My five-year anniversary of competing in Crossfit is approaching. There is no question that the "sport of fitness" has made me a better person, athlete, and scientist with most credit owed to my amazing training partners, community, and coaches. But, when strangers tell me "that I must do Crossfit" I like to remind them that I have been an athlete and have trained 2-4 hours a day my entire life; my muscular build was present before I stepped into All Heart Crossfit in Kent, Ohio in winter of 2011.
I'll say this slowly for all true paleo Kool-Aid drinkers - CrossFit should not and cannot be the only type of training to become one's "fittest," "buffest," or "strongest."
A few months ago, I ran the NYC marathon with some friends for charity (side note: I am still actively fundraising for Team Healthier Generation and would be very grateful if you donated to this cause. The proceeds are reinvested in local school districts to improve after school programs and lunch menus). When I began training for the marathon, I was scared of getting injured and weaker. However, a competitive Crossfit program balanced with three weekly runs ranging from 4-8 miles transformed me into my fittest, buffest, and strongest version of myself to date. But perhaps my body is just hard-wired and most adaptive and responsive to mixed-endurance training as my DNA profile via 23andMe suggests?? Maybe, but I've got other examples.
Recently I decided to go "off the grid" with my college roommate and ring in 2016 in Los Cabos, Mexico. I didn't step into a globo or CrossFit gym once. Instead, I swam, ran, sprinted, and did variant squatting workouts (with rocks) on the beach several times a day. Over the course of the week, I met a few other dudes who had the same idea. One had done CrossFit prior but quit after a catastrophic back injury, while the other was a semi-professional adventure racer. The adventure racer was beyond "jacked and tanned." He also casually ran up and down this rock face (pictured above) several times a day before heading back to the beach to log in several more miles. My "walk" up the same rock face once a day exhausted my lungs. Yet here I am training for a hopeful third appearance in The CrossFit Games (as a team) and running a marathon. Weird right?
As for some empirical evidence, I want to focus on my participation in a large-scale CrossFit-related study a few years back (also chronicled in Chapter 2 of my popular science book Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain). The intent of the study was to measure VO2 max and lactic acid thresholds---measures of aerobic and anaerobic capacities, respectively--in CrossFitters who had competed at Regionals and the Games. Surprisingly, many of us had VO2 maxes that were average when benchmarked against those of other elite aerobic and anaerobic (non-CrossFit) athletes. In the field of exercise physiology, VO2 max is often regarded as the holy grail of aerobic fitness, yet many of us who had competed for the title "fittest on Earth" were barely above average. As for anaerobic capacities, I was personally above average. I am able to maintain power output when my body transitions from anaerobic to aerobic fuel sources (glucose to fats) and I can tolerate high levels of lactic acid that subsequently fall quicker than most athletes. Is CrossFit solely responsible?? Most likely not. There is no question that my competitive CrossFit program has helped to maintain this physiological advantage but let's not forget that I was a gymnast and specialist in sprints, hurdles, jumps, and throws for many years in high school, college, and beyond.
What's the moral of this story? I think it is a misnomer to say that CrossFit athletes are the "fittest on Earth" and disingenuous to assume that someone with an amazing physique "must do CrossFit." One of my good friends is routinely asked this and people are very surprised to hear her say "no." What's her secret? She has a career in law enforcement and pushes herself incredibly hard on running trails and in the gym. Don't ever forget that the vast majority of the world's best athletes have never stepped foot in a "box" or tried on a pair of Reebok Nano's.
Go read some of the early workouts posted on CrossFit mainsite from 2001. You'll find that they contained a fairly steady dose of running, biking and even swimming. Those activities fell out of favor as gym owners learned that they were hard to incorporate into a group or class setting. Just because something doesn't lend itself well to an organized group class doesn't mean you should ignore it. Want to take your fitness to the next level? Spend some time training outside your box. Use your jump rope for something other than double unders. Spend some time training for an endurance event like a marathon or triathlon. Go for a freaking hike with a backpack out in the woods.
It's a big fitness world out there. Make sure you enjoy all of it.
Professional: Academic Researcher with a focus on neurobiology @ Morehouse School of Medicine and professor at Morehouse College
PHD Info: Kent State with a focus on neurobiology (PHD from Department of Biological Sciences)
CrossFit Games Experience: 2015 Regionals - Team, 2014 Regionals Athlete, 2013 CrossFit Games - Team, 2012 Regionals Athlete
Collegiate Athletic Background: Brown University Track & Field, 4 year varsity letterman, specialist in pole vault and hurdles
Facebook: Meathead: Unraveling The Athletic Brain
Allison's Blog: www.dormivigilia.com
Instagram and Twitter: @beastlyvaulter
Like this article? Check out Allison's book Meathead: Unraveling The Athletic Brain