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

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Old 01-27-2006, 03:58 PM   #1
Jeremy Jones
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Anyone else think the problem with all the other "exercise" communities out there don't like CrossFit programs like ours because they aren't using the same measurement system? I swear it is like measuring inches with a stopwatch.

I have 'been around', so to speak, and have seen many of the comments of the other people about our little world and our idea of fitness. All of the nay-sayers say that CrossFit doesn't make you "Fit" or give you "Fitness". I just wonder if they have a definition or a list of what is "Fit".

CrossFit has not just one definition, but four. From Eugene's notes, here is CF's definitions of "Fitness"

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Fitness Model 1 identifies 10 general physical skills:
1. Cardio-vascular and cardio respiratory endurance (gas exchange)
2. Stamina (muscular endurance)
3. Strength
4. Flexibility
5. Power
6. Speed
7. Coordination
8. Accuracy
9. Agility
10. Balance

Model 2 is statistical and is a measure of an athlete performing relatively well at any physical task thrown his way. Load a hopper with athletic tasks and the better athlete is able to do more of them better than the other guy. CrossFit is designed for this type of general physical preparation. Nature, on average, punishes the specialist. The more specialized you are the less cross-adapted you are likely to be in other measures of physical prowess. Let’s pair up Lance Armstrong against Greg Amundson. Actually you wouldn’t need to go to the top of our food chain for this experiment, you don’t even have to use a guy. I’d put my money on any of our 70th percentile people in this contest. Anyway, Lance is looking at that hopper saying “C’mon long bike ride” while the CrossFitters are saying, “I sure hope it’s not a long bike ride.” Lance will win one contest while the CrossFitters will win the rest. A statistical victory. In spite of Lance’s genius on two wheels, Coach made clear the absolute nature of Lance’s focus saying that he would get in the ring with him anytime.

Model 3 is the balance of metabolic pathways. We have the phospho-creatine or phosphogen pathway which is the max effort energy system that lasts to a max of about 10 seconds. Next is the glycolytic or lactate pathway and this peaks around a minute and then tapers off to a max of about 2 minutes. Finally we have the oxydative or aerobic pathway and this has a much lower intensity than the other two and does not have a drop off point. This energy system is sustainable to the degree that the individual athlete trains it. The very short duration, hyper intense workouts of the sprinter are the realm of the Michael Johnson’s of the world while the aerobic pathways have been mastered by the anorexic looking marathoners and long distance triathletes. We CrossFitters live in the glycolytic pathway and structure our workouts so that we work at very high levels of intensity but for aerobic lengths of time. This allows for simultaneous development of all three systems more efficiently and effectively than working them individually ever could.

Take the Tabata protocol of 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off and recognize that the 10 seconds off really is not sufficient to provide much of a recovery. The reason Tabata is so effective is that it blurs the line between the three energy systems and trains them all. Gotta love that. In fact the folks who make one of those stepper devices did a study which revealed: “Shifts in the load/velocity matrix in a single workout cause startling adaptations in fitness.” They included the study with the exercise device but did not publish it for some reason. Change how hard you work not only workout to workout, but within the same workout. Change is good.

Model 4 is the wellness model. On one end of the bell curve we have sickness and at the other, fitness. Sitting on top of the bell is wellness. If on the sickness side of the scale we have high blood pressure, being overweight, high body fat, and high cholesterol and on the other we have low BP and HR, body fat and so on then we have a way to measure numbers that are indicators of fitness. Thus by being fit we have a long way to descend before we wind up being sick. We have to go through wellness first. If you are fit, then, and you find yourself getting well, watch out…you are on your way to sickness. Fitness is a hedge against sickness, a buffer, a prophylactic that protects you from the various maladies that plague the society’s unfit masses.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Now I wonder if anyone can argue that these points are not parmount in the pursuit of "Fitness". How might these 'other' programs analyze the word "Fitness" (or "Bad-***-ness" for that matter)?
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Old 01-27-2006, 09:41 PM   #2
Eric Lester
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Great post, Jeremy. It was a good refresher for me on Crossfit's specific definition of fitness apart from the 10 skills.
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Old 01-28-2006, 06:44 AM   #3
Mike Yukish
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Nice post.

Load a hopper with athletic tasks and the better athlete is able to do more of them better than the other guy. CrossFit is designed for this type of general physical preparation. Nature, on average, punishes the specialist.

Frankly, we don't live in nature. We mostly live in a man-made world where specialization is crucial. Compare and contrast the quote above with Mark Twight's statement from his essay posted here a bit back...

Give up this renaissance man, dilettante bull**** of doing a lot of different things (and none of them very well by real standards).

+++++++++++++

About the 10 measures of fitness. If we accept the 10 measures, then those 10 measures form a 10-dimensional fitness space where everyone lives. Follow me now onto the thin ice. Each person has a potential for just how far they can go in any given "direction", where a direction means some mix of percentage of the 10 measures. You specialize as soon as you pick a direction and focus on it. Crossfit's specialization is about an even mix of the 10. It's the direction I prefer.

In picking the 10 fitness measures, they should form competing objectives, such that at the maximum of your possible fitness in any one direction, you can't improve in one measure without taking a decrement in another. That is, in fact, the definition of the efficient frontier. By definition maximum fitness (along whatever direction you choose) occurs when you've hit the outer edge of space of 10 fitness measures, at which time further improvement in one measure means a decrement in another.

I gather a premise of crossfit is that there's a "bulge" in the outer 10D surface, it's not a flat plane. Starting from "specialization" in one measure, you can get a lot in the other nine while only giving up a little in the first. But you *will* have to give up something, if you are at the edge already.
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Old 01-28-2006, 08:22 AM   #4
Larry Lindenman
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Mike, when you take in perspective most our (USA) training history, we see early on, a focus of general conditioning with very little specialization. We were a blue collar nation, working in farms and in factories. Our GPP, so to speak, came from surviving and doing our jobs. We had no machines to help us and even getting to the store and back was a workout. Most all athletes came to their sport with broad based GPP. Fast forward to modern times...some kids worlds consist of walking from the TV to the refridge to the bathroom...there is even a housing movement afoot moving towards building ranch houses...so people don't have to walk up freaking stairs! On the other end of the scale, little Jr. is specializing when he gets out of dipers. We have a neighbor who is away most weekends of the year, with his 11 year old son, traveling the US and Canada, to play hockey. So now were dealing with athletes with no base of GPP and who are super specialized. How do we address their weak points? How do we improve their game? We give them a broad base of fitness to lay their specialized skills over. Most sport specialization, at high levels, is due to efficiency of skills, making what the athlete does easier and allowing them to impliment stratagy. Think about when you first flew a plane. Bet you couldn't focus on anything but the actions involved in flying. Now you could take off and land on a boat, engage in air combat, track where friendlies and bad guys are, etc. Same with athletes, GPP takes away weaknesses, skill training make actions and reactions automatic and efficient, so their minds could focus on stratagy. Would you rather lay that slab of concrete (specialized practice) over a foundation of swamp or over nice hard packed earth and stone. And, on a more general note, don't specialize your kids too early (before 15 or 16). Let them get a GPP base and let them play any sports or any activities they show an intrest in.
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Old 01-28-2006, 11:01 AM   #5
Steve Shafley
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Look at it this way:

Athletes have SPECIFIC needs at certain points in their competitive seasons.

To understand what an athlete needs to do, you need to understand the specific requirements for the sport and then proceed accordingly.

If you just want to "get in shape" or "build some muscle" or "burn some fat" or just overall build your general capacities, the things you can do to help with you goals open up dramatically.

If you want to shave .50 seconds off your 100m sprint time, add 20 lbs to your bench/squat/snatch/jerk, or throw the 56# weight further, your options aren't as open.

Quite simply, and realistically, there are points in time where you have to specialize, and let "GPP" fall to the wayside and engage yourself in some SPP (specific physical preparedness) for your sport.

If you don't have a sport, you don't need to worry about it.

Larry: Let me ask you this: What are the reasons that the athletes in the Olympics in the 1950s do not perform up the the standards of the Olympic athletes of today? Is it lack of GPP? Is it because of improved training methods? Drug-use? Improved nutrition? Improved selection of athletes? Earlier specialization?

The variables are tremendous.

What no-one is arguing here is that the acquistition of a multitude of skills and athletic properties is detrimental to an athlete. Just that it's a matter of timing.
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Old 01-28-2006, 04:11 PM   #6
Mike Yukish
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Athletes have SPECIFIC needs at certain points in their competitive seasons.


That's the kicker. I consider myself an athlete, I have sports, but have no specific season. I ski, ski patrol, kayak, surf kayak, climb, mountain bike, and anything else that pops up. I'm not quite one of Mark Twight's dilettantes, but I'm always ready to try something new. If I didn't have kids I'd do BASE jumping. When I was still flying I needed fitness every day for that. Cops and mil need fitness without having a competitive season.

Crossfit for me just lays down the base fitness. I judge crossfit's efficacy by whether my performance in my sports is skill-limited or fitness-limited. Not always clear cut, of course, since there is often more than one way to skin a cat, with finesse and a sharp knife or with brute strength and a blunt object. And I find when I have strength I want to use it. But it is possible to see trends.

I try to get in and out of the gym and move on to the sports. I have to admit, though, doing the crossfit workouts are a lot of fun in and of themselves.

If my training was my sport, it'd be a lot different for sure.
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Old 01-28-2006, 04:43 PM   #7
Dan John
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I think that is the one million dollar question, Mike. I agree...at "top shape" in the throwing events, I am often looking forward to getting back into shape for life. Trying to use pullups to estimate a max Clean and Jerk is madness.

Really, living in the NFL is not healthy...and I know many hate to break "health and fitness" apart: but I do. Clearly, my best year of throwing in the past few decades (2004) was certainly due to the "GPP" I built up in the three years following various surgeries and injuries. When I tried to improve in 2005 with more meets and more focused training...I soon found myself like a rudder...with no ship.

Finally, our measurements sometimes don't reflect competition. You can outrun, outThruster, and outCartwheel me all day, but if we have to throw stuff...or collide a lot...sheer size and technique help a lot more than flexibility and many of the other things we look for in a program. But, what do I know?
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Old 01-28-2006, 05:07 PM   #8
Barry Cooper
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It seems pretty obvious that to get better at a sport you have to practice that sport. There are some sports where you can perform well and still be one cheeseburger short of a myocardial infarction. But, depending on the sport, if you win, nobody cares. You won, and we're about winning, right? I remember when they cut Bubba Paris for a cholesterol level in the high 300's. They didn't want him to die on the field, primarily. Same reason methamphetamine and its' analogs, uniquely, are banned in Strongman contests. They don't test for anything else.

Whether GPP is essential for SPP performance is a matter for legitimate debate. For some people, in some sports, it may be essential. For some people, in the same or other sports, it may be irrelevant. You don't need a 35 minute 10K to do Powerlifting. It's irrelevant. Probably detrimental, actually.

To me, that specific question (Is GPP necessary for SPP) should be subordinate to the question: what contributes best to a life well lived? To heck with sports. Winning in sports is overrated. If I could be Kobe Bryant (or any of a large number of other athletes making 7 figure incomes) tomorrow, I would run as fast as my 240 lb. body allowed me in the other direction.

A primary reason I really like CrossFit is it seems to do an excellent job of attracting people with character, and basic decency. These are highly subjective words. I am subjective, like everyone else.

The WOD has a knack for kicking asses. It takes a lot of courage to keep coming back. It hurts. It's three on, 1 off.

To me, it may or may not be the case that what we do is a necessary and/or sufficient stimulus for adequate, much less outstanding performance in--pick a sport--wrestling, rugby, powerlifting, football, soccer, mountain climbing, etc.--but it makes me feel better, and it has made me mentally tougher in my private life. Other things could likely accomplish the same effect. For me personally, though, relative to a number of other programs--I've played some sport my entire life--this one has been uniquely efficacious.

It's worth focussing again, specifically, on the large number of LEO and military folks who do this program. A focus on Powerlifting or some other specific sport might well be fatal for some of them. In the case of cops, they may just plain not catch the dude they're chasing.

I had slightly more to say, but I have something to do. Hopefully the foregoing makes sense.
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Old 01-28-2006, 05:51 PM   #9
Dan John
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"Winning in sports is overrated."

It's funny: At so many levels I agree with you. But, I have seen far too many "friends" fired for not winning. Coach at the high school level in football or basketball and only coach for all the right reasons. The good reasons...the things that will make a difference in your athletes's lives. If you lose...but make a difference...you still need to find a new job. It is a rare place that accepts your point.
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Old 01-28-2006, 10:02 PM   #10
Motion Macivor
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Larry,
You mentioned that your neighbors 11 year old is "specializing" at a young age by playing hockey and this may be detrimental to his development as an athelete, due to a lack of GPP (is that 'general physical preparation?') Have you ever played hockey? I'm not much of a hockey player but I can tell you it's the most challenging workout I've ever done. Every shift you play will train:
1. Cardio-vascular and cardio respiratory endurance (gas exchange)
2. Stamina (muscular endurance)
3. Strength
4. Flexibility
5. Power
6. Speed
7. Coordination
8. Accuracy
9. Agility
10. Balance

Hockey wil make you better at every sport but not many sports will make you better at hockey (kinda sounds like crossfit does't it). I do think it's a shame to have children competeing at high levels at such early ages, but it's better than wasting youth in front of an x box (that should be reserved for college).
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