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“Try it before you knock it”… a Sport Physio’s take on the scientific benefits behind Crossfit.

*Photo Credit, Kevin Rom. Pictured here, author Nick Pereira. Member of Higher Life Crossfit

Ask a healthcare practitioner what their thoughts on Crossfit are… then ask them if they’ve ever tried it! In my experience, there’s not many positive comments around when talking to my fellow health professionals about Crossfit (in South Africa at least), yet many of the nay-sayers are knocking it before giving it a try.

As a sports physiotherapist who has had an extremely positive experience with Crossfit, allow me to share some scientific considerations about this training method with our readers in the hope of encouraging my fellow professionals and hopefully all exercise enthusiasts to give it a try before they write it off.

To be completely honest, I got started because my girlfriend joined our local Crossfit box. She seemed to really be enjoying the training and the environment – brought back a more structured eating approach for the two of us, met new people and I eventually joined because I didn’t want to miss out on a fun time… little did I know, it was the beginning of a complete lifestyle change! Here’s me putting my academic hat on and highlighting some science in favor of Crossfit:

Nutrition

Nutrition is the perfect first heading for this post. Not only because it’s important to me, but it’s a core value for Crossfit. Take a look at the diagram on the Left. It’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Crossfit edition. See the foundation of the pyramid? Nutrition. Not many types of training or exercise methods have more emphasis on the fuel for training, than the actual sport itself – this is a promising start to achieving an improved lifestyle. It makes the activity of Crossfit sustainable, it encourages an improved lifestyle vs. just training to get in shape for the summer. My favorite applications of this is that it empowers people to make better food choices, and to see the link between eating to fuel activity, and encourages healthy relationships with food. Exercise makes you feel good, but eating well makes you exercise better and feel GREAT!

The wonders of interval training

Intervals are often under rated, and avoided, because – they are challenging. Science has been highlighting its benefits for years and we don’t have to look far to find evidence for this. The metabolic conditioning, or WOD (workout of the day)/METCON approach employed by Crossfit is aimed to get your Heart Rate up, and allow you brief periods to recover which is the ”interval effect”.

You get more “bang for your buck” with this approach: less training time, more calories burnt. It ramps up your metabolism so you keep burning calories into your post workout period for up to 48h. This modality will improve your aerobic capacity and soon enough you’ll be taking the stairs at work or riding your bike to work! Interval training has also been shown to have benefits of decreasing body mass and fat mass. It helps glycaemic control and insulin sensitivity, it will bring down your resting heart rate, and is even good for the elastic parts of your heart and arteries.

It’s also a challenging aspect of fitness to train on your own – which makes it perfect for group training where you have your supportive training partners to push you.

Warm Ups, and Mobility

I’ve never encountered a sport which has such an emphasis on warming up, mobility and general body awareness. The old stereotype that Crossfit patients are hard to clinically manage is seriously ignorant – this sport has mobility, warm ups and progressive strength programmed into EVERY session, making rehab and prehab such an easy sell. The perks of this association is that it creates educated exercisers who understand their bodies and movement better.

Health Professionals: Maybe Crossfit patients are “Hard to Manage” because professionals still advocate complete rest from activity instead of modifying activity and periodizing movement based rehabilitation. Food for thought perhaps…

Training Variability

“Routine is the Enemy” – AMEN!

Training specificity theory says, you adapt to your training mode, which is why cross-training became a recommended addition to sports like running and cycling. The more you do, the better you get, EXCEPT, if you only do one thing – you’ll only improve at that one thing! Combining weightlifting, running, rowing, cycling, swimming, jumping, gymnastics and metabolic conditioning in hundreds of variations of workout formats makes for ample training variability. If you get bored easily, this will be a huge perk for you. If you gravitate towards your strengths this will keep you honest by forcing you to be well rounded in your approach to training.

Resistance and Strength

When I hear women say “I don’t lift weights because I don’t want to look bulky” – it honestly brings me to tears. I enjoy myth-busting misconceptions, but this one never seems to die. I”ll try put it as simply as I can:

Muscle Size – Does Not Equal Strength. This has been proved by showing that you can increase your 1RM without your muscles getting bigger. What I think ladies are afraid of is muscle hypertrophy (increasing muscle cross sectional area) – I can assure you, the improvements in strength you’re likely to experience at Crossfit are due to Neural drive. You’ll have more muscle fibers helping you lift, they’ll become more coordinated and you’ll get stronger without getting bigger – trust me (and science).

Community

Last but not least, from what I’ve experienced over the past year, the Crossfit Community is incredible, not only in SA, but worldwide. Whose cheering you on during your 2h Saturday morning run? Or during your reluctant leg day in the gym? Crossfit for the general public has a You Vs. You type of approach. Comparing your previous capabilities to your current. This makes it easier to cheer your peers on because everyone is on their own journey.

Adherence to exercise prescription and lifestyle changes are easier when done in a community with ample social support. Crossfit sessions are all group training based and its been proven that group training makes people accountable to each other, makes workouts fun and keeps people coming back. You train together, suffer together and laugh about it later together. By having similar interests (exercise and health) you’re likely to socialize together for a post training coffee and next thing you know … you’ve found yourself an awesome community.

*Author: Nick Pereira

Nick is sports and orthopedic physiotherapist and owner of Enhanced Physio based in KZN. He’s an avid Crossfitter, a MSc. Sports & Exercise candidate at the University of Cape Town and has worked in national, schools and professional sports in South Africa since 2013.

*Kevin Rom Photography, at Crossfit Kaiyay Throwdown

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