This isn't my first time writing about my disdain for CrossFit, and it's probably not my last. This recent rant is inspired by Bob Harper's recent post regarding his enjoyment of CrossFit. I confess, I don't normally watch The Biggest Loser. However, this season I've been paying attention. Probably because my client Dr. Joanna Dolgoff is affiliated with the show this year. She happens to be helping some awesome kids with their nutrition this season. It's a new thing for The Biggest Loser to be working with kids. Dr. Dolgoff is the perfect fit for this. Anyway, I read Bob's article and I got fired up.
You should know that from what I've seen, I actually like Bob's training and mental game. That's probably why I was disappointed to see him give credit to CrossFit for anything. I was even more upset when I realized that I think the blue team -- Bob's team -- while doing very well in the competition, also happens to be the only team with an injury. Coincidence?
In life, we only need one reason to not like something. In fact, if you feel you're searching for extra reasons, it's quite possible you are just a hater. Think of relationship deal-breakers. You have someone in your life that has some great qualities and a lot of potential, but when they exhibit the one deal-breaker, you're outta there! I'm amazed that so many people have love life deal-breakers but when it come to their bodies, they blindly commit.
Before I get to the CrossFit deal-breaker. I'd like to debunk the principle theory of CrossFit. It seems they specialize at not specializing... I'm already confused. You?
When I ask someone to explain that, and why they are a diehard about the sport -- oh yeah, it's a sport in my eyes, not a fat-loss program -- I'm given some version of the caveman story. Which also happens to be the same justification as to why people go with the Paleo diet.
It goes something like this:
"When early man had to hunt, fish, build, defend, sprint, jump, throw rocks, etc., etc. their bodies were prepared for anything. That's the way we should train."
The "hunter-gatherer" argument doesn't make sense, because last I checked, cavemen weren't doing Olympic lifting with barbells, snatches with kettlebells, or knocking lions out with medicine balls. I may have missed something in history class. If I did, I apologize.
I would agree that running, jumping, traversing across new and difficult terrain, and maybe throwing a spear did happen. But these movements were focused on efficient action of one's body weight only. Since our bodies are modern miracles with the center of gravity placed well, we are at less risk when moving just our body weight.
You see, lifting weights is mostly a matter of physics. Our body is a system of levers. When those levers are positioned correctly, you have as much mechanical advantage as possible when moving the weights. Training is a matter of doing this, with perfect form, over and over, while increasing the load (stress on the body) in order to adapt and get stronger. Getting stronger requires specific training, that includes longer rest between sets. Yes, I said specific training.
Oh, and if you want to have better endurance, then you have to train specifically for that. You know all those nifty Internet running programs to help you run your first marathon. Do they have clean and jerks in them? No, they don't.
Speaking of clean and jerks. When power athletes are training in the gym, why don't they load up the bar with a light weight and do snatches or cleans for 50 reps? Oh yeah -- because that would be a waste of time. These movements are the most advanced training one can do. The Olympic lifts tax your central nervous system a tremendous amount. Worldwide, the protocols of an Olympic lifting program agree on a main principle: higher weight, less reps. CrossFit does the exact opposite.
So, yes, it's true about specializing in not specializing. Essentially, when you do CrossFit you get good at CrossFit or you get injured. Which leads me to my deal-breaker.
Before you say it, I'm going to write it. One could get hurt doing anything. Walking across the street in New York could get you hit by a car. Any training program could yield an injury. I know this, however, the point of training is to make us stronger, more fit, adaptable humans. A proper program respects the protocols of each kind of training, whether it's strength, power, or endurance. Additionally, it includes carefully-chosen exercises in a specific order to maximize forecasted benefit and minimize the possibility of injury.
CrossFit allows for little benefit within each category of training, while allowing for broad exposure to injury. In other words, the risk-reward factor is extremely low. This exposure comes because within a WOD -- or "workout of the day" -- random exercises are thrown together, possibly forcing someone who is very fatigued to engage in power exercises like Olympic lifts or box jumps. When people are tired, they have trouble walking. Putting a weighted bar in their hand and asking them to rip it from the floor to overhead as quickly as possible doesn't seem like a good idea. Logic alone could tell you that. Experienced trainers could tell you in that particular case it's even more ridiculous because in regards to snatching when tired, you've reached the point of diminishing returns.
Proper training entails minimizing injury risk by strategically choosing exercises and progressions that put the body in a favorable position to achieve the best possible technique while moving calculated loads (weight).
I'm not going to call CrossFit a fad -- instead, I'll call it a bubble. I'm predicting its burst. I couldn't give you a timeframe, but I know traditional, proven methods of strength training, power training, and endurance training will last forever. I know some smart people who are involved with CrossFit. Who knows, maybe they'll step up and force CrossFit to adapt as a better training program out of necessity. Only time will tell.
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