With its popularity increasing, Cross Fit is becoming one of the most popular exercise programs in the country. With prime time television spots for their competitions, magazine ads, and even shoes claiming to be designed for the precise demands, Cross Fit is getting a number of people motivated to be in the top shape of their lives. But, what is it? And is it for you? Giving Cross Fit its most broad definition, it is a series of timed or set number of exercises. Cross Fit describes their program as “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement” striving to increase fitness. With short and intense workouts, you must constantly be at a very high level of exertion.
As an Exercise Scientist and Strength and Conditioning Coach, I see Cross Fit in two views, both as a positive and a negative. Let’s start with the positive. Cross Fit’s popularity has made a large amount of people want to get into better shape. I tend to view almost any workout trend as a positive one, whether it be a Richard Simmons VHS or P90x. Anything that gets people off the couch and moving is heading in the right direction for me. Cross Fit seems to be great for people that are already in above average shape, former athletes, or individuals that may have not worked out much, but have the time to spend with a good strength and conditioning coach to learn proper technique. The lifts in Cross Fit are extremely difficult and dangerous. Without proper instruction, injury is inevitable.
Cross Fit also has a great mix of semi endurance training, strength, and power training. I say semi endurance training because to me, you cannot truly achieve endurance in thirty minutes or less. Endurance is a prolonged bout when it comes to athletics and I just don’t see much translation of a Cross Fit workout in increasing my endurance for running a marathon. Regardless, the strength and power aspect of Cross Fit is astounding and is sure to lead to increases barring injury. The lifts and exercises involved are also of great efficiency as they are constantly challenging the core, postural muscles, and large muscle groups. Muscle isolation, a type of training that few of us should be participating in due to its lack of effectiveness, isn’t a factor of Cross Fit. By training large muscle groups with a constant focus on the core, the movements in Cross Fit look to bring great results anatomically, physiologically, and hormonal.
Strength and power training are just two aspects of strength and conditioning as a whole however. Researchers have discovered that the best gains (whether that be in the gym or the mirror) come from a thought out scheduling system called periodization. In a periodization model, different goals of fitness are best achieved while concentrated and focused upon for a certain duration of your training. A typical, non-customized, periodization model may be a 4 month program, with each month dictating a different variation of training; endurance, hypertrophy, strength, and power.
All top athletes and strength and conditioning professionals follow some sort of version of that. Cross Fit however, doesn’t follow a model of progression, just constant, tough workouts. I see this as great for a certain amount of time throughout your training, maybe as a cycle in your plan. But, to constantly put your body under the demands of a workout like this, is quite taxing. Without the proper rest and recovery taken, unrepaired muscles, joints, and tendons can lead to a decrease in performance, risk of injury, and lack of results.
The other negative I see as a fitness professional is the lack of customization. Everyone has different goals and strives for different results. If the goal is to compete in the Cross Fit games, then Cross Fit is going to be how you achieve it. But, for the majority of individuals who either just want to get in shape, be healthy, or maybe run a certain race, the lack of customization is going to set you back. Plus, especially as people get older and have lived sedentary lifestyles, injuries come into play. Without the conscious programming of workouts to help rehabilitate injuries, these will just get progressively worse, negating the main reason to workout – to live better than before.
My conclusion on Cross Fit still has two sides, just depending on who you are. It has a huge benefit going for it as it increases the desire to exercise by making a workout more fun. But, in terms of who I think should be doing Cross Fit… very few of us. I have had many more individuals come to me with injuries from doing Cross Fit too soon or too much than people that have had success. Maybe I am bias because if they are having success in a Cross Fit program, they simply aren’t coming to see me. The complex lifts and circuits that are involved just aren’t for the masses. For the majority of the population, it is a great event to watch on TV, but just like watching the World’s Strongest Man, it just isn’t for all of us.