Athleticism vs. Fitness


IMG_3308.JPGThere is a misunderstanding, if not a controversy, in CrossFit regarding athleticism.  I feel that people usually mistake fitness for athleticism.  Certainly the two are related, but only to a point.  Athleticism is, well, the ability to be athletic.  Athleticism is the dark side of the Physical Attributes of Fitness–coordination, agility, dexterity, balance, accuracy.  These qualities are much harder to come by than endurance or stamina or even strength.  They are far more innate.

A criticism often leveled at CrossFit is that CF awards the winner of the CrossFit Games the title “Fittest Man/Women in the World.”  These critics always say that such and such Olympian, pro athlete, decathlete, etc would easily win if they decided to compete.  Not true at all. On the flip side of the coin, I often hear such and such star CrossFitter referred to as “very athletic” or a “super athlete.”  Both of these statements betray a fundamental misunderstanding of both fitness and athleticism.  They are not the same thing.

Fitness, as very well defined by CrossFit, is work capacity.  Athleticism is the quality of possessing the skills of being good at sports.  The Cambridge dictionary defines it as “skill in running, jumping, throwing and similar competitive sports.” No where is work capacity or something like it mentioned.  Of course, a highly athletic person probably has good work capacity, aka fitness, and a very fit person probably is pretty athletic, but it is not necessarily a given.

An Olympian decathlete or judo player or a professional linebacker is without a doubt athletic, highly so, but that does not make them fit by CrossFit standards.  They have no reason to be.  Their fitness is defined by their sport.  The above examples would not automatically do well at the CF Games without CrossFit training.  They are athletic, but only as ‘fit’ as required by their sport.  Very few sports demand constant intensity without regular let up, in the CrossFit WOD sense, for even a few minutes at a time–combat sports and water polo are two examples.  Take a linebacker or running back in football, arguably two of the most athletic positions in all of sport.  Extreme physical movement and intensity for a few seconds and then a short break.  Very athletic, but not high work capacity.  Certainly not across broad time and modal domains.

CrossFit, by and large, is about controlled movement in a controlled setting.  As such, it does not teach or train athleticism in the same sense that movement in an uncontrolled setting does.  Think of a wrestler shooting in for a takedown.  The presence of an actively resisting live opponent require so many minute and instantaneous shifts and adjustments that it makes any barbell movement seem utterly stagnant by comparison.  Training controlled movements in a controlled setting, Fran for example, is great for measurable, observable, and repeatable fitness, but thrusters and pullups do not do much for athleticism.  

So, where am I going with this?  Include some sport or physical activity in your life, and not just CrossFit as sport.  CrossFit lays a great base for sport and it really accentuates existing sport performance, but it deserves to be put to the test outside the box.  Include more athletic movements and drills in your training.  Bilateral movement and explosive movement (such as jumping and sprinting) are two great ways to improve athleticism.

CrossFit claims to forge elite fitness, and it truly delivers.  I think there is room in the smithy of CrossFit for athleticism too.

Thoughts? Please post to Comments.


Snatch 7×3


3 Rounds

12 Deadlifts

9 Front Squats

6 Cleans

3 Thrusters

1 Muscle Up and 1 High Box Jump (42/34″) between each movement.

Guys use 135#, dolls use 85#.

Post WOD and score to Comments.