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

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Old 05-13-2009, 02:06 AM   #1
Mike Wright
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CrossFit doesnt work...

I am an AF Instructor @ Airman Leadership School @ Fairchild AFB, WA. Every class, I have a captive group of 20-25 students for 5 1/2 weeks who I can subject to any form of PT I wish. I am in a unique position to test elements of CF methodologies on a broad and random section of military members and have been doing so for the past 9 months.

Naturally, based on all that I have heard about the short/long term benefits to overall GPP from CF, I expected an increase to students scores on the Air Force PT test after having been through the program. I just always assumed that the students were in better shape when they left. But once I started tracking before and after data, that expectation is not panning out. Some scores are up, but most are down.

My hope is to lay out the program and open it up to critique/criticsm to find out what I might do to achieve my goal...

Basics: The program is what I call CrossFit"ish", it uses the basic methodologies but has to be scaled to meet the fitness level your average E-4 AF member. We have a hopper of three basic type of movements: Bodyweight (gymnastics), Weighted Bar (weightlifting), & Isometrics (holds). Each PT session, using standard programming an Instructor develops a WOD from the hopper, using combinations of BW/WB movements - WODs are timed and scored. Each session will usually end the session w/an ISO that is also scored.

Summary of Hopper movements:
Bodyweight - Run, sprint, air squat, burpee, broad jump, bronco, push-up, sit-up, flutterkick, jacksquat, lunge, box jump, bear crawl, low-crawl, jumping squat, ninja push-up.

Weighted bar - OH squat, OH lunge, thruster, sdhp, crunchbar, floorwiper, front squat, back squat.

Sample WODs:
Burpees x 10
Thrusters x 10
OH lunge x 30m
5 rnds for time

100 Burpees
Run 1 mile
For time

Structure: The Commandant has placed expectations on the program as follows: must be - a competition, done in teams, scored, and use minimal equipment (hence the weighted bars). Students are broken into teams and compete in those teams throughout the course. An Instructor is assigned to each team and does the workouts with the them accordingly.

Parameters: PT sessions are Monday and Wednesday @ 0600 for five weeks, excluding other engagements it works out to 7-8 PT sessions total per class. Sessions are 1 hr long and must include warm-up / cool-down and an ISO at the end, this leaves about 20-30 min per WOD. Weighted bars range from 9lb-25lb, students are given choice of weight to use. PT test is waist, max 1 min push-ups, max 1 min sit-ups, 1.5 mile run for time. Run=50%, body comp=30%, push-ups=10%, sit-ups=10%. Students come in with previous score, we test them at the end of the course.

So, given all that I have to work with, it boils down to the following staements/questions:

1-Is it possible to improve PT test scores in 7-8 workouts using the above movements/programming? I spoke w/Boz about this at my cert and he doubted that one could teach and program the movements to increase the average persons GPP in 7-8 workouts, perhaps the goal is unreasonable?

2-I cannot control student diet, sleep or choice of bar weight for the WODs. I suspect this plays a big part in student performance. Many times they eat junk all day in class and dont get much rest because of the workload. Also, given a choice of between 9lb or 25lb thrusters, which would you choose? A thruster with a 9lb bar is just a squat. Is it CF at all if there arent weights significant enough to induce the proper metabolic response?

3-The students do not CHOOSE to participate, they are MADE to participate. I look at the CF community and am floored by the strides made at all levels of performance. I then look at my classes and wonder why they arent seeing those same results. I believe it has to do with willingness. This may be a major flaw in the data points collected within our community. The majority of our test subjects are former athletes with significant experience and drive under their belt already, my students are not. Everybody who is a CrossFitter CHOSE to become one, and WANTS to be one. I am building a body of data that indicates when CF methodoligies are applied to a group that is RANDOM and UNWILLING, the results are less than stellar.

4-My programming/training might suck. The 3 scenarios above assume that the programming is perfect and maximizes impact. It is very possible that I am not using what is available to maximize impact on student performance. I am always looking for ways to improve the program and better prepare these people for war.

Thanks in advance for the input/ideas, Mike.
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Old 05-13-2009, 02:52 AM   #2
Lukas Boomgaert
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Re: CrossFit doesnt work...

Not that I'm very knowledgeable concerning the secrets of programming and stuff...

But why do the programming yourself when there are programs written for this sort of stuff: check the CF journal article AOFP Austere Program.
(Use the weights indicated or scale to the point that the weighted exercise is still doable but challenging)
The article contains a 9 week program ideal for PT sessions, even if you only have them follow the first 5 weeks (which is a bit short IMO, but still), you'll still see some nice improvements in GPP and body composition (at least if you can get them to clean up their diet)?

Also, your goal is to improve their test scores, but 50% of the test consists of sit-ups and pushups. Just doing extra pushups and situps in the warm-up will increase the number they can pull off and give them a better test score?

All of this being said, if you only have 5 weeks and the main goal is to prepare them for the test, just do 5 weeks worth of training the events of the test in the order they'll take place. (Note that I'm not saying that increasing GPP wouldn't be more important to military types).

And just on a side note: where the hell are the pullups in your exercise list and WODs, man?! None of the exercises stated work the back directly and as far as my back yelling at me during the first weeks of following the mainpage being a reference, pullups are the meat and veggies of crossfit?^^
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Old 05-13-2009, 03:45 AM   #3
Harley Jennings
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Re: CrossFit doesnt work...

Hmmm, I would ask the same question. Why not use the main page programming? I think leveraging a requirement against you as an instructor to improve general fitness in 7-8 workouts is far reaching.

I wouldn't call what you have above crossfit-ish, with the restrictions you have it doesn't come close.
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Old 05-13-2009, 03:59 AM   #4
Scott Moore.
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Re: CrossFit doesnt work...

1. 2 PT sessions a week is not enough to dramatically improve a person's PT score, even if you work them uber hard. Especially if those personell are not doing anything in between and not monitoring their diet.

2. Diet, Sleep and Choice of weight are all factors in physical performance. They they are eating like crap, not getting any rest and choosing weights that don't challenge them then they aren't going to get better.

3. If someone is forced to do something, rarely do they excel at it. Most of the time they will do enough just to meet the requirement and with as minimal effort as possible. The reason crossfit works for all of us is because we give our absolute best effort each time we workout. On top of that, we monitor our diet (some more than others), get as much rest as possible and are challenging ourselves to push more weights and complete wods faster.

4. I don't think the problem is your programming. You're only given two days a week and you are trying to make the most of it. The problem is motivating these airmen and women to do more than just these two work outs. Teaching them proper ways to diet, get rest and pushing them to go all out are ways to help them get more out of the program.

Are you charting their times/weights for WODs? Are you congratulating someone who sets a PR? Are you having them set goals for themsevles? The PT test shouldn't be a goal by itself, general fitness and well being should be the goal with the pt test helping to benchmark their times.

The reason that any workout program works or doesn't work is becuase the person(s) performing the program are doing more than just going through the motions. Mainy people fail to recognize that aspect of fitness. You can workout all you want to, but working out does not make up for poor diet or lack of rest.

Crossfit works for me because of the way it pushes me (see my testemonial "emptying the cup) other programs didn't work for me because I didn't have that desire to push myself with them.

Crossfit is not the end all be all of workout programs. Why do you think there's Crossfit Endurance and Crossfit Footbal?. Crossfit is a tool just like diet, rest, and stretching are.

It is wrong to say that crossfit doesn't work based on your experiment because you aren't following the crossfit program as it is recommended. Plus there are too many variables that are not being controlled to single out crossfit as the culpret.

I think it's great that you are using crossfit ideas to shape your PT program. But understand that crossfit is not the problem that's keeping your soldiers from improving their PT test. You are doing the best you can with what little you've got to work with. But don't blame the program based on what you can't control.
__________________ those who had seen it told how he who had been possessed with demons was healed -Luke 8:36
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Old 05-13-2009, 04:21 AM   #5
Doug Blankenship
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Re: CrossFit doesnt work...

Originally Posted by Scott Moore View Post
It is wrong to say that crossfit doesn't work based on your experiment because you aren't following the crossfit program as it is recommended. Plus there are too many variables that are not being controlled to single out crossfit as the culpret.

I think it's great that you are using crossfit ideas to shape your PT program. But understand that crossfit is not the problem that's keeping your soldiers from improving their PT test. You are doing the best you can with what little you've got to work with. But don't blame the program based on what you can't control.

Exactly. You cannot say CrossFit does not work when you're not doing CrossFit. There are too many variables involved with your Airmen. Most of which you have zero control over.
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Old 05-13-2009, 04:37 AM   #6
Casey Raiford
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Re: CrossFit doesnt work...

I'd also offer that the age group you're working with might be a challenge. I was the Command Fitness Leader at a large Navy school for a couple of years. While we had a pretty low number of PRT/BCA failures, the VAST majority were in the 17-19 and 20-24 age groups. There are a few exceptions in any group, but I see the same thing at my current command. The level of commitment, goal focus and willingness to endure suck just isn't there, IMHO.

I think you'd get a more representative sampling if you opened up the age groups and (as others have said) actually did CF, vice sort of CF.
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Old 05-13-2009, 05:08 AM   #7
Robert Anthony
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Re: CrossFit doesnt work...

As someone that has been through ALS, I think you have it summed up with the lack of discipline and commitment the students will put into it. I remember my ALS, it was hard enough to get people to pass their academic tests much less physical fitness standards. If awards, pass/fail, etc... was contingent on PT scores, I bet you would see a vast improvement. What motivation do they have? From the post I read here on this site, no one started CF because somebody made them.

Another thing, you say that scores on the PFT are going down in some cases. Have you taken into account the validity of their original test scores? I remember reading how PACAF found numerous discrepancies when members were retested randomly 2-3months later. Average waist size was 3inches larger than recorded on PT test and run time was at least :30 slower. This is one of the reasons we are changing our PT standards to testing twice a year and making a requirement for HAWC to administer the test.

I commend your effort and dedication in producing a program for your Airmen to follow. But your test group is flawed as you have already noted. These Airmen are not picked to go to ALS because the are the best and brightest but because they made E-5 and it is a requirement, or haven't made E-5 but have been in for awhile. The latter validates the not so best and brightest. I am not saying that some of the individuals are not firebreather go-getter types, but you would have to agree that the majority of them could care less about ALS, personal fitness and would rather get drunk/laid(not in that order), my 2cents.

The AF screams about fit to fight but are unwilling to completely make a change for the better. As your commandant was probably forced to do, he/she seriously hampered your study/exercise regimen. Yet, I am happy to see the attempt was made.

In response to the question about pull-ups, I guess they were left out due to the fact that the AF does not require these and the accessibility of pull-up bars on an AF base is limited for that reason.(I knew I liked the AF for some reason, no pullups bar=no pullups)

ALS class 03C, Moody AFB, GA
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ~Leo Buscaglia
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Old 05-13-2009, 05:20 AM   #8
Steve Rakow
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Re: CrossFit doesnt work...

I agree with the above comments regarding programming, lack of desire on the part of the airmen, and not enough time to develop them and see results. Here are some bullets:
1. Pullups are an absolute must and perhaps you just forgot to list them.
2. Isometrics? Don't see that in any posted WODs, but they're ok for warmup.
3. Your scaling is probably hurting some. You determine what gets scaled, not the participant. Tell them what they will lift and what they will do. They'll complain, but that's what you're there for.
4. Your programming seems off. I suggest staying away from making up your WODs on the fly unless you have a lot of experience putting things together. Also, floorwipers are ok for warmups, but not so much for WODs. Also, broncos, flutterkicks, low-crawls? WTF? 100 burpees/1 mile run? Where's the intensity? They'll burn out on the burpees after about 30, schlep through to the end, and then take it easy on the mile. Better might be 5 rounds of 20 burpees/400m run. Keeps the intensity higher. Note that I'm not saying the WOD isn't hard, it's just that the intensity has to drop off because they'll have to slow down just to complete the WOD. The other WOD you list is, again, lacking in intensity for the movements chosen and too focused on the legs without some kind of break. Instead of 5 rds of 10 burpees, 10 thrusters, 30m lunges, try as many rounds as possible in 20 mins of 5 burpees, 10 situps, 15 PVC overhead squats, or 3 rounds of 400m run with (3 rds of 5 pullups, 10 pushups, 15 squats). Try mixing up your time priority and task priority WODs to keep them interested and the intensity up. A chipper every once-in-a-while is okay, but keep things simple if you can (couplets, triplets).
5. Given that most of these folks are probably deconditioned, I would definitely have short, but intense runs at each session coupled with a WOD. This will help them on the run, but will rapidly improve their cardiovascular endurance and stamina.
6. Turn portions of the PT test into buy-ins and cash outs (before and after the WODs). For example, after the warm up, do as many pushups in 2 mins, or as many situps in 2 mins. Make these buy-ins/cash-outs longer in duration, so that the test seems easy. Also, run the entire PT test as one event for a WOD: 800m Run, 50 pushups, 800m run, 50 situps, 800m run OR 3 rounds of 800m run, 50 pushups, 50 situps. This is great for confidence building.

It sounds like command influence on the requirements of your programming appear to negate the CrossFit programming you are trying to do. Also, given that you've only got 5 to 7 sessions, you won't get far without additional training time. Focus on the basics, nine basic movements, bodyweight exercises (and running/sprints are monostructural, not bodyweight), and running 400s and 800s for time. If you can find time to get them into the gym and do some power lifting or Oly lifts, it would help.

In order to really see gains, you'll have to offer up additional training sessions that are truly CrossFit specific (i.e. main site WODs and the like). Does your schedule, and theirs, allow for optional training times during lunch or in the evenings after work? If you're training them now on M/W in the a.m., then perhaps you could offer CrossFit classes on Tu/Th at either noon or 1700. The ones who really care enough to improve their PT scores will show up and train. The ones that don't care, don't care. And you're basically wasting time on them. If you could get them to train 4x/week instead of just 2x, you would see a huge difference. Once you get a few onboard, they'll never go back to the way they trained (or didn't train) before.

If this is truly a leadership course, and improved PT scores are a metric, then more emphasis must be placed on PT training. 2x/week isn't going to cut it. Period. What happened to M-F 6 a.m. PT?

The other recommendation I have is to get in touch with the SEAL instructors at BUDS (or email Dave Castro or Andy Stumpf) to find out what works and what doesn't for their trainees. Granted, they have a more intense PT program than most , but at least you can get their perspective with regard to what you're doing.

I think that, given sufficient training time with CF, you'll see PT scores improve drastically. Good luck!
Steve Rakow
CrossFit Ocean City Maryland
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Old 05-13-2009, 08:45 AM   #9
Katherine Derbyshire
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Re: CrossFit doesnt work...

The PT test emphasizes situps, pushups, and running, but I don't see that emphasis reflected in your program. Where's the Crossfit Warmup (WFS)? Where are the sprint intervals?

9 lb weighted bars are a waste of everyone's time. 25 lb. bars aren't much better. Even petite women (like me) need more weight than that for any kind of intensity.

If you want to see significant improvements in just eight sessions, you need to jack the intensity way up. See Steve's comments on using short rounds rather than a whole pile of one type of exercise. You might also look at the list of bodyweight workouts in the WOD forum.


Last edited by Katherine Derbyshire : 05-13-2009 at 08:48 AM.
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Old 05-13-2009, 10:41 AM   #10
Sam Ser
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Re: CrossFit doesnt work...

i don't know which is worse: the air force expecting your trainees to get fit in 7 to 8 sessions over 5 weeks, or you saying "crossfit doesn't work" when what you're doing is clearly not crossfit.

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