What is “CrossFit”? Back in the early days it was wrapped concisely up in two foundational articles Foundations, and What is Fitness. These two articles describe a comprehensive and effective strength, and conditioning program. But times have changed and “CrossFit” has grown beyond just a incredibly effective fitness program. The word CrossFit now extends beyond many things: a brand, definitely a sport, a career, perhaps a lifestyle, and a rapidly and almost exponentially expanding market of independent fitness instructors, and facilities*.
Two weeks ago one of our CFA family members was seriously injured at a CrossFit in McAllen, TX. Days after I received another email from a CFAer recapping a unpleasant visit to a different CrossFit in the midwest while on the road. While we don’t hear them often, over the last 3 years there have been stories of folks being bullied, and mistreated at various gyms around the country. This has made us take notice, so my aim of today’s article is to arm you with knowledge in terms of things to avoid when visiting other gyms. Additionally we’ll use this article as a bit of a behind the scene look into what we do to avoid said problems here in South Austin.
1. Excessive “volume” in workouts
Volume simply put is the total amount of repetitions completed in a set, round, or workout.** When done correctly high volume workouts are especially beneficial for building strength endurance and aerobic work capacity. The best way to accomplish these benefits safely is to gradually build volume weekly over a 4-8 week period. Jumping straight into a ton of volume after a long layoff or with out a good ramp up period is a recipe for disaster. While appropriate volume varies from person to person, workouts north of 75 reps per exercise or isolated muscle group*** tend to fall in the category of doing more harm than good. Take home message here is to progress into higher volume workouts over a period time like we do with the CFA programming. If you find yourself in a situation where you know the volume is inappropriate for you, opt out or scale down accordingly.
2. Movements that tax the muscle over the energy systems
This is another common mistake that goes hand in hand with rule one. Simply put different movements have different effects on the body. Some movements tax our energy system holistically when repeated (think running and rowing) while other simply isolated muscle groups (thinks dead hang pull-ups, and back squats). In the context of a CrossFit “Metcon” the goal is always to tax and therefore improve an energy system either aerobically or anaerobically. Using movements that cause you to repeatedly hit muscle failure in this context do nothing but cause muscle damage and fatigue. That will at best impede progress and at worse end an injury. Be particularly weary movements with and pronounced lowering or “eccentric” phase****.
3. Know yourself and know your numbers
While we give you guys a variety of ways to appropriately load your workouts, some trainers and gyms live by the “Rx or nothing” philosophy. This philosophy is incredibly stupid, and should be avoided at all costs. The best ways to combat this is to know yourself and your numbers so you can adjust a workout with an “Rx” weight accordingly. If you’re not sure how to convert your 1 RMs into appropriate weights here is a good chart that will help. Don’t let your ego get you in trouble, and more importantly don’t let some idiot bully you into something you know isn’t appropriate.
4. Avoid high risk movements
If you’ve followed my first 3 rules, 99% of the time everything should be fine. However one movement stands above the rest as a particularly risky in CrossFit workouts: GHD sit-ups. We have one GHD machine in our gym and we use it primarily in strength and individualized programs. The GHD sit-up has the highest potential of Rhabdo***** in CrossFit workouts, and does little to make you better conditioned. GHD sit-ups while useful in a controlled enviroment, are not a good movement use for “Metcons” or conditioning/energy system focused training. Take home message: Don’t do GHD situps in the “WOD”.
Alas we at CrossFit Austin Strength and Conditioning put effort, intelligence, common sense, and allot of hard work in designing and delivering programs to our clients. In short we offer a comprehensive and effective strength and conditioning program the way it should be everywhere. While your experience with us may not be indicative of what you receive at every CrossFit facility, the majority of CrossFit gyms and coaches do the right thing. So in an effort to end on a positive note I will include some of the best gyms that I’ve visited nationwide in the comments. I’d appreciate anyone who has a good gym that they visit on the road to do the same. Safe travels to everyone this week, and happy Turkey Day! One final tip when training on the road or at home don’t be “that guy” (see below)
*Estimates say that 5 new independent CrossFit affiliated and branded gyms start every day. To put that into perspective in the heyday of Starbucks growth they were adding an average of 6 stores a day.
**Total volume can also be calculated over training weeks, months, and years to analyze training effects
***Muscle groups defined as an area of the body and its plane of movement: upper body pulling (chin-up, curls) upper body pushing (push-ups, presses), lower body Squatting (squatting), lower body hip Bending (Deadlifts) etc.
****Negative Pull-ups are a big culprit on this front. While effective in a strength building context of low reps with lots of rest, they should never be used in a “Metcon” or conditioning workout.
*****Rhabdomyolysis is a dangerous condition that can be induced via intense workouts. What it is and how to avoid it is covered extensively in the CrossFit certification, and the CrossFit Journal.