I answer this question everyday. Sometimes it is sandwiched between statements that make me cringe… Statements like, “I just REALLY need more cardio” or “10 minutes… that’s it?” The problem with these statements its that they reflect a fundamental lack of knowledge about what CrossFit really is. I feel it is my duty (one that I have not done very well in recent months) to educate everyone that comes through the doors at CFC about WHY we do what we do and WHY it is the single most effective training regimen around.
My soap box is feeling quite comfy today and this expulsion of information is a long time coming so try to stay with me here…
Q: What is CrossFit? Or one might rephrase this question to “What is the CF prescription?”
A: CrossFit is constantly varied functional movement executed at high intensity.
I know, I know… some of you reading this are saying… “Sloooooooow your roll there Reagan, what does that really mean?” OK, OK… Constantly varied means, well, constantly varied ;-) . Different, not the same ole thing all the time.
Functional movements are the natural, effective, and efficient locomotors of one’s body and the objects around them. They are universal motor recruitment patterns; they are performed in a wave of contraction from core to extremity (c’mon people I KNOW you’ve heard this at CFC); and they are compound movements–i.e., they are multi-joint.
High Intensity… Ahhhh, perhaps the most misunderstood piece of the puzzle which leads people to question just about everything we ever do regarding programming (which we will get to in a minute). Intensity is quite LITERALLY the key to your success in any CF program. It is what sets us (CrossFitters) apart from the herd and it is the single factor that is most responsible for eliciting our desired results (whatever it may be) The following is an excerpt directly from the CF L1 Training guide… READ IT SLOWLY…
In gyms and health clubs throughout the world the typical workout consists of isolation movements and extended aerobic sessions. The fitness community from trainers to the magazines has the exercising public believing that lateral raises, curls, leg extensions, sit-ups and the like combined with 20-40 minute stints on the stationary bike or treadmill are going to lead to some kind of great fitness. Well, at CrossFit we work exclusively with compound movements and shorter high-intensity cardiovascular sessions. We have replaced the lateral raise with push presses, the curl with pull-ups, and the leg extension with squats. For every long distance effort our athletes will do five or six at short distance. Why? Because functional movements and high-intensity are radically more effective at eliciting nearly any desired fitness result. Startlingly, this is not a matter of opinion but solid, irrefutable scientific fact, and yet the marginally effective old ways persist and are nearly universal. Our approach is consistent with what is practiced in elite training programs associated with major university athletic teams and professional sports. CrossFit endeavors to bring state-of-the-art coaching techniques to the general public and athlete.
In the words of Coach Glassman we want you to “Be impressed by intensity, not volume.”
NOW, all the above regarding intensity being aptly explained it is important to also explain that intensity comes in two different ways inside a CrossFit gym.
1. You can increase intensity by increasing the weight with which you perform a given exercise.
2. You can increase intensity by increasing the speed with which you perform a given exercise.
As coaches we may emphasize one over the other on any given day based on the desired stimulus for that particular workout on that particular day or for a particular athlete.
Q: What is the Aim of CrossFit?
A: The aim of CF is and always has been to forge a type of fitness that is broad general and inclusive in scope. This means that we are working every day to increase our work capacity over broad time, modal, and age domains.
“HUH?!?!”, you say. “What on earth does that even mean?”.
Let’s take another step back and dissect that statement and try to make some sense of it…
Increasing an individual’s work capacity simply means we are making them better at doing something than they were in the days, weeks, or months before. That “something” could be squatting (which is useful for going to the bathroom). It could be pressing something overhead (which is useful for putting dishes into a cabinet & boxes into the top of the closet) or it could be being able to walk up and down the stairs of your home with less stress on your joints and internal organs.
Now that we know what CF means by “increased work capacity”, lets look at the second half of the statement… “over broad time, modal, and age domains.”
“broad time domains” refers to the ability to do that “something” and do it well for different amounts of time. Sometimes you have to go up and down the stairs once in your day and sometimes you have to go up and down with giant loads of laundry 15 times in 20 minutes.
“modal domains” refers to the different training modalities used within the regimen to effect change. Those modalities include running, biking, swimming, jumping rope, weightlifting, and gymnastics.
“age domains” refers to the fact that it really doesn’t matter if I am 25 or 65. I think we can all agree that we want to be able to the things mentioned above and with as little pain or detriment to our well being as possible. Simply stated, I can and SHOULD be doing the same things in the gym no matter my age because at 70 I still have to be able to sit on the toilet to poop.
You following me here? If not slow down, go back and read again. Seriously, go back because this is vital to your understand and belief in the system we are promoting at CFC.
CrossFit is not a specialized fitness program but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of 10 fitness domains. They are cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. In essence our specialty is not specializing at all.
PHEW… that was rough… Well it’s about to get rougher (I know, not a word, but it works here so go with it) . ;-)
All you programming experts out there listen (OK read) carefully ;-)… I said earlier we would discuss questions regarding programming “in a minute”. Well, the time has come. We already know that the CF prescription is and always has been constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements. If intensity is the key to our success and we know that we cannot maintain high intensity over consistently extended periods of time (that is just common sense)… how should we be programming? Should workouts be long and grueling on a regular basis as traditional gyms and trainers suggest? To answer this question I believe it is necessary to touch on the different metabolic pathways. Vital to understanding conditioning (and IMHO programming) is an understanding of the interaction of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel (and in the interest of my own valuable time) I have inserted below another INVALUABLE excerpt from the CF L1 Guide.
Just remember that efforts at moderate to high-power and lasting less than several minutes are anaerobic and efforts at low-power and lasting in excess of several minutes are aerobic. As an example the sprints at 100, 200, 400, and 800 meters are largely anaerobic and events like 1,500 meters, the mile, 2,000 meters, and 3,000 meters are largely aerobic.
Aerobic training benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat–all good. Aerobic conditioning allows us to engage in low-power extended efforts efficiently (cardio/respiratory endurance and stamina). This is critical to many sports. Athletes engaged in sports or training where a preponderance of the training load is spent in aerobic efforts witness decreases in muscle mass, strength, speed, and power. It is not uncommon to find marathoners with a vertical leap of only several inches! Furthermore, aerobic activity has a pronounced tendency to decrease anaerobic capacity. This does not bode well for most athletes or those interested in elite fitness.
Anaerobic activity also benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat! In fact, anaerobic exercise is superior to aerobic exercise for fat loss! Anaerobic activity is, however, unique in its capacity to dramatically improve power, speed, strength, and muscle mass. Anaerobic conditioning allows us to exert tremendous forces over brief time intervals. One aspect of anaerobic conditioning that bears great consideration is that anaerobic conditioning will not adversely affect aerobic capacity. In fact, properly structured, anaerobic activity can be used to develop a very high level of aerobic fitness without the muscle wasting consistent with high volumes of aerobic exercise! The method by which we use anaerobic efforts to develop aerobic conditioning is “interval training.”
So bottom line according to CF when it comes to programming… Shorter workouts where power output is high are far more effective avenues to improved health and fitness than longer slower efforts. That doesn’t meant there isn’t a place for longer slower efforts. There is, and personal goals and sport specifics can drive individual programming to a certain extent. It just means that these long and inherently slower efforts aren’t the hallmark of a good CF regimen.
I have included the link below to the entire CF L1 handbook should you want to dive into this further. Do it, PLEASE! You will be better members, athletes, and ambassadors for CrossFit if you do. Then hit me up and we can go have coffee and solve the worlds fitness problems together. ;-)