Jan 29, 2015
Crossfit a Bad Fit?

By Tim Koba

Recently, I have noticed an alarming trend in the training and fitness industry: instant gratification workout programs designed to beat up participants and leave them worn out. As an Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach, I am concerned.

Lately I cannot tell you how many sports programs are turning to the likes CrossFit, Insanity, or P90X to train their athletes. This type of workout plan is not effective in the development and training of our athletes. Don’t get me wrong, I like the feeling of a hard workout, and the recovery afterwards, but these programs lack the organization vital to continued improvement and success.

These workouts are designed with a focus on today’s workout, while development should be more about today as a stepping stone to tomorrow. When we recover from today’s workout, we improve tomorrow. Continued success happens with recovery and adaptation. Without that, the body never fully recovers and eventually starts to break down.

The goal of any well-designed strength and conditioning program is to decrease injury and develop specific attributes to improve performance. In order to achieve those goals, the program needs to take each sport with their specific movements, planes of motion, muscle recruitment, etc., into consideration. After that it has to identify and correct individual weak links that could be a precursor to injury later in the season as well as common injuries in that sport. Proper programming is then composed into phases to allow the body to adapt to the exercises, learn the routines and the system, and allow progressive overload and continued adaptation to the program. They also utilize planned rest and recovery periods to limit overtraining.

CrossFit and Insanity workouts do not meet the above criteria. They also do not take individual sports and movements into account. This can mean that it will potentially help some sports and hinder others. They do not look at the individual and correct weaknesses–everyone has the same workout regardless. They do not have progressive overload built in, or work toward a specific goal.

The goal of Insanity is to lose weight and have a lean, muscular look while the goal of CrossFit is to get better at CrossFit. If your goals are to look lean or compete at the CrossFit games then these programs may work for you. If, however, your goal is to become a stronger, faster, more agile athlete for your sport then you need a different plan.

Athletes need to have a combination of strength, power, speed, agility, balance and recovery. Only a specific program can improve those areas. Athletes need to be in the weight room building strength through compound exercises such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, horizontal pushes and pulls, and vertical pushes and pulls. They can develop power through medicine ball throws, jumping, and Olympic lifts (depending on sport, age, and proficiency of movements). On the court or field they can work on their reaction, acceleration, deceleration, top speed, balance, and quick changes of direction.

Turning to CrossFit type workouts as the basis of your strength and conditioning work will leave your athletes woefully unprepared for the season. Your athletes may think they are working hard and getting “in shape” for their sport, but the truth of the matter is that they will lack the specific work that is vital to their success on the field or on the court.

However, what is beneficial to your program (depending on your goals) is the metabolic conditioning or circuit training aspect. As an adjunct to your strength and speed work this can help with mental toughness, team building, competitiveness, anaerobic capacity, and recovery. For most sports, it is important to go “all out” and then recover in a short period of time before going again.

Instead of choosing a one-size-fits-all program, think of what would be a better fit for the sport and the team goals. There will be more upfront time, but the rewards when the season rolls around will be more than worth it.

Tim Koba, ATC, CSCS, PES, LMT, is Manager for Athletic Performance and Athletic Training Services at Cayuga Medical Center at Island Health and Fitness in Ithaca, N.Y.



– Johnny Jones, BA, CSCS

— Perfectly stated! Perhaps if we had all the physical therapy and sports medicine professionals report on the huge influx of new clients as a result of these programs we might open some eyes and expand a different mindset.

– Ken Danz

— Great little article and I couldn’t agree more.. I sent this out to my entire staff to read. – Anthony Glass, MS.Ed., MSCC., C.S.C.S., H.F.I., USAW Director of Strength and Conditioning/Olympic Sports, Ohio State Athletics

— Great article. I am a high school basketball coach and the first thing you should realize is training kids needs to be sport specific. When kids ask me or talk to me about these programs, I tell them it isn’t for them if they want to improve in sports. Thank you for finally getting it in writing.

Jim Montijo

— I’m not sure I’m in complete agreement with all of the comments in the article or from reader responses here. CrossFit, P90x and Insanity all have something to offer any athlete–as stated in the final paragraph, the circuit style workout and timed recovery sets are an integral component of any sport conditioning program design. Muscle endurance and cardiovascular fitness are vital for any sport. Granted, the intensity, frequency and volume of some of these “extreme” programs are probably too much for any young athlete ( and maybe even some college athletes), however with some modifications in sets/reps/duration/recovery times, they provide a great stimulus and can serve as a “cross training” or “rainy day” workout to break from normal training routines. As for prescribing “sport specific training” for young athletes, I totally disagree. Young athletes need balance in their lives–they need to be encouraged to multi-sport , cross train, and to build fundamental sport and training skills on and off the court/field. A solid foundation of weight training that includes Olympic and free weight exercises, core, speed, agility and endurance training–all of which are included in CrossFit and to some extent the other extreme programs–will provide a nice balance for any young athlete. I usually include some “sport specific” component for my year round athletes in training, however it’s usually a prehabilitative exercise that addresses some sport specific injury due to poor posture, stability or muscle recruitment. When it comes to training young athletes, the top considerations should always be moderation and variety. The extreme workouts offer great variety of athletic movements that can be modified to more moderate levels (in exercise selection, sets, reps, duration, rest intervals) which will serve any age group well.

– Tony Calvello Facilities and Transportation Director Wellness Action Committee: Physical Fitness and Nutrition Coordinator Head Strength and Conditioning Coach St. Ignatius College Prep https://www.siprep.org/athletics/healthy/

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