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The Final Word on Crossfit

The Final Word On Crossfit

A few weeks ago a very unfortunate incident took place in a CF affiliates facility. From what I gathered from the story a member was performing the Snatch. a high level Olympic lift. Apparently, during the descent the bar velocity took him into extension, and he did not recover in time and the young man suffered an SCI, spinal cord injury. At time of this blog I do not know the condition of this unfortunate soul, but the BSL staff wishes him all the support he is going to need in the future. I have worked with SCI and it is a long and challenging road to a 'new' way of functioning in the world. Not just physically, but emotionally. It has collateral impact on those close to him. So again I send him my sincere prayers for his arduous journey ahead.

Now lets begin.....

 

I LIKE the CF business model

Mr.Glassman, founder and creator of CF has some salient features of his business model that I like and are commendable: 1. He does not take a percentage from affiliate profits. And he could. He leaves a lot of money of on the table by doing this. 2. He has resisted being bought out because he truly believes he can change the world, and he has started to.  Then that is where I stop being a fan of  CF.  Granted, he cannot be responsible for every affiliate but he can introduce wider scope of training layers to reduce preventable injuries and increase affiliates knowledge base the importance of training periodization and alternate high intensity environments in his workshops. Predictable training schemes lead to plateaus and injuries.

 

The founder, Greg Glassman

Before I began this article I perused several articles of the founder, Greg Glassman, I did not find any evidence of formal education. However, in 1974 at 18 he became a gymnastics coach at the local YMCA in Santa Cruz, CA. Then he started training celebrity/athlete clientele finding success with high intensity workout. He realized that bodybuilding and endurance programs were lacking. 1995 he is hired by Santa Cruz police department. The rest is history. I mention his background to share with you that he really had no formal preparation. He just 'altered'  intensity by omitting the rest period that most bodybuilders take and added weight training to endurance runners.

 

TABATA METHOD

Now, I wanted to wait till the dust settled to say a few words about this. CF has come under fire since its inception. The premise, not new, is to move through circuits of techniques in a structured amount of time and pre-established rep range. Nothing new there. Technically called a metabolic circuit or Anaerobic training and is a common and established practice in sports performance and general fitness. The research as far back as the 70's shows this. Just look at Olympic athlete training programs.  Nevertheless, Mr. Tabata research is note worthy but not ground breaking. He spent two years in Norway and a year in the United States at Washington Univ. in St. Louis. (this is the same university doing ground breaking with in SCI creating unique muscle stimulation units helping the paralyzed walk). He says he learned a number of analysis techniques there. At the time the head coach of a speed skating team in Japan had developed a training technique where the athletes would exercise in short bursts of high intensity and Tabata was asked to analyze the effectiveness of this program. The name of the coach was Mr. Koichi. My Tabata's own admission it was the coaches idea, not his.

 

BEFORE THE CRAZE

This approach of short burst of work with limited rest is called interval work and has been around for as long as I can remember. The problem was, at the time, and even now, that training anaerobically is difficult. Heart rates push the needle at max levels. It was a very common practice with high performing athletes. If you were an athlete or are an athlete then you know about 'suicides' and combination training if you played any sport.

The techniques that CF employs are not new. What vexing are the people who 'thought' they knew how to train, find it revolutionary. I can say this, the marketing is the only thing revolutionary about it. The techniques are classic: Olympic lifts, plyometerics, ergometer [rowing], medicine ball and repeat under specified time with some gymnastic stunts that why novel are not always practical. When I was in graduate school they were simply called 'metabolic circuits'. It was a way to achieve an intensity of fitness without spending hours in the gym, a.k.a bodybuilders. Speaking of bodybuilders, Glassman made a comment that 'their' routines were lacking. This is true to an extent. Bodybuilders are not know for their cardio conditioning! However, the professional bodybuilders and even a few novice bodybuilders were doing 'holistic' sets which are simply doing reps to exhaustion per body part and then sprint on treadmill for 30-45 sec. Body building required hours working just about EVERY body part, so time in the gym was like having another job!


EDUCATION V. GOOD EXPERIENCE

The first responsibility of an author is to reference your work. I have read several of the CF Journal writings and he does not reference. Most published works are peer reviewed or 'juried' review. This means that others in the profession read and challenge the validity of the research work. This can be daunting and humbling but it helps refine your ideas, theories and application.  In fact some of the things he says are theory when clinically and in peer reviewed journals have been explained.  

When Glassman talks of injuries its absolutely clear he has no experience or limited education in understanding injury predisposition, functional movement, prevention and management.  I have read many of his articles and have been unable to determine any validity to his approach. In fact in one article done by one 'his' coaches she talks about PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) a technique I have used many times in the clinic. However, what she describes is a simple 'muscle energy'  technique called simply contract-relax as she explains how this improves range. PNF requires manual resistance (someone to apply manual resistance through a range of motion. There are multiple techniques)

 I know with the Internet you can 'school' yourself, but I also have seen ACL reconstructions, and why I am very good at rehabilitation and understanding ACL surgery and its implications, you would not want me doing your ACL reconstruction!. The amount of clinical hours, internships, constant education to stay abreast of current trends in training and conditioning cannot be substituted for 2 day certification. What CF has done is create a culture whereby ANYBODY who thinks they know training just because 'they love to train and they have passion to help others' can get certified with techniques they barely know in a weekend!. Even with that instruction they lack the knowledge to progress a technique or modify it to get the same result with reduced risk.

 

 DON'T HURT'EM HAMMER!

"If all you got is a hammer than every problem's a nail". CF admits that you are going to get hurt. GREAT! Sign me up. This culture of hardcore, where getting hurt appears to be a badge of honor, is amateurish and dated. Any program is designed to engage multiple training approaches in all levels and intensity. Paramount is the engaging of coordination patterns as new techniques are learned.  Look. You can't argue with results. CF gets results, BUT so do other programs that are just as intense but safer. I have trained former CF and they come in knowing the Olympic lifts, kettle techniques, etc but as soon as I tweak their lift or change tempo by adding another variable to alter anaerobic environments, they realize that they may not be in the best shape. Especially when it comes to learning a new movement pattern.  Also, when these athletes are injured in a CF environment there is no option! What do you do when you suspect knee, hip or shoulder (on the rise due to excessive kips)? Their affiliates will admit there will be injuries and since the unfortunate spinal injury incident, they have blogged about the risk of getting hurt with their program. I just don't subscribe to this lack of accountability. A trainer is hired to not only train but be knowledgeable enough to know when a client has a potential to get hurt.

Back Pain & Cross Fit

You can re-calibrate the lift so it reduces the risk of injury yet not sacrafice intensity. Or when a client is injured you should know how to remedy that injury within the boundaries of your knowledge base. Yet, suffering a SCI is unheard of. Every training program should have preventive techniques built in and if injury does occur, you should have a management plan. Could this SCI could have been prevented? Who knows? I know this though. When we are doing advanced lifts, the frequency is not high and we have complimentary lifts to prevent excessive ranges of motion and velocities. Our programs have rigorous elements of multi-planar movements to ensure proper neuromuscular firing, and to exploit weaknesses especially in eccentric postures where a majority of injuries happen.

 

IT ALL ADDS UP

'I just felt something', 'It just started after the last session', 'I noticed on the 'catch' but then it goes a way, 'Oh this started a year ago but I thought it would get better'.These are common, not all inclusive, complaints when I have evaluated someone who has done CF or CF 'like' workouts. It all adds up. We call these cumulative stress risers. It occurs when tensile capacity of musclotendinous units are comprised by high velocity, abnormal external stresses. This occurs in all levels of lifting and always occurs when one plane of motion is neglected due to excessive loading of other planes.

The clinical term is Hierarchy of Loads. This hierarchy is based off the transmission of forces to certain active and passive anatomical restraint tissues:

SMALL loads: Muscle>Cartilage

MODERATE LOADS: Muscle>cartilage>Tendon

LARGE LOADS: Tendon >BONE

A majority of load induced tissue trauma is caused from abnormal stresses. When I was doing my sports medicine internships, I was told by my instructors "that the body is not made for sport." This is true and can be applied in weight training scenarios. ANY technique will cause tissue damage if amplitude of resistance frequency is high ie. daily high intensities, lack of periodization, poor restoration, limited training scope, lack ability/knowledge to insert a preventive technique into an aggressive program.The CF model seems to ignore this.

Moreover,  there are legions of CF that have gotten results. The reason they get results is because of the high frequencey of training days, but there is a cost and that cost is injury and training plateaus. We see former CF members who have suffered injury or are plateaued and want a different challenge. Interestingly enough, when we introduce other patterns of movement, they struggle. The struggle is where that 'plane' of motion has been compromised and it is also the location of injury. In sports performance and sports injury management we can predict injury when teaching technique. We can almost anticipate a tissue 'breach'.

 

SO?

Judge for yourself. This is not an indictment of Glassman, but a warning and cautionary tale. Glassman has a legion of followers. He has done an extraordinary job of promoting fitness with this method. He deserves the success. But before you judge, be sure that the training of a CF trainer is for you. The training techniques and programs can be intensified by any incompetent trainer to make you 'feel' like you're  getting a good workout. However, be sure you tried other established training facilities that can achieve the same result with reduce injury risk,  provide a greater selection of training modalities,and  can manage your old or current injury. Training is arduous anyway. To get the physique you want takes much work and training time, but DO NOT be lulled into thinking that CF is the only way. It is NOT.

Regarding training athletes, seek out a real professional that is not going to just address power using Olympic lifts, rings and medicine ball. All training is science and the Glassman science is sketchy and elaborates on established sports performance science by giving his 'opinion' on how athletes should train for optimal performance. There are in-depth training methods that go way beyond WOD!

 

FINALLY

When you're at the top, every body takes a shot at ya. I have not been at the top like CF but for 26 years I have had some things, not so nice, said about my way of training: its controversial and different but it works. So I empahtize with Mr. Glassman. The success of CF is undeniable. And in all fairness Mr. Glassman  can't  directly be held responsible for incompetent trainers getting certified under his programs. However, he can revise his program to include a basic preventive/management of training related injuries into the certification process. CF is popular. The techniques are good old school techniques. The intensity is definitely not for everyone and the risk of injury is high. If you have a pre-exsisting injury then proceed with caution;Iam not impressed at all with their lack of training modifications or calibration. Any program you enroll in should have a progressive element of ALL the features of fitness established many years ago:

Duration. Intensity. Scope. Complexity. All of these factors can and should be altered to be commensurate with your increasing strength, balance, stability and postural coordination/reaction. I'm sure Glassman knows this: it just needs to be pervasive with his program affiliates.

In the greater scheme of things CF has had its share of criticism. I don't want to be in that pool, however, the techniques are safe but if that's the only tool you got, it will dull pretty quick! CF needs to elevate its training scope beyond the formulaic template it has set out, and make certification more rigorous. Besides I like the competition of a worthy opponent!

 

ADDENDUM 

Other Metabolic Circuits:

  • Peter Coe regimen

A type of high-intensity interval training with short recovery periods was used in the 1970s by the athletics coach Peter Coe when setting sessions for his son Sebastian Coe. Inspired by the principles propounded by the German coach and university professor Woldemar Gerschler and the Swedish physiologist Per-Olof Astrand, Coe set sessions involving repeated fast 200 metre runs with only 30 seconds recovery between each fast run.[6]

  • Tabata regimen

A version of HIIT was based on a 1996 study[7][8] by Professor Izumi Tabata (田畑 泉) et al. initially involving Olympic speedskaters,[9] uses 20 seconds of ultra-intense exercise (at an intensity of about 170% of VO2max) followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated continuously for 4 minutes (8 cycles). The exercise was performed on a mechanically braked cycle ergometer. Tabata called this the IE1 protocol.[10] In the original study, athletes using this method trained 4 times per week, plus another day of steady-state training, and obtained gains similar to a group of athletes who did steady state training (70% VO2max) 5 times per week. The steady state group had a higher VO2max at the end (from 52 to 57 mL/(kg•min), but the Tabata group had started lower and gained more overall (from 48 to 55 mL/(kg•min). Also, only the Tabata group had gained anaerobic capacity benefits.

  • Gibala regimen

Professor Martin Gibala and his team at McMaster University in Canada have been researching high-intensity exercise for several years. Their 2009 study on students[11] uses 3 minutes for warming up, then 60 seconds of intense exercise (at 95% of VO2max) followed by 75 seconds of rest, repeated for 8–12 cycles. Subjects using this method trained 3 times per week, and obtained gains similar to what would be expected from subjects who did steady state (50–70% VO2max) training five times per week. While still a demanding form of training, this exercise protocol could be used by the general public with nothing more than an average exercise bike.

Gibala's group published a less intense version of their regimen in a 2011 paper in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. This was intended as a gentler option for sedentary people who had done no exercise for over a year. It included 3 minutes of warm-up, 10 repetitions of 60-second bursts at 60% peak power (80- 95% of heart rate reserve) each followed by 60 seconds of recovery, and then a 5-minute cool-down.[12][13]

  • Timmons regimen

Jamie Timmons, professor of systems biology at the University of Loughborough, is a proponent of a few short bursts of flat-out intensity. In a BBC Horizon programme in February 2012, he put Michael J. Mosley on an exercise bike regimen consisting of three sets of about 2 minutes of gentle pedalling followed by 20 second bursts of cycling at maximum effort. This was done three times a week for a total of 3 minutes of intense exercise per week, plus some warm-up and recovery time. Measurable health benefits were reported, including significantly improved insulin sensitivity.[13]

 

common CF techniques

Body Weight Exercises

Air squat

Athlete moves from the standing position to a squatting position with the hips below the knees, and back to standing. One-legged air squats are referred to as pistols.

Back extension

Using a GHD machine, the athlete moves from an L-shaped position with the head directly below the pelvis to an extended horizontal position by rolling the back and bringing the head up last.

Box jump

From a standing position on the floor, the athlete jumps and lands with both feet on top of a box, and fully extends before returning to the floor. Typical box heights in inches are 15", 20", 24", and 30".

Burpee

Beginning in a standing position, the athlete drops to the floor with the feet extending backward, contacts the floor with the chest, and then pulls the legs forward, landing in a squatting position before standing up, ending the movement with a small jump.

Handstand push-up

Beginning in a handstand, with the arms straight and (usually) the heels gently resting against a wall, the athlete bends the arms until the head touches the ground, and then pushes back up into a handstand position.

Hip Extension

Using a GHD machine, the athlete moves from an L-shaped position with the head directly below the pelvis to an extended horizontal position by keeping the spine straight and rotating at the hip.

Jump rope

The most common variation in CrossFit is the "double under" in which the jump rope makes two revolutions for each jump.

Knees-to-elbows

Hanging from a bar, starting in an extended position, the athlete raises the knees until they make contact with the elbows.

L-sit

With the body supported on gymnastics rings or parallettes, the athlete holds the feet at or above the level of the hips with the legs straight. This is typically held for a set amount of time.

Lunge

Athlete takes a large step forward, bends the forward knee until the back knee makes contact with the ground, and rises.

Muscle-up

Hanging from gymnastics rings or a bar, the athlete pulls up and over the rings or bar, ending with the arms straight and the hands below the hips. Variations include strict muscle-ups and kipping muscle-ups, in which momentum is created to complete the movement.

Pull-up

Starting from a hanging position with straight arms, the athlete pulls up until the chin is over the bar. Variations include: strict, in which no swinging is allowed; kipping, in which momentum is used to help complete the movement; weighted, in which extra weight is hung from the athlete; chest-to-bar, in which the ending point of the movement is higher, and the chest makes contact with the bar; jumping, in which the legs are used to help propel the athlete upwards; assisted, in which an elastic band allows the movement to be completed with less than full body weight.

Push-up

Starting in a plank position with the arms straight, the athlete lowers until the chest makes contact with the ground, keeping the body straight throughout, and making sure the elbows track straight back instead of out, then pushes back up into the plank position. Variations include weighted push-ups and ring push-ups, in which the hands are supported just above the ground by gymnastics rings.

Ring dip

Starting with the body supported on the rings with straight vertical arms, the athlete bends the arms, lowering the body until the shoulder drops below the elbow, and then straightens the arms. To scale this movement, an athlete may do assisted dips using an elastic band or holding positions of the dip to increase stability and strength.

Rope climb

Starting from the ground, the athlete climbs a rope and touches a point at a designated height, often 15 feet. Variations include no feet, and L-sit, in which the feet are held above the level of the hips during the climb.

Sit-up

Athlete moves from a supine position, with the shoulders on the ground, to a sitting position with the shoulders over the hips. The feet are sometimes anchored. An "ab-mat" is sometimes placed under the lower back.

Toes-to-bar

Hanging from a bar in an extended position, the athlete brings the feet upward until they make contact with the bar.

Distance movements

Rowing

Many workouts include rowing machine distances from 500 meters to 2000 meters, or rowing "for calories".

Running

Typical distances range from 100 meters to 1 mile. Shuttle runs back and forth between marks 10 meters apart are also common.

Swimming

Some affiliate gyms include aquatic distance exercises within workouts.

Movements with weights

Clean

Barbell is (or dumbbells are) lifted from the ground to a "rack position" in front of the athlete's neck. Athlete ends in a standing position. In a squat clean the athlete receives the bar in a squatting position and stands to finish the lift. In a power clean, the athlete receives the bar in any position that is above a parallel squat.

Deadlift

Barbell is lifted from the ground, making sure to drive with the legs and glutes, until the athlete reaches an upright standing position.

Kettlebell swing

A kettlebell is swung from between the legs to eye level (Russian) or overhead (American). The kettlebell swing can be used both as an aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

Press

Barbell is moved from the "rack position" to the overhead position. In a strict press (also called a shoulder press), or military press (in which the feet are together), the lower body remains stationary. In a push press, the bar is "jumped" off the body using a "dip and drive" motion. A push jerk is like a push press, but with a re-bend of the knees to allow the athlete to drop under the bar and receive it with straight arms. A split jerk is like a push jerk, but one leg goes forward and the other backward when the athlete drops under the bar.

Snatch

Barbell is raised from the floor to the overhead position in one motion. In a squat snatch the athlete receives the bar in a squatting position and stands to finish the lift. In a power snatch, the athlete receives the bar in a partial squat.

Squat

Barbell is supported on upper back (back squat), in the rack position (front squat), or in the overhead position (overhead squat). From a standing position with a wider-than-shoulder-width stance, the athlete bends the knees until the hips are below the knees, and then stands, keeping the heels on the floor.

Sumo deadlift high pull

With a wide stance, a barbell or kettlebell is lifted from the ground to a position just under the chin.

Thruster

A combination of a front squat and a push press: starting with the barbell in the rack position, the athlete squats (hips below knees) and then stands, driving the barbell overhead.

Tire flip

A large tire, lying on its side, is flipped over by lifting one edge.

Wallball

Holding a medicine ball below the chin while facing a wall at arm's length, the athlete squats (hips below knees) and stands, throwing the medicine ball in order to make contact with an overhead target on the wall.