Competitive athletes should NOT do CrossFit.
Nearly 20 years ago the concept that would become CrossFit was an idea I believe many strength and conditioning professionals were considering. The now Head of Basketball Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of North Carolina, Jonas Sahratian and I discussed it while at The University of Kansas. Opening a gym that solely focused on strength and conditioning principles for everyday people we thought would not be received well, but more importantly, if it were to ever happen, it had to be done right. Bodybuilding and cardio training were the way when it came to how people got fit back then — convincing them to pay to learn extremely complex lifts designed for power development just wasn’t something that seemed promising.
Of course, time has proven that we were very wrong, the concept that became CrossFit is now a 1,000-pound gorilla and has become so commonplace that most everyone has heard of it. But what we were not wrong about was how impractical it would be to implement strength and conditioning principals well to an audience that weren’t all athletes.
CrossFit admits it is a “jack of all trades and master of none” philosophy. As a concept, there’s nothing wrong with training for overall fitness. However, training competitive athletes for general well-rounded and overall fitness is not a very smart approach.
Power is defined as Force x Distance/Time, or Speed x Strength to simplify it further. CrossFit trains power but it also trains you to exhaustion before a power exercise which can and will lead to injury (especially if you aren’t moving right in the first place.) CrossFit will train you to run a mile in a weight vest faster and to do several box jumps all for the sake of better fitness, but this WILL reduce your ability to produce power.
Specifically for athletes, training other attributes besides power will cause you to lose your capacity to create it. For instance, if a 100-meter sprinter starts training to run a 5K their 100m will suffer. It’s impossible for a mature athlete to train for a 5K while trying to improve sprinting speed. You will become better at running longer distances, but you’ll drastically compromise your training when it comes to power and speed.
One of my former mentors from MidAmerica Nazarene University used to say “mixed training equals mixed results.” Coach Cross was old school, so much so that he rarely allowed football players to bench press, “if you’re on your back in football, what good are you anyway,” he’d say. Coach Cross believes Olympic lifting was the way you developed power and as such trained his athletes to create max power through putting as much speed on the bar as possible. The take home here is, don’t train anything slow if you want to be fast and powerful.
If you’re a competitive athlete, you must make sure that your training matches up with your goals. Decide what kind of athlete you want to be and what you want to get out of your training before considering CrossFit as your mode of training. Even though it’s based in gymnastics and Olympic lifting doesn’t mean it’s being implemented in a way that will benefit you the most.
If you’re not a competitive athlete then training to be as fit as possible in as many modes as possible seems a worthy enough goal. Just make sure when exhaustion takes over, the exercises you’re executing are inherently safe and non-technical because as we all learn in the world of training athletes, you’re not much good to anybody if you’re injured.