One Hundred Issues of the Performance Menu Robb Wolf
WOW! I’ve written a number of technical pieces for the PM over the years, and I had some ideas along this line when Greg asked me to make a contribution to this historic issue. I love the technical pieces as I get to stretch my legs a bit intellectually and I think these efforts help to elevate the games of trainers, coaches and the curious layperson. But this time I wanted to indulge myself and talk a bit about the history of the PM and the related enterprises that have arisen in the past eight years.
The Founding of CrossFit NorCal
The “official” grand opening of CrossFit NorCal (aka NorCal Strength & Conditioning… henceforth simply “NorCal”) was on January 24th, 2004. We had a soft opening several months earlier, sharing space with NorCal Martial Arts, founded by Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and Harvard PhD. John Frankel. At the founding we were the 4th crossfit gym on the planet.
Contemplate THAT for a moment!
No ESPN, no Reebok co-sponsorship (with the occasional drunk Twitter harangues of said sponsor), just a “functional fitness” gym in a small college town, long before the Fitness Juggarnaught would seed gyms in most US towns and all across the globe. To say we had no idea what we were doing is a bit of an understatement… I had never run a business before. My then girlfriend (now wife) had an economics degree, could speak several languages, but was similarly ignorant as to how to run a successful gym. We looked to our founders for a direction on how to steer our efforts… but kindly, I can say they were not better off than we were. We did know we needed a website and one of the members of the BJJ school, Greg Everett, had not only a fair number of reasonably cool tattoos, but also was rumored to have some aptitude in doing “web” type stuff. Greg cobbled together a nice website for us, and I saw him in passing as I was also running a Capoeira school in addition to the NorCal endeavor.
It was a busy time. Classes M-F, early to late (i.e. too damn many classes for the meager number of clients we had at the time). We usually loaded up Thursday night and drove to the Crossfit Meca, Santa Cruz, to help with the then fledgling CF certs. 2-3 days later, we’d load up, drive home and get back to the gym. It was a blur, second only to the first year of having a baby.
CrossFit was growing. Not quite exponentially yet, but impressive growth. In addition to helping at the certs (and being issued the CrossFit Coaching Certificate… theoretically the equivalent of a PhD in Crossfitdom), I was contributing to the CrossFit Journal. This was fun work, but a hit and miss affair. About 70% of my submissions were adjudged to be “overly professorial” by Cf founder, Greg Glassman. This was a stumper for me as I seemed to have a solid following on the CF message board… I had a suspicion the stuff I was interested in writing about might have some import to folks beyond just disappearing into the ether as is the inevitable consequence of my message board posts. I had a lot of ideas about nutrition, intermittent fasting and training that I wanted to tackle, so I asked Coach Glassman if I could start a sister publication to the CrossFit Journal. The response was fast and cordial, “Robby, PLEASE do this. Go, Be, Achieve.”
I still have the email, which is a fascinating juxtaposition of the later commentary that and derision from CF HQ… but that’ll make for a good book at some point.
I had an idea for the initial issue to be an interview with Prof. Arthur Devany, one of my mentors and primary inspirations in the Paleo/Evolutioanry Medicine scene. Rounding this out would be a number of paleo recipes (even listing Zone blocks!) to address the “molecular basis of fitness”, AKA food. I did the interview with Art, Nicki and I had several months-worth of recipes archived… we were READY! We mucked around with some layout options for the soon to be released “Performance Menu Issue Uno” but we are hacks with stuff like this. We asked Greg if he could take a shot at the layout and what came back was… well, so much better than what Nicki and I did that it looked like the difference between a copy of Esquire and a Parent-Teacher Association flyer. We asked Greg if he wanted to be 33.333% owner in the PM, and although I generally regard him to be one of the smarter people I know, he actually agreed. We managed to snap a photo of Nicole Carol climbing a rope, so we even had a pretty kick-ass cover image.
Early To Market
I don’t toot my own horn too often, but for the sake of posterity I think it’s worth mentioning a few things we covered in the PM (or forums) that predated many name-brand people even being on the internet:
1. CrossFit blows if you do not have a strength base and or do not provide structured focus on strength development. Coach Michael Rutherford made this observation and even developed the popular Max Effort Black Box (MEBB) model. Conjugate method WSBB work + metabolic conditioning is NOT new, just effective.
2. Intermittent Fasting. I was talking about IF on the CF message board in 2002. Tinkered, fiddled, talked with Scotty Hagnas a bunch, and eventually published an article in July of 2005. This happened to be the issue in which note of memoriam appears regarding the death of my father… I ended up writing several IF articles, and expanded into the topics of hormesis/hysteresis, all while experimenting on myself and clients. What I found was that IF proved one did not need to eat 6-8 meals per day as the bodybuilding mags (or Barry Sears) would have one believe. Missing a meal ranged between inconsequential to highly beneficial depending, as always, on the person, goals and circumstances. What we DID find was constant IF, mixed with the pounding of crossfit and trying to do metabolic work with both inadequate carbs and calories was a disaster. Lifting weights + BCAAs + some walking seems to work just fine with IF; trying to set the athletic world on fire, not so much. I had a pretty thorough outline for an IF book that I subsequently scuttled as the population of folks I primarily served were not really getting benefit from the protocol.
3. I forget where I cracked this out, but around 2004-2005, I recommended adding butter/coconut oil to coffee and shaking the whole concoction up. I did miss the boat on branding this however.
4. The China Study has been a thorn in this Caveman’s side for a long time. In an effort to put that whole bag of lawn clipping to rest, I suggested that Prof. Cordain do a review of the book and we could publish it. He had an even better idea of a debate between him and T. Colin Campbell that would look at the role of protein and human disease. We paid both parties a (for the time) sizable sum to do the project. The plan was to sell the Protein Debate but when I looked at the finished product I was so impressed with the content that I felt it needed to be “free” to the world. I think that was a good idea! Some days, one must wonder.
Time marched on, things changed. Greg was itching to get out of Chico so we figured out a deal where we’d take over 100% of the gym, he’d take the PM and lead it into the future.
As I write this piece my mom is in the ICU with a really nasty case of pneumonia. She is doing a bit better, but it’s been dicey since she collapsed a few days ago. Hanging out near death has a powerful effect on highlighting what is important. Running NorCal for almost 10 years, being peripheral to the PM for nearly as long has taught me one important lesson: The people you care about are the only things that really matter. Having people in your life who are willing to take a bullet for you (as Greg has been more than willing to do for me) is too valuable to put any price tag on. Trite, obvious statements that have been commented upon previously? Yep, probably, but worth saying yet again.
In closing I’d just like to say I’m honored to have played a part in the launching of the PM. It’s damn impressive what this has grown into and I’m very excited to see where it goes over the next 100 issues.