To CrossFit or Not To CrossFit?

In the wake of the recent CrossFit Games crowning the “World’s Fittest” man and woman at their annual competition, I thought I would comment on this blog in the Huffington Post regarding the risks of CrossFit.

The article is entitled ‘Why I Don’t Do CrossFit’ and recounts the author’s experience with CrossFit and her take on the growing trend.

I agree with a lot of the points made in this article with respect to safety… it is possible to suffer from increased risk of injury if instructors at your CrossFit gym are not well trained. Most people suffer from some degree of muscular imbalances – tight ankles, hips, low back, mid-back, shoulders – that compromise their flexibility and stability. Therefore, taking someone with poor mobility and poor stability, and asking them to perform repetitive high-intensity ballistic movements is a recipe for disaster.

However, the author fails to mention that personal trainers and strength coaches found in traditional gyms across the country can be certified in just a weekend course, and are often seen working with people performing poor quality movements. Typically, a reputable CrossFit establishment will build up a trainee’s strength through body weight movements first, so it seems the author fell upon a poor quality center. I’ve eaten a few bad apples too, but I haven’t stopped eating apples altogether.

Interestingly the author also states… “The workout was going to have deadlifts, which I had never done and to this day I still don't do them”.  This is troubling because any strength coach worth their salt does deadlifts.  All the ballistic Olympic movements the author describes start from the same position… the deadlift! There is no one exercise that is more functional and does more for your body – strength, stability, flexibility, core strength – than lifting weights from off the floor…with the right form of course. 

She then goes on to state a kettlebell swing is “not a beneficial movement” and she omits these from her training. This is also troublesome because the kettlebell swing is another phenomenal, functional, and dynamic movement that builds muscle, core strength, and stability at the hips and shoulder. Pavel Tsatsouline, one of the strongest and fittest athletes alive, must be pulling his hands over his eyes in shame!

 Finally, the article states that “No entity of professional athletics promotes CrossFit”.

This is simply untrue. In fact, the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves are just two teams that have started incorporating CrossFit training into their conditioning, and you can read top strength coach Paul Fournier’s comments here. There are also plenty of NHL players who use CrossFit in their off-season conditioning programs, like Brent Burns, Andrea Nodl, Tim Thomas, and many more.

The more highly skilled in training movements the athlete, the better the results. While I agree with the author that the average Joe and Jane need to be cautious, a properly trained athlete can make phenomenal gains. So long as it is properly place in the General Physical Preparedness (GPP) of an off-season training macro-cycle (before strength, power, speed) athletes can make fantastic gains.

Just look at the amazing numbers in the snatch, clean, squat, and deadlift in top-level CrossFit athletes. They’re phenomenal! Not to mention, it absolutely DOES crossover to team sports in terms of conditioning.  CrossFit increases training density… the amount of work you do in a specific amount of time. This is NOT new.  It’s simply been packaged in a format that appeals to many.

In summary, I agree with the author that if you are new to exercise or training intensely then be sure to start slow and let your CrossFit trainer know if you have any injuries. However, just being something is a trend doesn't mean there is no value in it. I couldn’t disagree more with the author’s final piece of advice… “Don’t do CrossFit for weight loss, to get ripped, or to throw around heavy things”. I think those are three great reasons to do CrossFit, but just like everything in life you need to apply the CORRECT DOSE to get YOUR desired result.

Just remember, more people get injured doing yoga than lifting weights… so don’t let fear hold you back from three great CrossFit benefits; sense of community, positive environment, and of course... intense training!

Enjoy!

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS