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What is CrossFit? - Part I

Demystifying the popular strength and conditioning program



Jason Kart, PT, DPT

©Jason Kart

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that aims to improve muscular and cardiovascular strength and flexibility. The wildly popular high intensity exercise regime mixes body weight and Olympic style strengthening movements with cardiovascular conditioning.

About.com caught up with Jason Kart, PT, DPT, physical therapist and owner of Core Physical Therapy – Chicago, to get to the bottom of CrossFit and find out how it can benefit mountain bikers.

About.com: What is CrossFit?

Dr. Kart: CrossFit consists of frequently changing exercises that the participant completes in 60-minute sessions. Workouts are usually posted in the Box (gym) to be completed that day. Workouts start with a warm-up, educational component on technique, a high intensity workout and stretching cool down. Workout participants are usually ranked or scored by their workout results which motivates them to improve their performance.  

The idea behind CrossFit is to keep the body from adapting and becoming more efficient by continuously changing the exercise routine. This maintains the challenge to the body for longer periods of time. When the body is inefficient in an activity there is increased caloric burn, faster increase of the heart rate to the training zone, and increased microscopic tearing of muscle tissue to stimulate muscle building.

About.com: What are the advantages of CrossFit?

Dr. Kart: Because the body is constantly inefficient, it is not uncommon to see an increased rate in weight loss and increased muscle strength in shorter time frames, though results may vary pending adherence and tolerance to this regimen.  

The culture of CrossFit encourages competition, and working with partners or a close community to continuously strive to improve one's performance. Many of my patients have reported a very positive and encouraging atmosphere.

As humans exercise, the body will gradually break down muscle tissues. This will cause the body to stimulate regrowth and adaptation to tolerate the stimulus. As the exerciser continued to work out with the same regimen, there is a tendency for the body to become more adapted and efficient, therefore the rate of return is not as great. This is called the law of diminishing returns. By constantly varying exercise, the exerciser does not become efficient and therefore the rate on their exercise investment tends to be higher, accelerating results.

About.com: Why might mountain bikers choose to participate in CrossFit?

Dr. Kart: Mountain bikers may benefit from CrossFit because of the cross training elements involved. As with running or swimming, biking activities are extremely repetitive by their nature. It is common to hit plateaus in training because of increasing efficiency and specialization of the systems involved. The better a mountain biker gets, the harder it gets to progress to the next level. New, unfamiliar activities can help increase a mountain biker's gains in speed, cardiovascular conditioning and flexibility. This can help improve a mountain biker's performance overall.

About.com: What contributes to CrossFit injuries?

Dr. Kart:

The activities: Fast-paced, unfamiliar, high intensity activities are generally riskier than others.

Competitive atmosphere: The idea "more is better" breeds a quantity over quality environment that may push participants to overexert themselves.

The instruction: CrossFit, Inc. has been criticized for inadequate education and certification requirements of their instructors. Level 1 instructors have only a weekend certification class and gyms pay a licensing fee to say they are "CrossFit certified." Group classes also decrease the individual supervision to identify poor mechanics and prevent injury.

Read Part 2 of this interview here.

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