Why I don’t do crossfit: the rhetoric and the argument

There are a couple of things that really bother me in the strength training blogosphere. The most annoying and dangerous is the habit of generalizing statements and making universal claims like “you should drink at least a gallon of milk every two days”, “accessory work is unnecessary for powerlifting”, “do military press if you want to improve your benching”, “you can’t be lean and strong at the same time”, etc. I will leave that for another entry.

The second thing that annoys me, which has an indirect relation to the first, is the rhetorical talk. A favorite rhetorical title is a variation of “why I don’t do crossfit” or “why I do crossfit”, which is actually a way of boarding the discussions about crossfit itself. There are several issues – and not one big “crossfit issue”, like many think – involving strength training concepts and crossfit.

As soon as I read enough, wrote a chapter on Crossfit on an article I did about hybrid training and, above all, as soon as I trained at a crossfit, I figured all the discussions were mostly contaminated by a lack of understanding about the CF movement. The reason is simple: crossfit is a brand and now a sport – not a training method. Under the crossfit “brand”, different coaches will apply certain general guidelines as they consider appropriate. For all of them, periodization will be an issue; for some of them, dealing with high volume sets of extremely complex lifts will be an issue; for fewer of them, dealing with insufficient recovery time from higher intensity workouts and consequent loss of performance and injury will be an issue. These are interesting and important questions that may be addressed with proper respect and arguments backed with data.

But “why I don’t do crossfit” is not a good title for an article written by anyone with solid background in strength training.

I have heard more than once people quoting me as an example of why NOT to do crossfit: “look at her, do you think SHE does crossfit? Do you think she would lift what she does if she trained that way?”

So I thought it was about time to explain why I don’t do crossfit: because I am a powerlifter. That’s all. I use many interesting ideas from crossfit, sometimes I hitchhike on a WOD for my cardio workout, but I don’t do crossfit. I also snatch, I clean and jerk (on a regular basis, too!), but I am not an Olympic Lifter and will not be one so soon. I do kettlebell swings and snatches, but I am not a girevik.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I thought it would be possible to be a true cross-athlete. My paradigm was Mikhail Koklyaev. I really wanted to prove that it was possible to be almost equally good at many strength sports. What I really managed to do was get myself seriously injured.

I still believe the weightlifts are not only compatible, but good accessory work for me. The chief reason is not to gain power: I prefer deads for this purpose (plus other accessory exercises). Power is a side effect of an activity that, one, transfers back to my lifts; two, saves my brain from overtraining them while doing so; three, has the fantastic side effect of developing power and; FOUR, is fun and provides me with something I need real bad: to have a good time! I can’t max out on my lifts every time I want to do something really fun. I’ll kill myself if I do it (basic periodization principles). But I can spend two hours or more snatching and clean & jerking at a reasonably fun (high) intensity without compromising my overall training plan.

There’s a very good powerlifter who gave me exactly this reason for engaging in serious crossfit training: “it reminds me of my childhood, it makes me happy and I won’t stop it”. Unfortunately, he started stagnating in powerlifting. He might be back on track, or not: I don’t care. He’s young, he’s got time. Powerlifting is something he can do for the rest of his life and is completely amateur. In crossfit, he will never be a professional for other reasons. Why not let the boy have some fun? One day he will crave the monogamous relation with powerlifting again and he will find some other way of feeding his inner child. Or not.

The truth is that performance at the elite level requires such a monogamous relationship. I don’t think WODs are fun at all, so it is not a problem for me. Giving up on improving my Olys was: it became clear to me that it was either that or watch my powerlifts suffer.

So, why don’t I do crossfit? Because I am a powerlifter – that’s all. And no, it is not because it is a bad training method.


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