You might have a buddy raving about how tough his last WOD was. Or maybe your Facebook friends compared their Murph times after Memorial Day weekend. No matter how you get there, it’s likely that, as an athlete, you’re going to be tempted to try a CrossFit workout at some point.
How bad could it be to just swap out one workout, you think to yourself.
Well, that depends: do you want to spend the rest of your season on injured reserve?
“The purpose of strength and conditioning for athletes is injury prevention. That’s how professional S&C coaches are judged,” says Steve Grosso, BS, CSCS. “If [an athlete] is throwing in a CrossFit workout, you have to look at the risk-versus-reward ratio.”
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If you’re already following your team’s strength and conditioning program, odds are you know how to perform many of the meat-and-potatoes lifts you typically find in a CrossFit workout: Deadlifts, Squats, Push-Ups, Dips and Pull-Ups. But when you put time constraints on a workout, or when you’re simply trying to bang out as many reps as you possible can, you’re more likely to see degradation in your form.
A quick glance at some of CrossFit’s Benchmark WODs should give you an idea of what’s in store for you should you deviate from your program. “Angie” is a relatively simple option: 100 Pull-Ups, Push-Ups, Squats and Sit-Ups for time. “Diane” challenges you to bang out 225-pound Deadlifts and Handstand Push-Ups, in a 21-15-9 pattern, for time. And “Elizabeth” tasks you with a 21-15-9 superset of 135-pound Cleans and Ring Dips, again for time.
“Whenever you try to do something as fast as you can, it’s going to get sloppy, and you’re going to start sacrificing form for the sake of speed,” Grosso says. “As soon as you start doing that, your risk for injury goes through the roof.”
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Think about how technical a Power Clean is, and how far that bar is moving during your lift. If at any point during that move you lose control of the barbell, you put yourself in danger.
Grosso also points out that performing big, explosive movements that translate to sports—Box Jumps, Cleans, Snatches—for reps doesn’t necessarily translate well to athletics. “When you’re preforming Olympic lifts and plyometrics, you’re trying to generate as much force as possible,” he says. “When you’re fatigued, you’re not doing it as quickly as you can, so you’re just training your body to move more slowly.” Obviously, that’s not a good thing for an athlete.
He also says the argument that athletes eventually fatigue during their games doesn’t mean they should train that way. “You’re going to be fatigued during a game, but you want to practice as perfectly as you can, so when you’re fatigued it’s as close to perfect as possible,” he asserts.
Grosso says if you’re following a well thought-out routine, you shouldn’t have to search for workouts that challenge you and keep you entertained. Instead of just swapping a one-off workout (like a CrossFit WOD), you should progress through your training by adding complexity or intensity to your existing moves. “Try going from a flat bench to a dumbbell bench, where you have to coordinate both dumbbells,” he says. He also suggests changing the loading pattern—if you’re doing Bulgarian Split Squats, try swapping out your dumbbells for kettlebells, a barbell or even a sandbag.
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He also suggests that athletes in just about every sport construct their training around a few basic exercises: a vertical push, a vertical pull, a horizontal push, a horizontal pull, a knee-dominant exercise and a hip-dominant exercise. Generally, Grosso says, you should train those movements with high intensity for three weeks, during which you steadily increase your repetitions. On the fourth week, you add weight or complexity, and the process restarts from there. “People try to make programs specific to certain sports,” he says. “Really, every sport needs the same thing.”
If you’re doing big movements, be sure to perform them as explosively as possible while you’re fresh and keep the reps low, with adequate rest in between. Boredom with training indicates a larger problem. “If you’re getting bored, it’s time to look at that programing as a whole,” Grosso says.
All that being said, if you’re determined to do a CrossFit workout, odds are you’re going to do a CrossFit workout. Ease yourself into it and scale your workouts (either with weight or reps) before you attempt to do the WODs as they are prescribed.
Read more about how to start CrossFit the right way here.