A coach’s job is not confined to his/her time inside the gym.  Let me rephrase that – A GOOD coach’s job is not confined to his/her time inside the gym.  As coaches, trainers, and educators we wear many hats, and one of those hats needs to be “scientist.”  We should always be looking to expand our knowledge, explore what we don’t know or understand, and be constantly searching for the mechanisms behind results.

The broader and deeper our education, the more effective coach we will become.  I doubt anyone would contest that.

Then why is it that so many coaches end up narrow-minded when it comes to training philosophies?

I can appreciate that many of us found success for ourselves and our clients following one particular methodology.  And as the saying goes, “Don’t change a winning game.”  But is that sufficient?

That’s going to depend on your clientele and their needs.  Perhaps the most poignant motto in strength, conditioning, and performance is Power Athlete’s “What Are You Training For?”

If you are a yoga instructor, and your clients are coming to you for improved flexibility, relative body strength and awareness, connective tissue health, and some mental clarity, then give them all the yoga they can take.  But if a high school freshman comes to you because he wants to get big and strong to make the football team, you had better not claim that yoga will fulfill all his training needs.

That analogy is easy to follow, but when it comes to lifting weights, getting strong, and being “fit,” we start to see the takeover of ego, superiority, and plain ol’ stubbornness.

The Scientific Method

Let’s say a client wishes to add 50 pounds to his Back Squat 1RM.  He follows Program X and achieves his goal in 12 weeks.  Now let’s say a different coach works with a similar client who has the same goal.  He uses Program Y, and that client also adds 50 pounds to his back squat in 12 weeks.  Does this mean that Program Y is now the preferred way to accomplish this?  Of course not.  It was merely achieved through a different mechanism.

So why all the fuss about one way being superior to another?  Again, probably due to success from one method, without an open mind to other methods.

With that in mind, now comes the polarizing part of the article.  The part where I talk about… Crossfit.

Before the hate mail starts flooding in, let’s clear the air.  I myself coach Crossfit classes and use it when appropriate with my private clients and athletes.  This article is simply examining its mechanisms so you can determine if it indeed fulfills what you are training for.

(and don’t worry, we’re going to examine athletes outside of Crossfit, too, so be sure to read through to the end)

Under the Microscope

From CrossFit HQ’s official “Foundations” manifest:

“Aside from the breadth or totality of fitness the CrossFit Program seeks, our program is distinctive, if not unique, in its focus on maximizing neuroendocrine response, developing power, cross-training with multiple training modalities, constant training and practice with functional movements, and the development of successful diet strategies.”

True.  Of course, Greg Glassman did not invent these exercises. Or combing them together for metabolic conditioning. Or proper diet strategies.  But that is an accurate description of the program.

“The fitness community from trainers to the magazines has the exercising public believing that lateral raises, curls, leg extensions, sit-ups and the like combined with 20-40 minute stints on the stationary bike or treadmill are going to lead to some kind of great fitness. Well, at CrossFit we work exclusively with compound movements and shorter high intensity cardiovascular sessions. We’ve replaced the lateral raise with push-press, the curl with pull-ups, and the leg extension with squats. Why? Because compound or functional movements and high intensity or anaerobic cardio is radically more effective at eliciting nearly any desired fitness result. Startlingly, this is not a matter of opinion but solid irrefutable scientific fact and yet the marginally effective old ways persist and are nearly universal.”

Sorry, Coach Glassman.  Swing and a miss on that one.

That paragraph is either riddled with ignorance or is intended as a marketing scheme to pull the wool over our eyes.  Or both?

Skipping over the aerobic/anaerobic cardio comments (which deserve their own attention and correcting), let’s look at the strength training claims: Working exclusively with compound movements without the use of lateral raises, curls, leg extensions, sit-ups and the like is radically more effective at eliciting nearly any desired fitness result.

Their philosophy is that there is no need for isolation exercises when you can do a compound exercise to work the same muscle group.  The example given is that the lateral raise is replaced by the push press.  That’s like saying that skateboards should be replaced by Toyotas.  The two things serve completely different functions, and each are going to serve you better depending on the circumstance.

In regards to shoulders, a Push Press primarily recruits the anterior deltoids, while a Lateral Raise primarily recruits the lateral deltoids (and can also be adjusted to focus more on the rear delt).  Moving your arms up and moving your arms out to the side are two distinct anatomical motions.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d prefer to be proficient in every movement the shoulder has to offer.  Abduction, flexion, horizontal adduction, internal rotation, extension, horizontal abduction and external rotation are not all achieved by overhead pressing.

Before we take an intermission, let me reiterate that the objective of this article is not to take sides.  It’s to show you all sides, so you can make educated decisions or seek out the training and services you want.  And maybe it’s just a matter of supplementing your current routine with elements of something else.

And on that note, we’ll pick this up next week in Part 2.

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