CrossFit and our Definition of Fitness

August 8, 2013

What if everything you thought you knew about fitness was wrong?

The central principle of CrossFit training is a specific concept of what entails “fitness”. Typically, fitness is equated with aerobic conditioning and events that challenge this capacity, such as marathons. While we concede that running a marathon is indeed a grueling task, we strongly contest the notion that preparing for a marathon will make one “fit”.

Typical training for a marathon consists of gradually increasing weekly mileage to increase cardiovascular endurance and efficiency in running. While this strategy will prepare one for a marathon (if you avoid the repetitive use injuries that occur frequently with such training) it will not lead to any increases in strength or coordination or agility or flexibility or power. In fact, if your preparation was effective you will see a reduction in all these other categories. Thus, the end result of marathon preparation is greater cardiovascular endurance and running efficiency at the cost of capacity in several other realms of athletic performance. To a CrossFit trainee, this compromise is not acceptable.

The CrossFit conception of fitness is perhaps most easily understood through the following thought experiment. Imagine a computer program that can randomly generate physical challenges. This program is the centerpiece to a three-day fitness event that you have entered along with fourteen other people. Each person will have a turn pressing a button marked “WOD”. When the button is pressed the program will deliver a challenge and everyone will compete to see who can perform the best at the task. The top finisher receives a score of 1 and the bottom finisher gets a score of 15. Each day the group will compete in three tasks with the rest periods between events determined by the computer. One’s total score is merely the sum of your score in each event. Thus, to win you want the lowest score, like in a game of golf.

How would you do?

The field will influence your ranking in each event. So let us assume that the other fourteen people are like you. Similar age, same gender, not professional athletes; you are all just fitness enthusiasts looking for a tough challenge during a long weekend.

How would you do?

Obviously, your score will depend on what the computer generates. So what if the computer spit out these three events for Day One?

Event One:

For time:
210 meter swim (in ocean)
1500 meter run (in soft sand)
50 Chest-to-Bar Pull-ups
100 Push-ups
200 Squats
1500 meter run (again, in soft sand)

Event Two:

Max L-sit for time (1 attempt)
Max distance softball throw (2 attempts)
Max distance handstand walk (1 attempt)

Event Three:
For time:
15 foot rope climb, 5 ascents
115 pound Clean and Jerk, 5 reps
15 foot rope climb, 4 ascents
125 pound Clean and Jerk, 4 reps
15 foot rope climb, 3 ascents
135 pound Clean and Jerk, 3 reps
15 foot rope climb, 2 ascents
145 pound Clean and Jerk, 2 reps
15 foot rope climb, 1 ascent
155 pound Clean and Jerk, 1 rep

So, how would you do?

In order to do well, you would need to be prepared to swim and run for moderate distances, perform basic gymnastic skills, lift a barbell overhead, and throw a ball. However, you would need to do more than merely perform these tasks. Speed is a factor in Event One and Three. This parameter challenges aerobic2012 Reebok CrossFit Games AND anaerobic conditioning to a significant degree. Lifting a heavy barbell overhead fifteen times is challenging. Doing it quickly as possible is lung searing. Throw fifteen rope climbs into the mix and you are dealing with a profound physical challenge.

This brings us back to the definition of fitness. The CrossFit methodology is organized around the principle that being fit means being prepared for a competition similar to one described above. In fact, the events listed above are not merely an abstraction. Rather, that was the first day of competition at the 2011 CrossFit Games… for the WOMEN’S Open Division.  Who knows what this years game will have in store! Click on the image to learn more about the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games.


In short, a CrossFit trainee strives to develop capacity in ALL of these general physical skills: Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, Accuracy, AND Cardiovascular Endurance. This is accomplished by avoiding specialization and embracing generalization. A week of CrossFit training includes workouts derived from gymnastics, weightlifting, powerlifting, rowing, and track and field. You can expect to lift, throw, sprint, balance, pull, push, jump, lunge, and more. Many days you will be asked to complete the workout as quickly as possible. In fact, each day is much like the example above. Coming to the gym is like pressing that button marked “WOD”. As you may have guessed, WOD stands for Workout of Day.

Read more about CrossFit Training and YOU


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