I workout at a CrossFit gym in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I am a proponent of optimal health and fitness, but what exactly does that mean?
Fitness is the ability function effectively & efficiently in every activity in which you endeavor. It is the ability to do what you want, resist illness & disease, and have adequate capacity to meet any 'emergency' situation you may encounter. (CrossFit Journal article What is Fitness?)
There are generally 2 different types of 'Fitness': general fitness and specific fitness
Specific fitness is the ability to perform at a specific task such as running a marathon or bench pressing over 300 lbs. Each sport or activity requires a dramatically different approach and skillset. The training for the 2 is quite different.
However, general fitness is being prepared to perform any activity presented before you. This general preparedness requires a broad base of skills and movements. It requires optimizing multiple metabolic energy pathways.
I believe that general fitness or 'general physical preparedness' (GPP) is the best approach for virtually all people. It may not make you the 'best' marathoner but it will make you a better marathoner. It may not make you the best bench presser but it will make you a better bench presser.
GPP will make you better at everything. I believe that it is this platform that training for specific fitness is launched.
Issue 19 of the CrossFit Journal defines CrossFit as follows:
"CrossFit is a strength and conditioning system build on constantly varied, if not randomized, functional movements executed at high intensity."
It is a series of functional movements combined in such a way to stimulate adaptation of the human body.
It is the 'functional movement' piece that I believe to be one of the keys.
Like most boys my age, I participated in traditional weight lifting and some aerobic exercise as a teenager. These movements do stimulate muscle growth and they do increase strength and lean muscle mass. However, the training response is inefficient as those movements are not replicated in nature. It is more efficient to focus on functional movements.
I have established that we are all athletes but playing in different sports. We all need strength, endurance, and certain athletic skills. We all need fitness. Since our sports are very different our definitions of 'fitness' may differ as well.
I suspect that the marathon runner defines fitness by the ability to negotiate 26.2 miles in under 2 hours and 10 minutes. However, the power-lifter would think fitness is more about bench pressing over 600 lbs.
The competitive athlete likely focuses their skill, strength, or endurance on the essential components of their given sport. Now, lets have the marathoner try to bench 400 pounds or put the power-lifter in a 26.2 mile race. Chances are slim that either will be able to complete the task. Let's take it a step further and have the power-lifter run a half marathon (13.1 miles) or have the marathoner bench press 250 lbs. It is more likely that they will be able to do it but the chances are still slim.
I would argue that neither individual is optimally fit! In fact, I don't believe that either of them are optimally healthy. Each have picked a path of specialty and are world-class in that specialty. But life does not specialize like this.
What about the average person? Statistics show that most people will never run a marathon and very few people will ever bench over 300 lbs much less over 600! Most people simply do not need this type of strength or endurance.
Optimal fitness will enable us to perform at any task that is presented before us. This means that you would be able to complete a long-distance run AND have the strength to bench press a respectable amount of weight. This type of fitness will give us good health and strength as well as protect us from injury and illness in an optimal manner.
My goal is to be able to go for a reasonable distance run anytime and not suffer because of it. My goal is to have enough strength to accomplish the tasks and hobbies that I enjoy. My goal is to have the skill, strength, and endurance to be healthy and prevent as many illnesses as I can. That is what CrossFit does.
CrossFit trains for General Physical Preparedness. That is, not training for any specific event. We aren't training to be the best runner. We aren't training to be the best weight lifter. We are training to be better at everything. Generally being physically prepared for anything life throws at us.
It could be said that CrossFit specializes in not specializing.
This GPP is the basis, or foundation, from which to launch any specialized training for specific sports. Specialized/specific training without the foundation of GPP increases risk of injury and decreases the efficiency of the specialized training.
According to the 'CrossFit Manifesto': regimens built from functional exercises at high intensity an constantly varied structure:
- Produce superior cardiorespiratory adaptation
- Are essential to health and fitness
- Provide the most effective injury rehabilitation
- Provide the only completely safe regimens
- Provoke an ultimate neuroendocrine response
- Provide unique development of core strength
- Provide unparalleled GPP and fitness
CrossFit can be broken down into 3 different priorities that they define as 'Standards'.
The first standard is to address the 10 physical skills that are commonly recognized by exercise physiologists. These 10 skills are:
- Cardiovascular/Respiratory endurance - the ability of systems to intake, transport, and deliver oxygen to the muscles
- Stamina - the ability of the body to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy
- Strength - the ability of muscles to apply force
- Flexibility - being able to provide the greatest range of motion at a joint or joints
- Power - being able to apply the most force in the least time
- Speed - being able to perform a repetitive motion or movement in the least amount of time
- Coordination - being able to collectively perform multiple distinct movements
- Agility - being able to shift from one pattern of movement to another in the least amount of time
- Balance - being able to maintain the center of gravity over its base
- Accuracy - being able to ensure an object arrives at its appropriate destination in space
The second standard states that "fitness is about performing well at any and every task imaginable." This is the essence of GPP and what I described previously.
The third standard focuses on improving the 3 metabolic pathways that deliver energy for movement. The 3 pathways are:
- Phosphagen pathway - provides energy for a few seconds and primarily utilized during high-powered activities.
- Glycolytic pathway - utilized during moderate-powered activities and can provide energy for a few minutes. It derives energy primarily from the breakdown of glucose (sugar).
- Oxidative pathway - the primary source of energy for low-powered, longer-duration activities. This system derives energy from the Kreb's cycle and from oxydative phosphorylation. Both of these processes require oxygen to function.
All three systems must be addressed. Focusing on one at the exclusion of the other two is one of the most common mistakes in fitness training.
The first two pathways can function independent of oxygen. However, they produce by-products that do utilize oxygen to clear or replace. Therefore, these systems develop what is known as "oxygen debt". Without oxygen, these systems will begin to slow down and cannot replenish. This is why you get winded after a 100m run. The recovery largely utilizes the oxidative pathway to clear the by-products and return the system to its capacity.
It is well known that long-duration, low intensity exercising inhibits muscle mass development, strength, power, and speed.
Have you ever seen a muscular marathoner?
A common question for overweight people who are wanting to lose weight is "should I first focus on longer duration exercises to burn fat or work on strength and power (increasing muscle mass)?" The key to developing cardiovascular and respiratory endurance without losing power, strength, and speed is to perform interval training.
Thus, the answer to the question posed is to perform interval training. You'll get the benefits of both!
CrossFit addresses all of the components listed above. I have been involved in numerous training regimens and have never found one better suited for ALL participants to produce GPP and optimal health and fitness.
CrossFit is for everyone of all ages, all abilities, and all body compositions. It can be easily tuned to each participants' ability level. CrossFit classes have a strong sense of acceptance and a feeling of family. I have never walked into a CrossFit gym and felt unwelcome.
Another great thing about CrossFit is the competition. Sure, you can compete with others but the best part is competing with yourself. Each workout is timed and you can compare previous times against the new times. It can be very rewarding to see your progress over time.
Read the CrossFit Journal article entitled "What is CrossFit?"
There are several CrossFit gyms in the Tulsa area.