Will CrossFit Make You Better at Sports?
by Erik Castiglione
Will CrossFit make you better at sports? The short answer: no. BUT, it can make you a better athlete. Now for the longer answer. In his “World Class Fitness in 100 Words,” Greg Glassman’s final thought is “regularly learn and play new sports.” Why? Because learning a new physical skill makes it easier to continue learning new physical skills. In our youth, we learn movement with relative ease. We lose this ability over time because we’re no longer accustomed to it. Learning new sports increases the movements we’re exposed to. Also, if you look at the CrossFit pyramid, “sport” is at the top. This is the pinnacle of human performance, which is why such a small percentage of our population makes it to the professional level.
In the early 2010’s, as CrossFit began making its way into mainstream media, the interwebz exploded with debates about CrossFit as a sport vs. CrossFit as a training method. Critics who were outperformed by Games enthusiasts frequently used “I’m training to get good at sports, not to be the best at exercise” as their excuse. Games enthusiasts countered that being better at CrossFit would make them better at sports. Is that really the case? Would a football player really benefit from performing “Fran” in under 3 minutes? Will thrusters help them on the field?
Enter the 2011 CrossFit Games. One of the events was a “Skills Test 1.” This test included an L-Sit, a Handstand Walk, and a SOFTBALL TOSS. And three big name CrossFitters, Jason Khalipa, Chris Spealler, and Rob Orlando, all showcased their inability to throw a ball, lampooning CrossFit better than any critic could. Here at last was the definitive answer: CrossFit did not make you good at sports.
So, why is this the case? Once again, it’s because sport as at the pinnacle of the pyramid. Sports require immense specialization to become competitive at the highest level. Skills are VERY sport specific. For example, Kobe Bryant used to shoot 500-1000 baskets DAILY in the offseason. If we look at CrossFit, especially at the highest levels, it’s filled with high skill movements. Muscle-ups, snatches, cleans, handstand walking – all require tremendous amounts of practice to master, build capacity, and perform under fatigue.
When it comes to training athletes, time is the most valuable commodity. There is a finite amount of time in the day, and athletes need to prioritize recovery. Time used for skill development is best spent developing sport specific skills like throwing, dribbling, or shooting. Most collegiate strength and conditioning programs, if they perform any Olympic lifting variation, will stick with the power clean, because it requires the least skill. And this brings us back to CrossFit.
When programmed intelligently and used as an offseason training program, CrossFit CAN help athletes. By focusing on their aerobic base, mobility, coordination, strength, power, and speed, athletes can build the base of their pyramid. This will increase their work capacity and decrease their recovery time. Which means that when they go to train their sport, they can do more reps and handle more sport specific work, increasing the likelihood of success.
This is ESPECIALLY true in youth athletes. As with any structure, the bigger the base, the higher you can build. It is, unfortunately, too common these days to see youth athletes specialize at a young age. This frequently leads to overuse injuries and mental burnout. Offseason training is HUGE in avoiding this. And performing thrusters and kipping pull-ups will not help build physical literacy in our youth. Instead, we need more general movements that can build the qualities we mentioned above: aerobic base, mobility, coordination, strength, power, and speed. Fortunately, the Brand X method does just that. And we’re pleased to announce that Viking Athletics is now officially the ONLY Brand X Training Center in the state. If you’re interested in getting your youth started, we accept ages 8-16. To get started, please reach out to Coach Mo at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you in the gym!