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Fitness Theory and Practice. CrossFit's rationale & foundations. Who is fit? What is fitness?

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Old 12-02-2007, 02:14 AM   #1
Steven Low
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goals and elite fitness vs. elite athletes

A month or two ago there was a thread about a 100m sprinter and whether he should do Crossfit to help his sprinting. I vehemently argued no that he should NOT do Crossfit, but there were a bunch of people here that said he should and it would build a good base. I recently came across this subject again discussing things and decided to take a little more in depth look at the subject so here's my take on things.

If you didn't read the original thread check it out here before you read this especially as a refresher (wfs):

http://board.crossfit.com/showthread.php?p=211638


Actually let me elaborate on something I feel is extremely important where max strength is concerned. As far as most people think, muscle is muscle which is obviously not true as we know depending on the type of strength deficit there is. Sarco tends to have a bigger strength deficit than myo just because myo is stimulated at heavier weights. Let's take this a bit further though. If we look at the types of fibers stimulated in hypertrophy we see that higher rep ranges tend to stimulate more type I fibers as opposed to type II fibers. Type I are the slow twitch more endurance-aerobic-oxidative fibers while type IIA are your fast twitch oxidative and type IIB are the fast twitch glycolytic fibers. Yada yada yada. We know all that right. Okay, now that the foundation is laid let's look at something very important. Here's a good analogy to the point I'm going to make but haven't said: you are what you eat. Everything we eat is metabolized and used as energy or incorporated into our bodies both the good and the bad.

So what exactly does this have to do with training you may ask? Something very important. You are what you train for. Training is cumulative in the sense that you can train for strength and endurance as well as increased muscle mass. Everything we do has a cumulative effect on each of these characteristics. If we look at the muscle profiles of power athletes like elite olympic weightlifters or elite sprinters, we'll see predominately type IIb and type IIa hypertrophy of the muscles. We'll also see a pretty high correlation between applied a large application of power and strength as opposed to say a powerlifter who has very high strength but very little power correlated to the amount of strength he/she has. So if we know this and want to train our bodies to be the strongest that they can be or the best endurance athlete around then mixed modal training is not what we are looking for. This is to say that if someone wants to be an elite sprinter, he would not want to do any if at all endurance-related work in his training. That means no metcons, no aerobic running, no tabatas or anything that promotes oxidative related fitness since the training we do is cumulative on our muscles. Enzyme profiles and fiber type confirm this. If he works with weights with reps between 10-20 RM he is doing himself a disservice by stimulating unneeded and unwanted type I hypertrophy which will inevitably reduce his max potential for type II hypertrophy. That is to say we all have a genetic limit for muscle growth. We can choose what to do with it by training strength/power or endurance. If we choose a combination of both we will never hit a maximum for either one or the other that we choose to work for. Specifically if I used up some of my genetic potential for type I fibers, that's less type II fibers I could have had to increase my explosiveness for sprinting.

So what does this actually mean? If you want to be the strongest you ever can be you shouldn't work much if at all with any type of endurance work. If you want to be the fastest you can ever be you shouldn't be running miles and miles for your sessions nor should you be doing reps over 10. Training is cumulative so it is important to decide what you want to do now rather than later if you want to compete at elite levels.

Crossfit confirms this if you didn't know already. Let's reverse engineering what Crossfit philosophy is to find out why. If you're read the "What is Fitness" from CF's main site which I'm sure you have, I'm sure you'll be able to figure out why. Here's a link anyway so we can look at it (wfs):

http://www.crossfit.com/cf-download/CFJ-trial.pdf

Quote:
The motivation for the three standards is simply to ensure the broadest and most general fitness possible. Our first model evaluates our efforts against a full range of general physical adaptations, in the second the focus is on breadth and depth of performance, with the third the measure is time, power and consequently energy systems. It should be fairly clear that the fitness that CrossFit advocates and develops is deliberately broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.
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Aerobic training benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat – all good. Aerobic conditioning allows us to engage in low power extended efforts efficiently (cardio/respiratory endurance and stamina). This is critical to many sports. Athletes engaged in sports or training where a preponderance of the training load is spent in aerobic efforts witness decreases in muscle mass, strength, speed, and power. It is not uncommon to find marathoners with a vertical leap of only several inches! Furthermore, aerobic activity has a pronounced tendency to decrease anaerobic capacity. This does not bode well for most athletes or those interested in elite fitness.

Anaerobic activity also benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat! In fact, anaerobic exercise is superior to aerobic exercise for fat loss! (http://www.cbass.com/FATBURN.HTM) Anaerobic activity is, however, unique in its capacity to dramatically improve power, speed, strength, and muscle mass. Anaerobic conditioning allows us to exert tremendous forces over brief time intervals. One aspect of anaerobic conditioning that bears great consideration is that anaerobic conditioning will not adversely affect aerobic capacity. In fact, properly structured, anaerobic activity can be used to develop a very high level of aerobic fitness without the muscle wasting consistent with high volumes of aerobic exercise!! The method by which we use anaerobic efforts to develop aerobic conditioning is “interval training.”

Basketball, football, gymnastics, boxing, track events under one mile, soccer, swimming events under 400 meters, volleyball, wrestling, and weightlifting are all sports that require the vast majority of training time spent in anaerobic activity. Long distance and ultra endurance running, cross country skiing, and 1500+ meter swimming are all sports that require aerobic training at levels that produce results unacceptable to other athletes or the individual concerned with total conditioning and optimal health.
Just pulled out some of the more important points from there. If you read the whole thing (which again I'm sure most of you have), you'll understand that it is not in a sprinters best interest to be doing CF which encourages a largescale gains in endurance/cardiovascular ability/oxidative ability within the user.

Forgot where it was said but if you do CF you'll be able to outlift an elite runner and outrun and elite weightlifter. True but with CF you'll never be able to outrun an elite runner which is his goal.

Last edited by Steven Low : 12-02-2007 at 02:18 AM.
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Old 12-02-2007, 08:19 AM   #2
Brian Degenaro
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Re: goals and elite fitness vs. elite athletes

The only elite/high end level athletes that ought to be using general Crossfit are decathletes because their training and competition covers a broad spectrum. Crossfit will make you good at most things in general, and that's what a great decathlete needs to be: good at all his events; no decathlete performs at elite levels in all his events. There are elite decathletes that perform at a HS level in many of their events.

If an elite 100m sprinter wants to do Crossfit, he will have to focus on the more power-biased WODs and create WODs with short distance sprints in most if not all of them. Fran could be changed to have subbed 210m-150m-90m sprints instead of thrusters. The only time an elite athlete doesn't use specific training is when he/she is taking a day off.
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Old 12-02-2007, 09:49 AM   #3
Aaron Trent
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Re: goals and elite fitness vs. elite athletes

I fully agree, and I believe that the main page is misleading when they say the needs of the Olympic athlete are the same as the needs of the elderly woman with the only difference being the scale. Crossfit builds elite fitness monsters, but not elite athletes. The CF athletes are still very good, but not elite.
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Old 12-02-2007, 10:18 AM   #4
Dennis Marshall
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Re: goals and elite fitness vs. elite athletes

Great post Steven. Very clear analysis. This brings a related question to mind though. From what I understand about how the neuromuscular system works, the ultimate force that a muscle can generate is to an extent dependent upon the stability of the joint that it crosses. This is a protective mechanism established by the CNS designed to prevent injury by way of too much force generated by a prime mover across an unstable joint. The muscles that stabilize joints will primarily be made up of Type 1 fibers. As such, they will not necessarily respond to the same stimulus as Type II. Therefore, in order to optimally strengthen the joint stabilizers, Type I stimulus needs to be incorporated into a training program. The stronger the joint stabilizers, the more stable the joint, the more force the CNS will allow the surrounding primary movers to generate.

By this logic, it would seem to make sense to incorporate at least some type of endurance/stability work into even the most specialized power athletes programs. And not in the sense of energy system work, but rather resistance training.

Thoughts?
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Old 12-02-2007, 10:54 AM   #5
Corey Duvall
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Re: goals and elite fitness vs. elite athletes

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Low View Post
Specifically if I used up some of my genetic potential for type I fibers, that's less type II fibers I could have had to increase my explosiveness for sprinting.
Used up? I think you're a bit confused. You're stating this as if we are born with 100 muscle fibers that we train into categories... if we dedicate 25 of those to type I then we can only have 75 type II. I may be incorrect, but I believe the research you are referring to is that which states spending extended time training at a low intensity will benefit the Type I oxidative fibers and there will be no increase of Type II fibers. Well that is because they aren't being trained, not that the Type I fibers dominate and replace them. If you train both type I and type II you will increase both. Train one, grow one, train both, grow both.

I don't think Crossfit WOD's should be heavily utilized, but I do think that they will afford an increased ability to recover from intense sprinting workouts. There are a few articles written by coaches about how the utilization of crossfit has improved their athletes recovery. Baseball and powerlifting I believe are the two articles. Both do not use the mixed modal extended power output that is the focus of Crossfit. They still benefitted because it made them better overall athletes. They may not use that overall greatness in their specific event, but they DO use it during/after their workouts.

The other thing I'll say is that the full ROM utilized with squats, walking lunges, dips and so forth will help to prevent muscle dominance and imbalances from occurring which could lead to overuse injuries. I think that is an unseen, less than acknowledged attribute of Crossfit's dedication to proper form.
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Old 12-02-2007, 12:17 PM   #6
Steven Low
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Re: goals and elite fitness vs. elite athletes

Brian: good call since I didn't cover it. Only broad spectrum athletes or athletes where genetic potential and its realization isn't a big factor in being elite in their sports would CF be effective.


Dennis:

Interesting concept. It is true that most of the stabilizers of joints are slower twitch muscles which makes sense.. cause you don't want your joint stabilization failing on you fast. However, while they do play a role I'm not sure of how much they actually do play a role when it comes to elite athletics. Well, I want to take a look at what happens at an injury level and then speculate on the application to elite level. The first one I want to take a look at is torn ACLs. While most people have them repaired so that they can go back to their sports, if significant cutting or movement is not required in a chosen profession (not elite athletics of course) it is possible to rehab the knee so that the muscles take over the stablization of the joint specifically your hamstrings and quads and to a lesser extend the adductors and abductors. The second would be looking at again a sprinters profile. I think it is the case here that the larger muscles start to dominate over the stabilization muscles even in the stabilization of the joint especially within the knee and the hip joint. There are tons of small stabilization muscles within at least the hip joint specifically that pretty much stay relatively small while the larger muscles -- all of the muscles of the glutes and hamstrings) tend to dominate hip function. Thus, I think it is the case where stabilization is at least somewhat conferred not just on the stabilizers but the larger muscles as well as they become more hypertrophied.

I mean, I guess that's my opinion though but it seems like the case that this happens.


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Originally Posted by Corey Duvall View Post
Used up? I think you're a bit confused. You're stating this as if we are born with 100 muscle fibers that we train into categories... if we dedicate 25 of those to type I then we can only have 75 type II. I may be incorrect, but I believe the research you are referring to is that which states spending extended time training at a low intensity will benefit the Type I oxidative fibers and there will be no increase of Type II fibers. Well that is because they aren't being trained, not that the Type I fibers dominate and replace them. If you train both type I and type II you will increase both. Train one, grow one, train both, grow both.
Okay, maybe I used a bad analogy, and I'm definitely not confused. Basically what we're born with is a certain number of fibers percentage say 30% fast twitch and 70% slow twitch (these of course differ between different size muscles and such but we'll just use this as an example). With power and strength training you can selectively hypertrophy your fast twitch fibers to where the cross sectional area is a greater percentage fast twitch and a lower percentage slow twitch. So you can reverse it to 70% fast twitch and 30% slow twitch or even a bit more. So yes, fiber type generally does not switch although it CAN in some cases AND slow twitch fibers can be made to act like fast twitch through certain types of training like plyometrics. What happens is selective hypertrophy of fiber types depending on type of training.

Now what I was saying about genetic limits comes into play. Our bodies have a capacity for a certain amount of hypertrophy in lets say the quads before we hit a genetic limit for maximum ability to put muscle on or rather an optimal amount. If you're a sprinter and you're filling your training with endurance and type I fibers are being hypertrophied, that's leaves less of your genetic limit to hypertrophy your type II fibers. So in effect if your genetic limit was "100% total area" and you start off with 20% area untrained (6% fast twitch and 14% slow twitch), and you start training endurance you may hypertrophy your slow twitch total area up to say 20% (which you're now at 26% total area) which affords you less available hypertrophy for your type II fibers out of your genetic limit. This is extremely significant when you realize that pretty much most elite athletes are hard workers and it comes down to who has the better genetics a lot of times in certain sports.

Quote:
I don't think Crossfit WOD's should be heavily utilized, but I do think that they will afford an increased ability to recover from intense sprinting workouts. There are a few articles written by coaches about how the utilization of crossfit has improved their athletes recovery. Baseball and powerlifting I believe are the two articles. Both do not use the mixed modal extended power output that is the focus of Crossfit. They still benefitted because it made them better overall athletes. They may not use that overall greatness in their specific event, but they DO use it during/after their workouts.
Baseball I can understand since most of those guys aren't exactly pushing their limits with sprinting or jumping or what have you as it does not affect their ability to field and bat that much except maybe outfielders.

Powerlifters although it improves recovery (which it does) I think they are doing themselves a disservice unless their training is specifically lighter in nature or geared towards recovery as opposed to heavy metcon or other aerobic work for their lifting muscles.

Quote:
The other thing I'll say is that the full ROM utilized with squats, walking lunges, dips and so forth will help to prevent muscle dominance and imbalances from occurring which could lead to overuse injuries. I think that is an unseen, less than acknowledged attribute of Crossfit's dedication to proper form.
No question. A good training program though shouldn't lead towards those imbalances, so there's really just something wrong with the quality of coaches if that happens...
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Old 12-03-2007, 07:42 AM   #7
Larry Lindenman
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Re: goals and elite fitness vs. elite athletes

Steven, you are correct. Elite athletes will almost always skew training to one extreme or another. They will use performance enhancing drugs and basically do whatever it takes to be competitive. Sometimes sacrificing their long term health. Luckily, greater then 99% of the population are not elite athletes and don't have to go on line for their training advise! If your reading this from the Olympic Training Center, I would think following your coach's advise would be the way to go. For the 99% of the rest of us, we should be doing a CF type program. Life throws a lot at us, this rewards general training. I'd say a large percentage of Crossfitters could beat Lance Armstrong in a Bench Press contest. He'd smoke the best Crossfitter at a bike race, laughing all the way.

The average person should not eat like an endurance athlete, it's unhealthy and they probably know it. But the way they eat, fuels their performance. For an elite level athlete, it's "do everything to be competitive, even if it is unhealthy."

I do think sports like: Basketball, baseball, tennis, MMA, boxing, and LEO/MIL benefit from CF type programing. Sports that reward excellence within one fitness parameter will not benefit as much, ie: Strength, power, endurance: Swimmers, runners, powerlifters, olympic lifters, etc. So it is not accurate to say you cannot use CF to train elite athletes. There are elite MMA and boxing athletes using CF or CF "like" programs right now. It depends upon the sport.
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Old 12-03-2007, 02:07 PM   #8
Steven Anderson
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Re: goals and elite fitness vs. elite athletes

Great point Larry, you took the words right out of my mouth. There are truly ELITE athletes utilizing crossfit type workouts in their regimen. The examples you provided, MMA, boxing and even martial artists just to name a few have adopted metcon style workouts coupled with heavy one-rep max lifting as well as explosive movements either with weight or by doing bodyweight plyometrics and the like. The MMA fighter Sean Shirk is a prime example. Ross Enamait, the found of rosstraining.com is another example of atheltes (who are elite) that use this type of all around training. Yes, Lance Armstrong would beat any crossfit athlete in a bike race, plain and simple. But that is only one event. Elite crossfit athletes and probably even some non-elite ones would dominate Lance in multiple even hundreds of other events, exercises, movements or what have you.
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Old 12-03-2007, 05:32 PM   #9
George Mounce
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Re: goals and elite fitness vs. elite athletes

As one of the people who stated he would benefit, since CrossFit is very black box, I still stand by my post that he can use what works out of CrossFit to make himself better. We need to stop stating "this is CrossFit" when most of what CrossFit is, is determined by the user. So yes, he can use CrossFit, what part he uses is determined by what makes him better.
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Old 12-03-2007, 06:42 PM   #10
Steven Low
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Re: goals and elite fitness vs. elite athletes

Larry:

Definitely. I was mainly talking about sports that bias towards one as you can tell, but thanks for bringing up that point (which goes along with the one Brian did as well about decathletes).


George:

I agree to an extent.

What I specifically was disagreeing with is that people were specifying CrossFit as "metcons" to "build a good conditioning base" are totally wrong in their suggestions. I wouldn't want them training me as a sprinter. Also CF as stated in "What is Fitness" also will disagree with you on this point.

CF as a black box where you can pick and choose parts that will help towards a power bias definitely are good (and this is what CF/Glassman is tending towards now), but nothing to 'endurance-esque' lest you start building type I fibers + oxidative enzyme profiles. In this case you are correct, BUT I think the majority of everyone views CF as the above paragraph so I would have to say no in a general sense.
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