A Return To The Dark Ages?

If the advent of Nautilus and high intensity strength training in the 1970′s was a renaissance in exercise, the current rising popularity of so-called “functional training” is a return to the dark ages.

In her recent New York Times article, Fitness Playgrounds Grow As Machines Go, Courtney Rubin writes,

Simple exercises with no-tech equipment (call them paleo or playground exercises, depending on how much fun they are) have long found disciples at niche gyms and in movements such as CrossFit. But in the last year and a half, major health-club chains have begun making hefting sandbags and shaking 25-pound ropes the standard, ditching the fancy weight machines that have dominated gym floors for more than 30 years.

In other words they’re replacing productive, efficient, and safe tools and methods with less productive, inefficient, and riskier ones.

The so-called “functional training” trend is primarily based on the beliefs that exercises must mimic other physical activities like daily living or vocational tasks or sports skills to improve your ability to perform them and that exercises should be performed on unstable surfaces or unilaterally to improve balance and more effectively strengthen your “core” muscles.

These beliefs aren’t just wrong, they are completely backwards.

Functional Training Playground

Your functional ability – how well you are able to perform various physical activities – is determined by several factors. Some of these factors, like your muscular strength, cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning, and flexibility are general; improving them helps you better perform any physical activity. One factor of functional ability, skill, is specific; improving your skill in a particular physical activity only helps you better perform that specific activity.

While the number of possible body movements a person can perform is practically infinite, all of them are just different combinations of a few basic joint movements. Regardless of the specific exercises performed, as long as you strengthen all the muscle groups which produce those joint movements your general ability to perform any movement will improve. For example, it doesn’t matter that the exercise movement performed on a leg extension machine does not resemble some other movement; if your quadriceps are stronger your ability to perform any movement involving knee extension or requiring you to resist knee flexion will improve.

Since the improvements in functional ability from strength gains are general there is no benefit to performing exercises in a manner that mimics other activities. Instead, exercise movements should be based on the requirements for effectively and safely working specific muscles or muscle groups to stimulate increases in strength. This includes both compound (multi-joint, linear) and simple (usually single joint, rotary) or so-called “isolation” exercises. As a corollary, the tools used for exercise should be appropriate for or designed around these movements, and this can include anything from low-tech barbells and dumbbells and basic bodyweight apparatus to high-tech machines.

Attempting to mimic another activity with exercise usually results in inefficient muscular loading and can interfere with the skills of the movement being mimicked (negative skill transfer). Attempting to mimic sport movements involving rapid acceleration during exercise also unnecessarily increases the risk of injury.

If you want to improve your ability to perform a specific movement don’t try to mimic it during exercise, learn and practice the movement, and if it involves a tool, instrument, or sporting implement practice using that exact tool, instrument, or implement.

Performing an exercise on an unstable surface will improve your skill at performing that specific exercise but will not improve your skill in other balance tasks. Also, activation of the target muscles and the stimulus for strength increases is reduced when exercise is performed on an unstable surface, not improved. The more focus required to maintain your balance the less you can devote to contraction of the targeted muscles.

Stability Ball Squat

Proponents of so-called “functional training” often claim exercise on unstable surface is more effective because it involves more muscles. They fail to distinguish between muscular involvement and efficient loading. Just because a muscle is involved in an exercise in some manner does not mean it is subject to loading sufficient to stimulate increases in strength and size. Since maintaining balance requires the center of gravity of the body to be maintained directly over its base the muscles involved in balance work against minimal moment arms, thus minimal resistance and receive little exercise benefit.

As an example of this myth, the article quotes Adam Campbell, fitness director for the Men’s Health brand as saying,

…machines like the leg press strengthen muscles, but asked: “What’s the real logic in sitting or laying down to train your legs?” Functional fitness is “far more bang for your buck” because it works multiple muscles simultaneously, he said, providing better overall strength and mobility, and a higher calorie burn.

Adam Campbell doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The logic of sitting or laying down to train your legs is these machines allow the target muscles to be loaded more efficiently and more safely than conventional barbell movements, and much more effectively than squatting on a ball like the idiot pictured above. While many so-called “functional” exercises involve more muscle groups than machine exercises or conventional barbell exercises they do so in a manner that loads those muscles haphazardly and inefficiently.

Exercises performed in a manner that efficiently loads the targeted muscles, using equipment designed for this purpose will provide “better overall strength and mobility” than exercises which mimic other movements or involve unstable surfaces or spread the work over a larger number of muscle groups in a way that loads them inefficiently (like exercise “complexes” which combine several different movements into a single exercise).

And, while exercising to burn calories is generally a waste of time, the calories burned during or metabolic demand of an exercise are not determined solely by the amount of muscle involved but also how hard the involved muscles are working.  If you don’t experience a tremendous metabolic demand performing a circuit of machine exercises you aren’t using them correctly.

Later, Josh Bowen, formerly of Urban Active is quoted as saying,

Gyms are way out of the times if all they have is machines.

Bullshit. A gym with nothing but forty-year-old first and second generation Nautilus machines is way ahead of any gym whose equipment consists mostly of so-called “functional training” staples like stability balls, ropes, medicine balls, truck tires, plyo boxes, and kettlebells.

After a few more paragraphs of ignorant machine bashing the author quotes several people on how odd so-called “functional training” looks to people used to more conventional training. One person is quoted as saying his wife “looks like a circus clown” when doing her “functional” exercises. Another worries people are watching him thinking it’s the dumbest thing they’ve ever seen.

While I have seen and heard about people doing a lot of really dumb things over the years, and so-called “functional training” might not be the dumbest, it is definitely close to the top of the list. It violates motor learning principles, violates principles of safe and efficient muscular loading, and gives people less exercise benefit with more risk. Forget about looking stupid, getting injured because you lose your balance and fall or drop something on yourself is a great way to quickly (and in some cases permanently) reduce your functional ability.

Like the guy who was badly injured when he lost his balance and fell through a plate glass window a few years back because his idiot trainer had him doing dumbbell flys on a stability ball.

Like the college quarterback who is now paralyzed because he broke his back when he lost his balance doing weighted step-ups.

Like the CrossFitter who smashed his foot doing sledgehammer swings.

If you want the greatest possible improvement in general functional ability don’t follow the so-called “functional training” crowd. Work hard, progressively, and consistently on a few basic exercises involving all the major muscle groups. Move slowly during exercises to keep consistent tension on the target muscles and minimize risk of injury, but move quickly between exercises to maximize cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning. Separately from your workouts, learn and practice the correct performance of the specific sport or vocational skills you want to improve at.

And finally, if other people in the gym are doing so-called “functional training” exercises, make sure to give them plenty of clearance so when they do lose their balance or grip and fall, or drop something heavy, or lose control while swinging or throwing something, they don’t reduce your functional ability in the process.

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71 Responses to A Return To The Dark Ages?

  1. Ondrej April 24, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    The reason functional training is so popular is that it allows the trainers to get money from 30 people, build 30 exercise spots with tire/ball/TRX…and just rotate them for an hour in one or two minute intervals. No progressive overload, no guidance on form, high risk of injury. It unfortunately came to Europe as well…my college roommate visits “Hardcore training”.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q-fYIV37mg
    When one watches this, the debate of the proACSM and antiACSM academic crowd about training model, frequency or number of sets looks less important.

    • Drew Baye April 24, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

      Ondrej,

      While the lower costs and higher profits are definitely a factor, I think the bigger problem is most of these gym owners and trainers are ignorant of proper exercise and actually believe there is value to this nonsense. I believe most of them really do mean well, they just have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.

  2. Jose C Silva April 24, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    Forwarding this to many friends (all of whom always fall for the latest fad). For some reason, even mechanical engineers — who presumably know about momentum, risk, fracture, shear forces, etc — switch off their brains where exercise is concerned.

    BTW, bought an Ivanko gripper on your recommendation; greatest grip exercise ever!

    Cheers,
    JCS

    • Drew Baye April 24, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

      Thanks Jose,

      Unfortunately, a lot of otherwise rational and thoughtful people do this. I’ve always enjoyed working with engineers, though, because their background saves me from having to explain a lot of things.

      The Ivanko is a great gripper and I recommend them over regular spring grippers.

  3. Bill DeSimone April 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    Beat me to it, buddy.

  4. Thomas April 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    Drew,

    I treat a boat load of Crossfiters and I can honestly say that most of these people don’t feel like they’re doing enough unless things feel dangerous. Many wear their injuries as a badge of honor, literally laughing at what they are doing, almost apologetically admitting that they are hurting themselves. But, they are (and this is the weirdest part) just trying to stay fit and doing it for their health (huh?). The problem is in their paradigm (I also see people jogging outside between noon and three in August in Phoenix-it’s the same mentality). A little education goes a long way. This is why I wouldn’t blame the guy in the pic above as much as I’d blame his trainer, who is the real idiot. Anyway, nice article as usual.

    • Drew Baye April 24, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      Thanks Thomas,

      In addition to being ignorant about proper exercise principles I’m sure social and psychological factors have a lot to do with people choosing to participate in these kind of activities. I suspect many people associate these activities with an image they find appealing, and participate as a way of projecting that image themselves, for example someone might think, “hardcore exercisers and elite athletes do CrossFit and functional training, I will do these things because I want people to think I’m hardcore and elite.”

  5. Bill April 24, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    Really great article Drew. I’m going to have to find a new gym as my current on has crammed all the machines into the corners of the workspace so they could bring in all this new functional training equipment. It takes up about half the floor area and they even prevent you from getting to certain areas where much needed machines reside during “class” time. It’s ridiculous, sad, and frustrating.

    • Drew Baye April 24, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

      Bill,

      If you can’t work out when they aren’t conducting group training then finding a new gym or setting one up at home would be a better option. If they ask why you’re quitting their gym, you can send them here.

  6. Pete Collins April 24, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    Drew
    The human condition of improving circumstances & enviroment for survival has been overwhelmed by too many choices & saturated with 24/7 media cycles, twitter, facebook, dare I say ‘blogs’ etc. Industry has exposed the perceived flaw in the human mind, an inability to perfect a productive task dealing with the boredom of repetition, I learned this through many years training Buk Sing Choy Lay Fut, most successful CEO’s will say the same ‘learn to work hard and deal with boredom’. The fitness industry responds to this inability to stick it out by very conveniently creating new routines and activities to keep the poor bastard emptying their hard earned cash into their bank accounts. I have more respect for the chewing gum stuck to the sole of my shoe, than for these so called establishments and personal trainers.

    I am currently studying RenEx Cert 1, this will separate me from the crowd, even if it means I get criticized along the way.

    Thanks for your posts Drew.

    • Drew Baye April 25, 2013 at 10:33 am #

      Pete,

      I have had discussions about this with people who run “boot camps” and CrossFit or P90X style group training programs who know these are not the most effective, efficient, or safest ways to train that have come right out and said the attraction is due to entertainment, social interaction, and image. They are following the money, not the science.

  7. Pete Collins April 24, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    Guys
    A conversation I had recently
    -girl ‘I’m a crossfitter’
    -me ‘what are you crossfitting?’
    -girl ‘to be fit & healthy’
    -me which part of you will be fit? & which part will be healthy?’
    -girl ‘I’m totally confused’
    -me ‘I know it shows’
    -girl ‘your annoying me with your smart arse questions’
    -me ‘do you feel like slapping me?’
    -girl ‘yes’
    -me ‘can you now fit into that really expensive tight dress you set as a target weight after crossfit?’
    -girl sigh ‘no, I tried last week, what a struggle, trying to force it to fit last week really annoyed and upset me’
    - me “Oh, so you are a “cross fitter”…………
    -girl LOL f*ck you, but I like you the way you are Pete.

    Pete

    • Drew Baye April 25, 2013 at 10:36 am #

      Pete,

      Nice play on words. I’d be cross too if I were her.

  8. bobby April 24, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    Good article Drew.We have a friend who runs a boot camp/crossfit,and just loves taking their money.She knows that she can whip these people into shape with weights and 12 minutes a week.But,runs into 2 snags: #1 they LOVE the social aspect of this foolishness and #2 they pay their money and demand at least an hour of workouts/babysitting/ego stroking or feel ripped off.While we can’t endorse this activity,changing peoples minds about fitness or ,god forbid diet ,is tough.Maybe once they hurt themselves they’ll get practical.

    • Drew Baye April 25, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

      Bobby,

      Unfortunately proper exercise is just plain old hard work and not entertaining or conducive to socializing, which makes it harder to market to most people. Fortunately, it also weeds out people who aren’t really serious about their exercise program. If someone is not willing to work very hard and do things that are not fun to achieve a goal they don’t really want it that badly.

    • Ben Tucker May 1, 2013 at 11:59 am #

      Bobby,

      I’ve discovered this training folks for the past two years. It is a re-education process and it can sometimes be demoralizing. I refuse to chase the money and it is so satisfying when the few get it. When they do get it, they are able to enjoy the time saved for other endeavours.

      Drew nailed it below; people want to go through the motions, they just don’t want to work hard.

  9. Stephen April 24, 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    I think the real allure of crossfit was always the time requirement and the competitive nature. It really doesn’t take a whole lot of time to do a WOD. Likewise, the competition (speed) appeals to athletic types the way Tae Kwon Do appeals to competitive type even though it’s devolved from it’s martial arts roots. Crossfit isn’t really a exercise plan anymore, though it started out as one with some very sound philosophies. That said, HIT has the same benefits(time/efficiency). I never injured myself during my crossfit phase(s), but I recognize the inherent danger in some of the movements. And the amazing breathlessness I used to feel after WoD’s i’ve been able to replicate with HIT after reading the reccomendations in 4 hour body, Body By science, and this website. I think the final nail in the coffin was realizing the fundamental attribution error I was making, assuming corssfit people looked the way they did because they did crossfit. The basketball player ans swimmer analogies really forced me to reconsider my position.

    I’m still tweaking my exercise plan, and was curious of your opinion of Nautlius Nitro equipment. I have no idea what “generation” it is. My gym has the chest press, compound row, and pull down. For things like leg press and shoulder press I’m forced to choose between (seemingly) inferior options of Atlantis, Free Motion, or Hammer strength equipment.

    I’ve finally managed to convince myself to lay off the power cleans. Do you think I can safely explore the machines, or stick to body weight?

    Thanks for everything you do, write, and present. Your efforts to educate are selfless and endlessly valuable. I salute you sir.

    • Drew Baye April 25, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

      Stephen,

      I like CrossFit’s emphasis on brief, intense workouts, but many other aspects of their philosophy and programming leave a lot to be desired. In a way, it is more of a selection process than an exercise program; it is not as effective at improving general fitness and structural integrity as it is at weeding out people who don’t already have those.

      Nitro is Nautilus second most recent line of high end commercial machines. They are generally well designed and made and are the best of the machines most commonly found in gyms (better brands like MedX, RenEx, and David tend to be limited to rehab facilities and very high end personal training studios). Of the other brands you mentioned Hammer Strength is by far the best option.

      How you train is far more important than the equipment you use, and both machine and bodyweight training can be highly effective and safe. While properly designed machines provide several advantages, whether you should do one or the other depends on the specific machines available for the exercises you want to perform.

  10. Richard April 25, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    I don’t understand where all of this Crossfit hate is coming from. As far as I can tell, Crossfit is a competitive sport and not an exercise protocol. It’s constant railing is tiring and has no bearing concerning the content of this website.

    • Drew Baye April 25, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

      Richard,

      To paraphrase the official web site, CrossFit is “…a core strength and conditioning program…” Although it has branched into competition, it is still being promoted as a way to improve fitness. Since CrossFit is a relatively poor way of going about this which involves an unnecessarily high risk of injury people should be informed about it.

      • Richard April 26, 2013 at 12:43 am #

        I know a few people who Crossfit and they all consider it to be a fitness sport and not a form of exercise. Also, they know that it’s not the safest or most efficient way of getting exercise but they choose to play regardless, because they love it for what it is. A football player does the same thing. And like with most sports, there is always a side benefit of fitness improvement (and social interaction!) hence why it is advertised as such- Crossfit being the Sport of Fitness.
        Make no mistake, Crossfit stands on it’s own just like MMA, football or Powerlifting does. It is not a means to an end but rather an end to the means. Maybe the argument could be made on safer, more efficient ways to train for Crossfit competitions but not on whether people should be competing in them in the first place. That is a decision only the individual can make.

        • Drew Baye April 26, 2013 at 7:42 am #

          Richard,

          I’m not making any mistake, and I’m not sure how to make this any clearer; CrossFit is marketed and thought of primarily as exercise. The CrossFit motto is “Forging elite fitness”. The CrossFit web site and “boxes” have a workout of the day (WOD). Most people who go to CrossFit “boxes” or do the CrossFit WODs on their own do so for exercise, not because they intend to compete.

          The following are quotes from several local CrossFit web sites:

          “CrossFit is the principal strength and conditioning program for beginners and elite athletes alike.”

          “CrossFit is the principal strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide.”

          “Done correctly, it is the BEST strength & conditioning programming around, AND it will get you to your BEST fitness ever.”

          I recommend reading my article on CrossFit if you haven’t already.

          • Richard April 26, 2013 at 10:21 am #

            Drew, I understand and I agree with you that Crossfit is dangerous, inefficient and downright stupid, especially for the purpose of getting fit and strong. But i still think the majority of people who engage in Crossfit consider their workouts to be a form of ‘training’ for competition rather then just ‘exercising’. As is the case with many sports, Crossfit appeals because it is trendy, social, challenging, respected (to the average person)and highly competitive. Whether we like it or not these are much stronger motivators then ‘safe’ and ‘efficient’. I guess it comes down to personal values. Anyway, I am happy to agree to disagree on this one point.

            • Drew Baye April 30, 2013 at 11:08 am #

              Richard,

              If a person wants to participate in CrossFit competitions for physical recreation they must do CrossFit to learn the specific skills involved. If they want effective, efficient, and safe exercise they should do something else.

              My problem with CrossFit is that it is promoted as exercise, but it is a very stupid and unnecessarily dangerous way of going about it.

  11. Steven Turner April 25, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    I don’t know if you remember me writing to you about this. A few years back in one of our national newspapers here in Australia a so-called fitness expert wrote that exercise machines were a waste of time and of no benefit. I emailed him annoymously and said that, “you are now telling me that the million dollars worth of machines that I have just purchased for my gym are worthless”, his response was no, no, that is not what I meant, he further added you have to understand the audience I am writing to.

    What I think is also concerning is that most of these skill based training activities, rowing machines, cycle machines, tyre tossing, rope flapping, hitting boxing pads, balancing on swiss balls, are being forced upon clients by trainers who have done a one day course, don’t have a “f….g” clue in what they are doing, making these activities more dangerous than they already are.

    Here in Australia you have to do a certain amount of Continuing education courses every two years to maintain registration. What are most of the courses that you can do? The latest “FAD” training which are usually the most dangerous.

    Proper exercise is proper exercise.

    • Drew Baye April 26, 2013 at 7:50 am #

      Steven,

      The situation is the same here. Trends in exercise have far more to do with money than science and many of the seminars and CEU courses I see advertised towards trainers reflects this.

  12. Ian Wilson April 25, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    great article Drew. Every time I watch the biggest loser and see the injuries they incur from CrossFit type training it makes me cringe.
    Just a quick question though. What are your thoughts on the conjugate system performed by Westside Barbbell? They use a variety of different exercises that mimic their core lifts, as well as performing specialised training that target assisting muscles that help with those core movements. An example would be performing varieties of good mornings to assist with the deadlift. As well as reverse hyper extensions and leg curls to strengthen the hamstrings. It seems to work quite well.

    • Drew Baye April 26, 2013 at 7:45 am #

      Ian,

      They could do without the periodization and cut the volume a little. If you want to discuss this in more detail I suggest bringing it up in the HIT Forum.

    • Jeff Consiglio April 26, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

      I am hearing of quite a few injuries from the local Crossfit franchise in my area. One gal, a doctor, tore her bicep tendon. Another guy seriously screwed up his back to O-lifts while in a metabolically devastated state.

      • Drew Baye April 30, 2013 at 11:20 am #

        Jeff,

        The story is the same almost everywhere. A lot of people are going to get hurt before this fad dies.

  13. simone April 26, 2013 at 2:02 am #

    Perfect.
    An extremely clear description about neuro motor unit principles.
    Still these basics are the key concepts every serious coach should teach.

    • Drew Baye April 26, 2013 at 7:24 am #

      Thanks Simone,

      These principles were discovered decades ago. It is a shame so many trainers and coaches appear ignorant of them.

  14. Jeff Consiglio April 26, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    Bravo! I read that functional-training propaganda piece a few days ago, and have been meaning to write a rebuttal, but you and Bill DeSimone beat me to it.

    I am a very open-minded person in regards to diet and exercise, and try not to paint myself in a corner too often. I once went through a bit of an “anti-machine” phase for instance, but ultimately found 100% free-weight training was NOT any better than using machines.

    I’ve also experimented with SOME of the LESS OBVIOUSLY STUPID functional fitness stuff. (No I NEVER was dumb enough to lift weights on balls!) But I have tried weighted step-ups for instance, because unilateral leg-training seemed like a good way to load up the leg muscles without having to load up the spine with tons of weight. But you are right…all it takes is one freakin misstep, and you’re getting hurt. I also found the step-DOWN part of step-ups hard on ankles as one progresses in weight.

    Give me a good leg-press machine over bullshit step-ups anyday! Step-ups are ok for normal-weight people to warm-up I guess, but I don’t like doing them with weight, or with heavy clients.

    I do like front and side planks, but frankly abs get worked LOTS better, and just as safe, in a Nautilus Pullover.

    I cringe when I see people doing all those “unbalanced exercises” and funny looking, esoteric movement patterns that are obviously NOT building muscle, and putting people at risk of harm. One-leg deadlifts? Noooo!

    Functional training is marketing-schtick. It allows any fool to open a “gym” for very little cost, and gives him an excuse for why clients physiques are not improving, since it’s all about “function” rather than “shallow” cosmetic training.

    After 20+ years in this industry, I maintain that good ole fashion BODYBUILDING (Abbreviated BB workouts rather than high-volume) workouts are the BEST way to go for MOST people who traing to LOOK BETTER, and feel better…and would like to not get injured in the process.

    • Drew Baye April 30, 2013 at 11:13 am #

      Jeff,

      You should write your own rebuttal any way. The more people refuting this kind of nonsense the better.

      As for free weights versus machines, both can be effective when used correctly. Ultimately how you train is far more important than the equipment you use.

  15. Steven Turner April 28, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    Hi Drew,

    Another consideration is that no movement at all may prove to be the best method to improve “functional movement” or more specifically “muscle strength” – Timed Static Contrations – TSC.

    On TV the other day a segment on Home rehab for people with disabilities, the physical therapist went out into people’s homes to help them with re-learning everyday activities by having the patients you guessed it learning the “specific movements” – getting in and out of a car, basic everyday movements. They said that by going out into peoples homes that the rate and speed of improvement in patients “functional movement” was greatly improved – by practising the exact skill.

    • Drew Baye April 30, 2013 at 11:28 am #

      Steven,

      I still have some reservations about doing TSC exclusively but I think people underestimate how effective it can be when done correctly.

      I’m not surprised the therapist would have better results working with people at their home having them relearn and practice things exactly how they need to do them on a daily basis. This combined with a proper strength training program is the best approach.

  16. Florian Heinrich April 28, 2013 at 4:27 am #

    That article is right on the spot Drew. Good stuff. When I see Crossfitters train, I always think how dangerous that looks, the swinging, kipping, jerking, janking of the weights. Some with “better” form, some with no technique whatsoever.

    And while these trainees seem to be real passionate about what they are doing, and being passionate about training and hard work is a very positive thing, the risk of acute und chronic injury is just way too high with that type of training.

    And what I feel is greatly negative und doing proper resistance training an enormous disservice, is that this crossfit-type training is marketed as the future of exercise. Well that is absolutely ridiculus. Instead of being a step into the right direction, it is really back into the dark ages…..

    • Drew Baye April 30, 2013 at 11:31 am #

      Thanks Florian,

      If CrossFit and other so-called “functional training” programs are the future of exercise we’re in big trouble. It will be better when they’re a thing of the past, but I don’t think they’ll go away any time soon.

  17. Michael Guinn April 28, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Great article!!!

  18. Steve April 28, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    Haha, thanks for another brilliant article Drew. I’m interested in odering “Elements of Form”, but was wondering which ebook format it’ in. Will it be in epub, or just pdf? If pdf, how many pages is it?

    • Drew Baye April 30, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      Steve,

      Elements of Form will be available both in print and digital format. Working on what I hope will be the final draft. Total page count will depend on whether I go with 6×9 or 8.5×11 page size and final formatting, so I don’t know yet.

  19. Tim Kilby April 30, 2013 at 8:12 am #

    Drew,
    I’ve never in my life seen someone try and do a barbel squat on ball!! WTF?? I have Nautilus equipment at my home and I will teach my children how to use that equipment properly. It’s a shame that people follow these fitness fads without thinking of the dangers first. Thanks for posting this article Drew.

  20. Steven Turner April 30, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    I agree with your comments on TSC I thought about this later and what I meant to say, combined with dynamic strength movements TSC could be best methods.

    I think Tim summed it up perfectly WTF?? My question is how in the hell does the fitness industry get away with this type of stupidity – squats on a swiss ball, I am at a loss.

    • Drew Baye May 1, 2013 at 9:23 am #

      Steve,

      They get away with it for the same reason so many other industries get away with lying to people and selling them worthless crap. To paraphrase the brilliant science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, “Most people can’t think, most of the remainder won’t think, the small fraction who do think mostly can’t do it very well…”

  21. Margaret May 1, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Hi, Drew. Love how informative your website is. I did “Power of Ten” HIT workouts at home for about six years. Just didn’t feel like I had the time to make it to the gym (homeschooling 4 kids). About two years ago, I read McGuff’s BBS and started HIT at the gym. What a vast improvement.

    Anyways, I was having a discussion with another homeschooling mom who works at the local Crossfit. She really didn’t know much about HIT but started in on it not having a functional aspect to it. I then mentioned safety and then she admitted to falling off a piece of equipment and having to go to the ER with a back injury. What’s the point of fitness that causes injury? How can you even call it fitness? It certainly isn’t health.

    • Drew Baye May 3, 2013 at 11:35 am #

      Margaret,

      Let’s hope she learns from her experience and starts training more safely. Any program that routinely injures people is definitely not healthy.

  22. Dustin Broshous May 3, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    Crossfitting for general fitness is like Boxing for general fitness. And by boxing, I mean allowing someone to continually punch you in the face…

    Though, I suppose the only way to get better at the specific skill of getting punched in the face, would be to actually get punched in the face…

    But it’s not the form of physical activity I would undertake in an attempt to achieve better health.

    Today’s WOD: Right Hooks taken to the Chin -> for time!!

  23. Will May 6, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    @ Dustin (and Drew). I’m not a fan of CrossFit (kipping pull ups are silly), but your comparison is an exaggeration, to the point of being silly. Clearly, you’ve never done CrossFit, nor have you boxed. This sort of self-righteous piling on does little to advance the conversation. I don’t know where Dustin enters the conversation from, but Drew’s position is born, I suspect, from an overly narrow definition of ‘exercise’. Look at someone like Keith Norris; his approach to his own training leans toward CrossFit. Indeed, I’ve read Doug McGuff express a certain fondness for aspects of CrossFit (and the ‘rug-time’ it can produce). I suspect neither would think their efforts were no more sensible than standing and taking blows to the face.

    • Drew Baye May 7, 2013 at 7:49 am #

      Will,

      While Dustin was obviously being facetious and exaggerating for humor, his comparison is valid.

      The definition of exercise is not overly narrow, it just doesn’t let people call whatever they feel like doing exercise. Keith Norris gets a whole lot of things wrong, and I suspect you have taken Doug out of context because I know he would never recommend CrossFit. I suspect he was trying to find something nice to say about it and it does produce a considerable metabolic demand, but the same can be accomplished with proper exercise far more safely.

  24. Chris May 6, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

    Drew, a great article as usual. I’m curious what your take is on the foam rollers (“Self Myofascial Release”)? More dark ages nonsense or is there something more to it?

    • Drew Baye May 7, 2013 at 8:09 am #

      Chris,

      Myofascial Release might help with post exercise soreness but not much else. Many of the clinical claims made for it are unsupported and some, like those involving “meridians” and “trapped energy”, are nonsense.

  25. Derrick May 7, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    Another great article Drew. “Functional” training seems to be just the latest trend in getting people to buy their products. “If you just used X product, you will get in shape!!” Really just the basics are enough. On that note; I am in the market for a good trap bar. Any recommendations?

    Regards and thanks for the interesting topics for discussion.

    Derrick

  26. Will May 7, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    Drew: Yes, I was well aware that Dustin was (probably) being facetious. However, it’s precisely that attitude that gets so tiresome – coming from you and others – damning all other approaches that don’t adhere to rather limited definitional criteria. Obviously, Norris can defend his approach better than I (and, my point wasn’t to present his as the exemplary approach; rather, he’s simply an example of someone who blends modalities in interesting, and clearly productive ways. Does he get a lot of things “wrong”? I don’t know that he gets things any more wrong than you do; but, presumably, any determination of that conclusion would be contingent on the standard used to judge right and wrong. ‘Who’ gets to be the arbiter of such determinations, and ‘why’, is not yet settled – and, probably, won’t be in the foreseeable future). If you’re interested, the McGuff line regarding CrossFit is available via the following link (I’ve removed the ‘www’ to get it past any spam-blocking software):

    http://youtu.be/XuA6uA3S7Tw

    • Drew Baye May 7, 2013 at 11:38 am #

      Will,

      I watched the video (and made your link clickable), and I’ve known Doug for years and he was being very diplomatic. Professing to enjoy metabolically demanding workouts and occasionally using a rower is not the same as an endorsement of CrossFit. If you want to know Doug’s recommendations for exercise read Body By Science.

      The criteria for judging any exercise protocol, program, or equipment are simple. Does it improve functional ability? How effectively? How efficiently? How safely?

      It is possible to apply the scientific principles of exercise performance and programming in a variety of ways depending on individual goals and response to exercise, however, there are certain ways of doing things that are objectively more effective, more time efficient, and safer than others. A lot of things people call exercise are not based on science, and are relatively ineffective, inefficient, and unsafe, including so-called “functional training”, CrossFit, plyometrics, Olympic lifts, periodization, so-called “cardio”, etc.

      The problem is not that my definition of exercise is too limited but that most people’s is way too vague. Most people are ignorant of the science and believe any physical activity can be exercise, and as a result they often choose activities based on irrelevant criteria like entertainment, social interaction, and trendiness. These are fine criteria for choosing recreational activities, but I write to inform people so they can make the right choice for exercise: high intensity training.

  27. Thomas Davidsen May 8, 2013 at 1:56 am #

    Great article Drew. Thank you for being so straight forward.

  28. Vanner May 10, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    This is Just my anecdotal experience….

    I did cross-fit for a few months, their articles on fitness really made sense to me at the time. With the WODs, I met Pukey the Clown, and generated some pretty good tendinitis. I did increase my kipping pull ups, but at the cost of a sore back. My competitive nature allowed me to push past my unperceived limits and pain, which really beat the shit out of me. The evidence of the WODs indicated that it was not making me stronger for my other activities.

    At that time, most of the main-site cert trainers were pre-steroid; however, over time, I noticed that most of the trainers appeared to be taking some kind of “supplement” to keep up with the demands of the program. This is clearly evidenced by their sudden increase in muscle mass, vascularity, and extreme leanness. This was a bad representation of the program in my mind. Interesting to note, I don’t see those trainers pics on the main-site anymore — there must have been a cultural change since I was there.

    The folks that I noticed stuck with the program, really tailored it to suite their level of skill. I just couldn’t seem to do that by myself, and I kept wondering what the cross-over fitness of performing the snatch was (I believe you really needed a lifting coach in order to be competitive in this lift).

    So I ditched ALL exercise in order to heal up. Then went back to HIT style workouts. My evidence of HIT indicates it’s still generating improvements in my fitness levels. This was after I figured out how to perform each exercise effectively.

    I won’t say that HIT is the only “movement” a person should do (please keep walking people) however, I believe it is the best “exercise” model at this time.

    skill vs exercise
    skill vs exercise
    skill vs exercise

    • Drew Baye May 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

      Vanner,

      Your experience is similar to that of people I’ve trained who previously did CrossFit. Lots of shoulder, back, and wrist problems. HIT will give you the same or better results far more safely.

  29. marklloyd May 11, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Keith Norris “blends modalities”? “Kitchen sink”‘s more like it: “Sure, let’s try dat, what d’heck”, seems to be his “blend”. He can -attempt- to “defend his approach”, but I doubt that I’d understand him: Watch his “21 convention” ARX demo, & -please-, if you can, explain it to -me-. I’m fairly sure I understood ARX better -before- the demo!, (which probably hurt ARX more than the “RenEx” critique.) Drew, you’re very kind to let “I don’t know that he gets things any more wrong than you do” roll off your back. That’s about the meanest thing I’ve ever read.

    • Drew Baye May 11, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

      Mark,

      Will just doesn’t know enough to know any better, which means I just have to try harder to explain things more clearly. I’m not going to worry about what he thinks.

  30. Ian Wilson May 12, 2013 at 5:16 am #

    I must admit I haven’t had allot of experience with Cross Fit so I did a bit of research and checked out some videos on line. All I can say is now that I have watched those videos I truly regret wasting my time when I could have been researching something of value! I couldn’t believe the shearing force that would place on your knees doing jump lunges with a barbell above your head. Or the reckless way they performed pullups using nothing but pure momentum. I believe there’s another fad coming out similar to Cross Fit based on MMA workouts called TapOut XT. It uses functional body weight exercises combined with cardio exercise and core training as well. I find it ironic as being an MMA fan, when you research most of the MMA fighters, their strength and conditioning workouts revolve around squats bench press and dead lifts without a Burpee in sight.

    • Drew Baye May 12, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

      Ian,

      Despite being objectively poor ways to exercise, programs like CrossFit, P90X, and outdoors “boot camps” sell well, so expect to see the formulas copied and rebranded a lot by others trying to cash in on the fad.

  31. David May 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    I visit your website from time to time and appreciate your common sense and scientific approach to body building. I am 46 years old, and have lifted weights since I was a teenager. Only recently (about a year ago) I decided to adopt HIT principles. I began working out only once a week, doing only 5 or 6 exercies, and only using my bodyweight, or bands on certain exercises. I can tell you this is the most effective and efficient method of exercise. I am in the best shape of my life, and have very low bodyfat, without having to watch my diet or caloric intake. I have always been an ectomorph, so I am not “big” by anyone’s standards, but look great for my age, and love being able to have 1 super-intense workout a week.

  32. Nick May 15, 2013 at 6:21 am #

    Hi Drew

    I am a relatively new crossfitter but have been training most of my adult life in gyms, boxing, etc. That picture of the guy on the ball squatting is just completely insane. I think if any of my trainers asked me to do that I would tell them where to go. My point is there is a also logic that comes into the things we do. We should know when something is dangerous. In crossfit even though a certain amount of time or reps is specified for a workout it is always emphasized that we do it in our time and as much as we can handle. Personally I ignore the time and do the workouts slowly and properly. Many a time I havent even completed the workout, quality over quantity. The guys are very professional and emphasize technique rather than speed of our movements. …..oh and we dont use sledgehammers, I think using sledgehammers is stupid.
    In saying that I like how you have combined machine training with high intensity in the environment of a gym. In my gymming times I had to learn the hard way or by asking about technique since the personal trainers were more focused on socialising with the girls than actually going around and checking on customers. All to often I would see people on machines talking on their cell phones or watching TV. Ridiculous.
    Youve brought a whole new light on going to the gym to work. thats it.
    Thanks for allowing us to comment and I look forward to your reply.

    • Drew Baye May 18, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

      Nick,

      Thanks for your comments. You might be interested in my article on CrossFit which goes into more specific criticisms of the philosophy and CrossFit exercise performance and programming.

  33. William Motley March 5, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    Hey Drew,

    I am very new to HIT, so excuse me if I’m asking obvious questions. I remember you saying how skill training should be separated from strength and conditioning. Couldn’t kettle bell and medicine ball stuff be considered skill training for every day activities. For instance, pick laundry up, going bowling, or picking up logs. These are all done in a faster pace than HIT. So wouldn’t a little of faster training help with the “skill” of faster every day activities? What if you knew that in a few months you would be carrying a bunch of logs over your head and chopping wood, but you didn’t have an ax to practice with. Would it make sense to carry a medicine ball over your head and practice throwing it like you would throw the wood onto the pile? Again, I’m not saying anyone is wrong, I’m just trying to make sense of it in my head. Thanks for all the good information.

    • Drew Baye March 19, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

      William,

      No, because skills are very specific, and if you try to combined exercise with skill training you end up with something that is inefficient for exercise and can actually interfere with improving the skills of the activity you are trying to mimic due to negative transfer.

  34. William Motley March 5, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    I have one more example. I like to do pakour. We do a lot of jumping. If it was cold out or I just wanted a safe environment to practice jumping, wouldn’t box jumping be a smart activity to engage in to train me for the urban environment? I understand why it’s more unsafe to engage in intense funtional traing like cross fit and P90X, but stuff like box jumping for parkour, medicine ball throwing for log throwing or hay bail stacking, and maybe even kipping pull-ups for fast dynamic moves in rockclimbing all seem to have very real benefits for skill training. When you say functional training is bad, do you mean it’s bad for strength training or are you saying it’s bad period. I can’t see how it can be bad when done with heavy loads like squating on a swiss ball. But the world we live in is functional and it’s hard to always do rockclimbing, parkour, and log throwing outside in nature, so wouldn’t it make sense to recreate these activities in the gym if that is your option? Thanks for the dialog.

    • Drew Baye March 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

      William,

      Box jumps would be good skill practice for jumping, but are a very poor exercise. Medicine ball throwing, hay bail stacking, and kipping pull-ups would only improve your skill in medicine ball throwing, hay bail stacking, and kipping pull-ups, though, and are also very poor exercises.

      Recreating athletic and vocational activities in the gym results in movements that are both very poor for exercise (do not load the targeted muscles efficiently and safely) and do not improve the skills of the activities being mimicked.

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