In this interview, Strength Conditioning Coach Andrew Heming answers some of our questions about Crossfit.
1. What is Crossfit?
Crossfit combines many different training disciplines such as Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics, strongman, and aerobic sports into one exercise system. Also, with the emergence of the Crossfit games, it has turned fitness and exercise into a very popular sport.
2. What was the original purpose behind Crossfit?
The idea behind Crossfit is complete, balanced fitness. Traditionally many people specialized in one specific aspect of training. For example, if you compete in powerlifting, you specialize in maximal strength for the squat, bench press and deadlift.
The idea behind Crossfit is to be strong, athletic, and powerful and have great endurance. The goal is to not be a specialist in any one thing, but be good at all things related to fitness.
3. Would you consider it another “fad”? Why or why not?
When it first started, I think a lot of people saw it as a fad. However, instead of dying off, it has adapted and continues to grow in popularity.
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4. What are some of the good things about Crossfit?
There are several things I love about Crossfit which include:
- Well-equipped gyms (any gym filled with barbells, power racks, dumbbells, pull-up bars, rings, and kettlebells is a great gym in my books!)
- Great hard-core training atmosphere
- A supportive, team-like environment
- A multi-discipline approach: I agree with the idea of using useful tools from a variety of training systems (e.g. powerlifting, weightlifting, gymnastics, etc.)
- An aggressive training attitude (too many people are too passive when they train)
- The Crossfit games: these are very cool and the top athletes are very impressive
- Crossfit realized that most people do not want to be a specialist in one particular thing, but rather seek balanced compromise of several fitness components
- It takes the focus off aesthetics and onto performance. In the context of those who struggle with eating disorders, disordered eating or body image issues, I recommend avoiding traditional measures of fitness such as scale weight, skinfold calipers, and girth measures. Tracking gym performance provides a great way to know your training is working without engaging in assessments that can be triggers.
6. What are some of the bad ways it’s used and the side effects of these?
Despite these great benefits, there are some concerns with Crossfit to be aware of:
- Random workouts of the day instead of structured programs (referred to as WOD’s). While it is fun to always have a different workout, it can be harder to make progress with this approach.
- Crossfit has traditionally emphasized “just get the weight up” quantity over quality approach to training and this is a recipe for injury. Of course this is not always the case and there are excellent Crossfit coaches out there who are meticulous in their technique coaching.
- Crossfit often does their WOD’s (workout of the day) in timed rounds. Doing training in timed rounds can encourage rushing exercises, cutting corners and sloppy technique.
- Inappropriate use of exercises. Some exercises (e.g. Olympic weightlifting variations) are great for building power when programmed with low reps and plenty of rest between sets. However, performed for high-reps, in timed set workout, they are high risk for injury and ineffective for improving explosive power.
- Crossfit ignores the fundamental training principle of specificity. The body adapts the way you train it. For example, even though running and cycling both require great heart and lung function, one does not make you good at the other.
- Qualified coaching. Again this is a tricky one because there are excellent, highly trained and experienced coaches coaching Crossfit. However, Level 1 Crossfit certifications are 2 day courses. This is not a lot of time to learn to be a trainer and this is especially true when you are working with so many disciplines (e.g. weightlifting, kettlebells, gymnastics, strongman, powerlifting, etc.) and advanced training concepts.
- Well-meaning, but dangerous workout partners. When you do Crossfit in a group, you have the benefit of having other people working out with you and cheering you on. While this can be wonderful, it can also mean having well-meaning people cheering; “Go!” when an experienced coach would be yelling, “Stop!” and your body yelling, “No more!”
Crossfit gyms will often celebrate when people puke during their workouts and reward them with a Puckie the Clown T-Shirt.
Extreme exercise can also lead to a condition called Rhabdomyolysis where the muscle tissue is destroyed and released into the blood (For more information: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000473.htm).
Remember that training is about exercising to reach a goal, not just getting tired. Sure proper training will get you tired as a natural by-product, but the focus should be on getting better, not getting tired. Most people these days think that the more exhausted you are after training the better the workout was. However, each proper training session is simply one step forward towards the ultimate goal.
7. What are some signs you are taking Crossfit too far?
People who do Crossfit are VERY passionate about it. While passion is good, it can go too far. Here are some questions I would encourage any Crossfitter to ask him/herself:
- Are you getting hurt?
- Are you getting sick?
- Do you feel tired and run down?
- Are you getting better at what you want to get better at?
- Is it consuming your life? Remember there is more to life than training. Training is great and it can enhance the quality of your life, but it should be part of a well-balanced life not your whole life.
8. Is there an alternative you would recommend to CrossFit? Or at least an alternative approach than the standard?
As I discussed above, there are a lot of great things about Crossfit. As an alternative, I would suggest taking the good things and following these guidelines:
- While balance is good, you will get better results having one major focus at a time. Think of a stove with 3 simmer burners and one power burner. You have 4 pots on the stove which represent: strength, power, endurance, and conditioning. During a particular time, you can have one of these on the power burner (i.e. this is your major focus for this particular period of training) while you focus on maintaining the others. Then, in another phase of training, switch the pots around and focus on another fitness quality.
- Earn the right to lift big weights and train more aggressively by first mastering technique with light weights in a non-fatigue producing setting. This is especially true for effective, but higher-risk exercises (e.g. deadlifts, power cleans).
- Use the variations of exercises that are most appropriate for you based on your goals, your body and what works best for you (e.g. some people find the front squat a better exercise than the traditional back squat).
- Have a more structured program that emphasizes the best exercises for you and your goals and focus on progression and getting better at these exercises.
In addition, you can follow this general template:
(note: adjust ranges depending on your specific emphasis for this particular training phase):
- Speed power exercises (e.g. jumps, medicine ball throws, sprints or if you have the coaching Olympic weightlifting variations). Do 1-2 exercises 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps.
- Big barbell exercises (e.g. squats, deadlifts, standing presses, etc.). Do 2-4 exercises for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps.
- Body weight exercises (e.g. push-ups, dips, chin-ups, inverted rows, lunges, etc.). Do 2-4 exercises for 2-4 sets of 5-15 reps.
- Conditioning (e.g. sprints, hill sprints, sled pushing/pulling, etc.). Pick one exercise and do 3-10 sets of about 10-30 seconds hard intervals with 30 seconds to 3 minutes of rest (all depending on what you do an how long you do it).
9. Anything else you’d like to add?
Crossfit is a very difficult thing to answer questions on because if you visit different Crossfit facilities you can see a wide range of things happening. Sure some places have completely random programing with sloppy form, underqualified coaches, and lots of people getting hurt. However, you also have other places that are carefully coaching people, adding some structured programming, and safely progressing people.
If you choose to step into the world of Crossfit, proceed with caution and look for the right fit for you.
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