CrossFit Review: Strain Training

My job as a health and fitness professional over the past 18 years has been and will continue to be... to educate. There is no hidden agenda. With that in mind, I hope you will understand that when I come across programs that hit the height of popularity, I look closely and evaluate them, and either recommend them to my clients or give them a very educated reason as to why to avoid them. 

There is no doubt that CrossFit has what I call the fitness "wow" factor. It's fun to watch, it is challenging, it's intense (which people tend to thrive on), and it creates a strong comeradery between the trainers and fellow trainees. It also expends a lot of calories (the ultimate goal for some people). BUT... there are some major problems with this workout. 

I'm going to start with what is most obvious to me, as a corrective exercise specialist. The MAJORITY of exercises performed in CrossFit are advanced, HIGH RISK exercises that require near PERFECT form and technique to avoid injury. How many of you can honestly say that after sitting at a desk most of the day, that you can walk into a CrossFit studio and perform Olympic-type moves like the snatch and power clean with perfect form and technique? (And by the way... even supposed "superstar" trainers cannot perform these exercises properly, which I will show in a video at the end of this review). Want to know what's even worse? Be told to perform these moves as FAST as possible! These moves are tough on a supremely healthy body, but to the average individual these particular moves, compounded with the speed being called for, are disastrous to form, alignment, posture and will ultimately lead to pain and injury. 

I have to give you an example. MOST of my clients, when they first come in to see me, are unable to do a proper squat. Because of the sit-down job, these individuals have pronating feet, knees that cave in, pelvic shift, a forward thrusting head, and more. I would spend 4-6 weeks with this individual, cleaning up the postural issues in a basic squat, before I even added a jump to this squat. Throw this person immediately into CrossFit where I believe there is an inherent impatience to reach the next level? I think you're getting the point. 

I was recently involved in a rear-end car accident and needed physical therapy for my cervical spine. I asked the therapist what injuries he'd been dealing with most. His exact word, "CROSSFITTERS". This includes not only the trainees, but the actual trainers themselves (supposedly fit enough to handle this program). Why? Because even fit individuals will eventually succumb to joint compression, shoulder impingment and spinal injury risk due to the amount of barbell exercises. The risk is exacerbated when fatigue sets in, and even the best of us find it hard to maintain a neutral spine unless someone is right there to remind us, which makes group CrossFit classes even higher risk. 

Bottom line: What are you looking to achieve in your fitness program? A burst of excitement with a lifetime of injury? How about a program of focused progression with a lifetime of healthy movement instead. 

Now on to the video I promised you earlier. While writing this blog I remembered a segment on a national show called The Doctors. It features The Biggest Loser trainers Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper, with Jillian performing CrossFit exercises while Bob looks on and coaches. It's a mess. Bob doesn't correct Jillian even once on her spinal position, on her caved in knees, etc. No instruction to keep her core engaged. Am I surprised? Not really. 

Watch the video attached. I've added notes below to summerize the exercises. I've also pointed out what Jillian (expected to be in the best shape) is doing incorrectly. 

Remember that this is meant to be educational, not a trash talk session. It is easy for the average individual to be swept up by exciting new programs, fitness fads and the marketing machine. Even Reebok is currently on the bandwagon with a National shoe campaign aimed at the Cross Fit crowd. Their goal? Dollars and cents, not fitness that makes sense. 

The Crossfit Workout of the Day: The Doctors

Exercise 1: Box Jumps

Notice Jillian's knees cave in as she performs each box jump. It gets worse as fatigue sets in. I'm sorry Jillian, but I wouldn't allow you to perform these yet!

Exercise 2: Sumo Deadlift / High Pull

I give this exercise a failing grade. A sumo squat primarily strengthens the adductors, causing Jillian's feet to pronate more and her knees to cave in even worse. Since she already showed up with these problems, this is actually one of the worst exercises for her to perform (an example of why "cookie cutter" programs are not for everyone).

To make this exercise even more dreadful, they've added an upright row. I believe this exercise is now obsolete if you are preaching smart fitness. It is dangerous for the wrists, elbows and shoulders. In fact, the position of the arms (internally rotated WITH resistance) is the easiest way to cause shoulder impingement. Watching Jillian perform these made me hold my breath. Too heavy and too scary. I wouldn't expect The Doctors to necessarily know this... it isn't what they specialize in, but for Jillian and Bob, nationally recognized trainers who have produced 100's of videos and written books, they should know better. 

Exercise 3: Push Press 

The barbell overhead press is scary, especially when someone like Jillian has a dominant right shoulder. It would be more beneficial to use dumbbells to balance out each side, and to press with the palms facing each other. Never press weight BEHIND your head when pressing up!

Exercise 4: Ball Slams

Every time Jillian picks up the medicine ball, she allows her spine to flex, putting it in a vulnerable position. Bob is only concerned with time and reps (no correction on form!). I would also say that at this point Jillian's weaker left shoulder is fatigued and in danger of injury and she should not continue. 

This video is one big, hot dysfunctional mess!