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Old 06-03-2008, 11:55 PM   #1
Jeremy Beasom
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Location: Tokyo  Japan
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Outcomes from Crossfit vs. Weightlifting

I started to reply to this thread, regarding a hypothetical guy who started out with something like Starting Strength vs. the guy who just does Crossfit, but realized my post was kind of off-topic and too darn long for that discussion.

My experience is almost what was proposed as a thought experiment in that thread. I started out getting back in shape with weight training though not the Starting Strength program since I didn't know about it then fell off the wagon, and picked up Crossfit several months later to get back in shape. In my opinion, Crossfit workouts definitely got me fitter faster, and I've made further progress than I would have if I were doing straight weightlifting and aerobics.

Some background: About three years ago, I was close to 90 kg (just under 200 lbs.), which at 177 cm (about 5'9") is really fat for me. In the past, I was a high school and college athlete at a moderately high level, occasionally taking mid-pack medals in swimming and springboard diving at state competitions. I did other stuff like rock climbing and martial arts too, and I'd done gymnastics as a kid, up until I was about fourteen when I had to quit doing it regularly because of money and time.

Needless to say, before that I'd never been fat in my life. Part of my poor condition was due to an accident where I broke both wrists (nasty Colles fractures on both, particularly on the left where I practically powdered the end of the radius) and the aftermath of that, and part of it was due to being depressed over various crap in my life and subsequently being a lazy bastard. In only about three years I'd put on well over 10 kg, was starting on a serious gut, had next to no muscle tone, and was pretty darn unhealthy.

I did some homework and, based on general recommendations, started out with a basic routine of weight training and cardio. I adjusted my diet a bit, but other than being more aware of what I ate and checking proportions for a couple of weeks to make sure I wasn't BSing myself about how much I was taking in, I didn't pay much attention to it. I had done mostly body weight exercises in the past, but because of the gymnastics background learning basic weight training form wasn't hard. When I started training, I could barely bench press 30 kg (about 65 lbs.) the recommended 1012 times. I was struggling with 55 kg squats. Twelve to fifteen minutes of intervals on the elliptical at medium settings and pace was a struggle. In other words, I was disgustingly out of shape.

Doing 3 or 4 sessions a week, I lost about 12 kg in a year. I made great progress at first, but after about 12 months, I got stuck at a plateau on pretty much all my exercises for months. My body weight was stable at between 75 and 77 kg, relatively lean at an estimated 1215% body fat. My squats stalled at 115120% of body weight, I couldn't get past 70 kg on the bench press, my dead lift was only slightly better than my squat, I could barely do 6 pull ups at a time for three sets, and I could only manage about 2.5 to 3 km runs at a moderate pace. I was much healthier than before I started working out, but nowhere near elite levels of fitness.

Around the time I was stalling in my workouts, life interfered. I proposed, had an overseas wedding to plan, and work got a little more busy than normal. I started slacking on the workouts, only getting one or two abbreviated sessions in per week. My weight crept back up. At the time of the wedding, I was still looking okay, but definitely not in as good shape. Six months after the wedding, having done almost no regular exercise in several months, and with my weight back to around 85 kg, I was undeniably fat again. I went back to researching exercise, figuring that since I'd gotten stuck before I should figure out a better way to do things, and I stumbled across the Crossfit website.

Looking at the exercises on the WoD, I thought I'd have to do some light conditioning first. I was right. I found out in my first couple of workouts that my ability on all exercises was down to crap levels again, I could only squat about 65 kg, bench 55, deadlift around my body weight. Not quite as bad as before doing any fitness work, but much worse than when I'd stopped working out regularly. I spent a couple of weeks working on the movements for the Olympic lifts, since I'd never done them before, and did some prep work for lifting.

Since I was so de-trained at that point, I think I pretty much qualified as a novice again. From that starting condition, I started doing the WoD about 3 days a week. Of course I scaled weights and did substitutions for exercises I couldn't do yet. At first, I couldn't even do some of the stuff that's in the CFT warmup; it would have qualified as a full workout for me. Pull ups were especially hard.

I've never been able to get more than 4 days a week of training in, and usually it's more like 2 or 3 days. Even so, I'm now squatting weights I used to consider too heavy for anything but calf raises. I can do the bench press for "Linda" with just under the weight I was struggling to bench for three sets of 46 reps when I was doing straight weightlifting. I ran my first 5 k ever! in a hair under 23 minutes. In the previous months I'd only done short runs, with the longest being the WoD 3 x 800 m mixed with calisthenics, and my longest run when I was doing previous training was under 3 k. I can actually do the pull ups for "Fran" unbroken, and I've done as many as 60 pull ups in a workout.

I've never been as strong as I am now. I had to quit gymnastics when I was just developing adolescent strength, and even rock climbing didn't get me as strong overall as Crossfit has pushed me to be. I've never done any running training before; the longest distance I'd ever done was a 2.5 mile hell run sometime in my freshman year of high school. I'm working up to doing a 10 k in November. At 85% Rx weights, I'm within spitting distance of doing unscaled WoDs.

I've been doing Crossfit for slightly less time than I did regular weight lifting. I've shattered every single previous best I set during that time, and haven't plateaued significantly yet. If I got my butt in gear and did the regular rotation instead of only 34 days a week, I'd probably be in better shape than I've been since when I was in high school and did swimming, springboard diving, and a dash of gymnastics.

My wife recently remarked that I was getting huge (While I'm getting decent muscle I'm only big in comparison with Japanese guys, in my opinion. But thanks for the compliment, honey!) and asked when I was going to stop getting bigger. "When I look like this guy, I hope."
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Old 06-04-2008, 09:37 AM   #2
Brandon Oto
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Re: Outcomes from Crossfit vs. Weightlifting

Awesome progress.

Your previous situation was pretty far from the hypothetical I was proposing, so I wouldn't draw too many conclusions from it
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Old 06-04-2008, 03:11 PM   #3
Philip Borde
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Re: Outcomes from Crossfit vs. Weightlifting

Good post Jeremy. Very good read. Keep up the hard work.
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