Crossfit: A craze or a good workout?

Posted: April 29, 2014 by kirisyko in Crossfit, Fitness and Training, SykOtic

Crossfit: A craze or a good workout?

Crossfit is responsible for putting exercises like pull-ups, box jump, high pull and kettlebell swing into the mainstream workout schedule. Photographs by Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
Arguably, the most sensational and influential conditioning and fitness trend in India in the past couple of years has been Crossfit training. It beats P90X (the other fitness rage in recent years) by a large margin and has succeeded in influencing fitness psyches across groups.
We have seen advertisements released last year of the Indian cricket captain taking part in Crossfit-style physical training, albeit with kettlebells that pre-adolescent girls would be embarrassed to lift. His principal sporting goods sponsor had launched an entire range of sporting merchandise under the Crossfit brand and created specialized gyms.
Crossfit is a style of training that believes in random exposure to a variety of movements, including gymnastics, weightlifting and cardiovascular endurance, with as many repetitions as possible within a stipulated time period or a stipulated number of repetitions done as fast as possible.

What works for Crossfit
Crossfit has taken Olympic lifting out of small, seedy gyms fraternized only by national gold medal aspirants and introduced it to mainstream fitness enthusiasts. Olympic lifting refers to the sport of weightlifting as competed for in the Olypmic games, namely, the clean, clean and jerk, snatch, etc.
The clean, the jerk and the snatch are purported to be taught and encouraged in all Crossfit workouts. These are great structural exercises and do wonders for our bodies and endocrine and musculoskeletal systems, an effect that cannot be achieved by “lollipop” aerobics or easy cardiovascular exercises.
In fact, Crossfit has made the elliptical trainer and the treadmill redundant items, perhaps now useful only for hanging workout gear.
Now every gym has Olympic bars, bumper plates, racks and lifting platforms where it is possible to do productive strength training.
Before I start running down Crossfit, let me reiterate that I doff my hat to it for that one singular service of putting the barbell into more hands than I have ever seen—and I mean ever.
The worrisome aspect
Some of the workouts, such as Olympic lifting, need special skills. Years of foundational movement patterns need to be grooved before Olympic lifting can be taught. It is risky—and tough.

In the March issue of the magazine Men’s Health, Kamal Singh, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and a post-rehabilitation expert, said: “Every second person latches on to it (Olympic lifting) whether they have the required mobility for it or not. These are not exercises for people who spend the better part of the day hunched over a computer.” I agree with him.

You can’t just walk into the gym and try your hand at lifting as if it was shooting pool. Lifting needs great functional mobility and range of movement in the connective tissues. Yet people with very poor skill levels and questionable techniques are being pushed to lift by “certified” trainers who do not have the diagnostic eye to notice movement errors. All over the country, trainers with not-so-great skill levels are teaching fitness enthusiasts challenging movements without first grooving safe lifting patterns. The results are obvious: injury.
Bad shoulders, bad knees, Achilles tendons, rhabdomyolysis (rapid breakdown of skeletal muscle) are a result of faulty programming and faulty progressions, in addition to faulty techniques.

Kettlebell swing

If injuries are common, how come people are not falling out of the programme? The reason is that it takes a while, sometimes years, of bad movement patterns to drive home an injury. In their enthusiasm, participants continue to repeat the wrong movements till, one day, the bubble bursts.

Crossfit is exercise, not training
Crossfit has done a terrific job popularizing tough training, particularly with the barbell and gymnastic patterns, but training is as different from exercising as studying is from reading. Reading is random and can be varied but studying is accumulation of knowledge in a single or multiple domains over an extended period of time. One of the reasons that training results in long-term improvement is that it properly assesses the current state of the subject and logically plans for improvement in a way that is safe, specific and sustainable and, therefore, productive.
Legendary coach Mark Rippetoe describes exercise as “physical activity for its own sake while training is physical activity done with a longer-term goal in mind, the constituent workouts of which are specifically designed to produce that goal”. Olympic athletes sometimes have a four-year macro cycle and periodize their training over that length to achieve their desired training goals and objectives.

High pull

Crossfit seems to be not about a process as much as about the workout–of-the-day! The challenges of that single programme of that day may vary completely from the previous day or the day before that. Participants may find that exciting and challenging, as against a process-based regimen which may appear boring if the goals and objectives are not established with some clarity.

For most people, Crossfit works; exercise is adequate enough, they may not need training. It beats sitting around all day long. And it is a darn side better than working out on a treadmill or an elliptical trainer. However, what they can ill afford is injuries and chronic pain.
What people deserve at the end of the day is to get a little training too, towards a greater goal which is more specific and target-oriented, before they start Crossfit. And that is not happening right now at most places which conduct Crossfit sessions in India.
Ranadeep Moitra is a certified coach from the National Strength and Conditioning Association of America and has worked with the Indian cricket team, the Bengal cricket team and the East Bengal Football Club. He currently coaches the Indian golf team.

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