CrossFit For More Body Strength

Very few things in the fitness world elicit emotions and opinions as strongly as the word “CrossFit.”

CrossFit and Injuries: Let the Body Hit the FloorOn one end of the spectrum, there is an army of CrossFitters who swear by the benefits and could never imagine another method of working out. On the other end is a massive collection of people who scoff at the never ending burpees and injuries that seem to accompany this method of training.

But is there a middle ground?

Or is CrossFit the joke bodybuilders often make it out to be?

What Is CrossFit?

Some people that look down on CrossFit do so simply because of the negative connotations associated with it. Before making a judgment on anything it’s important to fully understand it, so what exactly is CrossFit?

Put simply the goal of CrossFit is to increase your workload capacity. This is the ability to do the same amount of work in a shorter time or a larger amount of work in the same time. This is accomplished through 10 principles of physical fitness that are incorporated in all CrossFit workouts:

  1. Cardiovascular endurance
  2. Stamina (muscular endurance)
  3. Strength
  4. Flexibility
  5. Power
  6. Speed
  7. Coordination
  8. Agility
  9. Balance
  10. Accuracy

To incorporate all these areas in workouts will include a variety of free weight compound movements, Olympic lifts, bodyweight exercises, plyometrics, and aerobics. This methodology of training applies to many different goals which is one of the appealing factors of CrossFit. You can apply its principles as an athlete, weekend warrior, or even as someone just looking to gain some functional strength and mobility. The focus of CrossFit is on improving the system as a whole versus training for specific adaptations like bodybuilders and powerlifters.

The Typical Setup Of a CrossFit Workout

  • 10-minute dynamic warm up. This is a combination of active stretching and light warm ups using movements that will be incorporated during the actual workouts. If you have any severe mobility or movement restrictions these should be addressed during this time as well.
  • 20-30 minutes of skill or strength development. The next portion of the workout consists of either building strength through heavy, low volume, intense weightlifting or the building of technical skills. Olympic lifting and gymnastic movements require a large amount of skill and practice. Such skill development is typically alternated with strength building.
  • 10-20-minute workout of the day. This is the infamous WOD for which CrossFit is often labeled. A WOD is comprised of 4-8 different exercises or aerobic activities. They will typically be performed based off of time, and your goal is to see how many “rounds” you can complete in a given time. Your aim is to get more rounds done in subsequent workouts. Another common method is to start the workout with a number of rounds in mind that you intend to complete and try to improve on the time each day the WOD is performed.

Here are a couple sample WODs:

Repeat this circuit as many times as possible in 15-20 minutes. Alternatively you can aim to complete 3-5 rounds as fast as possible.

Exercise Reps/ Distance
Kettlebell Swings 20
Burpees 15
Sprint 300 meters
Hang Clean and Press 10

Perform 3 rounds with a rest time of 30 seconds in between rounds. Your goal is to accomplish the WOD in a shorter time in subsequent attempts.

Exercise Round 1 Reps Round 2 Reps Round 3 Reps
Barbell Snatch 10 8 5
Box Jumps 15 12 8
Push Press 12 10 8
Double Unders 40 30 20
Pull-ups 15 12 8

Now That You Know the Basics of CrossFit, Here Are 7 Secrets You Don’t Know:

1. It’s Not Hard to Become a CrossFit Coach

To become CrossFit certified it only requires a two-day course of covering fundamentals and basic movements. There are no prerequisites or qualifications needed. While there are plenty of well-qualified and skilled CrossFit coaches all over the world, the ease with which one can become certified can lead to less than stellar coaches entering the field with little to no experience. If you are considering CrossFit, make sure the coach or team you are working with has experience and other qualifications such as formal education or other training credentials.

CrossFit and High Rep Weightlifting2. You Will Most Likely Get Hurt

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of CrossFitters will experience injuries ranging from minor to quite severe. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that there is such an emphasis on time and speed that form is often sacrificed. Add to this the fact that it is typically done in a competitive group environment and it easy to see how one may over exert themselves leading to a breakdown of form.

Injuries also occur often in CrossFit because the movements can be very complex and require a large amount of mobility and motor control. It is argued by many that these Olympic lifts are not meant to be done in a fast tempo/high rep manner and should not be used for conditioning. Sometimes people start attempting these complex movements before they have the required range of motion leading to compensations and ultimately injury. One study from 2013 found an incidence of injury in 73.5% of CrossFitters.(1) In another 10 week study examining the health benefits of CrossFit, 16% of the participants were not able to finish the program due to injuries despite all the workouts being performed under professional supervision.(2)

CrossFit, Muscle Pains and Rhabdomyolysis With Uncle Rhabdo3. It Can Make You Pee Brown

Gross, right?

Though very rare, CrossFit can induce rhabdomyolysis. This is a very serious condition that causes the breakdown of muscle tissue leading to the release of muscle fiber contents into the blood. These substances are harmful to the kidney and often cause kidney damage or failure.

Symptoms include muscle pain, tenderness, weakness and swelling of the affected muscles, nausea, vomiting, confusion, coma, abnormal heart rhythm, and dark coca cola colored urine due to the presence of myoglobin. Rhabdomyolysis can happen after prolonged and frequent bouts of extreme physical exertion such as ultra marathons or intense long and repeated CrossFit WODs. CrossFit has even adopted a mascot to help spread awareness on the dangers of this condition, Uncle Rhabdo, the clown.

4. CrossFit Will Make You a Jack of All Trades but a Master of None

The goal of CrossFit is not to make you the biggest, strongest, or fastest. Instead, this methodology of training focuses on improving the overall health and general fitness level by focusing on the 10 principles listed earlier. This is fine for the average person just looking to stay fit, but it limits the ability to become extremely proficient in one area. Does a bodybuilder really need to spend that much time focusing to improve their coordination or balance or would their time be better spent focusing on strength and muscular endurance?

5. It Can Be Tailored to Your Specific Goals

While the typical CrossFit layout is focused on improving overall fitness and conditioning, you can modify the WODs and strength training portion to fit your goals. If you’re a powerlifter, start your workout with a full body strength program keeping the reps in the 1-3 range. For your WOD, you would include some power building plyometrics like box jumps and pick powerlifting exercises keeping the reps and total volume low. Similarly, there are many bodybuilders and other athletes who have programmed CrossFit in a way to help them reach their sport specific goals.

6. When Done With Proper Form, CrossFit Will Improve Your Mobility and DECREASE Your Risk of Injury

Wait what? Doesn’t this contradict our earlier statement of over 70% of CrossFitters experiencing injury?

While that 70% will experience injuries due to improper form, the other 30% who use correct form will have much-improved mobility. This is because of the movement selection of a CrossFit workout. Exercises like the snatch force your shoulders to move freely in the joint capsule obtaining a full range of motion. A hang clean requires excellent mobility in the hips, back, and downstream arm. If these movements are done properly, functional full-body integrated movement is encouraged, and your body’s tissues will adjust by becoming less restrictive. Also, CrossFit workouts tend to be very balanced between pulls, presses, squats, and hinge movements thus preventing muscular imbalances that can occur in the typical bodybuilder program.

CrossFit With Camille Leblanc-Bazinet7. Most CrossFitter’s Are Women

According to stats collected from all the CrossFit affiliates in America, about 60% of members are women. CrossFit has found a new home in women’s fitness for those looking to incorporate resistance training into their workouts. “Strong is the new skinny” and similar slogans can often be seen on their workout apparel as they launch heavy barbells overhead with calloused chalky hands. And they look good doing it. CrossFit deserves credit for making heavy weightlifting mainstream with women and getting them off the endless cycle of cardio machines.

So what’s the verdict on CrossFit?

CrossFit is great for the person looking to achieve a higher level of “general” fitness.” This means they want to be faster, stronger, more mobile, better conditioned, leaner or more muscular. But not at the expense of one another. Unfortunately, most people do get injured so make sure to have a qualified professional spend the required time with you mastering the movements and the ability to maintain form before starting a program.

For the bodybuilder or powerlifter – elements of CrossFit can be implemented in your programming to help with your goals. Perhaps incorporate a WOD 1-2x a week to accomplish a HIIT session. The movements will enhance muscular endurance and hypertrophy much more than a simple sprinting session. Make sure to supplement with Creatine and BCAA’s to ensure that you have the proper fuel for your workout and to prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue after it’s over. Don’t be a blind follower or complete “hater”. You should never follow any dogma blindly so give CrossFit a try and decide for yourself.

Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.

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