Sure it looks cool on ESPN, but if you want to actually build muscle, gain strength, and improve athletic performance, you’re better off without Crossfit.
Makes sense to start by writing that I realize this article may upset a few people, but I can take the criticism and hopefully they can too. Just seemed like an appropriate time to write about Crossfit, for everywhere I go, people are talking about how Crossfit can help you become a better athlete.
But seriously, what part of Crossfit makes it good for athletes? It is the un-periodized workouts? Is the use of submaximal strength? Is it the large chances of injuries? Is it the “mental challenge?” Let’s break it down so that you have a better sense of where I’m coming from as a D1 S&C coach.
This has to be the part that I have the biggest problem with. If you want to make progress, you need to have a plan. There has to be a path that is 6, 8, or whatever weeks long that takes you to the end goal of your training program. Doing 1,000,000 situps one day, for time, will not make you a better baseball player. Doing a pyramid of 10-8-7-3-2-8-10 reps of power cleans will not make you throw a football further.
Sports training programs are sport-specific and there is nothing specific about “picking a card out of the deck” for the workout of the day. Usually periodization allows you to properly outline a training program to get from starting point A to B. Crossfit seems like a bunch of dudes in a basement getting together and saying, “hmmmm, maybe we’ll try this today…” Ok, perhaps that was a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point.
This might come off as meat-headish, but it’s true. Mass moves mass. In football if you omit submaximal strength on your opponent, you are going to end up on your back. In basketball, if you’re jumping half assed, you’ll end up watching the play go the other way. The only way to get strong is to lift heavier weights, not lift 50% of your max for 30 reps. At the same time, to lift heavy weights one must rest to let their muscles recovery properly. Think about it for a second. If you go without rest when trying to max out your results will fall far short of your one rep max effort.
Increased Chances of Injury
I realize that injuries happen doing all kinds of workouts, but we must remember that the goal of every athlete is to STAY HEALTHY. But I’ve spoken with numerous physical therapists who have noticed a large influx Crossfit-related injuries. Crossfit involves very complex movements that take a lot of time to master. Unfortunately, many of these techniques are not properly taught resulting in injuries or bad habits being formed. Want a better approach? Learn the movement, work on it, and use it as a part of a larger periodized plan. Remember, a periodized plan is one that is based in science of percentages in relation to reps and sets. I recommend Prilipins Table:
The Mental Challenge
I will commend Crossfit here; the workouts will certainly test your mental ability to push through adversity. The only problem is, if you don’t want to push yourself hard then you don’t have to. In doing workouts for time, you could easily half ass it or go all out, with the results differing drastically. Moving at your own pace is far less effective than setting proper rest times to accomplish muscle recovery. If your goal is a mental challenge, steer clear of trying to lift heavy weights repeatedly, and stick to bodyweight or very light weight exercises.
Having verbally assaulted Crossfit, I will now say this: Crossfit is an intense style of training great for people looking to get in very, and I mean very, good shape (as some of the guys you’ve seen on ESPN would suggest). If you’re done with athletics, and that’s what you are training for, then by all means get involved in Crossfit. But if you’re an athlete, do yourself a favor and wait until your career is over before getting involved.