A Scientific Look at the CrossFit Craze

You don’t have to look very far these days to come across somebody who is into the CrossFIt exercise craze, they’re literally everywhere! I know a lot of people that are all about CrossFit, and I even know a few guys that own CrossFit gyms.

While I’ve never taken part in a CrossFit workout, I’ve long been a little intrigued by the cult like following that CrossFitters seem to have.

Apparently, I’m not the only person in the fitness industry that is a little curious about the whole CrossFit thing. The American Council on Exercise has sponsored some research in an attempt to find out what the fuss is all about.

The News

In a study recently conducted at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, researches set out to determine how intense typical CrossFit workouts are, as well as how difficult the workouts were deemed to be by the participants. After finding 16 participants (male and female, moderately fit to very fit), two common CrossFit workouts were selected for the test. The first workout, known as Donkey Kong, consisted of burpees, kettlebell swings, and box jumps. The second workout, or Fran, had only two exercises--thrusters and assisted pull-ups. Both workouts followed the same 3 set pattern of 21 reps of each exercise in the first set, followed by 15 reps, and ending with a third set of 9 reps. The goal was to complete all reps of each exercise as quickly as possible.

The results were somewhat predictable, CrossFit is intense!

In both workouts, participants’ heart rates rose rapidly to a level near 90% of max, and stayed there for the duration of the workout. VO2 max (how much oxygen is being consumed during the workout) behaved similarly to heart rate, rising rapidly and staying elevated. And participants rated both workouts as being difficult to complete, though Donkey Kong was rated slightly more difficult than Fran.

The researchers were impressed with the quality of workout for it being so short in duration, and subjects burned an average of 115 calories during each workout. However, because of the intensity of the workout, researches were hesitant to recommend CrossFit for everyone. Said one researcher, “This is not the workout for a 45-year-old person with multiple cardiovascular risk factors. People absolutely need to be properly screened before beginning CrossFit.”

My Take

CrossFit, if done properly, is a great workout. The problem is, not all CrossFit gyms are created equal.

Like the researcher said, proper pre-participation screening is vital, and only the most knowledgeable and experienced trainers should be leading the workouts. Sadly, that isn’t always the case. Because there is a certain competitiveness to a CrossFit workout, form must be constantly policed and corrected in order to minimize the injury risk that is inherent during such an intense workout.

But if the CrossFit gym you go to is run by qualified individuals, go for it! You’ll get a super intense workout in a relatively short amount of time, which is ideal for the busy lives of a lot of people.

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