One of the fastest growing movements in sport performance today is players training through CrossFit. Everyone wants to get an edge – to be faster, stronger, bigger, more skilled, more explosive, and all those other buzzwords too. And, logic would dictate that if one place makes you work until you drop then that place is getting the most out of you. However, this is not true, and for football players (or any athlete who is training for a particular sport) CrossFit is one of the worst things you can do.
Let’s just examine the name of the company – CrossFit, playing on the term of “cross
training” which was at one point very popular. This idea is built off of people doing a wide variety of workouts, including different levels of endurance, strength, power and speed during every workout, to force the body to adapt to a great diversity of stimuli. However, in football, we know exactly what we are training for – we know the rest intervals, the strength-endurance and power-endurance requirements, the exact movements that translate to our sport. This begs the question: why in the world would we cross train? Why would we spend hours and sweat preparing out bodies for things we already know we won’t encounter?
(I should mention that there is a portion of the population that cross training works for. Some folks who are already extremely athletic and well versed in exercise and technique, and are exercising for the sake of exercise rather than to train for a specific sport, could find that a cross training program is quite good. Additionally, people who don’t know the demands on their daily life and need to be in shape for a wide variety of demands needs cross training as well. When talking to a Navy Seal friend of mine, his workouts very much resemble cross training workouts. If he were still playing football, however, his workouts would be considerably different. So, while this post is somewhat an indictment of CrossFit, it is not meant to be an indictment of cross training itself).
The next point on today’s agenda talks of the basic principle of CrossFit’s programming. They use their “workout of the day,” so that everyone who walks through the door does the same workout. Essentially, a one-size-fits-none model. Every single person who wants to train has different needs – they have different restrictions, different goals, different training experience, play different positions, just to name a few variables. There is never a good excuse to have everyone doing the same workout. The idea of every individual doing the same workout is idiotic, moronic, whatever word you want to use. Different people need different exercises.
Now to address CrossFit’s programming specifically. The number of videos I have seen with folks doing as many snatches as they can in five minutes, or trying to do a hang clean variation blatantly wrong, or fighting to learn a deadlift when their body simply cannot do it, is appalling. The workout of the day does not follow the basic principles of physiology or biomechanical integrity. Snatches are exhausting – it is downright dangerous to have someone hoisting a barbell overhead for five minutes. Hang cleans are complicated – allowing inexperienced lifters to max out their hang clean is simply asking for injury. Deadlifts require proper hip mechanics, which only a certain percentage of the population has - ignoring individual biomechanics will lead to chronic back pain for many CrossFit participants. The fact of the matter is that the way exercises are programmed and taught is important, and CrossFit misses many of the basics that even our interns knew without having to be told.
Take a look at some of the best professionals in the country when it comes to sport performance – think of Eric Cressey and Mike Boyle up in Boston; think of Gray Cook and Lee Burton of FMS; think of some of the great staff members of Athlete’s Performance out West; take a look at the programs here at SportPerformanceU. In all cases, the people who write the programs have years upon years of education and experience. They never stop pursuing great information and research. They are constantly looking for ways to bridge the gap between theory and application. Now take a look at a CrossFit trainer – in many cases, the trainer took a weekend course to get certified, and is then allowed to train others. That is a dangerous situation. Add to that the fact that their workout of the day is based on making people do crazy workouts (CrossFit’s owner recently told a magazine that he basically came up with ways to screw with people when designed his workouts as a personal trainer, and that strategy grew into CrossFit), and what you have is under-qualified people teaching less than intelligent workout programs. Does this really make sense?
In any instance, if you are looking to train properly, make sure you are working with a well-qualified individual, who has done their due diligence on finding training methods that are right for you. Make sure biomechanical integrity is included before any training actually starts. Do NOT join “class” structured workouts. Each and every athlete has individual needs – make sure yours are being met.
SPU's Alex Drayson writes the SPU Football Performance Blog.