CrossFit: Pushing New Levels of Performance or Crossing the Line?

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Over the past few years, CrossFit has taken the world by storm. It's a type of training that uses standardized workouts for all individuals, with a variety of exercises that include Olympic lifts, weight lifting, kettlebells, plyometrics and sprinting. At a quick glance, CrossFit may seem similar to your everyday weight training program. But CrossFit's standardized methodology causes concern among many strength and conditioning professionals.

According to CrossFit, the program is "designed for universal scalability, making it the perfect application for any committed individual regardless of experience. We've used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart disease and cage fighters one month out from televised bouts. We scale load and intensity; we don't change programs" [emphasis added].

CrossFit continues, "The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind. Our terrorist hunters, skiers, mountain bike riders and housewives have found their best fitness from the same regimen" [emphasis added].

While many fitness enthusiasts swear by CrossFit and have found success with the program, we're going to break it down as it relates to the competitive athlete. Below are a few keys points to consider before starting a CrossFit program.

"Any Committed Individual Regardless of Experience"
CrossFit trains elderly people with the same routine they use for MMA fighters. So the question is, should all athletes train the same, regardless of experience? And the answer is a resounding NO.

If you lack experience in the weight room, you have drastically different needs than someone who has spent years training. Yes, CrossFit could technically result in performance improvements, but in a risk vs. reward analysis, the risks outweigh the rewards.

It's unwise to perform a high volume of Olympic lifts—even if you're only using a broomstick—if you lack the fundamental core strength, joint mobility and movement coordination that these advanced exercises require. Sometimes young and developing athletes can hardly skip correctly, much less perform a dynamic and explosive exercise. Instead, follow a program designed on a progression that takes your physical strengths and weaknesses into account, and develop a solid base of strength before gradually progressing to more advanced exercises.

"We Don't Change Programs"
CrossFit adjusts the load and intensity of the workout, but not the program itself. This means that the amount of weight lifted and reps performed vary among individuals, but every CrossFit client does the same workout: one workout fits all.

This doesn't work for competitive athletes. Training for sports is defined by individual needs. A linebacker who performs short bursts of strength and power should not use the same workout as a receiver who focuses on speed, quickness and agility. In fact, the training programs for these two positions differ significantly.

Saying we all need the same workout program is like saying we all need the same nutrition plan, the same sleep pattern, the same social interaction or the same emotional environment. Every person is different in all facets of life, and individual differences must be accounted for when training.

In addition, athletes in different sports have sport-specific training issues. A good example: pitchers and tennis players who use their shoulder repeatedly must tailor their training program to prevent injury to this fragile joint. Specifically, they should avoid overhead pressing exercises and implement prehab exercises, like the YTWL. CrossFit does not take sport-specific training considerations into account. In fact, their stubborn emphasis on the same routine may contribute to overuse injuries,which are of great concern to many athletes.

So, does CrossFit have its place? For some people, yes. However, athletes should be cautious before trying CrossFit. The "one size fits all" mentality simply does not work when training for sports performance.

What do you think? Send us your thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of CrossFit.


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