentals before we jump to the next level. For us, that means connecting with readers, listening to – and learning from – them. And then we’ll figure out next steps. Thanks again! Callie

  7. February 20, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Another great post, but I might by biased since I was mentioned a couple of times!

    Striving for virtuosity is what makes us crazy CrossFitters successful, at life, at business, at anything we set our minds to. We understand that life is about action and every once in a while stepping out of our comfort zone. Once we master this, nothing can stand in our way.

    Callie, keep at it, this pursuit of elite fitness WILL change your life. You’ll also wonder where it has been your whole life..

    Steven, young or old, CrossFit is for everyone. Next time you’re in Southern California let me know, I’ll prove it too you. You might even get a tank ride out of it.

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 22, 2011 at 6:51 am

      Thanks, P.J.! Your previous comment took up permanent residence in my head: “We focus on constantly varied function movement to produce the best overall general fitness possible; why shouldn’t a pursuit for constantly varied, functional marketing work just as well?” We’re working on the fundamentals right now, but there’s more than one way to do that, which is where “constantly varied movement” comes into play. Fundamentals are the beginning, but that doesn’t mean they’re limited to a few basic steps. We’re trying to mix things up as we strengthen. Callie

  8. February 21, 2011 at 10:33 am

    This post is a great convergence for me. As a personal trainer, martial artist and performer, reading this post that includes references to Crossfit, Fight Club and art gets my heart pumping. I spent the weekend in a personal trainers conference where there were all lot of workshops on the latest fitness device and excitement about the new supplements. l spent the weekend taking courses that emphasize that the “core” and basic movement patterns are key. You cannot build a house on an unstable foundation.

    BTW, the best way to connect online with Crossfit DC is through their blog, http://www.crossfitdc.blogspot.com/. They are super nice folks that really care about creating community.

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 22, 2011 at 7:09 am

      Thanks, Jen. I went skiing this weekend and found myself thinking about fundamentals as I went down one slope in particular. The moguls were on the left and the groomed/smooth section was on the right. It’s easier to head right, but feels good to go left (especially if you get to the bottom without falling). We’d like to head left with Steve, but know that it requires mastering the fundamentals, being able to identify a line through the bumps—and how to handle the bumps—accepting that we might need to stop and take things slowly every now and then, and so on. I’ll check out the CrossFit D.C. blog. It was the D.C. office number listed for all Crossfits that I tried to contact, rather than the D.C. Crossfit location itself.

  9. February 21, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Simply awesome.

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 22, 2011 at 7:33 am

      Thanks, Jeff! Your posts continue to encourage me to think about things in a different way. The recent Crutchfield post and Crutchfield’s response post were interesting. I’ve thought about Temple Grandin, too—about keeping things simple and “eliminating anything that will cause anxiety or doubt.” It isn’t easy. At times, I still find myself distracted by shiny objects—though I know they leave me side-tracked and doubting.

  10. February 23, 2011 at 6:18 am

    It’s fantastic when my passions collide. I love CrossFit and I love Steve! Great post!

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 25, 2011 at 6:17 am

      Thanks, Luisa!

  11. February 24, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Great article. Big fan of Steve’s books. “War of Art” is one book that I always recommend to people. Looking forward to more great stuff from him and hope to see more of you in the CrossFit circles.

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 25, 2011 at 6:23 am

      Thanks for your kind words, Keith! I’m psyched to learn more about CrossFit. Everyone has been so kind and generous with their time and sharing of their CrossFit passion.

  12. February 24, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    A few years ago my friends and I had a competition in which we challenged ourselves to get in better shape and reach personal goals. We called it the Spartan 300 challenge and the prize was a hard cover copy of Gates of Fire. I loved the book so much that I decided I’d contact Steven Pressfield myself and ask him if I could mail him the copy and have him sign it. He responded and was happy to help! I did not win the competition but the right person did. I continued to have great progress in fitness, found Crossfit and recently became a level 1 coach. It’s an honor to have my achievements backed by some energy from Steven Pressfield! The time he took made a difference!

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 25, 2011 at 6:27 am

      Thanks for sharing this story, Randy. I’ve always liked that about Steve myself—generous with his time, genuine, interested in his readers. Among the nicest people I know! A shame you didn’t win the signed copy yourself. We’ll need to do something about that…

  13. Jeff Keller
    February 24, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Wow! It’s a great day when my passion (Crossfit) unexpectedly intersects with one of my favorite authors. To answer Mr. Pressfield’s question, Crossfit works hard to integrate old guys like me. Check out the Crossfit site Masters WOD. I can tell you that even though they are for Masters, these WODs are not easy.

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 25, 2011 at 6:28 am

      Thanks for sharing info. about the Masters program, Jeff. There’s a lot to explore within the CrossFit community!

  14. February 25, 2011 at 6:02 am

    Since you’re in the neighborhood Callie, why don’t you plan on coming out to the Nova Open in March/April.

    This is the Crossfit Games Quarterfinal event. We’re holding it at Patriot Crossfit in Arlington, VA.

    Jeff Tincher is coming along with his box and several others.

    More info at link in name.

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 25, 2011 at 6:37 am

      Thanks for providing the link/info. Brian. I’m going to check it out. Will look into dates a little more and touch base with you. Thanks! Callie

  15. Billy Bruka
    February 25, 2011 at 10:15 am

    Does Greg Glassman even workout? Just curious. He looks like he probably does, but with the media empire I never have seen any videos.

    Thanks,

    BB

  16. February 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Callie:

    I’m one of CrossFit’s lawyers and my boss is Coach. In fact, I was with him not more than 12 hours ago. Send me an email and I’ll get you my cell phone number. Would love to talk to you and/or Steven. I’m also a former affiliate owner and a Reserve Marine JAG. Happy to answer any questions – and, FWIW, glad you met Jeff Tincher – he’s a pillar in our community.

    Cheers,

    Dale

    • Callie Oettinger
      February 25, 2011 at 12:55 pm

      Thanks, Dale! Just shot you an e-mail. And yeah, Jeff’s amazing. REALLY AMAZING!

  17. February 25, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Callie, I sent Steve an email re: CrossFit. Please take a look and I’d be happy to help. It will be MUCH easier than you think.

  18. June 29, 2011 at 7:06 am

    Make sure you refer good friends who want aid.