To CrossFit or Not To CrossFit?

The other day I was killing time (and brain cells) on the Facebook and came across a post Claude Patrick made to his wall that was getting some heated debate.

Claude’s post was about my buddy and colleague Daniel’s latest post on his blog about CrossFit for sport performance.

You can read Dan’s full blog post here, but the gist of what he’s saying is that CrossFit should not be used by mixed martial artists (or any other athlete) because it lacks specific, planned training and reasoning behind the workouts.

If you’re a mixed martial artist and die-hard CrossFitter, then I’m sure your blood is probably boiling instantly vaporizing right now and you’re ready to hammer out a 550 word rebuttal. Post time in the Comments. 😉

I’m pretty sure I’ve been asked whether CrossFit is good or not for MMA… I can’t quite remember because I get so many questions everyday.

Regardless, I’m going to weigh-in on this question now.

Ready?

First, we’ve got to get a general understanding of what CrossFit is so we’re talking about the same thing…

[I’m talking general here, so if I miss any little details, don’t get your panties in a bunch. If I got something completely wrong, please correct me in the Comments section below]

To sum CrossFit up as concisely as possible: it’s a method of training that consists of random workouts (Workout of the Day or WOD) made up of a core group of exercises where the goal is often to complete the WOD as quickly as possible or with as much weight as possible.

The core group of exercises include Olympic lifts, squats, deadlifts, lunges, pushups, chinups, medicine ball throws, running and jumping.

Pretty much any barbell, medicine ball, kettlebell, bodyweight or suspension exercise can be used in a CrossFit routine, but those mentioned above form the core.

Typical CrossFit equipment. All good stuff.

The exercises used are all great exercises and much better than anything you can do on a leg extension or Bosu.

But – this is important – it’s not just about what exercise you do because WHY you’re doing it, which determines reps, sets, rest periods and where exactly in a training program (12 weeks out, 4 weeks out, etc) it lies.

By definition, because the workouts are random, with regards to Daniel’s point that CrossFit lacks specific, planned training, I wholeheartedly agree.

It’s my firm belief that a planned exercise program with exercises and workouts specifically chosen to meet the demands of MMA (or any other sport) will result in superior physical fitness vs. random workouts, and I’m going to explain why.

Does this mean CrossFit is completely useless?

Are we throwing the baby out with the bath water?

The thing is, it’s impossible to fully analyze CrossFit because the workouts are random.

But one common thread exists beneath each workout: to push your anaerobic lactic and/or alactic systems to the max each and every session.

That’s why you often see the pics of guys laid out after a CrossFit workout – their anaerobic systems – and especially their CNS – has been completely trashed.

Sparring tonight will be effective. NOT.

If you do this over and over it can result in CNS overtraining and its unpleasant symptoms: low motivation to train, impaired speed, greater feeling of exertion during workouts, to name a few.

Ever felt that you just didn’t have it in you, despite good nutrition and decent sleep?

Could be CNS fatigue due to too many intense workouts, especially if you perform workouts that consistently leave you trembling when you’re done.

This might be fine if you’re just doing CrossFit, but if you also train MMA 4-5 days a week, you’re setting yourself up for a plateau in not only your fitness, but possibly more importantly, your skill development.

This is because your body will not imprint new techniques effectively if you are spending all of your “adaptation energy” on CNS recovery from your puke bucket workouts.

The old school mentality of pushing your physical limits each and every workout is just that – old school.

Sport science has evolved to the point where we can accurately choose the minimum amount of work necessary to achieve our fitness goals.

If you’re at a lower level of maximal strength and aerobic fitness, you’re better served on focusing on those two elements via high intensity, low volume strength training and moderate volume, low intensity aerobic training vs. a high volume of high intensity anaerobic training.


Here’s When CrossFit Can Be Beneficial…

If you’re at a higher level of max strength and aerobic fitness, you can benefit from CrossFit workouts.

To be at this level, you probably have a few years of strength training, thus your exercise technique is fairly ‘ingrained’ by now and you don’t have to think too much about technique.

Ex-athletes who have been consistent with strength training get the most out of CrossFit and love it because it challenges their competitive spirit.

Slot WODs in 2-3 days/week along with a maximum of 1 intense MMA training session, focusing on lower intensity technical martial arts training.

When doing any CNS intensive training like maximal lifts, jumps, or runs, focus on max intensity and impeccable technique, otherwise you’ll imprint inefficient movements into your system.

Inefficiency is where you waste energy and you don’t have any energy to waste!

I would also only use CrossFit further out from a fight (12 weeks and beyond) because once a fight approaches, naturally you’re going to increase your volume and intensity of MMA training.

The variety of workouts, competitive environment and mental toughness required to push through the lactic acid burn is beneficial to you as a mixed martial artist.

But doing CrossFit within the 12 weeks out window will only interfere with the intensity level you can train MMA and can leave you overtrained and ripe for injury.

Managing volume and intensity while still striving towards improved physical performance is a fine balancing act and the closer a fight gets, the more precise you have to be for peak physical performance.

The key is knowing exactly what it is you’re trying to achieve then doing the absolute minimum amount of work necessary to achieve it.

There is no glory and no special place reserved for you in heaven if you do more work than necessary to achieve your goals (physical or otherwise).

That’s flawed thinking and will waste time and energy better spent on other things, like training MMA, hanging out with family and friends, reading a book, going for a walk, or even just twiddling your thumbs and staring at the blue sky.

That’s why when it comes to step into the cage, following a planned, periodized strength and conditioning program specific for MMA will outperform random workouts every time.

Make sense?

Finally, let me leave you with some philosophic advice to meditate on:

Avoid dogma, keep your mind open. Know your goal, then figure out the path of least resistance to achieve your goal.

Adopt this mindset grasshopper, and you’ll continually find yourself improving while having more and more time and energy and you can choose to direct it where you please.

 

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Shell
Shell

My comment is a little late but whatevs. I liked your post Eric. I’m in my mid-40’s and am 2-3yrs away from reaching my Hapkido black belt. I joined CrossFit to get stronger and be more able to bounce back from the break falls that my body has had to learn from scratch (I was pure nerd with no athletic bone in my body but had always wanted to give martial arts a crack). Now two months into CrossFit I was beginning to wonder whether I should up my 2 sessions/week to 3-4. But now I feel more secure in keeping to 2 CrossFit sessions/week (I’m absolutely smashed each time) given I already train at my Dojan 1-2 times a week. Hapkido and getting to black gives me focus. CrossFit is for me, the easiest way to fine tune my nutrition and get stronger while I’m on that journey –… Read more »

Cam
Cam

Crossfit is not random, it only seems random if you don’t understand DUPs and periodisation. These are the elements that when combined with full body movments and good nutrition turns a meek and mild person into reasonable athlete. The thing is people are judging crossfit for what they see from the outside without actually understanding its methods.

Tim
Tim

Crossfit is not random. Its constantly varied.

Jeremiah
Jeremiah

Wow. I have seen a lot BS on this thread about Crossfit. Ok. Here’s the skinny. I’m shredded. Yes. I have an eight pack. Look me up on Facebook. Jeduhu. I look like a Spartan. Crossfit did that. I went from 20% body fat to 6%. So whoever said that about someone is not able to look like you work out is ridiculous. It is true, though. There will be some in Crossfit gyms that will look like they don’t workout. It took me a while to figure out why. The main thing is that if you workout you must couple it with a good diet plan or no matter how hard you work, results will not come. You’ll just cover them up with carbs. I’m doing a different form of exercise now due to training in Martial Arts at the moment. Although I Iove everything I’m doing, and we… Read more »

Jeremiah
Jeremiah

Oh. And as far as Crossfit and Martial arts go. I’m going back to CrossFit with my Krav Maga training. The strength and power you get from Crossfit just can’t be replaced. That’s my two cents.

Bobby
Bobby

Ha. Everyone here probably skipped on ramp or just watched you tube videos all day. We stretch, practice with pvc pipes, and go over motions for THAT reason. To ensure proper mechanics so people DON’T injure themselves. I’ve trained in boxing and Muay Thai. Then I started Cross fit. Cross fit has been the best thing I’ve done in regards to feeling better about my mind and we’ll being. I’ve shadow boxed since and my hand speed has gotten slower but that’s the only noticeable difference. Cross fit shouldn’t be used for scheduled fights because then I AGREE, you should have a planned regime. Because Cross fit is random SO YOUR BODY DOESN’T GET USE TO DOING THE SAME THING OVER AND OVER. People looking the same, after doing Cross fit for “so long” is because they haven’t changed they’re diet. If your going 5 days a week and still… Read more »

Brian
Brian

I quit crossfit after 2 years, realizing the WOD’s are incoherent and sometimes dangerously stupid. High reps dead lifts, clean and jerks, etc..followed by more olympic lifts leading to lower back injuries. You end doing the same 10 or so exercises every WOD, in just different reps/sets. I saw other crossfit members who were 3 or 4 years into crossfit with the same physique they had 2 years ago. I saw many boxes advertising for some affiliated chiropractor offices, like they were expecting you to get an injury, and some fake back doctor was going to fix it. I saw people doing kippings dips on rings, yet couldnt even do one dip on the bars. Glassman has these fools drinking the kool-aid.

Keith Miller

Sir,

Excellent article. I, too wrote an article on the subject. I’m wondering if you would take the time to look at it for me.

http://mmafitnessonline.com/why-crossfit-is-not-good-for-mma-fighters/

Regards,

Keith Miller

Slammer Ball

Amazing blog post. Thanks for sharing

Taxi
Taxi

Crossfit can get you in good shape, but for any guy who wants to look like they work out its terrible. Chris Spealler is one of the best crossfitters in the world and if you met him you’d think he had never seen a weight in his life. What is the point of that? It all boils down to this…. If you are in ANY gym and a 180 lb man is considered “big”.. RUN !!!

Josemm
Josemm

may not be the best for mma but to watch the crossfit games is very cool man i do believe those guys are really strong and have my respect
i would rather watch that than watching another soccer match on tv im not a soccer fan but im not against it lol good info eric thanks i was wondering about all this recently i was just watching the last crossfit games at espn 🙂

Daniel Gallucci

Nice job my friend!

Eric

This is kind of a reply to a comment by Marc, but think of it more like some *bonus* info for those of you who spend time in the Comments section to digest… I left it out because it was a bit heavy for this article, but geeks like might appreciate it. Here’s my take on one of the Max Strength workouts I’ve seen from CrossFit: Let’s analyze a CrossFit workout and see what it will do and how and when it can be used by a mixed martial artist, if at all. This is the workout straight from the CrossFit website: Tuesday 110913 Overhead squat 1-1-1-1-1 reps Front squat 1-1-1-1-1 reps Back squat 1-1-1-1-1 reps Try to increase the load on each of the fifteen sets. From what I gather, the last set should be close to your 1RM and you can work backwards from there to make sure… Read more »

matt
matt

Crossfit good, but I’m with Eric – non-specific. I have a coupla work colleagues hell-bent on crossfit, 3 mornings a week, months on end. All bangin’ on about this lunge and this combo (boxing they call it, but the pads don’t hit back,mmm, boxing?). I said try this, and commenced one round of Eric’s NRG. They tried, and failed – furtherest they got was the mountain climbers, at best. Point is, they’ve not trained the specific areas specific to hard, physical contact. Its a bit like the ‘spin’ phenom – no wind or undulation, or reality in those ‘bike’ sessions. I didn’t need to lose weight, but I’ve put on almost 3kgs of muscle using Eric’s S&C program – no beef-cake, all lean. I’m not there yet – my technique is getting better, but in the 4 months or so since I began I’ve noticed a big difference, particulary if… Read more »

Eric

Wow great results Matt – thanks for sharing. Funny about the NRG trashing those dudes, I’ve seen it happen to many myself. 🙂

matt
matt

No dramas Eric – might I add the periodization works wonders – goes hand in hand with the system. I rarely run now, and when I do, thanks to the program I can bang out a 2km run, not jog, at a reasonable 400m pace – its like you can’t help but surge foward. Eric, you’d kill it Downunder as an AFL strength and fitness coach. Those cats are always looking for new ways to smash each other, and similar builds to mma elite guys.

Jeremiah
Jeremiah

I agree with you on that. Crossfit helps in my strikes. But training specifics should be done as well. But…I train 6 days a week. I’m kind of beastly. Not the average bear.

Yaseer
Yaseer

Hi Eric

Thanks alot Eric. You the man. I printed out the last part of your article to stick on my notice board. Something which I never ever do. Now, to find the path of least resistance to shed the extra layers.

Take care

Eric

Thanks man!

Just don’t do everything all at once, make some changes, make them stick, and if they’re giving you the results you need, you need not do more.

Joe Chandler

You are right on point with this one Eric. Any non specific CNS training is not going to maximize the best and most efficent results for a fighter. May and probably will tighten up the fighter and effective functional mobility as well as result in overload fatigue. I do think you can build technique specific or progression based fighting drills by using the exercise principles of some of the exercises modified, strategically placed in workouts for Intensity, recovery but as you pointed out would be needed in the foundation training not in the final training phases approaching a fight. Most the people I see that attend Crossfit regularly are athletic and fit but are not functionally mobile, smooth, graceful and they and I think would have to make major changes in balance and neuro functional adaptation to even attempt to compete in a 5 minute round effectively.

Eric

The “tightness” is a good point man… Tightness can often come from excessive neuromuscular tone, which limits speed, power and efficiency, which ultimately results in less endurance.

Jeremiah
Jeremiah

At my Krav/Boxing gym, they developed a program called SpeedX which reminds me a lot of Crossfit. But with a higher emphasis on cardio and endurance. Lots of quick movements involved, which I believe operate well in tandem with Crossfit.

Rob King

Great blog post Eric.

There are goods and bad’s with crossfit, but this can be said of every and any program.

Loved it man. Great explanation of what the training is actually doing aside from just “Going to failure”.

Rob
http://www.RobKingFitness.com

Laura Kraman

I agree with you 100%. Don’t get me wrong, CrossFit is awesome. However, if you are training to fight, the outcome could be detrimental to your success. CrossFit does not use a set periodized principles like most elite athletes use today. Yet, the average person could not just walk into to a CrossFit and expect to complete a round without falling out! It’s tough! I also like how CrossFit uses olympic lifts which many fighting trainers are so reluctant to keep out of their regimen. Once again, great article! You never let me down!

Dave
Dave

Eric, I couldn’t agree with you more. My Wife and I own a CrossFit Gym and I train several MMA fighters and when they say that they love CrossFit, I explain to them that they are NOT doing CrossFit. Their Strength and Conditioning is contingent on so many external factors it would be hard to address in one blog post, but randomization is the last thing they need. While the demands of MMA are less specific than most other sports, they still need energy system training specific to their needs. Some fighters come in with huge aerobic bases, and need to train the anaerobic lactic power/endurance system mainly, sprinkled in with some lifting..specifically power cleans being that when training for a fight we stay away from eccentric loading when close to fight time Guys with the big aerobic bases get to keep that base with their sparring amd grappling anyway… Read more »

Eric

Yeah man nothing wrong with CrossFit, but what’s BETTER is taking principles from CrossFit that work and adding them to principles of strength and conditioning that work and creating something great, which sounds like what you’re doing – so KUDOS!

Terence
Terence

This is a provocative article, but I think you will see a lot of responses that refute your arguments with quotes directly from some of the Crossfit.com FAQs. People will point out that one of the hallmarks of CF is the customized instruction you get from the trainers at a crossfit ‘box’ and that very few people just follow the cf.com main page Workout of the Day. (WOD) There is Crosspit for martial artists CF Endurance, CF Football. etc. I’m not a Crossfitter, so I’ll save the spirited defense of the program for others. I would like to point out, though that nobody with any knowledge of the CF program or of fighter training is actually recommending the CF.com main page WOD as a fight prep program. Crossfit is often described as a general fitness preparedness program, and its of the most use for people like soldiers, firefighters and cops,… Read more »

Eric

Hah “inside baseball” I like that. 🙂

Here’s my take on the “soldiers, firefighters, cops” thing…

Sure, they’ve got to be ready for ‘anything’, but to get ready for anything, do you think it’s better to do random workouts with no plan, or follow a program with planned workouts that progressively improve specific areas of your physical fitness?

Even going really really basic and focusing for 4 weeks on maximal strength, then the next 4 weeks on aerobic fitness, then the next 4 weeks on strength endurance, in 1 year, and keep cycling through this, you’ll be further ahead.

With respect to the other CF stuff, I don’t know much about it, but a search revealed this: http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/44_06_CrossPit_Basics.pdf

Ugly!

Dominick
Dominick

I’m not qualified for anything and may be wrong, but it seems common sense to me that a high level of fitness can be developed soley with skill training. For ex. two vs one for wrestling, One then two vs one boxing the other defense only bobbing, weaving and blocking, non-stop rapid bag work. etc etc.

Dominick
Dominick

My understanding of Crossfit is to reach general peformance fitness to play any sport. It is not skill specific.
For ex. MMA requires wrestling, BJ, boxing etc. If two MMA newbies start training the Crossfiters conditioning put’s him at a distinct advantage in strength, cardio and endurance. I am not enrolled in Crossfit other than to their journal.

Eric

“If two MMA newbies start training the Crossfiters conditioning put’s him at a distinct advantage in strength, cardio and endurance.”

The question is, what is the other newbie doing?

If he’s doing nothing obviously the one doing CrossFit will be better off.

Dominick
Dominick

Hi Eric:

I presume the other newbie is having to at the same time develop his conditioning and skill at the same time. This does not mean that the one with less conditioning can not quickly learn his skill and overtake the more conditioned one.

Eric

Well if one guys is training MMA + CrossFit and the other guy is only training MMA, the answer is once again obvious.

But if you’re pitting MMA + CrossFit against MMA + Periodized, Specific S&C, my money is on the latter.

Marc
Marc

I’m a Crossfit certified trainer and a recreational MMA fighter. Crossfit never claims to be perfect for professional athletes. When Crossfit trainers train professional athletes they absolutely get a much different program than just following the main site every day. Overall Eric is right on about how to implement Crossfit into a professional fighters training and I can garantee that every good Crossfit trainer would know not to trash there professional althetes in season or close to a fight. Where Eric was wrong about Crossfit is that is does not bring you to your breaking point every workout. There are 1 rep max days or days you just go for a 5 k run. With out going on and on, bliindly following the main site workouts every day for a professional athlete is obviously a bad idea but they can absolutely implement Crossfit into their workouts certain times of the… Read more »

Eric

Thanks for the feedback Marc and for not taking my article personally, which is what I was hoping for (I know there are a lot of “die-hards” out there)… There are definitely good elements to CrossFit training that I mentioned – the competitiveness, general use of good exercises that have transfer to many sports, and mental toughness the workouts promote are all great things. But is customizing a workout for an individual really CrossFit? CrossFit is predicated on doing unpredicatable workouts and ‘mixing it up’. Once you start customizing/individualizing (not just ‘scaling’), I’m not sure if it can be considered CrossFit… A grey area in my mind. But I do have some commentary on some of the max workouts I saw on the site (today’s in particular), but I had to pull it from the article because I know I’d lose a lot of people as it got quite technical…… Read more »

AT9000
AT9000

Perhaps you’re focusing too much on labels.