In our line of work the geography is ever changing. We are constantly noticing changes in methodology and philosophy, sometimes even in technical skill. It is our job as coaches to stay on top of this continually shifting terrain.
One of the newer trends that we are recently going through is Crossfit. Crossfit, unfortunately has been given the bad guy roll. While it does have its downs, Crossfit is not evil and it is unfair to label it as so. Crossfit has started a trend that can not be undone. As strength and conditioning coaches we push ourselves to find new and better ways to get quicker results. Crossfit has challenged the traditional program method and has completely flipped the true meaning of intensity and focus on its head.
They are able to push an athletes intensity and will to new heights. It challenges the durability of each athlete with a large emphasis on form and technique. In fact, under their guidelines, if certain markers are not met within the biomechanics of a repetition than that repetition does not count.
If you have ever looked at some of the major Crossfit movement patterns you will find that there is a high rep count and varying load. We believe that Crossfit has found a way to optimize the most important variable in training; intensity. By using competition, you can push someone further then they could have gotten on their own. This gets the intensity up to the optimal zone to facilitate change in the body. We can almost ensure that each athletes intensity will be up to where it needs to be in order to hit specific performance goals.
Longevity and injury prevention are the major issues that Crossfit faces. How long can a person do Crossfit without over stressing the body? Can Crossfit be used to fix potential movement patterning issues that an individual athlete may have? Unfortunately with Crossfit, these are not the primary goals of programming. It has opened our minds to a different type of programming but still needs some work in the field of longevity.
Before we fault Crossfit, we need to understand who would fully benefit from this type of program and how to actually implement the program. Based off the movement technique requirements and the intensity needs, it seems that athletes would benefit the most from this type of training. They have the strength and experience to be able to move safely and efficiently. They would be able to handle the load and rep schemes. Most serious athletes have gone through some type of periodized program. Strength and conditioning coaches call it pre-season, post-season and in-season training. Each program has a different focus and goal. If an athlete does not have the knowledge to be able to develop a personalized program for themselves, Crossfit would be a perfect alternative. It forces the athlete to push themselves all while increasing the competition element (Crossfit Games).
Still, even for athletes of a high caliber, we understand that this type of intensity is not sustainable. This is not a fault of Crossfit, but our own. For example, nutrition is a variable that most people struggle with. The problem is not always what we eat but how much of it we're eating. Many people have been told red meat is bad for you and to stay away from it. In response we see many people eliminating red meat from their diets completely. Some even go as far as removing all meats from their nutrition. Ice cream is another example. Apparently we are suppose to avoid ice cream at all cost! One taste and you may not make it to see tomorrow! On the other end of the spectrum you'll find things like supplements. Supplements like protein are thought of as a "healthy" thing to implement into your diet. So what people did was replace meals with this protein supplementation. This obviously is something that we do not suggest. There are lots of vitamins and minerals that you miss out on by doing this and the effects can lead to serious complications.
The major lesson here is moderation. There is a time and a place for everything. Like these nutritional examples, Crossfit is also being looked at wrong. Crossfit is not bad for your health. In fact, in people who meet the movement requirements, you can notice a huge increase in strength, power and endurance both muscularly and cardiovascular. You can even see huge ascetic changes in body composition and muscle girth. The reasons most people run into trouble is:
1) Just being your best friend, who is an above average athlete, is doing Crossfit and seeing good results doesn't mean that you are now ready to get off the couch and start Overhead Snatching. There are movement patterning protocols that you must first follow to ensure you are not going through potential threatening movements.
2) Even if you are a high caliber athlete this type of intensity can not and should not be maintained through out the whole coarse of a year. We consider this overtraining. This is where even elite athletes run into troubles like torn joints and ruptured discs.
In order to reap the benefits of Crossfit you need to make sure it is not your first step towards getting back in shape. Understand that the movement required in Crossfit are advanced and the intensity is high. If you combine these two element and your body is not prepared for it then something will give. Secondly, if you've got the prerequisite movements down then you must then choose the proper training cycle to place it in. For athletes this may be off-season. By doing Crossfit during the off-season you can push yourself to get stronger and faster. The biggest thing to remember is once that off-season cycle has ended you intensity and focus needs to change. You can not continue to move at the same pace and intensity or your body will let you know through injury and pain.
Too often in our field is Crossfit being bashed. It is not Crossfit that is bad, it's the way we utilize that style of programming. The fault is on us. You wouldn't blame the hammer for bending the nail, but the person holding the hammer.