Thursday, 24 April 2014

9 1/2 Things I Like About CrossFit

As it continues to popularise, the word on many people’s lips at the moment is “CrossFit”.

From celebrities to professional sports teams to Olympic lifters to average Joe’s – it seems everyone has an interest in CrossFit.


In many circles and among many of the highly regarded strength coaches that I read, the word “CrossFit” is almost a swear word; many feel that it contradicts a number of their pre-determined philosophies and scientific approaches to training and periodisation.


While I don’t regularly visit a CrossFit facility (I’m not using the “B” word!), call myself a “CrossFitter” nor condone some of the workouts that I’ve seen posted, such as high repetition Olympic lifts, there are some great principles in CrossFit that I DO like and some of the positive impacts it’s had on the general exercise community are admirable.


You can find endless blogs available online moaning about CrossFit from an external point of view; if you want that you’ll need to look elsewhere. I’m going to flip it around and offer “9 ½ Things I Like About crossFit” as a non-CrossFitter.


It has helped people to diversify workouts

CrossFit has helped people to move away from the traditional bodybuilder style of isolation work focusing on single muscle groups each session. It has also added other elements along with resistance work. CrossFit describe their elements as: Cardiovascular, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance and Accuracy. Placing equal focus on these areas is a great way to improve both body composition, athletic performance and robustness/injury avoidance. itself describes their principle as: “Our specialty is not specializing.” It’s now common place for people to include elements such as “sprints” or gymnastic work to compliment their main training.  


On The Minute “OTM”, Ascending Ladders, Chippers etc..

While these protocols may not be 100% accredited as a CrossFit invention; the popularisation of different interval protocols have been great for helping people to add intensity to their workouts and also increase their work volume while adding variety to workouts.

For example, “On The Minute” / “OTM” involves setting a timer which sounds each minute, then running through exercise “A” at the start of the first minute, resting with whatever time remains for that minute and then starting exercise “B” at the start of the next minute and resting the remainder of that minute. This sequence continues for the allotted time (usually 16-20 mins). Eg: A) 30 sec incline run B) 10 x Kettlebell Swings and 5 x Kettlebell Goblet Squats – 20 mins --- Or A) 30 secs Rowing B) 8 x deadlifts

Alternatively ,“Ascending Ladders” workouts involves picking two or three exercises and performing 1 repetition of each, then 2 of each, then 3 of each and so on until form begins to fail at which point you stop. Sets are performed continuously without breaks for drinks, sweat towels etc. I like to include these in clients workouts and my own workouts with “Push-Pull” ladders such as pull ups and plyometric push ups or incline dumbbell chest press and lat pulldown. It’s important to not use advanced exercises that require a lot of co-ordination such as squats or cleans unless you are an experienced gym-goer. For most, dumbbell, bodyweight or cable based exercises suit best. Though, if you’re experienced enough, bigger lifts aren’t out of the question. Aim to reach at least 8 reps of each exercise so pick wisely – nothing too easy or too light. Sounds easier than it is and will seem that way until you reach 4-5 of each. Remember if you finish on 8 pull ups you’ve just done 36 pull ups without much rest at all. Both are great examples of achieving much more volume than normal and adding intensity to workouts.


It has popularised Olympic Lifting to the general public

OK, so not single-handedly, but, whichever side of the CrossFit fence you sit on, there’s no denying that CrossFit has bought Olympic lifting and barbell work in general to the masses. A large proportion of the CrossFit work is based around Olympic lifts or components of the lifts such as clean, jerks and snatches – all great exercises that, if performed correctly and safely can really help improve both body composition and athletic performance. Exercises that would have previously been over-looked by many. We could talk about the negative implications of this for many but for now, we’ll keep it positive.


It has helped women to overcome their fear of resistance work and “lifting heavy”

The majority of women have an issue with weights in general, particularly heavy ones. CrossFit has encouraged a new breed of athletic women who take great pride in competing with the guys and targeting new “PR’s” (an “Americanism” for Personal Records aka: Personal Bests). Given the positive impact that resistance work has on physique this can only be a positive thing.


Strength Circuits

The traditional high repetitions, low weight, lengthy sets style of circuits such as BodyPump have been re-vamped with much more focused and beneficial circuits that can be performed in a short time as part of a workout. Examples of this might be 5 x thrusters, 5 x hanging leg raises and a 400m run, 4 times through for time. Tough, short and varied circuit that helps to not only improve cardiovascular performance but also strength as the low repetitions allow for heavier weights to be used. A much better format for a circuit than 2-3 minutes of squats for instance, where technique/form is lost quickly and little is achieved in terms of creating a stimulus to promote adaptation.


It has helped people to understand the importance of mobility and personal maintenance

More often than not we take and take from our bodies, expecting it to keep giving and we never give back. “Pre-hab” is a term widely used in the CrossFit community referring to body preparation and maintenance work such as foam rolling and SMR to help avoid injury and improve performance and general wellbeing. This kind of work is essential in taking care of your body, maintaining and improving mobility and general robustness. One of the biggest promoters of mobility work has been San Francisco Cross Fit’s Kelly Starrett, aka: Mobility Wod (@MobilityWOD) whose book: “Becoming a Supple Leopard” is widely regarded as the go-to-guide for mobility and improving movement.



One of the CrossFit click words is “WOD” – Workout Of the Day. These are posted by various CrossFit establishments on a daily basis. It’s a pre-designed, high ntensity workout that people can perform on their own or in a group and often submit their scores or results to gauge their abilities against others. While I don’t like all of the WODs that I’ve seen nor the fact that they sometimes offer relevant scalability and regressions, the idea of offering free content and alternative workouts is a great way to encourage people to think a little more about their own workouts. Especially as the workouts are often very taxing but time efficient, this will inevitably encourage people to be more active given that it will take minutes to complete rather than hours.


It has added much needed intensity to peoples workouts

Many times, a key element that lacks in the average gym program is intensity. Too much talking, fetching a drink, looking at themselves in mirrors and generally avoiding hard work tends to lead to a lack of results. CrossFit’s various timing parameters mean that there is much less room for socialising and wasting time during a session. Instead, participants are encouraged to push the intensity of their sessions which often reaps much greater rewards.


The CrossFit Games

For anyone that hasn’t seen it, go onto YouTube and search “CrossFit Games”. Basically it’s the Olympics for CrossFitters. Participants qualify for the games via open qualifiers; in February and March 2012 over 70,000 people from 73 countries competed in these open qualifiers. The next stage, the regional qualifiers take place in 17 regions where the top 1,500 men and women competed in live events to win one of 100 or so places in the finals. The finals stage is The CrossFit Games which result in competitors from around the world competing side-by-side in an array of events spanning roughly a week with multiple workouts/competitions on each active day (there are rest days scheduled during the week). These events now fill sports stadiums and show on ESPN – now that’s no small event!


What’s really interesting about the format is that competitors don’t find out the exact event format and structure until the day of the event. That way they can only train specific movement patterns but can’t train for specific events.  The aim? To find “The Fittest Man and woman on Earth”.


The half... Introducing Competition to Workouts

This is good AND bad.

Good: Again the intensity of the workout will inevitably increase and it can be a good way to put yourself against others and gauge progress.

BAD: Technique and form can often suffer once competition enters focusing on quantity over quality. This is where injuries increase and the benefit of the workout decreases.

This is where any people blur the line between CrossFit and a “sport” and CrossFit as a “Workout” – but that’s a discussion for another day!



While there are a number of principles of CrossFit that I feel are questionable and, in some ways, unwise to promote to the general public such as complex workouts for the average gym user, there’s no doubt that the CrossFit community have had a positive impact on the exercise industry as a whole. A relatively new concept (established officially in only 2000) in comparison to traditional resistance training, I’m sure CrossFit is going to be around for years to come as they continue to grow and tweak their product. With over 6,000 affiliated establishments currently practicing CrossFit, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon!

Don't forget to follow me on (@MichaelD_PT) and YouTube

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