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

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Old 03-24-2014, 06:41 PM   #1
Tommy Sittinger
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How to Fix Crossfit - t-nation article

Max Shank has written an article for t-nation.com titled "How to Fix Crossfit."

Refreshingly, this wasn't a CF-bashing submission by any means. I feel that he has good poins about doing high skill movements when rested and for low reps, and using low skill movements for metcons. For example, I can knock out pistols pretty easy, and I can put together a few muscle-ups in a row, but the next person may struggle with them, defeating the purpose of the WOD. Sure you can sub a different movement, but why not choose things that you can actually do somewhat well (for metcons) and go full throttle?

Really, handstand walks and backflips are cool, but I don't necessarily need to be able to do these things in order to be a well rounded athlete. Most people would be better served by doing low skill movements for WODs, and training the most important exercises during strength/skill sessions. Some people will always be horrible at pistols, so they may not be that important to develop. Same for the HSPU for someone over 225#, etc. The majority of CrossFitters are novices at OL at best, so I feel that it's inappropriate to have them do snatch and C&J metcons. Use kettlebells instead. Yes, you can scale weight, but the inevitable form breakdown during the WOD will hurt them when they see that exercise in an occasional random strength WOD (in many boxes). There are only so many hours in a day, and many boxes run 30 min. classes and no open gym hours, so how many things can you really try to improve? It's almost like CF just keeps adding things in for marketing purposes, and programmers keep throwing together random stuff without rhyme or reason to keep things fresh.

CFG athletes know this, so they do extra sessions, two to three-a-days, which most regular CF gym members are not privileged to.

The link (WFS):

http://www.t-nation.com/training/how-to-fix-crossfit
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Old 03-24-2014, 09:11 PM   #2
Kenny Markwardt
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Re: How to Fix Crossfit - t-nation article

I think it's a good article. I think that a lot of gyms are starting to address this with "Leveled" programming.

The fact is that there are at least two to three types of CrossFitters (and realistically, a whole lot more). There are those that are there to get in shape, those who are there to improve fitness/performance, and there are those that really enjoy competition.

The author is absolutely accurate in saying that people interested in getting in shape probably have no reason to be upside-down or doing higher risk movements.

The performance based people probably aren't either, but are likely interested in challenging themselves in some more interesting movements, and can probably handle some of the middle of the road stuff.

The competitors really don't have a choice. High rep Weightlifting, handstand walking, muscle-ups, etc are the norm for competition, and they should be prepared.

I believe that CJ Martin, James Fitzerald and many others are doing a great job of this with programming avenues for those three populations. CJ calls theirs "Fitness", "Performance", and "Competition" I believe.

The problem for us small affiliate owners is running either a. that many different classes, or b. having that many different workouts going at the same time.

So, our solution has been to do 2 or even sometimes 3 levels of programming based on the same workouts. High rep olympic lifting is programmed one day a week or so for the competition hungry folks, and it is scaled down to kettlebell swings for the Level 1 people. The same goes for handstand pushups, muscle-ups, etc. The movements are there because some people think its fun, but we're pretty honest with our members in saying that they're probably not the safest thing to do.

All in all, I think CrossFit represents a lot of different things for a lot of different people, and to "fix" it in any one way would ruin it for some, but make it a lot better for others.
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Old 03-24-2014, 09:54 PM   #3
Mauricio Leal
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Re: How to Fix Crossfit - t-nation article

Summarily, no. This thread is all too common these days, and is based on a litany of unproven assumptions about what CF is, what everyday people and athletes are capable of, and what CF coaches and gyms regularly do and are capable of. "I am/you are always going to be horrible at X" is not an excuse to not try to develop it, and is a slippery slope to "why bother with anything I don't like."

This strawman that "most" or "a large percentage" of CF boxes and/or coaches are incapable of properly scaling, programming, or making wise decisions for the health and longevity of their members is just that, made up. I'd like to see some numbers/citations kthxbai. Oh there aren't any? hmm...

The notion that form breakdown is "inevitable" is laughable as well. Not all coaches/gyms teach their athletes to maximize intensity at all costs, fancy that. There's even a fundamental tenet in one of CrossFit's founding documents about Mechanics -> Consistency -> Intensity, which CF's detractors/concern trolls would just love to believe is just ignored constantly by coaches everywhere, except they have no actual proof, just "stories" and "anecdotes" extrapolated because they know a guy who knows a guy.

There is also this push to offer Boot Camp CF or CF Lite, because Let's Be Honest most Regular People (TM) have no desire to learn anything complicated that requires skill, and are just tryna burn some calories to lose weight and chat it up between cardio sets with their BFFs amirite? Except plenty of Regular People DO want to actually learn some ****, have discovered that there are non-disordered ways to eat/be healthy without chasing a number on a scale, and actually LIKE really hard and intensely skillful work. And they have day jobs and responsibilities but somehow can pay attention for 40-60 minutes at a time to actually progress at something they're not already good at. One way to never develop anything you don't already have is to completely forego any step along the progression toward that thing.

Gyms that offer leveled programming are making a prudent business decision about the realities and logistics of a training environment with limited resources. It's true, one or two coaches probably can't properly manage a room full of 15-20 beginners learning to Snatch with actual weight. So they create an intermediate step that is scalable and manageable. But if your levels are designed such that no one EVER graduates to even another skill level of movement, why do coaches even exist? Just do more ring rows, never even attempt a banded pull-up? Just swing the KB for years on end, never even attempt a barbell clean or snatch? In this case they're essentially just writing names on the board, dancing around like a motivational fairy to Pump You Up, and administering a WOD, which even a bad 24 Hour Fitness trainer can do.

Every coach is entitled to their opinions and reasons, but I think part of the essence of CF is being lost if we are just content and accepting of our/our athletes' current abilities and are never challenging ourselves or our athletes to do anything but sweat and grunt more. The point of CF is the progression, which you can jump into at any point in the stream based on your current abilities because the coaches are that good and can actually teach people how to achieve more than they currently have, to challenge ourselves to evolve in so many ways, one of them being what we think we are capable of in intensity and skill and modality.

/rant
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Old 03-25-2014, 01:59 AM   #4
Alex Burden
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Re: How to Fix Crossfit - t-nation article

Good article

But this is the same for any globo and not just CF.

So many people do the same thing over and over again but incorrectly, instructors not knowing how to get the person to do the correct range of motion rather than just getting through with this person to move onto the next.

But allot of this is up to you and you alone.

How much time to you spend on technique training with light weights before you go for broke?

Most people are in such a rush to start that they forget the basics and get injured.

I have gotten my wife into crossfit and we train for hours and hours during 1 week on the technique for say 4 different exercises to get things right first. Then over the coming 2-3 weeks we put things together in short WODs to get the feel of things but with light weights but with the correct technique.
Then week 4 we hit a WOD built up of the exercises we have trained on....

This is both quality and quanity in the right direction...

like i said this is up to you and you alone.
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Old 03-25-2014, 02:53 AM   #5
Alex Burden
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Re: How to Fix Crossfit - t-nation article

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mauricio Leal View Post

This strawman that "most" or "a large percentage" of CF boxes and/or coaches are incapable of properly scaling, programming, or making wise decisions for the health and longevity of their members is just that, made up. I'd like to see some numbers/citations kthxbai. Oh there aren't any? hmm...


/rant
I think this is a very good point that is applicable for any coach in any globo today..... half of them have no idea of how to take an individual to the next level with the correct range of motion. Its all about the money for any globo.... people in and people out..... cash cash cash
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Old 03-25-2014, 09:31 AM   #6
Preston Sprimont
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Re: How to Fix Crossfit - t-nation article

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tommy Sittinger View Post
Max Shank has written an article for t-nation.com titled "How to Fix Crossfit."

Refreshingly, this wasn't a CF-bashing submission by any means. I feel that he has good poins about doing high skill movements when rested and for low reps, and using low skill movements for metcons. For example, I can knock out pistols pretty easy, and I can put together a few muscle-ups in a row, but the next person may struggle with them, defeating the purpose of the WOD. Sure you can sub a different movement, but why not choose things that you can actually do somewhat well (for metcons) and go full throttle?

Really, handstand walks and backflips are cool, but I don't necessarily need to be able to do these things in order to be a well rounded athlete. Most people would be better served by doing low skill movements for WODs, and training the most important exercises during strength/skill sessions. Some people will always be horrible at pistols, so they may not be that important to develop. Same for the HSPU for someone over 225#, etc. The majority of CrossFitters are novices at OL at best, so I feel that it's inappropriate to have them do snatch and C&J metcons. Use kettlebells instead. Yes, you can scale weight, but the inevitable form breakdown during the WOD will hurt them when they see that exercise in an occasional random strength WOD (in many boxes). There are only so many hours in a day, and many boxes run 30 min. classes and no open gym hours, so how many things can you really try to improve? It's almost like CF just keeps adding things in for marketing purposes, and programmers keep throwing together random stuff without rhyme or reason to keep things fresh.

CFG athletes know this, so they do extra sessions, two to three-a-days, which most regular CF gym members are not privileged to.

The link (WFS):

http://www.t-nation.com/training/how-to-fix-crossfit

The author may have hinted at some good ideas, but overall I didn't get much from his article. The "thesis" he landed on is pretty much: "if you're proficient in movements, do them with intensity; if not, don't." I.e. "scale your workouts." This is something that Crossfit encourages, and even defines their methodology with.
Here's a quote directly from the "START HERE!" section of Crossfit mainpage...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Crossfit.com. START HERE!
For the person who endeavors to take on CrossFit without the guidance of a certified CrossFit trainer, we recommend three distinct approaches, depending on your fitness experience and available facilities:

1) If you are largely familiar with the stable of CrossFit exercises then start with the WOD (Workout of the Day). If you've had exposure to Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and gymnastics, jump right in. If an exercise is unfamiliar, acquaint yourself with the movement through the video clip for the movement on the exercises section of the site. This option is for those athletes with an extensive experience in athletic strength and conditioning - jump right in.

2) If some or many of the exercises are unfamiliar to you and you are only modestly acquainted with elite athletic training, we recommend that you follow the WOD and substitute other exercises for those where you don't have either the equipment or skill and then devise a plan for acquisition of the necessary skills or equipment needed to participate completely. We are developing a Substitution Chart in the FAQ for replacing exercises for which you've not developed the skills or don't have the equipment.

3) If many or most of the exercises are relatively or completely unknown to you, then we recommend that you begin learning the movements for a month or two until you can either perform our common exercises or have substitutions worked out for those movements under development. This is a great place to begin for anyone with little or no experience with serious weightlifting or gymnastics.

We are a "minimalist program"and this is reflected by the functionality and limited number of our exercises and the simplicity of the equipment we use compared to most commercial gyms. An Olympic weight set and a place to do pull-ups and dips is essential to doing CrossFit. Gymnastics rings and parallettes, plyometrics boxes, a Dynamax medicine ball, dumbbells, kettlebells, climbing rope, Concept II Rower, and a glute-ham developer will equip your garage with more than enough to follow the WOD very closely. (See CrossFit Journal, September 2002, "The Garage Gym" for information on building a world-class strength and conditioning facility in your garage.)

In any case it must be understood that the CrossFit workouts are extremely demanding and will tax the capacities of even the world's best athletes. You would be well advised to take on the WOD carefully, cautiously, and work first towards completing the workouts comfortably and consistently before "throwing" yourself at them 100%. The best results have come for those who've "gone through the motions" of the WOD by reducing recommended loads, reps, and sets while not endeavoring towards impressive times for a month before turning up the heat. We counsel you to establish consistency with the WOD before maximizing intensity.
Whether those "high skill" movements should or should not be included at all in a high intensity workout is another question (i.e. could I be just as fit without high rep box jumps?), and a question that deserves discussion and consideration, but the author really doesn't address that. He pretty much says people who are really good can do handstand walks, o-lifts, etc. in a high intensity, timed environment. Those who aren't as good should not. Crossfit says the exact same thing... If you're an "elite level" athlete who is proficient at all of the movements, do the "WOD" and hit it hard. If you're not an elite athlete or not proficient in the movements, replace the movements with ones you know, don't go all out if you're new to high-intensity training, and make a plan to become proficient at those movements outside of the context of the "WOD."

Now, is every single Crossfit trainer implementing proper wisdom, caution, and discretion in prescribing workouts and scaling to every athlete's individual ability with safety as the foremost priority? Probably not.
Is every single solo garage gym athlete educating him/herself and spending a few months developing the requisite skills, movements, and familiarity with high intensity training before jumping into the mainpage workouts? Probably not.
But this can be said of any athletic endeavor.
(Also, minor caveat: he says "the injury rates in Crossfit are way too high." Seriously, this is spouted off everywhere and never with any real substantiation (because no such data yet exists) or specification.)

Maybe he's suggesting that Crossfit.com use the "high skill"/"low skill" division in the RX workouts on mainpage? I don't know... BrandX already does more-or-less that, and there are a few direct links to it from the mainpage.
He mentions that Crossfit (again, I'm assuming .com since there is so much variety it's impossible to define what every Crossfit athlete is doing) is too conditioning oriented--I tend to agree, but that's more a matter of opinion and priorities than absolutes, and it isn't really the "issue" that he takes on in his article.
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Old 03-25-2014, 11:31 AM   #7
Michael Capalbo
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Re: How to Fix Crossfit - t-nation article

I'm not sure the author mentions things that haven't been said before though. A few specific points about CF and the article...

--I think only a small percentage of people can do handstand walks or backflips period. So I think that is treated as a skill movement when it comes to box programming because it just has to be. Does it even come up that much at all. It is cool watching someone do them though I think.

--Most people in and out of CrossFit are unclear about the purpose of different movements. For example, everyone thinks of the "kipping" version of pull-ups, muscle-ups, and HSPUs as the "cheater" version of these exercises, and so we get slammed a lot for that. People think that the only purpose of the "kipping" movements is to get through our workouts with their crazy rep schemes faster. The reality is that e.g., a strict muscle-up expresses and develops strength in the upper body, while a kipping muscle-up is really about coordination.

--Nothing wrong with higher-skill movements in a met-con (such as double-unders, even wall-balls, and even muscle-ups for certain athletes) as long as the injury rate is low. Isn't that what makes a great athlete--keeping skills even when gasping for air?

--There is CrossFit the sport and there is CrossFit the fitness regimen. At the Regionals and Games levels it is clearly a sport and stuff such as heavy cleans for reps or handstand walks in a metcon are fair game. It's all about "let's see what you can do". You don't think Strongman or Oly lifting, or any other sport played at a high level doesn't have injuries? At the other extreme there are plenty of people signing up so that they can keep up with their grandkids or they can get back into shape--for them CrossFit is a fitness regimen.

The line between "sport" and "fitness" is blurred though which is part of its appeal and its danger. People feel inspired to keep coming back to their CF box maybe because they are "training" (as it is a sport) and not merely "working out" as they were doing at the globo. The line between "sport" and "fitness" happens to fall right on the CrossFit Open, which is part of the controversy. Are high-rep heavy deadlifts for an AMRAP appropriate for the masses who signed up? What about 13.1, where you suddenly go from a 75-pound snatch to a 135-pound snatch--heavy for many people who signed up for the Open. Is that putting them too much at risk for injury.

My 2 cents....

Last edited by Michael Capalbo : 03-25-2014 at 11:49 AM.
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Old 03-26-2014, 04:49 AM   #8
Steven Wingo
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Re: How to Fix Crossfit - t-nation article

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mauricio Leal View Post
Summarily, no. This thread is all too common these days, and is based on a litany of unproven assumptions about what CF is, what everyday people and athletes are capable of, and what CF coaches and gyms regularly do and are capable of. "I am/you are always going to be horrible at X" is not an excuse to not try to develop it, and is a slippery slope to "why bother with anything I don't like."

This strawman that "most" or "a large percentage" of CF boxes and/or coaches are incapable of properly scaling, programming, or making wise decisions for the health and longevity of their members is just that, made up. I'd like to see some numbers/citations kthxbai. Oh there aren't any? hmm...

The notion that form breakdown is "inevitable" is laughable as well. Not all coaches/gyms teach their athletes to maximize intensity at all costs, fancy that. There's even a fundamental tenet in one of CrossFit's founding documents about Mechanics -> Consistency -> Intensity, which CF's detractors/concern trolls would just love to believe is just ignored constantly by coaches everywhere, except they have no actual proof, just "stories" and "anecdotes" extrapolated because they know a guy who knows a guy.

There is also this push to offer Boot Camp CF or CF Lite, because Let's Be Honest most Regular People (TM) have no desire to learn anything complicated that requires skill, and are just tryna burn some calories to lose weight and chat it up between cardio sets with their BFFs amirite? Except plenty of Regular People DO want to actually learn some ****, have discovered that there are non-disordered ways to eat/be healthy without chasing a number on a scale, and actually LIKE really hard and intensely skillful work. And they have day jobs and responsibilities but somehow can pay attention for 40-60 minutes at a time to actually progress at something they're not already good at. One way to never develop anything you don't already have is to completely forego any step along the progression toward that thing.

Gyms that offer leveled programming are making a prudent business decision about the realities and logistics of a training environment with limited resources. It's true, one or two coaches probably can't properly manage a room full of 15-20 beginners learning to Snatch with actual weight. So they create an intermediate step that is scalable and manageable. But if your levels are designed such that no one EVER graduates to even another skill level of movement, why do coaches even exist? Just do more ring rows, never even attempt a banded pull-up? Just swing the KB for years on end, never even attempt a barbell clean or snatch? In this case they're essentially just writing names on the board, dancing around like a motivational fairy to Pump You Up, and administering a WOD, which even a bad 24 Hour Fitness trainer can do.

Every coach is entitled to their opinions and reasons, but I think part of the essence of CF is being lost if we are just content and accepting of our/our athletes' current abilities and are never challenging ourselves or our athletes to do anything but sweat and grunt more. The point of CF is the progression, which you can jump into at any point in the stream based on your current abilities because the coaches are that good and can actually teach people how to achieve more than they currently have, to challenge ourselves to evolve in so many ways, one of them being what we think we are capable of in intensity and skill and modality.

/rant
Nice comments.

I coach a CrossFit Lite class 3x per week. It is essentially CrossFit without a barbell. My box owner and I both agree we want to graduate these folks into regular classes and get them lifting weight as well as doing the metcons, body weight movements, wall balls, KBs, and slam balls. He created the class because there is a demand for it and he figured it was best to train them to the extent they will let us and work over time to get them into our regular CrossFit classes. So far it is not proving to be easy--they like sticking in their comfort zone and that is an emerging problem and challenge for us. There is so much more to be gained if they add some heavier lifting and some of the more challenging movements, even if they get there more slowly than some athletes who want to jump in head first from day one and you have to be the one slowing them down.
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Old 03-26-2014, 08:42 PM   #9
Robert Fabsik
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Re: How to Fix Crossfit - t-nation article

I think the core ideas are pretty solid from there like anything you can nitpick this and that.

I'm in the camp that is not a fan kipping pullups, multiple box jumps and heavy oly lifts for reps in training. But, in competition I'm not as averse. How would you strictly judge a strict pullup in a competition? I think there would be too much variance.

I'm also in the camp of wishing there was more strength work.

I think what will be important as CF continues to grow that HQ continues to emphasize, update and modify its core values as needed. If down the road, we learn something is stupid despite it being CF tradition, a good organziation would get rid of it regardless.
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Old 03-26-2014, 10:05 PM   #10
Andrew Wiemken
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Re: How to Fix Crossfit - t-nation article

The article is by and large fair, but it's definitely aimed at communicating to t-nation supp-guzzling haters, and therefore has an apologetic, qualified stance. So it makes some perspective errors. Also, the 'high and low skill' thesis is a bit simplified and too rigid and imprecise.

I'd say at this point, most of the 'negatives' about CF are in the past. The majority of boxes will be promoting - nay, demanding - quality movement, intelligent progression, etc. That is how the culture has evolved.

Common criticisms, and where it is now:
Exercising, not training - most programming I see now prioritizes simple strength building, on a reasonable progression, and puts the redline metcons second. All good crossfitters know that a decent strength base is fundamental, this is common knowledge now.

Bad form - the minority now. Any moderately legit/respectable box at this point doesn't have any of that. This is the most broadly educated fitness community in human history. All the notorious youtube vids are very old at this point. No decent coach is NOT aware of this.

Crazy HQ staff - nobody cares about them anymore. It's out of their hands anyway.

Cocky clientele - nothing new to humanity, never gonna change, not a specific problem. CF attracts competitive personalities

Dangerously programmed WODs here and there - people need to have common sense and not jump into volume they have no business approaching - this is basic training knowledge, and another coaching point that is improving. Furthermore the injury rate is probably higher in workplace softball, and the shoulder injury rate from globogym benching is probably approaching 100%. Any physical activity people take seriously and push themselves at will have risks...and rewards. The "open" WODs in particular are supposed to be challenging the most intense of competitors, and these are the ones hurting overzealous people, to my understanding.


Anyway, CF is an objectively 'good' thing. It has made real fitness mainstream, and has magnanimously contributed to countless round glutes in yoga pants.
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