“You don’t get to mis-define a thing, and then on the basis of that mis-definition, say that that thing is bad … it’s incumbent upon you, if you’re going to make a criticism of something, that you actually have at your command a working definition of the thing you’re criticizing …” – Mark Rippetoe, 2008.
I recently appeared on ESPN’s Outside the Lines to “react” to Mark Fainaru-Wada’s theatrical and inaccurate critique of CrossFit. I appeared opposite Mark Rippetoe, a former CrossFit subject matter expert in the barbell lifts, who left our organization a few years ago due to personal disagreements. You can watch our conversation here.
Our discussion quickly strayed from Mark Fainaru-Wada’s segment and became focused almost entirely on Rippetoe’s personal issues with CrossFit, which he has written about on T-Nation’s website. Rip’s issues stem from his own misunderstanding of the CrossFit program, which he perceives to be random, and therefore equates with spontaneous human activity (exercise), rather than planned, goal-driven activity (training). Based on his assumption that CrossFit is “random,” Rip claims that CrossFit is simply “exercise.”
Yet Dr. Lon Kilgore, Rip’s co-author and one of the most respected academics in the field of anatomy and physiology, disagrees with Rip’s relabeling of these terms,
“It’s sort of a semantic thing that he was writing about there. Because, previously, he and I had talked about the discriminating between physical activity, which is unplanned, spontaneous human activity… and then exercise was planned movement in order to improve fitness.”
Dr. Kilgore went on to say that, “He’s using different terms and a different definition. And that was a new use for him, in my past history.”
Regardless of how we define these terms, Rip’s argument is based on an inaccurate assumption about CrossFit programming. Rip defines training as “…physical activity done with a longer-term goal in mind, the constituent workouts of which are specifically designed to produce that goal.”
Based on this definition, it is demonstrably false to claim that CrossFit lacks longer-term goals. CrossFit’s goal is increased work capacity. This is a clear, measurable goal. CrossFit methodology also programs specifically to improve this goal, and does so by making use of constant variance.
“Random” programming would almost certainly fail to produce the greatest work capacity, as true randomness contains clusters and groupings that might cause athletes to miss certain stimuli for long periods of time. For example, 30 randomly picked workouts might only include 1 heavy day and multiple long-distance runs, simply because it’s random. On the contrary, CrossFit programming requires intentionally tracking the variables of training and purposely modulating them to attain the broadest possible training stimulus. This prevents athletes from intentionally, or unintentionally neglecting one type of stimulus in favor of another.
Think of the Hopper Model of fitness. The Hopper contains all of life and sports’ many skills and drills, and is a theoretical and statistical test of fitness. But it is not a model for programming. A truly random program would draw from the hopper with no hierarchy of movement selection. Softball throws would be programmed as often as squats, and neither frequently. CrossFit doesn’t excludes fringe movements like ball throws, shoveling, or even back rolls to support. In fact, CrossFit encourages that athletes regularly seek out new sports and challenges, but CrossFit does emphasize a core group of functional movements for consistent practice and training. Think of how often below parallel squatting movements appear in CrossFit’s benchmark workouts. This is not an accident.
Now Rip may not agree with our equating work capacity to fitness, he may not believe constant variance is the most effective way to improve work capacity, he may just simply not like CrossFit and not like me, but as convenient as it is for him to claim, CrossFit isn’t random.