I will boldly state right now that I’m not a fan of Crossfit, and will be delighted when its novelty wears off. I’ve dedicated my life to supporting, empowering, inspiring, guiding, coaching and otherwise promoting any activity that gets people moving. This is one reason I waited to publicly write about my arguments against the principles of Crossfit. The other more specific reason is that it’s become more common to hear NPC and IFBB competitors ask if Crossfit will enhance their efforts to get into contest shape. If the latter is you, let me cut to the chase. Not only will Crossfit widen your waistline as a result of the constant heavy “functional” lifting, it will also cause cortisol spikes, which make your body hold onto belly fat for dear life.
Before I get into why Crossfit is counterproductive to developing aesthetic muscle, a word to those who have found Crossfit gets them active, and has not caused them injury. Keep it up. If it’s Crossfit you need to keep you moving and motivated to be fit, don’t stop on my account. If however, Crossfit just doesn’t feel right, or your goal is to create your best body, and give you the best chance to stay injury free, read on. You’ll find that you don’t have to become part of the latest fitness craze to reach all of your fitness goals and then some.
CrossFit’s Unnecessary Nine
We begin our class with a review of the nine fundamental exercises that CrossFit is built upon:
Deadlift High Pull
Medicine Ball Clean
Oh boy, I can only imagine how many lumbar disc herniations have occurred in weekend athletes as a result of performing most of these movements, not to mention the rotator cuff strains and tears from the stress on the shoulders. First off, it just annoys me to know CrossFit renamed the free squat or bodyweight squat to Air Squat in an effort to be catchy and original. Then again, I see no point in getting a client to perform 200 or 300 “air” squats in a row, not unless your objective is to drive your client to complete exhaustion and overtraining. Based on what I have witnessed with the design of CrossFit regimens, exhaustion and overtraining is the inevitable outcome.
CrossFit routines also incorporate other exercises such as pull-ups and pushups. What bothers me here is that these movements are performed in a high rep range, to the tune of 100 or more. Then the client may be pushed to do tire flips or one of the Olympic lifts that CrossFit has managed to make faddish, even though they were developed over 100 years ago.
One of the calling cards to CrossFit workouts is training at “super high intensity”, which taken in correct doses are fundamental to conditioning. As it is used in CrossFit programming, the benefits are far outweighed by the negatives they incur. In CrossFit context, they tax the central nervous system to an excessive degree. Crossfit fanatics may love the feeling of being pushed to the limit, but this borders on being DANGEROUS. When the body is fatigued to the extent that it is in a Crossfit routine, the risk for muscle breakdown and frank rhabdomyolysis is considerable. No physical discipline is worth the risk of landing in the hospital.
I understand that Crossfit offers a great social environment and a feeling of camaraderie, but at what price? Every single person I know who is a fan of Crossfit has been injured while doing it. The suggested Crossfit regimen of 3 days on, 1 day off is too rigorous when you consider the fact that Olympic lifts are part of the core of Crossfit training. The body simply cannot repair itself in enough time. To fatigue a Crossfit client by having him/her do a WOD (workout of the day for those of you not familiar with Crossfit) and then stack on deadlifts for reps or 5 foot high box jumps is insane.
Benefits drop dramatically when the body is completely depleted like that. The Crossfit ideology of deplete and endure is BS. In contrast, bodybuilders and physique enthusiasts, train hard and heavy, and yes, they often train to depletion or failure, but they certainly aren’t going to attempt 100 pull-ups after destroying a traditional back workout. They understand the law of diminishing returns all too well.
Proponents of Crossfit often state that the training is functional and enhances the day to day activities which people perform. When was the last time you had to do a clean and jerk while on the job? Unless you work as a firefighter, stock room clerk or some other physically demanding work role, I seriously doubt that you are performing movements which mimic what happens while in a Crossfit box. Besides, if you’re injured as a result of Crossfit (or should I say WHEN), you can’t possibly perform any challenging physical movement which strains your injured body part.
For those of you who compete in the NPC or IFBB (or INBA, WBFF, etc.), don’t expect to be able to incorporate Crossfit into your contest prep training and sculpt your physique in the manner required for bodybuilding. I actually had a client who begged me repeatedly to let her do Crossfit two days a week despite my recommendation that she abandon it and focus on traditional weight lifting. I finally acquiesced, and allowed her to incorporate Crossfit as part of her training.
As I had predicted, she sustained an injury, her waist widened from all the heavy complex movements which made her midsection boxy, and she became soft as a result of the cortisol spikes which the high intensity Crossfit training created. After 3 weeks of seeing all her efforts from pre-Crossfit training unravel, I asked her to reconsider her decision to engage in Crossfit. As soon as she stopped doing Crossfit, her waist began to nip in, and her body began to tighten up again. Amen for old school weightlifting!
If it sounds like I am saying you will have to decide between doing Crossfit and competing in any of the bodybuilding divisions, I am. You simply cannot create the nipped in waist and beautiful taper that defines every single bodybuilding division. If you do Crossfit, you will create a strong body (plus some injuries), but you will also widen your silhouette and carry a layer of fat as a result of all that cortisol you will release from constant high intensity training. Look at a typical Crossfit athlete. Shoulders are broad, quads and hams are thick, and the abdominal region is thick and boxy. That is what happens when compound Olympic lifts are performed on a regular basis. If that is your aesthetic ideal, by all means knock yourself out with Crossfit, but you will be destroyed on a bodybuilding stage. On the subject of Olympic lifts, even power lifters have the sense not to rep out on these movements. Yet Crossfitters, blinded by the so-called warrior mentality that leads them to do stupid things that invite injury, will rep out on movements which recruit a tremendous amount of muscle fibers and hence tax the central nervous system. I am willing to bet that the Crossfit nation contends with adrenal burnout, permanent muscle damage, and repetitive tendon and ligament ruptures on a relatively consistent basis, and that such negative aspects will eventually cause the demise of this fad sport.
I will always staunchly defend the focus and the principles behind bodybuilding. I know that NPC and IFBB competitors are true warriors and know how to push through grueling training. I also strongly believe that for the most part, most competitors are smart enough not to over train or invite injury by performing movements which are biomechanically unsound. The world of bodybuilding not only rewards strength, but it also recognizes the aesthetic ideal which all bodybuilders aspire to achieve, regardless of division. Bodybuilding is not about flipping a massive tire across a gym, it’s about sculpting and defining muscle.