Why the Sports Athlete Shouldn’t Do Crossfit

  1. Disclaimer: This post may ruffle some feathers, especially those who follow the cul….I mean do CrossFit

Usually I would bash CrossFit…because it’s fun. But CrossFit has done a lot of great things. It has put barbells in people’s hands, especially women. Oh and it has made a ton of money.

No doubt CrossFit athletes like Rich Froning and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet are extremely fit. In fact, Froning was called the “Fittest Man on Earth” for four straight years.

I mean look at the guy!

While it may have helped people become fitter versions of themselves, if your goal is to become better at your sport CrossFit may not be your best bet. A more targeted fitness program may be better and more efficient for those preparing for sport.

Today my goal is to tell you why.

Lack of Specificity

Let us take a look at how CrossFit defines itself:

“CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at a hight intensity.”

“Our specialty is not specializing.”

The last quote from the CrossFit website tips you off as to why it is not an effective training style for sport athletes.

CrossFit’s variation make it great for those trying to achieve general fitness but not for those wanting to achieve sports specific performance. If your goal is to lose weight or just get in better shape, then CrossFit may work for you. But for those training to beat their opponent, CrossFit is just not specific enough for improved sports performance.

The Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID) Principle should help guide an athlete’s training program. There are specific qualities that are required within the different sports and to improve upon those qualities you must train in the same way to improve them. If you want to get stronger, you have to lift heavy weights. If you want to be faste, you must tailor your training to become more powerful.

Watch any football, basketball, or soccer game and it is apparent that the fastest, strongest, and most powerful athletes typically stand out and not necessarily the athlete that can run the farthest.

Where I believe CrossFit goes wrong is that they are attempting to train across all physical qualities within one workout. This does not allow for efficient development of all the athletic qualities.

This mixed training approach is suboptimal due to the fact that the level of stress on specific qualities declines along with adaptation and performance.

Basically, CrossFit is trying to create a jack of all trades but a master of none. Sport athletes need to be a master of the qualities needed for their sport.

Doesn’t Train All Planes of Motion

Most sports, with an exception of a select few, are played in all three planes of motion; sagittal, frontal, and transverse plane. Below are examples of exercises grouped based on the plane of motion they occur in.

  • Sagittal- back squats, forward lunges, vertical jumps, bicep curls
  • Frontal- lateral lunges, side shuffles, lateral hops
  • Transverse Plane- med ball throws, pallof press, landmine rotational press

If you review many of the staple moves in CrossFit most of them are in the sagittal plane, or primarily in an up and down motion. Wall balls, squats, and cleans are all primarily in the sagittal plane.

But as mentioned earlier, most sports are played in all three planes of human motion. Let’s take a look at the football offensive lineman. They need to be able to sprint forward and laterally push-off as well as resist and create rotational forces when locked into a block.

Most CrossFit WODs neglect a lot of the total picture of sports performance, leaving holes in an athletes game.

Group Fitness Classes Do Not Meet Individual Athletes’ Needs

Sports athletes have specific needs based on their sport and position within the sport as well as their injury history and time of the year that training is occurring. Doing a group WOD limits the possibility and ability for individual programming.

One of the biggest considerations when it comes to program design for athletes is not only the selection of but the ruling out of exercises for a specific athlete. For example, in no way would I recommend a baseball player or any other overhead athlete (volleyball, swimming, etc.) should ever do a kipping pull-up.

Different positions within a sport also require different needs. In football for example, an offensive lineman is more concerned with max strength and power while a skill position may be worried about speed.

Risk of Injury

CrossFit has had to fight the stigma of injury, whether warranted or not. I tend to agree with the latter.

The goal of a training program should be to do no harm. To create peak performance, pushing to fatigue is not always optimal. Likewise, pushing to fatigue all the time increases the risk of injury due to technique deterioration.

Most CrossFit WODs take people to the end range of their work capacity and sometimes at the sake of proper technique. Defenders of CrossFit may say that technique is emphasized but when fatigue begins to creep in, this is where form can often begin to waver and often before a coach can correct or terminate the lift.

Defenders of CrossFit may also say, “but wait injury happens in sport!” True, but the injury shouldn’t occur in attempting to develop the physical qualities needed to compete in the sport. In fact, a proper strength and conditioning program should prepare an athlete for the stresses of practice and competition.

General Fitness for Athletes

Is there a place for general fitness for athletes? Of course! It is important to build a large base early on during the offseason to set the table for more sports specific training. It is just my belief that CrossFit is not the most effective nor safest way to build general fitness in the sports athlete.

Agree or disagree? I would love to hear your thoughts.