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Fitness Theory and Practice. CrossFit's rationale & foundations. Who is fit? What is fitness?

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Old 12-05-2003, 09:27 PM   #1
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(I posted this in today's WOD's comments, but I realized a more appropriate forum is to use the message board. Please excuse the double post.)

Coach and Crossfit veterans:
I found this website: www.strongerathlete.com. Their mission: "To promote safe,productive, and efficient methods of strength training for high school and collegiate athletes while debunking the olympic lifting establishment that has engulfed many of our high school and college athletic programs. It is our desire to create better athletes through controlled and intense strength training."

In particular, I found the following articles interesting.

http://www.strongerathlete.com/faq.html
http://www.strongerathlete.com/mar_11_02.html
http://www.strongerathlete.com/dec_14_01.html
http://www.strongerathlete.com/dec_28_01.html
http://www.strongerathlete.com/dec_17_01.html
http://www.strongerathlete.com/feb_20_02.html
http://www.strongerathlete.com/feb_25_02.html
http://www.strongerathlete.com/may_13_02.html
http://www.strongerathlete.com/may_6_02.html

They advocate non-olympic lifting and non-plyometric approaches to strength&conditioning programs, and list pro, college, and high school S&C programs who have been successful without using O-lifts.

In the spirit of open and informed discussion, I'm hoping some of the more knowledgeable people here (Coach Glassman, Mr. Wolf?) can comment or perhaps write an email to him on behalf of Crossfit.

Although he is of a different persuasion than us, he does seem to be genuinely interested in honest and informed dialogue; he posts letters along with his responses on the site, letters of both supporters and challengers. I know Coach is always researching, so I thought I'd suggest this opportunity to dialogue.

Personally, since I don't know very much about O-lifting, I have to admit that the site's articles is causing me to reconsider the O-lifting and Plyo work we do in WODs. Coming up to my third month Crossfiting but first time posting in these forums. Hoping for some thoughtful, informed responses.
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Old 12-06-2003, 09:25 AM   #2
Ryan Atkins
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Q,

Welcome to Crossfit!

Interesting articles and website. Although I agree with some of what is said and especially like the site’s emphasis on safety, I feel his focus is overly narrow, particularly when looked at from a Crossfit perspective. The website is aptly named. If I were only interested in developing strength, then the regimen of non-ballistic movements (deadlift, squat and bench press) done at moderate rep ranges would be highly applicable but would also lead me down the road to fringe athleticism. This does not coincide with website’s purpose of ‘building better athletes through strength training.’ In other words, this standard falls short if I am looking for an all-inclusive S&C program that develops the ten general physical skills (as described in the ‘What is Fitness’ Crossfit Journal). It is when these traits are considered, I think, that the necessity of O-lift training most clearly manifests itself – the clean & jerk, snatch and variations place demands on flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy that the powerlifts fail to match. Am I criticizing the powerlifts here? Absolutely not. In the July 2003 issue of the Crossfit Journal, Coach emphasizes that if you want to clean a certain weight that you’d better be able to easily deadlift and front squat that same weight first.

If I had a large number of kids and limited time and resources, I could conceivably see following a program similar to the one he presents for safety’s sake – the O-lifts do take considerable time to learn properly, but I wouldn’t kid myself into thinking it was more effective at developing athleticism than a program that included the O-lifts. On more than one occasion I’ve seen/heard of Olympic lifters doing a backflip or back handspring after successfully completing a lift. I’ve yet to hear of a powerlifter doing the same, especially while wearing a lifting suit (OK, here I am poking fun, just a little). The website criticizes one author who advocates using an O-lift variation to increase sprint speed because of the supposed lack of specificity of the move. Is he unaware that, when tested, the O-lifters placed 2nd only to the specialized sprinters when compared to other Olympic athletes in a race? In flexibility, only gymnasts outranked the O-lifters. They were definitely the strongest of the Olympic athletes. They performed well in other tests when compared to athletes from different sports. If such an athlete can perform well in such a wide variety of tasks, without training specifically for those tasks, then wouldn’t you want to see how they’re training? I know I would.

Just my two cents,

Ryan

“Why is it a 'penny for your thoughts', but you have to 'put your two cents in?' – Somebody’s making a penny.” – Comedian Steven Wright


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Old 12-06-2003, 08:31 PM   #3
Lincoln Brigham
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I have had several email conversations with "Coach Rody" at StongerAthlete.

StrongerAthlete claims that safety is their first priority. I think it is hypocritical to hear this sort of talk from guys who are essentially football coaches. Every fall the folks at StrongerAthlete take 11 young boys, line them up across from 11 other young boys and have them run into each other at full speed, over and over. How safe is THAT? If these coaches were truly concerned about safety, they wouldn't coach football. Note that their website NEVER discuss strategy and tactics on how to make football practices safer, even though football has 50x the injury rate of lifting weights.*

Several times I have asked them point blank to quantify their knowledge and experience with Olympic-style weightlifting. Other than to mention they know a coach who used to use the BFS program (a S&C program for football coaches that uses some Olympic-style lifts) and doesn't any more, they won't give any specifics. They love to quote Matt Brzycki's opinions about the Olympic-style lifts, but Brzycki has zero experience as a weightlifting coach. I seriously doubt they have ANY experience with competitive Olympic-style weightlifting. I doubt they've ever even seen a weightlifting meet, never mind coached a weightlifter. Would you listen to someone talk about the dangers of football if they've never even been to a football game?

Reading StrongerAthlete.com bash Olympic-style lifting is like listening to an Englishman criticize baseball. They have so much misinformation and bias it's hard to know where to start. For just one example, the bench press is much more dangerous than the power clean - from minor injuries such as joint pain to major injuries such as death - but StrongerAthlete uses the bench press quite a bit anyway.

The Olympic lifts do not take 'considerable' time to teach, if the coach has been properly trained on how to teach the lifts. I can teach a usable power clean in single one-on-one session. I seriously doubt the coaches at StrongerAthlete are qualified to teach the quick lifts. Most of what they allegedly know about the lifts they probably got from a book - the wrong book, at that, written by yet another coach who has never successfully taught anyone how to do a squat snatch or split jerk.

That said, I think that if a coach feels unqualified to teach the Olympic lifts, then they shouldn't push the issue. Would it be safe to have a non-swimmer coaching the water polo team? Probably not, but that doesn't mean water polo is unsafe. Working on strength alone with no power training - as they do at StrongerAthlete - will get an athlete a long way, so all is not lost. But ignoring the quick lifts will not get an athlete all the way, in my opinion.

*Hamill, B.P., Relative safety of weightlifting and weight training. J. Strength and Cond. Res. 8(1);53-57.1994.
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Old 12-06-2003, 09:29 PM   #4
Kevin Roddy
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Hahahaha! Crossfit strikes faulty information, ONCE AGAIN!
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Old 12-07-2003, 02:14 AM   #5
Paul "The Viking"
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Coincidently, I found this same website on Friday. It was very frustrating to read. I'll just take one paragraph from the 2nd link above:

"StrongerAthlete.com does not buy this reasoning. Performing speed reps or Olympic lifts do very little to develop power they merely express it. We do not believe this is scientifically sound. Isn't the constant tension on the muscle important? It is a crucial factor in order to train the Type IIb fast twitch muscle fiber. [See Fiber Recruitment.] He calls the snatch and clean a full range of motion exercise before it becomes a projectile. How? The athlete initiates the movement, then momentum takes over. This does not stress the muscles. How can the bar being in mid air develop power? As far as the catch is considered, we believe this is not very safe. [See Potential Injuries.] "

The things that bother me here are:

1) If O-lifts merely express power, and do not develop it, then you would never improve at O-lifting by doing only O-lifts! I think we can all understand that's surely not true.

2) Momentum "taking over" -- while its true that momentum carries the weight up for a short bit in the O-lifts, it is the lifter who generates that momentum. That requires a huge force, quite literally, in fact. Force is defined as the rate of change of momentum. So while there may not be constant tension on the muscles, the instantaneous force applied during a quick lift is much higher than in any slow lift.

3) O-lifts do not stress the muscles? What DO they do, then?

A separate complaint: The use of the formulas for power in regards to training. First off, these formulas are ALL approximations. In general, power is NOT force times speed, speed is NOT distance/time, and Work is NOT force times distance. They're all defined as either a rate of change (derivative, for those who know calculus) of something else, or as a total change in something (an integral.) Those formulas only apply in the following cases:

Power = Force*speed (only when the force and speed are constant)
Speed = distance/time (only when there is no acceleration)
Work = Force*distance (only when the force is constant)

Clearly those assumptions are not always true in regards to weightlifting. The other point, though, is that they only measure the force/work/etc applied to the weight, not the work that your body is actually doing. Holding a weight without moving it technically requires no work, but we all know that our bodies have to "work" in order to do that. Its just that the work we're doing is happening inside and is hard to measure. Anyways, to base workout regimens on these formulas is a shaky proposition at best.

Anyways, while I agree with that site that training should be made safe for high school athletes, they don't actually present any information on the safety of Olympic lifting versus slower lifting. Why not show the actual statistics? And, while I'm at it, why don't they show statistics of the _effectiveness_ of their routines (a claim they continually make) versus other types of routines?

All in all, I felt it was a VERY onesided website....

-Paul
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Old 12-07-2003, 06:20 AM   #6
Dale S. Jansen
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not being the scientist, would have to beg to differ with the stronger athelete guy. as an individual who participates in both anaerobic and aerobic events, xfit training and o-lifts are close to perfect;they enlist the entire body in execution. demands on balance and mental focus are much higher. would also have to agree that football is not the healthiest sport around, especially the little ones whose bone structure is not fully developed. all those hits have to cause pain later in life(i took a car to my right hip 18 yrs ago and am starting to feel it now). just a couple thoughts. keep moving.
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Old 12-07-2003, 07:01 AM   #7
Patrick Johnston
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Paul:

If you don't mind me asking, what is your background? Are you an engineer? I'm just curious. Thanks.
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Old 12-07-2003, 10:46 AM   #8
Paul "The Viking"
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Patrick,

I'm a physicist, actually. My PhD work was in dynamical systems/chaos theory type stuff and I'm currently studying aspects of nonequilibrium thermodynamics.

As for working out, on my own, I recently made some changes in my workouts that led me to doing stuff very similar to Crossfit. Then I found the website and have found it to be very useful. While I'm not doing the WOD (I have dont a couple of them,) I'm doing things very similar. Partly, its that I like to design my own programs and partly its just the matter of fitting things into my day.

-Paul
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Old 12-07-2003, 03:33 PM   #9
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Hey guys, these were great responses. I like it when people actually deal with individual points of the argument, and get "technical" with the issues.

I did think something was fishy in how Coach Rody was arguing for his case. Lincoln and Paul helped flesh those suspicions out for me. It's helpful to know that Lincoln had already emailed Rody before.

I do have to say that I respect the professional demeanor they try to present at their website...in that regard it's not unlike Crossfit's website presentation. Rody does seem to be genuinely concerned for his athletes. He believed enough in his cause to start a website, so his intentions are admirable.

As to whether they're onesided--well, they are advocating something, and advocates do tend to be onesided, in that they ultimately believe what they say to be the truth. I think Crossfit is the same way. Reading some other fitness message boards, there have been others accusing the Crossfiter mindset to be akin to people being in some kind of fitness cult. I'm sure they would say we're "onesided" as well.

I think we just have to investigate the evidence and arguments for ourselves and make up our own minds...and then hope we're right and have the courage to change our minds and fitness habits if we've found certain parts of our training regimen to be less than optimal. That's how I approach my fitness. Crossfit seems to be on to something, and it is working now. Since Crossfit is fairly new in conception (less than 10 years), there have been no long term studies or even anecdotal evidence of people who have been doing this kind of fitness protocal...so we can only hope for the best, that in the long term there will be no adverse effects (or minimal adverse effects, compared to other regimens intended to achieve the same goals as Crossfit). For instance, is constantly eliciting the neuroendocrine response a good thing for our body in the long run? Is it okay for our internal organs? I think of people who constantly elicited the adrenaline response (e.g. combat veterans), and their bodies seem to have taken a toll as a result of that constant hormonal rush.
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Old 12-08-2003, 10:18 AM   #10
Lincoln Brigham
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There are only 3,500 competitive weightlifters in the entire U.S., compared to 25,000 high schools. From that perspective, there is no "Olympic weightlifting establishment" threatening the safety of young football players. It is football that is hurting football players.

Understand that as paid high school football coaches, I'm sure the folks at StrongerAthlete have to answer the inevitable question from Mom, "What are you doing to make sure my Johnny doesn't get hurt?" Or, more likely, "Johnny got hurt playing football. Do you have a safe program?" As football coaches, the question probably comes up a lot. In my opinion, their website is one big C.Y.A., deflecting blame to the non-existent "Olympic weightlifting establishment".
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