On CrossFit and Elite Athletes

With a little help from a friend...

I had nice conversation with CF Longevity owner Johnny V as we drove in his old Ford truck (I want it!) to pick up some equipment yesterday.  Put two CrossFit affiliate owners together and take a wild guess what we talked about.  After a while, conversation centered on some of the criticism leveled at CrossFit, namely that elite athletes don’t use it as their strength and conditioning program.

First off, elite athletes do use CrossFit as a strength and conditioning system.  A lot?  Probably not.  Very few elite athletes get to choose their own s & c program.  They are part of teams and colleges and training centers that have their own strength and conditioning coaches and programs.  Are these programs better or worse than CrossFit?  Not at all.  It’s like comparing apples and oranges.  Sure, both are fruit, but completely different kinds.  The aim of these other s & c programs is different than CrossFit.  You can’t really compare the two.  Are these other programs good? Well, Ohio State must be doing something right as they seem to send a lot of players to the NFL, or Duke to the NBA, and I am sure their s&c program is excellent.

Could CrossFit be tweaked to be a top level strength and conditioning program employed at the above schools, with on and off seasons, games, and position specific training?  You bet it can be, and it certainly is and has been.  How about some of the top Games competitors–Froning, Spealler, Clever?  I would say that these are fairly elite athletes. And I think I can safely state that CrossFit is their strength and conditioning program.

What about the tactical athletes that are avowed CrossFitters? There are more than a few elite athletes in the various SWAT teams, military special forces, and fire fighters that CrossFit around the world.  Just this last weekend (at the CFWSC big opening comp and party), Freddy Camacho from CF One World, a long time competitor in SWAT competitions, told me about an Israeli team that just dominated a recent high level international SWAT competition.  The whole team were hard core CrossFitters, to the point that they actually recognized Freddy from CF videos online.

So I tend to dismiss the not-being-used-by-elite-athletes criticism.  Not to mention that the whole criticism just doesn’t matter.  I, and 99% of CrossFit trainers, don’t train elite athletes nor to I aspire to.  Sure, I have trained high school, college, police, and fire athletes.  Did the the training help them kick ass at their sport?  Yes.  Was it fun and interesting for me?  You bet.  Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat.  Is it my main reason for being a CrossFit coach, for being a CrossFit affiliate owner?  Nope, not at all.

Here is the simple truth.  Elite athletes are elite because of themselves.  Strength and conditioning programs play no part in it.  Elite athletes are going to be elite no matter what kind of strength and conditioning program they do.  Any advantage they get from a s&c program is a matter of degree.  Certainly it helps, but it is just a small part of an elite athlete’s make up.

For your average CrossFitter, however, their strength and conditioning program, CrossFit, is everything.  It is something that has dramatically changed their lives, perhaps even saved their life.  And that is what matters. Yeah, possibly you could argue that another s&c program is better for NFL running backs or NBA point guards or Olympic pole vaulters than CrossFit is, but who cares.  There is nothing better for a regular person who wants exceptional health and fitness.  On any given day at this box you see regular people without athletic backgrounds doing stuff they never would have thought possible for them. Forty year old computer programmers clean and jerking heavier than their own bodyweight.  Late 40s family therapists doing heavy overhead squats and sprints.  Doctoral candidates hitting muscle ups. Grandmothers in their mid 60’s doing full squat snatches.  Eye doctors doing tire flips and box jumps.

The true value, genius, and beauty of CrossFit is not its viability for high level athletes, Navy Seals, SWAT teams, or even Games athletes, but rather its viability for everyone else.

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High Box Jump

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Alternate couplets with a partner.

(do 1 rep, partner does 1, do 2 reps, partner does 2, do 3 reps, partner does 3, etc)

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Power Clean


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Power Snatch


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