Tony is Critical of CrossFit, But Should He Be?

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Relax. My ego hasn’t ballooned to the point where I now refer to myself (and my posts) in the third person. Although I do kinda like the sound of it:

  • Tony is critical of washing the dishes and putting them away, but should he be?
  • Tony thinks Audi should sponsor this website, preferably by giving him a car.
  • Tony’s birthday is today, and he’s going to deadlift and eat bacon. He feels November 30th should permanently be referred to as National Deadlift and Bacon Day.1

As it happens today’s post is a guest post by personal trainer, Travis Pollen, who used me as his subject matter (hence the title).

Brilliant if you ask me.

Travis has written for this site before, on innovative ways to include bands in your training, and he’s back today with a look into CrossFit and how it’s helped influence the way we program.

FYI: Travis recently released a new e-book, 50 Fit Tips (available for free HERE), in which he advocates for a unique blend of powerlifting, bodybuilding, kettlebells, and CrossFit to help readers look, feel, and move better.

Tony is Critical of CrossFit, But Should He Be?

The short answer to the question posed in the title of this post is yes. Of course Tony should be critical of CrossFit. Exercises like rebounding box jumps, GHD sit-ups, and overhead kettlebell swings have no place in most people’s training, and Tony deserves a good baseball-slap-on-the-rear for his uncompromising viewpoint.

This is the greatest photoshop picture ever. Gentilcore printed onto an MLB jersey?! 13 year old Tony would have a raging boner right now if he saw this.

But a simple yes doesn’t make for a very compelling blog post, does it? Let’s dig a little deeper.

Oftentimes, fitness professionals adopt a polarizing stance on a topic in an attempt to keep their pupils safe. In general, this is a good thing. Sometimes, they’ll even flip-flop sides later on when new evidence is presented. After all, changing one’s mind is a sign of maturity, right?

Note from TG: Maturity is my middle name. Which is why I wrote THIS article a while back defending CrossFit.

Practices like long distance running, yoga, and, most recently CrossFit have all, at some point, been the subject of fitness floggings. The truth, however, is that there are pros and cons to every flavor of fitness (except the Tracy Anderson method), and program design doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition in terms of their inclusion or exclusion.

None of this.

What I mean is that we don’t have to choose just powerlifting, bodybuilding, CrossFit, strongman, kettlebells, or yogalates (unless we want to). Instead, we can analyze each modality, incorporate the elements we like, and ditch the ones we don’t.

Being critical is beneficial; being absolutist is not.

For instance, although both Tony and I love powerlifting, it doesn’t mean we totally reject things like bodybuilding and kettlebell training, for elements from these domains can help our clients and athletes excel. We would be negligent if we didn’t throw in some curls and KB swings every now and again.

Even better, here’s trainer and Men’s Health fitness expert, BJ Gaddour, doing both curls and kettlebells at the same time!

One of the aspects of CrossFit that I’ve chosen to adopt is its varied set and rep schemes, and I encourage others to do the same.

To appeal to authority2, Tony has already embraced at least one of them, even though he might not know it yet.

Read on to find out more.

It’s important to point out that CrossFit didn’t invent the set and rep schemes I’m about to discuss. However, it has popularized them over the last decade, so it does deserve some credit.

Here are a few of my favorite protocols, their benefits, and examples of how I implement each.

1) Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM)

Description: Set a clock for a specified period of time, and perform a set number of reps at the beginning of each minute. Rest, breath, or do some mobility work for the rest of the minute.

Primary Benefit: Strength and power. This framework is a good alternative to simply timing rest periods since the lifter is penalized (by a reduced amount of rest) for dilly-dallying during the actual set.

Example: 3 dynamic effort deadlifts at the top of each minute with a 10RM load for 10 minutes, resting for the rest of the minute.

2) 21-15-9

Description: Perform 3 sets of two exercises with a descending rep scheme, alternating between exercises. Minimize inter-rep and inter-set rest in order to complete the work in the shortest amount of time possible.

Primary Benefit: Hypertrophy/pump, density (work divided by time).

Example: A couplet of curls and skull crushers with a 15RM load (i.e. 21 curls, 21 skull crushers, 15 curls, 15 skull crushers, 9 curls, 9 skull crushers).

3) As Many Rounds/reps As Possible (AMRAP)

Description: Set a clock for a specified period of time, and perform as many rounds or reps as possible of the given exercise(s). Rest as little as possible.

Primary Benefit: Density, analogous to sports in which work is done for a set period of time, as opposed to a specified number of sets and reps.

Example: As many rounds as possible in 10 minutes of 5 reps each of bench press, pull-ups, and squats using 12RM loads.

4) Chipper

Description: Lay out the desired implements in an obstacle course fashion (because who doesn’t love an obstacle course?). Move across the physical space performing the exercises for a specified distance or number of reps, aiming to complete the course as fast as possible.

Primary Benefit: Conditioning and work capacity, plus the feeling of completing a badass obstacle course.

Example: 10-yard tire flip, 50-yard farmer’s carry, 10-yard seated sled pull, 50-yard overhead walking lunge — all while listening to John Mayer.


Proceed With Caution

With all these schemes, the most important thing to remember is never to sacrifice form for reps. Watch the best CrossFitters on TV, and you’ll see that the ones who consistently win do so with beautiful technique ­– even under distress.

Of course, the problem of lousy form isn’t unique to these protocols or to CrossFit. (Just visit any globo gym, and you’ll quickly realize it’s an epidemic.) It’s just a little harder to control when the clock is running, as with CrossFit-style training.

Although I am endorsing some of CrossFit’s set and rep schemes, I’m not saying that your next workout should consist of a 30-minute AMRAP of kipping pull-ups and high-rep Olympic lifts (scoliosis for AMRAP, as Tony might say).

Again, be critical. Although I don’t have a problem with those practices for competitive CrossFitters, you must apply the protocols judiciously based on your own level of fitness.

Do this properly, and you’ll reap far greater benefits than if you were to completely ignore them simply because they came to you via CrossFit.

About the Author

Travis Pollen is an NPTI certified personal trainer and American record-holding Paralympic swimmer. He recently completed his master’s degree in Biomechanics and Movement Science at the University of Delaware. He maintains his own blog and is always posting fitness tips and videos of his “feats of strength” on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. Make it happen Obama.

  2. In evidence-based practice, citing expert opinion actually is not one of the strongest forms of evidence, but since this is Tony’s blog, he’s tops.

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