By: Chris Keyloun
If we have taken class together, you probably (i.e. definitely) hear me say a lot of the same things when I coach; “Move well, then move fast.” “Let the weight be determined by your technique.” “Own the position and range.” The list goes on. All of my cues/sayings have a purpose. It is a simple lesson to learn, but one that many would rather overlook. The lesson is virtuosity.
This lesson, unbeknownst to me, was being engrained into my head every day by my coaches at the box where I trained. These people taught me everything I know and I am a direct product of their teaching.
Sometimes you don’t know why you do something until you read about it. Fast forward to me sitting in the coaches lounge at that very same gym. I happened to glance up at an article taped to the wall dated August 2005, “Fundamentals, Virtuosity, and Mastery,” An Open Letter to CrossFit trainers written by Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit. He uses scoring in gymnastics to explain the significance of virtuosity, and why it is what we all should be striving for.
Virtuosity in gymnastics terms is defined as, “performing the common, uncommonly well.” You can obtain a score of 9.9/10, but that last .1 of a point, showing true mastery, is what keeps you from a perfect score.
Now are we perfect? Absolutely not. The perfect athlete/human does not exist. I would also never go as far as to say I am a master of anything. I bring this idea up because the lack of understanding of this fundamental is what I believe ultimately keeps us all from progressing forward.
I am privileged to be able to coach experienced and novice athletes every day. However, both come with their challenges. Experience breeds ego, old habits die hard, and making corrections can be tough. Conversely, new athletes deal with the sheer terror of being in a gym and playing with weights, barbells, and toys they’ve never seen before. While the two camps vary in their shorts term objectives (be it hitting a ‘PR’ for an experienced athlete or learning the difference between a ‘clean’ and a ‘snatch’ for the newer athlete) their long-term objective/ goals should be the same. Everyone should be striving to master their movements.
While this might sound like some profound philosophical discourse, allow me to simplify it. You have to learn to crawl before you walk. You have to build the foundation of a house before you can build the roof. Not you ‘should’ or you ‘might,’ but you have to. This is virtuosity.
What I and countless other coaches see, as Glassman alludes to in his article, is the desire of the newer athlete, and I would argue even the experienced athlete, to want to quickly progress toward the “pretty”, dare I say “sexy” movements. Everyone wants a muscle up and a new 1 rep max clean and Jerk. But very few want or work towards perfecting their squat technique up against a wall or improving their shoulder mobility. We all want to sprint before we crawl, walk, jog etc.
Now, why is this relevant? Besides the obvious concerns of safety that comes with learning movement progressions, virtuosity ties in to your intent. I believe what starts out as a goal when we walk into Brick to lose weight or become healthier, morphs into a desire to compete against others and obtain an RX star* next to our name. I believe too often we are more concerned with hitting a time/ rep count/ weight then we are with how we are moving in the process.
I encourage you to seek out the best competitors in their field, be it CrossFit or any other athletes. Notice how they warm-up. Olympic weight lifters spend much of their warm up with an empty barbell, drilling and reinforcing technique over and over again. Olympic gymnasts work on handstand holds and pushups before hitting iron-crosses and amazing aerial routines. Those who have achieved “mastery” in their field always go back to basics. True mastery of fundamentals and foundations is how we progress.
I bring this up because we can sometimes make some magic happen in the gym. It’s one thing to miraculously get your first bar muscle-up with contorted chicken-wing arms and somehow catch a PR snatch on your toes with rounded shoulders. It’s another thing to make those moves and weights consistent with sound technique. As I coach, I am more impressed by a perfect pushup on the floor and a perfect empty bar snatch than I am with advanced movements performed poorly.
My intent is not to bruise egos or put anyone in their place. Rather, no matter what skill-level athlete you are, I highlight this lesson with the hopes of you making improvements. I truly love what I do because I get to witness human perseverance and drive every day. I also care about you, whether we have had class together or not. I believe that if you take class at Brick or wherever you work out, you are making a conscious effort to improve yourself. That is the hardest lesson of all to learn. By choosing to better yourself, I owe it to you to give you every tool you need to improve.
So, work on your mobility. Do your wall squats. Hang from the pullup bar. Perfect your kip swing. The list goes on. I promise, when these movements, that may seem trivial, become like second nature, you will see real progress.
I’ll leave you with the quote that ends Coach Glassman’s article. “But good enough never is, and we want that last tenth of a point, the whole 10.0. We want virtuosity!!”
See you at the gym!