The intellegent application of CrossFit

Jenny LaBaw

The purpose of this article is to provide some framework for structuring physical training programs at the fire station in order to ensure efficacy, safety, and progress without compromising operational readiness.

First a few definitions to dial in the clear text:

CrossFit – A high intensity interval training program designed around traditional compound strength and conditioning movements like gymnastics, e.g., pull ups, push ups, sit ups, and basic ring work; weightlifting, i.e., clean and Jerk, snatch, and their variants; sprinting; and power lifting, e.g., squat, deadlift, and press. The ruling concept is that these movements be mixed together to compliment each other and be performed with intensity high enough to elicit adaptation. To ensure an adequate level of intensity these workouts are generally scored two ways, a given amount work as fast as possible or as much work as possible in a given amount of time. This framework implemented in a group environment fosters a level of competition that will generally push people beyond their perceived capacity.  CFJ-trial

Skill Work – Exercise and skill practice designed with the intent of mastering a given skill such as hand walking, snatch, or running. Generally performed while rested and practiced only until form falters.

Strength Work – Exercises that generally develop overall strength and power, e.g., power lifting, weightlifting, some body building. Work is focused on developing power (loading/time), strength (loading), strength endurance (loading/repetition), then hypertrophy (increased muscle fiber diameter) either together or in separate periods of programming depending on goals.

Mobility Work – Specific stretches and techniques designed to increase flexibility, improve movement quality, and reduce stress.

Metabolic Conditioning – Activity designed to increase work capacity in both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.

Durability Work – Physical training sessions designed to build physical and mental strength endurance by performing work with sub maximal loading and sub maximal cardio respiratory duress for extended periods of time.

Operational Readiness – Your ability to do your job should you get an emergency call during or shortly after your physical training.

Now that we have some common terminology I want to move on to implementation. When developing a strength and conditioning program the first question has to be “what is the goal?” absent that information you may as well keep doing whatever it is that you are doing. It is important to recognize that each person is going to have different goals and require a different approach but, in the fire service, we are fortunate because we all have common tasks to perform which require a measurable level of fitness. Opinions vary on what it takes physically to perform those tasks and often people either assume their ability is much higher than it actually is or fail to train in a way that highlights their weaknesses. Fortunately for us, former Navy SEAL and CrossFit OG Dave Werner has spent a lot of time fine tuning the CFN Fitness Standards and I wholly subscribe to his recommendations. Using his template we can each find our weakness and develop our goals based on improving our deficits.

I typically see three different models used to incorporate CrossFit into a training program:

A – Do a few basic stretches, a short run, and then jump into the .com WOD

B – Extensive warm up then either strength work or metabolic conditioning.

C – Extensive warm up, strength work, then metabolic conditioning.

Generally all three of options will last around an hour tip to tail. What I recommend is a deliberate well designed program that looks a bit like option C but takes time to incorporate skill work. A program based around a simple but often overlooked concept; position (form) then loading then intensity. All too often what I see are people with little or no exposure to a movement being asked to perform it under load with high intensity. Results vary when athletes are exposed to this kind training but generally it ends one of two ways; injury, or a stall in performance gains as strength surpasses skill.  Here is the template I would like to see used:

1-    Perform an evaluation based on CFN Fitness Standards recognizing that the long term goal is to reach the level 3  standard across the board.

2-    Develop your own program or choose one of the many online resources available.

3-    Implement all aspects of your new program in the following priority

  1. Position – Correct movement patterns and range of motion
  2. Loading – Ability to achieve the correct position under load
  3. Intensity – Performing correct movement patterns under load at a level of work output tailored to your goals.

Start with 3-5 minutes of warm up, literally raising your body temperature and preparing for movement. Jog, Jump rope, Row, AirDyne Bike, etc.

Then perform about 10 minutes of mobility work geared toward loosening up the body parts you are going to train.

Then spend 15 minutes on skill work; work a new skill, a skill that is complementary to today’s workout, or work specifically on the skill needed for today.

Then spend 15 minutes on dedicated strength work.

Then spend 10 minutes on metabolic conditioning. If your goals lean more toward developing work capacity than strength then you may want to use a durability WOD or combine the strength with the metabolic conditioning and spend 25 minutes on a heavy WOD; be careful to not get stuck in this mode though, dedicated strength work has to be the back bone of a fire service strength and conditioning program. When on duty it is important to leave a little gas in the tank after these workouts to maintain operational readiness. I am a huge of fan of pushing mental and physical boundaries and I think it is one of the most beneficial aspects of CrossFit but it is not necessarily a great idea while at work as these workouts can be so taxing that they leave your central nervous system in complete disarray.

Finally spend the rest of your hour cooling down and static stretching.

If you choose to get your workout program online please don’t cherry pick workouts, a large part of having a program is consistency and if you pick workouts that look “fun” from different websites every day you are missing the point. I highly recommend the following sites:

www.crossfitfootball.com I like this the best because it has a daily strength wod and metcon both of which have progressions based on skill level and in season vs out of season which fits nicely with our seasonal needs.

www.bootcampfitnesskc.com/the-fitness-conduit/ This is the home of the Max Effort Black Box. A Monday Wednesday Friday type program designed for long term performance. This is the template I have been using since I promoted because it is very flexible, effective, and doesn’t require a ton of equipment.

www.cathletics.com/ Excellent programming and resources for those of you who are interested in weightlifting.

I know this is a long winded dissertation but I think it is very important. CrossFit is a great tool for developing the kind of fitness we need to thrive in this job and I don’t want to see rings and plyo boxes banned from fire stations because it is being implemented irresponsibly.

Eat Right – Train Hard – Stay Safe

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