You can ask this question of anyone and you’ll get a completely different answer. Obviously those that have not done CrossFit won’t fully understand it, but even those of us that do it regularly have a hard time describing it.
CrossFit is constantly varied, functional movements performed at a high intensity.
While it may be concise it also isn’t very informative nor all that exciting.
The CrossFit Experiment
I like to think of CrossFit as an ongoing worldwide experiment in how to create the fittest human beings who have ever lived. With each person and each workout we gather more data on whether the CrossFit prescription works. Ten plus years later, and hundreds of thousands of participants the data shows that CrossFit works. But what I think is the coolest is that if the data showed it didn’t work then we would change our methods to do what works best. CrossFit is based around getting observable, measurable, and repeatable data. There is no guessing here. It’s backed up with science!
That’s helpful to understand but it still doesn’t help define what CrossFit is. If you read the previous post about “What is Fitness” we’ll look at how CrossFit meets the standards set forth in the 3 models used to define fitness.
- The Ten General Physical Skills of Fitness
- The Hopper Model
- The Three Energy Pathways
Variation, Movements, and Intensity
Referring back to our concise definition, it really is all in there but I’ll expand on it a bit.
If we’re needing to get proficient at the ten general physical skills then we can’t specialize or spend too much time on any single skill. Working through all of them in as many different combinations will help us get better at a consitent rate. CrossFit varies the movements we do on a daily basis. We almost never do the same workout twice unless we’re wanting to compare ourselves to an earlier effort to see if we’ve improved.
Functional movements are movements that are found in everyday life. Picking something up off the ground, putting something over your head, running, jumping, and climbing. These functional movements recruit much of the body's muscles and not a localized muscle group like the biceps. While not everything we do in the gym mimics your day to day activities, they will increase your ability to move well in whatever you do with your time. You’ll be able to participate in activities and sports that you weren’t able to do before. These functional movements will keep you healthy and mobile for years and help keep you out of a nursing home.
Functional movements also seem to prepare us to learn new movements better. Something you didn’t expect come out of the hopper? No worries. You’ll be able to learn it quickly.
This is the hardest part to explain in words. The level of intensity we strive for is surprising for most people. That’s why we can do a 5 min workout and be totally spent for a few hours. The intensity is where the high levels of fitness come from.
This is where the data collected from doing CrossFit is very interesting. Training in short intense workouts improves fitness in longer time frames as well, but the opposite is not true. If you spend more time in longer endurance efforts your ability to move explosively decreases. This is why we spend most of our time in short intense workouts, lift heavy once a week and go long every once in a while. This covers all the metabolic pathways and delivers elite levels of fitness.
I like to experiment with my fitness. Maybe I’ll come across something new and effective I can share, but with every experiment I do I don’t end up more fit than I do with classic CrossFit. I might get stronger, or I might get leaner but my overall level of fitness goes down.
World Class Fitness
CrossFit delivers world class fitness if you follow the prescription. CrossFit founder Greg Glassman put it like this.
Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, clean and jerk, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.
If you notice there is more that just exercise mentioned in that quote. The first two sentences are about nutrition. Nutrition is the foundation of all great fitness, and the subject of my third and final post in this series.
Now go live better.