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Our Answer to CrossFit

By Kurtis Bednarcyk, CPT

Athletes come to us with a variety of goals, but they also (at least we hope) all have one in common: to improve performance in their sport(s) of choice. As strength coaches, our job is to appropriately allocate the time and resources we have to ensure that the athletes’ effort translates to the field, ice, track, etc. This includes sport specific emphasis, seasonal peaking and downloading phases, and a myriad of other tools designed to maximize performance come game time.   

Our programming has worked well for us over the past several years, and we have assessable results to prove it. But not all of us are hard-charging athletes. For many of us, the game is life, and the performance domains are relatively undefined. In theory the role of general exercise should be to make life outside the gym as easily navigable as possible, but in reality most of the general fitness aspiring crowd is looking for the minimum dose that leads to looking good naked. We get that, but countless gimmicks have proven that a quick fix is rarely the answer for attaining a happy, healthy existence. We believe in developing safe, enjoyable, and effective habits that improve quality of life. When this is implemented correctly, fat loss and/or muscle gain are just fortunate side effects.

Greg Glassman, founder of the increasingly popular fitness regime CrossFit, developed the following equation for broad, general, and inclusive fitness:

Constantly varied functional movement + high intensity + communal setting = health

All in all, Glassman got it pretty spot on. His program made high energy-demanding compound movements such as the clean and jerk, muscle-up, and kettlebell swing appealing to the general public for the first time and provided a whole new set of measurable goals to aim for. We too believe the general fitness trainee should train vigorously enough to elicit fitness adaptation, and agree that the group setting encourages one to give his or her best effort.

Where CrossFit falls short is not the equation, rather the interpretation of the equation. There are certainly some great CrossFit coaches out there, but the failure to mention any aspect of progression or periodization allows for a freedom of programming that is all too often abused. These days anyone with a warehouse and several thousand dollars can write some random exercises and rep schemes on a whiteboard, host a “come one, come all” workout and say “3, 2, 1, GO.” And people tend to lose weight this way because the compound movements and intensity are there, but this laissez-faire approach has led to overtraining and injury rates that are absolutely shocking. The Olympic snatch, for example, is a great exercise for improving strength, power, and mobility, among other things, but due to its technical and potentially violent nature if performed incorrectly, it should be reserved for intermediate to advanced trainees and kept at a low volume. It is not appropriate for the middle-aged adult to perform reps to failure with poor form in an attempt to undo the past 20 sedentary years. Shamefully, there are hundreds if not thousands of coaches in gyms worldwide who are taking "constantly varied functional movement" to mean "as much work as physically possible." That’s “functional” only if the intent is to injure, or to exacerbate deficits.

While we share many of the same principles of CrossFit we prefer a more systematic approach. It is our belief that a certain level of general strength and flexibility are required for aptitude in any of the other fitness domains (power, balance, cardiorespiratory capacity, agility, etc.), and thus they are at the base of our fitness pyramid, and we place appropriate attention toward developing them before pushing for more demanding work or adding too much “fluff.” As an example, it is important to possess a pronounced ability to squat, hinge, pull, push, and appropriately carry one’s bodyweight under stable conditions before applying an external load or decreasing stability. We can adjust the starting point and specific target skills based on skill level, gender, and/or age, but progression in this manner is appropriate for all because it facilitates smooth motor learning and our ability to monitor improvement on a day-to-day basis. In addition, emphasis on technique and proper periodization of intensity, volume, and/or frequency drastically reduces the risk of injury.

Enjoyment is also atop our list of priorities. There are enough ways to be active that satisfaction should never be an issue. We work hard, but unlike many other exercise programs you may have seen or heard of recently we seek mastery of movement through gratifying challenges rather than insufferable struggles. The desire to overcome these challenges inevitably creates the strong sense of community in which we all revel in each other's development and achievement. We encourage you to come by and see for yourself – there’s something about moving, feeling, and looking better that makes the game of life a little more fun to play. Not to mention, we'll all be here to cheer you on.

Click HERE to learn more about our Group General Fitness training options!