CrossFit Fail

Conversations With CrossFitters

A friend once told me I write  better when I am answering questions from or conversing with readers and that some of my best and most informative writing is in the replies to reader comments and questions. On more popular articles with a large number of comments a lot of this writing is overlooked, which is why when someone asks a particularly good question I often address it in a separate article where more people are likely to read and benefit from the answer, rather than in the comments.

Recently, a reader mentioned a conversation I had with several CrossFitters in the comments on my CrossFit article, saying “it is the ONLY intelligent discussion/critique of CrossFit I have ever read.” I went back and read through the conversation, which also contained excellent questions and input from readers, and decided to repost it here with additional commentary in red and text links to relevant articles.

All comments and links appear exactly as in the original post, except I have added the name of the person being replied to at the beginning of some comments to make it clear who is talking to who and fixed some spelling errors. I have only included those comments from the conversation with the CrossFitters and the relevant replies, while removing some of the tangential questions and replies.

CrossFit Fail

Scott Charles: Drew: to me, crossfit is a way to manage fitness goals, and it has three core ideas: functional movement, intensity, and constant variation. From your post I gathered you don’t think crossfit is particularly safe or productive. But when I looked at your “What is HIT” page, you list the same exercises we do at the crossfit gym I work out at. Honestly I don’t see a big difference between what you recommend and what crossfit does. And perhaps more to the point, CF is exercise agnostic: whatever works best is what CF will use in the workouts.

Also I would mention that at the CF box I work out at, weights are used, but the Olympic weightlifting aspect is only about 15% of the workouts we do. Lots of kettlebells, sled pulls, ball slams, pullups, dips, dumbells and sandbags. To me it feels like the same kind of workout I would have gotten had I worked on a farm.

The one thing we probably do agree on is that CrossFit can be dangerous (a point I have covered several times on my own blog.) I knew that from the start (having seen CF workouts and events several times before I joined my local box.)

Also, nobody at the CF box I go to recommends six days of workouts. 3X per week is what we were told. Beyond that, it’s up to the individual.

While I appreciate your reasoned perspective, your comment that “the same or better results” can be had more safely isn’t (to me anyway) particularly compelling. HIT has the same exercises, and safety is up to the individual — the first order of business being selecting a competent coach.

Finally, I find there is a huge psychological advantage to crossfit. I enjoy the variation in the exercises, the enthusiasm of my peers, and feeling of competence as learn new skills. I find it to be a very dynamic environment. Much more so then when I worked out alone, or with a pre-determined routine.

Best Wishes,
SC

Drew Baye: Scott,

Anything that improves strength throughout the body will improve functional ability. It is not necessary for exercise movements to mimic other activities to improve your ability to perform them, and attempting to do so reduces the effectiveness of exercise. Constant variation may keep a program more interesting but is also counterproductive (read The Ultimate Routine). While CrossFit workouts may contain some of the exercises I recommend there are big differences in the style of performance.

There is no reason to devote any percentage of an exercise program to the Olympic lifts for anyone other than competitive Olympic lifters. They provide no physical benefits which could not be obtained more safely and effectively with other exercises. The same goes for the use of kettlebells, ball slams, sand bags, sleds, etc.

As for coaching, if the videos I’ve seen of CrossFit online and the accounts of clients who have done it previously are representative of the typical instruction, it is deplorable. Also, regardless of how good the coaching is certain exercises and activities are inherently less safe and effective.

The psychological benefits you mention are important and I believe they are one of the biggest reasons for CrossFit’s popularity, but they are things a person can and should obtain elsewhere – ideally from other social and recreational activities.

Jordan Barnes: Drew,

So basically what you are trying to say is that Olympic lifting is only for Olympic weightlifters?

I would point out that every Division 1 college has their football/volleyball/track&field athletes train olympic lifts to increase hip extension power, a valuable skill in almost every sport.

Next, I would point out that olympic lifting increases your metabolic rate more than any strength exercise and I think you would agree that an increased metabolic rate is a desired result of exercise.

Furthermore, you are going to talk about this type of training without any experience beyond some “videos I’ve seen of CrossFit online.” I’m sure those were a reliable source because all videos online are such. They have reigional olympic weightlifting coach and also the head national coach putting on seminars and making videos. They are obviously more credible than you.

It really seems to me that you put no effort into understanding what is going on in crossfit. You decided that you know more than some of the most well respected coaches in the nation. You obviously have not done your homework.

I did the same thing for 3 years until I started crossfit. It has it’s problems, but there are much better variation out there.

Drew Baye: Jordan,

That’s exactly what I’m saying. The only people who benefit from performing the Olympic lifts are competitive Olympic lifters, because the only thing they provide which can not be more effectively and safely accomplished with other exercises is the specific skill of performing those lifts.

I doubt every Division 1 college has all their athletes performing Olympic lifts. Not everybody can be that ignorant.

Acute increases in metabolic rate are related to effort, and there are a lot of better exercises which can be performed with equal or greater effort for equal or greater effect. Chronic increases are largely related to increases in lean body mass, and there are many exercises much better than the Olympic lifts for improving muscle size.

I don’t need to actually perform CrossFit workouts to understand how bad the exercises and form are. Did you actually read any of the article above? If not, read it. If so, re-read it. If after that you still don’t get the very simple points I’m trying to make I can’t help you.

Yes, I do know more than some of the most well respected coaches in the nation. If more people actually understood this subject they wouldn’t be very well respected because if they’re recommending Olympic lifts to athletes who are not competitive Olympic lifters they are severely misinformed and doing their athletes a huge disservice.

Jordan Barnes:You sir, have no idea what you are talking about.

Do you know anything about the power equation? P= w/t Olympic lifting trains your body to produce more power in less time. You cannot get this acute stimulation from simply lifting heavy weights.

I am a CSCS certified strength and conditioning coach and I can guarantee that every single college football weightlifting program, in every division, is doing Olympic weightlifting. I know this because I have worked with the University of Nebraska strength and conditioning program, regraded as one of the best in college football. They have an entire department of exercise physiologist who actually design programs based on studies and research.

They don’t base their opinions on “videos they see online”.

You obviously don’t know anything beyond posing like a fool in a G-string.

Drew Baye: Jordan,

The only thing Olympic lifting trains you to do that other exercises can’t is to perform the Olympic lifts more skillfully. Power in other movements can be improved simply by getting stronger, regardless of the speeds used during exercise.

For example, if the absolute most weight you can lift in an exercise in strict form is 100 pounds you will be unable to move it very quickly. If you increase your strength in that exercise so that you are able to lift 150 pounds in strict form, you will be able to lift 100 pounds more quickly, and measure higher power output (work/time).

To be able to apply that strength efficiently in sport movements it is necessary to practice those movements at speed once the fundamentals have been mastered, but there is no need or benefit to moving quickly during an exercise.

The Doctor: static weightlifting is NOT as effective skill wise as functional movements in crossfit. Using practical skills from everyday life has its obvious benefits. sitting on a bench and pressing a bar up is not helping me do anything better outside of the 4 walls called a gym. because that would never be the case in real life.

Drew Baye: The premise behind the “functional training” trend, that exercise movements must mimic activities of daily living or sport or vocational skills to improve one’s ability to perform those movements, is false. The specific skill of exercise movements does not transfer to other movements even if they appear similar. Whether you perform so-called “functional” movements or more conventional barbell or machine exercises the strength you gain from them will transfer to other activities, however many of the so-called “functional” exercises are inefficient and less safe due to the unbalanced or unstable nature or because they attempt to mimic some activity or skill rather than efficiently load the targeted muscles or muscle groups.

Eric: I would ask that any advocate of “functional/Crossfit-type training” come play basketball with me. Or triple jump. Or pole vault. Or go out and throw a javelin. Or do a forward 2 1/2 Somersaults in the Pike Position… I hope you get where I’m getting at…

Skills are highly specific. There is nothing you can do with Crossfit that will make you more skilled compared to someone else that chooses to train in as safe a manner as possible in the gym, and combines this with skill-training (on the track, ice, field, court, mat, etc.) that is specific to their sport.

Once one understands that the central nervous system learns and stores only essential information, one also realizes that the ability of the body to retain high levels of skill, strength and conditioning is also very poor. The only way to retain and transfer skills to the playing field is to practice literally thousands of specific repetitions exactly as performed in competition. Just ask a basketball player what happens to his shot if he does not shoot for a few days. He has, in effect, lost a certain amount of what the nervous system now perceives as “nonessential information”. That is also why, for instance, batting with a heavier bat, or shooting with a heavier basketball, or running with a heavy load, does NOT make you better at these given activities.

Training with Crossfit WODs will make you better at Crossfit WODs, PERIOD (and, most likely, injur you in the process…). But, it will not make you better at any given skill (say, O-lifts) compared to an individual who does these to the exclusion of other movements, but only in comparison to people (smart people, might I add) who chose to not do such silly movements as kipping, muscle-ups, O-lifts for reps, KB swings, etc. as part of their exercise regimen…

Skill is highly task-specific and, for that matter, so is fitness. The fact that Crossfitters want to claim that they are “fitter” than other trainees only shows how narrow-minded their approach is… “Fitter at what?”, would be the pertinent question… And, “More skilled at what?”… A 400-m specialist will kick a “fit” Crossfitters ass any day of the week on the track. Does this mean the 400-m specialist is “fitter” than the Crossfitter… I hope you realize how silly this game is…

Scott Charles: Eric: well the CrossFit games are over. The top athlete is a man named Rich Froning. I understand he won 250K. If you are willing to offer the same kind of prize money, I would expect that you’ll have plenty of CF athletes at your doorstep. So how long would they have to train? A day or two, or a week maybe?

Or you could wait until next year and participate in the CF games and try for that 250K.

But you are 100% correct — specialized skills require special training. This is something Greg Glassman says all the time. He also says “nature will punish the specialist” as well as “specialization is for insects”

Anyway if you’re interested you can follow my progress on my blog. The workouts won’t mean much to you, but I’m told my sense of humor is sublime.

Perhaps I’ll see you next year at the games?

Cheers,
SC

Drew Baye: Scott,

Unless they’re participating in recognized sports I wouldn’t call people who do or compete in CrossFit “athletes”. CrossFit isn’t an athletic competition, it’s a badly programmed and sloppily performed imitation of exercise.

Eric: Scott, having many trainer friends from the Crossfit world, a few “well-known” ones that own their own “boxes”, I am actually quite familiar with it and with the “programming”. As well as with the athletes, including Rich. I always restrain from commenting on topics I have not taken the time to understand correctly, experience at least briefly and taken the time to discuss with others. This ensures the most unbiased opinion I believe…

I’ve even partaken in a few of the most popular WODs on occasion, by invitation from the aforementioned Crossfit friends/owners. For what it matters, I have a Fran of under 3:30 minutes, a Helen of under 9:30 minutes, a Kelly of under 18 minutes and a FGB best of 430 reps. With numbers in the gym in all the classic lifts to match these. BUT, what does this all mean really?

I’ve read one of your articles explaining that you had read up on the history of Crossfit and of its ‘success’ with the army and police force ranks. But, even this is completely false. I have partaken in various projects and discussed this matter with many an exercise physiologist colleagues responsible for the training of our Canadian troops and, the research is quite clear: Crossfit, unlike what it likes to claim, does not come out on top compared to well-planned and periodized workout approaches. Nor are all police and armed forces embrassing their concepts… And, the injuries are simply piling up in many instances, to the point that it often appears to be a few step backwards compared to even the old paradigm of endless calisthenics and jogging!!!!

Crossfit is indeed a “sport”, as you noted in another one of your blog entries, and with this notion comes risks that are also inherent to other sports and activities. Properly executed exercise, on the other hand, does not and in fact, attempts at all cost to limit these risks. Given this, any everyday gym-goer or professional athlete that chooses to train “à la Crossfit” on the premise that they will achieve better all-around fitness and skill is really just kidding themselves. And most likely looking at some type(s) of injury(ies) in the long run…

You can’t ride two donkeys with one ass. Well, you can, but just don’t kid yourself in believing this will make you fitter or more skilled. The “specific adaptation to imposed demands” is one of the few inalienable physiological principles that simply holds true no matter what. Every organism has only so much adaptive energy to spare and this, not just for training, but for everything you throw at it… Trying to be good at everything at once only leads to overall mediocrity. A more gifted/genetically-endowed athlete may be able to take this “mediocrity” a few scales higher (just as in any other sport) but, the fact remains that this same athlete would always be better if he allowed himself more specialization… I believe Crossfit also does a disservice to the general population by promoting their top-ranked athlete and maintaining that these guys and gals are that fit BECAUSE of Crossfit… But, we all know that many were athletes in other sports (wrestling, baseball, gymnastics, etc.) before they came to Crossfit and anyone with a brain will also be able to appreciate that methods can only take one so far up the upper echelon of the elite ranks and that genes will dictate much more than anything how successful anyone athlete can be in their chosen sport at that level of competition…

And, regarding the latter, Glassman’s quote is so wrong, I don’t even know where to start… Biologically, it just makes no sense, except in a few rare cases.

Respectfully,
Éric

Scott Charles: In case you are interested, here is my blog post replying to Michael Johnson’s post about crossfit being dangerous:

http://libernetics.com/writings/?p=1635

Best Wishes,
SC

Jordan Barnes: Scott,

You seem to have your head on straight.

To people who say that Crossfit is going to injure them 100% of the time I am going to tell them that it absolutely will. And then I will go on to tell them that more people are injured every year running with improper form than every other mode of exercise combined, so ultimately if you run you will 100% of the time get injured.

I will say that the quality of training has more of an impact than the mode, whether crossfit or running a marathon.

I have seen some people with terrible running form who cannot understand why they cannot run more than a mile without excruciating pain.

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.

Drew Baye: Jordan,

Quality of training is very important, but so is good programming and exercise selection. From what I’ve seen and heard, however, CrossFit has none of these.

Over the past twenty years I’ve put hundreds of people through tens of thousands of workouts without causing any injuries

Scott Charles: Drew: well not none! We do air squats. Good grief nobody can screw those up.

Drew Baye: Scott,

Done correctly body weight squats are a great exercise. Unfortunately, most people manage to screw those up too.

For a demonstration of how to properly perform body weight squats watch Bodyweight High Intensity Training Discussion and Demo

Scott Charles: Drew: well then let’s say some “people” went to an “activity” and one of them (Rich Froning) won 250K.

Eric: I’ve come to believe CrossFit is a recreational activity, as opposed to a sport; so my understanding of it is evolving.

I wouldn’t say I know much about the history of CrossFit. What I would say is that I’ve read whatever was available on the Internet. Some of that reading has led me to believe that CrossFit has been used by police, paramedics, etc. What I find interesting is that every time I watch a documentary on armed services training (i.e., Rangers) it always looks to me like they are doing CF in the real world — lots of running, jumping, carrying things, but I never see any weight machines or anything like that. Same thing on TV: NBC’s “Biggest Loser” has been using CF ideas for years.

In any case if you know of any studies that show CF is not as good as other methods, I’d like to know. I haven’t seen anything in any peer-reviewed journals, or frankly anything that wasn’t just one person’s opinion versus another person’s opinion.

And yes it has been my experience that athletes from other disciplines join CF gyms. The one I go to has quite a few. I wonder why that is?

Your WOD times are awesome. I cannot Rx Fran. I did a 7:45 once using a 35# bar. In any case it seems you know exactly what CF is.

So the big issue here is whether there are better ways then Crossfit to get generally fit. Well I’m certainly open to suggestion. Insofar as the owners of CF gyms are independent, and can do whatever they want, I’m guessing they are interested as well.

Cheers,
Scott

ps: your comment that “anyone with a brain will also be able to appreciate … that genes will dictate much more than anything how successful anyone athlete can be in their chosen sport at that level of competition…” got me to thinking: is there gene for determination?

Drew Baye: Scott,

Re-read the article. There is no question there are better – safer, more effective, more time efficient – ways to improve overall, general fitness/functional ability than CrossFit.

Lee Smith: Comprehensive post. Well done. Giving credit where due and pointing out issues. I think bringing focus to multi-joint movements is from a good place. The sense of community CrossFit breeds is excellent. Personally the amount of overhead exercises is CrossFit’s downside. Even if in reality its not top end top heavy, just about every PR pic or story will have an overhead weighted exercise being shown. That breeds a mindset. It does my head in to think of lifting weight above my head, with extended arms, so often, being ‘functional’. Doing Olympic lifts like Olympic weightlifters is akin to doing a lap around France because Lance did it.

Lee

Mark Lloyd: Athletes actually spend their time rehearsing specific skills, and aren’t found in CF gyms. This beloved “function” being trained for: After 6 days on, 1 off, I can’t imagine the typical CF client’s life activities requiring a higher level of so-called functional fitness. The CF reality is recreation masquerading as exercise. In the case of some of the publicly documented CF activities, dangerous recreation.

Steven Turner: Hi Drew,

Recently an article appeared in a fitness magazine ‘The fittest person in Australia the title been given after a Crossfit competition. I made this comment to a Crossfitter that it should be titled the fittest Crossfitter in Australia. My comments didn’t go down to well my challenge was and at 58 years of age I will race any crossfitter in Australia in a triathlon challenge and I haven’t raced in triathlons for years – swim, cycle and run, I would take them right out of their comfort zone.

After the competition another person made the comment that all the winners had the same body types suitable for gymnast – surprise, surprise.

I forwarded an article Arthur Jones wrote on body leverage factors.

Besides the fact that crossfit being extremely highly dangerous is that many of the mainstream fitness centres have now included crossfit type training facilities and are designing crossfit type training programs for their unsuspecting clients- but again no surprise.

Steven Turner: Hi Drew,

One of the problems with “power” training is that power is measured as power output only (the end result). Power output measurments are specific to the actual movement change the movement and the power output equation changes. I think that with olympic lifts people are actually measuring “torque” and not “power”. Increase the size of the motor (muscles) and you will increase the power input (strength) but the power output measurements will still be specific to the movement.

CrossFit Fail

Ryan Tobin: I don’t think enough emphasis is made about injury (potential and actual) amongst the CrossFit community. Whether it be the smashing of shins due to performing box jumps or torn ligaments requiring surgery (which happened to a friend of mine, who is *still* considering resuming it), these things are exceedingly common. Not only are they a “regular” part of the training, the psychology is such that these injuries are considered part of the “toughness” of it. CrossFit mentality is often that “We train so hard!” such that these things are inevitable. Having been a practitioner and advocate of HIT for about 13 years, the concern of suffering injury during training is foreign…and trumpeting it is bizarre.

Listen to the way people in CrossFit describe their minor recurring injuries in the context of the entire program and compare it to how domestic abuse victims rationalize their tolerance of dysfunctional relationships. It’s an astounding parallel.

Drew Baye: Ryan,

You’re right, and it is unfortunate many equate training hard with training dangerously. I don’t understand the mentality.

Scott Charles:

First, I’ve never actually heard anybody in CrossFit brag about injuries. My experience is limited to the CrossFit gym I work out at. Form and safety are part of the common language.

Secondly, the “mentality” is pretty transparent: it’s about the adrenaline rush. Along with a sense of accomplishment. It’s really not that complicated.

One thing I think that’s missing in this “CrossFit is dangerous” conversation is scaling: http://libernetics.com/writings/?p=1693

Cheers,
SC

Drew Baye: Scott,

Talking about good form and safety are one thing, actually understanding what it is and practicing it are another. Quite frankly, from what I’ve seen and heard I don’t believe most CrossFit trainers have any idea what proper form really is. Also, many of the “exercises” and WOD’s are poor from a safety and efficiency standpoint regardless of the form used or how they are scaled.

Ryan Tobin: Scott: I’ve never been in a CrossFit gym, but I can immediately think of 3 people I know from two different CF places that have talked about and “shown off” their training wounds. I know several others that have remarked about injuries (not positively), often the same injuries from the same activities. These aren’t isolated incidents: talk to any CF practitioner about shins and box jumps.

What you are missing is that *any* injury during training is not acceptable. What you are missing is that injury can’t be deductively avoided. “Objective evidence” is the injury, which means it is too late!

The article you referenced is a Straw Man. Nobody is arguing that different practitioners (of HIT or CrossFit) must all perform the same movements at the same cadence with the same resistance for the same number of repetitions. “Scaling” isn’t a CrossFit concept…it’s a physiological inevitability. Furthermore, the article doesn’t even agree with itself: scaling “regulates the intensity” but “CrossFit is all about high intensity”…which one is it?

Of course, there’s the absurd assertion that, “When you look at Baye’s core exercises, they include Olympic lifting.” Now, I’m not going to speak for Drew…but I’ve been reading his thoughts for over a decade. I’ve observed the transition from “generic HIT” to SuperSlow back to “generic HIT” to (presumably) RenEx today. Not once in that time have I seen him advocate any of the Olympic lifts, but I have certainly seen repeated and consistent commentary recommending against them.

And, everyone, I implore you to stop using the concept of mechanical power in relation to human muscular output. The application of this physics concept leads to erroneous conclusions.

Drew Baye: Ryan is correct. I do not and never have recommended Olympic lifts. I also just read Scott’s article and found several other errors and misrepresentations.

First, safety is not simply an issue of scaling weight. Risk of injury has far more to do with the choice of exercises and how they are performed than how much weight is used. If you are swinging, jerking, heaving, yanking, jumping, bouncing, or performing any other kind of quick movements during exercise you have a much higher risk of injury than when moving in a slow and controlled manner regardless of the weight.

Scott misquoted me , claiming I said people “don’t need explosive power.” This is not true. What I have said is it is unnecessary to exercise in an explosive manner to develop the ability to move explosively in other activities. Your “explosiveness” or general ability to perform work at a high rate (power = work/time) improves with strength regardless of the speed at which exercises are performed.

Ryan is also correct about mechanical definitions of work and power not directly applying to muscular or metabolic work. For example, during isometrics you perform no mechanical work but metabolic work is being performed and the relationship between power and metabolic work during dynamic exercise is not proportional either (part of the reason comments like Jordon’s about Olympic lifts increasing metabolic rate more than other exercises are wrong).

Scott Charles: Drew: I stand corrected on the “explosive power” remark: what you said was:

“There is no good reason for the vast majority of people to ever perform an exercise explosively … Olympic lifts and other explosive lifts provide no general strength or performance benefits that can not be obtained more safely by other means. There is simply no good reason for the vast majority of people to do them.” (on Anthony Johnson’s blog comments section.)

Which I misinterpreted, which lead to misquoting you. I will correct my blog post accordingly.

With regard to your HIT program including Olympic style weightlifting, here is what I read on your HIT page:

Barbell Squat
Bench Press or Dip
Standing Press
Stiff-Legged Deadlift

(among other mentions.) To me, these are Olympic style weightlifting. But if they are not, so be it, I’ll make another correction.

I also have to agree that scaling is not all there is to safety. But the idea behind scaling (as I understand it) is to allow a person to learn the correct moves. At the CF gym I go to we go so slowly in the movements it can be exhausting (for me anyway.) Nobody is “swinging, jerking, heaving, yanking, jumping, bouncing” unless they are competent to go at those higher speeds.

That said if I understand you correctly it is the whole “speed” thing that causes the danger in the first place. I have to agree, and in fact have said so on my own blog. I confess I enjoy seeing my times improve. So I’ll just have to do the best I can to stay safe.

Ryan: your comment about injuries is well-taken.. But your comment about “scaling” is silly. CrossFit is all about intensity, but (as you point out) the “physiological inevitability” is different for each person. I can achieve the same high intensity using lower weights as a far stronger athlete using heavier weights (or reps of anything.) There is nothing at all inconsistent with what I said in my blog post. The reason I know all this is because I experience it 3-4 times a week. I have a whole series of blog posts on CrossFit. Read them and you might get a sense of what CrossFit is (at least for me.) It might provide some insight as to why people do CF.

Also I’m hard pressed to believe that training will be injury free. I do agree it should be free of unnecessary injury. And the way I used the term “objective” it meant something beyond anecdotal comments. At the very least there should be some theoretical explanation for why something could or might or would result in an unacceptable level of injury across a population of people.

On balance, for me, CrossFit’s benefits outweigh the dangers.

Thanks,
SC

Drew Baye: Scott,

I consider the Olympic lifts to be the snatch and the clean and jerk and variants like power cleans and snatch pulls. I don’t put squats, presses, bench press, deadlifts, etc. in that category and the way I teach them is different than what I’ve seen and heard about being done at CrossFit gyms. The basic mechanics of the movements are similar, but I emphasize a very slow controlled speed of movement, minimizing acceleration during the turnarounds, and maintaining a consistent level of tension on the muscles throughout. Speed is part of it, but the bigger concern is acceleration.

Regardless of competence I don’t have anyone move quickly or teach exercises which require quick movement or swinging rather than controlled lifting as they provide no general fitness benefits that can’t be obtained more safely by other exercises.

While all physical activity poses some risk of injury exercise can and should be one of the safest things a person does. Perhaps it was just a poor choice of words, but all injury during exercise is unnecessary. There is no such thing as a necessary injury in exercise. I think some of this comes from the beliefs that the harder you train the higher the risk and that certain higher-risk exercises or styles of performance convey unique benefits, both of which are false. If you perform biomechanically sound exercises with proper, strict form you can train as hard as humanly possible with very little risk of injury.

While you and others may feel the benefits of CrossFit outweigh the dangers the point I’m trying to make is you can obtain the same physical benefits far more safely with more conventional high intensity resistance training.

Jordan Barnes: Basically, he is saying don’t be athletic of play sports or train for them, because all of those thing require acceleration and quick movement.

Drew Baye: Jordan,

That is not what I’m saying at all. What I’m trying to explain is rapid acceleration and quick movements are undesirable during exercise as they provide no advantage over moving at slower speeds but increase risk of injury. The belief that one must lift weights quickly or explosively to be faster or more explosive when performing other movements is false.

All else being equal, as long as you are getting stronger and better conditioned you will be able to accelerate rapidly and move quickly and powerfully when performing other activities, and you can get as strong and conditioned as your genetics will allow without moving quickly during exercise.

Will June: For what it’s worth, I think that although ‘Crossfitters’ place a premium on “intensity,” there are many important (and perhaps obvious) differences from a conventional HIT understanding of intensity. I don’t fall neatly into either camp but am much more sympathetic to the sort of approach Drew recommends. I investigated Crossfit a few years back, looking for something different. There were many things that turned me off however: First, watching many YouTube videos of CrossFit workouts – a consistent disregard for proper form; the sloppiness was incredible to me. And then, of course, there are those exercises that are simply misconceived from the beginning – i.e., the kipping pullup. One can claim an agnostic stance on exercises, but the identity of the movement is associated with specific exercises and a particular approach to doing them. The second thing that turned me off was my local facility and the holier than thou attitude of the owners and staff – it struck me as almost cult-like. Perhaps an exception, but very unappealing.

Scott Charles: Will: I cannot agree that the kipping pullup is misconceived. It has it’s place in a fitness management program. The idea is to provide a method of moving weight effectively. It’s also a whole body exercise. It’s challenging, and it’s fun.

The “identity of the movement is associated with specific exercises and a particular approach to doing them” is true only for people who don’t pay attention to CF articles, WODs, or blogs. The WODs are posted all over the place. They are taken from multiple disciplines. Lots of variety. Something for everyone. But there is a particular approach: they are done with as much energy as an individual can bring to bear on any given day.

Finally I agree that if you got bad service at your local CF gym, you shouldn’t support them. I know I wouldn’t.

Thanks,
SC

Drew Baye: Scott,

Kipping pull ups provide no physical benefit that can’t be obtained more safely with other exercises. There is no good reason to perform them. Also, fun is not an appropriate criteria for exercise selection. See my comments on exercise versus recreation in the article Something Is Not Always Better Than Nothing.

Bringing as much energy to bear as possible is a good thing – results from an exercise program are directly related to effort – but it should be done within the constraints of safety to avoid undermining health and functional ability in the long run.

For a comparison of strict chin-ups and kipping pull-ups read Q&A: Strict Chin Ups Versus Kipping Pull Ups

Jonathan:

Hi Drew i have a short infuriating story for you.
One with which you are probably very familiar.
I train in a mainstream corporate gym in Portugal called Holmes place.
I have been using the 10/10 protocol for a few weeks now.
A member who also trains at the same gym was curious as to my training technique and asked one of the personal trainers about what i was doing.
Now bear in mind all the personal trainers at this gym go through a rigorous brainwashing in all the mainstream training protocols and know very little about high intensity training.
When this guy asked the personal trainer what he thought about my 10/10 protocol the trainer said it was very dangerous for ones heart!!and that he should avoid training like that!!
Now my mouth almost hit the floor when i heard that the personal trainer had said this to the the curious member.
I mean ,what cheek does this trainer have to pass a judgement like that on something he knows nothing about,i was extremely angry to say the least.
Anyway just thought id share that little story with you.
Thanks for all the cool info.
Best wishes
Jonathan

Drew Baye: Jonathan,

Thanks for sharing, and as you already know there is no reason to worry about your heart. Properly performed, resistance training is safer for the heart than steady-state training, and moving more slowly during exercise is safer overall.

Unfortunately, the majority of personal trainers out there have no idea what they’re doing, so this kind of stupidity is common.

Jordan Barnes: I will agree that many personal trainers have no idea. You actually only have to have a GED to become a personal trainer and then some of the personal training certificates take no longer than a weekend to attain.

This is why I have a degree in Health and Fitness and am a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Condition Association

Drew Baye: Jordan,

I would include NSCA CPTs and CSCS’s in that category. Not everybody respects or thinks very highly of the NSCA. In fact, much of what they teach about resistance training is nonsense.

Jordan Barnes: Drew,

I would like to know where you get your information and what makes you qualified to prescribe exercise? So far all that I know about you is that you “watch some videos on youtube.”

I would say that most people would find peer reviewed studies, published in scientific journals, with results that have been substantiated by other independent researchers a pretty legitimate resource.

I would also probably say somebody with a college degree in exercise science has studied several topics that relate to exercise, such as physics, exercise physiology, kinetics, motor neuron development among others. All of this means that they have an actual understanding of how things work and don’t just base opinions on “videos on youtube.”

Drew Baye: Jordan,

I studied biology and exercise physiology at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay and spent most of the past two decades continuing to study exercise and related topics while making a living training people. Regardless, my statements stand on their own and if you disagree you must make legitimate rather than ad hominem arguments to support your position.

I don’t just base my statements about CrossFit on youtube videos. If I’d never seen a person doing kipping pull ups, thrusters, ball slams, the Olympic lifts, or similarly inefficient and dangerous exercises I could still tell you they’re a bad idea.

Ryan Tobin: Jordan: Hardly any of the people I’ve met who have degrees in exercise science or kinesiology (which number in the hundreds from all across the USA) have any knowledge of relevant physics (Newtonian mechanics). This is unfortunate, given that such knowledge is fundamental and necessary to understand this area of study.

One cannot have expertise in *human motion* when lacking understanding of the basics of *motion*.

This includes you, given your repeated incorrect use/application of the concept of mechanical power.

Will: Hi Scott,

I’m familiar with the CrossFit defense of the Kipping Pull Up – i.e., that it’s a “full body” exercise, and not to be understood as a poorly performed standard pull up; instead, that it’s a completely different movement. My characterization of “misconceived” is based on my sense that “full body” exercises aren’t good simply because they’re full body. Some movements safely and efficiently recruit many more muscles, some don’t); the conventional pull up (or chin up variation) is simply a ‘better’ movement at working the muscles it works – perhaps I’m simply old-fashioned. That said, I don’t mean to indict all of CrossFit through some sort of guilt-by-association with the Kipping Pull Up (and, I suspect that’s a very old criticism by this point). There are aspects to CrossFit that I have some appreciation for: the emphasis on traditional, compound moves done with free weights (e.g, the dead lift and squat – unfortunately, as Drew correctly notes, the bulk of CrossFit practitioners I’ve seen either don’t understand proper form on these movements, or don’t care to pass it along to others); the incorporation of interval running, and so forth. Also, perhaps due to my own background, I still have some appreciation for an approach that views the workout as an end in itself, and not merely a means to some other end (i.e., fitness).

CrossFit Fail

Scott Charles: Will: well I suppose all that poor form is an opportunity for someone to step up and show what the correct form looks like. More to the point, I concede that based on the idea that exercise should be injury free, CF is not exercise.

http://libernetics.com/writings/?p=1720

Where I disagree with Drew, and perhaps you, is that for me whatever fitness program I do has to be enjoyable (“fun”.) But that’ my choice.

Drew: I updated my blog post and corrected my misquotes and misrepresentations regarding “explosive” and “Olympic Weightlifting”.

You will see the corrections in the comments section.
Cheers.

Drew Baye: Scott,

Thanks, will read it soon.

If there is any fun to be had in exercise it is in the sense of achievement and pride that comes from continuously pushing your limits. What I am opposed to is purposefully trying to make exercise fun, rather than just doing what is most effective, efficient, and safe for the purpose of stimulating physical improvement.

Jordan Barnes: Kipping pull-ups, in the crossfit domain, are not to be looked at as purely a strength exercise, but as a way to elicit a anaerobic stimulus, in addition to the work that is done during a pullup. Similar to how sprinting is to lunges.

Drew Baye: Jordan,

You can achieve the same more safely and effectively with exercises performed at controlled speeds. There is no need to risk shoulder integrity by swinging and flopping around on a bar like that.

Jordan Barnes: Drew,

I am going to expand of this line of logic.

“For example, if the absolute most weight you can lift in an exercise in strict form is 100 pounds you will be unable to move it very quickly. If you increase your strength in that exercise so that you are able to lift 150 pounds in strict form, you will be able to lift 100 pounds more quickly, and measure higher power output (work/time).”

My first question for you is this would the typical back squat and the movement of the legs while sprinting be considered the same physiological movement, in terms of joint angle and muscle involvement? Or would you say the movements are not analogous at all?

Drew Baye: Jordan,

Squatting and running involve a lot of the same muscles but are obviously different movements. However, strength gained from squatting or any other exercises for the same muscles will transfer to improved running performance.

Jordan Barnes: Drew,

According to your previous example

“If you increase your strength in that exercise so that you are able to lift 150 pounds in strict form, you will be able to lift 100 pounds more quickly”

Following that line of logic, the fastest man in the world would be the one who could squat the most weight. A man who can squat 1000 pounds should be the fastest sprinter, according to your logic.

Would that be correct?

Am I following you

Drew Baye: Jordan,

The strongest person in the world might not be the fastest sprinter since there are other factors involved, but all else being equal someone who is stronger will be faster. One of the reasons world class sprinters are so much faster than the average person is they can apply around twice the force to the ground.

Jordan Barnes: Ok so now you are saying that there is another reason, not simply strength that makes them able to apply so much force to the ground.

An equally sized, equally strong person should be just as fast as a sprinter because their strength is all that allows them to move their body faster, according to your previous comments.

Now you are trying to bring up other factors in this exploration of your logic. Ground force is an interesting topic, how does one sprinter create more ground force that a power lifter even though the sprinter is weaker?

Drew Baye: Jordan,

If you make an individual stronger they will be able to move faster. You can’t fairly compare different individuals based on strength alone however because factors like bodily proportions and musculoskeletal geometry, muscle fiber type, etc. influence an individual’s ability to perform specific activities or movements.

For example, suppose two men had the exact same skeletal structure, muscle mass, fiber type proportions, neurological make up, etc., but one had tendons which inserted slightly further from the joint axes resulting in longer effort moment arms. The man with the longer effort moment arms would be stronger, but due to his tendon insertions being further from the axes the same degree of muscle shortening would not produce as many degrees of joint rotation, so he may actually be slightly slower.

Regardless, you could make each of the men faster by improving their strength, but it would not be fair to assume that one is automatically faster than the other based on strength alone due to these other factors.

Mark Lloyd: If Usain Bolt kept is bodyweight unchanged, kept the quality & length of his sprint practices undiminished, and remained uninjured, yet (somehow!) also increased his squat to 1,000 lbs, he’d run the 100m in 9.00, easily.

Jonathan: From my experience moving a weight at a 10/10 cadence is superior to moving a weight at explosive tempos for the following reasons based on my real life training experiences.

I have found moving a weight very slowly when i train eliminates most of the momentum of the weight and puts all the tension on the targeted muscle,so i cannot cheat and sway etc.

It has improved my mental focus and connection with each repetition incredibly.

My strength has increased every single week that i have trained using this protocol,this is also due to my rest and recovery period after the workout and maximising my diet.

I weigh 210 pounds with 8 percent body fat at the moment and i don’t do any cardio,i am 39 years old and i am in better shape than i have EVER been in my life due to this high intensity protocol.

Moving at a 10/10 cadence has made the exercise more difficult and safer at the same time,i am not moving slowly because the weight is light i am moving slowly with a heavy weight,a weight i can get 3 to 5 repetitions with.

From my experience it is a magic protocol.

It is an extremely CONSCIOUS protocol in terms of it has improved my body and my mental and spiritual areas as well.
So yes it pains me to see people knock this way of training especially so called educated health proffessionals who should know better.

But you know im not surprised because the programming runs so deep that it takes a Herculean effort to break free from it.
Consciousness is not the overriding function of the human race and those that do things differently always get knocked and ridiculed.

I pass this on from my real life experience.

I have seen those footballers train,and hell it looked like a 9/11 call waiting to happen.

I can only see a football team improving mental focus and getting soooo much stronger if they start training using slower controlled lifting cadences…ITS ONLY LOGICAL, a more focused and stronger group of footballers could only mean one thing, SUCCESS, is that not what every team and coach wants AND I SINCERELY mean it from my experience.
Best wishes

Mark Lloyd:

Indeed. Also 10/10 progress is -truly measurable-. Explosive work-speed & technique isn’t just fast, it’s highly variable from day to day: 1/What gets charted as more reps or weight is just as likely more speed or more secondary musculature incorporated. 2/What -doesn’t- get charted as progress may have been a meaningful extra second or two at 10/10. /// As far as what elite footballers are doing, let me turn Mark Rippetoe’s explanation against him: Those guys are already almost at their full potential strength when they arrive, and they achieved this by surviving even -worse- methods in their first years: garages, basements, etc. All this proves is that not -everyone- gets injured, no matter how insanely they train.

Eric: Evidently, many are still confusing “peak power” with “average power” (the latter is much more relevant and, ultimately, trying to increase the former is what leads to injuries!!!!);

too many still wrongly believe that “Power equals Strength by Speed”, when “Power really equals Work (force x displacement) divided by Time” (BIG, BIG difference); too many confuse “skill” and “strength as a skill” with “functional training”;

too many do not understand that exercise’s number one goal (exercise is NOT the same as recreation…) should be to improve health and that therefore, any increased risk of injury through one’s chosen exercise modality should NEVER be taken lightly;

too many do not realize that “fast in the weight room” is no where near the equivalent of “fast on the field/court” (in terms of degrees/second over a given ROM, the difference is staggering!!!! So much for “specificity” then…);

too many choose to not acknowledge the fact that you can get results from almost any method, but that there is also a host of other factors that must be considered…

Sadly, Crossfit has turned exercise into a sport and a “recreational activity”, which is exactly what should NEVER happen!!! This, some would say, has had “positive” ramifications, in the sense that more and more people are enticed by this form of “group exercise”, getting them to get up and move yet, in the process, this has also led many to believe various myths…

I could go on, but I’ll end my rant here 🙂

One of Drew’s article from a couples of years back is probably quite fitting here: “Something is Not Always Better Than Nothing”…

I also always liked my buddy Eric Cressey’s quote regarding Crossfit:

“One program on one dry erase board for hundreds of athletes isn’t training; it’s babysitting.”

Jordan Barnes: Eric,

I agree with you on one point, I don’t like turning exercise into a competition.

But there is a direct correlation between being fast in the weight room and on field performance.

One of my favorite examples is from a strength an conditioning coach at Minnesota U who was speaking at a seminar.

He had 2 shot putters, both with the same squat max, bench, pretty much similar in every physical attribute.

Well what he does is makes them squat with a Tendo unit which measures bar speed in m/s. Doing singles at 405, what he noticed is that one athlete could squat the weight significantly quicker that the other.

On of these athletes became a very good shot putter and the other was only mediocre. It wasn’t the slower athlete.

Drew Baye: Jordan,

There is not a direct correlation between the speed at which you perform exercises and on field performance. On field (or court, track, mat, etc.) performance will improve whether you move fast or slow in the weight room as long as you train hard and progressively; there is no advantage to moving quickly while lifting weights. There is, however, a big safety advantage in moving more slowly in the weight room, which should be a high priority for all athletes.

Mark Lloyd:

The athlete who COULD squat faster was a better shot putter, of course, but the reason he could squat faster isn’t because he trained the squat faster. It’s because he’s faster; and he’s faster because he’s stronger. (Their supposedly equal max squat is unlikely: If I can lift as much as you but faster, I can almost surely lift more than you at equal to your speed).

Eric: Exactly Mark… And the point Jordan tries to make by providing this anecdotal example brings to light one of many issues with regards to the speed-strength, strength-speed and max strength conundrum…

To say that one is a better shot putter because he can squat faster serves no purpose other than to bring more confusion if all factors are not taken in consideration, nameley actual max strength of both athletes being compared (as Mark alluded to already), their body weight, their stage of development and their skill set (which would require a complex analysis, even for an event as seemingly “simple” as shot putting), just to name a few…

Believe me. And this Drew already pointed out. There is absolutely NO correlation between speed of training in the weight room and speed of movement on the field/court/track. This is simply an illusion. You get stronger (SAFELY) in the gym, and then you apply that strength in a skillful manner in your sport of choice. It’s as simple as that…

People tend to want to make this more complex than it really is. They’ll, for example, compare speed of execution in Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters, and deduce that the former are faster than the latter, on the basis that the OW are training “fast”. Alas, once one understands that the training of max strength also falls under the category of “skill” (maybe not as much skill as pulling a 4.5 difficulty high-dive but nonetheless…), it’s easy to see where the confusion arises from…

In fact, one trick new strength coaches use when they first come into a program is to “test” the players to see “how much” they lift. They will choose exercises that the athletes have not done, have not done often, have not done in a long time, or have not trained in the fashion that the new coach tests (e.g., one rep max instead of repetitions). The new coach will then test them eight weeks later and show a huge “increase” in “strength” in order to make himself look good. This is called “pushing numbers” and is neither difficult to do nor the best way to train athletes, and derives, again, from the notion I alluded previously, namely that strength is also a skill (even if a low-level one…).

Donnie Hunt: Jonathan brings up the whole issue that I’m not sure I understand. The intentional speed vs. moving at a speed due to the amount of resistance. I understand that when using conventional equipment the trainee has to consciously control the speed of movement because this is what I workout with. Does ideal equipment vary the resistance in such a way that slower movement happens due to camming or however the resistance is varied? I understand that with any equipment that the trainee has to maintain form and is the one in control of force output. This whole intentional vs. unitentional speed has me confused as far as what is ideal in the ideal setting.

Drew Baye: Donnie,

At the beginning of an exercise when your muscles are fresh you should be capable of lifting the selected weight relatively quickly, but you should deliberately lift it in a slow and controlled manner. As your muscles fatigue more effort is required just to keep the weight moving in the prescribed form and near the prescribed speed/cadence. During the last few repetitions it should take a near maximum effort just to keep the weight moving slowly, until you achieve momentary muscular failure and further movement in strict form becomes impossible.

Good equipment helps, but this can be accomplished with any mode of training including free weights and body weight exercise.

Ritchie Harder: Drew,

Another engaging article and comment-fest.

I think Eric nailed it when writing:

too many confuse “skill” and “strength as a skill” with “functional training”;

My athletic background is Karate–more specifically, Kajukenbo. I started when I was 11 years old (40 years ago). I did not start training with weight until I was 17. Weight training does not take the place of athletic skill–it only only enhances it and usually not in the way that one would think:

Any football coach worth his salt knows that the main true purpose of a good strength and conditioning program is to keep the athletes injury free. The goal is NOT to train an athlete to blast one and a half times their body weight with Power Cleans thinking it will make them a better player! the Goal is to keep them healthy. A safe strength and conditioning program such as using slow continuous reps can do this.

The problem with most guys who lift is that they want to be bodybuilders today then next week they want to be powerlifters. Then they think about it a little more and want to train to be Oly lifters! Nothing but foolishness. Powerlifting and Weightlifting are sports. Don’t confuse sport skill with a basic strength and conditioning program.

And I agree with you Drew. Exercise in itself is not meant to be fun. My sessions are always brutal–and safe.

CrossFit Fail

Will: “Fun” is obviously a very subjective experience. I find it a little bit tedious for folks to constantly say that exercise – if done properly – simply cannot be fun. Of course it can be, for some, sometimes. Brutal, hard, exhausting – none of these characterizations of exercise activity are necessarily contradictory to fun, again, for some people. To Drew, and others, please try to be somewhat less presumptuous with your definitions (and your own subjective experiences).

Drew Baye: Will,

The point is that exercise should be based on physical and biological principles rather than on what a person finds enjoyable. If they happen to find brutally hard work fun, that’s great, but people shouldn’t base what they do for exercise on what they enjoy.

Eric: Hmmmm… “Fun/enjoyment should not be the underlying premise for one’s choice of exercise” gets wrongly interpretated as Drew saying “If one’s choice of PROPER (i.e safe, hard, progressive, etc.) exercise is found to be fun/enjoyable, then it’s not exercise”!?!?!

Deductive fallacy anyone?!?! Go figure…

Will: Drew,

I don’t mean to sound antagonistic, but my initial response to your point is ‘why not’? To put it slightly differently, I think your response overemphasizes a distinction between the mind and the body – and, perhaps your point is grounded in a belief that the former is overly subjective and therefore too contingent on individual preference, whereas the latter is more susceptible to empirical observation and quantification. Not a huge point for me, but more of a quibble regarding the representation of exercise.

On another (only slightly related) point. Do you find Dips and Squats to be inherently dangerous exercises, that should be removed from any training routine?

Drew Baye: Will,

You’re not being antagonistic, you’re asking good questions.

The purpose of exercise is to stimulate improvements in or maintain a high level of functional ability and health and how it is performed should be based on the requirements and constraints of that goal. Whether one finds it fun or not is irrelevant and has no bearing on the effectiveness, efficiency or safety of a particular movement or activity for exercise purposes.

Exercise for physical improvement, do recreational activities you enjoy for fun. Don’t compromise exercise by trying to make it fun and don’t compromise your enjoyment of recreational activities by trying to turn them into workouts.

Drew Baye: With regards to barbell squats and dips, while they can be highly productive exercises when performed correctly the same general benefits can be had more safely with other exercises. I’ve done both for years and had good results from them but am hesitant to recommend them to others because I have rarely seen them performed correctly or with anywhere near the level of control required for proper turnarounds.

After Elements of Form is finished I’m going to be completely re-writing High Intensity Workouts and will be discussing those in more detail there.

Steven Turner: Hi Drew,

Comparisons of a “power sport”
Article in Wikipedia
Men’s 100 meters world record progress

There would be too many variables to direct comparisons of 100m times but I thought that this could be an interesting exercises. Have we advanced with todays training methods. I would say that comparisons would show very little advancement but that is my opinion – open to be criticsed.I will just include USA athletes.
Luther Cary 10.8 1891
Jesse Owens 10.2 1936
Jim Hines 9.9 1968
Justin Gatlin 9.77 2006

If you were to consider todays full time athletes with the latest technologies and training times spent in the gym, athletic running tracks to back when Jesse Owens was running then I would think that athletes times for 100m time are not that impressive. I would suspect that in 1896 the athletes just done a small bit of running in very limited spare time. And I would also suspect that for many years after most athletes did very little in the way of “squats” but still were able to produce excellent times. The last point to note is no USA athlete has featured in the records since 2006 where before that USA athletes dominated 100m. That is my anaylsis and comparisons.

Mark Lloyd: Actually, that 1.03 seconds seems like quite a lot to cut off a 100m time, close to 10% faster. How many footsteps does an elite 100m sprinter take in 1.03 seconds? Quite a few I’m pretty sure.

Eric: Sprinting is one of my favorite subjects of study; glad someone decided to broach the topic here 🙂 Unfortunately, as well versed as I feel I am in the field I’m afraid again that the subject is ridden in so many half-truths and myths as to render it one of the hardest topics from which to draw any conclusive theories.

What appears clear from the latest studies (most notably JB Morin’s) is that elite sprinters have a better ability to orient total force vectors with a forward incline and to produce the highest horizontal force amongst their peers, most notably at faster velocities (note that this should in no way be interpreted as elite sprinters having more “total force production” than their peers or, for that matter, even specialists from other sports).

Basically then, the best sprinters have acquired (or were gifted with – which is even more likely) the ability to produce more horizontal force at higher velocities (for various reasons, including fiber type, tendon length, muscle insertions/origins, inherent “stiffness”, etc.).

On top of that, the best ones are able to maintain the production of such larger horizontal force for longer, meaning they are able to limit the amount of time towards the end of the race spent decelerating. In effect, they have better “speed endurance”.

Many would also agree with Weyand’s “spring mass model” and its application through “mass specific force” (or, if you will, the amount of force in relation to bodyweight). In effect, this could mean that you must be able to produce high vertical forces to run at high top speed, but there is also a limit to this, simply due to the nature of the event/task. As you speed up, you have shorter and shorter ground contact times, and you must thus be able to produce great vertical forces yet in exceedingly shorter contact times. Ultimately and as already alluded to above, it’s been shown that the fastest sprinters DO NOT automatically produce the greatest maximum forces during sprinting; some do, but others, like Christophe Lemaître, don’t…

So, again, even in something as “seemingly simple” as sprinting (as in the earlier example of shot putting), there are many things to consider outside of pure strength, which is part of the reason this is so difficult. Some sprinters, such as Ben Johsnson, were freaks in the gym. Others, and what is more commonly observed (Christophe Lemaître and Usain Bolt being more recent examples, but there are many others, such as the great Carl Lewis), are not, and are simply able to get away with what would appear as “less strength” (as demonstrated in the gym), and more “skill”…

Not to mention of course the complexities and various/distinct demands associated to various sections of the sprint, including the start, acceleration phase, top speed, and speed endurance, and the relations of all these elements to the athlete’s body mass; these various aspects of sprinting are part of the reason sprinters aren’t necessarily the most homogeneous group, since certains characteristics will lend themselves better to specific phases of the race…

Eric: As for reasons for the progressively faster times over the last century (and yes, I would tend to agree, 1.03 seconds is quite an improvement over an event that is often determined by hundreths of seconds!!!) there are many…

Better athlete recruitment, better training (and recovery) methods, better training facilities, better racing facilities (most notably, faster/harder tracks – sort of like “f$ck the long distance runners”!!!! Case in point, our very own Donovan Bailey set his then-world-record on a ridiculously hard track which probably never should have met IAAF record standards. Bailey never ran remotely close to this in any other race), better drugs, etc.

Steven Turner: Hi Drew,

The point of my post with “comparisons” and as Eric pointed out there are so many variables that must be considered. I also realized and as Mark pointed out 1.03 seconds in 100m sprint is a huge difference between winning and losing. But also 100 years is a big difference.

But the other point I trying to make was that at the present day all things being equal we should expect faster times. We have as Jordan pointed out people doing olympic lifts that greatly “improve hip extension” that should make them faster.

Arthur Jones mentioned something along the lines with bodybuilders (words to the effect) I don’t think body builders of today have gotten any bigger but the pool of body builders has gotten bigger to choose from and we should expect bigger body builders (steroids not included). It could be the same with athletes we have a bigger pool of “gifted” athletes to choose from, athletes of today should be faster. Very difficult to do comparisons

Train harder but train safer

Mark Lloyd: It’s time to break free from your US Records Only comparison: 10.8 was also the World Record when it was the US record. Numerous 10.8 ties that year suggest that 100ths couldn’t be measured, thus the time can fairly be called “10.8+”. World Record now is 9.58, a difference of 1.22+! An eleven meter lead. Seems like a lot of progress to me.

As far as the athletic talent pool, the huge money in pro sports now has shrunk the pool for amateur athletics. If you can run fast and catch a football, we’ll probably never know your fastest 100.

How on Earth does one measure the progressive size increases of elite bodybuilders without accounting for steroids & HGH? For over 40 years, every one of them has ‘juiced’.

Jake: With mma conditioning most trainers recommend a 12 week periodized program. It would consist of a basic conditioning, strength, power and power endurance phase. With in each of those there would be energy system training as well. These workouts would seperate from skill training. What are thoughts on this approach? Would fighters be better off doing a H.I.T. work out? Could H.I.T. training give a fighter all the strength and conditioning benefits needed to go the distance?

P.S. great post!

Drew Baye: Jake,

Thanks. If properly performed a high intensity training program will give a fighter all the strength and conditioning benefits they require. There is no need to periodize training or divide it into phases to effectively improve all those things.

Steven Turner: Hi Drew,

You saved me time and money it easy to see how people can be fooled by the so-called experts. I won’t call them “so-called fitness” experts that would be given them to much credit and I won’t call the movements “exercises” as they did in the article.

On the weekend in the newspapers the so-called expert had a number of movment patterns to follow to improve coordination and balance.It goes without saying that you needed some specialist type equipment to improve your coordiantion and balance. I know that these movements would improve your coordination and balance in the specific movements but why do they always leave out that the coordiantion and balance improvements are only specific to that movement. Probably the reason is that the suggested movement patterns no one would need to do them. One of the movement patterns was something called a “crane” – bending forward on one leg.

But on closer analysis of the movement patterns strength gains would be from the required isometric, concentric, eccentric muscle contractions.

Drew Baye: Steven,

Exactly. There is nothing specific about such movement patterns or postures themselves that lends to better general balance or coordination. The benefit of these comes from the muscular work involved, something that can be accomplished more safely and efficiently with simple, conventional exercises.

CrossFit Fail

Mark Lloyd: Looking at CrossFit from the opposite direction: I suspect that many CrossFit clients have no previous experience with legitimate exercise protocol. The perspective they’re more likely to have is in comparison to “LA Fitness”-type facilities, in which case it could be argued that they may have taken a small step in the -right- direction!

Drew Baye: Mark,

Good point. I went to a local LA Fitness to show a friend who works out there how to set up and use the equipment and spent some time observing their trainers. None of them appeared to know what they were doing and some of them were doing things that weren’t just wrong but downright idiotic.

Eric: Scott:

Admitttedly, at least insofar as exercise technique is concerned, there exists quite a disjunct between what Crossfit (“Headquarters” and what is presented in their courses) espouses and what is being presented in on-line videos, during competition, and even on the main site. I know, for instance, that technique/proper form is usually emphasized before speed and load.

I also understand that part of this disjunct has to do with the fact that Crossfit seemingly exists as two separate entities, which is not always appreciated by outsiders: the competition aspect (as in Crossfit Games participants, or people filming themselves competing during their training) and every day “normal” training. The problem resides in the fact that Crossfit promotional material tends to revolve around the former rather than the latter where, good trainers/CF boxes will, at least for the most part, seemingly emphasize form over speed/load.

But, in spite of this, I must still question the rationale behind the choice of certain exercises (namely, and among others, kipping pull-ups (where mechanical work is confused for metabolic work) and high-rep Olympic lifting (and, even Olympic lifting in general anyways, for the non-competitive trainee) and also high-rep (or not) plyometric exercises).

Then, of course, there are the “programming” issues… The “random” selection of different exercises for a workout of the day [WOD] is conveyed by CrossFit as being the way that life and our occupational environments present physically demanding challenges. That may in fact be the case in performance settings but, this approach can result in a frequency of loading during training that is either too low to elicit the desired training effect or too high so that overuse injuries result. The assertion, again, is that if the situations in life, sport, and physically demanding occupations are presented to us in random fashion, then training to meet these challenges should also be random. This is likely true in how we practice the use of our skills and fitness to permit us to respond to different tactical and environmental settings. However, I’ll reiterate, the risk of doing the fitness and skills training in this fashion is that the training at required frequency, load, duration and actions may not be optimal to achieve our desired fitness and skill outcomes.

Furthermore, it is also quite clear that working on specific characteristics of “fitness” in blocks will always lead to better overall results compared to a haphazard approach (as you may or may not already know, that is how the elite Crossfit participants do in fact train; this has brought about, on many occasions, philosophical debates over the Hopper approach espoused by Glassman which, if it did indeed work as he proclaims it does, should also work for the Game athletes, no?)… Intensities, frequencies and actions/movements all need to be prescribed appropriately and considered in programming, as well as individual strengths and weaknesses. Thus, I fail to see how a general workout written on a whiteboard would take these various aspects in consideration…

Now, I know certain Crossfit trainers do offer, to some extent, “proper programming” but, for the most part, what is presented through the CF mainsite and many other networks does not present itself as such, and simply assigns WODs that do not take anything in consideration other than the final time on the clock or the number of reps or the load. Should Crossfit in general be blamed for this you surely ask? I suspect you know my answer already 🙂

On a few more specific notes… If Crossfit does indeed attempt to address all the needs of armed and police forces, they fail greatly in at least one aspect, and that is with regards to long-duration work. Improvements in mechanical and metabolic efficiency that enhance long duration work outputs are primarily achieved through long-duration, low-power exercise. This is especially important, for instance, with long duration weightload marches in the heat. This type of training is very infrequent in the WODs offered through the CrossFit website. There is in fact a very conscious effort to avoid low intensity, long duration runs, rows and marches that would enhance aerobic skill-capacity. Considering the importance of long distance weightload marches in the armed forces and in the current operational environment, this type of training should no doubt be included.

There is also the issue of prescription of fixed loads in many of the resistance training exercises, which precludes older, weaker [males and females], and lower fit individuals from optimal overloads and presents some risk of injury. This could be avoided by prescribing relative loads or prescribing progressions from simple to complex skills and from no load to light to moderate to the prescribed absolute load for each workout. They do, at least to some degree, encourage this progression BUT, the prescriptions for their WODs and benchmark workouts do not generally include the progressions. It is left up to the individual to determine the appropriate progression.

The principle of recovery is not consistently addressed in Crossfit prescriptions or is simply ignored in the quest to enhance tolerance to high intensity work and fatigue. Recovery is scheduled between sets in some workouts [e.g. Barbara] but most often, the frequency and duration of recovery periods seem arbitrary. This is intentional [I believe] to insure that participants are pushing their performance under fatigued conditions. Therefore, typical prescriptions in CrossFit give a fixed number of reps of an exercise and sets of a group of exercises to be completed in as short a time as possible or a fixed time frame to complete as many prescribed tasks as possible. Mind you, this is neither necessarily right nor wrong; it is simply a difference with regards to the goal and therefore in the way the overload is applied, but it certainly ignores the importance of a repetition maximum range for eliciting different types of skill-strength improvements.

Finally, the Crossfit programming does not build in unloading weeks on a regular pattern but merely suggests that when workout quality deteriorates, extra rest days should be considered. This lack of a regular pattern is not consistent with common practices in prescription for elite athletes or high intensity occupational pursuits, and unduly puts the individual at more at risk of overtraining and stress related injuries – especially with this focus on high intensity, fatigue-based training.

Most of the stuff I mention here comes from discussions regarding internal research and reports conducted by colleagues who work in designing training programs (both theoretical and practical aspects) for the Canadian Armed Forces. The safety issue, among others, is what initially sparked most of this research. Many bases adopted the Crossfit model but, over the years, more and more bases have been dropping the approach in favour of a more conventional one. One that is, in part, based on “some” of the principles proposed by Crossfit (it’s not ALL bad then ha ha), but that also takes in consideration most of the points I’ve presented here…

Scott Charles: Eric: thanks for the well thought out comments. Yes I have observed various CrossFit people (i.e., “athletes”) do very specific training while preparing for an event. And yes I agree that CrossFit can be too random.

Which leads me to this next assertion: CrossFit is best seen as recreation, and if someone wants to get really fit they would most likely benefit from a well defined plan. As you said, ” It is left up to the individual to determine the appropriate progression.”

As it so happens CrossFit is the type of recreation I enjoy. That said I do plan on doing more rowing and sprinting, and adding some HIT work (e.g., using weight machines) and see where that takes me.

Cheers,
SC

Mark Lloyd: Perhaps it should be stressed, yet again, that you, Drew, and others in agreement with you, don’t actually have a problem with people doing CrossFit, as long as they understand what they’re engaged in: A risky recreational activity.

Drew Baye: Mark,

This is my position on recreational activity – as long as a person understands the risks and feels they are worth the enjoyment of the activity it’s fine. CrossFit is being promoted as exercise, however, and the risks are not worth it because the same or better exercise benefits can be obtained more safely by other means. If a person understands this and really does do CrossFit because they enjoy it I have no problem with that, but most people who do CrossFit do so because they think it is a good way to exercise while it is actually one of the dumbest.

Steven Turner: Hi Drew,

On a youtube video this person talks about the size principle of motor unit recruitment. He said (words to the effect) to get stronger and more powerful you must lift heavy to train the glycoltic fibres. He than said that F=ma so to increase force you must move the weight fast as possible ensuring you train the stronger fibres. He than added to be able to move the weight fast it must be somewhat lighter. To me the lighter weights will not train the stronger more powerful fibres. As you said “training hard and progressively”. Confused

Drew Baye: Steven,

Neither extremely heavy loads or fast speeds are necessary for recruitment or effective stimulation of the glycolytic fibers/high threshold motor units. Moderate loads (around 60% of maximum voluntary contraction) are enough to recruit all the motor units in the muscles worked after a few reps.

Steven Turner: Hi Drew,

If I could just add that the video also said that if a person deliberately moves the weight slowly not all the glycolytic fibres would be recruited/worked.

Arthur Jones wrote an article something along the lines; once you add weight to a limb the movement speed becomes slower, the more weight that you add the slower the movement speed becomes.

If accelerated speed of movement is a key factor in muscle fibre recrutiment why not use only weight in your limbs and accelrate them as fast as possible. To my way of thinking you can’t have both heavy weights and fast movements.

Drew Baye: Steven,

Regardless of the speed of movement all of the motor units in the working muscles including those comprised of glycolytic fibers will be recruited and worked if the effort is high enough. You can even do this with a speed of zero using timed static contraction protocol.

The key is effort. You can get good results with almost any training method as long as the effort is high enough, but not all methods will produce results as quickly, be as time efficient, or be as safe and sustainable in the long run. It is not enough to just train very hard (and to their credit, CrossFitters do train very hard), you also have to train safely and efficiently.

Matt S: Mr. Baye,

Thank you for the effort you put into your site. I agree with the viewpoint you present in this article. I believe too many people have misguided understanding of fitness pursuits and get caught up in the appeal of this type of “sport-based” training without understanding the risk. I do have two comments where I hope you can enlighten me: please explain how “intent” can alter muscle recruitment patterns and do you believe it hurts credibility of the message by quoting HIT advocates like McGuff, Bruce-Low, and, certainly, Arthur Jones? How much credibility would you give an anti-HIT article quoting Fleck, Kraemer, & Stone? Thanks for your consideration.

Best Regards,
Matt (Long time HIT advocate, too)
Iowa City, Iowa

Drew Baye: Matt,

I use the term “intent” to describe the movement you are attempting to produce during an exercise, which determines which muscles are recruited and their level of involvement. This can have different meanings in different contexts, for example if you’re talking about intended versus possible speed of movement as the muscles fatigue, or intended versus possible path of movement due to various physical constraints.

As for credibility, the arguments and evidence need to stand on their own merit, regardless of who is presenting them. Of course, HIT people are going to tend to view people like Jones, McGuff, Bruce-Low, Otto, Carpinelli, etc. as more credible than Kraemer, Fleck, Stone, Garhammer, etc. and vice versa due to confirmation bias. Everybody has a tendency to be more accepting of things that confirm their perspective or beliefs on a topic and to be more skeptical of things that contradict them. You have to do your best to set that aside and just look at the evidence critically and interpret it as objectively as you can.

One of the hardest things to do, but one of the most effective ways to continue to learn and improve, is to constantly challenge and test your own positions and beliefs. If you can do this honestly and objectively you will improve your understanding of the subject by a process similar to natural selection; by increasing the critical pressure on your own ideas the good ones become stronger and bad ones are weeded out and corrected.

Matt S: Thank you for the thorough response. I understand the use of the word “intent” in its broad, dictionary definition sense and, although anonymous to you, I have an academic background in exercise and physiology. My question was more to suss out the nature of “intent” in the sentence:

“After this point the intent should be to move the weight as fast as possible, although the actual speed will be anything but.”

What are the merits of moving, no, intending on moving the weight “as fast as possible” as opposed to simply moving the weight? (I understand that as the process of inroad occurs, the properly selected weight won’t actually move fast) Why the distinction? I have read this concept both in Nautilus Bulletin #1 (or was it 2?)and elsewhere in which the author’s belief was along the lines of “moving fast is essential to recruiting those fast-twitch fibers, you know, the good ones…” I was just trying to gain insight on why you stated the above. Does the intention, the cognitive aspect, on moving an appropriately heavy weight as fast, in the given exercise, as possible have a different effect on recruitment patterns, reps completed, TUL, etc, from a set wherein one focuses on just lifting the weight or even maintaining a measured speed? Would it not also be likely that if one’s intent is divided from technique towards speed of movement that there is an increased likelihood of substitution and therefore a detraction from the targeted prime mover?

I also understand the use of supporting “unbiased” information to bolster an arguement. We are all well aware that there is a presidential election, and confirmation bias in an election year is like Santa Claus is to Christmas. Maybe your intent (see, I know that word) is to only write to a HIT audience. I was just wondering, since I linked to this article from the one explaining what HIT is, if using the same handful of pro-HIT sources ultimately best serves to get the “HIT message” across. Your other article seemed to want to “clear the water” as to what HIT is (and isn’t) aimed at those uninitiated to HIT. I’m sure you get many curious non-HIT tourists who have Googled, “what is HIT?”, and arrived at your site. It seems to me that HIT, as you advocate it, is the best general approach to exercise, but is represented on the Internet as a subcultural and fractured niche in a small corner of the exercise community that may repulse those that might reap its benefits due to those that represent it – I’m sure you’re well aware of what a nightmare the Dr. Darden forum has become. They’re the voice of HIT? Scary.

I agree on keeping an open mind – but not so open your brain falls out – to new avenues in life. As I have aged, my exercise approach has deviated from a strict interpretation of HIT but that still reflects its core tenets. I also advocate experimenting on yourself to test the value of different approaches to exercise. Why take someone’s word for it? Try it out yourself. What are a few months of time trying something new in the context of your lifetime of exercise?

Anyway, thank you for indulging my impulse to write something in your comments section. I appreciate your efforts of maintaining your site with frequent updates, interesting articles, and useful information, and of presenting HIT in good light. I think your good reputation in the HIT community is well deserved.

Regards,
Matt

Drew Baye: Matt,

It makes little difference to motor recruitment whether you are actually moving fast or just intending to move fast as long as the load is appropriate and the set is performed for a long enough duration to recruit all the motor units in the muscles being worked, but it is safer to move more slowly. As long as you are trying to move as fast as you can once moving more quickly than prescribed becomes impossible you will still have recruited all the motor units in the muscles worked but minimizing acceleration reduces the risk of injury. As long as correct form is maintained you shouldn’t have substitution occurring. That’s the trick, though.

I agree with your observation about HIT appearing to be a small subculture and it is definitely fractured; there are many cliques within HIT that don’t all get along with each other and unfortunately some are outright hostile towards each other. It certainly doesn’t help the image of HIT with the rest of the fitness industry or the public in general and in many ways it’s just as cultish as CrossFit.

I like and respect Ell Darden but the less said about what has become of his forum, the better. I would love to see him break away from Biotest/T-Nation and start over with a blog format similar to this site or Doug McGuff’s and John Little’s Body by Science blog.

So, there you have it. A reasonably civil and hopefully informative discussion between HITters and CrossFitters. If you have additional questions about anything discussed here, please post them in the comments below and keep the conversation going! CrossFitters are welcome, as long as you refrain from profanity and physical threats (I had to delete hundreds of comments over the years from people angry about the original article).

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