I decided to write on this topic, as I find myself being asked the question “What is CrossFit” more often. CrossFit (CF) has become a hot topic, and a lightening rod for intense conversation between many health professionals. Some in it’s defense, and the majority attacking it. CrossFit’s popularity has risen with the affiliations it has with Reebok, and being televised by ESPN.

CF describes itself as a multi disciplinary approach to training that enhances ones cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and accuracy. Workouts are designed at headquarters, and handed down to CF Coaches as “Workouts Of The Day”. WODs are built on high intensity interval training sessions utilizing Olympic Weightlifting, Gymnastics, Running, Bodyweight Moves, and Rowers.

Instead of offering my opinions on CrossFit, I wanted to address the topic by examining the Principles, Strategies, and Techniques of movement conditioning.

Principles are absolute truths and hold up over the test of time. I will look at a few principles of movement and see how CF stacks up.

Individuality: Movement is task and activity specific to an individual, based on thresholds and goals.

  • CrossFit claims that they are for everyone, the same program can work for the elderly with heart disease to the cage fighter. Scalability is their answer to individuality. Simply stated, an individual can decrease the load, intensity, reps, sets to their appropriate level.
  • My take: The fact that there are Workouts Of The Day designed by a coach at headquarters for groups of people they have never met would cause me to score them very low on the principle of individuality. A man that is working in an office all day long has a very different need then that of a police officer. Not only am I looking at the physical demands of their job, but also the emotional stress each takes on. A WOD does not create an effective answer for both. I have also watched the strategy of scalability live, although I understand the concept of addressing ones’ thresholds it fails for 2 reasons: peer pressure and the individual does not understand their thresholds.

Forces: Gravity, ground reaction forces, mass and momentum are all forces that your body accepts when an individual moves. The intensity of these forces are relative to the position the body is in and external loads placed upon the body.

  • CrossFit’s movement choices works with these forces within the overall strategy to enhance performance.
  • My take: Most of the movements that are utilized in CF adhere to the principle of Force. The idea of optimizing these forces is to create an environment that the body has the ability to accept the forces entering into the body and release the same amount of force out. This creates an optimal energy transfer within the body. Where trouble begins is when the forces entering the body are of a higher demand then what the body can handle. When this occurs the forces entering in the body can cause damage to the connective tissues and compensations with the body.

Fun: Any conditioning program must have elements of fun for the individual for adherence, or it simply turns into work.

  • CrossFit has designed a fundamental concept that has movements changing daily, challenges varied, and in a group atmosphere to work fun into the program.
  • My take: This is the ultimate strength of CrossFit, the camaraderie that CF creates is undeniable. Working with like minded individuals towards a goal is a major plus.

There are many more principles of movement then listed above, but for the purpose of this blog the above will create conversation.

Strategies describe how we are going to create the program to reach the desired result:

The strategies of CF is where I fail to understand the concept. Renowned strength & conditioning coach Juan Carlos Santana wrote “I believe the fundamental area CrossFit need help with is their lack of systematic programming and training. From the hundreds of conversations I have had with CrossFit owners, coaches, and advocates, I have to conclude that is no real screening tools, periodization schedule, or progressive pedagogical approach to CrossFit training.”

When I personally have asked participants- Why that workout today? What movements did you practice to build up to that move? What zone were you training in throughout the workout? The usual response is – “Not sure”. These are just a few fundamental questions behind a properly integrated conditioning program.

Techniques asks the question, “what will this all look like?” What tools and how will you utilize the tools to reach a goal.

Most of you reading this blog have seen this or other clips questioning the techniques taught at CrossFit. I personally witnessed this at a CrossFit competition. It is not a rogue CrossFit center, it does happen elsewhere. I was just in a conversation with a colleague who is affiliated with a physical therapy clinic. He said they have walk-ins daily from those complaining of knee, low back, shoulder and neck pain from participating in CF. This brings us to the above principle on forces. If not understood by coaches, it can be dangerous and detrimental to the individual.

This blog then is brought full circle back to the coaches of CrossFit. For that matter any program. There are examples of CrossFit athletes utilizing appropriate techniques (tools and mechanics), that match their individual thresholds and utilize the forces to maximize potential. For those athletes you have a better chance of finding a coach that understands principles and strategies, and a coach that understands progressions and regressions to fit individuals. CrossFit allows their coaches a large freedom when dispensing the program, this allows the coach to truly “coach”. In the end the power of the success (not measuring business success, but of the efficacy of the program), is at it’s core – the coaches.

Jay Morgan, FAFS