Everyone who lifts weights has a “thing” that they swear by. Whether it’s a staple exercise or a certain technique, someone will always try and push their methodologies on someone else, debating that their way of training is second to none. That may or may not be true, but as everyone is different and reacts to protocols differently, it is impossible to say whether one training philosophy is better or worse than the next. What we can do, however, is to compare different methodologies and see which ones fit better into your lifestyle, or maybe even combine a variety of training methods to see which fits best. Here, we are gonna talk about CrossFit. Now then… some of you might wanna crucify us for talking about the dreaded CrossFit, and others may want to sing our praises – whatever you wanna do… is cool wit us, yo!
One thing we do know, CrossFit is obviously here to stay, and many people swear religiously by it. Does Gone Liftin’ approve of it? Well, we can’t tell you that, as we are here for unbiased divulgence of information. What we can do, though, is discuss the benefits of this training method, and compare / contrast it the “old school” type of training, which is basically just lifting really heavy shit, often, and keep doing more and more!
CrossFit vs Conventional is an interesting article from SpotMeBro.com which discusses the differences, both negative and positive, about the different training methodologies, and how CrossFit can be beneficial. Yes, yes it can actually be beneficial…
The phenomenon that is CrossFit has completely divided Strength & Conditioning coaches. On the one hand many herald Rich Froning (pictured above) as the second coming of Christ and ‘The World’s Fittest Man’. On the other, people avoid CrossFitters like the plague in fear they will catch the dreaded rhabdomyolysis, a rare condition where the muscles eat away at themselves following strength training protocols that are too high in volume, duration, and weight.
Now, whether you incorporate CrossFit or Olympic Lifting or Bodybuilding, the premises are all the same:
…to get faster, stronger, or bigger you need to load your body above its habitual level (the level it’s accustomed to doing)
This should make sense to everyone, right? Ok, good, cause it’s pretty black and white. Everytime you hit the gym or the track or the field, the goal is to perform better than the last time you were there working on the same thing. If you’re not making progress, then you’re going backwards; no one wants to go backwards – you could fall and get a boo-boo!
Anyway, without bashing either method or trying to debate which one is better, let’s go over the differences between CrossFit and Conventional Training, unbiased of course, as usual…
The main mantra of Crossfit is to deplete, endure, and repeat. The only problem is this type of balls-out, constant high intensity, heavy load training puts a lot of stress on the body and can lead to overtraining. This is where your immune system is suppressed, your central nervous system is fried, and your neurotransmitters are exhausted. Whereas conventional, ‘old school’ training emphasizes ‘periodization’ and the systematic planning of your training with set cycles. So 1 week hard, 1 week easy, 1 week medium (a very basic cycle). But what exactly happens inside the body during a savage CrossFit session that makes it so bad for the immune system?
Stimulating the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the Immune System can be a good thing while working out, but does CrossFit take it to the next level? Well, really high intensity training over a long period of time, day in and day out, causes the immune system to “crash.” The white blood cells which protect us from infections and diseases are depleted, and do not carry the nutrients as efficiently, because the Immune System has been depleted and is in a weakened state. The quote below has a perfect analogy:
To use a sports metaphor, this is like trying to defend with 4 less players on the field (white blood cells/ leukocytes) compared to your opposition (the infection/ bacteria). Granted you could put up a decent fight, but chances are you’d lose and the opposition (bacteria) would win (you become ill and miss leg day).
On top of that, those that are prone to overtraining are even more at risk for an Immune System crash while implementing CrossFit training methods. On the flip side, there are some of us who can withstand greater loads on the body’s systems, and can handle the rigors of CrossFit, without much worry that our white blood cells won’t be performing up to par. Some welcome overtraining, and even believe it can be a good thing. I guess lots of guess-and-check will have to be utilized to see what kinda limits you can take your body to…
Another thing to consider is the hormonal response to each form of training. Firstly it’s common knowledge that heavy compound movements increase testosterone levels. So much so at the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University, Muncie, it was found that ‘strength training can induce testosterone release, regardless of age.’ Going into a little more detail typically experts recommend including heavy compound movements like squat, bench and dead lift in your workouts, with 90 seconds or more rest between sets, lifting at 85% of your maximum weight and for a gym session lasting no more than 60 minutes to induce the biggest release of testosterone.
CrossFit obviously does not fit these parameters. The way CrossFit is set up has actually been shown to increase cortisol levels (bad thing), reduce Testosterone (worse thing), and possibly lead to muscle breakdown (the worst thing) Yikes! What the fuck, CrossFit?!
In study conducted in Spain at the Athletic Club of Bilbao researchers wanted to specifically look into how hormones and exercise intensity effect the immune system. They examined key hormonal markers such as 24-hour urinary cortisol : cortisone ratio, testosterone : cortisol ratio, testosterone and cortisol on their own and lastly plasma catecholamines, insulin-like growth factor-1 and growth hormone during periods of long, intense, high intensity training again reminiscent of CrossFit. What they found was such training dramatically brought about a change in the hormonal environment within the body, an environment that wasn’t particularly suited to building muscle and also one that allowed pathogens (disease producing agents) to thrive and multiply.
Jaysus!!! That sounds far from beneficial or appealing. But there’s even more…
Scientists cited a rise in cortisol levels for this change, a catabolic hormone that affects muscle mass and also suppresses T-cell cytokine production (as we know cytokines are essential for a healthy immune system).
To translate: this means we are left weak, depleted, and with our hard earned muscle withering away. Who the hell wants that?! No one! But wait – there is a flip side; high intensity training with minimum amount of rest most definitely stimulates Growth Hormone, which is our main muscle building hormone. CrossFit really dives deep and stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete this muscle building hormone better than any other type of training protocol, or so it seems… With exercise induced Growth Hormone secretion, lactic acid and nitric oxide levels within our bodies are also optimally triggered, and the positive influences of each is noted, highly!
Ahhh… the king! We all workout to have as little body fat as possible, right?? Well, not all of us (sumo wrestlers aside), but most of us…
One thing that’s evident when watching the CrossFit games is that rarely do you see body fat over 12% (on both the men and women). This could be perhaps best explained by research conducted at the Physical Activity Sciences Laboratory at Laval University, Québec, Canada that compared exercise intensities and their effect on lipid (fat balance) and body fat levels. What they found was higher intensity training produced metabolic adaptations that greatly favoured the process of lipid oxidation (fat oxidisation) compared to steady, moderate cardio.
What CrossFit definitely has over Conventional Training is the fat loss factor. No one can doubt the powers of CrossFit for shedding unwanted body fat. It’s basically a protocol consisting of seemingly endless bouts of high intensity interval training. And if we learned anything from Gone Liftin’s High Itensity Interval Training article, it’s that HIIT is GOD of the fat burning methods!! Does that mean that slow, steady-state cardio has no place in a regime? Well, we say that it does not, but others might say it does. No one will argue that HIIT is better in every way, shape, and form for conditioning and for body composition. This is hardly debatable. Maybe taking some of the ideas from CrossFit, as far as high intensity interval training, would be beneficial by melding both philosophies into a new-breed type of Conventional Training protocol…
Hopefully these points have shed some light on what CrossFit can and can’t do for you. We can’t say it’s the devil, but we also can’t say it’s a God-send. Like with most things in life – a combination of various beneficial aspects will yield the greatest and safest results…