There’s a quote attributed to CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman where he says, “The magic is in the movements, the art is the programming, the science is in the explanation, and the fun is in the community.” I want to hit on one of those today, the movements. There is something unique about CrossFit and it is focused within the movements it espouses. CrossFit, as well as just about anyone else, claims to be a functional fitness program. What is functional fitness?
Functional, as far as CrossFit is concerned, is simply movements that are present in nature, in our everyday lives. If I want to pick something up from the ground and put it in a truck or on a shelf, I’m going to do a power clean and a press. If I’m holding my child, or a melon (if you’re without children) and I need to bend down to pick something up, it’s a squat, a weighted one. If I just need to pick something up from the ground, it’s a deadlift. Functional movements have some analog in nature. Deltoid raises, curls, tricep extensions, hamstring curls. None of those are natural movements. Aside from ignoring the actual function of the muscle (like the hamstring curl) these moves never occur in nature. If I saw a guy on the street with his elbows bent and repeatedly trying to push his shoulders into his ears or raise his elbows overhead, I’d think he’s a weird dude. It’s not until I put him inside a gym that that move starts to look like anything. It’s a gym move, not a natural one.
Natural movements are safe. When done properly, these are movements that have a profound benefit to your overall health. Can you get hurt doing these movements? Sure, you absolutely can. But you can also get hurt walking down the street if you’re not careful. So be careful, listen to your trainer. You’ll be fine.
Another great thing about these natural movements is that they elicit a strong neuroendocrine response. Those are fancy science words for identifying a change that happens in your body either neurologically or hormonally. The adaptations we glean from exercise are due in large part to those movements producing a profound neuroendocrine response. You know how people used to get ripped with steroids because it would boost testosterone?
The movements we use do the same thing. These movements cause your body to raise its levels of testosterone and human growth hormone. Both of those are essential in building muscle. Another derivative of movements eliciting a nigh neuroendocrine response is increased bone density. And that will help keep you out of the nursing home, which should be everyone’s goal.
The idea that you can get fit by just doing something physical is not really true. Granted, if you’re really crazy out of shape, something is better than nothing. But if you’re really looking for real results and real fitness, you need to exercise with movements where a neuroendocrine response is at a premium. These movements are multi-joint movements. They are safe. They are natural. If it doesn’t happen in the real world, it’s crap. If you have to imagine yourself in a gym to make the movement make sense, you shouldn’t do it. To almost sum up all of CrossFit in about a paragraph, we turn back to coach Glassman: “Heavy load weight training, short rest between sets, high heart rates, high intensity training, and short rest intervals, though not entirely distinct components, are all associated with a high neuroendocrine response.”