Crossfit: A new generation of fitness

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Crossfit was founded in 2000, but has taken the world by storm in the last few years. When I say storm, I mean everyone and their mother has at least caught wind of it by now. At first, everyone thought: “Awesome! Look at these super fit men and women on the Reebok Crossfit Games getting absolutely shredded because of this style of working out.” Then the haters came along and have recently questioned Crossfit. Some hate just to hate. Others hate because they are fitness professionals and have problems with the way they do things. Don’t be someone who hates just to hate! Have a reason at the very least.  I will give you the facts.  This post is not opinion.  Personally, I see it on both sides of the fence.  And yes, I have done Crossfit. I never belonged to a Crossfit gym but made a visit to one up in Chicago.

Crossfit is an incredibly popular training system at the moment for a variety of reasons one of which being that the workouts are extremely challenging and demanding. A study recently published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research set out to evaluate the fitness adaptations that take place during a 10 week Crossfit training program. 

The study began with 54 healthy participants of varying fitness levels; however, only 43 completed the study (23 males/20 females) and were able to return for the post training re-test (more on that later). 

The subjects who completed the entire 10 weeks (43 of them) all experienced significant improvements in both VO2max and body composition changes (decreases in body fat percentage) leading the researchers to conclude, “Our data shows that high intensity power training (which is what they refer to CrossFit as in this study) significantly improves Vo2max and body composition in subjects of both genders across all levels of fitness.”

First I’ll begin by making some obvious statements which, may not be so obvious given that marketing and hoopla tend to cloud rational thinking:

1. CrossFit is not that novel. Circuit training and calisthenics have been around for hundreds of years.  Training over a broad range of mixed time and modal domains is certainly not a new thing.

2. What CrossFit did do is create an environment and a culture that made that stuff cool and exciting for people, “Hey, it really sucks to suffer when I work out hard but if I suffer with a group of my friends it really isn’t that bad!”  In that regard, I think CrossFit has done a great job motivating a lot of people to get off their butts and exercise. This is a good thing.

3. High intensity interval training or really hard aerobic power type activities, which make up the brunt of the energy system demands during a CrossFit workout, have been shown to improve things like VO2max and Body Composition so do these results really come as a surprise? This stuff has been looked at in hundreds of studies by now.

Now, remember those 11 subjects that dropped out? Only 2 of these subjects cited time restrictions as their reason for not completing the study. The other 9 cited overuse or injury from the training as their reason. A 20% dropout rate when you are a trainer/strength coach is absolutely unacceptable. So, why should it be acceptable in Crossfit? The goal of physical fitness training is not to push people so far, that they cross breaking points. Accidents happen in the training world and that can be understood, but something is wrong when 20% drop out. I believe that these injuries and overuse incidents occur this often because of the type of activities chosen from CrossFit workouts, the intensity with which those activities are performed, and the frequency of high intensity workouts within the training week. 

With typical high intensity interval training, this type of dropout rate is not heard of. To me and many others, the risk seems to outweigh the reward. 

Conclusion:

1.  Hard workouts, pushing yourself, and a positive workout environment are all AWESOME! But…you have to choose the right type of exercises, sets, and repetitions. Doing 50 overhead snatches for time is not safe and will ultimately lead to injury in anyone who isn’t superhuman. Which leads to number 2…

2.  Olympic lifts should not be performed for “as many reps as possible.” These type of lifts are only for those who are very athletic and very experienced. Highly technical exercises need to be performed with lower reps and adequate resting periods (2-5min). Other lifts, such as the deadlift, that put the spine in a compromised position should also not be performed for “as many reps as possible.” Unless you’re looking for a law suit, that is. 

3.  Phases need to be implemented into the Crossfit world. To go high intensity interval training multiple times a week, all year round, is insane and will also lead to overuse and injury (still not talking to you superhumans). Lower intensity weeks need to be dispersed throughout the year in order to allow the body to recover, to allow for development of the aerobic system and to increase lactate threshold in the body.  There is a reason all professional sports have an offseason! The body can’t handle it!

This may seem as if it were a complete bashing of Crossfit. Not true! Clearly, their training methods increase maximal oxygen uptake and decrease body fat composition. But, unlike they advertise, Crossfit is NOT for anyone.  And I firmly believe that if you join, you have to be willing to accept that severe arthritis may be in your future as a senior citizen. For certain people, Crossfit can be great! I love the cult aspect they add to it that makes it fun for people to get off their tail and workout!

Closing food for thought: Did the Reebok Crossfit Games participants get to be the “fittest in the world” from Crossfit? Or did some of the “fittest people in the world” find Crossfit and love the competition aspect of it?

 

Jared

 

Move to the beat of your own drum.

 

 

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