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Understanding & Interpreting the ACE-Sponsored Research on the CrossFit™ Workout

Understanding & Interpreting the ACE-Sponsored Research on the CrossFit™ Workout | Cedric X. Bryant | Expert Articles | 10/24/2013


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CrossFitFitness seekers are often enticed by the results touted by popular workout programs. The results demonstrated by dedicated “CrossFitters” often present such results. The findings of a recent ACE-sponsored research study revealed that subjects who performed two particular CrossFit workouts achieved a level of intensity that suggested improved aerobic fitness, while burning a fair number of calories in the process. The researchers concluded that, as with other high-intensity interval-training (HIIT) workouts, participants in CrossFit workouts can expect greater increases in aerobic capacity than what is seen with traditional aerobic training, which is typically performed well below an individual’s anaerobic threshold. One of the study’s investigators commented, however, that the high level of intensity seen in CrossFit workouts is not for everyone and that the competitive nature and emphasis on completing CrossFit exercises as quickly as possible may well be a recipe for injury for some exercisers. That said, it is important to note that the subjects of this study consisted of 16 healthy, moderately to very fit female and male volunteers between the ages of 20 and 47.

ACE’s position on CrossFit reflects the fact that one method or program of exercise is not appropriate for all individuals. For participants who enjoy the competitive aspect of performance and who have the requisite levels of conditioning and skill required for the successful completion of various levels of CrossFit programming, CrossFit could be a relatively safe and effective form of training. Like any type of high-intensity physical exertion, CrossFit workouts present a risk for injury. This is true of any exercise-training program, whether it be related to recreational leisure-time physical activity, fitness enhancement, or competitive sports.

Apart from an exerciser’s individual characteristics and genetic potential, aspects that contribute to a workout program’s safety and effectiveness include adherence to the established principles of exercise progression and correct movement technique. Proper progression follows a gradual increase in exercise stimulus and exertion, such that the body has adequate time to adapt to the new challenges imposed upon it. Properly trained  CrossFit coaches should have knowledge of these progression principles, along with knowledge of and skill in implementing the various exercises included in CrossFit programming. This type of educational training will affect the results experienced by the participants that they train, whether they be related to performance measurements or injury rates. In other words, it matters how an exercise program is implemented, monitored, and progressed more so than the program itself.

CrossFit affiliates who require suitable pre-exercise health screens, hire qualified, experienced coaches, provide appropriate introductory courses to new members on Crossfit-based movements, and properly progress participants through advancing levels of skill and fitness take important steps toward ensuring the safety and effectiveness of their programs.

In conclusion, one type of exercise programming will never be appropriate for all individuals. Participants who have the desire, skill set, and physical capacity to engage in CrossFit workouts can expect improved fitness and performance levels while engaging in a relatively safe and effective training method if proper exercise principles and techniques are followed.

“ACE” is a registered trademark of the American Council on Exercise. “CROSSFIT” is a trademark of CrossFit, Inc.