Crossfit: fitness management, scaling, exercise agnostic, etc.

CrossFit is, at it’s essence, simple: vary the exercises so you use every possible muscle in every practical way imaginable, and make the workout short and intense.  As far as  I know, there is no core set of CrossFit exercises.  There are what are called “named WODs”, and these are put in practice to form a common language of measurement.  At CFES we don’t often do the named WODs.  The reason being that CrossFit avoids repetition.

The other day our WOD was 15 minutes of max reps with a partner: 400m row, 10 pullups and as many box jumps as possible after the pullups.  Between the two of us we did 100 box jumps (I used a 20 inch tire.)  I did not regard the workout as particularly dangerous.   The vast majority of the CF workouts I do are like that.

Today I did some Olympic weight training.  I used a 33# bar, which briefly went up to 55#.  I did some snatches, some back squats, some presses.  We also did quite a bit of stretching and warming up.

In every CrossFit workout I’ve done I am the person who selects the weight or box height or whatever, and regulates the intensity.  In CrossFit, we call this “scaling.”  The idea is to scale the weight down (or up) so that the workout is intense enough to be of benefit.  In practice you will see vastly different weight levels used, but if you look closely you will see that everybody gets about the same level of intensity.

This single concept of scaling is key to CrossFit, and yet when I look at blogs saying CrossFit is dangerous, they completely ignore scaling.  So Anthony Johnson and Drew Baye for example (“CrossFit™ : A 100% Chance of Injury?” and “CrossFit” respectively) never mention (when discussing CrossFit) that the key to CrossFit is selecting the appropriate level of weight (or box, or kettlebell, or jump-rope, etc.)  And that is assuming that weights are used, which in my experience is not that often (I’m referring to Olympic weight lifting exercises.)

Interesting enough, Baye is a high intensity training (HIT) instructor.  CrossFit is all about high intensity, but Baye’s argument is apparently with the way the Oly lifts are performed in CF (e.g., at “high speed”, which is a question of scaling.)  He also says (rather ironically) that no one needs to do Olympic lifting at all, because most people “don’t need explosive power.”  I think that’s a very subjective statement — who says “most people” don’t need explosive power? I hold the opinion most people would benefit hugely from having explosive power.  For me, that’s part of fitness.  When you look at Baye’s core exercises, they include Olympic lifting. [Note: please see the comments section for some corrections to the above points — 6/23/12 SC]

Neither Baye or Johnson supplied any particular objective evidence to support their assertions.  Johnson’s premise is that CrossFit is too risky, and is therefore irrational. Well, I scale every WOD and keep myself from getting hurt.  Baye (apparently) simply doesn’t like the idea that the exercises are so random, and the Olympic lifting is done (occasionally) in a timed situation.  But nobody said anything like “to be a member of our exclusive circle you have to move X object in Y timeframe.”  In fact what they say is lower the weight until you can do the routine safely and effectively.

What people are encouraged to do is get to their peak level of fitness, and get beyond where they are today.

The other big thing that I think needs to be said again is this: CrossFit is exercise agnostic.  If it turns out Baye, Johnson, et al are correct about the particulars of any given exercise being unsafe, or a better choice, then CrossFit will adapt.  CrossFit is about managing fitness, and therefore is open to any method.


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4 Responses to Crossfit: fitness management, scaling, exercise agnostic, etc.

  1. scharles says:

    I was mistaken when I said Drew Baye claimed people “don’t need explosive power.” I misquoted him. What he did say is:

    “There is no good reason for the vast majority of people to ever perform an exercise explosively … Olympic lifts and other explosive lifts provide no general strength or performance benefits that can not be obtained more safely by other means. There is simply no good reason for the vast majority of people to do them.” (on Anthony Johnson’s blog comments section.)

    Baye has made it clear that “The belief that one must lift weights quickly or explosively to be faster or more explosive when performing other movements is false.”

    On that point I stand corrected.

    Also I need to correct my assertion that Baye uses Olympic Weightlifting in his HIT training program. Baye recommends squats, presses, bench press, deadlifts, etc. but definitely does not recommend the snatch, clean and jerk or power cleans or snatch pulls. Therefore he does not recommend Olympic Weightlifting.

    My apologies for any confusion.

  2. scharles says:

    Here’s a quote from “Understanding CrossFit” by Greg Glassman:

    “The methodology that drives CrossFit is entirely empirical. We believe that meaningful statements about safety, efficacy, and efficiency, the three most important and interdependent facets of any fitness program, can be supported only by measurable, observable, repeatable facts, i.e., data. We call this approach “evidence-based fitness.” The CrossFit methodology depends on full disclosure of methods, results, and criticisms, and we’ve employed the Internet (and various intranets) to support these values. Our charter is open source, making co-developers out of participating coaches, athletes, and trainers through a spontaneous and collaborative online community. CrossFit is empirically driven, clinically tested, and community developed.”

    This implies that CF is always in a open-ended, adopt and adapt mode. If there are safer ways to lift weights, or better ways to get fit, so be it. Let’s see them!

    CrossFit Journal, Issue 56 April 2007

  3. scharles says:

    Rob: thanks for the heads up. I had never heard anybody mention that before. Not to split hairs too much, but I said “exercises” and you said “movements.” I suppose if we take the 9 fundamentals at face value, CrossFit would appear to be all about lifting weights (as in Olympic style weight lifting). But it has never felt that way to me.

    It seems to me that those particular exercises were selected because that’s how the human body was meant to function. So CrossFit form followed function. Put another way, those movements can be done without weights, or with medicine balls, kettlebells, slam balls, stones, ring rows, pushups, hip/back extensions, etc.

    What I find interesting about CrossFit is that it’s so open to anything. I’ve never felt there was an exercise orthodoxy in place (aside from enforcing strict form.)


  4. Big Rob says:

    Scott, there are actually 9 fundamental movements to CrossFit. They are: Air Squat, Back Squat, Front Squat, Overhead Squat, Strict Press, Push Press, Push Jerk, Deadlift, and the Clean. It is usually said that if you can perform these 9 movements than you can handle most of what CrossFit can throw at you.

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