Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Great Argument

So last night I got a sarcastic post on my facebook page from one of my clients, telling me to keep my damn back straight while deadlifting.  This comment was inspired by the video I posted of myself during the 2nd WOD at the SuperFit Games this past weekend.  The comment took me a little out of my element for a bit because it is something I enforce so much with all my client; posture.  I recalled many articles and discussions posted around about CrossFit and how anything turned on to high intensity will inevitably lead to posture break-down.  And here is where the argument takes off.

If the idea behind resistance training is to better the body's health, increase fitness, decrease injury risk and prolong life, why then would one perform exercise, full well knowing that form is lacking?  As it is with so many CrossFit WOD's, heavy weight, moved quickly will break the body down very fast.  In terms of the WOD my client was referring to, it was a 289# deadlift performed as many times as possible in 3 minutes.  I was able to pull 47 reps.  By rep 25 or so, my posture began to fall apart.  By rep 40 it was down right pitiful; but I kept on going.  Is that safe?  Is it worth it?  Well, no to the former, and yes, usually, to the latter.

You see, the argument CrossFit puts down is that a slight break down in form is a good thing.  if one were to perform an exercise in absolute perfection, it would mean that that exercise would be performed below a beneficial enough intensity to truly see results and increased fitness levels.  "Controlled Slop" is what they call it.  This actually makes a great deal of sense when you think about it.  If I were to move very slowly, and force absolute perfect form through the prescribed movement, I would be ensuring one or both of two things: that I was not moving heavy enough weight to challenge my body; and/or, that I was not moving quickly enough to actually see any sort of drastic physiological change in myself.  To achieve the best results from resistance training, one must supply a large enough load to the body to cause adequate muscle tissue breakdown, while also challenging cardiovascular and muscular endurance through high intensity burst (prolonged elevated heart rate, I.E. running, while greatly beneficial, does not really play a roll in this argument as it truly is not the most efficient or effective way to all around high levels of fitness).  To get to these efforts, one must push their physical limits or else they will see only minimal gains, and most likely plateau pretty quickly.  So, using heavy weights, and moving quickly will result in the quickest and most effective gains.

Another argument FOR this is that we as humans function in burst of high intensity, with random, big movements, and, generally heavy and/or awkward loads.  So, training with heavy weight, at intensity would, quite literally, define functional training. 

The final argument for the breakdown in my form being "worth it" in this particular deadlift workout, was that it was a competition.  Competitive sports in their very nature will put the body at a greater risk, it is expected and understood.  So, while football and rugby players subjects themselves to full body impact, runners, cyclists and other endurance athletes suffer through extended bouts of muscular pain, and fighters, well, you get where I am going with this.  The risk was worth it because I was competing to win.  I will automatically push harder, get another rep, endure more pain, for the sake of the sport.

But what about when not competing?  Well, this here is part of the beauty of CrossFit, AND, part of its ugliness.  CrossFit calls for competition in its practice, not just the tournaments affiliates hold.  Because of this, it has drawn a lot of criticism from all over for being a practice that supports bad form and injury.  Granted, they do not help their cause very much by having mascots like Pukey the Clown (as in, a clown that throws up, from working out so hard...) and, even worse, Rhabdo (short for rhabdomyolisis, a condition where rapid muscle tissue breakdown leads to the release of a chemical protein that shuts down the kidneys...and can kill you).  But that aside, I have heard plenty of respectable arguments about how working on getting a great single rep, or three reps of a heavy clean and jerk is way better for you then banging out 30 clean and jerks for time.  And there begins probably the most common discussion/argument one will ever find amongst CrossFitters.

What I will put forth is this:  once one has trained the body to function in proper form, good posture, correct breathing and in-balance, and once one commits to continuously keeping this up, then, and only then do I say go ahead, start that clock, get some people together and get after it.  After all, you would never throw someone who has never taken a punch into the ring with a boxer; and for that matter, you would never eat a 20oz steak after going a lifetime of being vegetarian without expecting to get sick.  The point is, prepare yourself for intensity, for lot's of weight, for anything, then go jump into it whole-heartedly.  While sure, you may suffer an injury here and there, and you may have to reassess your programming on a regular basis (hell, I reassess mine every couple weeks), that is the nature of challenging yourself.  And if you never challenge yourself, or put yourself at a risk, you can not expect to get that much better.

In conclusion, there is a place for taking a few pounds off the bar and making sure form is better, but at the same length, there is also a place for trusting that you are prepared enough to withstand broken-down form so that you can push your body to new heights.  To punctuate a point, I must say that this does NOT mean go out today and try to PR Fran (holy CrossFit lingo!!), but, if you know you have a great thruster, depth is good, lock-out is strong and over your spine, if you've been working on your pull ups and know that you are recruiting the correct muscles in proper sequence, then yeah, go crazy with Fran.

Never Stop, GET FIT.

Josh Courage

1 comment:

djpope said...

Hey Josh,

I agree that a breakdown in form is fine if your goal is to lift more weight. You'll never see a limit lift with perfect form! I really enjoy crossfit but am not sure if I really agree with the form breakdown thing. I guess its a catch 22. Work harder for the possibility of a greater return on fitness vs breaking technique and increasing your risk for injury. I guess you have the weigh the goals and outcomes and take into account the individual.

I know that even minor breakdowns in technique will cause injury, especially in older clients with preexisting conditions. I see it all the time.

I'm a huge fan of extremely difficult work and believe it can be performed with optimum technique. However, when you're in a competition you better get after it!