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Why CrossFit is Broken…And How To Fix It


That’s right, I hate to say it. It actually pains me to say it, I usually ignore all the hate that’s written about the problems with CrossFit, but recently I’ve been doing some thinking long and hard about it, and I’ve come to the determination that Yes. CrossFit is a broken system. But the silver lining in that cloud? The community has figured it out, and they are fixing it, even if they don’t realize it.

From Greg Glassman (founder of CrossFit): “From the beginning, the aim of CrossFit has been to forge a broad, general, and inclusive fitness.” Okay, we get it, it’s cross-functional, non-specialized training. Makes sense. And for the most part this works, but it will break down. Let’s take for example, two fictional athletes: Suzy and Bill

Suzy is in her early thirties and started CrossFitting to get in shape after her second kid. She’s been working on getting her first pull-up and just got it this week. She has fun with Olympic lifts, but scales them to a weight that’s more comfortable to her for most of the workouts. She doesn’t want to move more weight and she’s fine where she is physically. CrossFit is keeping her in great shape, but she doesn’t have any aspirations of competing.

Bill is also in his early thirties and fell hard for CrossFit after taking an intro class. He’s doing muscle ups and double unders. His snatch 1 RM is a little low, as is is his back squat 1 RM. Bill also wants to compete in the CrossFit Open in 2014, and has dreams of competing at the Regional level in the next few years. Bill was a runner prior joining CrossFit so he enjoys workouts that stress long aerobic conditioning (Murph, to some degree Cindy, etc…)

Here goes the blasphemy: CrossFit as it’s designed is only written for people like Suzy, not people wanting to get stronger and compete. In fact, Glassman himself also writes “We’ve come to see increased work capacity as the holy grail fo performance improvement and all other common metrics like VO2 max, lactate threshold, body composition, and even strength and flexibility as being correlates – derivatives even.” So, CrossFit isn’t even designed to increase strength directly.

Let’s break it down: both Bill and Suzy will get stronger through the natural occurrence of muscular hypertrophy (essentially muscles getting bigger. More surface area = stronger muscle). Hypertrophy typically takes about 4 weeks to start adding mass to the muscle with consistent training. However, given the nature of CrossFit, muscular hypertrophy is actually harder due to the broad, non-specialized workout cycles. Since a lot of the movements in CrossFit are more total body movements, this muscular growth is spread throughout the body (you can only grow so much at a time) vs. a focused typical strength training program where you target specific muscle groups with a set of workouts for a given time period.

“Strength is everything – you need to have a good base level of raw strength, but also be able to apply that raw strength into the functional movements of Crossfit” – Adam Pirri, CrossFit Active

Bill wants to compete in the Open/Games, so he obviously needs to have an increased work capacity to be able to maintain his performance over the duration of a workout. But looking at the past two years of CrossFit Open workouts, we see a workout that involves a 135lb snatch. If Bill can only hit 115lbs on his snatch he’s going to bomb out in the Open.

Now, enough of the doom and gloom. The good news is that the CrossFit community is recognizing this shortcomings. More and more boxes are programming in solid strength and skill work prior to their daily workout, devoting a day or training cycle to strength, or setting up a competitors workout track for folks wanting to take it to the next level.

In fact, Siobhan Kent has written a great article over at TheRXReview.com that I recommend everyone read, called “Dangers of a MetCon Addict”

I also want to be perfectly clear, CrossFit isn’t going anyway and overall it’s not flawed, but if you want to take it to the next level you have to step outside of the CrossFit bubble and go back to some of your strength training basics: presses, squats, etc…

What are your thoughts? Do you think everyone needs intense strength training? What does your gym offer?

“What is CrossFit” : http://www.crossfit.com/cf-info/what-crossfit.html
“Understanding CrossFit” : http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/56-07_Understanding_CF.pdf
“Dangers of a MetCon Addict” : http://therxreview.com/crossfit-the-dangers-of-a-metcon-addict/

  • Daniel

    Thats exactly what im doing right now, 30 min strenght work, then WOD, game change!