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Crossfit: Insensity vs. Form

by Coach Seiji

Coach Seiji works CrossFit workouts into Andrew Short's training program.....practicing what he preaches!

The other day, some athletes were talking about a CrossFit Journal post about Intensity vs. Form. I watched the video on it and it prompted me to post about that subject. My take (which I posted on CFJ) on what is a very important basis of training.

I am fairly new to CrossFit but not new to training at elite levels. One thing to me that seems to permeate the CrossFit culture is the lack of, in CrossFit terms, scaling of any sort at the upper, elite, competitor type of levels.

By scaling I mean the planned manipulation of intensity and duration. It seems like every motivational or instructional piece has a general message of adaptation = at the limit 100% of the time.

Again, I am new to CrossFit, don't claim to be a CrossFit expert but coming from other sports, not every single workout can be done at the rev limiter. Some workouts are to maintain what you have, not try to push a limit to force adaptation. You are giving your body the opportunity to adapt from a prior stimulus. I know CrossFit teaches rest days but I have yet to see anything about this moderation of intensity.

If you take cues from the elite level training of other sports, you drive technique drills (high, high repetition of as close to perfect form as possible) to create motor engrams so that under fire, you can perform a movement without intervention of your higher brain centers. You have created patterns that you can replicate with zero instruction of your body from your brain, it's just a reaction. This is what drills are for in any other sport and are a foundation of training and the most efficient way to achieve better performance (better technique). Some training days are dedicated to this and the saying is "you can strive for perfection but you will never achieve it." It seems like once an athlete leaves Elements, this is not ever touched again.

Then there are those days, PR days, competitions, planned days of the highest intensity. Those days the purposeful thinking of form doesn't happen. You stop thinking and you just do. If the motor engrams are present, then you have great form until you hit your metabolic/central fatigue limit and maybe the wheels do fall off. But your training in correct form, the drills, etc. keep you as close as possible and the thousands of reps have hopefully readied your soft tissue, etc. to avoid injury.

Then there are the in between days. The days where you train just under threshold and practice keeping that form at just under where you fall off. These sessions hopefully enhance your ability to sharpen up form when you do near your limit and to push that limit higher. This is lack the physical power to keep going but your enhanced technique and efficiency make up the slack. I have seen this in a few CFG competitors, namely IMO Annie Thorisdottir.

I am speaking in super general terms. Basically I am saying there is a time/place for every spot on the intensity/duration curve and that it's not just black/white. Getting better isn't just limited to enhancing raw strength or metabolic conditioning, it also includes technique and not just with PVC. It's basic periodization used in other sports, and to borrow a line I have used in other sports "intensity is like a drug. Take the right amount at the right time and you get great results. Overdose it or take it at the wrong time and you are going to crash."

One other thing I would like to say as a former outsider looking in and an affiliate owner: Most of the public perception of CrossFit, I think, is garnered from the images and culture of just what is under discussion here. An athlete, at the limit, pushing through, wheels falling off, technique going out the window. It is even applauded. I understand that this is motivational to someone that is not a trainer, etc. but to someone like me, it turned me off to CrossFit for a long time. As a trainer, I found it strange to applaud someone who was WAY out of form, doing whatever to achieve yet another rep but also hear the term "no rep" and what that means at the certification. Maybe if we showed some of the other spots on that intensity/duration curve and that we do care about form, function and all the things that make CrossFit great, the overall perception might change for the better? Or maybe we like it this way? Anyhow, good discussion!

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer June 21, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks to Greg Hammond for finding this link. . Fast forward to the 26:42 mark.

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    Alex Roy June 21, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    As to what I understand, the top guys in crossfit don't even train using the fashionable "nuke yourself every time" method, but training in multiple zones, emphasis on form, and periodization, just like any other successful athlete. In effect, the only people you see in real life are that follow the regular crossfit mentality are either injured or no where no their potential.

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    Racer X Virtual Trainer June 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Alex - I would not doubt that for a minute, actually.

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    Joel Younkins June 21, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Alex- That's right! The people on Crossfit Games have been training their whole life, so they are decent lifters to begin with.

    To what Coach Seiji is trying to imply seems to be traditional training...which is awesome! Crossfit prides itself as being completely randomized workout sessions called the workout of the day. So I don't know how you are suppose to plan for Crossfit. If you have a program, to me it is not considered Crossfit anymore. Performing "crossfit exercises" is just performing exercises that have been created way before Crossfit marketing was invented.
    I can be completely wrong on all this. I am not a Crossift fan but I agree 100% with Coach Seiji on this article! I just don't see his views as being anything close to a typical crossfit gym that's all.

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    Chris G June 21, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Joel, I have been doing CrossFit for about 18 months now, you are correct in that there is no "plan" for CrossFit, and programming is done on a gym by gym basis on other words, one gym may focus on Oly Lifting more so then metabolic conditioning and another may do the opposite. So you can't really plan, but you can be prepared. Today, my workout was Heavy Push Press and Deadlifts, yesterday was Run 400 meters, 15 reps of 135lb Power Clean, and Pull ups as many rounds as you can complete in 15 minutes.

    Because everything is on a gym-by-gym basis, a lot of the CrossFit haters don't understand that things are run differently everywhere, and I'm not saying that's a good or a bad thing. I have had two regular gyms since I started ( I moved from Philly to Austin) and I choose the gyms in which the trainers focused more on form then intensity.It is a huge problem if this is not the case which is why I understand why people who don't CrossFit have a problem with it. I have been an athlete my entire life but I will still scale down a workout if I know my form will suffer. My trainers would rather see the athletes have perfect form then finish a workout with a great time and deadlifting with a rounded back. So it is possible to get great training, you just need to know where to look.

    Coach Seiji stated that he wasn't sure this is possible. It should be everywhere. Like Alex stated, the one who go to the Games, the elite athletes, have their own programming. They do typically 2-3 workouts a day. One focusing on their strengths, another on a weakness and some sort of cardio intensive workout in between, or something like that.

    CrossFit can be a fantastic workout, I have seen amazing results in lifts that I haven't even practiced just be working on OLY lifting as well as being in better shape then when I was a college athlete. But the problem can be if you go to a gym in which they expect you to go 100% all of the time then inevitably you will get hurt, burn out, or regrettably both. I hope this helps clear some things up.

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    Rob Styron June 21, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Another problem with CF, and I have stated this before; the sequencing of exercises is terrible. ALL O' Lifts need to be done in the beginning of any program. There is too much neural recruitment for those exercises. Remember, athletes/people are training their nervous system as well as their muscles. When the nervous system gets tired, the body doesn't do what it's told from the brain.

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    Brian June 21, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    I'm not a CF "hater" but I've never understood why those who participate in it are so geeked out about it. They are all convinced it's the greatest thing ever and the only way to go. I think of it as just another type of strength and conditioning program. You can acheive the same results with a traditional program where separate weight training and cardio workouts are used. It boils down to personal preference. Kipping is cheating on a pull-up though guys.

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    Coach Seiji June 21, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Just wanted to comment in general to all the posts which are all great BTW. First off, my original background was physical therapy, then endurance sport coaching, then strength training. Pretty traditional, periodization, etc. I was about as opposite as you could get from CrossFit and publicly and vehemently hated on it, I thought it was ridiculous. I was asked to go through their certification almost on a dare. So, I did, hating on it the whole time I was there on the first day of the cert. Well, just let me say that until you do it and change your idea of what fitness is, you will never understand and you will always have the questions above. I don't want to argue, I am just saying that trying to figure it out from the outside doesn't work, never did for me. Now that I am on the inside and things have been explained to me in the scientific manner that I am accustomed to, it is in my opinion appropriate at certain times for certain athletes and very applicable to the "normal" person who has say, only 3 hours per week to train and they are training for nothing in particular and want to be functional across the board. CrossFit has a different definition of fitness and it's hard to explain in a short paragraph. This article was basically a post on an article that I didn't agree with fully but I do agree with CrossFit again, for certain athletes at certain times and I think it's awesome for the general public. Haters are going to hate (like I did) but for me, it was eye opening and has changed a lot of what I think true fitness is. As far as being "geeked" out on it, I think the community aspect of CrossFit is simply tremendous. It's my favorite thing about CrossFit and it's why I think from the outside it looks "cultish" and everyone is "geeked out." Just my .02.

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    brett568 June 22, 2012 at 3:49 am

    Kiss .......keep it simple Stupid!

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    Racer X Virtual Trainer June 22, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Thanks for the great discussion folks. Its how we all learn..... Intelligent, RESPECTFUL comments!

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    Chris G June 22, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Coach Seiji,

    I can't agree more. Haters are going to hate and that's fine. As far as I'm concerned people hating on other people working out when our country is full of obese and or just plain lazy people that would rather play video games and watch TV is crazy. When my girlfriend first joined CrossFit about 2 years ago, I thought the same thing.... A. I played football and lacrosse through high school and lacrosse in college and it sounded too much like returning to playing sports again and I was happy doing my thing at the gym. B. Why is she so geeked out about this? Then I started meeting people. The joke is How do you know your friend does CrossFit, because its all they f'ing talk about and of course its true, its our little inside joke. But its an easy way to make friends. But the community aspect is easily the best part of CrossFit, its not keeps me going. After doing it for so long I can easily get a great workout in at the gym, but its the people I come back for, the great friends I've met, we are all adults, it's not we can do what we did in high school and college, I don't want to hang out with my co-workers, and I live in a town about 2000 miles away from where I grew up, my child hood and college friends are all very far away. How else does one make friends?

    Brian, I'm sure those people exist, actually I know some of them! But I think why some of us do CrossFit, at least the people that I know, is because of the community as well as the ability to be pushed. Physically and mentally. If you are awesome at keeping a routine and know exactly what you need to do to get results then good on ya. Some people myself included, would go to the gym, run on the treadmill and work on the same weights 3-5 times a week and yeah my chest was jacked by I wasn't pushing myself on my core.

    But I really started CrossFit because it works for me. It might not work for you, though it could. The catch 22 is that anybody can do it, but its not for everybody and if you're not all about it, I'm not going to hate on you for that. I want you to be the best you, you can be. That's what it's all about right? for me it really does work.

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    Anneke July 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    The problem with CrossFit lies with the people who don't understand the nature of the business structure. CrossFit gyms are independently owned and operated. Some suck, just like some trainers certified by NAMS, NSCA, ACSM, etc. suck. Many are fantastic and have highly educated and capable trainers running them. For example, USD runs a CrossFit facility in their strength training facility and train very high-level athletes successfully. Brian Mackenzie has revolutionized the endurance community by combining CrossFit with HIIT to get an oxidative response. One simply cannot slap the overarching label "CrossFit" on every single box and assume they are all the same, just as I cannot assume that all trainers with a BS in Kinesiology are equally capable of training people well. In fact, I've seen some very "educated" trainers get out of the business because although they have the book knowledge, they simply lack either the people skills or the communication skills to turn their knowledge into a viable business. In fact, one of them posted on this blog above me.
    Second, the CrossFit ethos isn't about randomness, it's about being varied. "Varied" is still planned and structured. We program a month at a time, making adjustments as needed, making sure we cover all four energy pathways, and multiple modalities and movements. We track our movements, energy pathways, time and task priorities, loads, rep schemes, etc in a spreadsheet which points us in the direction of bias if it exists. We also keep our 1RM, 3RM Oly lifts in the beginning of the workouts as a separate element. This is in large part because I am on the CF HQ Olympic Lifting certification staff and love Oly. Do people screw this up in CrossFit? Of course. Just as I see a lot of s**tshows on YouTube and at Gold's Gym by so called "certified" trainers. Once people are proficient at Oly do we utilize it at light load and medium reps to illicit a CV response? Yes, but only when we feel they've demonstrated proper motor and neural recruitment.
    Of course when we train sports-specific athletes we take their seasons and goals into consideration and periodize accordingly. That is why we run separate classes for teen athletes, kids, CrossFit "lights", and moto athletes, separating them from people who are just looking for general fitness.
    In closing I would caution against painting any one certifying body with a broad brushstroke, especially when your experience may be very limited. There are competent trainers in CrossFit as well as in other fitness "genres" and there are horrible trainers in CrossFit, as there are in other fitness genres.

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    Anneke July 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    By the way, Coach Seiji, whatever CrossFit you went to, shame on them. Whoever's squat form is represented in that picture it's terrible. Just by looking at that picture I can tell they have tight hamstrings and hips, can't engage their hip flexors, have lost lumbar curve, has a tight thoracic spine and poor ankle mobility. This is true of most moto riders I've encountered and it's usually exacerbated by the faulty belief that road cycling is the magic bullet to developing increased CV endurance.

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    Coach Seiji July 13, 2012 at 12:07 am

    Haha Anneke that is Andrew Short and he's in my box. This was the first time he tried CrossFit, I didn't ipick this picture and yes, there are several mechanical faults that he is still working on. He has a surgically fused ankle which explains lack of ankle mobility, has a tight thoracic spine well, because he rides a dirt bike really well which has a lot to do with t spine rigidity. He has tight hamstrings and hips because he has ridden these dirt bikes his entire life and all of these dysfunctions are actively being addressed. Yes a better picture could have been used but again, I didn't pick it and it was his first attempt at the unloaded air squat. I am sure my first picture of me going through a turn on a dirt bike wasn't much better.

  15. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer July 13, 2012 at 7:08 am

    I picked the pic......and it was not chosen to show great form. It was chosen bc it's Andrew Short!

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