Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fitness and PT: The Problem with CrossFit

CrossFit Trainer Certification, 2007 (Wikimedia Commons)
Here are two videos: One is a CrossFit demonstration of explosive lifts and one is by Coach Hatch who coached the 2004 USA Mens Olympic Weightlifting team.

The CrossFit video shows horrible weight lifting technique. The Coach Hatch video has great technique.

Bad technique is just one reason CrossFit is bad.
CrossFit does not allow anyone to start off at a beginners level. The workout of the day does not give lighter loads or easier exercises for beginners. A good strength and conditioning program should allow the person to start light until their body gets accustomed to the training program. Only then can the body handle a more intense workout. Increasing the intensity and load in a periodized way is used by most collegiate and professional sports teams. It allows the body time to adapt to the stresses of training.

There is always a spike in injuries when a group starts to participate in CrossFit. Read this interview with Marine Capt Brian Chontosh. Capt Chontosh said there was a temporary spike in minor injuries at the outset, but he was soon able to move from injury prevention to injury avoidance through increased work capacity.

If these Marines were allowed to start at a lighter intensity and weight there would have not been a spike in injuries. If you overload the body too quickly you will get injured. The proper way would be to slowly and steadily increase the load and intensity of the exercise.


  1. Anytime you do crossfit they start you out in a fundamentals class and scale the workouts in weight and intensity. If you go to a crossfit gym virtually every trainer will make you demonstrate the proper technique and never start you off with those main site workouts that you are referring to. I do crossfit with my Marines and for the first two months, at least, I was crawling with them. I think you do not have a full grasp of crossfit. I too would cringe at these points you bring up but this is simply not correct. Check out a legit box and see a difference.

  2. What Matt sounds like some individuals decided that the beginner level was beneath them and hooked straight into the main work outs...

  3. Wow, awesome blog post. I fully agree from personal experience!

  4. Thanks Matt-
    I'm glad somebody taught you to type so that you could spew your ignorance all over the world wide web. I'm glad that you like CrossFit... but, have you considered that you missed the point of the article? CrossFit is not perfect, and some of the weaknesses might be poor technique. Did you watch the videos? Also, I don't think that this article is geared toward the guys that are ready to drop $200 a month on a CrossFit gym membership. Sounds to me like he is talking to the guys that are trying to get in better shape by trying to PT a couple extra times a week, or that Sgt. Squad Leader that is trying to train LCpl Schmuckatelli to carry a mortar tube onto the range without falling out.
    And, I admire how your friends are trying to elect you President of the comment board, but you seem more like Rick Santorum to me...destined to fail.

  5. Wow Anonymous- thanks for showing your ignorance and the article is misinformed. CrossFit is all about scaling to individual abilities and stretching/warming up in order to increase mobility and prevent injuries( On the WOD it will list a prescribed weight which is a goal but if you are just starting crossfit they state to scale to a lower weight, do less reps, etc... (technique then consistency and once you have those two items intensity can be worked on)

    Yes not everyone can afford a commercial CrossFit Box but many Military Bases especially in deployed areas have non-profit affiliates and they will teach a fundamentals class for free. (Camp Pendleton, Ft Leavenworth) They often give scholarships to get a CrossFit level one certificate so leaders can better instruct on proper fitness. If none of that is available the CrossFit website has a entire "start here" portion that explains working up incrementally which should be done with any fitness program. There will always be the people that do not want to follow instructions but CrossFit is not dangerous because of their personal decisions and swelled egos. Do we tell people to not bench press because someone new to weight lifting read that a 300 lbs bench press is the best average and he attempts that his first time at the gym without a spotter?

    I did watch the videos did you read the caption below the first video? (see below)

    "Taken from an event with veteran CrossFit athletes. Hitting axle clean and jerks. Supervised by Strongman Certified Coaches. Axle weight is about 10-15lbs. This lift is not a standard Clean and Jerk."

    This video shows a strong man lift not the Olympic style lifting that is part of the basics for CrossFit. Google the axle Clean and jerk and by the definition they were doing the lift correctly in the video. The article is comparing apples and oranges and you need to look at other CrossFit videos which you will find they are the same techniques as the second video in this article (in fact Olympic coaches teach at CrossFit Boxes).

    CrossFit is a good program if you take the time to learn about it before judging it. I will state it again the first video is people at a CrossFit gym learning a Strongman technique and it should not represent CrossFit other than one of CrossFit's tenants is Constantly Varied workouts. In addition this article takes two data points in the limited research to call CrossFit dangerous.

  6. Anonymous, are you going to tell us who you are, or are you going to hide behind "anonymous" while you spew your ad hominem across the internet? My guess is you're just trolling.

  7. Crossfit, or any training regiment, should never, ever be done based off an internet schedule and YouTube videos without getting trained on the techniques. Educate yourself and make sure your Marines educate themselves before starting a workout routine.

    I tried Crossfit in Iraq in '08 and promptly hurt my back. I tried again in 2010, with a certified Crossfit instructor, and I haven't been injured and I'm in the best shape of my life.

    It doesn't matter what kind of PT you do, if you or your Marines go into it ignorant of correct techniques and uninformed about the risks, you'll get hurt.

  8. At Canaan...I completely agree and there are several articles that support your theories. Great read and research!

    At Matt...crossfit is nice for someone accompanied by a personal trainer watching and critiquing technique. But, for the purpose of group training where injuries put men and women out of work and out of service, it is garbage. The risks far outweigh the potential benefit.

    If you continue to disagree, try a statistical approach and do a study yourself.

    Here are a few excerpts of other articles to get you started:

    Seemingly random programming – The workouts of the day bounce around in a seemingly random fashion. Per strength coach Alwyn Cosgrove: “Another one was 30 muscle-ups. And if you can’t do muscle-ups, do 120 pull-ups and 120 dips. It’s just random; it makes no sense. Two days later the program was five sets of five in the push jerk with max loads. That’s not looking too healthy for the shoulder joint if you just did 120 dips 48 hours ago.” Hello, injury.
    Dangerous loading protocols – As an example, one workout of the day required 30 reps of the power snatch at 135 lbs. The snatch is an explosive Olympic lift, which I would never program for over 5 or 6 reps per set due to the technical complexity involved. It’s just too hard to maintain your form past that point. Likewise, the above 6 reps of 225 lb deadlifts is out of reach for many. Hello again, injury.
    Lack of progression – Due to the “never repeating” nature of the programming, it is difficult, if not impossible to track progress in major lifts. How do I know my strength or speed is improving if I never repeat a protocol? Most strength coaches and trainers agree that some form of measurable progressive overload is crucial.

  9. The video is sponsored by Crossfit Albany and Crossfit Clifton Park. The caption at the bottom says "Taken from an event with veteran CrossFit athletes. Hitting axle clean and jerks. Supervised by Strongman Certified Coaches." These guys are wrong. Their technique and what they are teaching is wrong. The point of this post was to show trainers who are crossfit certified do not train people correctly. This is ends up on the internet where lance corporal Smith watches it and then try's to copy the movements and injuries himself. I am sure lance corporals do not make enough money to go out and find a good crossfit trainer.

    All programs should progress in a linear, systematic way. This continually stress the body which requires the body to adapt. These adaptation are thicker bones, stronger muscles, and stronger joints. If you constantly move between different workouts you may not stress the body adequately enough to have theses adaptations occur.

  10. Blindly lauching into world class workouts without the proper foundation is foolish; crossfit or not. These are incredibly intense workouts which most of us will not be able to complete as RX'd without subtantial training above and beyond what I recieved in the Marine Corps.

    I followed the crossfit mainsite workouts for 6 months, scaled down obviously (I couldn't deadlift 225lbs), and I have never gained strenth so quickly.

    Crossfit works, but you have to do your homework. Scaled down workouts are provided via a link on the mainsite (look for BrandX Scaled Workouts), and excercise subtistutions are also provided on the website (in FAQ or Exercises & Demos).

    If you are interested in Crossfit brouse the Crossfit Journal. There you will find countless articles emphasising the importance of good form. You will also find beginning programs designed to build the base you will need to complete even the scaled workouts.

    Oh, and by the way, I haven't done any snatches yet.


    Semper Fit...

  12. To increase one's fitness you have to continually overload the body. After overloading the body, the body adapts to the stress. To increase fitness you have to continue to overload the body. Some adaptations take a long period.

    Baechle and Earle state "The time course for bone adaptations is rather long. Quantitatively increasing bone mineral density via resistance training is a long term process- approximately 6 months or longer- and depends on the structure of the program.

    It may take at least a few weeks before muscle hypertrophy becomes evident during resistant training. With the initiation of a heavy resistance training program, changes in the type of muscle protein (e.g. fast myosin heavy chains) start to take place within several workouts. However, muscle fiber hypertrophy appears to require a longer period of training time (>16 workouts).

    Both are taken from: Baechle, T, Earle, R. "Essentials of Strength training and Conditioning." 3rd Edition. Chapaign, IL. 2008. The first citation comes from page 104 and the second one comes from pages 100.

    The body cannot adapt quickly to a workout program. If you continue to change the program such as crossfit does then you may not get the full benefit from the training program. The best plan is to constantly and systematically overload the body. This way you will get the full benefits from the program. Do the same exercises for a few weeks increasing the load and intensity. After a few weeks change exercises. This way you get the full benefit from the workout program.

  13. "The proper way would be to slowly and steadily increase the load and intensity of the exercise."

    That is exactly the way I ran Crossfit Camp Lejeune for beginners and I imagine most other responsible CF box owners do the same.

    Brian Russell

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