Crapshoot Fitness?

Muscle confusion sounds awesome.  But it is a lie.  

Muscle confusion sounds awesome.  But it is a lie.  

In the past decade, CrossFit has taken over the fitness world.  They have done a lot of good, wrestling people's ideas of practical fitness away from two polar extremes: the competitive bodybuilder on one hand, and the ultra-endurance athlete on the other.  They have brought the barbell, bumper and *gasp* dropping weights and making noise back into the realm of acceptable.  

But dare I say it?  Their programming is less than ideal.  And here's why- they don't use programming.  Neither do P90X, or any of their copycats.

Now of course somebody will throw up a picture of Rich Froning or some other big name from the CrossFit Games to prove me wrong.  You know what?  Good, put them up.  They are a great example.  Because they train sport specifically.  That is, they are training in preparation for the games.  They aren't going to a website and grabbing a randomized workout of the day.  They are training with planning and purpose.  In a way, they are training for CrossFit without CrossFit.

Here's the thing- if you are some random guy (or gal) looking to just exercise more, and you find CrossFit fun, have at it.  I do not want to sway you from something that is making you stronger and healthier than you might be otherwise.  But if you are or want to be a true athlete- and by that, we mean someone whose physical preparedness is necessary for your livelihood... you can do much better.

It seems the CF crowd has not made as much hay out of the term "muscle confusion" these days; perhaps that's because they have P90X riding their coattails (and knock-offs of P90X riding theirs).  Whatever the reason, go to the CF website (or many CF affiliates, for that matter), and you'll find a randomized workout of the day.  Ultimately, their "programming" is based on the idea of muscle confusion.  And that idea can be summed up like so:

Your body adapts to stimulus.  Follow a program, and it adapts to that program, eventually plateauing.  If you continually change the stimulus, the nervous system is forced to constantly adapt, constantly rewiring the body to adapt to the wide variety of stimuli placed upon it, and continuing this progress without plateauing for much longer.

It sounds great.  The problem is, it doesn't work that way.  The body adapts to stimuli, but without the stimuli being repeated, the body cannot fully adapt.  Randomness, rather than helping adaptation, hurts it.  A person doing a randomized exercise program will improve, but only to a point.  Their body adapts to be able to handle the stresses placed upon it, and then stops.  They too will plateau.  Your body can't adapt to everything at the same time.  It responds better to planning, periodization (think seasons), and consistency.  

If you want to get stronger, or faster, or have more stamina,  your body must be given the right level of stimulus- too little or spaced too far apart, and there is under training.  Too much or too often, and there is overtraining.  Consistency and smart progression is key.  Inconsistency will kill whatever your goal is.  And without smart progression, you will flounder.  

Random is better than nothing.  But not much better.  And you don't need random to be good at a wide variety of skills.  To paraphrase Jim Wendler, it's no secret that if you are strong and well conditioned, you will be pretty good at everything.  Build your foundation (i.e. strength and work capacity), and you will find yourself a better "jack of all trades".  

Where this applies to our athletes here at FF... most of our folks are military, police or fire/rescue, or want to be.  And those jobs have physical standards that are already out there.  And it doesn't take much imagination to know what the physical stresses of the jobs are.  Do you need random?  Or do you need a solid foundation of strength and work capacity, and then to add a little bit of "specific" training on top of that?  

Ditch the crapshoot, and train like an athlete.  

Posted on May 2, 2014 .