History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 63

Posted by in Dr Ken Leistner on July 1, 2014 Comments off

Logic, Equipment, CrossFit (and that is a trademarked name)! One More Time For “The Other Side”


Of the many responses that were evoked by last month’s article that focused upon the CrossFit phenomenon sweeping the nation if not the world, one of the brief but insightful comments I received was, “NOT SCATHING, NOT DISRESPECTFUL, JUST ONE MAN’S OPINION I DISAGREE WITH.” That of course is fair as everyone, including me, is entitled to an opinion. Titan and I received a lot of comments regarding last month’s article on CrossFit, indicating that even for the powerlifting community, it is a big deal. As everyone who knows me understands, I have been molded, and perhaps scarred, by my upbringing, some of which was done in what I usually refer to as an immigrant Polish household. “I started at the Home For Unwed Mothers in Amityville, New York and then was taken in by the dopey Polacks” is my standard description of life. My grandparents spoke Polish, as expected, having emigrated from Poland, and cooked Polish. In the neighborhood and in others of skewed ethnic origin that I lived in over the decades, the English language as we know it was altered, butchered, and ultimately utilized to present very clear and concise meaning while not coming close to English or Literature class approval. Years ago in one of my articles I noted that respects were paid when “Old Walter was burialized.” A word or term that was rarely attempted in our circle was bona fides and when it was, it was usually one of the wise guys trying to sound “intellettual” as we would put it. Even when the mispronunciation came out as “bone-a-fydz” we all “got it” and knew that someone was vouching for another and the fact that they could be counted upon to get a specific task done, and had “the stuff” to get it done.


He’s done it all on the lifting front and it has allowed him to be very successful in maintaining a strong, youthful physique and tremendous energy levels that propel him through 90 hour work weeks. He’s lifted very heavy weights, incorporated a variety of modalities through decades of consistent training, and has continued to train with me and at a Manhattan CrossFit facility as his schedule allows. While, as noted, I received a lot of comment on last month’s Titan article, I specifically requested that Mike provide his own insights and these follow below.

“I have lived with the philosophy and ethos of your guidance for over 30 years now, and have been uniquely benefited by it. And of course I agree completely with all the foundations of fitness expressed.

Crossfit, like so many aspects of life, has gross imperfections. Chief among them are overtraining and risk of injury from inadequate supervision, complex movements, and mistakes made under exhaustion.

That said, I have witnessed its ability to create a “community” for large groups of people which serves to engage and motivate them like no other modality I have ever experienced. And perhaps most importantly, a sage once said, “People just don’t understand how hard one has to work to effect change” (stop me when this sounds familiar…..) [author’s note: the quote is mine!] . Crossfit, with it’s competitive/supportive environment and high intensity approach, incorporating a variety of movements and protocols, provides a uniquely inspirational environment for the trainee who does not have a Dr. Ken & Kathy, and does not have the personal background or capacity to train on their own at a similar level of commitment. Compared with what I have regularly witnessed at the Equinox and other gyms in NY, it is light years ahead and closer to what I believe we all embrace as the correct approach.

I miss 20 rep squats, Hussefeld stone carry, chain drag, warrior press, etc. But I doubt most people would understand what we do with you, yet they work very hard in the Crossfit environment. So I am glad for the “realism” I see from that level of commitment. I am not a big fan of half-assed effort and poseurs…..

As I mentioned after I met Greg Glassman, the founder of Crossfit, he totally gets the foundations of your beliefs and approach.

one trainers, is appalling. You enjoy a unique, idyllic environment in your facilities, and in the rarefied air of the elite training organizations where you have lectured, etc. The great sea of mediocrity I deal with every day is unnerving at best. So, during my “penance” here in NYC, I take small comfort from environments where people actually seem sincere and generally work hard.”

Allow me to add an additional comment from Mike Burgener. For those who have been out of touch from the legitimate world of lifting activity, Mike played football at Notre Dame and we first met in the late 1960’s while we both were visiting California to experience the training environment of the gyms we had read about in the muscle magazines.


Before he was “Coach Mike” Mr. Burgener was one of those football players talented enough to play under the leadership of Notre Dame’s great head coach Ara Parseghian

I finished playing football and my education and returned to New York. Mike finished and returned to California where he became a revered Olympic lifting coach and educator. Arguably, he has been the best Olympic weightlifting coach in the United States for decades. He was also one of the early advocates and what I will term “foundational members” of CrossFit activity. Two comments he sent to me can be incorporated with those above from Mike Senft:

I am proud to be part of the crossfit community and the coach that teaches proper form and technique of the Olympic lifts.

Coach b

And another, made after reading Mike Senft’s comments:

Enjoyed mike’s comments and share the same beliefs. We all fight improper technique, poor planning, non recovery….BUT WE CAN, we do, we have…..done it the correct way and the results speak for themselves!

Thanks ken for your leadership!



The commentary of Mike S. and Mike B. reinforce my opinion of CrossFit and highlight the problems as well as the positives. If Mike Burgener was teaching the Olympic weightlifting movements that are incorporated into most if not all CrossFit programs (I will repeat that I do not claim expertise regarding their system of training), the movements would be done correctly and as safely as possible. My “complaint” was made vis-à-vis the original Nautilus concepts and opening of Nautilus only fitness sites. I made the analogy to early Nautilus based training where a lack of competent, complete, and correct instruction resulted in many injuries and the participation of many who were either not ready for the type of intense training Nautilus offered, or who were not properly “fitted” to the equipment. I am in support of anything that allows individuals to enhance their levels of strength, health, and fitness. Nautilus based and Nautilus only training did that for those whose medical, orthopedic, and training history insured that they were ready for it. For those who were not, the “one size fits all” training routine presented significant health and orthopedic challenges. For those not instructed properly, the potential dangers and risk of injury were enhanced. Objective observation and comment from colleagues in the health care professions I believe supports my position. In a further comment from Mike Senft, he summed up my primary concern or criticism of the CrossFit phenomenon, and as a health care professional as well as a physical fitness and strength devotee, it remains the most meaningful:

“I would only note that, while I am perhaps uniquely driven and motivated by average standards, I benefit just as much or more from your coaching, guidance and governance than a less applied trainee. I gain both technical guidance and great perspective that is crucial to my progress. Crossfit suffers from an uneven consideration of workload and individual output and recovery capacity in many of its more intense ‘wods’ (workouts of the day), which, along with lack of critical supervision, can put the trainee at risk both during the session and over time. You have ALWAYS had a ‘sixth sense’ about my condition at the start of any session, and have then guided me to my ‘edge’ for the day, rather than set an arbitrary goal regardless of current conditions.”

I am respectful of Mike Senft’s comments because he has done it all relative to pushing himself to excel physically and intellectually. “Mental toughness” is a daily component of everything Mike does and we have joked that he is so intense that we would not want to witness any “psyching up routine” that might precede romantic activity with his beautiful wife! Re-reading his very passionate yet well considered statements notes what is very positive about CrossFit and again, there are similarities to what became available and the wholesale change in the fitness and strength building industry with the 1970 – 1971 introduction of Nautilus equipment. I will repeat that with the type of instruction and supervision provided by a coach at the level of Mike Burgener, the general criticisms and mine in particular, would not be directed at the CrossFit groundswell.