It used to be that coaches warned their athletes against strength training believing that muscle would make the athletes slower and less able to perform.  Then, in the 70’s, bodybuilding boomed and everyone started getting into it.  Athletes, thrilled to see quick physique changes with minimal effort, adopted bodybuilding enthusiastically ignoring their coaches’ warnings.  And for the most part their athletic performance did not suffer because the demands of their sport practice still conferred the necessary athletic adaptations.  But when the general public replaced athletic-style training with bodybuilding and jogging, a sharp decline in fitness, and in health, was the result.

CrossFit founder, Greg Glassman, with an athletic background himself, found the fitness industry in this sorry state when he became a personal trainer.  It was his innovation to replace bodybuilding and long slow distance cardio with athletic training modalities producing incredible results for his clients in very short order.  He was so successful in producing results that other trainers quickly lost clients to him.

And thus the pendulum swung again, this time away from bodybuilding and back to functional, athletic training.  And, as often happens, a few babies were lost with the bathwater.  For example, competitive CrossFitters soon realized that some long slow distance, while not the best way to get fast fitness results – sprinting is far more effective – is nevertheless effective in developing a cardio base to support sport performance.  Generations of athletes like Marvelous Marvin Hagler weren’t putting in hours of roadwork because they wanted to be better runners – Hagler ran from no man – but they knew this conditioning was critical to help them recover between rounds.  So while early versions of CrossFit all but eliminated longer, slower cardio, 5 and 10K runs and rows slowly worked their way back into the CrossFit programming and endurance coaches like Chris Hinshaw found themselves working with the world’s top Crossfit champions to help them become more dominant.

I’ve said it before and will repeat it here: CrossFit is the most effective fitness program I have known.  And no other training methodology has produced the level of athleticism we now see at CrossFit competition. But best does not mean perfect.  CrossFit is ever evolving.  We can still do better.  And sometimes that means rediscovering things that were lost along the way when CrossFit took a hard detour off the conventional fitness track.  To that end, here’s some ways we can make CrossFit even more effective:

1) Worry Less About the Rx
The Rx is there to keep you striving and pushing yourself, your workouts need to be challenging.  But that doesn’t mean you should be attached to the Rx.  In some cases it will actually hold you back.  For example, a floor press is far safer than and equally effective in developing pressing strength as the much more dangerous bench press which cripples and even kills lifters every year.   A floor press may not count as Rx’d and yet the risk reward ratio is far better.  And the dumbbell floor press even more so!  While everyone should be working toward being able to squat to depth under load, on a strength development day, box squats might be a better strength building alternative to full depth back squats.  They will not, of course, be considered as Rx but if it makes you stronger, should you care?  Similarly the hex bar may allow you to deadlift more weight than a conventional barbell.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn the conventional deadlift but on a strength day, if moving heavier loads is your main objective, the hex bar might make more sense.  The Rx is a tool to help push you toward better fitness results, in circumstances when the tool impedes your fitness potential, it is reasonable to lay it aside.

2)  Bodybuilding Works
No, I’m not interested in vanity muscles but I am interested in keeping my joints healthy and strong.  Bodybuilding does not build great athletes because isolation movements are too low in intensity, often fail to use the full functional range of motion and do not accurately replicate how we move in life or in sport as a functional unit.  On its own it will not make you fit.  But low intensity, partial range of motion movements can be perfect for developing strength in the connective tissue of a joint required for performing high intensity, full body movements.  In fact, most bodybuilding exercises were originally derived from sport rehab exercises!  But why not sport prehab?   A swinging bicep hammer curl for example may be the perfect antidote to the elbow cancer that afflicts so many CrossFitters whose tendons are irritated by the high intensity kipping pull up.  If we incorporated the right style of curl we could prepare and protect that joint from injury.  The Sott’s Press, Bradford Press, Dumbbell Pull Overs and Scott’s Press are all exercises that help develop strong, functional shoulder mobility and stability while making your entire shoulder girdle more resilient to injury.  These types of exercises won’t be programmed in a WOD because they do not meet the performance standards of big loads moved long distances in a short time.  They will not improve your functional power or contribute greatly to your overall work capacity and they would be difficult to judge as an athletic event but, they are valuable in their ability to help you safely perform CrossFit’s big, athletic, functional movements so it’s a shame that we discarded them all.  Personally I’ve been reintroducing them to my training and will soon to yours when group classes are once again a thing we can do.  I would not program such movements into a workout but they are useful to practice on rest days or as warm ups or even finishers. 

3) Isometrics are Incredible
With so much focus on concentric and eccentric contractions, everyone, everywhere, seems to have largely forgotten about the third type of contraction: the isometric contraction.  Think static hold: L-Sit Hold, Squat Hold, Hanging Hold, Ring Support, Handstand Hold, Flexed Arm Hang, Plank Hold.  This is an incredible way to develop strength without damaging joints or tissue.  If you want to be strong and resilient to injury, there may be no better way.  Of course isometrics do not produce intensity, and on their own will not make you more athletic. But they will support your athletic development and help you stay injury-free.  Sure, they show up from time to time in CrossFit (look out for the upcoming 3 minute handstand hold!) but because they reduce intensity and are hard to score, their appearance in CrossFit is sadly infrequent.  I believe you should be doing some of these key holds like the squat hold, handstand hold and hanging hold daily.  As Dan John points out sled pulls/pushes and loaded carries are actually just an ambulatory version of a static hold and may be one of the lowest risk and most effective ways to cultivate full body strength!

With CrossFit, Greg Glassman forever changed the fitness industry for the better by replacing less effective training modalities with more effective, athletic ones but it should be remembered that most of the clients he was working with already had a strong foundation in bodybuilding-style exercise.  The CrossFit methodology is effective and it can be more effective when we make sure our clients have the foundational strength and mobility required to safely perform high intensity, full body movements.  And sometimes that means incorporating disciplines like Original Strength, isometrics or even elements of bodybuilding to support their training.  Sometimes it means abandoning the Rx in favour of variations that will produce better results.  The CrossFit methodology has never been static and has always evolved to adopt whatever practices produced the best health and fitness outcomes.  Sometimes that means reclaiming training techniques previously forgotten or discarded. 

Monday Make Up Day   

1) 5 Rounds
3 Power Cleans 155/225
60 m Shuttle sprint (5-10-15)

2) Back Squat

3) 5 Rounds
15 Strict HSPU
15 Strict Ring Dips
1000m Row

4) WF Daily+ Bullet Proofing
1 minute each:
Hanging Hold
Handstand Hold
Squat Hold
Table Pose Hold
Ring Support Hold
L-Sit Hold
Headstand Hold
Crow Pose Hold
Plank Hold Centre
Plank Hold Left
Plank Hold Right

DB Scott’s Press
DB Cheat Hammer Curls
Barbell Bradford Press
DB Pull Overs
Barbell Sott’s Press
Flexed Arm Hang