Crossfit training for Athletes in Pittsburgh?

Crossfit training for Athletes?

A client asked me about Crossfit.  He wanted to know if Crossfit training for athletes will increase their sports performance.  This was actually an athlete, not a personal training client.  I would like to think that we provide the reader with an honest, in the trenches opinion at http://www.umbergerperformance.com. We  sometimes upset certain populations and that may happen.

Crossfit is a mixed bag for me.  Are we talking about athletes, “average joe’s” , or ex competitive athletes that want to train hard?  Like many franchises the system can be bastardized very easily.  Crossfit gyms can vary depending on the owner and trainers.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing.  As with any personal training or sports performance coach,  I would caution training with someone that has zero background in anything else but Crossfit.  NOTHING is the end all be all.  Find someone that can see the other side of the coin while doing Crossfit workout.

Olympic Lifting just for Athletes?

I really appreciate the teaching of Olympic Lifts(OL) to normal people in the Crossfit program.  I think the Olympic Lifts are great movements if taught properly.  That is the double edge sword.  I have a long list of our Fusion Workout and personal training clients that have lost 10-30 pounds in a few months and they never touched an Olympic Bar. (They would’ve probably preferred to use a bar over using sandbags and kettlebells).  The OL are a great tool and only a tool.

Personally I have many of my athletes in Pittsburgh use Olympic Lifts for two main reasons(I’m not getting into an intense scientific debate over this.  I’m using the KISS principle)  #1 Proper movement mechanics and/or intramuscular coordination.  They need to learn and better their execution of a proper RDL.  In addition, the athletes need to learn to bring their hips through with explosion  finishing through toes.  #2 If they go to college, they are probably going to have to do OLs.   Why not learn them now.  That’s remedial, but why not?

Training or Working Out?

I love the enthusiasm and passion for training.  That’s what Umberger Performance was founded on.  That is definitely my favorite aspect of Crossfit.  As with any system, those that train verse working out are limited.  My greatest challenge as a coach is to impress upon my clients the difference between working out and training.  Dave Tate from Elite Fitness Systems just wrote a great post on this exact topic.

I would imagine that “Crossfitters” as a group are closer to training than any other commercial system that I’ve been exposed to.  As a regular person you simply don’t subject yourself to that kind of punishment without a passion for training and self betterment.  Not a typical personal training client!

My Issues with Crossfit for Athletes

My main issue  is Crossfit is performing the most technically complex lifts (Olympic Lifts) in a fatigued state.  By no means am I an OL’ing expert, I don’t compete or coach competitors.    I however understand that performing anything in a fatigued state is dangerous.  Some of that is art, some is it is science.  After 6 months with some very good athletes they have problems finishing through with their elbows and performing a proper catch.    Watch video of some major DI football programs. With a full football strength staff(head, a few assistants, GA’s and interns), year round training for several years, AND freak athletes the technique is still questionable when performing OL by themselves.  Strength coaches don’t super set OL with anything but maybe a corrective exercise.  So one or two trainers  in a large groups are going to fix “moms” form after she just got done sprinting 400m?

Regarding the training of athletes, ah not so much.  Crossfitt isn’t ideal for sports performance training.  There’s an argument to maybe establishing a General Physical Preparedness(GPP) cycle using Crossift.    For the most part, GPP is extremely intense and uses a variety of movements in tools.

How about a SWAT team member or someone in the military doing Crossfit, absolutely.  There’s a great fit.

When training “Average Joe’s” in our personal training and Fusion Workouts at Umberger Performance, I have them perform the same warm up as our athletes here in Pittsburgh.   The personal training and Fusion Workouts are similar in many ways to the workouts that the athletes perform.  However, a normal person doesn’t need to OL, squat, or bench press. (I do have “meat head days” for the guys that want to bench and squat.)  Believe it or not, all of my clients functionally move better, have lost weight, and have their conditioning levels greatly increased.   Umberger Performance has one woman that was a size 2 drop to a zero and another woman who was a size 8 drop to a size 2.  Both are mothers of several kids and in their 40″s.  My males/fathers have dropped 15-20 pounds and actually have something that resembles hip mobility.  I know…  Big deal.  That isn’t very hard achieve with great clients.  I don’t disagree.  I raise that issue to address my clients success with minimum risk of injury without having anyone puke.     Maybe a little “Prowler Flu” but no vomiting.

Another issue I have is that most woman don’t possess a great deal of relative strength.  A great exercise that Cross uses is a pull up/chin up/ muscle up.   Relax ladies, there aren’t to many of you walking around that can rip out 10 pull ups.

Here’s the issues that I deal with in “Lineman” type males athletes and those “meat sticks” that are seen with internally rotated shoulders at commercial gyms:

-Take a 200 pound meat stick that does 5×10 on a bench press with 225 lbs and 5×10 on pull ups.  50 reps pressing and 50 reps pulling.  Sounds pretty good right?  There’s problem because many woman or “big guys” can’t perform 50 pull ups encounter.

– If 50 reps can be completed for each… each bench pressing is done with 25 pounds more than what he actually did pulling.  That’s 1250 pounds done over pressing verse pulling.  Take that over a month or a year.

– Let’s say 225 lbs is to heavy to press for 5×10…   They most likely aren’t going to be able to perform 5×10 on pull ups unless they are rock climbers.

This is an issue that many large men and normal woman face.  Regardless of how a pulling exercise is modified(assisted pull up, body weight rows, pull downs etc.) the amount of prescribed volume doesn’t compensate for the lack of pulling strength.  Over time this will lead to even greater imbalances and eventually to injury.


I believe that Chris Shugart handles the Crossfit issue with a very fair article outlining many of my thoughts in much greater detail.

In closing, I believe that Crossfit if done correctly, is great workout for certain populations.


Here’s another article by one of the best know Sport Performance Coaches in the World, Charles Poliquin.