// Getting to Grips With Crossfit

by Luke Starr


If you are a personal trainer, the odds are that you have heard about a training program called ‘CrossFit’. The growth in popularity of this training system has led to much debate about its perceived pros and cons, with a recent Network blog post generating some interesting discussion and conflicting opinions. Network asked CrossFit coach Luke Starr to share his thoughts on this method of training.






Fundamentally, CrossFit is functional movements performed at high intensity resulting in an increased work capacity.

CrossFit combines a broad array of fitness modalities, ranging from weightlifting to gymnastics, to athletics. CrossFit seeks to elicit improvements across all fitness domains, including cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy. While CrossFit can be tailored towards an individual’s specific goals (with CrossFit Football or CrossFit Endurance for example), it is not designed to be a specialised fitness program. It is aimed at turning individuals into well-rounded athletes through general physical preparedness. Although CrossFit alone will not make an athlete become elite in a specified sport, it will prepare an individual to be competent at most sports. Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, has stated ‘when we take our athletes and put them into your sport they can actively compete against those who specialise in that endeavour’.

CrossFit breaks the rules of traditional thinking about sets, reps and rest periods. As a result of this, it hasgained a reputation among some as being dangerous or ‘hardcore’, partly thanks to certain online videos. However, those who respect the foundations of CrossFit always place the prime emphasis on safe and proper execution of movements, followed by gradual increases in intensity. The volume and load in each workout should always be adjusted to the physical and psychological capacity of the individual.

The functionality of CrossFit is suitable for those who want a level of fitness and to improve their performance in the occasional recreational activity. The universal scalability of CrossFit means anyone can utilise it – of key importance is that loads and intensities are increased only when a client is competent at the foundational exercise techniques like squats, deadlifts and presses.

When working with novice clients, the trainer should consider their exercise tolerance and explain that muscle soreness is typical when learning new exercises and going through full range of motion. Clients who struggle with the feeling of pushing themselves towards their maximum should be allowed more time to become accustomed to this style of exercise.

It can often be challenging to coordinate a CrossFit workout at a traditional gym. For example, your client may be mid-workout on a deadlift/run, and as they finish their 400m and hurry back to the weights area to complete their next deadlift set, they discover that someone has stripped their bar and is using it for something else. However, many health clubs are becoming equipped for functional training with kettlebells, box jumps, and specifically designed functional training zones. If you are prepared to do mainly body-weight exercises, CrossFit can work well at a park or home garage, but for more complete workouts a custom-made CrossFit facility will have the right gear and expert coaching.

Many personal trainers have started to incorporate CrossFit-style workouts into their client’s routines, and while some do this effectively, others do it poorly, even dangerously. Any trainer who experiments with CrossFit must understand the movements they are teaching (ideally this will be learnt via a Level 1 CrossFit Certification).

Put simply, the CrossFit prescription is ‘constantly varied, functional movements, executed at high intensity’.


Constantly varied

The CrossFit philosophy is ‘train for the unknown and unknowable’. Constant variation is always applied, and it is not uncommon to see a client undertake maximum effort powerlifting movement on one day, followed by ‘Murph’ (For time:1.6km run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, 1.6km run) the next day.

Here is a typical week’s training for a CrossFit client:

Functional movement

The phrase ‘functional fitness’ is used a lot in today’s industry. CrossFit has clear definitions of what comprises a functional movement. According to Glassman, functional movements have the following characteristics:
• they are compound i.e., they are multi-joint; they involve a wave of contraction from core to extremity
• they are natural, effective, and efficient locomotors of body and external objects
• they have the capacity to move large loads over long distances, and to do so quickly.

Collectively, these three attributes (load, distance, and speed) uniquely qualify functional movements for the production of high power. For this reason, isolation exercises like bicep curls, leg extensions, lateral raises and other bodybuilding movements do not feature in CrossFit


High intensity

‘High intensity’ means relative to the limits of the individual. High intensity for one person is different to high intensity for another. The role of the CrossFit coach is to scale loads and intensities so that they are appropriate and effective for their client.


CrossFit strives to mirror nature by blurring distinctions between cardio and strength, and opts for the term ‘metabolic conditioning’ over ‘cardio’, as the objective is to develop all three energy pathways, including phosphagen and glycolytic, not just oxidative. In order to train all energy systems effectively, a high intensity of effort is required, which is why many CrossFit workouts last less than 20 minutes. The maximal effort reached during a workout is not sustainable for more than a brief amount of time, since the individual is working at power outputs well above their aerobic threshold.

A comparison of the benefits of anaerobic versus aerobic exercise clearly highlights the value of training all energy pathways:


The sport of fitness

In a society where most people are focused on body image and aesthetics, a CrossFit client is more concerned with their performance. The goal is always to improve one’s time, loads lifted, or score in a particular workout. People find more motivation in seeing these personal improvements than they do in simply seeking to lose weight or gain muscle. It is a nice side-effect that CrossFit athletes also see significant
improvements in their body composition as a result of training with constantly varied, functional movements, executed at a high intensity.



Sample CrossFit exercises

Sumo Deadlift High Pull
1. Initiate the movement with weight on heels, wide stance, toes pointed outwards. Ensure arms and back are kept straight, and shoulders are directly above hands (photo 1).
2. Accelerate rapidly from the set up position, first with the legs, coming into full standing position, followed by pulling with the arms to bring elbows pointing upward, with weight held just around collar-bone height (photo 2).


Tyre Flip
1. Set up is similar to Sumo Deadlift High Pull (photo 3).
2. Maintain neutral spinal alignment while bringing the tyre off the ground. Keep arms straight (photo 4).
3. As you bring the tyre further from the ground, extend the hips and accelerate further in order to create momentum to push the tyre forward (photo 5).
4. As the tyre flips over, move quickly again into set up position for your next flip (photo 6).

1. With barbell racked on shoulders, and elbows high, descend into a full front squat. Ensure that the knees are tracking in line with the toes, neutral spine is maintained and weight is on the heels. For complete range of motion, the crease of the hip must be below the top of the patella (photo 7).
2. Use a powerful extension of the hips and knees to stand up and accelerate the bar overhead. Only initiate extension of the arms after the lower body is fully extended. The finishing position is with arms and legs locked out, and the bar over the crown of the head, so that from side profile, the ear is visible in front of the arm (photo 8).


Glassman, G. ‘What is Fitness?’ CrossFit Journal, October 2002
Glassman, G. ‘Metabolic Conditioning.’ CrossFit Journal, June 2003




Luke Starr, BAppSc (Exercise and Sports Science)
Luke is a certified CrossFit coach and co-owner of the CrossFit Active studio in Waverton, North Sydney. He is also a health and fitness coordinator for the YMCA and a strength and conditioning coach for Eastern Suburbs Rugby Union. Luke has worked with athletes and the general population in the US, UK and Australia. For more information, e-mail luke@crossfitactive.com.au or visit www.crossfitactive.com.au

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