Why Crossfit is not as bad as many think
Crossift has been one of the greatest trends in the Fitness world in the last two decades. Crossfit is based on the idea of becoming good at everything – of becoming the fittest. Crossfit involves aerobic endurance work, lactic acid conditioning work, strength work with barbells, gymnastics elements such as rings and much more. Crossift started out as a form of training for hardcore training enthusiasts and spread through the world quickly. As Crossfit was so young at the time it made some mistakes, especially when it comes to programming. But hey, which infant doesn’t make mistakes. Especially in the Fitness world that led to a lot of criticism and millions of clicks on youtube for „Crossfit Fail Compilations“. Especially trainers and coaches made a lot of fun of Crossift specifically its programming and exercise execution. Some of that criticism was on point, no doubt, yet Crossfit and training for Crossfit adapted fast. As every infant that burns its hand by placing it on a hot stove.
The two biggest points of critique for Crossfit that I have…
… do not make Crossfit bad. What is bad is how people are training for and looking at Crossfit. Those two biggest points of critique for Crossfit are:
1. One needs to be prepared to train, before one trains
This is common sense. Still the problem with common sense is, that its not that common. And if this is ignored when it comes to Crossfit, what comes out of it are „Crossfit Fail Compilations“ on youtube and injuries. And Crossfit had plenty of both.
Lets look at this point from two angles and two different sports. The first angle involves low injury risk. Imagine you get 10 of your friends together and you gonna play 90 minute football this Sunday. Against a German Bundesliga Team. How is that gonna end? First, you are not even gonna get close to scoring a goal. Second, you probably gonna loose around 0 to 45 goals. Why? Thats common sense for most. Because you and your 10 friends are not prepared to play against a German Bundesliga Team. In this case, luckily the risk of injury will be low.
My second angle at the same scenario involves high injury risk. Fighting in general involves high risk of physical injury, thats why most never get in fights. Nonetheless MMA and the UFC are popular these days. So you will sign up to a gym like the Planet Eater Gym and will ask Head Coach and UFC Fighter Peter Sobotta on day one to train like an Pro MMA Fighter, that means that you do no-pads full-contact sparring. Assuming that Peter will take this serious, which he will not, just to be nice, you will not last 5 seconds. Because all it will take is one leg kick or one body shot. And the sparring will be over. You will be in pain. And maybe even injured.
Many will say, sure, fighting is dangerous. I highly disagree. Fighting is only dangerous if you are not prepared to do it. Take the example above. If we take this example and change the steup to: Peter can only defend, not attack, and the goal for you is to hit him, very likely you will not hit Peter clean a single time within a 5 minute round. Why? Because he is prepared to fight and therefore competent enough to avoid and defend your hits.
So fighting is not dangerous, if you are prepared to fight, like Peter Sobotta.
And playing football against a German Bundesliga Team also doesn’t mean that you gonna loose with double digit goals, if you are prepared to play a team on that level, like Bayern München.
So what does that mean for Crossfit?
That means that people can not sign up to Crossfit gyms and do WODs and demanding workouts with highly technical components such as Olympic Weightlifting, Gymnastic Elements or grueling conditioning work like Tabata Workouts if they are not strong, mobile and conditioned yet. I have gone into detail here „Why Tabatas are a waste of time for 99% of the population“. And one needs to be prepared to do these workouts first before one can do them.
Olympic Weightlifting is great, 99% of the population is just not ready to do it
If you are interested in Olympic Weightlifting, thats good, work your way up.
First, built a decent level of muscular balance in the shoulder girdle and the Erector spinae muscle, which is the main stabilizer of your spine. Two benchmarks we can set here is a 45° Backextension with a 35kg Dumbbell in front of your chest for 6 to 8 reps as well as a Seated Barbell Behind-the-neck Press with 50% of your bodyweight on the bar for 6 to 8 reps.
Second, once you have achieved those benchmarks. You need to learn how to deadlift properly. How to do so I have detailed in „The YPSI Deadlift Manual“. Being able to deadlift is crucial for all Olympic Lifts as a deadlift is the initial part of all of them. Once you have achieved the benchmark of a Deadlift with 1,5 times bodyweight, move on to learn the techniques of the Olympic Lifts.
If you do not have the overhead stability and mobility assess by the Barbell Behind-the-neck Press, the lower back stability stability assessed by the 45° Backextension and the strength and technique of a deadlift, do not even consider getting into Olympic Lifts. You are not prepared to do them. You will most likely injure yourself. Or maybe even end up in one of those „Crossfit Fail Compilations“ on youtube. And thats not the fault of Olympic Weightlifting, which is statistically in the top 2% of sports with the least risk of injury. Its your fault because you are not prepared to Olympic Lift.
And the same counts for the majority of aspects of Crossfit. Yes, its fitness. And yes, its just a barbell, a bike, some burpees and a few other basic gym tools. It looks easy. Yet, its not. 99% of the population and a big chunk of members of Crossfit Gyms all over the world are not prepared to do full Crossfit workouts.
One needs to built up to do them. One needs to be prepared to do them. If you are in second grade, math is easy for you and you think math is cool, so you sit into a math lecture in university, how is that gonna go? You will understanding nothing. Because you are not prepared to understand math on that level. Work your way up scoring good to great grades every year in math, the you will eventually sit in a math lecture in university and get what the Professor is talking about.
Training is as everything else, one needs to be prepared to do it. And once you are prepared for Crossfit its an excellent option for interval training that will elevate your work capacity to the next level while having a great effect on fatloss and developing your physique.
So, go do some all-in Crossfit workouts if you are prepared for them and if they will get you closer to what your goal in training is.
2. One needs to differentiate between a discipline and training
Crossfitters often get a hard time for doing stuff like „60kg Overhead Squats as many reps as possible in 2 minutes“ and WODs like „Grace“ which 30 Clean & Jerks for time or „Helen“ which is 3 rounds of a 400 meter run, 21 kettlebell swings and 12 pull-ups, for time. Everyone who has a decent level of program design knowledge and experience will tell you that these „workouts“ don’t make much sense based the most logical principles of program design. That is correct. What most miss ist that Crossfit is a sport. And a sport has disciplines. These workouts are disciplines. Running 42km doesn’t make much sense either, yet, thats the marathon discipline. Thats what one has to do compete and complete a marathon.
Nobody runs a marathon to run a marathon…
A discipline has to be separated from training. You want to improve your marathon time? Running a marathon once or twice a week won’t do that. You want to improve your 100m Sprint time? Running a dozen 100m Sprints a few times a week won’t do that. Training improves disciplines. And Training rarely overlaps with disciplines, especially on a high level.
Disciplines need to be be dissected into components and each components needs specific attention.
Three components of the 100m Sprint are the start from 0 to 30m, then the second part of acceleration from 30m to 60m and then the speed endurance component from 60m to 100m. Each need a certain level of individual focus.
Three components of the Marathon are the aerobic capacity, the speed component and the lactic acid threshold. Or in simple terms, how long one can go, how fast can one go for long and how fast can one go with exhausting the lactic acid system.
Transferring this to crossfit and „60kg Overhead Squats as many reps as possible in 2 minutes“ the three key components are:
1. Specific Mobility – that is, in this case the mobility for optimal positioning in the Overhead Squat, as if one doesn’t have the mobility, there will be too much energy wasted on maintaining an upright position.
2. Specific Strength – that is, in this case the strength of a wide grip behind-the-neck press for overhead stability, as if this strength lacks, the fatigue in the shoulder girdle will lead to too much energy wasted on maintaining optimal position of the barbell above the head.
3. Specific Work Capacity – that is, in this case the work capacity of the quads and posterior chain determined by Back Squats, as if this work capacity is missing, one will not be able to do a sufficient amount of reps within the given time.
Dissecting a discipline like that is crucial especially on an intermediate and advanced level to get the most progress possible.
So you want to get better at „60kg Overhead Squats as many reps as possible in 2 minutes“?
Don’t just do that. Only beginners will see some results with that approach. Dissect the discipline. Train each component of the discipline with a focus on the weakest link. And then you will make big jumps in performance.
Discipline vs. Training
Crossfit is a sport. Consider Crossfit more of a sport with individual disciplines rather than a form of training. In this case one not only gets a much more positive view for the individual WODs and competition events, it also gives an excellent outlook on the next level of programming for Crossfit athletes.
A positive outlook on Crossfit
Crossfit has done more for training with a Barbell and especially for Olympic Weightlifting than anything else in the last 20 years. Crossfit has done a good job at popularizing an enthusiastic and demanding approach to gym training. And Crossfit has built some incredible physiques.
Crossfit is a sport of work capacity. The girl or guy that can do the most work in the least time will win. Crossfit competitors are high-level athletes and need to be considered as such. As in every sport don’t start and try to train like a high-level athlete right away. As you wouldn’t start with football and play with a first league time right away, or step on the mats to do no-pads full-contact sparring with a UFC Fighter. Both cases won’t end well. And it won’t end well in Crossfit either. Thats doesn’t make Crossfits bad though.
Crossfit is still a very new movement that has probably just hit puberty. Crossfit-type workouts that focus on work capacity is an excellent option for intervaltraining that I recommend my more advanced clients to do a one or twice a week if they have a Crossfit box close and have the desire to do that training.
Don’t just judge Crossfit. Value it for what it actually is. And use it if it helps you achieve your training goals.
How to plan MetCons and Energy Systems Work for Crossfit will also be a segment of the YPSI Intervaltraining Program Design and Periodization Seminar, that will be held for the first time in english in Hasselt, Belgium on February 23rd and 24th. As well as in May during the YPSI Intervalltraining Programm Design & Periodisierung in German in Stuttgart.
Picture: This picture shows Antonio Barrias a Crossfit Competitor during a Dumbbell Snatch in a Crossfit competition. This is an excellent example of point one made in the article above, as the Dumbbell Snatch is a quite useless and at the same time dangerous exercise for training based on the low load used to train the posterior chain and the side bent of the spine combined with the high volume wear and tear on the overhead shoulder position. Still the Dumbbell Snatch can be an exercise during a Crossfit competition which makes it a discipline. Antonio also owns Crossfit Macau in Macau, China, is currently completing the YPSI Trainer A-Licence and working with Wolfgang to prepare for the Crossfit Games 2019.