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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