Almost everyone asks me this question at some point in time. What’s the difference between what we do and what Crossfit does? It’s a very valid question. You already know they both involve weight training, various body weight movements, and uses some of the same types of equipment. But there are stark differences between the two that may help you decide what’s best for you.
To use an analogous illustration, do you know the difference between an Internal Medicine Doctor and a Family Practice Doctor? They both wear white coats, both went to Medical School and both bear the initials MD. Internal Medicine Doctors only deal with adults (unless specially cross-trained for pediatrics) and are specifically trained for advanced and complicated disease processes in subspecialties such as endocrinology, rheumatology, infectious diseases, and neurology. Family Practice Doctors possess a broader scope of generalized medical training with emphasis on the entire family unit (adults and children), typically in the outpatient setting with wellness and disease prevention as their primary focus. Lay persons rarely know the difference but as you can see, there is a substantial difference between the two types of clinical practice. Strength & Conditioning training, which is what we do at Wolf Den Strong, and Crossfit fitness are equally different in its goals, training, and methods.
Training is physical activity done with a longer-term goal in mind, the constituent workouts of which are specifically designed to produce that goal. ¹
Exercise is physical activity for its own sake, a workout done for the effect it produces today, during the workout or right after you’re through. ¹
Although exercise is an inclusive part of training in the sense that work is being performed, the intent is not purpose based or long-term in its objectives, other than, well, becoming better at exercise.
Training is goal oriented over a long-time period such as a few months or a year that is divided into very specific daily tasks to support those goals. The application of which is called cycled programming. Each cycle is comprised of time periods that delineate the objective which support the overall goals, be it strength, conditioning, power development, speed, stability, etc.
Crossfit, the goals of which are meant to be a daily dose of balls to the wall exercise, emphasizes the instant gratification of our society that we want, what we want, and we want it now. That business model sells.
Training, like what a college or pro baseball player might undertake, follows specific programming at specific times of the year that coincide with the goal of being primed for in-season ball. All of the strength work, conditioning work, mobility work, and speed/power development is designed to support the goal of being a better pitcher, catcher, or short stop, not for one game, but for the entire season.
Are you catching on yet?
The Pros of Crossfit
Crossfit prides itself on randomness and intensity in their workouts, typically done for time. It is exercise with the intent to improve generalized fitness. It is NOT training. Let me say that again. Crossfit is not training. Crossfit has done an amazing job of spreading barbell training to working Moms and Dads, professionals, and students. It has made the terms Snatch and Clean & Jerk household talking points at the dinner table. The genius of its marketing strategies has helped it spread all over the world. There are good reasons for that.
Crossfit primarily sells itself on being random and based on moving lighter loads at high intensity for time or rounds. It employs this method through their “Workout of the Day”, or WOD. Crossfit.com states the following:
“CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.” ²
“The program prepares trainees for any physical contingency—not only for the unknown but for the unknowable, too. Our specialty is not specializing.” ²
“We scale load and intensity; we don’t change the program.” ²
CrossFit is also about the concept of “community” – the reinforcement of behavior through group participation and group approval. A better-than-average group of people that likes you and helps you be better is a very powerful motivator for improvement, and CrossFit: The Community provides this in abundance. ¹
These two very powerful motivating factors – non-boring and in-group social dynamics – working together, do the best job of reinforcing workout adherence that has ever been brought to play in the fitness industry. ¹
I have always said that I value Crossfit for what it has brought to this industry. Without its popularity, I probably wouldn’t be writing this to you now.
The Cons of Crossfit
If a program of physical activity is not designed to get you stronger, or faster, or better conditioned by producing a specific stress to which a specific desirable adaptation can occur, you don’t get to call it training. It’s just exercise. ¹
Crossfit, or high intensity randomized exercise, will help you get better quickly. The initial physiological adaptations and improvements from newbies entering Crossfit are rapid…at first. Until one of two things happen.
- You plateau.
- You get hurt.
I don’t care what the studies say or who defends them, Crossfit often results in rampant injuries to shoulder joints, Achilles tendons, knee injuries, and back injuries. This occurs because stress causes adaptation. So the initial progress that you made slows down after a while and therefore your return on investment begins to diminish. The Crossfit answer is to go harder & faster. But what you are experiencing is an inability to produce any further physical adaptation to random stress (exercise) applied frequently under time constraints to cause any further improvement and then, progress stalls. ¹
After progress stalls, and you continue to go harder and faster, the tissues no longer have the ability to absorb the load and cumulative damage and the result is serious injury. Every person that has either come to our facility from Crossfit, or inquires about us that has trained in Crossfit has suffered some degree of injury, primarily shoulder and/or lumbar spine.
I’ll go a step further and tell you that not only can physical injuries occur, but when someone continues to plow through harder and faster, the stress on the body can and will have a damaging effect on all sorts of bodily functions like hormone production, fat retention, and inflammation. Stress, even perceived good stress, can have its pitfalls.
A quick note on Crossfit Pros. The athletes that compete at the highest levels of competition do not follow the main Crossfit site programming. The level of strength and conditioning they have to achieve will never be attained through Crossfit methodology. They have to TRAIN intelligently for the purpose to advance to competition levels and not just randomly exercise in the hopes that they will be good enough.
Strength is the Foundation
Getting stronger improves all other athletic parameters. It helps endurance, power development, better coordination, improved proprioception. Improving strength develops lean muscle which improves a whole host of bodily processes like insulin sensitivity and bone density. In terms of athletics, stronger is always better.
For you, the officer worker, nurse, lawyer, construction pro, wife, husband, or otherwise just you and I, strength builds durability and resiliency. What’s better in the long term? That is the difference between harder and faster and purposeful and steady. Crossfit doesn’t allow for that kind of adaptability to occur with its randomness and constantly varied forms of exercise.
What we do at Wolf Den is get you stronger and better conditioned, over a period of time, utilizing specific objectives to achieve that goal. Sometimes that objective might even be to slow it down. It’s an emphasis on doing more with less injury to develop a highly durable mind and body that can withstand the test of time with resiliency when something does occur.
Crossfit is just exercise and for many that is good enough, until that exercise isn’t good enough anymore. Crossfit cannot negotiate with this dilemma because it’s a problem that cannot be resolved with more exercise. Often enough, load and intensity isn’t the answer at all and the program must be adapted to individual, not the masses. Otherwise, you’re just part of the herd without direction.
For the rest of us, exercise should lead to training and training should lead to purposeful, well planned programs that have long-term positive results.