What's So Wrong With CrossFit? Part 1 - What I Love

Recently, I’ve became infatuated with CrossFit. Be then my thoughts were simple: CrossFit equals injuries, cheating pull ups and stupid dietary habits. Then, I realized I’ve never actually looked into the concepts of CrossFit. I’ve never actually watched them train or heard their philosophies.

Boy was I wrong.

I decided to take a more objective (and intelligent) look at CrossFit, here are my thoughts.

Community

Sadly, this is hardly seen in the bodybuilding and powerlifting community. While all three sports are competitive in nature you rarely see another bodybuilder cheering someone else on backstage. It’s a more “me against the world mentality”. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to be more supportive. We all have days when training feels like a job, when we want to just pig out. CrossFitters have the advantage of always being there for each other. Go to any CrossFit gym and you’ll see them screaming for their friends even though they can hardly breathe. Heck, even at the CrossFit games, Rich Froning (3x champion) completed his event and then went back to cheer on his competitors. That’s the type of environment that benefits everyone.

COMPETITION

Too often it’s easy for people to become demotivated. It’s not hard to get someone to the gym, it’s hard to have them return for longer than a few weeks. There could be a multitude of reasons for this, but I think a large one is boredom. They bench, talk to some friends, do some triceps, hop on the elliptical and go home. Sure, it’s great to try and PR on your lifts or maybe a long run, but you can’t simulate competition. Knowing someone is right next to you trying to kick your ass, puts you in another gear. This is especially important for those who are working out as oppose to actually training for something like a bodybuilding show, powerlifting meet ,etc. It gives them an everyday drive and awhy to their training. Let’s face it, most jobs today aren’t incredibly competitive, but when people get off work they have a great opportunity to go kick ass and make them feel accomplished, as oppose to doing LISS cardio for 45 minutes and feeling “blah."

  WHOLE FOOD DIET

This will not be an in depth look at the Paleo diet! That is for another time and place. Keep in mind, CrossFit does not automatically equal Paleo. Rich Froning eats a lot of pizza and doughnuts (he also trains for 6+ hours a day.) I’ll get into what I don’t like about Paleo later, but in all honesty it’s MUCH better than the typical Western diet. Which brings me to my point that usually something is better than nothing. Average people looking to improve their health and body composition could certainly do a lot worse than a diet centered around meat, nuts & vegetables. Whether low carb is the best approach for performance is certainly debatable, but high protein is always a great idea. Any diet that is high in protein has shown to increase energy expenditure (up to 100 calories/day) and increase satiety and usually equates to eating less. [1]

Although I preach a more flexible approach to dieting I still like my clients to center their intake around whole foods and minimize processed foods, which isn’t too different from Paleo.

VARIETY

Like I stated earlier, boredom is big reason why people stop exercising consistently. You could call CrossFit a lot of things, but boring couldn’t be one of them. Most importantly, variety helps CrossFitters keep showing up. And when they do show up they are excited about what their doing. Sure, maybe running long distance isn’t their thing, but they can take it on as that days challenge and push themselves. Too many times in our own training we get comfortable. We have a list of certain exercises we like (and are good at) and tend to shy away from our weaknesses. We all know the women who only do cardio and the men who only lift weights. Learn from CrossFit to conquer something new from time to time.

There is a great deal of both strength and conditioning work in CrossFit. Squats, cleans, snatches, these are all great total body exercises that more people should do! Not too many people would argue that this is a good mix for most people without extreme goals towards an individual sport. You won’t become the strongest in the world or the best mile runner with CrossFit, but you will be good at both, which is more important to most people. In a recent study [2], a typical CrossFit training protocol improved VO2 max (which means maximal oxygen uptake and a good indicator of physical fitness) and body composition (looking better naked.)

PASSION

I love this image of Rich Froning (damn I’ve said his name a lot.) When was the last time you saw someone beat their mile PR and do this? Or the last time you saw a guy get jazzed up as he just curled the 45′s for the first time? This is missing. I’ll admit, passion is not something that is learned easily, but I think the environment that CrossFit creates makes it easier to find. Even in my short wannabee stint of doing some MetCons, there is a certain drive you get trying to do 100 push presses in under 2 minutes. There is also a great sense of pride you get from completing one of the grueling WOD’s (workout of the day.) All of this feeds you, next time I want more reps, faster times, I wanna beat whomever is next to me!

Mind you, this is without the great support system that many CrossFit gyms have. There are teams, group exercise sessions, everyone puking in unison  these things create passion! I’ve added this to my own training lately. I train with MUCH more passion. When I hit a PR on squat you’re gonna know about it, even if you didn’t want to

STEP OUT OF YOUR SHOES

Why is this there battle between camps? Powerlifters calling bodybuilders dumb for doing curls. CrossFitters calling out powerlifters for their crappy diets. Bodybuilders laughing at the kipping pull ups. The truth is every training style has pro’s and con’s and just because a certain individual does something incorrectly doesn’t mean it’s a representation of everyone.

Some powerlifters do eat like crap, but many don’t. Does that make powerlifting is unhealthy? Of course not.

Some bodybuilders do too much isolation work? Does that make bodybuilding pointless?

Some CrossFitters injure themselves trying movements they aren’t ready for yet? So we shouldn’t do Olympic lifts?

If all you look at is the bad of each type of training, then they all look bad! How about a change of reference. Remember, we are all on the same team here. We all use a certain form of exercise to feel empowered, release frustration and increase our quality of life.

Why not look at the good of each camp and combine them in your training for maximal results. Now, I’m not saying if you want to be a competitive powerlifter that you need to do a lot of bodybuilding and CrossFit work, you still need to adhere to the principle of specificity.

Most importantly, respect and appreciate what others are doing. It takes incredible strength to squat 1,000 pounds, insane discipline to get on stage at sub 5% body fat and I’m not even sure what to call 30 snatches at 135 pounds in under 5 minutes. (Isabel)

We need to learn to grow from one another, not divide. Take what you like about each type of training or philosophy and apply it to your own. I personally used to do too much isolation work and training more like a powerlifter has enabled me to build more muscle through building my absolute strength. I come from an athletic background, so doing cardio on a stair master isn’t very appealing, so I incorporate MetCon’s a few times a week in order to stay lean enough to be in striking distance of a bodybuilding competitions. I’m not doing all singles. I’m not eating Paleo. I’m just being open minded and making my training better because of it.

Check out some of the case studies listed below. These men are all great examples of being at the top of their sport, but not fitting the stereotypes.

Alberto Nunez – Natural Bodybuilder

Alberto Nunez – Natural Bodybuilder

Albero Nunez – Also competing in powerlifting

Albero Nunez – Also competing in powerlifting

Dan Green – World record raw powerlifter

Dan Green – World record raw powerlifter

Dan Green again. I think he's done his fair share of bodybuilding work and diet manipulation. 

Dan Green again. I think he's done his fair share of bodybuilding work and diet manipulation. 

Think Rich Froning just does a lot of conditioning work? Think again, check out this 370lb/170kg. clean & jerk. Rich is a great example of how being incredibly strong crosses over to CrossFit.

HOW I FIND BALANCE

In conclusion, as my primary goal of bodybuilding, secondary goal of powerlifting and tertiary decent cardiovascular shape. Here are some general philosophies of my own training. Another important key to my training has always been FUN. Will box jumps give me bigger legs? Probably not, but they’re fun! Not every set and rep has to be “optimal.” If you’re not having fun then something needs to change.

1. Focus on getting stronger in the squat, bench & deadlift.

2. 1-2 30 minute metabolic conditioning workouts/week.

3. Performing 1-2 isolation exercises/workout in high rep ranges.

4. Tracking my macronutrients. Following a diet centered around whole foods, while allowing for 10-20 percent of discretionary calories and the occasional meal out with friends/family where I don’t track anything.

5. Using a variety of equipment: barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, rowing machine, pylo boxes.

Stay tuned for part two, where I’ll discuss what I think is wrong with CrossFit and how it can be improved upon.

References

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20565999

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439334