Taking a closer look at the benefits of Crossfit, P90x, and other fad workouts for serious athletes.
Current training crazes like CrossFit, Insanity, P90X, and the 300 workout, have prompted so many questions from athletes as to why they’re not a part of their prescribed strength training program that it came time clear the air. To do so, I’ve compiled my thoughts on each training aspect below in the hopes of giving better direction to athletes who are intrigued by the marketing hype. Without further delay, let’s tackle the most popular first:
These workouts tend to vary in nature, but I’ve got one big beef with this method: most users have little knowledge and experience with the technique. This past summer my younger brother (who rows crew at the collegiate level) got pretty big into CrossFit, and the first workout I watched him do involved snatches. I don’t care how many videos he watched, he still had no idea how to perform the exercise, and boy was it ugly. Granted, snatches are an awesome exercise and if done correctly, really emphasize an explosive triple extension (hips, knees, and ankles) – but not when you do light sets of 10 where half of them morph into glorified standing shoulder presses! Helloooo, low back pain!
While there are a few benefits to this approach, and I’ll be the first to admit that these workouts will make the average individual “fitter,” the only appropriate use I could see for a serious athlete would be the occasional “mental toughness” workout (as long as the athletes were relatively proficient with the lifts involved). Aside from that, you’d be far better off sticking to a well-designed, periodized program, that’s tailored to the needs of your sport.
P90X and Insanity
Both of these workouts may be great for individuals looking to get back into “shape,” but they’re not particularly productive for those actually training to improve their performance. While the workouts do allow individuals to progress at their own pace, and offer modifications to make exercises either easier or more challenging, the fact is that you’re not going to get bigger, faster, and stronger, in your living room.
Yes, 10 sets of pull-ups are “hard,” but is an hour of bodyweight lunge variations going to increase your strength or explosiveness? Absolutely not. As for the hour on certain days spent on yoga/flexibility, that’s great, but all serious athletes should already have core exercises and a post-workout stretching regimen built into their program. If you’re looking to get ready for the beach and don’t have time to get into the gym that’s one thing, but if you’re actually trying to step your game up, you might want to pass on the infomercial DVDs.
The 300 workout
This workout hits the full body by calling for the completion of 300 total reps between 5 or 6 exercises, in as little time as possible. It requires light weight, or bodyweight, and depends on how intensely you get after it.
In an attempt to cut right to the chase, 50 reps of a 135 deadlift isn’t going to foster any strength gains. Therefore, like CrossFit, I would only use this style of workout if you’re looking to improve your “mental toughness.”
Now listen, by no means am I saying that these workouts are completely useless (I mean, they are better than nothing, right?). Certain workouts, or aspects of each, may be great for the general population looking for high intensity exercise that will help them burn the calories from the fast food they ate the night before. But the general population’s major objective is improving their physique and “feeling good about his or herself,” not improving their athletic performance. If your goal is to become a stronger, more explosive athlete, then these workouts are not the best use of your time.
A Better Approach
Knowing that, what should an athlete, like you, do? I’d suggest the following
1. Learn and perform compound and Olympic lifts
Many studies have demonstrated high correlation between an athlete’s back squat and clean values, and one’s vertical jump and sprint times. Said another way, these complex and Olympic exercises will have a far greater impact on your athletic ability than a fad workout.
2. Use a periodized program
Learning how to appropriately periodize and progress your training program during off-, pre-, in-, and post-season, while still allowing time for recovery, is your best bet at becoming a stronger and more explosive athlete. If you want a workout that will blow out your legs and cause hypertrophy, go ahead and do 4-5 back squat sets hitting 8 reps (and go heavy)! Get explosive with heavy power cleans or jerks! Hit the posterior chain with weighted reverse hypers and glute-ham raises! (Sorry, I get pumped just thinking about this stuff!)
Stick to those two rules and you’ll be well on your way to improving your athletic performance. But whatever you decide to do, just remember that standing in a pool of sweat doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve taken a step closer to your training goals.