As I mentioned last Thursday, I attended a CrossFit certification this past weekend. I’m going to post some thoughts and notes here soon, but first I wanted to touch on a conversation that I had with a trainer (not one of the trainers running the certification) that I think is symbolic of a problem within the ranks of trainers of all types. Note that I’m using CrossFit as an example because that is what I’m most intimately involved with, but the problem is not CrossFit-specific.
So the conversation started while talking with a Level 2 certified CrossFit trainer (I’m only a Level 1). I mentioned that I am training for the Bluegrass State Games in July (100m, 200m, and 400m sprints specifically) and she made a comment that I “need to do lots of CrossFit to prepare.” I informed her that with only 2.5 months until the track meet, my time was better spend using more sport-specific training, namely sprinting with some explosive lifting and plyometrics thrown in, just as the top sprint coaches use. But she was insistent that CrossFit would take care of it for me. She also suggested that I do Tabata sprints for my training. For the uninitiated, “Tabata” is a protocol of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times. Tabata sprints do have one particular place where they could be useful in my training, which I’ll touch on in a few paragraphs.
Now, I think CrossFit is awesome. I’m far more athletic since picking up CrossFit five or six years ago than I ever was pre-CrossFit. But CrossFit is “General Physical Preparedness” (GPP) and it is only GPP. When training for ANY event that is not strictly CrossFit, one must incorporate sport specific training, or “Specialized Physical Preparation” (SPP). That’s obvious when looking at sports like basketball, football, baseball, and soccer, but what about a sport like sprinting, marathon running, powerlifting, or rowing? Could the power, strength, and endurance gains from CrossFit be enough for those sports?
Will there ever be a world champion powerlifter that ONLY follows CrossFit workouts? What about an Olympic-level sprinter? Or an elite level Olympic lifter? I submit that the answer to all of those questions is an emphatic “no!” And I doubt that many of the top trainers at CrossFit affiliates would disagree with me. However, judging from my conversation this weekend and discussions I’ve seen on the message board, there seems to be an inordinate number of trainers at the lower levels, for instance the Level 1 certification that I attended, that have this shiny new hammer (CrossFit) and think every problem is a nail.
Participating in a sport is all about motor recruitment patterns and training the central nervous system to fire properly, along with having the proper conditioning. If I train with a CrossFit workout such as Helen (3 rounds of Run 400m, 21 1.5 pood kettlebell swings, 12 pullups), yes, I am doing 400m runs. But the other two events are taxing me so much that my intensity on the runs is pathetic. I am training myself to not run explosively, the extreme fatigue resulting in faltering form. Training the CNS, is a double-edged sword. You can train yourself to be a great Olympic lifter by nailing every single lift as perfectly as possible. You can also train yourself to be a poor Olympic lifter by not giving too much thought to form and just throwing the weight up there. So if my sprints become something less than sprints, what am I training? Even the days when the training is at a pace slower than full out top speed or acceleration (like tempo days), the focus is on form and maintaining a set pace. When either is lost, the workout is over. I don’t continue plowing through a shoddy workout just because.
What am I getting at? A GPP program has a definite place in the programming of any athlete, be that CrossFit or some other GPP program. But, when you are training for a specific sport, you must train sport specifically. In the three months leading up to this track meet, I need to be training the elements of sprinting: speed, speed-endurance, tempo, acceleration, with some explosive plyometrics and lifting (power cleans, dynamic effort lifting, max effort lifting) thrown in for good measure. I don’t need to be doing something completely unrelated, such as Helen, or worse, Fran (thrusters and pullups), which has no applicability to a 100m-400m sprint. I need to have days where I am working on accelerating quickly to top speed and maintaining that speed (speed and speed-endurance) and days where I focus on maintaining an 80% max speed over time, doing repeats (tempo days) to increase the ability of the body to tolerate lactic acid and exertion by-products. Sure, a set of Tabata sprints (8 rounds of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off) is venturing into the speed-endurance realm, but that’s only one very specific application, and then again, Tabata is not a CrossFit developed modality, but merely a tool in a vast repertoire, so even if I’m incorporating Tabata sprints, I’m still not doing CrossFit.
As I said, this doesn’t apply solely to CrossFit trainers, so don’t think that I’m picking on that program specifically. I love CrossFit. It is the best GPP workout that I have found. There may be a better one out there or there may be a better one developed one day. But as it sits, today’s CrossFit is the best program I’ve seen for all-around athletic preparation. CrossFit constantly evolves, incorporating new ideas as new information becomes available. That’s just good science. Anywho, I’m digressing.
Trainers from all types of GPP programs seem to venture outside of the realm that their program exists in and want people to train their sports, especially “non-skill” sports like track, marathoning, powerlifting, and Olympic lifting through a program designed for GPP. (Track athletes, marathoners, powerlifting, and Olympic lifters don’t be offended by my use of “non-skill”. Obviously there is huge skill involved in lifts as complex as the Olympic lifts. I just mean that it’s not learning to throw a football or shoot a free throw.) Understanding what one’s program is and what it isn’t is essential to being a top trainer. I’ll lend much more credence to a trainer that tells me s/he can’t meet my needs for my sport with their specific program and, even better, either tells me a good source or spends some time trying to help me figure it out.
Also note that understanding where your program falls in the realm of GPP vs SPP also opens up an opportunity: leveraging your program in a way that allows a sprinter or a basketball player or a football player to continue using it during the transition to full-on sport practice. CrossFit has done just this with workouts like Fight Gone Bad (to simulate 3-5 rounds of a UFC fight) or Quarter Gone Bad (to simulate a football quarter). Neither of those are going to produce a better fighter or better football player, but they are bridging the gap between GPP and SPP by building a better athlete, an athlete used to the time-efforts of the particular sport.
I suppose that the big key for a trainer is to understand that GPP programs don’t build better sports players. GPP programs build better athletes, or at least properly implemented ones do. Becoming a better athlete allows better use of sport-specific training to become a better sports player.
So, thoughts? Can anyone tell me a sport that can be prepared for specifically using a program like CrossFit? Trainers, what have been your experiences and how do you help your athletes be better at their sports versus just being better athletes?