The cons of CrossFit and High Intensity: An opinion essay

N.B. This blog post is my point of view, written in a politicly correct and simplistic way to address some common concern and problem regarding the traditional CrossFit methodology. The purpose of it is to help build awareness to coaches around me, not to create distance between us. It's important to start thinking by ourselves and not following what a guru wrote, 20 years ago. This post won't be complete because there's too much to say, but I'll try to be as respectful as possible to anyone's opinion.


CrossFit is wrong by definition:

“Constantly varied, High-intensity Functional movement.”

High Intensity:


A: What is high intensity?

Intensity is characterized by load, effort, velocity or tension (I know smarty, this is not the definition by CrossFit), which mean that high intensity refer to lifting heavy load and doing more work in less time by working hard during workouts. By attending a group class setting, high intensity is most-likely always coexistent and even, as you know now, recommended by CrossFit. In fact, some trainer would rather act as cheerleader by yelling at athletes, then coaching. I guess there's nothing wrong there with that since it's the definition of CrossFit to be intense. In a setting like this, high intensity is intuitive and is predominant to our reasoning. Do you really think I want my parents to do kipping pull-ups to increase intensity?


B: Why is high intensity bad?

There's absolutely nothing wrong with HIT, there's only something wrong with performing high intensity training five (5) days/week and that's what I'm seeing in local affiliate, even with elderly and beginner athlete. Here's some usual training guidelines & recommendations so you understand WHY it's bad:


B.1: Intensity should be progress and be balance with recovery. It's your first class, you haven't progress intensity yet, should you do a 3RM back squats? No. Should you do Fran? Absolutely not. You should progress it and maintain general recovery protocols guidelines, which is really broad but usually between 48 hours and 72 hours depending how far you're pushing behind your lactate point of balanced.


B.2: Intensity should be specific to the individual, not general. In fact, most people doesn't have the functional mobility necessary to perform exercices at fast pace. An athlete that can't do a german hang and show a proper shoulder extension ROM shouldn't do a fast ring dips, fast assisted ring dips or fast push-ups, this athlete should focus on quality of the movement and work at adequate intensity for him. If you're a beginner coach or a CrossFit methodology fan, you would probably tell me that it's the trainer's job to make sure they don't do this, but why is the workout For Time and not For Quality then? I could maybe take the time to assess somebody's ankle dorsiflexion mobility to then prescribed specific mobility and unilateral/strengthening work to them, but clearly they just want to move fast and keep going with the valgus pistols by following the CrossFit definition.


B.3: Daily high intensity results in less adaptation in performance. I'll keep it simple for you guys: You can only have so much adaptations with working the same intensity on a daily basic. Yes, HIT will increased your V02max, your cardiac output, your anaerobic capacity and your strength/neuromuscular power, but how are you going to support all those adaptations? Maybe by doing something called oxygenating training to help the athlete support this awful training load, to maintain those adaptations or just to increase the efficiency of their aerobic system? When is the last time you did a 40 mins workout of only cyclical movements at low intensity in a CrossFit group setting class? If the answer is not too long ago, keep paying your gym membership.


B.4: Training isn't competing. I think that's a consensus throughout all training school of thought, so I'm wondering why CrossFit is cultivating this desire of pushing each other all the time to complete exertion. Training has a purpose which is improving the athlete's physiological, physical and technical abilities or building confidence in them. Competing has a purpose of testing our limits and getting a better understand about HOW to use our new fitness/adaptations created with previous training protocols. Performing high intensity WOD and competing against friends is too stressful and should be perform at specific time only in the season to cultivate sport skill & motivation or once a week to get a good sweat (I.e. a Friday Night Light throwdown), but not on a daily basic.


B.5: High intensity is one tool that works, but you still need a toolbox. HIT won't probably improve your physiological limiters. Yes, everyone will get the adaptations mentioned earlier from it (see B.3), but what if someone's individual physiological limiter isn't in the range of 5-10 minutes continuous training at high intensity. This type of training will most likely benefit an athlete limited by is respiratory system, but if he's limited by his delivery system (I.e. ability to deliver O2 to muscle) overcoming cardiac lag by performing oxygenating workouts that are at gradual increasing pace would be beneficial, while starting a workout at high intensity would only shock the respiratory system, not the cardiovascular one.