The Difference between CrossFit and The Sport of CrossFit
By: Michael Collette B.S C-PT CES
Several weeks ago, there was a tragic incident that happened to one of CrossFit’s Elite athletes, Kevin Ogar, who is a regional level CrossFit Games competitor. Kevin severed his thoracic spine between T-11 and T-12 as a result of a missed Snatch during the OC Throwdown. Kevin is now paralyzed from the waist down, possibly never able to compete or train again. This is a horrible tragedy in itself for Kevin and his family. My deepest sympathies go out to him and I pray for his recovery. Here is a link where you can help donate to Kevin to help him in the cause to pay for his outstanding medical bills (#Ogarstrong)
Now to give some background on the OC Throwdown, this competition is comprised of several events, where high level CrossFit athletes come to display their level of fitness during a weekend of tough WOD’s and good fun. The level of athletes here range from CrossFit games qualifying athletes to regional athletes. This competition is so legit that you have to qualify to be able to compete in it. So what are we talking here? We are talking about some of the best of the best, not your average Joe’s competing for the OCT title.
Looking beyond the tragedy, there has been an extreme amount of backlash against CrossFit (Shocker…). For the purpose of this article, which is clarifying CrossFit vs. The Sport of CrossFit, I won’t go into detail on my stance on the safety and efficacy of the competitions. But, if you were to take a look on the message boards of some articles bashing the way competitions are being held, you will see some opinions of what needs to change in the regards to The Sport of CrossFit (How do we Honor Kevin Ogar?).
Due to the Kevin Ogar accident, I myself have gotten into several discussions on the topic of “how CrossFit is hurting people” or “how high volume Olympic weightlifting is bad for you”. This was actually my main motivation behind writing this article. The focus is on how do you differentiate between the two. When you start comparing apples to oranges in the CrossFit community (your everyday CrossFitter vs. Games athletes) that’s when I am going to open my mouth and start arguing.
CrossFit and The Sport of CrossFit
A normal CrossFit training program and The Sport of CrossFit should be a balanced approach to work on getting people fit. It should be Cyclic in regards to a training program where there are phases all leading to a goal. Cyclic training pattern’s prevent stagnation in one’s training, allows for new PR’s to occur, keep’s the program fun and more importantly is a detailed plan to get people to their desired fitness goal. There should be a deloading period to prevent injury, the periodization should be balanced with the met con volume and strength/skill work and there should be emphasis on teaching movement and technique prior to increasing intensity. CrossFit is defined as “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements”. The foundation for The Sport of CrossFit is based upon this definition. Just remember, The Sport of CrossFit spawned from CrossFit, not the other way around.
The Sport of CrossFit
The reason for sport is to compete and win; to be competitive with not only one self but with others. The CrossFit Games is the platform for athletes to compete for the title “World’s Fittest”. The training program for a “Games” athlete is dedicated and structured to peak the athlete for The CrossFit Open, Regionals or The Games; based on your level, the program might be different. Regardless if you are training to do well in The Games, athletes within CrossFit compete on a regular basis to test their fitness. The weekend competitions or local “Throwdown’s” are where these athletes can compete regularly. Now, I am using the word athlete to describe those competing, the level of competitor varies just like a high school football player is an athlete and so is an NFL player.
As an athlete in CrossFit, in order to do well, be competitive and make strength gains while you increase you metabolic conditioning, this requires the athlete to have a varied training program compared to a single one hour CrossFit class per day like the majority of CrossFitters. How is it different you might ask?
If you are a Regional level athlete or looking to make it past The Open to Regional’s, this is what your weekend would have looked like in 2013. These athletes bodies have to be able to endure not only physical stress on their body, they have to be mentally fit for the challenges that come with this tremendous amount of CNS stress. Not to mention the physical skill that is required to complete these movements, CrossFit athletes are some of the most physically well rounded individuals. For example, the average clean and jerk for the top three individual male competitors in last year’s games is right at 320lbs and their back squat is over 440lbs. They also rank as some of the leader’s worldwide in the CrossFit Benchmark WOD’s (ex: Fran 12-15-9 Thrusters and Pull ups; Helen 3 rd’s 400m run, 21 KB Swings, 12 Pull ups)
Needless to say, these athletes are at a different level of athleticism and overall fitness. Since the rise in popularity of CrossFit, these athletes are now being viewed as the professionals in their respected field. They have big name sponsorship’s from major supplement companies, interviews on ESPN and not to mention the big money purses they have the potential to win at these competitions. But these are humbled athletes in a new sport. The majority are CrossFit Level 1 trainers, are on the CrossFit HQ staff to train coaches and some are also CrossFit box owners themselves. The point to get out of this is that these are the people seen in the YouTube videos and are the perception of what CrossFit truly is to most people on the outside.
CrossFit: As a training program
The majority of people seen in a CrossFit facility (depending on location) are your typical mom’s, dad’s, husbands, wives, 9-5 workers, middle aged/ out of shape individuals who are looking to get fit while having fun in an amazing community. Rarely do you see these people as the faces of CrossFit, but they truly are. They make up the majority of my facility and I love it. There truly isn’t a more gratifying feeling than changing someone’s opinion on What CrossFit is; who comes in to train and where it can take you! That is CrossFit. Do we train hard? Yes. Do we expect you to give us your best on that given day? Yes. Do we hold you accountable? Yes. Do you train to be fit; to be better; to reach you fitness goals? YES!
CrossFit as a training program is a guideline and fitness plan for fitness. To get people fit, that’s it. The general plan isn’t to create Games Athletes. Does everyone want to be a Games athlete? I can’t necessarily answer that question, but what I can say is CrossFit as a community respects each person that is part of an affiliate and trains. Regardless if you are training as a CrossFit athlete to compete or training to lose weight and reverse your hypertension, there is respect in hard work.
As CrossFit continues to grow not only through the affiliations but as a Sport, the difference will become more evident. The Sport of CrossFit is still brand new in the eyes of the outliers and there will be criticism as there always is with things that are new. I get that it’s hard to see CrossFit as a Sport. Why would anyone want to work that hard? And for what reason? To be the Fittest on earth? What does that even mean? It makes more sense to make head on collisions while tackling and driving cars in the upwards of 200 mph, that makes more sense. That’s “safer”…
But, as it pertains to CrossFit and to those who you would most likely see in a CrossFit box, this is a testimonial of one of our amazing members. Not a superstar CrossFit Games athlete, but in her own right, a superstar at our facility:
I am not a “gym person”. I don’t like joining groups, I don’t really care for group exercise as a participant, I like to do my own thing and compete only with myself. I had worked with a trainer at a gym once before to try and increase my strength and fitness, but didn’t see the results I wanted. I exercised a lot on my own–running, cycling, yoga. I was pretty fit and felt good about how I looked and how I felt.In June of 2011 someone found me in the middle of North St. in the middle of the afternoon. I must have flipped off my bike and landed on my shoulder and head. My helmet saved my life, but I have no memories of that day until 10pmthat evening when I became aware I was in the ER. With 3 broken ribs, a ripped shoulder tendon and a concussion, I was out of commission for about 6 months, and had PT for nearly a year on my shoulder. I tried riding again the following summer, but was a DNF in the Pan-Mass Challenge bike ride and believed I was done as a runner, cyclist and generally fit person.
In August of 2012 I saw that CrossFit Prototype was opening. I went in with some friends because I didn’t know much about what CrossFit was, but someone told me it was varied exercise and that sounded interesting to me. I tried one class, liked it, and then did Elements in September. After that I joined and committed to going twice a week through the winter.
It was really hard at first, muscles hurt that I hadn’t used in quite a while, the movements were awkward, and I was so afraid that I would re-injure my shoulder. Mike would show us how to do something and I’d think “I’ll never be able to do that”. Or I’d get the bar and not be able to put any weight on it because the bar itself felt so heavy. But I kept going, because it felt good to move and challenge myself, even though I didn’t think it would really make a difference.
Eight months later I ran a 10K with my best time ever. Last summer I breezed through the Pan-Mass Challenge bike ride and rode 192 miles without being sore or tired. I’ve run 2 half-marathons and posted my best time in the latest one. And all that without changing anything except adding CFP to my week. I never expected that my fitness level could change so much, that my arms would be tighter, that I really could lift heavier weights, that my legs could become stronger, that my body could change its shape at the ripe old age of 51. But most important to me is that I regained confidence. Confidence in my body that I could be strong again and not worried that I would fall and hurt myself. Confidence on my bike and in my running and in my yoga practice. Confidence in myself and what I am capable of.
What I didn’t expect at all and have come to love the most–the community of people I’ve met at CFP. As a Hopkinton transplant to Westborough when my last child was in 6th grade, I didn’t really meet a lot of moms. The women I’ve met at CFP have become friends, real friends, as well as people to laugh with, ache with, and inspire. It is one thing to go to a gym to get a workout over with, it is much better to go because you look forward to seeing your friends there and you know they’ll push you and cheer you on if you get tired or unsure.
I only compete with myself at CFP, and that’s how I like it. Others can lift much more than me, or are faster at doing the workout of the day, or can jump rope twice as fast as me. I know that when I started, I could do an assisted pull-up using the biggest, most supportive band possible, and a few weeks ago I did one pull-up unassisted. It was just one, but it was MY one. I am amazed and proud that I could do even that, and my goal this year is to try for more. I don’t want to compete in “The CrossFit Games” or do the hardest possible workout on any given day–at the age of 52, I want to be able to move well when I’m in my 80’s, and I believe that CrossFit and yoga together will make that happen.
So, what do I love most about CrossFit? That it taught me you can always re-write the story you tell yourself about yourself. I am not a gym person. I don’t like joining groups, I don’t like group exercise, my shoulder is weak, I can’t trust my own body, I’ll never be strong or comfortable doing hard things again. Every one of those statements has changed because of CFP. I love this “gym”, I love my “group” and workout out with them, my shoulder is strong, and so am I. In my head, where it counts the most. That’s what CFP has done for me.
Believe it or not, this is CrossFit. This is why there are over 8,000 affiliates worldwide. Scrutinize all you want, CrossFit is changing lives and helping people get back to their best or better!