Blogcast #6

It's been a while but I came across something today that I really wanted to share with you all.  The fact that it comes from another CrossFit OG and good friend of ours is also very cool.

The second part is from Kris Caswell.  Particularly funny if you've ever had to tolerate a slightly better than average guy or girl who is convinced that he's being selected by a strong Affiliate to join their Competition Team.  All good until he realizes that he doesn't actually measure up when the pond gets a little bigger.  Then he never CrossFit(s) again.

If you subscribe to the CrossFit Journal you may have already read this.  If you don't subscribe you really should.  It's the best $5 you'll ever spend.  At lease that's what it was the last time I checked.

Anyway, the article is about toxic personalities in your Box.

Doug Chapman has seen it all: stalking, rudeness, willful ignorance.

There are many reasons he’s asked clients to leave his affiliate, CrossFit Ann Arbor in Michigan. And since opening the gym in 2005, he’s come to recognize the red flags early.

“When they’re non-compliant for instruction to a class,” Chapman said dryly. “Basically you know when you’re organizing a class … and somebody’s off doing their own thing, talking—it’s disrespectful.”

He added: “It basically detracts from the class, the learning process for everybody.”

When newcomers arrive, Chapman advises his team of coaches to vet them for a good fit.

“People come in with all kinds of goals and ideas of what they expect, but if it doesn’t match, you need to redirect them away from you,” he advised.

It’s something nearly every affiliate owner has encountered: Firing a client. Although unpleasant, owners said, it’s necessary for the vitality of your box.

“I hate to see money walk out the door, but I had some people I got rid of in the winter time and I’m just so happy that their negativity is out of my gym,” Chapman said. “Your company is essentially what you are. If we’re not all going in the same direction, get off the bus.”

Warning Signs

He calls them “The Gamers”— athletes focused on competition. “They want the special treatment,” said Kris Caswell, owner of CrossFit Ambition in New York.

In particular, he recalled one athlete—decent, but not great— who wanted to qualify for the CrossFit Games.

“It’s hard to tell someone, ‘You’re not going to the CrossFit Games,’” Caswell recounted.

Caswell pointed him toward local competitions and gave him additional programming.

“Then, at some point, this athlete was all of a sudden going from around the top of the whiteboard to right at the top of the whiteboard.”

It turned out he was cheating. On one occasion, the athlete padded his Fight Gone Bad score with 30 reps he didn’t perform, Caswell said.

“Every workout, I counted. Still wrong. Still wrong.”

When Caswell would confront the athlete about it, the response was nearly always the same: “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll redo the workout.”

He wasn’t just dishonest. He and The Gamers did separate workouts during class time and interrupted Caswell while he was coaching others to ask him questions about their programming.

Eventually, The Gamers left CrossFit Ambition.

“They decided to leave on their own after I stopped giving them programming and extra attention,” Caswell said.

He felt disappointed but not regretful.

“They’re not my moneymakers for my gym, and they’re consuming a lot of my time.”

For Peter Haas, the biggest red flag is an athlete’s disconnecting from the community, becoming “uncoachable.”

“Don’t be a prima donna. Don’t be a special snowflake,” said the owner of CrossFit Downtown Winston in North Carolina. “What makes you so much more important than this community that you’re coming into and I’m trying to take care of?”

"What makes you so much more important than this community that you’re coming into?"

-Peter Haas

As an affiliate owner, Haas said he’s constantly trying to create his perfect world.

“If that person’s not really fitting into it and they’re compromising that, then we need to have a conversation.”

At CrossFit Rochester in New York, owner Joe Celso has handled a few members who didn’t seem to like his programming.

“One lady—she was constantly stepping up, ‘We should be doing this,’ ‘We shouldn’t do that’ and constantly questioning,” Celso remembered.

One day, he’d had enough and told her so during a group class. “‘At the end of the day, this is what we’re doing, and if you don’t like it, you won’t work out here,’” Celso recalled telling her. “She came back the very next day and apologized.”

Although the indicators aren’t always so obvious, Jocelyn Rylee said when you know, you know.

“If I consistently see someone who signed in and I’m kind of like, ‘Ugh,’ that’s the first sign,” said the owner of CrossFit Brio in Canada.

Action Plan

Affiliate owners said they’ve learned their lessons over the years. These days, they handle problem clients before they become problem clients.

Celso has prospective new members do a one-week free trial. Caswell borrowed a page from CrossFit VB in Virginia with a so-called “no-asshole clause” included in his waiver. Haas has an earnest talk the moment the athlete enters the premises. And Rylee schools members on the gym’s two principles: The Bill and Ted Principle—be excellent to each other—and The Grandma Principle—make good choices.

“Anybody we’d ever had to ask to leave, they haven’t followed one of those two (principles),” Rylee noted.

If you end up with a jerk at your gym, affiliate owners had the same advice: Handle the problem right away.

“Set expectations early and own your box,” Celso advised. “You gotta be the owner of it and that’s really it. You can’t be afraid to tell people when they’re wrong or whether they’re off base or whether you think they’re being disruptive.”

He continued: “I don’t care how much you think you need a customer, if it’s the wrong customer, it’s the wrong customer. It’s not a retail thing. You’re developing relationships with these people. Be the owner. Stand your ground.”

Haas takes a two-part approach: the come-to-Jesus talk, which he also calls Dr. Jekyll, and the follow-up conversation—Mr. Hyde.

“You’re trying to change this situation. You’re trying to help them. You’re trying to coach them,” he explained. “If you go from there and everything changes … beautiful. We’re great. If it doesn’t, that’s where (Mr. Hyde) comes in.”

It’s never worth it to tolerate a negative person, Haas added.

“If you are just sitting there and you are obviously just taking shit from this person and other people are seeing that, that just undermines your entire process,” he said. “You need to be confident with what you do as a coach, what you offer, how you help people, how you change people’s lives. … If this person is not a good fit, then I need to go out and find other people who are a good fit.”

Rylee said it more plainly.

“I don’t need your $150 a month to put up with you.”

Her advice?

“Be really careful to pick out those bad apples or try to deal with them,” she said. “It doesn’t take more than one person being really negative to set the whole vibe of everyone being very negative.”

Or worse: A prospective new member never returns because of one jerk.

“Others will leave because people are douchebags,” Chapman said. “Don’t serve them. Discrimination applies to race, sexual orientation, everything like that; it doesn’t apply to douche or not.”

About the Author: Andréa Maria Cecil is assistant managing editor and head writer of the CrossFit Journal.

Cover image: Mike Warkentin/CrossFit Journal

Mike Pietragallo
Blogcast #5

Building a Community

Jenn and I have been CrossFitting since the summer of 2004.  I was deployed to Iraq and I’d shop online and call home to see what had been delivered for our Garage Gym.  Our patio had an 8′ Wallball Target for her and the biggest tree in our back yard had a climbing rope tied to it.  On my first trip home from Iraq we talked about opening an Affiliate.  About two days later we did.  We may have been the only Affiliate at that time who leased a space, fully equipped it (we even designed and built our own Pull-up Rig since Rogue was just being born at that same time and local welders here were completely befuddled as to what I was showing them on my legal pad/sketch book) who didn’t have a membership.
We opened CrossFit Pittsburgh in September of 2006.  We were freshly pained, newly equipped and ready ready to go.  If it was possible to actually weigh enthusiasm we had a ton of it.  The only thing we didn’t have were members.  Actually, that’s not true.  Right before we opened I did a very primitive yahoo based Blog that attracted a young, just out of the Pittsburgh Fire Academy, man named Toby.  He was our Athlete Zero.
In October of 2006 we flew to Boston and attended our first L1 at Neal Thompson’s CrossFit Boston.  Back then Coach Glassman did the L1(s) in person.  The first person to greet us when we arrived was Tony Budding who would later go on to start the National Pro Grid League.  He came over and introduced himself and said “Greg can’t wait to meet you” and off we went to meet Greg Glassman.  The welcome we received from everyone was amazing and genuine. The lectures were riveting and if you ever had the chance to hear Greg speak in person I think you’d agree.  Our first L1 was a Who’s Who of future CrossFit personalities but what struck me the most was how genuine it was.  Jenn and I were able to sit with Greg  Amundson at lunch on Day 1.  For those of you who don’t know him, Greg is THE original Firebreather.  He is also one of the most humble, gracious men I’ve ever met.  Jon Gilson who would later go on to start Again Faster was in my heat for Fran.  The list truly goes on and on.
Looking back at that first L1 the single thing that struck me the most was the feeling of community.  That same feeling was what Jenn and I brought back with us and reaffirmed when we set out to become an Affiliate.
Over the past 10 years we’ve had a lot of people come and go.  Many of them have chosen to stay with us.  Some of those who have chosen to leave did so because CrossFit “wasn’t for them.”  Of that number I have to say in all honesty, if you’re not getting what you want out of this program then you should leave.  It’s too hard to keep coming back if you don’t feel the reward.  For those of you who find it too much of a challenge and disguise it as “I’m going to concentrate on fill-in-the-blank” don’t kid yourselves.  It’s just too hard for you.  For those who have stayed and become a part of our community ask yourselves why you did.  We’ve recently begun a re-fit at the Box. The last two weeks have been labor intensive but through it all we’ve had Coaches and Athletes give up hours of their weekends to stay with us and get dirty setting up what’s going to be the finest Box in Pittsburgh.  Why?  Why do you give up that much of your time for the benefit of another person, group, etc?  You do it because you recognize the value of that community and you’re proud to be a part of it.  That’s it.  That’s all it is.
I would like to give the most sincere Thank You to all of you who’ve given up your Saturday(s) to make our community better.


Mike Pietragallo
Blogcast #4

On Cheating

Good Morning CrossFit Pittsburgh.
I hope you’re enjoying my Blogcasts so far.  I’m not even sure if that’s a real word or even a real thing but if it wasn’t before it is now.  My purpose it to hopefully pass on some knowledge that I’ve picked up over the years.  I want to pass on that knowledge, share it with you and watch you do something with it.  Like we coach you at the Box so you can finally get a lift or a pull-up or a double under, I’m hoping that I can pass on something here that may be of some use to you somewhere?
Regardless of how long you’ve been a part of our community I hope you understand that the main component, the #1 item on your list of what “do I need most to CrossFit?” isn’t something from the Reebok line and it isn’t something you can get from Rogue.  That one item that you need most, I think, is Heart.  The kind of Heart that fuels your desire to wake up at Zero Dark Thirty and get to the Box for the first WOD of the day when most people are still in bed.  It’s the same Heart that makes it possible for you to finish dead last most of the time and care more about how your score compared to the same WOD the last time you did it than where you finished among your classmates.  That’s it.  That’s all it is.
So, what are we going to read about today?
Today I’d like to discuss a topic that rears it’s Butt-Ugly head from time to time.  When I laid out my topics for the upcoming year this one was high on my list of priorities and I knew that I had read a great article in the Journal* over the summer so I’d like to share that with you now.
The subject is cheating.
An Open Letter to Cheaters
By Mike Warkentin
“Admit it: You’ve shaved a rep.
Maybe you’ve even shaved entire rounds off workouts. You might have even lied about loads or times.
Guess what: Your coach noticed. And so did the other people in the class.
Thankfully, cheaters are relatively rare in CrossFit, perhaps because “so much of repugnant behavior is about trying to get something for nothing, and the CrossFitters inherently don’t believe that it’s possible,” as CrossFit Founder and CEO Greg Glassman said in 2009.
But physical suffering can erode loosely rooted morality, and we all know cheaters exist. By bending or breaking the rules, you can reduce or end the pain and perhaps take a whiteboard win, which can be very tempting when a grueling workout demands everything you have and some things you don’t. All athletes have come face to face with the moral dilemma of the 145th wall-ball shot that didn’t quite hit the line during Karen. A choice must be made at that point, and it’s sometimes hard to make the right one. But everyone in the community expects you to man and woman up by replacing the short shot with a good rep.
Coaches most definitely understand that sometimes you forget which round you’re in. It happens. We know that sometimes you accidentally write the wrong load or time on the whiteboard because your brain isn’t functioning correctly after a screaming match with Fran. We’re aware that you can’t always tell if you squatted below parallel exactly 300 times during Cindy. These are honest mistakes made by honest people.
But some athletes cheat. On purpose. Regularly.
And when you cheat, it is most assuredly noticed.
*If you’re not familiar with the CrossFit Journal you should really check it out.  I remember when we used to get it in PDF form, print it up and leave them all over the Box for our Athletes.  Now it’s a slick, online resource that covers a wide range of material relevant to our community.

Only you know if your chest touched the floor.
Maybe your dishonesty wasn’t noticed right away, and maybe you didn’t hear the discussion after you put your score on the board and left. But eventually your peers and your trainers figured you out. It doesn’t take too many “weren’t you ahead of him?” conversations to solve the mystery without the crime lab.
Here’s some info: Facebook hosts a group for CrossFit affiliate owners, and it’s almost 10,000 strong. In that group, trainers discuss all sorts of things, from cleaning gym mats to teaching muscle-ups. Despite the overwhelmingly large number of honest people in any gym, you usually don’t have to scroll very far to see a post like this: “An athlete at my gym is cheating, and members and coaches are starting to complain. It’s ruining the atmosphere. What do I do?”
Let it be said again: If you cheat, your coach noticed. You have fooled no one.

Adrian “Boz” Bozman didn’t see your shallow squat, but he knows about it, and he’s disappointed.
How did your coach catch you? Coaches know approximately how long it takes to complete certain workouts. Coaches also know your current abilities and level of fitness. When an athlete posts a score outside the expected range, a coach notices. That score might mean an athlete suddenly had a breakthrough—like Awkward Dude’s legendary set of 50 unbroken double-unders that came from nowhere and cut a full 10 minutes off his Filthy Fifty time. But in general, athlete progression follows a pattern any coach can see, and anomalies stand out. Big time.
Coaches also know how long it takes to do 21 thrusters, for example. It’s just an ability we’ve acquired after watching 2 million reps. Beyond that, we know every movement has a maximum cycle time. Even Ben Smith can only go so fast. When you’re working through 30 wall-ball shots to 10 ft. and you roll on to the next movement after 35 seconds, alarm bells go off in our heads because physics won’t allow that time. We’ve also coached three classes in a row, so we know that your rest break couldn’t possibly allow you to beat the guy who went unbroken two hours ago.
We sense disturbances in The Force, young Jedi.
Further, competitive athletes always count each other’s reps, either by absentminded habit, as a spot check or as part of an attempt to game your time and beat your ass. If you’re training at the end of the 5-p.m. class, it’s guaranteed your reps are being counted by a rival who arrived for the session at 6. Believe it, and rest assured that someone noticed your set of 17 kettlebell swings in the final round of Helen.
Some coaches attack the problem head on and simply tell athletes their scores aren’t correct. This, of course, addresses the issue but often leads to emphatic denials, arguments and bad feelings. Other coaches soft-sell it by questioning the athlete to see if the correct score was written on the board, which often leads to resentment and bad feelings. Some coaches ignore the issue because the athlete is ultimately cheating only him- or herself, but this, too, leads to bad feelings in members who note injustice on the leaderboard. Some coaches stand beside suspicious athletes and count their reps out loud, which usually leads to bad feelings and a lack of attention paid to other clients in the class.The obvious point is that cheating causes bad feelings. You’re breaking the contract that binds all members of the community: We put a number on the board, you do that many reps, then you tell us how long it took. Accept a high five and have a protein shake. Same time tomorrow.Yes, the final inch matters a great deal.
But some people cheat. They cheat because they’re lazy, they cheat because they want to win, they cheat because they lack moral character and don’t see the problem, they cheat because they’re embarrassed about their current fitness level, and so on. The reasons are endless—and they’re all bullshit.So let it be said once more: We all notice when you cheat. And we want you to stop.”
About the Author: Mike Warkentin is the managing editor of the CrossFit Journal and the founder of CrossFit 204.

Mike Pietragallo
Blogcast #3

The Pursuit of Excellence

Lately I’ve been looking back at my 10 year journey as an Affiliate owner and at my 12 years as a CrossFitter. I remember vividly my first CrossFit experience on a deployment to Iraq in 2004.
It started with me complaining to one of my Team mates over lunch. I was actually bitching about my current training and citing the shortfalls I had been noticing; more frequent injuries, usually minor annoyances but they were certainly more frequent. The workouts were taking longer to complete but the results were harder and harder to achieve. The workouts themselves all seemed to be melding into one large pile of the same stuff I had been doing only on “repeat.” It was what comes from routine and the boredom that it brings with it. M-W-F = lift.  Chest and Tris.  Back and Bis.  Legs and Shoulders. Abs every day. T-H-S = cardio. Long, Slow Cardio.
I had run head first into the Diminishing Return Zone and I got stuck there.
My team mate asked if I had ever heard of CrossFit. I told him that I hadn’t so he suggested that I check it out. Later that day I logged on to For those of you who remember the old CrossFit Main site you can appreciate this part a bit more than the NKOTB. The WOD posted for that day looked like this:
Deadlift 1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1
That was it.
My first reaction was “why the fuck would I do that?” I thought, “I’m not a Powerlifter, I don’t want to be one. I don’t play a sport where I need that kind of strength* AND what about Bis, Tris, Delts, blah, blah, blah…”
Long story short I was intrigued so with little to no knowledge and none of the resources available then like there are now, I referenced everything I could find about Deadlifts and after a thorough warm-up at lighter weights I hit the rep scheme laid out on the site. By the next day the only way I could describe how I felt was to say that I hit every muscle group in my body.  Hard.  The muscles in my feet hurt. My arms felt like I had done an arm workout, curls, reverse curls, dumbell curls and all that other bullshit.  I didn’t know what to call it then but my posterior chain was smoked. My abs were sore. My rear Delts felt like I had done multiple sets of bent over dumbell raises. I was fascinated.  I couldn’t walk right but I was fascinated.
While the gym at the Presidential Palace (the location of the interim US Embassy in Baghdad) was very well equipped it was a conventional gym. One Pull-up bar located on the cross member of the cable cross-over. It was so high up I had to jump to reach it. There were no Plyo Boxes there at the time because no one really used them in conventional training. I didn’t Kip. We were never allowed to in the Navy so I never learned. No bumper plates. No Kettlebells. No AbMats. But guess what? I followed all the Main Site Blog posts and trained anyway.
Why am I boring you with my personal CrossFit Journey? Because if I could learn it and work it with ZERO guidance other than what I was able to get from the original Main Site imagine what you can do under proper guidance from a Coach at a proper CrossFit Box?
As Coaches we strive for what we refer to in the community as Virtuosity. We want to be the best Coach, teacher, trainer, CrossFit athlete we can be. For no other reason than the purity of our sport alone. If you didn’t know, our sport is Fitness. Part of our journey to become better Coaches is to make you better as well.
In a lecture that he gave to a gathering of Affiliate owners years ago Greg Glassman shared a story about one of the things he asked his new clients to do when they began training. He asked them for five things that they thought would make them better. He asked them to write them down and seal them in a plain white envelope. Then he told them that six months later they would open that envelope and he guaranteed that they will have become “better” at every item on that list.
My challenge to you is to do the same thing. Right now. Write up a list of five things that you want to be better at. I’m not just talking about training either. Literally anything. Write it down and see what happens. You’ll be pleased. I promise you.
*This will be the subject of another Blogcast.


Mike Pietragallo
Blogcast #2

So What’s Your Excuse?

After 10 years as an Affiliate it’s safe to say that I’ve heard a lot of excuses.  It’s also safe to say that in spite of desperate pleas from my beautiful wife and many a great Coach here at CrossFit Pittsburgh I have always turned a deaf ear toward them.
My philosophy has been very simple; I’ll do whatever I can to help you achieve your goal but I can’t make you want to do it.  I’ll provide the facility, the equipment, the motivation, the best Coaches.  I’ll amuse you with countless anecdotes of WODs gone by.  I’ll train with you and share my victories and my defeats.  I’ll do all that but I still haven’t figured out how to make you want to be a better version of you.
Here is some of the Bull Snarkey I’ve heard over the last decade:
    1    “This was great, CrossFit is great, you guys are great but I want to get strong.”  Translation; MetCon is too hard and when I’m only lifting I can move nice and slow and I don’t have to break a sweat.  Several years ago there was a young man who trained with us.  Nice guy but dumb as a stump.  Coincidentally he was in the process of applying for the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.  This guy actually said to me one day, “Yeah, I come here to get fit but I go to my other gym to get strong.”  He not only failed himself on the road to fitness but never made it into the USMC either.  Conversely, our Bro and former CFPgh Coach Andrew was a Firebreather AND did become a United States Marine.
    2    “I just don’t have time.”  Oh I see, you’re that girl or guy.  The one who’s so much more important than everyone else, who’s just so much more in demand that they can’t make it work.  Bullshit.  The Lord has Blessed all of us with the same 24 hours in a day.  I’m an old man compared to most of you and I’ve been up at 0445 training my first WOD at 0500 so I can help get my kids to school, go to work then hit my second WOD at lunch time or after my day is done, whatever time that may be.  If I can do it you can too.  I recently had an individual write me to cancel her membership with this excuse.  “I can’t make it to the afternoon classes anymore I need to find a gym with a 6:00 or 6:30am workout.”  After I canceled  her membership my reply was simple, “The 5:30am doesn’t work for you?”  I’m hard pressed to believe that a 30 minute block at that time of the day made a difference.  Reluctance to say “this is too hard” is what makes the difference.
    3    “I’m not ready for CrossFit.  I have to get in shape first.”  If you think like that you’ll never be ready.  Play it out.  I’m going to join a gym, hire a Personal Trainer and work for six weeks to get ready for CrossFit.  I will guarantee you’ll attend your first WOD, get smoked and be totally bummed out that you’re STILL “not in shape” for CrossFit.  You know how to get in shape for CrossFit?  DO CrossFit.
    4    “My Doctor told me I have to stop CrossFit.”  Get a new Doctor.
    5    “CrossFit is too intense.” -OR- “You could get hurt if you do those movements wrong.”  If you have a Coach with proper training and experience they will scale every movement for you’re fitness and experience level.  If you have a Coach with proper training and experience they will teach you every movement properly, monitor your training closely and correct you so that you avoid injury.  If your’e not experiencing this you’ve fallen in with a Moron and you need to leave and go elsewhere.  Over the years I’ve seen some truly great Coaching.  I’ve also see Ass Bags with their head down in their iPad working on their Fantasy Football picks while the Class trains around them.  True story but that dick is contaminating someone else’s space now.  Not ours.
Excuses.  Everyone’s got them.
What’s yours?


Mike Pietragallo
January 1, 2017

When I was working on what I hope will turn out to be a better website to represent our Box it occurred to me that there hasn't been a Blogcast in quite a while.

I wanted to go back to the beginning and post the archived Blogcast(s) as a primer for our next phase.

I hope you enjoy them.


To kick off the new year here is my first in the new series “Time to get your head out of your ass.”

I call it #1:

“Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.”
-Greg Glassman

Sound familiar?  It should if you’ve been with us for any amount of time.
Look at fitness as a linear continuum.  On the far left we have the ultimate Endurance Athlete, let’s say a Triathlete for example.  On the far right we have the World’s Strongest man.  In 10 years as an Affiliate I’ve worked with many Triathletes.  I’m proud to say that one of my good friends has competed in numerous Ironman Triathlons.  Not the ones you buy your way into or the the ones at the Regional level but The Show itself.  He swears that adding CrossFit training to his programming is what put him over the top.

So I ask you, what do I gain by living on either extreme?  I can lift heavy shit but I can’t run 400m all out without feeling like I’m having a stroke.  I can run all night and swim all day but I’m lost if I have to move laterally, quickly and climb over a wall wearing a 40 lb ruck.  The ruck can be a backpack full of books or a bag of groceries, or a toddler.  The wall can be a flight of steps.  The fact is that life has and always will reward the generalist and punish the specialist.
So for all of you who don’t get it, good luck when you “focus on your endurance” or “train to get strong.”  Weeks, months even years from now you will be far behind where you would have been if you had stayed the course.

The upside?  Make room for the next wave of CrossFitters!

Mike Pietragallo