Why You Need To Try CrossFit According To A Sports Physio
In my experience, there aren’t many positive comments flying around when talking to my fellow health professionals about CrossFit, (in South Africa at least) with many of the naysayers knocking the exercise method without giving it a try. But there are plenty of reasons to try CrossFit.
To be completely honest, I started CrossFit because my girlfriend joined our local CrossFit box. I eventually joined because I didn’t want to miss out on a good time. Little did I know, it was the beginning of a complete lifestyle change!
As a sports physiotherapist who has had a positive experience with CrossFit, allow me to share some scientific considerations about this training method with the hope of encouraging my fellow professionals, and hopefully all exercise enthusiasts, to give it a try before they write it off.
It All Starts With Nutrition
Nutrition is a core value for CrossFit. Look at the diagram on the left. It’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the CrossFit edition. See the foundation of the pyramid? Nutrition.
Not many types of exercise methods have more emphasis on the fuel for training, than the actual sport itself; this is a promising start to achieving an improved lifestyle.
It makes the activity of CrossFit more sustainable and encourages an improved lifestyle, rather than just training to get in shape for the summer. It empowers people to make better food choices, encourages healthy relationships with food, and see the link between eating to fuel activity.
The Wonders Of Interval Training
Due to its challenges, interval training is often underrated and avoided.
Science has been highlighting its benefits for years and you don’t have to look far to find the evidence. The metabolic conditioning, or Workout of the Day (WOD) approach employed by CrossFit is aimed to get your heart rate up and allow brief periods of recovery, known as the ”interval effect”.
You get more “bang for your buck” with this approach: less training time and more calories burnt. It ramps up your metabolism, so you keep burning calories into your post workout period for up to 48hrs.
This modality will improve your aerobic capacity (you’ll be taking the stairs in no time) and interval training has also been shown to decrease body and fat mass. It helps glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, it will bring down your resting heart rate, and is good for the elastic parts of your heart and arteries, too.
A challenging aspect of fitness is training on your own, which makes it perfect for group training where you have your training partners to push you.
It’s All In The Warm Up
I’ve never encountered a sport with such an emphasis on warming up, mobility, and general body awareness. The old stereotype, that CrossFit injuries are hard to clinically manage, is seriously ignorant – the sport has mobility, warm ups, and progressive strength programmed into EVERY session. This makes rehab and prehab an important aspect to the CrossFit community.
The perks of this association are that it creates educated exercisers who understand their bodies and movement better. If we flip the coin, perhaps CrossFit injuries are “hard to manage” because healthcare professionals still advocate complete rest from activity instead of modifying activity and structuring movement-based interventions. Food for thought perhaps.
Variability Is Key For Progression
“Routine is the enemy.”
Training specificity theory says you should adapt to your training mode. which is why cross-training became a recommended addition to sports like running and cycling. The more you do, the better you get, except, if you only do one thing, you’ll only improve in that area.
Combining weightlifting, running, rowing, cycling, swimming, jumping, gymnastics and metabolic conditioning, in hundreds of variations and workout formats, makes for ample training variability. If you get bored easily, this will be a huge perk for you. If you gravitate towards your strengths, this will keep you honest by forcing you to be well rounded in your approach to training.
CrossFit Brings Some Serious Strength
When I hear people say, “I don’t lift weights because I don’t want to look bulky,” it honestly brings me to tears. I enjoy myth-busting misconceptions, but this one never seems to die. I’ll try put it as simply as I can:
Muscle size does not equal strength. This has been proven by showing that you can increase your 1RM without your muscles getting bigger. What some might be afraid of is muscle hypertrophy (increasing muscle cross sectional area). I can assure you, the improvements in strength you’re likely to experience at CrossFit are due to neural drive. You’ll have more muscle fibers helping you lift, they’ll become more coordinated and you’ll get stronger without getting bigger – trust me (and science).
The CrossFit Community Is Incredible
Finally, from what I’ve experienced over the past year, the CrossFit Community is incredible, not only in SA, but worldwide. Who’s cheering you on during your two hour Saturday morning run? Or during your reluctant leg day in the gym? CrossFit for the public has a “you vs you” type of approach. Comparing your previous capabilities to your current. This makes it easier to cheer your peers on because everyone is on their own journey.
Adherence to exercise prescription and lifestyle changes are easier when done in a community with ample social support. It’s been shown that group training makes people accountable to each other, makes workouts fun, and keeps people coming back. You train together, suffer together, and laugh about it later together, too.
*Nick is a sports and orthopedic physiotherapist and owner of Enhanced Physio based in KwaZulu-Natal. He’s an avid Crossfitter, a MSc. Sports & Exercise candidate through the University of Cape Town, and has worked in national, schools and professional sports in South Africa since 2013.