CrossFit has gained considerable recognition over the last five years in the Plattsburgh area and beyond, and many have asked what it is.
Due to some claims that CrossFit can cause a higher incidence of injury, people also wonder whether it is safe.
The answer I give anyone regarding the safety of an exercise program is this: It depends who is instructing it. Exercise, in any capacity, must be prescribed appropriately. If the instructor does not have the appropriate education in exercise physiology and human movement, they most likely will not understand the complex mechanisms that occur. It is extremely important that your instructor, no matter what exercise program you are doing, has a very good understanding of how the body works.
CrossFit itself is an excellent way for healthy individuals to develop stamina, body control and strength. At its core, CrossFit promotes hard work and dedication to reach your goals. Added to this is the fact that most CrossFit workouts put you against the clock and against other participants to fuel the feeling of competition. This is likely why many athletes are attracted to this type of workout.
While competition is great, many who do not have previous experience with complex resistance-training exercises often will break down their form when doing a workout at a fast pace. An instructor who knows exercise progression will be able to help you get started and will make sure to put form and mechanics first. Calisthenics or body-weight exercises are best to start with, followed by higher intensity, more complex exercises as you advance.
CrossFit combines gymnastics or body-weight exercise, cardiovascular exercise and weightlifting. Body-weight exercises include push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups, as well as hand-stand push-ups. Cardiovascular components add running, rowing or biking to the mix.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are weightlifting exercises such as dead lifts, presses and Olympic lifts, which are extremely advanced. Olympic exercises consist of powerful movements that move a weighted bar off the floor and overhead. Variations of the Olympic lifts are also done, which break the full Olympic movements into less complex parts. These exercises can take years to learn how to teach appropriately, which is why they should be taught by someone who has had years of experience studying the human body.
CrossFit certifications only require an instructor to be 17 years of age, to take a two-day course and to pass a test in person. This is not sufficient education by any means to be instructing exercise, let alone Olympic lifts. Certifications that are worthy of this include those accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). These require a four-year degree in exercise science or a related degree. Make sure that your CrossFit instructor has some type of formal education beyond their CrossFit certification, preferably a four-year degree.
Though CrossFit does many good things for healthy individuals, it is not recommended for those who have cardiovascular, pulmonary and/or metabolic disease. I personally would also not recommend it for those who have any serious orthopedic conditions. If you are going to participate in CrossFit, you must be screened for these types of issues.
I have heard many say that CrossFit just “works.” My question is, how do you define a workout that works? Is it one that just helps you reach your goals? Or is it a workout that helps reach your goals and at the same time minimizes injury? If an exercise program greatly reduces the time that it takes to reach your fitness goals but ends up hurting you in the process, it did not work. This is true for any exercise program in general and is very important when considering a fitness routine.
As I stated before, CrossFit is as safe as the person instructing it. My best advice is to do your research and find out what qualifications your instructor has before participating in the program. CrossFit seems to be very effective at reducing body fat, increasing lean muscle and developing core strength. Just make sure it does all of this while keeping you injury-free.
If you want a detailed description of what CrossFit entails, a CrossFit training guide is available at www.crossfit.com. The template and theories behind the sport and training regimen are shown in the guide as well.
Ted Santaniello, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer and the fitness supervisor at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.