Crossfit, Is it a Safe Program?

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With the increase in popularity the past few years, Crossfit gyms are opening everywhere. People watch the “Crossfit Games” on ESPN and are intrigued by the great looking, physically gifted athletes that are competing. I have received numerous emails, texts and questions on my views on Crossfit and their workout protocols. Here’s my answer:

First before I get into it, I am in this business to create smart and efficient training programs for people. My job is to give sound information about fitness and nutrition to the athletes, general fitness enthusiasts and children I train. It is my duty to study, research, and gain deep education on a very broad spectrum of information. My program is far from perfect and can always get better. But it’s a solid and functional program. My program is designed to improve the trainee’s movement, athleticism, stamina and way of life.

The fitness industry is loaded with material, opinions and information that can influence the minds of the mainstream market. Before I give opinions on specific programs or studies I do my research first. I have studied Crossfit, listened to CF podcasts, watched many videos, talked to many former and current CF members and have been able to form my educated opinion.

A quote from a former CF member when he used to do Crossfit:

I love Crossfit, the workouts are intense, I get my ass kicked and I feel great afterwards. I will continue to hit these workouts up.

A quote from the same individual 6 months later:

Crossfit sucks. I ripped my rotator cuff and have not been able to do anything the past few weeks. The workouts are out of control. I am ready to regain my health with smarter options.

Unfortunately this is what happens to many CF members. They jump into Crossfit style workouts without a long-term plan. They enjoy the intensity, the competitive nature and the tough workouts. This is very common. But months down the road, when their body is trashed, overworked and injured, they begin thinking, “is this for me?”

Crossfit should not be an exercise program. Crossfit is definitely not for a serious athlete, someone with a current injury, and anyone over 35 years old. There are far too many limiters in this random exercise routine that will exacerbate an injury or cause a new injury down the road. It might not happen today or next week but eventually the body will breakdown. There is no progressive plan of action. Today’s workout of the day (WOD) will not progress you to next week’s workout. There is no deep concentration on initial assessments, warm-up strategies, corrective exercise, and functional training. Very few CF coaches have a broad understanding of biomechanics and human movement to assist their clients. Their weekend certification process gave them the bare essentials to training humans. So they get “certified”, open up their gym, charge inexpensive rates and start running their clients through the workouts of the day (WOD). I did say “very few coaches” just in case you missed that part. There are some knowledgeable CF coaches that actually care about tissue quality, flexibility, technical proficiency, proper progression with their workouts and functional movement in the gym.

Here are the last five Crossfit WOD’s:

Three rounds, 21-15- and 9 reps, for time of:
95 pound Thruster
Pull-ups

Three rounds for time of:
Run 800 meters with a 45 pound barbell
15 foot Rope climb, 3 ascents
135 pound Thruster, 12 reps

Complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of:
10 Pull-ups
75 pound dumbbell Deadlift, 5 reps
135 pound Push-press, 8 reps

For time:
Run 2 miles
Rest 2 minutes
135 pound Squat clean, 20 reps
20 Box jump, 24″ box
20 Walking lunge steps with 45lb plate held overhead
20 Box jump, 24″ box
135 pound Squat clean, 20 reps
Rest 2 minutes
Run 2 miles

Five rounds for time of:
135 pound Deadlift, 9 reps
135 pound Hang power snatch, 6 reps
135 pound Overhead squat, 3 reps

Looking at these workouts in the eyes of a non-educated fitness enthusiast and I think, this looks pretty cool. I like the variation and the intensity. It would be fun to do these workouts. Looking at these workouts as an educated fitness professional and I think, this is terrible program design, poor workout structure and not enough detail to the functional elements that needs to be implemented into a program. For a “non-educated” fitness enthusiast it is not their job to research, study and stay well informed of the cutting edge and new training methods. That is why they decide to jump in Crossfit because it’s the new thing on the block. It’s fun. It’s competitive. It’s on TV. Why not?

1. Olympic lifts should be kept under 6 repetitions. I like Olympic lifts when done correctly. I hate Olympic lifts when performed incorrectly. I spend weeks with athletes on technique work before we even start an Olympic lift. I sometimes drop the Olympic lift if I feel there is better options, which there can be with some populations like adults over 35 years old, poor moving athletes and young children.

2. In an exercise program, one of the main goals should be to enhance movement capabilities. When you become a better mover, whether you are an athlete or an “average Joe or Jane”, you become more functional in your sport or your every day life. You reduce your chance of injury, increase your range of motion, increase your functional strength and you become more athletic. Crossfit does not promote these traits. Crossfit promotes ass-kicking workouts that yes, will get you sore and burning calories and it might even get you to look better in your bathing suite but what’s the point if you have a dysfunctional shoulder and hip and you limit your way of life. There are smarter options to get you to your goal.

3. There are some staple exercises in Crossfit that I cringe when I watch being performed. “Kipping” pull-ups is a forceful pull-up variation that you will kick your legs up before pulling up to the bar. This is a sure fire way to cause havoc and friction on your gleno-humeral joint when done with high repetitions, which are definites in Crossfit. Unfortunately the video explains why “kipping” pull-ups are great for explosiveness and power, which is false. Any pull-up variation will be at a much higher demand and give you more benefit when done perfectly without momentum. The purpose of this exercise is to build upper body posterior strength and stability.

Push-press is a great lift. I actually have it in my program for a softball team I am training. But it’s another abused exercise in the Crossfit world. There is no attention to the details of the lift. The goal for Crossfitters is to just lift the weight up over the head. Again, a recipe for injury. As you can see in the video below, if you understand Olympic Lifts and what they should look like, every exercise being performed is sloppy and performed poorly. There is no attention to clean movement. It's about “hammerin out, hamerin out”, as you can hear the coach in the backround saying.

4. Crossfit Endurance is a very poor selection of strength work for endurance athletes. Multi-sport athletes are some of the most driven and hardest working athletes. They will do almost anything to improve their performance. Well, Crossfit should not be on that list. As an endurance athlete, strength work should be spent on clean and functional movements that will enhance balance, symmetry, stability and bio-mechanical movement in their specific sports. With the high amounts of volume for any endurance athlete, overtraining becomes very prevalent. We should not exacerbate that training load anymore with high repetition and erratic CF workouts. Time in the gym should be spent building the body back to take on the demands of the sport or sports.

5. Crossfit is definitely not an athlete specific training program. There are too many risks of injury with CF style training. If you are an athlete, it is mandatory to choose better, more efficient training protocols. Do not get caught into the trap of “just because it's hard, it's good” thought process. Hard training doesn't mean smart training. Anyone can throw together a series of exercises and make someone sweat. Not everyone can progressively take an athlete to achieve their ultimate goal.

We will see where this Crossfit craze goes in the next five years. I wouldn’t be surprised if it faded out and people came back to smarter, more functional training methods, I guess time will only see. I do advise any CF current members, or anyone interested in CF that you need to take a step back and think about the long haul of training. Performing a Crossfit workout once a week to hit that metabolism or to implement some variety into your routine will not hurt you. Doing Crossfit everyday as your exercise “program” will eventually hurt you. Again, maybe not tomorrow or next month, but your chances of injury go through the roof with erratic exercise selection. If you are a CF coach, and want to stay under the CF affiliate, at least attend Perform Better Workshops throughout the year so you can become more educated and offer your clients better training. Just remember, it’s important to look ahead in your life. You don’t want chronic pain that affects who you are as a person. A workout should leave you feeling better, opened up and your functional movement has been increased. If you are sore after every workout, and almost every training session is the hardest, most grueling thing ever, I would choose another program.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading my blog. If you are a CF fan, and having fun, keep doing what you do, just understand that there could be harmful repercussions later in life from what you are doing right now. Hard, aggressive exercise selection is not the remedy. Smart, consistent and functional training will improve your life and your performance.

Justin Levine is a fitness, nutrition and life coach, motivational speaker and an active endurance athlete. His life credo is to, “wake up each day ready to motivate, inspire and encourage other people to live positive and healthy lives”. Justin is the owner of California Fitness Academy and President of The Visalia Triathlon Club. He has completed over 75 endurance events, including Ironman Arizona in 2011, 7 Half Ironmans, 12 Half Marathons and numerous shorter races ranging from 5k’s to Olympic Triathlons. More recently, Justin put together a project titled “LIMITLESS”, where he ran 300 miles in 101 hours. Justin's passion and determined personality exudes in his everyday actions. He genuinely cares for the wellness of the community and wants to share his knowledge throughout.

Website: http://www.jlevision.com

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