Is Crossfit for High School Athletes a Good Idea?

Three Areas Where CrossFit for High School Athletes Comes Up Short

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By Wil Fleming, CSCS

Recently, a good friend of mine ran a social experiment. At nearly the exact same time, on the same date, and to the exact same group of people (his Facebook followers), he posted two videos:

The first was an anti-racism video, depicting someone standing up against appalling racist and bigoted ideas. This was no doubt something that everyone could get behind and like.

The second was an “anti-CrossFit” video. This video depicted poor exercise technique in a variety of settings and finished with a message knocking the methods of CrossFit. This was sure to garner some comments.

The results were somewhat astounding. While the same number of people saw the two posts in the first hour, there were nearly five times more likes (100 vs. 20) and 25 times more comments (50 vs. 2) on one video over another.

The anti-crossfit video DOMINATED peoples’ attention. Rather than support a message against racism, people were going out of their way to say how “stupid” CrossFit is, or how “dumb” my friend was for sharing the video.

Needless to say, I know that the topic of CrossFit is a hot button.

I happen to think that CrossFit is one of the best things to happen to fitness in the last 10 years. While I don’t use CrossFit or coach it, I do think it has made every other piece of the fitness spectrum a better place. In my business, we strive to create a community similar to the one in most boxes. We foster competition among our members and individually, and to be certain, there is no other piece of the fitness community that is more interested in education than the CF community. Those are the good things.

CrossFit has also exposed many people to new methods of training. As a fan of the Olympic lifts, it is astounding to me to hear people talk about the clean and jerk and snatch maxes in everyday conversation. When more people are exposed to movement variety, I believe that we will have a healthier society.

However, I unequivocally believe that CrossFit is NOT the right path to creating better high school athletes. Specifically, here are three areas where I believe CF is lacking in developing high school athletes.

Crossfit to Fight

No Periodized Programming with CrossFit for High School Athletes

One of the hallmarks of an effective program is a planned program—one that systematically helps athletes develop qualities such as speed, strength, and power. Many of the movements of CrossFit should work to address the development of power and strength specifically, but the very nature of the randomness of CrossFit means that this development of qualities cannot be planned.

Effective programs use periodization (linear or otherwise) to bring about this change. Usually, specific qualities can be addressed during specific times, leading to a “peak” or competition season. The demands of CrossFit, even in the sporting sense, are much different than those of field and court sports.

A Lack of Multi-Planar Movement

Athletics happen across the entire range of planes through which humans can move. Athletes must be able to deliver power and express strength through the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. The spectrum of movement in CrossFit is much narrower, and nearly all movements found in typical programs occur almost exclusively in the sagittal plane.

A good program for athletes should address the transverse plane and frontal plane in addition to the sagittal plane. Movements such as medicine ball throws to develop transverse plane (rotational) power and lunging & locomotion laterally to develop change of direction skills in the frontal plane are absolute musts for the complete athlete.

Inappropriate or Incomplete Spectrum and Methods of Conditioning

The entire spectrum of developing a well-conditioned athlete should include development of the aerobic system, anaerobic lactic system, and the anaerobic alactic system. From long duration to short duration, CrossFit actually has been shown to develop individuals who have an increased work capacity.

In terms of the spectrum of conditioning, CrossFit focuses on the development of aerobic capacity and anaerobic lactic capacity more so than anaerobic alactic power. The rest periods used in CF are often far too short to adequately allow athletes to recover, leading almost all of the conditioning work to fall on the longer-duration end of the spectrum. The exception to this would be a well-designed “every minute on the minute” type of training session, although in many cases I see individuals programming EMOM workouts to create negative rather than positive work-to-rest ratios.

The methods are another bit of contention for me, as I believe that when moving into aerobic capacity work, in particular, the modalities used should be simple instead of complex. The use of Olympic lifts as a method of conditioning both defeats the purpose of Olympic lifting and exposes the athlete to technical deficiencies based upon fatigue.


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7 Responses

  1. We have an athlete that competes with my daughter and she is experiencing hip flexor issues, her dad believes it’s an over use issue from the cross-fit training she did over the summer. Is it likely that she developed this because of the “short rests” as described in your article above or simply to many repetitions ? She is now running Cross Country and usually only shows signs of the overuse when speed training is being worked. Thanks.

  2. Andy says:

    James:

    There is ALWAYS a belief that there are “quality” boxes out there doing the right programming. But *if* that exists, *if* a CF coach was programming based on principles outlined here are they really doing Crossfit anymore?

    I ask because just as Wil points out, with the growing popularity of Crossfit the notion of “doing” Crossift simply implies you pay a membership to a CF affiliate. It no longer means any specific type of workouts because as you alluded to CF coaches (if they are good) can do their own programming.

    But when addressing CF for high school athletes I think Wil’s approach was from the standpoint of what is considered “typical” if you will CF workouts,i,e, metcons focused heavily in the anaerobic-lactic, etc….

    On point #3 there doesnt need to be that much variety. MOST sports fall on either end of the spectrum needing aerobic capacity or alactic capacity. Outside of very specific events in track and swimming as well as wrestling there is little need for ANY intensive lactic work. And honestly in those cases, especially with swimming and track the lactic work in the gym does not carryover well to the sport-specific needs itself.

  3. Duston Morris says:

    As a long-time personal trainer, triathlon coach, running coach, and professor in health sciences, CF is no more beneficial than previous training modalities. If anything CF utilizes movements that increase the likelihood of injury and are not required to produce health and fitness benefits. As for highschool athletes, there are other training modalities that will produce better outcomes without the risk of injury, and are more functionally related to their required performance.

  4. Carlos Bracamontes says:

    Pharr PAL CF-Athletic Fitness/Wellness Diretcor

    All I’ve to say is… CrossFit Football!
    It has created awesome youth athletes for my program for the past 2 years now!

  5. Erik says:

    I’ve found CF to be an odd mix between bringing back jogging and creating mental toughness with my HS athletes. What I mean is this…CF trains hem to run at slower speeds than I want them to train for any sport they compete in…AND change direction (like you said). CF is severely defecient in that and is usually imbalanced in the proportion to pushing and pulling.

    The benefit I have seen is that they develop mental toughness. Their ability to become more comfortable in challenging training environments improves.

    But I will take today’s training culture wih CF than the early 2000’s any day when all anyone wanted to do was balance. No issues with barbells today and that’s great!

  6. Joe Derilus says:

    This is an acceptable accurate analysis for the crossfit BOXES that do exactly what you’ve described however this is not of the crossfit of today or the ENTIRE crossfit community. Crossfit is offering and getting more education as it continues to grow. In addition, you have methods like Opex Training which derived from Crossfit that’s is more programmed, planned, and structured. One thing, the general idea of Crossfit is random movements but it doesn’t mean the programs are random everywhere.

  7. Shawn Coe says:

    Thanks for the article Wil. I personally think you’re spot on. And I’d think the crossfit community would as well. Their own goal is general physical preparedness. A high school athlete is not looking for generality, they’re training for something very specific.

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