I Don’t Hate Crossfit But I Do Love Science: Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All In Fitness

   by Sean Etsitty, BA, CPT

I don’t hate crossfit. In fact, from 18-20 years old I used to compete in crossfit. I loved the intensity. I loved the sense of community. I felt comfortable being vulnerable in the gym for the first time in my life, and that allowed me to try, fail, try, fail, try, and finally succeed. Crossfit taught me that success wasn’t always linear; it taught me hard work could pay off and skill development could happen with commitment to learning. It made me better at jumping rope, deadlifting under pressure, box jumping until I wanted to puke, and celebrating my near-death experience for the low cost of $130 a month. 

As I grew older and attended more exercise science classes I learned why crossfit helped me become a better athlete. There is a principle called daily undulating periodization that states changing workout variables consistently will result in a better stimulus response1. A lot can be said about crossfit, but lacking variation is definitely not a critique. And if you are practicing variations of presses and pulls every day, you WILL get better at pressing and pulling.

But what happens when you are chronically practicing extremely difficult variations of presses and pulls under a time limit? What happens when your training program is put together by crossfit athletes who just want a workout that kicks their ass? You stop practicing science, and you start wishful thinking. Imagine turning your oven up to 500 degrees, throwing in flour, some expensive vegan protein, dried fruit, knee-high socks, and expecting a perfect pie in 20 minutes or less. That isn’t possible. 

Though I love high intensity training, there is no scientific or logical explanation for taking a whole group of untrained people through overly difficult workouts named after fallen war heroes. Unless your goal is to belong to the crossfit community, why are you going through these workouts? A systematic review showed post-exercise symptoms like excessive fatigue, (42 versus 8); excessive muscle soreness, (96 versus 48); excessive muscle swelling (19

versus 4); excessive shortness of breath (13 versus 1); muscle painful to touch, (31 versus 4); and limited muscle movement during workouts, (37 versus 9) were more common among people following crossfit exercise guidelines when compared to people following American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines2.

So what is the takeaway? The takeaway is any exercise is better than no exercise. But if you have clear and defined goals, it is important to understand generalized and randomized workout plans are not the fastest way to reach the best you. In fact, random workouts can set you miles apart from where you want to be when adequate rest and recovery are ignored. Post-exercise symptoms like excessive fatigue, excessive muscle soreness, excessive muscle swelling, excessive shortness of breath, muscle painful to touch, and limited muscle movement during workouts are definite red flags for inadequate rest and recovery from the training stimulus. 

You are important. Your goals are important. In order to be the best you, your workout program should be written for who you are, where you are, and where you want to be. 

Sources

Meyer, J., Morrison, J., & Zuniga, J. (2017). The Benefits and Risks of CrossFit: A Systematic Review. Workplace health & safety65(12), 612–618. https://doi.org/10.1177/2165079916685568

Nuckols, Greg. “Daily Undulating Periodization: The Bogeyman of Training Programs • Stronger by Science.” Stronger by Science, Stronger by Science, 27 Feb. 2020, www.strongerbyscience.com/daily-undulating-periodization/.

About the Author

Sean Etsitty is Co-Founder of the Healthy People Project LLC, and a multi-certified fitness professional who has developed and implemented hundreds of personal training programs tailored to clientele goals. He is a graduate of the Exercise Science Exercise-specialist program at Fort Lewis College and is certified by the National Council of Strength and Fitness as a personal trainer. Sean specializes in kettlebell training and strength training for young athletes, in addition to being certified by the American Association of Diabetes Educators as a Level I Career Path Paraprofessional.

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