Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Weight belt basics

I have spent time in dozens of gyms in the past year. I have seen the inside of fancy health clubs, chalk covered boxes and everything in between. And in almost every gym I have seen some degree of weight belt use. Some people use it for squats and deadlifts, some use it for heavy pressing, some seem to have it on when they leave the car and head for the gym's front door. It's something I'm asked about a lot as a coach.



So how do you decide as an athlete or a trainer when this tool is necessary and how best to implement it?

Origins

It is commonly believed that weight belt use (like many fitness trends) originated by mimicking medical or rehabilitative fields. Corsets and back braces have been used to help in the treatment of lower back pain for hundreds of years. The logic goes that if someone with back pain can alleviate symptoms with a belt then perhaps the belt can help to prevent the first onset of pain as well.

Not only have weight belts become popular in the gym settings but also in the workforce. Many lifting intensive professions (movers, factory workers etc.) have gone so far as to require their employees to use a weight belt while on the job, under the impression that it will decrease incidence of injury.

Belt Function

The proposed mechanism of the weightlifting belt is to provide additional intra-abdominal pressure in the attempt to stabilize the spine, specifically the lumbar spine. Increased pressure reduces the likelihood of flexion or other undesired movement under load, thereby decreasing injury risk. Additionally, increased pressure can allow for the lifting of greater loads.

Interestingly some studies have shown that weight belt use actually increases the compressive load on the spine but decreases the shear stress. Thankfully our spines can handle high compressive loads compared to shear forces so this isn't especially problematic.



In weightlifters pressure is increased by forcefully pushing the abdomen into the front of the belt to maximize tension between the lifter and the belt. In an occupational setting or during exercise that does not maximally stress the spine the mechanism of increased tension is simply due to a tightening effect, or hoop tension, provided by the belt. Workers can't be expected to push their abdomen into the belt all day.

Anatomy

Well, what stabilizes my spine if I am not wearing a weightlifting belt? Your body is actually quite well equipped to provide a good deal of spinal stabilization on its own without the use of any additional equipment. This is the role of the oh so popular "core" muscles. The core muscles are composed of both an inner and outer unit with different roles in the body.

The outer unit muscles are very important for stability and include the rectus abdominus (the abs) the erector spinae, and the external oblique, with some people including the lats and glutes as well because of their pull on the spine and influence on spinal and pelvic position. These muscles work in unison to keep the spine and pelvis in a neutral position by generating or resisting force. The inner unit does not push and pull or move the spine a great deal, but exerts a large influence on stability by increasing IAP (intra abdominal pressure) and therefore maintaining a stable environment for the spine, particularly under heavy load.

The inner unit can be thought of as a pliable box in the middle of the body. The multiple faces of the box are the transverse abdominus (front of the box), diaphragm (top), multifidus (back), pelvic floor (bottom) and internal obliques (sides). In a properly functioning system these muscles (both inner and outer unit) all work together to create tension around the spine to help resist unwanted movement.

Does the belt work?

So the weight belt increases pressure in the abdomen, improves the amount of weight that can be lifted and was adopted from use in the rehabilitation community so it must be safe. Perfect right?


The anti-belt crowd will argue that wearing a belt causes dependence and an over-reliance on external forces to provide a safe environment for lifting, as well as altering core muscle firing patterns. I would agree to a certain point. Studies performed on workers moving heavy loads (furniture delivery men etc.) examined the injury occurrence in belted and not belted employees. In the study, healthy workers were either given, or not given, a belt to wear during work for several months. Injury rates were similar for both groups (fairly low). Interestingly, following the study injury rate rose significantly in the group that had been using the belts and had them taken away at the completion of the test.

That study was performed on people who wear a weight belt all day and therefore the outcome is situation specific. No such study has been conducted on weightlifters (that I know of), nor is their any information regarding exactly what dose or volume of belt use has to occur in order to cause negative adaptations. But clearly there is a point of diminishing returns.

It has been clearly proven that constant or excessive use of the weight belt can cause reliance on the belt for stability and long term decrease in natural core function (belts are bad!). Additionally it has been shown that more weight can be lifted with than without a belt and it can be assumed that greater IAP will reduce the likelihood of acute injury (belts are good!). So how do we combine this information? My recommendation would be as follows:

If you compete in a sport where the maximum load you can lift determines your outcome in the sport you should wear a belt during competition and during training when loads approach competition intensity (anything above 90% of your maximum is a reasonable cutoff point) This will be a low enough volume to not have negative outcomes on your normal trunk muscle recruitment patterns.

In athletes whose weightlifting performance doesn't directly correlate to sporting success I typically forego weight belt use entirely. Most people I train have poor trunk stability and my goal as a coach is to enhance their core function, not mask it with equipment. The weight belt will not be worn on the field/court or anywhere outside the gym and I want to encourage stability in a belt free environment. Similarly, I don't use elevated heel weight-lifting shoes for athletes that do not compete in weightlifting based sports. The goal is to prepare the body for the environment it will face in competition. For your non athlete client that entails all of the activities of daily living, most of which are done belt free. 

With all that said, if you or a client have been using a weight belt for a long time and you are trying to switch to unbelted lifting do not make the transition suddenly. This is what happened in the aforementioned study and they had a high incidence of back injury. Lifting without a belt needs to be slowly re-introduced to a program. Start by removing the belt for the warmup up sets while also incorporating a lot of belt free stability exercises (basic plank and bridge variations should do to start). Each week increase the intensity of belt free exercises slightly until the belt is no longer necessary.





Sunday, February 16, 2014

Exercises I Never Do (Upper Body)

This evening as my girlfriend was studying for her medical school tests she had a question I might know the answer to. The question was about scapular winging and it's causes. All she needed was a simple "weak scapular stabilizing muscles" but instead I started rambling about the scapula and how best to train it. My ramble continued and eventually became me complaining about the ridiculous exercises I see in the gym and fitness magazines. Turns out I had a lot to say so I made a post out of it.

I am of the belief that there are very few bad exercises. An exercise is only good or bad based on it's place within an overall program and whether or not it helps a person achieve his or her goals. With that said there are a handful of exercises that I will almost never program for my clients or myself, regardless of the goals involved. There is an exception to every rule but these exercises will be unsafe for most of the people that step foot in the gym.

Dips

Dips are a fantastic way to build strength in the triceps, anterior delts, and pecs. However, they require a high degree of shoulder extension range of motion in order to attain a safe shoulder position.

When an athlete does not have sufficient extension and internal rotation ROM something else has to give to get into position. That something else includes:
- forward tilt of the scapula, which can compress the supraspinatus muscle and cause irritation
- upper back flexion
- forward head position, which is associated with neck pain

Between this exercise and the next one on our list a brief look at the relevant anatomy is in order. I mentioned the potential for impingement earlier but this image should show very clearly how the injury occurs. As the humerus drifts back as in a dip, the acromion moves forward and down and pinches the supraspinatus in the subacromial space.

Everything I just said counts double for bench Dips. This is an exercise that I would NEVER do. Just look at this shoulder:

Everything about this is bad
The hand position further internally rotates the shoulder and takes away grip strength. Further internal rotation increases the risk of injury to the shoulder. Decreased grip strength takes away from the ability of the rotator cuff to stabilize the humerus

Smarter choices: Close grip pushups, pushups against bands, neutral grip bench pressing

Upright Row

In the upright row the shoulder is near maximally internally rotated and then elevated into the zone of impingement. That happens on every single rep, even with proper technique.

I prefer when my exercises dont resemble provocative pain tests

The image above compares the top position of an upright row to the Hawkins Kennedy impingement test, a common screen for shoulder impingement. It is a combination of elevation and internal rotation of the humerus. This makes sense in a screen for pain, when the goal is to check for a painful response. If the goal is to build muscle or strength I would recommend a movement that doesn't have such a high risk.

I am opposed to this movement but not opposed to Olympic lifting. While the position is similar in the high pull of a clean there is a very significant difference. In a properly executed clean the load is accelerated by the hips and the bar is weightless when the arm passes through the top position. The elbows rotate around the bar and receive the load in the front rack, a very stable position.

Smarter choices: Lateral raises, Olympic lifts, Row variations


Kipping Pullups

If you compete in Gymnastics this next section is not for you. The kip is a valuable gymnastics skill. The kip motion is a full body movement designed to generate force to get an athlete up to the bar and into an ideal position for executing more complex gymnastics maneuvers. This is similar to how a football player has to be able to tackle and/or absorb tackles. It is a part of their sport. It is a skill. However if you do not participate in a given sport it is stupid to spend your training time working on the skills of that sport.

If you are a Crossfit games competitor (note the use of the word competitor, not gym member) you also have reason to practice kipping pullups, albeit for slightly different reasons. The kip is a manner of cheating the pullup exercise to allow you to do more reps. It can be athletic and it can be a fluid coordinated effort. If you are strong enough it can even be reasonably safe. However, it is still cheating. You are using your hips to complete more repetitions of an upper body exercise. In competition this is considered legal and I am all for doing whatever possible to win in your chosen sport so kip away. 

For anyone else, you have no reason to kip. Yes you will be able to do more but so what. I can bench press more weight if I bounce it off of my chest and throw my hips in the air while I do it. But then it isn't really a bench press any more. It isn't training anything other than my ability to perform a skill.

That addresses the function and utility aspect of the exercise but lets also take a look at the injury potential involved here because holy crap it's ugly. High risk of repetitive lumbar hyperextension combined with high velocity shoulder distraction usually performed for high volume (because you can totally do more this way, bro!!). Additionally the odds are that if you can't execute proper pullups you probably don't have the scapular stability to maintain external rotation and scapular depression at the top of the pull and are violently pulling into internal rotation and scapular elevation with every rep. Fantastic.

Smarter choices: Real pullups and chinups, Row variations, lat pulldown machine (i'm not a big machine lover but for every job there is a specific tool and sometimes the lat pulldown is just what's needed)

I'll be back next week with lower body exercises to avoid.






Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Barefoot/Minimalist footwear analysis



In recent years we have seen a rise in the amount of “barefoot training” in the exercise community, particularly in the online community of distance runners. Reports suggest that this year’s Boston Marathon included more barefoot runners than ever before. The popularity of this practice has grown in spite of very little hard evidence to suggest its benefits or the potential risks involved. Due to the lack of scientific analysis on the topic this post will analyze what little research has been done, and look to fill in the gaps with some knowledge of functional human anatomy, knowledge of injury cause and prevention, and logical thinking.

Popularity of barefoot running began its rise upon the release of the book, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. His book follows the Tarahumara tribe in Africa, known for running extremely long distances without traditional running shoes. The book makes several interesting arguments in favor of ditching your normal running shoe. The tribesmen in question have significantly lower incidences of injury to the ankles, knees and hips. They are extremely aerobically fit and free of the inflammatory diseases that plague our country. Many people took that to mean that they should adopt similar habits.

The original minimalist shoe, the huarache
 It should be noted that the Tarahumara do not run on pavement. Their feet deal with much more forgiving natural surfaces, something we should consider before going for a run without running shoes. They do not sit at desks all day, promoting stiffness and weakness throughout the kinetic chain. They are on their feet throughout the day and it can be assumed that the average tribesman is well ahead of the average sedentary American in any measurement of ankle, hip and shoulder mobility. Upper cross syndrome is far less of a problem in a world with no desks or computers. They are also not exposed to large quantities of over processed food and do not battle an obesity crisis. The impact of barefoot running is not so severe or potentially injurious on the lean 120 pound frame of a Tarahumara tribesman that eats primarily pinole (a more fibrous flour like substance) seeds, and various local produce. This cannot be translated to an individual with a high BMI that fuels him/herself with soft drinks and foods high in processed carbohydrates and trans fats. Even the athletic population cannot really compare itself to the Taramuhara people. The Taramuhara do not resistance train or carry any significant muscle mass. Forgoing shoes during weighted lunges or other unilateral lower body exercises can be detrimental to the big toe or the ankles.

The study upon which a lot of the barefoot community bases their opinions and training habits is “Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners” by Lieberman et al.  The study tells us the following:

The Modern running shoe was developed in the 1970’s by Bill Bowerman and Nike. Its waffle tread was designed to create a lighter base of the shoe while also providing additional grip during cross country races on grass surfaces. It features an elevated rubber heel, which has only become more prominent with time. The elevated heel changes the biomechanics involved in running. Lieberman’s study definitely proves that shod (those wearing shoes) runners are far more likely to heel strike during the landing phase of the running movement (this landing pattern was seen in 75% of shod runners in the study). This heel, or rear foot, strike causes extremely high rates and magnitudes of loading. It is speculated that this loading can be detrimental and has led to the high number of tibia fractures and cases of plantar fasciitis in shod distance runners.

Plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury related to long periods of weight bearing on the plantar fascia. It is experienced by approx. two million Americans each year. In an interview I conducted with Dr. Kevin Kirby DPM, MS he states: “The injury rate of running is more due to training errors (i.e. too much, too fast and too soon), obesity, running on hard surfaces and running in improper shoes and due to the fact that the impact forces in running are 2x-3x body weight versus 1.25x body weight for walking (i.e. running places at least twice the ground reaction force on the foot that walking does), not due to running in shoes per se.” Eliminating such significant heel strike may help to reduce the number of people that suffer from plantar fasciitis. However, it would seem logical to first try a less radical approach of reducing body mass, increasing ankle mobility, or properly progressing your running program.

It seems evident, particularly from Dr. Lieberman’s research that there are some definite drawbacks to having excessive material around the heel when running. The same applies to having excessive material around the ankle and heel during any sort of exercise, or even during daily activities. Habitually shod runners displayed 7-10 degrees less dorsiflexion (ability to take the toes toward the shins or to display a positive shin angle) than barefoot runners. Increasing dorsiflexion ROM can improve functional movement patters. Greater ankle mobility allows for a greater degree of hip flexion during squatting movements without increasing forward lean or rounding of the lumbar spine.

This ROM deficit is not strictly due to time spent exercising with shoes, but an entire lifetime of activities spent in shoes, and can’t be completely cured by going barefoot for a few miles each week. However adding in some barefoot work during some dynamic warmups or slowly incorporating it into a running program may prove to have some beneficial effects on ankle ROM.

Many claims have been made regarding barefoot training to improve proprioception, but there is no research to back it up. This is an area that warrants serious future research. It has been speculated that barefoot training can improve balance, strengthen intrinsic foot muscles and give runners an improved “feel”. It may also help to prevent some amount of heel strike when runners return to their shoes. Being barefoot places a different internal stress pattern on the feet and may help alleviate some overuse injuries by changing the stress involved in ground strike. 

In recent years we have learned a lot of interesting things about the way people run, with and without shoes. However, to this point we have still only observed acute responses to foot strike patterns in a safe environment, ignoring the different surfaces that runners may encounter and the long term, potentially injurious, effects of either forefoot or rearfoot striking on pavement. Given the aforementioned benefits of ankle ROM, and high rate and magnitude of loading in a strong heel strike, barefoot training can serve a purpose as a part of a balanced training program. If you choose to implement barefoot training into your practice or that of your athletes/clients be sure to develop a tolerance at first do so only on a safe surface.

For myself and my clients I do the majority of warmup activities barefoot as well as any deadlifting/hip hinging patterns. If and when I do yoga classes it is obviously done barefoot. I try to be aware of the degree of heel lift in all of my shoes and spend as much time as possible in flat soles to maintain what little ankle ROM I have. During running season I will do my warm-ups on grass with no shoes on and then run in a shoe with a mild heel support. This combination of barefoot training and appropriately shod running has given me a lot of great results so far. I'm always open to hearing new ideas on this front so if you have had a different or a similar experience with barefoot training feel free to drop a comment below. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

This is My Crossfit Post


For as long as I have had exposure to Crossfit  I have had a love/hate relationship with it. Additionally, as a strength and conditioning coach, people frequently ask my opinions on Crossfit. This has become even more commonplace now that I work at a Crossfit affiliate. To be clear, I do not coach Crossfit. I teach a strength and conditioning class, as well as some bootcamp/conditioning classes, and do some private and team training. I write all of the programming using my own methods that I have found to be successful in my coaching career. With that said, I am constantly exposed to Crossfit and everything it entails so I feel like I am in a position to write about all of its pro’s and con’s (and there are a handful of both)

What is Crossfit and what are it’s goals?

We will start with the basics. Crossfit is a fitness and exercise format created by Greg Glassman [1]. The methods were developed [2] in the early 90’s with the first gym being opened in 1995. The popularity began to increase exponentially after the turn of the century, and particularly when they successfully tapped into a wider audience with a simple to use website. There are now over 7,000 Crossfit affiliates worldwide and the growth doesn’t appear to be stopping any time soon.

An important note before we continue: Every affiliate is run slightly differently. This makes it hard to make broad generalizations. So what I am criticizing, or complimenting in many cases, may not apply to any one “box” in particular. These are my thoughts on overall Crossfit philosophy as preached on their main site and as executed in the majority of their affiliates. You may find yourself saying “Hey, I work out at a Crossfit and we don’t do any stuff like that” That’s cool. Crossfit is evolving and more educated coaches are becoming involved and recognizing certain flaws in the model and adjusting their business and their programming accordingly. Disclaimer over. Please continue.

A typical day in a CF box would usually have a workout that looks like this [3]

Mobility 5 minutes

Dynamic warmup 5 minutes
Skill work 5-10 minutes (muscle ups, pistol squats, etc)
Strength work 15 minutes (Back Squat, Press etc. This is usually one exercise per day)
Metabolic component 15-20 minutes
Cooldown and stretch with remaining time

The general Crossfit philosophy as stated on their own website it to provide “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains”. That translates roughly to: we do a lot of good stuff and we do it really fast. Some aspects of this philosophy are great and others not so great.


The good

-          Varied: most gym goers (myself included) have a tendency to perform a lot of exercise that fall under domains they are already good at. IE. Men with a big chest like to bench, flexible girls like to do yoga, skinny dudes that are good at running like to run. Crossfit makes that girl deadlift, and makes that bodybuilder do some circuit training and if you’re a cardio junkie then they will have a yoga/mobility class for you [4]
-          Functional: Crossfit has put barbells into more people’s hands than any other fitness movement ever. And lifting heavy barbells is awesome. Mark Rippetoe discusses that as well as some of the long term shortcoming that he has seen here. http://www.t-nation.com/training/crossfit-the-good-bad-and-the-ugly.
-          Movements – Crossfit has encouraged people to exercise who likely never would have exercised before. Regardless of your feelings on the programming or the Zone diet you can’t deny that Crossfit has gotten people off of their asses and living a healthier lifestyle.

The gray area

-          Executed at high intensity: High intensity is great. There are dozens of studies showing the benefits of high intensity interval training on fat loss and general cardiovascular health. With that said, not everyone is ready for high intensity. Clients need to demonstrate strong movement patterns at moderate intensity before advancing to high intensity. Otherwise we end up with squats like this:

-           Additionally some exercises lend themselves well to being executed under a fatigued state (mb throws, monostructural activites like running and rowing, pushups, heavy carries) and some do not (Olympic lifts, plyometrics, high load compound movements, most overhead movements)
-          Across broad time and modal domains: developing multiple energy system qualities of an athlete is fantastic. Aerobic, lactic and alactic energy systems are all important and all receive attention in Crossfit programming. However when all are done simultaneously no system receives optimal gains. Energy systems training is something I am still trying to learn more about but I know enough to know that you can’t do it all at once.

One thing that wasn’t mentioned above but accounts for a huge part of why they are successful is the team/family atmosphere they have built. I have trained in a number of different health clubs and worked for high school and college sports teams. I have never been around a group of athletes more invested in each other’s training than the people that I see in Crossfit. Just last weekend two of the athletes at my gym competed in a local Olympic lifting meet and a handful of coaches went to attend. That doesn’t happen at LA fitness. Knowing that there are coaches and a handful of other athletes waiting for you, makes you accountable for your fitness. That alone makes Crossfit more likely to produce results than the routine being executed by most gym goers.

Does it work?

I have already addressed this briefly above but I want to dive in a little deeper. Whether or not it works is really dependent on what you are looking to gain. Crossfit is admittedly a general fitness program. It describes itself as “a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of 10 recognized fitness domains. These domains are cardiovascular endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy”

So if your goal is to seek general fitness improvements Crossfit can provide that. You will become a jack of all trades and master of none, which is great for most people. Not mentioned in their above goals is fat loss. Crossfit pushes performance first and aesthetics almost never. That is one of the things that I love about Crossfit and something I have been preaching for years. If you train like an athlete you will look like an athlete. If you try to train like a model you will probably look the same way you do now until you wise up and grab some heavy weights.
Crossfit is great for body composition
Crossfit works especially well for beginners. That doesn’t necessarily mean people who are out of shape. It could mean bodybuilders (who are beginners at using multiple muscles at the same time) or powerlifters (who are beginners at anything over 5 reps) or cross country runners (who are beginners at lifting anything heavier than their shoes). However, there comes a point at which a new athlete will reach competency at all of the aspects of fitness. Eventually a certain level of general fitness is achieved and random workouts are no longer sufficient to produce gains in any area of fitness (body composition goals included).

This is simple physiology. The adaptations required for greater aerobic endurance and those required for strength and power are different and training them at the same time is like telling your body to go two different directions at once. Only in a novice can training all of the systems together have a positive adaptation.

At a certain point random programming is no longer sufficient. Some boxes have figured this out and they program accordingly by having different tier classes and sound long term weightlifting/energy system planning. Some boxes have not figured it out at all but I really think that this is a problem that will be solved with time.

CF and Injury risk

In spite of all of the points I have made thus far ultimately your thoughts on this issue  probably come down to this section of the article. This is the elephant in the room and there is no way to avoid it. Crossfit style training is high risk when compared to other training modalities. This risk exists for a variety of reasons most of which can be managed and minimized

-          The group dynamic. Group exercise is a gift and a curse. It motivates and helps people accomplish things that otherwise may have seemed impossible. The trouble is that the more people that are involved in a class the harder it becomes for a coach to monitor all of the athletes. This is particularly concerning when the day’s workout calls for highly technical lifts, like the snatch and clean. For this reason in my own classes if I see that more than 7 people have signed up all Olympic lifting is dropped from the day’s programming for simple plyometrics or additional work on other areas.
-          Coaching. The requirement to open a box and lead classes is completion of a CF level 1 certification course. This is a one weekend course. I have heard mixed reviews on the course content but have not attended so I can’t speak about it directly. I am skeptical of the ability to become a good coach over the course of a weekend but again, I can’t speak to the specifics of what is being taught.I hope to learn more about the certification process and perhaps even get certified one day.
-          Programming. Ok this is where I reveal how big of a nerd I am. When I see a great program it’s like seeing a great painting. It’s magnificent to me because I know how much thought goes into doing it right. All of the joint actions are balanced. Volume and intensity coalesce in a way that provides just enough stimulus for the desired response. Energy system development is overlapped over time to provide optimal benefit for the sport. When I see Crossfit programming it looks like a finger painting. It might look cool and it might be fun but it's totally all over the place and sloppy. When I wrote this the main site WOD was the CF total (1 rep max back squat, deadlift and press. So basically a modified powerlifting meet) followed the next day by 30 muscle ups, 21 clean and jerks and a 2k row. Let’s see if we can figure this out. You fatigue every muscle in the body and really fry the nervous system too with the CF total. The next day would be a great opportunity for some rest, some light aerobic work, or some technique and mobility work. Instead we are given this shoulder destroying monstrosity of a workout. Muscle ups followed by clean and jerks is one of the most irresponsible combinations of exercises I can think of. I wouldn’t program those two exercises within the same 48 hours because of the degree of shoulder stability required. Putting them back to back with a time component is reckless and the reason that a lot of people sustain shoulder injuries doing Crossfit. Examples like this can be found almost weekly on the main site and in many affiliate locations. Using a simple strength template like Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 can help spread out training stress to some degree, although it’s that’s really just putting down the first piece of the puzzle with regard to intelligent programming.


Should I join a CF?
Crossfit has the potential to be great. It also has the potential to be very dangerous. If you are playing a sport and want to prepare for your sport find a legitimate strength coach who knows how to program something specific to your sport. You may be able to find such a coach in a CF gym, but please don’t think the WOD is going to be optimal for making you better at your sport.

If you are just a regular gym goer looking to get fit you should consider CF for many of the reasons above but how do you know if you are getting a quality gym membership or not?

-          Check the credentials of the coaches and owners of the gym. Do they have anything other than a L1 cert. (look for CSCS, USAW, some form of degree in a related field, specialty certifications etc.)

-          When you sign up what is the process you go through before doing a full workout? Are you taught all of the movements multiple times before being asked to perform them at maximal intensity and under fatigue?

-          What, if any, assessments are you given as a new member? Hopefully something more than just a waiver is involved [5]

-          Watch a class. Does it look like chaos and a disaster waiting to happen or is it a room full of people accomplishing amazing things and having a good time. (Most CF gyms are somewhere in the middle)

-          Watch the coaches. Do they seem to be able to help the athletes that are struggling or are they just cheerleaders?

Hopefully this article hasn’t ruffled too many feathers. My goal is not to bash CF or send people running to their local affiliate. It is simply my experience that people have a lot of misunderstandings about what CF is and is not and after reading this piece you should have a better idea of what goes on inside the box. I like CF and hop in on the occasional WOD. As the CF movement grows it seems evident that it is here to stay. Thankfully as Crossfit grows people are exposing its flaws and it is growing into a better, safer system.

[1] A very brief bio for those interested http://www.crossfitvirtuosity.com/assets/glassman_factsheet.pdf
[2] saying he developed these methods is a little misleading because people have been doing circuit/ anaerobic threshold training forever but that’s a different topic altogether.
[3] The fact that this is the workout for everyone who enters the gym is also an issue and one that will be addressed later in the piece
[4] Most CF affiliates offer at minimum a once/week yoga or restorative mobility type of class
[5] I spent over a year working at Equinox here in Chicago and my favorite thing about that gym was the way that every member was encouraged to do a fitness assessment upon joining. Every gym should do this.