Part 1: “So Tim…What Do You Think of CrossFit?”

Tim Crough Move Right KCWritten by Tim Crough, Fitness Entrepreneur | Performance Coach |Wellness Evangelist | Husband/Daddy | Striving for Humility | Ski Bum Wannabe

There’s a clear reason that 73.5% of CrossFit athletes are getting injured… and surprisingly it’s not because of poor technique!

In a recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 97 of 132 people surveyed (73.5%) of CrossFit participants had sustained an injury that had prevented them from working, training or competing.” Of these injuries, nine required surgery.

“So Tim…What do you think of CrossFit?”

This is the question I get asked the most at social gatherings when I tell people what I do for a living.

If you’re a Cubs baseball player, people ask “What’s it like winning the World Series?”, but If you’re a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who doesn’t coach CrossFit it’s… ”What do you think of CrossFit?” and my answer always tilts one way or another depending on who I’m speaking with.

Before I dive into my true thoughts, it’s important to note that perspective is everything. And here’s mine: My career has largely been as a personal trainer (or maybe better stated…a strength coach masquerading as a personal trainer). In 2000 I earned my CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) certification shortly after working with the football team at Kansas University. Beyond that experience, I was able to work for and learn from some of the greats in the strength and conditioning industry, including:

Istvan Javorek (inventor of the Barbell Complex)

Tom Cross (former NAIA strength coach, renown by industry insiders and Legends Award winner, who I affectionately refer to as the Yoda of Olympic lifting)

Fred Roll (former Head Strength Coach at University of Kansas)

Jonas Sahratian (current Strength Coach for North Carolina Basketball)

Brian Jordan (former Colorado Rockies Head of Strength and Conditioning)

Whitney Rodden (current Strength Coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University)

To this day, my professional philosophy is still rooted in their foundational teachings.

crossfitCrossFit’s premise of overall fitness. 

I was always taught that mixed training equals mixed results. Translation: If you train to be good at everything, you’ll be great at nothing and average at everything.

Exercises explosive in nature (often used in CrossFit) are designed for short bursts and minimal reps. Some CrossFit gyms instead use them for long, sustained endurance training or an AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible)…form WILL be damned…because when you train beyond functional capacity, your form collapses, no if’s and’s or but’s. 

The problem is that when you take an exercise designed for one thing (power) and using it for another (endurance – aka fitness), bad things happen.

CrossFit’s Bones
CrossFit is rooted in the same place I am…strength and conditioning. It took concepts from that world and gymnastics to create a system for the general public. They attempt to train everyday people more like elite-level athletes and with the higher level very athletic population it works!!  CrossFit uses Olympic lifts as their primary exercises. In fact, many people outside the industry now know them as “CrossFit exercises”.

The Lifts

The snatch and the clean-and-jerk (Olympic lifts) are powerful lifts that have been proven (using studies involving force plates in labs) to be the best for athletes in the development of explosive power (FORCE x DISTANCE/TIME). Think of dunking a basketball or hitting a home run.  

Back squats and deadlifts (power lifts) that are more indicative of strength (aka force) are also used frequently in CrossFit programs. Think of wrestlers battling for a dominant position.

Learning and teaching these lifts takes time, patience and effort…and the latter is what most CrossFitters specialize in, which is admirable on many levels. However, when steps are skipped or glossed over in the teaching process, lifts get dangerous…fast. Meticulous coaching and proper progressions are essential if you’re wanting to attempt such lifts, especially in a fatigued state, which is often the case with CrossFitters.

Less sexy variations should be used as a progression in place of these highly technical lifts with all athletes, much less your typical weekend warrior CrossFitter. These lifts will appropriately stair-step athletes to create a much safer and progressive construct of training.

kettlebell(WARNING: Technical Paragraph ahead…)

For instance, if an athlete can’t show proficiency in a hip hinge, they shouldn’t be allowed to deadlift. If they can’t proficiently deadlift, they shouldn’t be allowed to kettlebell swing. And if they can’t kettlebell swing, they shouldn’t be allowed to high-pull, (a teaching progression to a hang/power clean) much less clean or snatch, what CrossFit does a whole lot of. 

The snatch lift actually is actually a very technical lift with a ton of progressions. Unfortunately, our American culture doesn’t lend itself to the patience and perseverance to learn a lift like this really really well. Our “fast food society” makes us want everything NOW, no matter the danger or ultimate cost. And as you’ll learn in the next post sometimes the body WON’T move in a way to allow the exercise to even be executed safely! In which case other movement prep or fix exercises should be prescribed by a knowledgeable coach.

Note to All CrossFitters

If you’re a CrossFit athlete and haven’t been taught how to properly pick up an empty bar from the ground…or haven’t been given a proper readiness assessment to find out if your movement patterns will even facilitate good technique please pause and find a qualified coach. Pain is an alarm that only goes off when sufficient amounts of smoke cause it to, if you’re training with pain it’s not going to get better on it’s own. 

Thanks for taking the time to read and share this post. In part 2 of this series, I’ll hit on how a rock solid foundation is critical to injury prevention even if you have perfect form.

(Part 1 Postscript)

Let me say that there are several tremendous CrossFit coaches out there, many bringing a lot of knowledge and truth to the table. True professionals seek quality continuing education and good coaches recognize that there are pros and cons to most methods. When trying to fit square pegs into round holes, (ie. pushing athletes through inappropriate positions under load) it’s important to note that knowing boundaries is the most important part of what we do. As performance coaches and trainers, we all need to actively find better ways to build not only stronger, but sturdier, bodies. It’s not just about perfecting technique and using cutting edge recovery methods. Researching good readiness assessment protocols and using proven tools to guide our programming is essential to maintaining healthy athletes.

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