This title is quite the tease, but it is still a decent question. First Pull is – and will always be- a site dedicated to weightlifting and to some extent physical preparation (since most of the weightlifting concepts and training methodologies are revelant when training for another sport). This piece is about taking a look at Crossfit from a sport training point of view. Everything touched here applies to all sports, including Crossfit and Weightlifting. It’s old news that Crossfit became a fitness sport. Crossfit motto is that “constantly varied, high– intensity, functional movement.” lead to fitness and high results. While its hard to argue against this, it is easy to argue against the preached general methodology in favor of a specialized approach.
Fitness training is not sport training : Crossfit is a new sport and the performance of the current top crossfitters will be looked at as subpar within 10 years as the training methods improve
What you are now witnessing at the Games is the performance of incredible pioneer athletes that are the best of a sub-par system (Subpar defined as not yet refined). I don’t mean this as an attack nor do I mean it to be offensive. Actually, I would say that it’s a rather objective observation. Allow me to expand on this. When women weightlifters were finally allowed to compete in the Olympics (in 2000), the results were very high for the time, but on the low side in comparison today’s results.
For instance, in the 48kg division, Tara Nott snatched 82.5kg for Gold whereas Wang Mingjuan of China snatched 91kg in London 2012 (which is 7kg below the World record in this division). In the 75kg+ category, Ding Meiyuan (China) did a 130kg snatch and 165kg clean and jerk in 2000 for gold. Zhou Lulu (China) did 146/187 for Gold. Tatiana Kashirina of Russia has done 151/190kg.
The totals have not changed as much on the male side of weightlifting. This is due to the fact that male weightlifting is over 100 years old. When it started, the totals went up years after years and it later plateaued (or slowed down by a lot) in the late 80’s-early 90’s. Plus drug testing has been put in place, which may or may not have changed the game. If Crossfit is there to stay, the same type will happen : fast increase in results followed by a plateau.
You could also look at the performance of the Olympic Lifts in Crossfit. At the 2009 Crossfit Games, Tamara Holmes snatched 145lbs (65kg) for first place in the Snatch Event. In 2014, Camille Leblanc Bazinet is said to snatch 190lbs (86kg), Michelle Letendre snatches 185lbs (85kg), Annie Thorisdottir snatches 71kg, Lindsey Valenzuela snatches 200 (90kg). (I picked those name based on popularity rather than cherry picking).
So what changed, in female weightlifting, between 2000 and 2012 that could explain such improvement in the results?
The development of female weightlifting teams and coaches specialized in women weightlifting, specialized training methodology for women and a bigger athlete pool. Female weightlifting teams and coaches specialized in female weightlifting are necessary for improvement. An environment where you train with people that challenge you under the supervision of coaches that understand the female reality and biology (Because, yes there are differences) will lead to high results. Do a month long training camp with all the top Crossfit people, and you can expect results to shoot up. That would require planning, specialized training plans and certain conditions would have to be met, but that isn’t in vogue in Crossfit yet.
Specialized training methodologies are necessary for the athletic advancement of any sportmen/women. For instance, peculiarities have been found in training women vs men that make huge differences. It is said that in China, female lifters are doing more volume than men. Female athletes who have kids also need an adapted training plan to keep on making progress which can only happen if the motherhood reality is understood. If Crossfit is a sport, then you need to specialize for Crossfit if you want to be a contender. It seems unrealistic to think that you could train whatever with high intensity and expect to be a contender. It seems like a few contenders are slowly understanding this and make programs for themselves or get programs from coaches. That’s already good. The next time is individualizing the programs for every athletes rather than send generic programs at large.
A bigger athlete pool is necessary if you want to find real talent. Female weightlifting is in vogue and it has become easier to find the best female lifters. Crossfit is growing exponentially, so the athlete pool is theoretically growing as well. Crossfit’s biggest problem is the lack of junior athletes, but that too would require careful planning and everything but a general approach. How would you train a kid for Crossfit?
The future of Crossfit is in specialization (most likely block work) and into carefully planned Long term athletic development.
Again, if Crossfit is a sport and your goal is to be competitive in the sport of Crossfit, you will have to treat your training as sport training rather than generalized sport training. The first country/box to get organized will be the leading country or box in the next few years in term of performance. Just look at the impact of carefully planned training during the Soviet Era. It would theoretically take 10+ years for a kid (depending on background, life conditions and age) to dominate Crossfit. It will probably look something like this :
Sample : 30 theoretical kids who are willing to train at all stages (Read not forced). School has to be maintained. Paleo is very optional (my try at being funny). The following is based on optimal development, which includes a lot of ”If” and ”should”. This is for discussion sake, rather than for realistic
Stade 1 (starts at 3 years old) : Our 30 kids go to gymnastic classes 2-3 times a week where they have fun with the buddies while working on their coordination, agility, flexibility, and basic calisthenics.
Stade 2 (around 5 years old) : Gymnastic training is maintained 2-3 times a week but it is getting a bit different (more serious) and our kids start taking a swimming class every week where they learn how to actually swim. They are encouraged to play with the buddies after school every other nights (run, climb stuff, hide and seek, etc.).
Stade 3 (around 8 years old) : Our kids maintain their gymnastics but by now it should be skill, flexibility and to a certain extent strength oriented (slowly easing into it). They may swim once every 2 weeks or during the summer, but it’s not maintained regularly. Weightlifting is introduced 2 times a week for 30-ish minutes. They learn the snatch, the clean and jerk and the squat. We don’t need to get carried away with more movements than that for now. What we are looking for is technical mastery more than weights. Our kids are still encouraged to run around after school to develop a base and they are taken out on bike rides every now and then.
Stade 4 (around 10 years old) : Gymnastics is done twice a week with an emphasis on skill and strength (pullups, swings, L-sit, etc.). Our kids are making progress in weightlifting, adding kilos every now and then, but still doing so slowly. They even competed in some local weightlifting meets to develop the mental toughness required to perform under pressure (Something that will be reproduced a few times every year from this age) . Running becomes a bit a more structured, but still is casual.
Stade 5 (around 12 years old) : Our boys are growing, the hormones are high and the recovery is good. They may train around 5 times a week after school. Training are starting to be mixed : Weightlifting movements done first, calisthenics follow, and finishing with some kind of aerobic activity on some days or anaerobic activity on other days. Flexibility has to be maintained.
Stade 6 (around 16 years old) : The hormones are at their peak so real strength training has to be done to take advantage of it. During this time, our kids will have a good increase in muscle mass which will be necessary for later (since most male crossfitter are around 85-95kg). By now, given all that has been done before and if the coaching was legit, it would not be surprising to have a mean snatch of 100kg, with some of the best kids doing most likely around 120kg or even more and some kids doing around 80kg. In other words, at 16 years the best kids would be doing 70-88% of Rich Froning’s best snatch. Except for the loading, tot much is different from Stade 5 though. The biggest differences are more frequent training (around 8 per week), plyometric training is included and wods are being done after lifting in a more structured way. The years of strength and strict work will have prepared the kids for plyometric and kipping stuff, you can expect less shoulder injuries. The segregation between the kids is starting to be very obvious.
Stage 7 (around 18 years old) : By now, out of our 30 kids, we should have 1 that has theoretically everything he needs to win the games. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a snatch of 120-130 for a 94kg kid which would mean 145kg clean and jerk and something like 190kg squat (Given his 10 years in the practice on these lifts, it the coaching was good, these numbers may be very conservative). By now, our kid has 6 years of specialized training (and 7 years of generalized training). If it was done correctly, he knows all the movements and has been wodding very seriously for 2 years and somewhat seriously4 years prior to that and before that he was doing gymnastics and what not. These Wods have been carefully selected to work on his weaknesses. He is used to the work load as he is probably training 8-12 times a week while being part time school. At that age, a wrestler would be training 25 hours a week, a swimmer 30 hours and a weightlifter may be 11-20 hours. Injuries are few and far in between due to the long term development.
Stade 8 (18+ years old) : Our kid is now a real contender and dominates the Crossfit Games. He also enjoys his 275 000$/year + Sponsors.
Now, this is theoretical and for discussion sake. The take home point is still valid : A specialized approach and a specialized system leads to optimal results. In this scenario, our kid would have 15 years of training experience, is selected due to talent, has been gradually introduced in a very smart fashion to all the variables of crossfit training : Strength and its different form (like strength-endurance), cardio and its different form (anaerobic, aerobic, etc), gymnastics, weightlifting (he would probably have the best technique of all crossfitters as well), etc. This type of athletic development is used in every sports to lead to higher results. Kids interested in hockey in Canada start at 5 years old and by the time the talented ones are 20 they get drafted.
Crossfit is absolutely not different than other sports in this regard. Even if your sport is varied and test multiple variables, you still need to specialize in the sport. You may get fit by training generally, but you don’t become the best with this approach. I am very confident that within the next few years we will see a massive organization of some boxes and higher results than ever.