Could CrossFit be the answer to enhancing performance?

Most devotees already knew it, but scientific research has now strengthened the theorum that CrossFit works.

CROSSFIT COACH: Chris Templeman, owner and head coach of CrossFit Clitheroe
CROSSFIT COACH: Chris Templeman, owner and head coach of CrossFit Clitheroe

Now the debate stretches to whether the multi-pronged, high octane, strength and conditioning programme should be adopted by sports worldwide.

Most devotees already knew it, but scientific research has now strengthened the theorum that CrossFit works. Now the debate stretches to whether the multi-pronged, high octane, strength and conditioning programme should be adopted by sports worldwide.

For those unsure of the craze that’s now sweeping the globe, CrossFit is as meticulous as it is versatile. It concentrates on muscular strength, cardio-respiratory endurance and flexibility, while advocating a perpetually changing mix of aerobic exercise, gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting. In short, it’s a gruelling, pulsating, explosive, calorie-burning workout where only tenacious and lion-hearted competitors survive.

So in a generation where more is being expected of our sporting icons in terms of performance, and where athletes are constantly striving for physical and technical perfection in their respective fields, will a cultural change of training and preparation be prompted?

For me, a relative novice looking inside the ‘box’ from the outside, it makes absolute sense. And, after speaking to CrossFit Clitheroe owner and head coach Chris Templeman, I was left wondering why more athletes haven’t already sought this ‘legal edge’. It’s performance-enhancing, minus controversy and the illegalities of narcotics.

“CrossFit balances the requirements of the professional athlete and the requirements of the general public,” said Chris. “It doesn’t really differ by kind, it mainly differs by intensity. I would give the same conditioning to a professional athlete as I would to my dad, who is 63 and a carpet fitter. He would get the same training as a professional football player.

“CrossFit takes Olympic lifting, power lifting, strongman, gymnastics and every other aspect of fitness and we try and work on all our weaknesses. If you came in and you already had a very good deadlift, you were naturally very strong, but you couldn’t run, then we’d look at maintaining your strength while improving your cardiovascular quickly to bring it up to your strength.

“We don’t fixate on one thing. The tag line is ‘we do the common uncommonly well’. If you’ve got one weakness in your armour then overall you’re unlikely to win competitively.”

The hardcore fitness programme has taken the US by storm since it exploded on to the scene at the start of the Millennium, courtesy of California fitness coach Greg Glassman. There’s now nearly 7,000 privately owned gyms dedicated to the regime.

Every year Glassman’s company, CrossFit Inc, holds the CrossFit Games where the individual crowned “Fittest on Earth” can walk away with as much as $275,000 in prize money as well as landing lucrative sponsorship deals.

Away from the tournament side of things, stars from the UFC, NBA and NFL have all tried their hand at mastering the phenomenon in a bid to bolster their own attributes and agility.

The UK is behind, seemingly apprehensive to experiment, but Chris believes the quantity of clubs and sporting individuals attending CrossFit boxes will soon soar.

“Since we’ve been open we’ve had Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers, Accrington Stanley, Clitheroe FC and Blackburn Rugby Club attend,” he said. “We don’t concentrate on any one thing. It’s not about being the best at anything specific. A lot of sports train specifically; for instance footballers focus on running.

“Players in Europe and America follow very big strength and conditioning programmes including a lot of Olympic lifting and a lot of pliometrics. The British don’t really understand that yet and they’re only just starting to learn.

“Athletes come out all the time now claiming that they’ve started doing CrossFit. At the moment football clubs are a little bit lazy on enforcing CrossFit. Any athlete that wants to make their way in their sport will definitely speed up that process by using CrossFit.”

He added: “It started in America a long time ago so they are a good few years ahead of us like with most things. There’s CrossFit gyms everywhere in the States. A lot of the NBA guys and NFL players do it. In American high schools they are taught Olympic lifting - the clean, jerk and snatch - so they are a lot more advanced than us on these movements. When you go to the CrossFit Games all the strongest athletes are usually the Americans.”

The research, led by John Porcari PhD, head of the University of Winconsin’s Clinical Exercise Physiology programme, along with Paige Babiash MS, and published by the American Council on Exercise, applied two of the more popular WODs (Workout of the Day) to their study, namely the “Donkey Kong” and “Fran”.

The former comprises a blast of burpees, box jumps and kettlebell swings with the latter focusing on thrusters - a hybrid front squat with a barbell that transitions into a push press - along with assisted pull-ups. It gauged caloric expenditure, heart rate, blood lactate values and ratings of perceived exertion, to show that subjects were exercising well above their anaerobic thresholds and reaping the rewards in the process.

Chris (35), on the other hand, used his own methodology and experience to prove its effectiveness. “Crossfit is results based. I spent eight years doing your conventional training of chest, triceps, back and biceps, like bodybuilding workouts. I never really got anywhere with it. To put it into perspective, once I’d given it all up, I could bench press 80kg, back squat 90kg and deadlift 150kg.”

“After two years of training pure CrossFit I was benching 115kg, squatting 140kg and deadlifting 200kg. I weighed more, I looked better, my body fat was down, and all my levels of fitness in every aspect had improved by not concentrating on getting big muscles.”

Others now just need to follow in the same path, and we could soon be witnessing superhuman athletes at every level of sport. Chris, who founded CrossFit Clitheroe three years ago, added: “It’s getting big, and CrossFit as a sport is growing massively. It’s risen rapidly. Now we’re getting approached by football clubs, boxers and MMA fighters all the time who use CrossFit-based workouts for their conditioning. I believe that Arsenal have recently employed Kelly Starrett who is the mobility coach for CrossFit.

“I have friends who coach in football and they’re understanding that players get injured due to lack of training in the gym. To keep them injury- free and at the top of their game they’re realising that strength and conditioning needs to be worked on to make them better in that sport.”

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