Greg Glassman (founder of crossfit): CrossFit is the application of the fundamentals of Newtonian mechanics to human movement…
Issac Newton: …
Kicking it off
The goal of this post isn’t meant to be the typical Crossfit bashing article that is somewhat in vogue (that would be too easy). I actually very much enjoy Crossfit, there are many aspects of the training protocols and The Games that are really spot on. Crossfit has single-handedly kept olympic weight lifting alive, introduced many people to strength training (especially women), helped popularize the paleo diet and mindful eating in general, and changed what most of us view as a workout. With all that in mind somes aspects of it are just plain dumb.
First off, if you don’t now what Crossfit is go here, follow the links and you’ll eventually figure out everything there is to know.
When Crossfit gained popularity, I was a little mad. That’s because I thought they stole my idea. I loved the notion of being able to be strong and intense whenever, to run a ultramarathon on a Saturday just because you were bored, lunge for a mile after a heavy day of squats, or do 1,000 pull ups in a day (all things that I’ve done because I’m stupid). However, my way of doing it was a little different, such as doing a powerlifting meet and then racing a marathon. Which is ridiculous, but when you’re in college and don’t have much else to do it sounds fun.
Fittest People on Earth?!
I just want to examine one main claim that Crossfit makes… It will make you FIT! They even call the winner of their Games the “Fittest Man/Woman on Earth” and Crossfit training alone can get you to that level. Fitness has been defined many ways from the biological (reproducing) to the physical (The quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task). My favorite has to be the difference between the MOST you can do and the LEAST you can do. Granted this is somewhat of a self serving definition because it lends itself to defining lifters as more fit. By contrast marathon runners run at a moderate pace for an extended period of time, whereas a powerlifter exerts themselves 100ish percent for a couple of seconds thereby having a higher fitness ceiling, feel free to disagree runners.
To my knowledge there has only been one scholarly study on Crossfit (1) and the findings were…
- Improved VO2 max (essentially your ability to perform something aerobic, like distance running)
- Improved body composition (losing bodyfat)
Are these findings measures of fitness? Maybe. However, I could do better just running Tabata’s (2) and eating a ketogenic diet.
I’ll be the first to say that this study was way to small to get a true picture of what Crossfit actually does to people, so lets look at some top Crossfitters. Did any of them achieve their award winning fitness and physiques from Crossfit alone?
Rich Froning Jr.- Former college baseball player
Graham Holmberg– Former college football player
Annie Thorisdotir– Former gymnast, dancer, and pole vaulter
Camille Leblanc-Bazinet– Former gymnast, soccer and volleyball player
Granted this is a very small amount of people that I chose to look at, but show me someone that has become awesome only with Crossfit… Oh right there isn’t anybody. Just by looking at a few of these top level competitors the question starts to arise… did Crossfit make them great or where they already great with nothing to do and Crossfit filled that void?
How Does Crossfit work?
Of those two options it makes much more sense that they were pretty good athletes and then started Crossfitting. If you are already strong, fast, have endurance, or any other athletic qualities the transition to a Crossfit type sport would be easier.
The Crossfit workout template is pretty simple… Kill the most painful energy pathway with various movements and motions (e.g. rowing, olympic lifting, rope climbing, and various other insane things).
All anyone needs to take away from this is that if you do something as hard as you can for about 30 seconds to 1 minute (some research indicates up to 3 min) momentary muscle acidosis ensues (that burning feeling ;). The primary system that Crossfit taxes is the lactic acid (glycolytic) system. This pathway produces the highest amount of lactic acid and hydrogen ions (which actually cause the burning sensation… probably). Taxing these pathways has been shown to produce a ton of training benefits in much less time (2) and increased aerobic and anaerobic capacities (so you can get better at aerobic work without doing it? (Why, yes you can). There are much safer ways to perform work like this – bike, running up a hill, push-ups, machine circuit training, really anything. If you want these benefits without the injury risk, that is inherent in skilled lifting it is more than possible.
Crossfit WOD (workout of the day) example
Here is an example of a Crossfit style workout that I truly LOVE to do.
- Take a giant medicine ball and throw it against the wall 20 times (be sure to screem “Why Daddy?!” every time)
- Now take the lightest weight you can find and throw it over your head 100 times (if you can only get 90 you MUST GO LIGHTER) (also reflect on your childhood)
- Now you should be really thinking about how your father mistreated you, so jump rope while you begin to sob
- Be sure to climb a rope every minute… On the minute (since there is a picture of your father on the ceiling)
Granted I’ve poked fun at Crossfitters here (but who hasn’t). Crossfit is by no means all bad; however, I didn’t mention improper form, injuries, and rhabdomyolysis, but thats another story. I’ve actually met a few really stellar crossfit trainers that know what they are talking about and are all around good athletes. I just wanted to elucidate that it’s not a magic bullet for fitness or being awesome, ripped, strong, fast, or any other thing you could want. It’s a flawed system just like all of the other training systems and its best to experiment and see which one works best to make you awesome.
Only If Crossfit Was This Cool
1. Smith, M. M., Sommer, A. J., Starkoff, B. E., & Devor, S. T. (2013). Crossfit-based high intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition. Journal of strength and conditioning research/National Strength & Conditioning Association.
2.Tabata, I., Nishimura, K., KOUZAKI, M., HIRAI, Y., OGITA, F., MIYACHI, M., & YAMAMOTO, K. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 28(10), 1327-1330.