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-

3 thoughts on “My Cross Fit Experience…

  1. Rich says:

    I went thru the Ultimate Mountain Biking program and definitely saw results in my riding and can confirm it felt like less work even though I was seeing better results. No complaints here! The interesting thing that also aligns to what James talks about here is that since finishing the UMB program, I have basically been repeating the “in season” sessions for the past 6 months. In the last couple of weeks, I wanted to mix things up a bit and decided to go back and do some of the P90x workouts I used to do (ex. Chest & Back; Legs & Back). I had expectations that my ability to do that many pull ups or that many lunges would have dropped since I hadn’t really had a lot of focus on it. Turns out that I was able to perform pretty much at the same level as when I had quit doing those workouts a year earlier and I noticed that my form and general body movement, including mobility, felt significantly better than it did when I was previously doing the P90x workouts. As a previous cross fitter and P90x’r, this idea of quality based training almost feels like a cheat, but it works and I really like not feeling wiped out all the time! Thanks for a great program James!

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