We’ve discussed the hidden costs of using a one-size-fits-all military training plan. You’ve ruled that out. Now what? Lots of athletes think “great! I love CrossFit™. I’ll do WODs.” Don’t get me wrong. CrossFit™ is one of the greatest things to happen to the world of strength and conditioning: it’s put barbells and kettlebells into the hands of millions; increased Olympic weightlifting awareness; brought more acceptance for women’s heavy lifting and strength training; and, ultimately, gotten people excited about fitness again. However, its a common mistake to think CrossFit™ is adequate preparation for military selection.

To understand why that’s the case, we need to talk about the essence of CrossFit™. Those familiar with the sport know the basic premise of “constantly varied functional movement performed at relatively high intensity.”

Let’s get more specific so you see what I mean about why it’s not the best fit for military fitness. The program posted on CrossFit’s™ main site is a pretty good example, and when we take a look at this program, it’s easy to see why CrossFit™ isn’t the ideal preparation program for selection. Let’s take a recent example, one week of main-site training, from Oct 17th to Oct 24th:

October 17, 2015: Row 5000 metres

October 18, 2015: Push press 3-3-3-3-3-3-3 reps
October 19, 2015: For time – 10 box jumps (42-inch box), 10 bar muscle-ups, 20 kettlebell snatches 1.5pood, 20 one-legged squats, alternating, 30 toes-to-bars, 30 overhead squats (75lb barbell), 40 GHD sit-ups, 40 medicine-ball cleans (20-lb ball), 50 burpees, 50 triple-unders
October 20, 2015: Rest day
October 21, 2015: 3 rounds for time – row 500 meters, 21 burpees, 12 reps 95lb thrusters
October 22, 2015: Sumo deadlift 5-5-5-5-5 reps, bench press 5-5-5-5-5 reps
October 23, 2015: 21-18-15-12-9-6-3 reps for time – ring dips, 115-lb overhead squats
October 24, 2015: Rest day

Image courtesy: flickr.com

This one-week snapshot of the main CrossFit™ site WOD is a pretty accurate representation of their standard program design throughout the year. Why isn’t this effective in my opinion? A few reasons come to mind.  

  1. It’s not individualized, of course.
  2. The training is rarely over 30 minutes in duration. If we’re going to be effective in combat, we need to teach our bodies to go long.
  3. Movements like bar muscle-ups, overhead squats, and triple unders are nice-to-haves, however I believe the tactical athlete’s time would be better spent elsewhere. Exercise selection is KEY to getting the fastest results possible and it MUST be individualized.

You may be thinking CrossFit™ is scalable and doesn’t always look like the workout above. You might be thinking program design is up to each individual coach and CrossFit™ box. You’re absolutely right. However, if each coach is doing their own thing, they’re not doing CrossFit™. This now becomes what I call ANYTHING! And if you can prescribe ANYTHING to an athlete, you may as well go for an individualized training plan, because you’re already closer to individualization than any single methodology or sport.

We can also assume that CrossFit™ is designed to prepare you for competitions: Opens, Regionals and Games. These events each have specific goals and outcomes, which don’t entirely mesh with what you’re trying to achieve in your military training. For example, in CrossFit™ competitions, we can safely assume the following: 

  1. Activity is largely anaerobic
  2. Majority of events are under 20 minutes
  3. High-repetition, vertical pressing/pulling and high-repetition bending and squatting movements are a major focus
  4. The competition is between 1 event to several events over a period of 3 days
  5. The equipment you’re using is mostly stuff you’d find in a gym
  6. There is a high focus on barbell work

In a military selection scenario, you’re looking at something completely different:  

  1. Activity is largely aerobic, not anaerobic
  2. Most events are significantly longer than the 20 mins we see in CrossFit
  3. High repetition push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups are a major focus
  4. You’re training for an ‘event’ – the selection phase – lasting 1-3 weeks, not a couple of days
  5. Most of the equipment will be military, including your rucksack and other odd objects
  6. There is a high focus on swimming, running and rucking, not barbells
Image courtesy: sinodefenceforum.com

As you can see by pitting CrossFit™ against selection training, the two have very different physical demands. You wouldn’t train for a marathon using a sprinting plan; your training needs to mimic the competition you’re working towards.

Again, I love CrossFit™. It’s done incredible things for the strength and conditioning industry. BUT, I simply don’t think that it’s the most effective way to train for a very specific competition like selection. The candidates who are most successful use a selection-specific program, targeted to their individual needs.

Feature image courtesy: commons.wikimedia.org