Variation….From a biological standpoint, variation is defined as marked difference or deviation from the normal or recognized form, function, or structure.
In one word this is what Crossfit workouts deliver, variation.
Variation from the recognized norms that exercise and weight training has been based upon for years, and even deviation within the exercise program itself. No workout is the same, no Crossfit affiliate is the same, no WOD (daily workout) design is the same, no Crossfit instructor introduces or trains new clients the same, nor does a trainee ever know what to expect whenever they enter their local Crossfit facility.
While variation is an extremely necessary and effective tool in any and all PRESCRIBED Exercise Programs, too much variation in training principles and training leadership (from daily workouts, exercises, to the individuals in charge of training new clients) can lead to a laundry list of problems including injury, overtraining, muscle imbalances, and negative physiological adaptations to exercise.
Let’s look at a few of the pluses/benefits you can derive from Crossfit workouts in simple terms.
All of the combined principles help assist in 3 major aspects: muscle toning, weight loss, and lower body fat percentage.
Simply put, if you execute a Crossfit regimen with discipline and regularity you’re going to get ripped and cut. It is imperative, however, that you pair your Crossfit training with a healthy, clean, well balanced diet that utilizes food as FUEL, but most Crossfit instructors will discuss that with their groups.
BUT it can’t be that simple, right?
The aspect of Crossfit that takes the most heat from Health and Fitness Professionals is its lack of a set plan of periodization or macrocycling/mesocycling. In laymen’s terms, Crossfit programs do not implement any short or long term planning with regards to the actual workout “design”. Design being in quotations, as Crossfit does not have a set template like other more tested, traditional and proven fitness regimens.
What this translates to is an extreme randomness in planning workouts from a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly perspective. Every single Crossfit Affiliate Site has a different head instructor, and these instructors —some of which do not have Industry Standardized PT Certifications or Degrees in the Health and Fitness Field—can choose whatever random workout they see fit, usually beginning with a strength training portion followed by a super high intensity WOD.
KEEP IN MIND, not all Crossfit Instructors are this haphazard with their WODs.
An example of one of the top Strength and Conditioning leaders in this industry is a man by the name of Travis Stoetzel who has developed a Tried and True Unbreakable Blueprint that avoids ALL of the below problems associated with poorly led Crossfit Affiliates.
From here most people ask, “What is the problem with this random style of training and design?”
One major problem from this that leads to many, many other problems is that without proper planning and periodization in an Exercise Program, the head instructor will simply pick random exercises and pre-set—or randomly conjured up—WODs for the day without planning for the week or month. This means that many individuals in training , especially those new to training, can develop a wide array of muscle imbalances in all the major and minor muscle groups of the human body.
All properly trained and educated Health and Fitness Professionals understand the importance of prescribing workouts and exercise programs that train all major muscle groups, similarly dependent upon the specific goals of the individual in training—bolded because Crossfit WODs are not always tailored to specific goals of individuals interested in training. If any athlete or individual in basic fitness training has muscle imbalances in their body—be it upper body vs. lower body, hamstrings and surrounding muscles vs. quadriceps femoris and surrounding muscles, or pectoral and surrounding muscles vs. upper/mid back muscles—it can lead to extremely detrimental and serious injuries during sport, during training, or in basic, every day movements and functions —which is the category most individuals fall under.
Here’s a hypothetical example of the randomness that occurs in Crossfit.
Say a WOD is held on a Tuesday. Keep in mind this is a tough WOD consisting of only Clean and Jerk for 15-12-9 Reps. This will be considered an entire workout unless the head instructor conjures up a conditioning WOD to add after that. The very next day there will be another difficult WOD with a 135 Pound Squat Snatch for 9-7-5 Reps. So let’s breakdown all the issues that arise when 2 set WODs are scheduled for back to back days.
Supercompensation is defined as the post-training period in which the body and the muscles have a higher working/functioning potential than they did during the previous state of training. In layman’s terms, supercompensation means that after you train your body or muscle group, there is a set time frame—dependent upon the style of training—in which you should train that muscle group again in order to derive the highest potential benefits. If you wait too long between training sessions, your muscles will revert back to the state they were in during your previous training session or even lower, rendering you unable to make positive progress. If you train the same muscle groups too quickly, overtraining can occur. This can leads to a host of potential injury including muscle imbalances, muscle tears, joint complex overuse (tendinitis), and even much more serious medical problems like Rhabdomyolysis (search that one for a quick scare in which a Crossfit Athlete successfully sued his trainers for in an extreme case of overtraining).
Each training style is different for the time frame related to supercompensation (Endurance vs. Strength vs. Power vs. Mass) with the least amount of time necessary to take off between exercising muscle groups is at least 40 Hours (Endurance). The example WOD’s from above clearly violate this principle as they are exercising multiple similar muscle groups in much less time than even the minimum time frame of Supercompensation allows, which is quite common place among Crossfit WODs.
Some successful Crossfit competitors perform their own strength training to ensure they are developing correctly for their goals while adding WOD’s to work on the really tough conditioning aspects of Crossfit.
One great aspect of Crossfit, when it is lead safely and correctly, is that it provides multiple styles of training. These training styles include Mass, Endurance, Power, and Strength, and a Crossfitter can potentially see improvement in all styles as well as his or her overall conditioning. One problem that arises, however, is that a lot of individuals new to Crossfit don’t necessarily adhere to set principles or specific, time framed goals whenever they enter training—aside from getting in solid shape, which is a simple but not a bad goal at all! But if an individual strictly wants to work on his or her overall Strength—which will be focusing around 1-5 Reps per set at 80% of their Individual %1RM—then he will find that some Crossfit WODs have counterintuitive workout designs that fail to mirror the progress and gains he would likely achieve while working in a true strength program with stricter, more scheduled time parameters.
The same principle goes for Endurance training —for weight loss and muscle toning—and also Muscle Mass, which is a totally different style of training altogether. However, aside from the aforementioned fact that differing goals and training styles have different Supercompensation principles, the example WODs cross certain training principles in a single workout.
Tuesday has a crossover mix of both Endurance training principles (15 Reps) and Mass training principles (12 and 9 Reps). Wednesday has a crossover mix of both Mass training principles (9 and 7 Reps) and Strength training principles (5 Reps). All of which have no %1RM indicators, so individuals could unknowingly perform too high or too low of a percent 1RM that doesn’t match the amount of reps being performed. This flat out screams inefficient training and potential injury (see more below.)
So what exactly are the workouts trying to accomplish, and could these set frames run counter-intuitive to what an individual in training is truly seeking?
Set Weight Patterns for Male/Female or no % 1RM Indicators:
Another aspect of Crossfit that take a lot of heat is the fact that when the Crossfit organization posts WOD’s, the WODs are generally geared toward Crossfit Competitors and are far too ambitious for the novice to intermediate Crossfit participant. In other instances, like our WOD examples, the exercises list the amount of reps you are supposed to perform, but they give you NO guidance on the percent of the INDIVIDUAL 1 Rep Max you should be performing (more below).
The problem that occurs here is that individuals in training become more susceptible to major injuries if they are not performing the exercises at a proper weight, particularly when considering the complexity with which some of the exercises are performed. Since Crossfit utilizes a lot of Olympic Style Lifts (which is absolutely awesome), the liability/risk of injury increases greatly if the individuals in training are not slowly transitioned in and taught the basics and fundamentals of these lifts over and over and over again. The complexities of these Olympic-style lifts are extremely intricate. In fact, there are entire articles based upon the principles and proper execution techniques of SINGLE Olympic lifts such as the Power Clean or a Snatch from the floor. Athletes—usually those at the collegiate level—are taught these major Olympic Lifts because they are insanely effective, but these lifts and their techniques are literally pounded into their brain. Training schedules start at light weights to prepare them for increasing the intensity of their programs and ready them to match the intensity of their competitors.This does not bode well for Joe Schmo who hops into Crossfit off the street and learns a Power Clean and Press on his first day without first practicing deadlifts, hang cleans, and push presses separately to ensure muscle development and proper form.
ALL OF THIS can lead to both major and minor injuries for individuals in training who perform too much weight on a lift, perform a complicated lift they are not fully developed for, or even a combination of the two! For example, when you have a weaker or new individual walking into a WOD and performing 20 Deadlifts at 225 Pounds because that is the set weight for their gender you automatically have a huge increase in risk for injury. In reality novice lifters should only be performing 50-60% of what their 1 Rep Max is. Keeping in line with 20 reps as Endurance and the correct %1RM for Endurance that may only be 285.
Another potentially troubling aspect of the the Crossfit workout designs, depending upon the training instructors, is that they do NOT target all major muscle groups of the human body on a consistent enough basis to ensure that individuals in training are not developing muscle imbalances. Dependent upon the Training Program’s Goals, all of the major muscle groups of the body should be trained in a similar fashion with similar % 1RM’s and similar set/rep structures. This ensures that individual muscles are being developed at the same rate, which helps to avoid imbalances and potential injuries.
One great test to examine Upper Body vs. Lower Body imbalances is the Front Squat vs. Bench Press Assessment. If your Bench Press and Front Squat 1 Rep Maxes are within +/- 10 Pounds of each other, then you have a good balance of strength between upper body and lower body. If they are not, then your training focus needs to shift in order to balance your strength. While Crossfit has all sorts of great exercises and WODs, they usually do not work a proper balance of upper body vs. lower body strength, and they rarely focus on increasing the strength of the pectoral muscle group (remembering that push ups are purely an endurance exercise and do not develop True Strength). We also discussed in the Supercompensation section the importance of not targeting similar muscle groups on back to back days, a principle that our example WODs do not abide by.
A member at my current fitness center trained with Crossfit for about 8 months. She did extremely well, lost a lot of weight, dropped her body fat percentage, and began to dominate lifts and substantially increase her weight amounts. As she began to grow busy with work and in her personal life, she had to take about 3 months off from Crossfit. During this time she was only able to perform sporadic workouts, and as a result she lost a large amount of the muscle mass she had developed. After her 3 months hiatus she hopped right back into Crossfit with the same instructor she had previously. Her first workout back had a WOD with a SET WEIGHT for females performing Back Squats. The set weight for their group that day was 145 Pounds at 8 Reps for 5 Sets, increasing weight each set. Later she performed a WOD after the strength portion that included running. She was clearly not ready for this amount of weight to be used for the sets and reps assigned to the team that day; however, her instructor had her perform the WOD regardless.
Have you guessed what happened next?
This resulted in an extreme pulled upper leg muscle that left her nearly unable to walk for 3 days and knocked her out of training for 2 full weeks. The problem with this—aside from the obvious injury that occurred from performing a set gender weight and not performing a lift based upon her individual % 1RM—is that her goals were to lose weight and tone up. Weight loss and muscle toning are best reached by performing Endurance Style Training focusing to 15+ Reps, whereas her workout was a pure Muscle Mass style weight lifting session designed to increase lean weight.
To sum up all of the above, Crossfit has the potential to help individuals get in top-notch shape, lose weight, get ripped, and have fun in a group atmosphere.
HOWEVER, the approach and principles to Crossfit blatantly contradict safe and scientifically proven methods that instill effective and efficient Exercise Programs. Variation is a must in all exercise programs, but never at the risk of the individual in training. Crossfit style exercises, WODs, and Olympic Style lifts are great IF—and this is a big IF here—they are performed with proper direction, development, and training and are lead by educated Health and Fitness Professionals. These individuals are capable of guiding their clients in proper training techniques, and they ensure that training styles are properly introduced and blended in order to derive great results.
The Health and Fitness Industry NEEDS Exercise Programs and Guidance developed by individuals like Travis Stoetzel and us from www.MidwestFit.com Us and others are here to lead you to your goals safely and effectively and GUARANTEE you results that will not back fire on you!