Saturday, May 03, 2008

CrossFit and Climbing

I've been asked a number of times about the value of CrossFit style training for climbers. For those unaware, this is one of the latest fads to emerge in the fitness world (every few years, there is always something "new and improved" to entice the public and media). I address this subject in the second edition of my book Climbing: Training for Peak Performance, which is now off to the printer. Here is the excerpt:

Training Cults
A recent trend in the past few years has been the emergence of training cults, with adherents that gush on and on about how their method is the “best” and anything else is garbage training. The best known of these is CrossFit, which is essentially a business franchise masquerading as new fitness program.

That is not to say CrossFit is all bad. Indeed, there are some very good aspects that the individual trainers, gyms and the web sites offer. Perhaps the most valuable part of the CrossFit program is motivation that comes from the camaraderie. The underlying principle of high-intensity cross training is also reasonably sound, though hardly new or innovative, and can lead to solid fitness gains if used wisely.

However, there is also a high risk of acute injury from many of the exercises, some of which are completely unnecessary. Due to the frequent high intensity of the workouts, there is a potential for chronic fatigue without a good athletic base. And no generic program will ever produce the results of a well-structured training program tailored to the needs and goals of the individual.

The forums, newsletters, and certification materials contain good information scattered with unscientific nonsense about physiology and nutrition. This misinformation may not cause harm but it certainly doesn’t help. The trainers only take a 2-day class with no written exam for certification, which is very weak comparatively (see “Trainers” in Chapter 6 for more details).

If you educate yourself about the pros and cons of CrossFit, or similar concepts, and need the motivation of that style of training, the workouts and gyms can be helpful. For those adopting a periodized training program, high-intensity cross training during the power endurance phase could lead to serious strength gains. However, drinking the Kool-Aid and joining a training cult on a year-round basis may not be in your best interests in the long run.
Note that although I mention CrossFit, I'm really talking about all of the heavily hyped training programs (kettlebells, Indian clubs, whatever comes out next year) that get discussed on the Net and in the general media. Elsewhere in my book I discuss how they all work, to some degree, if you keep with them. But the bigger question is what is the most time efficient training for you.

And before you point at Mark Twight and his Gym Jones program, notice that he has pulled the videos from his site and has come nearly full circle in his thinking on endurance training. Gym Jones was always more sophisticated than generic CrossFit and Mark is refining the programs even more. Also notice that Rob Shaul at Mountain Athlete goes far beyond basic CrossFit by addressing the needs of climbers, though I believe he is under-rating the value of endurance training. Both Mark and Rob realize that general physical preparedness can only get you part way to your goals.

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