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Ligers, Beefalos, and CrossFit

Dr. Beau Beard, DC, CCSP, owner of, The FARM: Functional Athletic Rehabilitation and Medicine, in Birmingham, Al brings us an insightful guest post on the optimization of the CrossFit experience. This is a great post that really puts the injury debate in to the proper perspective and highlights where our efforts as trainers and athletes should be focused. It’s not all about output and PR’s. It’s about lifelong health and fitness.

Get a male lion and a female tiger together and you get a liger, a male cow and a female buffalo and you get a beefalo…now if we combine preventative body maintenance and functional fitness we could arrive at ‘Crossfit’. I emphasize could arrive at ‘Crossfit’ because as we all very well know, not all boxes/gyms are created equal. Within the same zip code we could have a variety of gyms, all with their own unique identity, programming, athletes and struggles.

Crossfit catches a lot of flack for causing injuries, over-programming, poor technique and a whole slew of other negative claims, but at the end of the day we have to take a step back and not examine ‘Crossfit’ as a brand or entity, but instead each box, box owner and the coaches and athletes within those facilities. I have personally been witness to gyms that put injury limitation, I purposefully say ‘limitation’ rather than prevention because injuries WILL happen, at the forefront. These gyms have fantastic coaches, which first and foremost understand how to coach technique and provide appropriate programming in order to avoid injury and improve performance, rather than just push athletes to vomit-inducing workouts day after day. Most of these gyms are headed by owners and coaches who also know their own limitations, meaning that they have sought out professionals who understand injury assessment and treatment, nutrition planning and sport specific coaches to help tailor their workouts to certain subsets of their membership. In my opinion this is crucial to the success of a box, or for that matter any business endeavor.

Gray Cook (graycookmovement.com) is quoted as saying, “if adding more movement was the cure for the current decline of American health, then P90X would have solved the problem…” That’s just it though, more movement is not necessarily the fix, but instead increasing load and frequency after and ONLY after adequate movement parameters have been obtained should be at the primary objective. We see new exercise marketing, equipment and gyms pop-up on a daily basis, but hardly any of these look at MOVEMENT as an entity separate from fitness. We see folks Zumba’ing their brains out, running until they break or working on ‘mirror muscles’ until they can’t scratch their own back. Thanks in part to the efforts of those like Kelly Starrett and his MobilityWOD adventure, Crossfit and its constituents are starting to integrate more mobility and movement work into athletes’ every day routines. This hybridization of the strength & conditioning, physical therapy, chiropractic, etc… worlds has created a new class of fitness deemed, ‘functional fitness”.

We have to take a quick stroll down FUNCTIONAL lane, if we are going to call something ‘functional’ we have first make sure that we are improving function during these workouts. If function is going to be defined as how many double-unders I can do, or how much I can lift overhead, then I guess it is functional. On the other hand if those workouts don’t address pr-existing movement dysfunctions and limitations and attack those issues, then I don’t know if ‘functional’ is the right moniker. Crossfit claims that it builds athletes to be a jack-of-all-trades; running faster over longer distances, lifting heavier weights for more reps, building bigger traps and a six -pack (I don’t know if this a side-effect or goal). If we really examine whether Crossfit lives up to the claims of producing overall better athletes and therefore better humans, I think we find that instead it actually produces humans that are simply better at CrossFit, and there is nothing wrong with that! However, if CrossFit, or some future branch off CrossFit like workouts looks to be the solution to the health epidemic American is facing, then I think we need to focus on truly improving function, which in turn produces better humans. These are a few principles that I believe are necessary to take CrossFit style workouts to this level.

Any type of workout will magnify movement imperfections, Crossfit turns the magnification power up to 400x by putting athletes through a variety of Olympic lifts, gymnastics movements and endurance tasks. Knowing what movement limitations and previous injuries an athlete brings to the gym will dictate what movements can be performed safely, what movements need to be scaled and where mobility/stability work should be focused.

It is somewhat common knowledge that squatting with a rounded low back can cause an injury, but it is not as apparent that things like poor breathing patterns and improper grip lead to just as many injuries. This is where reaching out to professionals in the area can greatly improve overall knowledge base and therefore overall athlete outcomes at any given box or gym.

A lot of strength and conditioning coaches and sports coaches’ deny that Crossfit can be a suitable cross training solution for a high level athlete, and they have good reason to doubt. Crossfit does not focus on particular energy systems, movement requirements or skill requisition. It is builds the perfect generalist, which some would argue builds a better athlete. In the one sense this is great because it does truly allow for robust athletic development, but it can also be the demise of a developing sport specific athlete. I urge coaches to find out what an athletes goals are, this does not mean that we have to program for each individual, but if we are scaling movements for injury limitation why not for sport specific performance?

I realize that implementing these principles requires some work and planning, but I firmly believe that the best boxes and gyms are already doing all of these things to some degree. There is room for improvement in any field or profession, and I truly think that Crossfit can spin the ‘injury inducing’ stigma in to the exact opposite, by combining the best of strength and conditioning with the best of musculoskeletal assessment and treatment. Sounds a bit like a hybrid to me, so go let’s leave the lions on the plains and the tigers in the jungle, let’s create REAL ‘functional fitness’.

hy~brid – the offspring of…two different species or varieties

About the Author:
Dr. Beard has worked intimately with athletes of all levels and all sports. He has worked with the University of Missouri, Bradley University, Lindenwood University and most recently Samford University, and has served as assistant medical director of several trail and road races. He has extensive training in chiropractic adjusting, myofascial release, kinesio taping, sports rehabilitation, exercise prescription, athlete assessment and sport specific development.

Dr. Beard lives an active lifestyle, which he fills with, trail running, golfing, snow skiing, travel and photography, he shares all of these activities with his wife Dr. Sloan Beard. He lives his life by the three tenants of health; good exercise, good nutrition and good rest. Dr. Beard believes with these three pillars of health and the power of chiropractic, that everyone has the potential of reaching optimum performance. Dr. Beard is available for seminars, team assessment and development, or one-on-one appointments.

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