First of all, lets get one thing out of the way before I provide my reasons here. I have nothing against increasing the amounts of people taking up physical activity. I also have nothing against PROPERLY APPLIED high intensity training. I also have no problem with the use of Crossfit by the Military, I even wrote a book about it.

My problem is the increasing number of products or programs using Crossfit WODS in order to promote sport specific conditioning. There are more programs now, such as Crossfit for Football, or Crossfit for Runners, but this is something which I believe has no place for an athlete needing to be in peak condition with as few injuries as possible during a competitive season.

Just to be clear before those who claim I have an unfounded bias against it, I have tried Crossfit, read the literature and evaluated it. Below are my reasons (based on my own experience and observations) for being against Crossfit as a tool for specific sports athletes:

1.Crossfit has High Injury Rates

This is something that can't be disputed. There studies on Crossfit injury rates. The first rule of a good conditioning coach should be the same as that of a doctor - do no harm.

With the high injury rates of Crossfit I believe there is no place for a method that is likely to lead to an injury of the athlete performing that workout. Before you say it, there are risks with every form of conditioning. But it is a matter of risk to reward ratio.

Athletes can be conditioned very well using methods that carry less risks than a Crossfit WOD.

2.Each Sport has Different Technical/Tactical Issues Which Influence the Required Conditioning

So we have an athlete that plays Soccer, an athlete that competes in MMA, and athlete that plays Rugby. Are we going to condition them all in the same way?

I hope not. Crossfits argument for the superiority of the generalist with regards to fitness falls short when it comes to excelling at the very top of each sport. Each sport has patterns of loading that need to be studied and addressed if we are to understand how best to approach these activities. GPP is good but SPP is what provides the edge.

3.Every Athlete is Structurally Physically Different

This is an area that causes a lot of problems with the ideas that Crossfit present. If I have one person with a certain structural weakness, for example, hamstring issues. Am I then going to give them the same workout I give everyone else?

Conditioning needs to be targeted not only to physical needs of the athlete from a competitive point of view, but also from a position of fixing weakness. Until Crossfit acknowledges that its not all about the WODS, then it wont be more than a fad.

4.Crossfit Takes Very Technical Athletic Movements and Misuses them Repeatedly with Bad or Non-Existent Programming

Individually, the tools in a Crossfit WOD would be excellent if used differently. Take Olympic Lifts, for example. These are technical lifts which require movement testing, screening and a long time specific coaching in their own right. Why are these suddenly seen as better because we couple them with dead lifts or muscle ups?

I can guarantee you personally that no Rugby coach, NFL coach or any pro athlete coach has ever prescribed Olympic Movements for time, and or any other Crossfit related measurement of intensity.

"Learn the movements in your own time" has been a standard comment I've had from those participating in Crossfit because the box they attended only did WODS. They were expected to turn up and participate. How can you expect athletes to know how to perform Olympic lifts and get better at these without strength elements or technical training?

5.The Quality of an Athletes Performance is Due not Only in the Quality of Conditioning but to the Quality of Recovery 

Now in the modern climate, the time an athlete can actually spend in training is lower than ever. Athletes are now more endorsed and promoted than ever before, providing for less actual training time than ever before. If an athlete is injured (see point 1), then there is even less of that to go around and if there is any sport related technical/ tactical training, which again means less to go around. Factor in travel times, competition times and sleep patterns then we have a big mine field to negotiate.

"Management of intensity vs recovery" becomes the key concept for all strength and conditioning coaches. Yes, we need intensity - but is it correct? Are athletes recovered enough in the right way to mange it?

WODS don't provide for specific recovery. There are many accounts of severe soreness for days after undertaking some WODS. This is what happens when soreness becomes a major component of judging the success of a conditioning method. Hardcore extreme workouts produce just those types of training loads -extreme trauma as well as micro trauma.

Sport recovery is an expert field in itself and should not be downplayed when we condition athletes.

6.Lack of "Periodized" Workout Load for Off-Season, Pre-Season or In-Season Phases Specific to Different Sports

Crossfit by its very nature is designed to create a movement away from structure and programming. Only now is Crossfit starting to look at how it does this. I wrote a system for the use of "Cross Training " (to use the proper name for it) as a periodized block of training. Crossfit does no such thing.

I recently asked the owner of a large box gym near my home what Crossfit actually does suggest they do in order to progressively build up. His reply was that he "never did anything" because his clients never knew what was meant to come with each WOD. My reply was to monitor loading, recovery and ability level. This approach may be good for military personal who need much higher levels of GPP. But it's not effective for athletes with specific needs who need to peak for specific competitions.

I believe Crossfit has no such set up for managing cycles in athletics. Some coaches are having Crossfit athletes workout up to 5 times per week with at least 1 hour and 30 minute sessions including the WOD. In many sports, for example the NFL, there is an average of 2 training days per week for heavy lifting and conditioning.

7.Crossfit in Itself Needs Specific Training to be Successful

What many don't know is that top Crossfit athletes actually do take part in specific programs for certain elements. In order to be at peak for a given sport, you do need specifics. Which still leaves big gaps for those athletes looking to use Croffit as the "cover all". There are more sports that require maximal basic strength that Crossfit WODS do not provide for. A well programmed load managed plan wont have any gaps to it.

8.Crossfit has no Specific Place for the Ageing Athlete

With the standard of depth and knowledge, we can now extend an athletes career by years. However Crossfit has no provision for the older athlete as the intensity is not sustainable over time. Older athletes need different training in order to deal with age related issues. Intensity will still have its place at some point but not in the way of the Crossfit WOD.

Even at many levels in sport, coaches with conventional backgrounds are advising athletes in sports like Soccer to take an extra day off to rest once they hit 30. This provision is to deal with the conventional training plus the game. With an extra intensity level from Crossfit, we open older athletes up to further injury and in my observation, I don't see many older people participating in local Crossfit boxes.

9.Crossfit is not Appropriate for Age Specific Training in Youth Athletes

Yes, before it's said, there are quite a few training methodologies that are not appropriate for the young athlete. However, this links to a number of other issues I have with adults (not just athletes) and Crossfit performance. The first of these issues being improper movement screening and lack of understanding of mechanical teaching for the child/youth athlete.

I remember trying a Crossfit class for the first time with the owner of my local Crossfit. His response to me was "all you need is a PAR-Q form." I asked about screening. I asked about core assessments (which I do on all of my athletes as an addition to screening), and I asked about mechanical instructions. He said "we'll be fine, we are just Squatting and we don't do screening here."

I saw a a small boy, maybe around 10 years old, participating in the same workout, trying to do a back squat and failing badly. I'll keep this gym nameless as it has produced some high ranking Crossfit game athletes. But needless to say, I informed the leader about the poor practice there and on that occasion, the boy was moved aside from this particular class. However, the question remains - how many are being allowed to have youth athletes coached in this fashion? Coaching youth athletes is another specificity that again has no place in a Crossfit Box. I've seen no evidence of any specialist coaching expertise for the pre or post pubescent youth athlete being available at any of the boxes I've been too.

I have seen some very good coaches who are able to add high intensity elements to their programming. But their programs don't resemble Crossfit WODS for good reason. They do contain Oly lifts and other tools Crossfit puts in it's WODS. But they have less injury rates and greater performances over an entire competitive season. The programs are based on vigorous evidence based principles, which I've never seen at a Crossfit box.

If you want specific coaching programs, then you need an expert. Don't risk your athletic career buying into dangerous "cure all" philosophies like Crossfit.

For an evidence based, high performance program please feel free to contact me.


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