Let’s face it, Crossfit is a controversial topic in the world of strength and conditioning. Crossfit gyms are springing up all over the world. They are cheap and easy to open, with only a weekend certification and a few thousand dollars worth of equipment. This appeals to many newcomers to the fitness business. You can be part of a rapidly growing trend and you can do it without great expense. I am not a Crossfit fan so some might view this piece as yellow journalism. I will try to keep my personal opinions to myself and deal with what is generally agreed upon as safe in strength and conditioning.
First, a little background. To be honest, I knew very little about Crossfit until I was contacted by representatives of SOMA, the Special Operations Medical Association, in 2005. Crossfit was their concern, not mine. I was asked to come to the SOMA meeting in Tampa, Florida to discuss training special operations soldiers. At a panel discussion in 2005 I offered answers to questions asked about Crossfit and the controversy began.
What follows is not from the SOMA meeting but, my thoughts since.
Major Question 1- Is planned randomization a valid concept. Crossfit is based on the idea that the workouts are planned but deliberately random. I think that the term planned randomization is an oxymoron. Workouts are either planned or random. I believe strongly that workouts should be planned and that a specific progression should be followed to prevent injury.
Major Question 2- Is Training to Failure Safe? Because Crossfit is, at it’s heart, a competitive or self-competitive program it becomes necessary to train to failure. There are two layers or problem here. One is the simple question of whether training to failure is beneficial to the trainee. Some strength and conditioning experts believe training to failure is beneficial, others caution against. I must admit that I like training to failure. However, this brings up the larger question of what constitutes failure. Strength and Conditioning Coach Charles Poliquin (another non-Crossfit fan) popularized the term “technical failure” and, this is the definition that we adhere to. Technical failure occurs not when the athlete or client is no longer capable of doing the exercise but, when the athlete or client can no longer do the exercise with proper technique. In training beyond technical failure the stress shifts to tissues that were not, and probably should not, be the target of the exercise.
The third layer of the training to failure question relates to what movements lend themselves to training to failure. In the area of “generally agreed as safe”, high velocity movements like Olympic lifts and jumps are not generally done to failure and never should be taken beyond technical failure. Is it one bad rep versus multiple bad reps? How many bad reps is too many?
Major Question 3- Is an overuse injury ( generally an injury caused by repeated exposure to light loads), different from an overstress injury ( an injury caused by exposure to heavy loads). Both are injuries. The first is overuse, the second is trauma. In my mind injuries are injuries, period.
Major Question 4- Should adults be Olympic lifters? I don’t think that Olympic lifts are for adults. Most adults can’t get their arms safely over their head once much less fifty times with load. The other question that begs to be asked is should anyone do high rep Olympic lifts. I know the best Olympic lifters in the world say no.
With all that said believe it or not my biggest problem is actually less with the actual workouts than it is with the false bravado and character assassination of dissenters. The community can be pretty venomous when you question Coach Glassman or Crossfit. In fact, I know I will get angry emails from this piece.
The Crossfit community is also filled with people who tell you that injury is a normal part of the training process. I have spoken up against endurance athletes who willingly hurt themselves and to me, this is no different than the current Crossfit controversy.
I know that this post will generate more controversy but, Crossfit might be the most controversial and polarizing topic in strength and conditioning since HIT training.