My Cross Fit Experience…

When I first moved to Grand Junction I was befriended by a guy named Patrick who just so happens to also own a training facility. While we probably agree on more than we disagree when it comes to training, we have some different views on program design as evidenced by the fact that his facility follows the Cross Fit model.

For those that don’t know, Cross Fit is a wildly popular boot camp workout that emphasizes work capacity above everything else. The workouts are usually “butt kickers” in that unless you walk, or limp, away feeling that you got crushed the workout was too easy.

Not exactly my preferred way to train but when Patrick invited me to get in on their Friday morning “trainer’s workout” I decided it would be an interesting test of my fitness. So I showed up and braved the “badger” workout – 30 full cleans with 95 pounds, 30 kip pull ups and 400 jump ropes X 3 rounds for time! This was by far the most brutal workout I’ve subjected myself to in a long time.

So here I was with 6 people that train for this stuff every week, I’m just hoping to not get embarrassed…and I ended up finishing with the fastest time! How on earth do you explain that? I hadn’t done a full clean with a barbell in months, I’d never done a kipping pull up and I had not done 400 jump ropes in forever. The most “cardio” I’ve done lately is some Tabata stuff at the end of my regular workouts, yet I was able to set the pace while keeping my form and focus.

While I don’t know for sure, I do have a two part theory. First, my movement quality was much higher than anyone else in the session. When I had a chance to sneak a glimpse at someone else in the workout I inevitably saw major breakdowns in execution, especially during the full cleans in the later rounds. Besides that fact that these breakdowns are scary from an injury potential standpoint, they also represent major “energy leaks”.

These energy leaks from inefficient movement meant that they had to expend more energy that I did to accomplish each rep. This meant that even though my raw work capacity was probably lower I was able to make better use of it. If you have a large work capacity but are applying it to a lot of inefficient movement then you waste so much energy that you can get beat by a “less fit”, more efficient athlete.

The second thing that I think was happening was that I was just fresher than they were. I was pretty wiped out after that workout and I can not imagine training like that 4-6 days per week as is recommended by the CrossFit program. I think that after a while of pounding on your body and not allowing for full recovery you eventually reach a continual state of low grade overtraining.

Again, if you can not effectively utilize your fitness because of this low grade overtrained state (also called overreaching in some circles) you find yourself in then you can get beat by a fresher athlete, even if he is “less fit”. All in all, my quality based training approach beat the more popular volume based training approach on that day.

As you probably know, I am a huge proponent of quality training vs. the more traditional volume/ quantity approach represented by the CrossFit model. It is a very tough concept for people to trust in, though. In a culture that tells you “unless you’re working hard then you’re not getting better”, being told that less can be more sounds a bit crazy.

However, the logic and evidence is there. Besides my recent experience, I get feedback from mountain bikers the world over regarding their experiences following my untraditional programs. One of the most common things I hear is that their “on trail” endurance goes up despite the fact that they are doing less work than ever.

It blows their minds how they are less fit from a training standpoint (they log less base miles and training hours) yet they can ride harder and longer on the trail when it really counts. In my mind, all my programs do is help you move with far more efficiency and keeps you fresher than the more traditional approach.

Mobility training, strength training, interval based cardio training, proper nutrition/ supplementation and technical skills training are all parts of a good quality based training program. Knowing how to effectively apply these elements instead of always looking to just “work hard” may be a more effective way to go about it that will pay better dividends on the trail.

-James Wilson-

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  1. I am one of James’ riders who get less saddle time, but does the James Workouts, and finds myself stronger and more enduring on the trail.

    Reply • January 19 at 9:15 pm
  2. Art says:

    Well said James. I recently made some folks rather angry, by saying crossfit is a better fitness test, than a training program.

    Reply • February 26 at 1:44 pm
  3. RennyG says:

    I am using James’ workouts and not only am I seeing improvements in my fitness, but am also very happy to see that during a brutal winter of multiple snowstorms per week with lots of shovelling MY BACK IS HEALTHY for the first time in years, and I am quite capable of doing what I need/want to do without worry!! Being able to reap that reward alone is well worth the time put in. And I like the workouts to boot!! Thanks James! Can’t wait to get on the bike !!

    Reply • February 26 at 3:15 pm
  4. CP. says:

    I was about 19 years old and fit when I was put through the real deal Nautilus workout by a direct student of Arthur Jones. It was ultra high intensity, one set to muscular failure and about 6 machines, heavy weight, NO REST.
    I wanted to vomit after I finished. My friend said he felt the same… we joined on the spot.
    Crossfit didnt invent anything. They are just borrowing the proven Nautilus protocols BUT without the SAFETY inherent in the Nautilus machines. As demonstrated with Mr Ugar, if you go to failure with an OLy lift, you can break your spine. On a Nautilus machine you can go beyond failure without the risk of catastrophic injury. The machine allow you to do negatives for example with a shoulder press because after positive failure you could use your legs to elevate the shoulder press and then do negatives.
    I am now an old man chronologically but physically I am extremely strong and healthy. I am glad Crossfit was not around when I was young and unsophisticated because I might have been crippled with their unsafe and random program.

    Reply • February 26 at 4:02 pm
  5. JohnKoz says:

    Hi James,

    Been reading and loving your blog posts for years. While I agree with you on this post, I would also like to offer some criticism to your blog. Unless you’re 100% satisfied with your business revenues, I think you would attract more clients if you learned to message more positively. You often take a negative perspective and come across as “bashing” other athletes or disciplines. I’m sure that is NOT your intention, but it’s the way it comes across. You have so much good information and perspective to offer people, but when you resort to negativity to do so, it weakens the apparent legitimacy of your information. In other words, it seems like you’re bashing other people just to make yourself seem better.

    Your insights have profoundly changed the way I train. But I now find myself coming to your blog more to see “who is James going to p*** off today?” Again, if that’s your intention, good job – but if not, then I’d get some PR training.

    Reply • February 26 at 6:40 pm
    • I have been thinking about saying something like that for a while. James has helped me get reaquainted with Kettlebells and has allowed me see breaks in my form and cues to fix them. I can see through Jame’s on line writing style and can get to the important information. In this case less is more, more freshness, more speed and fun on the bike, less injuries and fatigue.

      Reply • February 27 at 5:41 pm
  6. Roman says:

    James, I have experience with both Crossfit and your program. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

    Sorry, but you didn’t run into a class with some real crossfiters.
    Somebody with at least one year experience with CF would crush you. He would do 30 clean in 35-40 sec, 30 pull ups in under 30 seconds.
    If you were doing strict pull ups, you need much more time. Especially in the 2nd and 3rd round. While somebody with kipping PU and capacity would do it in under 30 seconds every round.

    I guess rope jumping was not presribed as 400 reps, but rather 100 double unders, and scaling to single jumps was factor x4.

    Reply • February 27 at 1:36 am
  7. sb66er says:

    i train professional and college tennis players. One of my division 1 bound high school tennis players decided to listen to his “cross fit” coach since I was coaching from long distance. He worked for about a year and got heavier, bigger muscles, with all of these impressive stats in the gym.

    When I visited him afterwards I saw the same old stability flaws in his body positions on the tennis court. So if he were so much fitter/stronger, etc. why would his body still let him down with zero weight simply moving through a basic tennis position? Because it was not preparing him to be a better athlete.

    Much of what James is referring to is about quality. I will take it a little further…it’s about neuromuscular conditioning as it applies to athletic movement.

    Kuddos to those that love and relate to the Crossfit or other program, but as James is pointing out please don’t confuse it with real athleticism efficiency because they are two different animals. His points about overtraining and failing body position as they relate to injury potential and energy loss is right on.

    Reply • February 27 at 10:50 am

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