I have a lot of respect for Crossfit athletes. They work harder in many ways than almost anyone I know. However, I have problems with Crossfit as a general conditioning program. Crossfit should not be viewed as a way to stay in shape, but rather as a competitive sport.
When you are a baseball pitcher, you practice your long pitch to increase your pitch. In Crossfit they practice their movements with repetitions and series, to decrease their training time. Crossfit is a sport, not a way of life, and not a way to strengthen and condition your body for the long term. No athlete will have improved explosive power, core strength, and stability through these workouts, which could not be achieved anywhere else with even better results. I have heard people say that it is a great exercise. And guess what? That is all. Just a good workout. It does not focus on explosive power. It doesn’t focus on increased growth hormone release in your body, it actually does the opposite. It does not focus on safety and it does not focus on core strength and stability.
I will probably piss off a lot of people with this article, so I will provide as much scientific data as possible. The first Crossfit myth that I am going to address is that you can optimally work all three energy systems at the same time. Each power system is activated by phasing out the previous power system. Athletes who wish to develop explosive strength must train primarily on the phospho-creatine system. While in the phospho-creatine system, the body’s type 2 A and B muscle fibers can contract to the maximum. As the number of repetitions increases, the body switches from the phospho-creatine system mainly to the glycolytic system and the athlete’s ability to produce power degenerates. I recently did a Crossfit workout where I was told to jump over a box 40 times in a row. Unless you are a professional Double Dutch player or a professional Crossfitter, there is absolutely no reason for this exercise. By the 40threp, I have not only exploded through my phosphorous-creatine system and my glycolytic system, but I have entered my oxidative system. By using the oxidative system, my body converts my contractile components from Type 2 to Type 1. Type 1 muscle fibers are used primarily for endurance activities. By doing a workout that should look explosive and target my Type 1 muscle fibers, I am slowing my body’s ability to create power and speed of movement. If you are performing these explosive movements in a system other than the phospho-creatine system, YOU ARE TRAINING YOUR BODY TO GO WEAKEN! I will repeat! If you are training your type 1 muscle fiber to perform type 2 muscle movements, you are training to be weak. Your body remembers the last rep of each set, so make them explosive.
Let’s go back to the box jump or snatch, or any explosive move. Most explosive movements involve a large number of muscles and put enormous pressure on the bones and joints. Bones are very similar to muscles in that they become stronger through progressive overload – the more weight is applied over a long period of time, the stronger and denser they become. Everyone knows a runner who has bad knees, bad hips, or bad ankles. Constant compression of a runner’s bones and joints without weight gain (progressive overload) will lead to degeneration of the runner’s skeleton. At the opposite end of the spectrum, most properly trained Olympic lifters have very strong bones because they have been forced to adapt to a heavier weight over time. For whatever reason, crossfitters are in the habit of doing high-rep Olympic lifts for long periods of time. The fact that the small muscles you use in these full-body movements are exhausted only in the first few reps is just one of the concerns I have with this practice. If crossfitters continue to do high-rep Olympic lifts and explosive exercises, their bones and joints will weaken. Weak joints and bones cause pain and destabilization. Pain is not healthy. If you constantly have to see a chiropractor to readjust your body, there is likely a flaw in your fitness prescription.
If you’ve ever been in a fight, you know the feeling of throbbing in the temples, tingling in the neck, redness of the skin, heartbeat in the chest, body temperature that seems to rise. This is your body’s stress response that tells you that you are in danger. Something is wrong. Your body is now shutting down certain functions to regulate your ability to run or fight. This is a safe way for your body to release glucochordicoids and other stress hormones that slow protein synthesis and your body’s ability to produce growth hormones like IGF-1 and HGH. For those of you who are thinking that that is too much scientific jargon … it means that your body cannot grow and will become catabolic if you continue these workouts. If you go to the beginning of the paragraph and read the description of how your body feels in a fight, you will know how your body feels after a Crossfit workout. Do yourself a favor and give your body plenty of time to rest and complete each set with maximum energy production. Otherwise, you will slow down your fitness again by degrading your endocrine system.
Another problem I have with Crossfit workouts is that they don’t focus enough on core and stability. The first time I made this point, I was assaulted on the grounds that doing 30 straight toe lifts to the bar was a very tough abdominal exercise. I don’t disagree, but 99% of the world does them incorrectly. We will soon see many Crossfitters in physical therapy for hypertrophied iliopsoas muscles. 99% of the athletes I have worked with do not know how to use the transversus abdominis and correctly separate the contractions of each muscle of the abdominal muscles. I have never been to a Crossfit workout where the instructor talked about the importance of activating the transverse abdomen or loading the diaphragm. If you cannot isolate each of your abdominal muscles properly and effectively, I guarantee that you cannot properly integrate them. The abdominal muscles have many more nerve innervations than the other muscles in the body. Nerves are basically an extension of the brain and are responsible for giving orders to the muscles. Maybe now you see how much activity your core is responsible for.
The last point I will make is that each person is different. You have a different body with different responses to different stimuli than the person next to you. The body that each of us walks with every day is like a canvas. We paint that canvas every day of our life through our actions and the paths we travel. If you sit in a car every day for two hours, your pelvis will be positioned at a different angle than a yoga instructor, who is constantly leaning back. You’ll have different tight muscles, different weak muscles, and different trigger points than the mechanic who lays on his back under cars all day.
The point is that no two untrained people should exercise the same way. Especially in the explosive / endurance form that Crossfit is so well known for. If you are part of this program and are following the same workouts and protocols as everyone else in the group without any individual attention or training prescription for your unique muscular and skeletal differences and imbalances, you might as well ask your instructor to hurt you.