Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Bodybuilding, Crossfit a love hate story

Crossfit V Bodybuilding who’s side are you on? Me personally it’s either both or neither depending on how you look at it. These days between the lovers and haters it seems everyone must choose a side. I want to make myself clear from the get go. I stand completely in the middle of these two methods. I live in what most people would call the grey area. As a result I often find myself in discussion with passionate lovers and haters. 

For those of you at home who haven’t yet found yourself in one of these discussions (just wait you will) there are really only two sides to this argument out there it seems. Lovers are those who see Crossfit as the be all and end all of fitness. The lovers are devotees of the WOD and mixing it up and just generally being prepared for anything. Haters are those that see Crossfit as unsafe and a fad and for whatever reason are often linked with bodybuilders.  

I would like to address both of these types of extremists because as far as I can see you both live in a different world to me. After all every fitness philosophy has perks and drawbacks and for two sides that seem to be locked in quite a headstrong battle, they share a few similarities. That’s right similarities I can hear my inbox filling up with emails already. 

Personally when I create my workouts I like to use a combination of scientific research and methods. I am also a big believer in experience being one of the greatest tools of all. Now in saying this I would like to add that I have five years of Exercise Science studying under my belt as well over ten years combined experience in Martial Arts, Olympic Weightlifting and general fitness. This combined experience fills me with confidence to draw my own conclusions over some of the methodology suggested by both Crossfit and Bodybuilding. After all why else would I pay thousands of dollars for student loans to the government if not for educated blogging? 

What specifically inspired me to write this post was a conversation held with a friend of mine. Like many people I know on both sides of the argument he is a personal trainer with decades of experience and numerous world class sporting achievements. This person in particular was a hater pure and simple. I was shocked by the remarks he was making in regards to Crossfit. Remarks such as “it`s a fad”, “it`s inefficient”, “it`s not long term”, “it`s just crap”. This seems to echo the hater community pure and simple. Other arguments are the programming has no rhyme or reason and the use of kipping is for idiots. The lovers also have a few opinions about bodybuilders. Some of the remarks include bodybuilders are not being functional and they are all about appearances. 

I would like to analyse some of these arguments. The first thing I would like to address is the common term of fad attached to Crossfit. How do you define a fad? The most common description is something that is popular for a short amount of time. Does Crossfit really fit this term? For one think Crossfit has been around for fourteen years give or take (Founded by Greg Glassman in 2000). 

Fourteen years seems like a long time for something to be a fad. So far I believe Crossfit is appearing like most things in the health in fitness industry. First every fitness philosophy starts small and then becomes more mainstream before contracting once again if not evolving into something new. This rule of expansion and contracting works for everything and does not point to Crossfit being a fad. The only things I have truly seen as fads are health and fitness gadgets sold on T.V. Honestly I can’t even tell you if Crossfit has even reached its maximum popularity yet. It could continue growing and evolving for years to come.

Another argument made against Crossfit is their high rep and high load training. Haters see it as downright dangerous pushing yourself so hard all of the time. In this instance I do agree. All research I have ever read on high rep high load Olympic lifting WODs says it will lead to technical breakdown. Technical breakdown basically means after doing the same lift over and over again it will lead to muscle fatigue which off course leads to poor technique and then potential injury. For example say you are doing high load dead lifts over and over eventually you will fatigue, your shoulders might drop and that could lead to a back injury to put it simply. These kind of WODs concern me because they have such a high risk/injury rate. Now I understand that Crossfit mantra of being prepared for anything even if it doesn’t make sense and I have nothing against it. But you can find other exercises that are physically demanding and create the same results without putting the exerciser at risk.

At first I wasn’t sure what the reasoning is behind the programming of WODs. Sometimes it seems to be done just to grind people into the ground. That was until I was attending university with a now Crossfit box owner. Instead of stacking his programming with injury inducing WODs his had a clear and intelligent design. He even ran an introductory course to WODs to ensure his clients are using proper technique. If you are willing to chat to the trainers at your local box you are likely to find other like-minded trainers writing there programs like this. 

It seems to me that Crossfit isn’t necessarily dangerous but has the same pitfalls of all competitive sports. Trainers that range from bad, good to great. I am often asked by beginners to martial arts “What’s the best style?” I reply “the teacher, master, coach is the most important thing, not the style”. I think it is no different in regards to programming be it Crossfit or any other sport or exercise endeavour. You need to find a box or gym that programs safely and makes you feel comfortable. If you are finding yourself getting injured a lot more than usual then it’s probably a sign to find a new trainer. If you are not sure what to expect then do some research of your own, the internet provides good and simple advice for free. I would like to emphasis once again this problem is found in all sports. Perhaps the only reason it seems higher in Crossfit is due to their high market saturation currently.

Now for some of the arguments surrounding Bodybuilders. I think the biggest complaint Crossfitters have against Bodybuilders is that they aren’t functional. I love this statement because every man and his dog are really behind functional training movements or exercise. It’s so strange because functional just means that it is designed to have a practical use. The problem with this is what is practical to you may not be for me. It all depends with what fitness goals you are trying to achieve or what sport you are competing in. I have had experience with writing programs for the elderly whose goals are to walk to their mailbox or climb a set of stairs. The programs I write for them are full of functional movements but as you could imagine they won’t apply to everyone equally.
So this belief that there are wrong and right functional movements really isn’t right. Just because exercises bodybuilders do don’t apply to Crossfit doesn’t make them wrong. It just makes them functional for bodybuilding. That being said a lot of these so called functional exercise are actually shared by the two sports. For example the humble squat is used by both Crossfitters and Bodybuilders alike. Yep serious a “functional” movement used by opposing groups. If you really compare the two you will find a lot more of these functional movements in common. For example, deadlifts, thrusters, chin-ups, pull ups and even lunges.

Another argument against Bodybuilding is that it’s all about appearance. Well first off let me say off course it is. During competition they are scored on appearance. Why wouldn’t you work at the very thing that gives you a higher score, after all every sport does it. For sports like Olympic Weightlifting, Martial Arts or Boxing there is a big emphasis on weight class and a lot of extra work goes into maximising you scoring potential for competition. Bodybuilders are doing the same thing by putting emphasis on their appearance. Even Crossfitters do it by utilising kipping to maximise the amount or reps they get during competition. Every athlete is looking for an edge during competitions and as far as I can see there is no reason why that is a bad thing. 

Really there is a deeper and a more complex argument going on here. Both sides seem to stereotype how the other trains even though in truth ultimately it is up to the individual not the whole. It’s hard looking past the hordes to get down to the real bare bones of any sports but until you make the effort to do so you can’t expect to understand why they do and what they do. Another key point both sides have seemed to neglect is the overarching principle of specificity. This principle is something it seems Crossfit has tried to beat but won`t as our own anatomy and physiology is the limiting factor. The idea that training with a specified set of “standards” and a few odd extra`s thrown in makes you the most fittest and prepared for anything person on the planet is limited. Bodybuilding is no different they train for appearances getting strong or fast is a side effect. Being that both are sports and yes Crossfit is now a sport it has rules like bodybuilding they are ultimately bound by the rule of specificity. If both sides laid done their ignorance and see they are just points on the continuum of movement and life they would set their differences aside and just get on with what they are doing. I would go as far to say that if there was some transfer in training both sides would benefit. Maybe it`s time they walk in each other’s shoes even if it is once a week.

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