Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Thoughts from a fellow trainer

Ok, so I have talked about this before, but it's worth mentioning again.  There is no one training style that is the "best" or that fits everyones needs. 

Personally I like to do most of my training using more of the classical bodybuilding style with a little functional circuit training thrown in, but hell I've also been know to throw some power lifting workouts in just for fun as well.

The most important thing is to find something that you WILL DO, and do on a consistent basis.  If you love spin class, then great, go to spin class 3+ times/week.  If you love lifting then great, lift 4-5 times per week.  Exercise can and should be fun.....hard yes....umm that's how you know it's working, but still fun and something you look forward to doing, not only because it improves your health or gets you closer to your fitness goals, but because you just plan enjoy it as well. 

YES I enjoy flipping a large tire sometimes, among other various barbaric type of's fun!....... yes, yes I know, I quit possibly have problems.

So with that in mind here is an article written by a fellow trainer and good friend of mine Arlo Gagestein.  He also happens to own Competitive Edge Fitness here in Ogden, UT, where we train using a little of everything we can!!/pages/Competitive-Edge-Fitness/115272125169180?sk=info

What About Crossfit

It seems that nearly everyday, someone is asking me what I think about Crossfit. Well, here it is! Haven't heard of Crossfit? Check out

Truth is, I really like their training philosophy. They continually mix it up to include both muscle strength and endurance as well as anaerobic and aerobic cardiovascular conditioning (distance and sprints). They foster a intense, competitive environment that really challenges and drives guys like me. In fact, Crossfit workouts are often quite similar to workouts we do here at the Edge, and I occasionally even steal ideas from them.

That being said, I don't believe Crossfit is for everyone. Because of the workout intensity, exercise selection, speed of workouts, etc. there is a high potential for injury with beginners doing Crossfit. And I'm not just trying to make them look bad because they're the competition. In fact, my massage business has profited greatly from Crossfit! The only people I work on more than Crossfitters, are runners (more on why running is bad for you another day)!

Exercises like the Push Press and Clean and Jerk that require great technique, shoulder mobility, and practice are staples in the Crossfit workouts. Sure they are great exercises, but they have a big learning curve, and honestly, inexperienced lifters shouldn't be doing them without very careful individual coaching. Adequate shoulder mobility is also a crucial requirement of these lifts. Mobility that in my experience, very few people over the age of 20 have (especially those who sit at a desk all day). They should have it of course, but for more reasons than I have time to go into here, they don't. Take a person with less than ideal shoulder mobility and throw him into a group class doing these exercises, and he will soon be coming to see me with shoulder impingement syndrome. Box jumps, another staple in Crossfit workouts, are also great exercises, but require a lot of coaching to keep healthy knees (this is especially a problem among women, who because of their wider pelvis are more susceptible to knee pain).

So, in short, Crossfit is great for experienced, healthy, mobile athletes with unspecific or general goals.

Wait, what? Unspecific or general goals? What do you mean? And thus arises the 2nd, okay, and 3rd issue with Crossfit. I wanted to separate them, but they are tied too closely together. Issue 3 (I know this is backwards, but it lays the groundwork for Issue 2) - The vast majority of Crossfit followers I've met, and tens of thousands of those I haven't met, all feel that Crossfit is THE BEST TRAINING SYSTEM EVER! It is the best way, it is the only way, and they scoff at any other possibility. Interestingly, it is often these people who are quick to ask me, "What do you think about Crossfit?", almost like they are trying to trick me into a debate about why their workout is better than anything I could possibly be doing. They think they're sneaky, but I've gotten to the point when someone asks me that, I immediately think, "Oh, you're one of those." Again, I think Crossfit is great for some people, but I find the Crossfit attitude very annoying.

Now back to Issue 2. Not only is Crossfit the best training system ever, it is the best for everyone! You're an elite runner - do Crossfit. You are a fighter - do Crossfit. You play football - do Crossfit. You want to lose weight - do Crossfit. Is it just me, or does it seem to you like maybe those different scenarios would want to train at least a little differently based on their goals? Why would someone who runs mile after mile train the same way a defensive lineman does who rarely moves more than a few yards from where he begins for an entire football game? Hmm, confuses me too.

To further illustrate this point, here is an excerpt from one of my favorite books, Never Let Go, by world renowned strength competitor and coach Dan John:

"In Tyler Hass's famous interview with Crossfit founder, Greg Glassman, I saw another interesting promise:

'If you come to us with a 4-min mile, six months into it you are going to be 30 seconds slower, but a whole hell of a lot fitter. Similarly, if you come to us with a 900-lb squat, in six months it's going to be 750 lbs, but you, too, will be much fitter. A 4-min mile and 900-lb squat are both clear and compelling evidence of a lack of balance in your program. This doesn't reflect the limitations of our program, but the inherent nature of flesh and blood. But here's the fascinating part. We can take you from a 200-lb max deadlift to a 500-750 lb deadlift in two years while only pulling max singles four or five times a year.'

The same issue emerges here: A 4-min mile is a world class time that would/should/could provide this athlete with a salary, or at least a free education. A 4:30-mile isn't unusual in a high school state meet. Certainly there are lots of examples of students running these times well before their junior year. Here's the rub: We're recommending a program that literally takes one from world class to solid high school performer?

The point about the 750-lb max deadlift can only be demonstrated by the platform, but I've been around the game a long time and a 750-deadlifter is a rarity with any program, anywhere. In my only powerlifting contest, I was the last successful deadlifter of the night (3am, deadlifting 628; hard on the nerves, by the way) and any program that can get me to 750 with minimal deadlifting is worth a serious study."

If your main goal is speed, you should train for speed. If your main goal is endurance, train for endurance, if your main goal is strength, train for strength. If your goal is just to be in great shape - Crossfit might be what you're looking for (or boot camp at the Edge might be! - had to throw in that shameless plug).

In a recent visit to Crossfit Ogden, the trainer there was shocked when I easily flipped their 730 lb tire 7-8 times. "You're only the 3rd person including me to ever flip that tire. And your form looks really good too!" I laughed and replied that I'd had a lot of practice. I also immediately thought of half a dozen of our tough guys who could easily flip it on their first try. Our goal is strength, so that's what we train for. Sure they could probably run faster than us (well with the exception of Sam Wendt and Mace Warren) strong guys, but that doesn't bother me. I'm not training to run. I'm training for strength. To be fair, I also know some Crossfit instructors like Lyndsey Hassel and Adrian Conway who are much stronger than me (I also know they were stronger than me before becoming involved with Crossfit, but that's irrelevant, point is they're still strong). I have since inherited the 730 lb tire from Crossfit Ogden and am putting it to good use. :)

Issue number 4, then I'll put it to rest. I despise the Crossfit pull-up. Also another great injury potential, the kipping pull-up takes an otherwise amazing strength exercise and allows anyone to pad their score and brag about how many pull-ups they can do. Different people of course have different methods, and not all kipping pull-ups I've seen are as bad as some, but honestly many Crossfitters I've watched resemble in the words of my dear friend Jeff, spastic orangutans. See demonstration here:

Notice the narrator proudly admits he's taking what is supposed to be a vertical pulling strength movement and building momentum in the horizontal plain to cheat. Wait, why is this good? I'm not sure either. He goes on to discuss that it is great for training the snatch and other movements, which by the way is completely opposite of the kipping pull-up (in the snatch you are explosively pulling a barbell above your head, in the kipping pull-up you are explosively pulling your body in the opposite direction above the bar). I do see where this might violently force much needed shoulder mobility upon some people (my number is 409-1370 and I'm happy to schedule you some rehabilitative massage), but other than that I don't really see the point.

I love how Dan John explains the pull-up, "Start with absolutely straight arms and pull until your chin can rest on the top of the bar. Be as strict as possible. Why? Because no one gives a *** how many pull-ups you can do. There's no professional league, no Olympic gold medal nor any celebrity endorsements. It's a measurement. Don't cheat and turn this into some kind of dance mover; just use your arms and back." Shortly after the orangutan comment, we vowed never to do anything but the strictest dead-hang pull-ups, with a complete stop at bottom to kill all momentum, at Competitive Edge.

In closing, I really don't hate Crossfit. I may have come across that way, but I do believe it is another valuable training tool. It is not however the ONLY one, and isn't the best thing for everyone. There are many healthy individuals who benefit greatly from Crossfit, and it has made their workouts tougher and perhaps more enjoyable than anything else they've done. I'm happy for them and think they should embrace it. We don't even shun Crossfit instructors. Lyndsey and Arian are great guys. Chris Fritz, who has logged many an hour at Competitive Edge is Crossfit certified - and shares many of the same feelings about it as I do. We even have another guy who's getting Crossfit certified in a month or two and is wondering about working with us (or at least he was before I wrote this article...).

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