In Which I Review CrossFit’s Gideon Bible

Today in the New York Times, I review J.C. Herz’s new book, Learning to Breathe Fire, a celebration of a controversial workout called CrossFit. As I write in the review, “What makes CrossFit appealing to members and confusing to outsiders is that it’s more than a workout — it’s a cultural identity.” Herz’s book makes it clear that the push until it hurts culture that critics consider dangerous is exactly what makes this workout so appealing to its adherents. Read the review here.

 

Kids who aspire to pro sports need more play, less practice

Expensive sports camps and intensive practices and team competitions for young kids are becoming more and more common. Efforts to corral children into highly focused sports programs often arise from good intentions, yet research suggests that kids who specialize in a single sport when they’re young risk injury and burnout but don’t improve their odds of attaining an elite sports career. In most cases, giving kids more time for unstructured play and a chance to sample a wide array of athletic pursuits provides a better recipe for success.

Read more of my latest Washington Post, column: Too much practice and specialization can hurt instead of help child athletes.

This column has a sidebar: Is 10,000 hours magic or not?

 

Does CrossFit push people too hard?

It seems as though nearly everyone who has heard of CrossFit has an opinion about it — even people who have never tried it. Aficionados claim that this brand of high-intensity workouts is a fast and fun way to get fit. Critics say that it’s a fast track to injury.

Read more of my latest Washington Post column here. 

 

The Value of College Sports

CUnatChampsAs I’ve followed the NCAA basketball tournament (join me and some folks from Radiolab tonight, as we live tweet the final game), I’ve been thinking about the value of collegiate sports. My first experience with sports in college came as an NCAA division I cross-country runner. I lettered in cross-country at the University of Colorado my freshman year, but a freak knee injury cut short my collegiate running career. Though I had no experience in the sport, I started training with my school’s Nordic ski team, and I also bought a bike and joined the cycling team.

Cross-country and skiing were both division I, NCAA sports, but cycling was governed by its own body, outside of the NCAA system, and was overseen by club sports, rather than CU’s varsity athletic program. The difference was immediately noticeable. As a varsity NCAA athlete, I received special treatment — advance, preferential registration for classes, private tutoring if I needed it, and excused time from class to attend practice and meets, not to mention free tickets to all sporting events. This special treatment fostered a sense of privilege. We were part of the student body, but we were treated as if we were somehow above it.

My teammates and I were good students, and we were there to get a degree, we didn’t expect to make a profession out of sport. Nevertheless, as varsity athletes, we understood that performance was expected of us. Our sport was no hobby — we were there to win.

Things were different on the cycling team. My teammates and I were no less devoted to our sport, and our coaches were every bit as enthusiastic as those in the division I sports. But we didn’t have the same sense of entitlement or expectation. We were pursuing the thing we loved and didn’t assume that our classmates would share our reverence for our sport. The school wasn’t pressuring us for results; it was us who created the expectations.

We were national champions my senior year, and we didn’t need the school’s adoration to enjoy the thrill of victory. We were pursuing the sport for its own sake and had won because we’d worked hard and our luck had aligned, as it must to win a championship. Our victory wasn’t the result of financial incentives that allowed us to recruit a winning team from afar. Instead, we’d pulled together a championship team through happenstance and training. Sure, we had plenty of talent (one of my teammates would go on to become a Tour de France stage winner and infamous doper), but the riders on our team had come to CU for school, not to prep for pro sports. The opportunity to race bikes in Boulder was an attractive reason to attend this particular school, not the sole reason for being there.

Read the rest at Last Word On Nothing.

 

Run Yourself Smarter: How exercise boosts your brain

Run Yourself Smarter: How exercise boosts your brain
New Scientist, November 15, 2013
pdf here: Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

The latest science on exercise and the brain suggests that exercise isn’t an enhancer of normal cognition, it’s a necessary condition. Physical activity has been show to improve brain health across every stage of life.

The Molester and Me

The Molester and Me
My high school coach was like a dad to me, until he abused my teammate and violated us all.
Slate, June 7, 2013

Excerpt:

For a moment, I felt paralyzed. This can’t be true, my body said, even as my mind could not deny that it was. My initial grief gave way to rage. I’d trusted Coach, and he’d betrayed me, betrayed all of us. He didn’t care about me at all.

Read the rest at Slate: The Molester and Me

Washington Post: Do Bike Helmet Laws Really Save People?

Do bike helmet laws really save people?
Washington Post, June 3, 2013

Excerpt:

Mandatory helmet laws, like one brought up in the Maryland legislature this winter, might seem like a no-brainer. Yet when the medical journal BMJ polled its readers in 2011, 68 percent of the respondents opposed mandatory helmet laws. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) also opposes mandatory helmet laws, and its members testified againstMaryland House Bill 339, which never made it out of committee before the legislative session ended in April.

Proponents of helmet laws say that they reduce injuries. But evidence for this claim remains mixed.

Read the rest at the Washington Post: Do bike helmet laws really save people?

Athletes, Stop Taking Supplements

Athletes, Stop Taking Supplements
They’re expensive, they don’t improve performance, and they might make you test positive for dope.
Slate, July 26, 2012

Excerpt:

Hardy is among a growing number of athletes who have traced a positive doping test back to a tainted supplement. Swimmer Kicker Vencill and cyclists Flavia Oliveira andScott Moninger (an acquaintance of mine), also tested positive after taking supplements, and 400-meter gold medalist LaShawn Merritt linked his positive dope test to a product called Extenz that he picked up at 7-Eleven. The problem is so prevalent that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has developed an educational campaign for athletes, called Supplements 411.

Supplements are risky thanks in part to a piece of legislation passed in 1994 called the Dietary Supplements and Health Education Act. The DSHEA essentially deregulated dietary supplements, including vitamins, herbs, protein shake mixes, nutritional supplements, and other powders and pills that millions of people of all levels of athletic ability might take to improve their health. Most people assume that if a product is available on store shelves, it must be OK. But supplements are not required to be evaluated or proven safe or effective before they’re sold. New rules finalized in 2007 gave the FDA power to regulate the manufacturing and packaging of supplements, but the agency’s ability to police supplement companies remains limited by DSHEA. Its chief author and most powerful advocate is Sen. Orrin Hatch, whose home state of Utah is home to much of the U.S. supplement industry. Hatch, who attributes his good health to the supplements he takes each day, fought a recent amendment to increase the FDA’s ability to regulate the industry.

Read the rest at Slate: Athletes, Stop Taking Supplements

Who is the Real Lance Armstrong?

Excerpt:
The fight with his many opponents for his image, his integrity, his character would be every bit as difficult as the Tour de France, but he would win. Lance Armstrong always wins.
HONEST LANCE was eager to return to the peloton. He’d tasted victory in the Tour de France, he’d won stages in 1993 and 1996, and 1999 was his chance to wear yellow. When he stood on the Tour podium, he’d be standing up for every person who’d ever heard the words, “You have cancer.” He would show the world that it was possible to beat cancer—and also the world’s best cyclists in the sport’s most difficult race. Continue reading “Who is the Real Lance Armstrong?”

New Scientist: Gene Dopers

Gene Cheats

Drug scandals in sport would be nothing compared to the potential for genetic engineering to create “super-athletes”. Christie Aschwanden investigates

New Scientist, January 15, 2000.

This appears to be the first media report about gene doping — genetic engineering to enhance athletic performance.

New York Times: Why have recent triathlon deaths occured during the swim portion?

Deaths Draw Attention to Triathlon Swim
While triathlon deaths remain rare, a puzzling resemblance is beginning to present itself: all recorded deaths in the last two years have happened during the swim portion of the event.
The New York Times, July 31, 2008

Bicycling: Do you believe? When our sporting heroes are accused of cheating, how do we choose sides?

Do You Believe?
When it comes to Tyler Hamilton, the most contentious–and, perhaps, most important–question isn’t if he’s guilty or innocent of doping, but why each of us has chosen a side.
Bicycling, November 2007

*It wasn’t a finalist, but this story was nominated for a national magazine award in 2008