6 min read

Six Ways to Make Crossfit Better

wrecked hands
CC Amber Karnes

 Out of interest, I went through a Crossfit certification in 2009.

While it was a good experience to try something new, there are certain things I like about Crossfit and certain things I’m not so fond of.

I dig the lack of machines, as I feel people need to learn to engage and train in a 3-D fashion.

As a former athlete, I appreciate the social component and competition, but understand why this turns many people off to it.

I like the community feel and encouragement everyone lends to one another.

On the other hand, I could do without the f-bomb being dropped every 1-3 minutes.

I would like to see more coaches with an education in human movement and not just the exercises of Crossfit.

The lack of professionalism screams out to me, every time I step into a Crossfit gym and hurts me as an advocate for the advancement of my industry.

Anyways, I’m not here to rant about the good and the bad of Crossfit, so after spending the last year coaching ‘Crossfitters’ here and there, I’ve come up with a few ways to make Crossfit a little bit better for a greater percentage of people.

Here are a few ways I propose that Crossfitters and Crossfit coaches can improve their health and well-being:


1) Square Pegs Don’t Fit in Round Holes: 

Gymnastics is an early specialization sport, it also has one of the highest injury rates of any sport.

There are a lot of good moves (chin-ups, push-ups, muscle-ups, etc…) but there are certain moves that just are not beneficial to the general population.

These moves will cause injury and stress certain joints (especially the shoulder joint) to an extreme.

I’ve worked with many former gymnasts over the years who are just an absolute mess as a result of their sport.

This is worse when you have people doing gymnastics who do not have the mobility or genetics to get into the right positions.

Olympic Lifters typically start training in their teens and are selected for participation in their sport based on adequate amounts of mobility and explosive power.

In today’s day and age where most people sit at desks and have chronically bad posture, pressing overhead, let alone explosively lifting something overhead is limited by the new structure of the shoulder.

Not everyone should press overhead. Lots of sit-ups damage the spine immensely.

There are just certain things that don’t need to be there for Crossfit to be effective for certain individuals.

There needs to be a bit more emphasis on education and individualization, so that a greater percentage of the population can enjoy the benefits of Crossfit.

2) Include More Single Arm and Leg Work:

Crossfit is dominated by barbell work, that often increases the prevalence of muscular imbalance from right to left sides. It also requires less stability at the shoulder and hip to complete.

Many things in life are actually done with one hand or one foot at a time. Load heavy weights onto a unstable joint and bad things will eventually happen.

Don’t give up the squats, deadlifts, o-lifts necessarily, (I use them all still) just include a little more variety with different loading patterns, or overuse injuries will eventually happen.

I rarely see coaches teaching Crossfitters how to do one arm push-ups, or single arm rows, DB work, uneven load, Single Leg Squats, Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts or Bulgarian split squats.

These would all do wonders for developing big lifts.

3) Include More Multi-Directional/Multi-Planer Work:

There is always a ton of work done in the linear plane (straight ahead), but the body hardly moves exclusively linear or in straight lines.

O Lifts, Squats, Deadlifts, Overhead Pressing, all of these movements are good movements but they are also straight movements. Sport and life requires being able to change directions and move through multiple planes.

Think of how a pitcher throws a baseball, there is rotational movement through all 3 planes of movement.

Physical Therapists, figured this notion out with the design of the PNF conditioning system, way back in the 50’s.

PNF is a therapy system that utilizes spiral and diagonal patterns (contrary to popular belief even among educated coaches) to effectively rebuild efficient movement patterns.

It was discovered that this may be the most effective way to teach people how to move again. i.e. more turkish get-ups, less WOD’s of death.

It makes perfect sense if you think about it.

Shot-Putters, Discus Throwers, Hammer Throwers are all incredibly powerful athletes because of the rotational element to the sport.

When you look at the wattage (power output) of an average Olympic Lifter with 150 kg load, it’s about 3163 Watts.

A shot-putter throwing 7.25 kg about 18 meters is 5075 watts or about 67% more power.

Also, which one is easier to teach?

I know you’ll need a cable machine for this (the sworn enemy of crossfit?) but teach Chops and Lifts and other rotational lifts!

4) Spend a Little More Time on Basic/Simplified Generic Programming:

I get the randomness in design and application (and it makes sense sometimes but not most times) but coaches can implement a few easy programming strategies to keep their athletes/crossfitters healthy.

OPT Crossfit, from Calgary, is a great example of this, there is actually a lot of structure to what looks random in the design of their WOD’s.

You need to give people, who are doing Crossfit several times a week, down days and weeks from time to time to let the body recover. Sometimes I see the same loaded movement patterns on back to back to back days. This won’t yield a training adaptation, so why bother?

A simple strategy might be to give a down week every 3rd, 4th or 5th week (just to keep people guessing when it will happen…).

Or to alternate heavy and light days.

Or just stop overloading the same patterns day after day after day. Break movements up into patterns and program around the patterns.

Program a little bit further in advance, not the day of, or the day before. Have Sprint days, and endurance days.

You don’t have to have a rigid 4 week cycle of programming to be more effective than random programming, you just need to give it a little more thought and consideration.

5) Teach People How to Recover More Effectively:

Crossfit is really tough on the body, especially if you do it frequently enough and don’t think about structuring your programming.

If you train hard without recovery, it is only a matter of time before you are injured.

Recovery strategies are even more important for clients with high volume workloads.

Nutrition Strategies; Foam Rolling/Massage; Ice Baths/Treatments; Muscle Stimulation; Stretching/Mobility Work; Non-Weight Bearing Active Recovery, like swimming or biking; Prehabilitation; Some Accessory Work; Good Warm-Ups/Cool-downs.

There are all small steps, that most people skip, that can make huge differences in quality of life.

Things like having good enough mobility (you won’t just get mobility by o-lifting alone), maintaining good tissue quality/elasticity and dealing with small aches and pains before they result in injury, can all go a long way towards improving the Crossfit experience.

Post workout, your body will recover faster (proven fact) if you ingest carbohydrates within about a 30-45 minute period — yes I said that for paleo-devotees, you can’t argue with scientific facts

Eating a healthy balanced diet, perhaps some supplementation and nutrient timing can play a huge role in recovery.

6) Enough With the Kipping Pull-Up Already:

There is a reason most gymnasts scoff at it too.

Since teaching anybody a kipping pull-up, not only has their relative strength gone down — you can always bang out a few more reps with a kip, so they kip their last few reps, rather than keeping their former strict chin-up form — but my rate of shoulder injury probably went up.

It exists for the sole purpose of giving them something measurable that can be done in large quantities.

However, you’re elastically loading a very fragile joint — perhaps the most fragile joint in the body due to it’s high level of mobility and subsequent low-levels of stability — through a big range of motion that not a lot of people have with their kyphotic computer postures.

So there is a lot of eccentric stress on the shoulder too, so if you have any kind of laxity at the joint — like most overhead athletes or gymnasts — you’re putting the joint through a hyper-mobile range of motion, which can be just as damaging, if not potentially more damaging than not having enough mobility (hyp0-mobile).

A viable substitute?

Want to do something through a high repetition range but with better long-term yield?

Try an inverted body row from the rings, knees bent, the learning curve is low, the power output is still high and its a safer movement for the shoulder — frankly there just isn’t enough quality rowing in Crossfit anyway, and the kettlebell high row/pull nor a rowing machine are not really viable substitutes…