Is Crossfit Right For You?

Posted: January 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

Happy-New-YearIf I haven’t said it to you already, Happy New Year!  I’m not one to get too into the whole fresh new start to a new year (obviously, since its already 13 days into the year), so I’ll just get right into it.  I got a question the other day about my thoughts on crossfit and similar workouts.  Ask and ye shall receive, interwebz, ask and ye shall receive.

First off, let me just say that I have never actually performed or coached crossfit, but will attempt to give it a fair shake anyway.  That being said, if you feel like my opinion carries no weight, I completely understand.  For the rest of you, I can say that I have done research into the sport and have determined that it never appeared to be able aid my current fitness goal.

But do not make the mistake of thinking that crossfit holds no value.  A lot of people in fitness circles like to shit on Crossfit for various reasons and those are completely their own.  While I may disagree with some of their methods, that doesn’t rule out crossfit’s value for someone with different goals than my own.  My meanderings today will try to get to what Crossfit’s main objective is.  In your search for Crossfit gyms, you will find that this gets interpreted in different ways, so it will ultimately be up to you to sort out which approach, if any, is best for you.

And when I say that it was never able to aid me in my goals, I mean that Crossfit never seemed to be the most effective way.  Would Crossfit have gotten me to a better level of fitness in some way, shape, or form?  I have no doubt.  I just felt there was a more direct path to my goal.  So I can’t say that the method is completely useless to that degree.

For this article’s sake, we need a loose definition of what Crossfit’s pursuit of fitness is.  As defined on their website, Crossfit’s goal is to “forge a broad, general, and inclusive fitness,” and that their “specialty is not specializing.”  In this video from the Crossfit website, founder Greg Glassman states that his commitment is to improving human performance and to whatever methods will get him there.  So, essentially Glassman is saying that Crossfit is whatever method you choose that can improve human performance, based on their chosen form of measurement.  The measurement he uses is work capacity, or as he defines it, the ability to produce power over an extended amount of time.

A quick review of physics reminds us that power is determined by the force you can produce and how fast you can produce it (velocity).  In terms of exercise, force is what we use to produce movement, whether it be a squat or vertical jump or pull up.  So to sum it all up, Crossfit is a methodology that seeks to improve your ability to quickly produce force over a specified amount of time.  And if you’re reading this with a different idea of what Crossfit should be, I’m not saying you’re wrong.  This is just what I pulled from the big boss, himself.

As you can see, this is not a very specific definition at all.  And in fact, this definition is not much different than many other programs that exist.  This could explain why Crossfit is made up of many different modalities taken from disciplines ranging from gymnastics to powerlifting and olympic lifting to jogging.

So in terms of that definition alone, would I recommend Crossfit to a friend?  Of course, seeing as that’s exactly how I try to train my own clients.  I am always looking to improve their ability to produce force with their bodies.  It doesn’t always look the same for everyone, as people come to me at different points in their training lives, but that’s more or less the route we take regardless of the overall goal.

Ok that’s great and all, but I feel a “but” coming on here….

You’re right, there is, and that “but” is that it depends on exactly what your goals are.

I’ll give you two points of view on the matter.  From an athlete’s perspective and someone interested in just being in shape.  Most people will be able to fit themselves into one category or the other.  For the rest of this post’s sake consider yourself an athlete if you play a sport at any level (runners you count too) and everyone else trying to get into some type of workout pattern would fall into the other category.

For athletes, assuming you want to better conditioned for your sport, you first need to determine what the Johnny-Football-Manziel-450x600needs of your sport are.  The one thing that most people overlook when training for a sport is the energy demands of that sport.  For example, the average football play lasts about 5 seconds.  Unless you’re playing Johnny Football, then you need to increase that number by 67 seconds apparently.  So for those that don’t have Texas A&M on your schedules, you have plays that last about 5 seconds with anywhere between 10 to 35 seconds between plays.  So do you need to be doing a workout that requires constant submaximal movement for 20 minutes?  Maybe.  And maybe not.

Most coaches find it hard to recreate this scenario in a gym and find that the easiest way to recreate this is to just let their athletes play the sport.  This conditions the athlete with all the specific variables they need to account for when playing a sport.  Does this mean that it can’t be done in a Crossfit gym or any other gym?  Not necessarily.  However, if you’re at a box that favors random workouts of the day versus focusing on maximum strength development, you may be leaving a really big factor out.  More on that in a second.

Now for the person just trying to get into some kind of shape, my only real requirements for the program you choose are that they be safe and progressive.  Having a safe program would mean that movement patterns are assessed and corrected accordingly, and that large compound movements are used.  I find it hard to keep someone balanced in their movement without using compound movements that teach large muscle groups to work together.

Having a progressive program means that you can track progress over a period of time.  Some coaches will argue that you can only measure progress while your exercise selection is constant over a period of time because work capacity is specific to the activity.  Say you squat every Monday for four weeks and track your progress every week.  This is more or less the periodization method.  What Crossfit practitioners like to do is a workout with a squat one week then do other things for the next two weeks, and come back to a workout (not necessarily the exact same workout) with a squat in it on week 4.  Their reasoning is that everything they do in weeks 2 and 3 should make your squat better in week 4.

This has been the biggest hang up with Crossfit’s seemingly random workouts.  The notion that you can’t track progress when seemingly no constant variables exist from week to week appears to go against the scientific method to some degree.  To be honest I don’t really know who’s right in the matter and I just say that different people improve in different ways and that perceived improvement can also go a long way for someone’s self esteem and willingness to stick to a program.

So all that is great and all but.. what?  Is Crossfit for me or not?

Look, the reason I wrote this article was because there is a lot being said about Crossfit.  Some find it valuable for the reasons I mentioned and some find it worthless for the exact same reasons.  The truth is that there are a lot of people out there that do great things with Crossfit and there are equally as many people that misuse it’s principles.  The only way to know for sure if Crossfit is for you is to try it.  And hopefully I’ve given you an idea of what to look for when stacking up your own goals to the Crossfit methodology.

The last thing to understand is that not every Crossfit gym (or box or whatever) is the same.  I would recommend you look for a gym that works maximum strength development into its programming at some point.  Maximum strength is one of those factors that affects all aspects of your fitness with maybe the exception of flexibility.  Think of it like giving your car a bigger engine.  If they don’t do some kind of movement screen (read: not just a fitness test) before putting you into a program, I would go somewhere else that does.

And if they try to correct your form or movement patterns by manually creating movement like a physical therapist or chiropractor would, and they’re not licensed manual therapists, kindly ask for your money back and leave immediately.  That will probably get your hurt sooner than you would like.  Other than that, it’s really up to you.  As I’ve said before: your body, your decision.

I realize that I’ve really only covered what Crossfit should be at it’s core according to what their founder has said and this in no way covers all of what you see under the Crossfit banner.  It has been a highly debatable topic since it’s creation and you may have more questions on things other than what I covered here.  Feel free to comment or email them to me and I’ll try to answer to the best of my abilities and as always, thanks for reading.


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