Monday, June 17, 2013

Why CrossFit Doesn't Make Sense (For Triathletes)

For some reason, ever since I published my Kansas 70.3 race report, I've been incessantly messaged via Twitter by some trainer to try CrossFit and let him know what I think about it. Several years, as the CrossFit revolution came to the media forefront, I considered joining an affiliate, or "box."

Let me explain a little for those of you that don't know. CrossFit was originally developed in the 80s, though the term wasn't coined until later, by a fellow named Greg Glassman. The goal is simple: be competent in all ten areas of fitness. CrossFit identifies these as: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy (1). As the philosophy goes, what good does being able to dead lift 300 pounds, but be unable to run up the stairs? The workouts are a mash-up of different exercises that vary from Olympic style weight lifting to running to isometric exercises. Every "box" (gym in CrossFit lingo) has similar equipment: barbells, weights, pull up bars, medicine balls, weighted vests for running, etc.

CrossFit athletes like to argue with those who disparage their methods of training with several different examples. The one I've encountered most while talking to people who have done it and joined the "cult" (their term, not mine) is that every workout is scalable to individual needs. If you can't do the "WOD" (workout of the day, which is published by CrossFit HQ every day) to the level that the guy bench pressing 200lbs can, then bench less. If you can't run a mile, do your best, no one is judging. This mentality has attracted a large following, walk into a box and you can encounter a former bodybuilder next to a sixty year old woman. The completeness has attracted military personnel, police officers, etc. In fact, one of the most famous workouts, known as "Murph," was named after the favorite workout of Navy officer Michael Murphy, who was KIA in Afghanistan. Other workouts are named after women, similar to the way the NOAA names hurricanes.

I first encountered CrossFit while channel surfing with a friend. The CrossFit games, a national competition that crowns the "fittest man and woman on earth," was being shown on ESPN. It was fascinating. I thought about trying it, until I looked into it some more. While CrossFit seems like a great way to get in generally good shape, it isn't tailored to the specialist. CrossFit builds a complete athlete. While they may not be the strongest, fastest, most coordinated, they would supposedly get by in any of the areas mentioned.

Specificity is something that is abhorred by the CrossFit community. While it may build a complete athlete, it has very little application to triathlon. In fact, perhaps the best way to go about doing both, from a beginner perspective, would be to start with CrossFit to get in generally good shape and then join the triathlon community and begin specific training. That's where the real value of CrossFit comes in.

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