Friday, December 28, 2007

Recovery=Pampering? Crossfit and rugby, so many questions

While the clock ticks away and I wait for the moment that I get my paycheck and can leave for the airport (and pray that my flight from ATL to PHL is on time and without incident), I've been trolling the internet for ideas that will inform the transformation of our garage to home gym. And I stumbled upon some Crossfit stuff along the way.

I know there are some big time Cross-Fit fans out there, so I encourage you to speak your peace. But I have to wonder just a little bit about some of the training philosophy.

In this article, written by the founder of Crossfit, the author states that 'those most inclined to worry and ask about “overtraining” are about as likely to set a new record in the Olympic Decathlon as they are to ever overtrain' . He also states that 'If we clump the recuperative modalities together as “pampering” what my clinical practice suggests is that the pampered athletes are generally performing below the 50-percentile mark. Those most inclined, for instance, to yoga, meditation, and chiropractic treatment are not our fire-breathers.'

So recuperative modalities, among them listed as stress control, massage, sleep, contrast hydrotherapy, hydration, recreation, stretching, and chiropractic treatment, qualify under the Crossfit model, as pampering.


While I agree wholeheartedly that mental toughness is developed under intensely anearobic activities, the leap to treat recuperative techniques as 'pampering' is a little out there. It's so easy for us as coaches to leap right into the blame game, and shout out that the unsuccessful player of the unsuccessful team simply 1) wasn't trying hard enough 2) didn't want it enough or 3)isn't mentally tough enough, instead of identifying specific weaknesses and creating specific plans for improvement.

A friend of mine who coaches at a very high level tells me that she almost always needs to reduce the amount of time and the number of repetitions that players do in training, in order to improve quality and get tangible results. The cross fit philosophy seems in contrast to this ...

At its core, the methods that drive Crossfit are stated as being "empirical". It's an interesting choice of words, with definitions that are someone in conflict...

em·pir·i·cal –adjective
1. derived from or guided by experience or experiment.
2. depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory, esp. as in medicine.
3. provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.

Basically, its the "it worked for me and for others, therefore it's valid" argument.

I can't even count the number of players who define a workout as "good or bad" based upon how hard they breath or how close to vomiting they get. Crossfit clearly appeals to this personlaity type. Think you're tough? Not unless you do our workout you aren't!

Quick, let me jump on board and do pullups and squats till I vomit. I'll show you tough!!!

Is this sort of training intensity good on a regular basis? Shouldn't the training be gaged by the on-field results? Will training to that level exhaustion translate to on field results?

So does Crossfit have it's basis in science or not? Does it have a place in rugby? Will it make you faster, better at tackling, or more evasive? Should we use it for general fitness or for developing mental toughness?

And to the bigger question, is harder, faster, MORE MORE MORE the answer to all our training woes? Are recuperative methods "pampering", and if so, does it matter?

If you've got personal experience you'd like to share, I'm all ears.


Your Scrumhalf Connection said...

I have written a few posts about crossfit. I really like it, it suits my training style (easily distracted individual, sometimes known as ADHD) and I really see results from it. BUT, I am not doing 300 squats, 400 pushups etc. I do small amounts but just do everything pretty fast. I like the emphasis on core strength and mobile training. I guess I just sort of adapt those items into my training periods.

Just my thoughts!

nina said...

let's place it like that: puking won't get you anywhere (although a hooker puking in the scrum might be an interesting experience).
and the crossfit ideology denies the fact that there are different types of athletes.
most of my fellow forwards would consider working out till exghaustion as counterproductive, and so do i.
i need that extra bit of strength and energy to hit hard and i don't have it on match day if i workout to hard during the week.
i'm a match day person, not a training person btw and i'd rather learn something new in training and concentrate on doing this perfectly than pushing myself over the edge with exhaustive workouts. btw:
i like to be able to think, because thinking is quite essential for making decisions.
and at my age and position making the right decision is far more important than running as fast as someone 15 years younger and half my weight ;-)

hmmm... said...

Hmmm....although I agree that over-training is a concern (especially during the season, nina), the point being missed here is that crossfit isn't entirely about the workouts that push you over the edge. There are also low rep, lots of rest, high weight workouts; explosive lifting workouts; 5k jogs; gymnastic skill workouts; etc.

Also, crossfit is made to be customized. You don't have to follow the WODs posted on the site, and even if you do, you can scale them down to to your own person strength, endurance, and skill level. Or, let's say, that a particular athlete doesn't necessarily need to increase endurance, but would like to improve upon their general athleticism. Well...cleans, tire flips, thrusters, kettleball swings, pull-ups and muscle-ups, rope climbing, front squats, push presses, etc are all exercies that improve upon general athleticism. The individual can choose whether they would like to perform these moves in a circuit-type format as many crossfitters do, or a lower rep format instead.

The important thing about crossfit is just to keep things varied - to shy away from the bicep curls and treadmill jogging you find in the L.A. Fitnesses of the world...and I think we can all agree that's a step in the right direction..

On a side-note...I'd like to respond to nina's assertion that working out to exhaustion as being counterproductive. When those workouts are done to the point of over-training, then yes, I'll agree. However, I find rugby to be a pretty exhausting sport. I'm not a forward, but I'm pretty sure most forwards I know would agree that rugby is pretty exhausting....

That said, shouldn't we train to prepare our bodies for how we play? Certainly to perform 80 minute workouts to exhaustion in an attempt to replicate a rugby match would be borderline suicide. However, is a 15-20 minute high intensity workout such a bad idea? My experience suggests not.

I, for one, would rather that myself and my teammates exhaust themselves in training so that games seem easy, rather than the other way around.

Retired fatboy prop said...

I agree with Scrumhalf man. I have been doing Crossfit for a few months and the 3 things I like about it are:
1. The fact that because the workouts are short, the lactic acid stiffness that you get the next day (or 2) with most workouts is far less. It may be because the high rep stuff in a Cross fit workout is usually a bodyweight exercise (e.g. pull up, push up, sit up, burpee, etc) whereas the weights bit is a low-rep (usually Olympic) movement.
2. The workouts are tough, but short. How many rugby coaches "beast" the teams relentlessly, in a "more is better" approach?
3. As Scrumhalf said, you can scale Crossfit workouts to your own level. If you want a real challenge, and you are an elite athlete, by all means do the WOD without compromise. For most people though, I guess, the WOD is pretty tough. I did the recommended beginners' routine: Day 1 deadlifts & tabata squats, day 2 cleans and pull ups , day 3 push press and push ups, day 4 rest. I did that for 5 weeks and found a real difference in terms of basic strength (once I got the lifts down; a pretty humbling experience!)
Go Crossfit! I'm telling you, within 5 years everybody will be doing it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a rugby player of 11 years and, while I've never played at an extremely elite level, I've played in international tournaments and have played on various select side teams.

I thought I was in shape before, but then I did crossfit for two months and saw an incredible jump in my stamina, endurance, strength, and recovery time. I was immediately hooked. I've been doing it for a year and a half now and have gotten the "ok" from my current coach to skip fitness practices because I'm hitting all the areas of fitness he knows I need.

I don't think we're speaking the same language when we talk about over training- are we talking about training to exhaustion or training too much with out recovery. My definition of over training would mean no rest or recovery- and crossfit incorporates rest into their training program, quite frequently in fact- 3 days on 1 day off. I know so many people who go to their regular gym 5 days in a row- which could also be considered-"over training".

As far as training til exhaustion-well-what is that saying, "practice hard-play harder?" I can't imagine going to rugby practice and doing anything at 60%. I understand the need for skill work to be more quality, but eventually one would want to simulate the intensity that a game will bring.

On recovery and recouperation- I think the point is that you don't need all of the fancy training equipment, massage therapists (sometimes a foam roller works just as well-this is coming from my background as a LMT) in order to be the best or fittest person. (Didn't Rocky prove that to us???? LOL)

Furthermore- Having just competed in the crossfit sectionals-moving onto the regionals- I was thrilled to hear that crossfit is the choice for elite rugby players (a couple of the Women's Eagles are the top competitors for the crossfit games).

On the topic of quality v. quantity- I don't know about any other crossfit gyms, but at mine we have to do the movements correctly with proper form or we get corrected and have to do it over until satisfactory. So, if you're off doing crossfit on your own-sure it's highly possible to injure yourself because you're not getting the coaching needed to perfect your form and technique-but isn't that true of any sport or gym?

Do I think crossfit is the end all-be-alltraining method - NO- but it sure as heck works! The workouts are all easily scaleable and movements can be subbed if there are any restrictions. The mere competitive nature of the group workouts is motivating and develops confidence in strength and power. I'm a fan!

Anonymous said...

I've been playing rugby for 6 years. I now play Mens D1 XV and VIIs. I started Crossfit training in Oct of 2009 during the fall season. My firt rugby practice was tough but crossfit was insane. After about 4 weeks of crossfit my body was able to handle 3 days a week of crossfit, 2 days a week of rugby practice+crossfit and 2 days rest. By mid Novemeber I wasn't getting tired during practice and I felt 100% for all 80 minutes of a match.