Despite the title, I like Crossfit. No seriously, I really do. We as a nation are fatter than we’ve ever been. The rates of diabetes and obesity have grown exponentially in the last 20 years. Being overweight has become the norm. Anything that will combat this, I’m all for. Crossfit has created a community that celebrates hard work, accountability, and jacking steel. All good things.
But, it’s not without its flaws.
The following paragraphs will be some nerd talk, followed by the list of areas where Crossfit could improve. Crossfit Nazis, this is your cue to stop reading, go to the list, and then directly to the comments section on Facebook to tell me how big of a douche I am. Go ahead. You know that’s what you really want to do.
My biggest issue with Crossfit is their misuse of exercises. I’ll address this in the list, but I want to give you some background. When a person does anything physical (walking, lifting weights, etc.), the body starts creating energy through three pathways: the immediate, the non-oxidative glycolytic, and the oxidative. The type of exercise you’re doing, will determine which pathway becomes the primary.
The immediate is just like it sounds. A short burst of max effort. The central nervous system (CNS) turns on the muscles needed and starts expending energy at a rapid rate which quickly depletes the supply of ATP. This energy system can be taxed for about 5-15 seconds and then it begins relying on the next pathway. The ATP has to be regenerated and that can take up to 8 minutes to fully regenerate. An example would be the 100 m dash or a one rep max of deadlift.
The non-oxidative glycolytic energy system takes over after you’ve expended all ATP from the immediate. It begins breaking down carbohydrates to create glycogen and glucose which assists in the production of ATP. Unlike the immediate, the energy stores are almost never depleted. But what keeps us from not using this pathway beyond ~90 seconds, is the buildup of lactic acid. Lactic acid begins to gather in the muscles causing pain and fatigue. This can be trained and manipulated so that athletes are able to go beyond 90 seconds, but that’s a general guideline.
The last is the oxidative. This takes over after the non-oxidative glycolytic becomes too painful. Think of running as fast as you can, then slowing down the pace to catch your breath. The carbohydrates are still used, but now oxygen is needed to create ATP. The slow twitch muscle fibers, which are smaller and not as powerful, but need no recovery time, take over and you begin to exercise aerobically, or as I like to call it aero-boring-cally. Am I right?
Now that the science is out of the way, now we can get into the problems—er, issues with Crossfit. What do you think Jesse?
1) No accountability for technique-There are good Crossfit “boxes” out there, but a majority of coaches are undertrained and have no business teaching anyone anything, let alone complex and highly difficult Olympic lifts. Teaching someone to clean and jerk, takes months, sometimes longer. Yet, within a week of Crossfitting, you’ll be cleaning and jerking and snatching and deadlifting and box jumping and running and push upping and overhead squatting and crunching and rope climbing and monkey barring and various other forms of whatever else the workout of the day (WOD) calls for.
2) Misuse of exercises-This, combined with the poor technique mentioned above, creates a dangerous cocktail. Take the WOD “Fight Gone Bad”. This is a benchmark WOD consisting of five stations that you rotate through after a minute on each. You do this for 3 or 5 rounds. The stations are:
1. Wallball Shots: 20 pound ball, 10 ft target.
2. Sumo Deadlift High-Pull: 75 pounds
3. Box Jump: 20″ box
4. Push Press: 75 pounds
5. Row: calories
In this workout, I see 5 exercises that cause strain on the lower back, done in quick succession, that will eventually use the oxidative pathway, and that by round 5, will be done in a state of near exhaustion. Sweet!
Should we push the limits to lose weight or become a better athlete? Absolutely. We have to push the envelope to improve, but we need to do it intelligently. Let’s talk deadlift. The deadlift is the most manly, bad-ass, primitive lift in the gym. Pick heavy object up. Put heavy object down. It works the posterior chain, including the legs and back. When doing a deadlift, we want to create strength and power. Not endurance. So why do it for 5 minutes? Not to mention no matter how lightly loaded, a deadlift completed in fashion where time and reps are the most important things, is dangerous.
Can you cross train and utilize resistance training to operate in the oxidative pathway? Absolutely, but why use exercises like deadlifts, power cleans, and heavy squats? There are much safer ways to exercise aerobically using resistance training. Push ups, air squats , sled pushes, rope pulls, etc.
3) Lack of Strength and Power- Strength is a bastardized term that we use to describe all of feats of muscly goodness. My question: Is a guy who can bench press 135 lbs., 70 times strong? He may be, but not based on that feat. He has great muscular endurance, but he may not be strong. Most Crossfit workouts build great muscular endurance, but lack explosiveness and strength. This is troubling not only because it is ignoring the larger fast twitch fibers, but also because it doesn’t condition the 2 most important energy pathways for athletic performance.
Additionally, the ability of these fast twitch muscle fibers to contract rapidly, decrease with age and the slow twitch muscle fibers take over. I’m not sure what the clientele for most Crossfit boxes are, but not properly incorporating power training for the older clientele is irresponsible. They need to train for power and strength not so they can enter a powerlifting competition, but so they can quickly gather themselves if they slip on a wet spot. Or trip going down stairs. Their muscles need the ability to grab the handrail with a strong grip once, not with a weak grip 100 times.
Bold Statement: You will never get truly strong doing Crossfit. Can the Crossfit games dudes life more weight than me? Yeah. I like burying my face in a gallon of ice cream while I watch “Breaking Bad”. Not exactly difficult to out lift me bro. But, they aren’t even close to competitive powerlifters that weigh 20 lbs. less. And that is where the programming needs improvement.
And yes, I hear you Crossfit brofessor, “That’s not the goal of Crossfit. The goal of Crossfit is to be well rounded in 10 functional areas—” SHUT UP! Skylar knows what I’m talking about. So, the goal of Crossfit is to make you equally average in a bunch of arbitrary and overlapping areas? Gotcha!
4) Lack of Mobility/Stability Work- I met a diehard Crossfitter in Afghanistan. He was drinking the Kool Aid from a funnel like Frank the Tank. He would talk about the WOD and tried his best to get me to workout with him. I politely (most of the time not politely) declined every time. We would talk about training and of course he would talk about the WOD. The subject of overhead squats came up and he mentioned that he was weak. I asked, “How weak?” He said, “I can do a piece of PVC pipe.” I asked him how he planned to get better and he said, “Keep overhead squatting, dumbass.” I asked how long he’d been able to just do the PVC pipe and he said that it had been over a year. More than 365 days of watching men and women with a fraction of his ability outperform him.
This guy was in good shape. There was no reason for him not to be able to overhead squat more weight. Despite his strength, he lacked flexibility in his hip flexors or stability in his lower back which was greatly affecting his performance. What was his plan to fix this? “Keep overhead squatting, dumbass.” A very rudimentary plan could have been developed to assist him, but that would have involved bands and maybe some machine work and as we all know, the cavemen didn’t have bands or machines.
5) Lack of Programming- As in no programming. Whatever the trainer who paid for his weekend certification can think of (I got mine online, where all good trainers come from) is the WOD. This makes it impossible to plan long term. What if your goal is to squat twice your body weight, jump higher, or play a basketball game without being winded? Those are goals that require progression, planning with benchmarks, and planned deloading periods. The randomness for the sake of randomness makes it impossible to make progress. Additionally, no planned deloading periods never allow athletes to fully rejuvenate and refresh, which is an unfortunately neglected part of fitness.
6) Unable to Take Criticism- Did I mention I like Crossfit? The problem I have is that an honest critique like this one will be met with venom. YO, CROSSFIT BROS, I CRITIQUE EVERYONE’S PROGRAM! I always think there’s room for improvement and ways to get better. I’m especially critical of my own plans. Every day I learn something new and say, “How could I not know that?” Crossfitters are very protective of the Crossfit god and look at any tweak as an insult.
A good example. I have twitter associate (twissociate?) who is a great trainer in NYC. Great, great guy. He too liked Crossfit, but also saw its shortcomings as well. He started working with a Crossfit affiliate to restructure the workouts so that his areas of concern could be addressed. Wind of them changing the sanctity of Crossfit drew the ire of Crossfit HQ and the guy was threatened with losing his affiliate. My twissociate was forced to end the partnership that could have been great for his company and his clients.
To sum up:
I like Crossfit. Anything that makes people decrease the butt groove in the couch, I’m all for. But it has its limitations that a seasoned trainer can spot and work around to improve performance. If only we could merge Crossfit with some common sense training techniques, we would have the world’s greates………
RIP Jason Crutchfield. He was abducted by Greg Glassman and his body was never found.