CrossFit: Good or Bad?

I’ve been compelled to write a blurb about this topic for quite sometime as it’s a frequently asked question, and like most questions in life my answer is – it depends. So fundamentally, one of the major tenets of CrossFit lies the concept of cross training – an exercise protocol by which one could avoid repetitive overuse injuries, classically seen in most CF gyms where they have workouts of the day (WODs). Needless to say, the communal aspect of CF is very inspiring, among many other positives. Now while there is plenty of good, my big qualm with CF is that it is often marketed to novice exercisers with an aim to lose weight and get into shape.

To the right is a photo describing a well documented and classic athletic training program referred to as linear periodization, which is designed with different phases, each having very distinct goals, and each being very vital in order to progress to the subsequent phase. In short, one must develop compositional and structural adaptations (thicker tendons, ligaments, muscle and bone) which occurs in the hypertrophy phase in order to withstand the high load and high velocity movements (Olympic lifts, their derivatives,power lifting and plyometrics) seen in the strength and power phases. Skipping any of these phases puts the exerciser not only at a neuromuscular disadvantage but in a position of great anatomical vulnerability.

It’s not uncommon where new exercisers in CF are performing high velocity, high load and high impact movements much too soon before the structural changes could ever occur. The other gripe is that, like in medicine where we always aim for the lowest effective dosage (LED), CF appears to be based on the concept of “more is better.” I will say this boldly – in exercise, the objective ideally should be not how much one could do in order to achieve the desired adaptation, but more critically, what is the least that one needs to do to get the desired effect (strength, power, weight loss, etc…). There is a point of diminishing returns (ie overtraining syndrome). As the old addage goes: “The poison is in the dosage” and this applies to exercise prescription as well. If one is a seasoned athlete, with adequate muscle size, strength, composition and weight, then YES, CF is fantastic. But if this isn’t the case, my advice is to go through a linear periodization program first before entertaining a program like CF that could ultimately lead to injury and halt the key objectives, often being strength, conditioning and weight loss.

Dr. Ivan Hernandez, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, FMS, SFMA
Executive Park Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy LLC

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