Despite some detractors (which will be given their say in a subsequent piece) CrossFit's growth across the U.S. military and around the world is undeniable. But simply joining a CrossFit "box" to improve overall fitness is much different than adding CrossFit classes at a military fitness facility. It's not another Pilates or step class, and it takes some consideration.

Created in the mid-1990s, CrossFit is a branded fitness program that is "broad, general and inclusive" including a whole host of exercises and workouts. It's been a staple of fitness fans and professionals whose everyday occupations demand it, such as police officers and martial arts practitioners.

It has taken on particular meaning for military personnel. In 2010, the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., commissioned a study testing the efficacy of CrossFit to improve soldier fitness. Over six weeks the 14 athletes in the study averaged a 20 percent increase in physical fitness level, with one participant increasing fitness level by 41 percent.

The study also noted the growing interest in CrossFit among military personnel, with more than 58 nonprofit military CrossFit affiliates in place at the time. That number continues to grow.

But adding CrossFit to a military facility requires some thought as well as cooperation among patrons, staff and CrossFit professionals. Army Maj. James Uptgraft, one of the study's authors and an operations officer for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, is quick to recommend some focus areas when kicking off a CrossFit program:

1. CrossFit instructors must be well trained and certified.

"I think that there are two things that cause injuries with people who begin CrossFit: It's bad trainers and it's big egos," Uptgraft says.

Mark Tolmachoff, an instructor at the Command and General Staff College who oversaw the Army study, agrees, noting that certified instructors are the cornerstones to a solid program.

"There's a level of knowledge and expertise [and] they're kind of like the watchdogs," he says. "And when you get that core group of people who are certified and interested, they tend to generate interest from others."

Army Maj. Andy Morrison, coordinator for Iron Major CrossFit, the nonprofit affiliate for the Fort Leavenworth community, says the best athletes are not always the best instructors, however.

"It ultimately comes down to their mindset and their approach to their role as trainers," he says. "They have to be disciplined in their approach; they have to understand the needs of the athlete, and they have to commit to that layered approach of teaching techniques first, then consistency, and only then kind of gradually layering on the intensity."

2. Good relationships - among CrossFit participants, facility personnel and base leadership

"Especially on post … you've got to have some advocacy, and you've got to find the champion that can kind of help you get inroads into where you want to go," Morrison says. "Here, we have some senior leaders that have some experience with it and have a very positive outlook."

3. Emphasize communication among facility personnel, trainers and participants.

"What you're doing is potentially disruptive," Morrison says of bringing CrossFit to a facility. "So you've just got to try and understand why they might want to say 'no' - why you might encounter resistance - and then try and think through some solutions and proposals to overcome that."

Morrison also says there are detractors vocally opposed to CrossFit who cite higher injury risks among participants. But he says quality trainers are what make a difference. "And they need experience-doing it both as athletes and also as coaches and trainers," he says.

While Morrison notes that CrossFit doesn't require a lot of specialized equipment, he emphasizes the importance of a separate space to conduct CrossFit, if at all possible.

Tolmachoff says it was the combination of leadership support and an overwhelming response that led to a separate CrossFit facility at Fort Leavenworth.

Study author Uptgraft adds that military personnel are already programmed a certain way, so CrossFit is a great workout option. But facilities, he says, shouldn't only look at military personnel, but their spouses and other family members as potential for growth.

"I look back at the last six years I've been doing CrossFit [in the military], and the people that I've introduced to it," he says, "I've seen it … it's been life changing for some of these people, and it's been really fun to watch."

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Non Kool-Aid Drinker Wednesday, 22 May 2013
So much for your #1 rule: (excerpt from CF-L1 handbook) "Certificate holders may state they are CrossFit Level 1 Trainers/CF-L1 Trainer but SHALL NOT state or imply that they are CERTIFIED, registered, or licensed, nor shall they use any other titles or designations to signify the attainment of the certificate other than those identified in this Handbook." Perhaps this is why Glassman has stated that most of his new hires are lawyers and why they needed the establishment of the Crossfit RRG to cover legal expenses of Affiliates. CF hasn't had 'certification" for about 3 yrs now, at least, and the ANSI accreditation is only because NCCA (widely considered as the gold standard of fitness accreditations) would not give them accreditation. I am more curious though of the focus groups and alternative training protocols that may/may not have been used to compare to the results of the CF percentages noted by these senior leaders. Also, what was the participants starting point? Were they assigned to a remedial fitness or body composition program prior?
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Christopher Prawdzik Friday, 24 May 2013
Non Kool-Aid Drinker, Great points all! On your note about the participants' starting point within that study, the study link in the third paragraph will take you right to the study and a bit more of a description of the participants' fitness levels. On page 6 of the study it discusses demographics, they characterize the participants levels as either "below average," "average" and "above average" on the APFT. In the study, four were "below," four were "average" and six were "above."
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Christopher, you stated "Morrison also says there are detractors vocally opposed to CrossFit who cite higher injury risks among participants. But he says quality trainers are what make a difference." The most recent study published on CrossFit by the NSCA states, "A unique concern with any high intensity training program such as HIPT or other similar programs is the risk of overuse injury. In spite of a deliberate periodization and supervision of our Crossfit-based training program by certified fitness professionals, a notable percentage of our subjects (16%) did not complete the training program and return for follow-up testing. While peer-reviewed evidence of injury rates pertaining to high intensity training programs is sparse, there are emerging reports of increased rates of musculoskeletal and metabolic injury in these programs(1). This may call into question the risk-benefit ratio for such extreme training programs, as the relatively small aerobic fitness and body composition improvements observed among individuals who are already considered to be "above average" and "well above average" may not be worth the risk of injury and lost training time. Further work in this area is needed to explore how to best realize improvements to health without increasing risk above background levels associated with participation in any non-high intensity based fitness regimen." And each of these individuals was already participating in CrossFit before participating in this study. In your opinion, what is an "acceptable" percentage of injuries before realizing a program has many flaws and is not that great?
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Christopher Prawdzik Sunday, 26 May 2013
James, Thanks for your comments! They're exactly the reason I wanted to explore CrossFit from two different perspectives, the second of which will explore concerns that you raise and others regarding it's effectiveness, injuries and other perspectives.
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I think you guys are missing one important factor--people like doing it. If you do one Crossfit workout, you know the intensity is high (especially for the deconditioned) and that there will be risks associated with it. People want to do it anyway. And if you are conditioned--it's a challenge, and you want and enjoy that challenge. There are always risks, and good trainers (Crossfit or not) strive to minimize those risks for their clients. But the bottom line is that people are doing it, demanding it, enjoying it and getting results from it. And I'm not a Kool-Aid drinker, HAHAHAHA!
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Rob, everyone talks about how they "CrossFit" and how it's so different. I did it back in 2005. It's cross training, look at the name "Cross"Fit. Plus, why would I want to do something, if the guy who "invented" it can't do it anymore. Why would I jump off a bridge just because others are doing it? Getting a certification doesn't make someone a "professional." No quality assurance, no long-term guarantee of success and protection of the client. CrossFit's methodology of not having a methodology is not a training system. Just because someone uses a kettlebell doesn't mean it's CrossFit. I'm tired of the igornance surrounded by CrossFit and the elitist attitude that comes with doing "CrossFit." I've lost respect for all those that have sold themselves to CrossFit because they could make money using it. In 10 years Crossfit won't be around because of the long-term injuries sustained of overuse.
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Doug Briggs, Ph.D., CSCS,*D, R Thursday, 06 June 2013
I would have to disagree with the article in that there are better training methods for Soldiers that do not cause injury and have better results. One flawed study using very few subjects does not a fitness system make. Mission Essential Fitness (MEF) is backed by four studies including peer-reviewed journals such as Militray Medicine and beats the described training program without any injuries and improvement in physical fitness exceeding those cited in the article. To each his own, but if the CrossFit system is so good, why isn't it used by any professional sports teams in the MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL or the Olympic sports and why isn't it endorsed by the National Strength & Condiitioning Association (NSCA), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the Cooper Institute and so forth. The reason is because, "Training is Specific!"
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Based on first hand accounts from people who have been in and survived armed conflict on the modern battle field, our military does not need to waste time performing Crossfit. They would be better served performing the following routine: Step 1. Find a mountain that is approx 8-10K in elevation. Step 2. Run one mile up the mountain as fast as they can. Step 3. Perform 20 sit ups, 20 pull ups and 20 push ups (too stimulate a stress response in the body) Step 4. Pick up a rifle and ACCURATLEY place 20 shots into 20 targets at varying distances. Step 5. Run back down the mountain. Step 6. Rest and repeat the entire ordeal at noon and again at night. - Our elite soldiers returning from Afghanistan all say that the indigenous people who they work with can run up and down mountains all day and night with no rest, no food and while wearing nothing but flip flops! They are bone and sinew strong and have an abundance of endurance, strength and stamina, and they don't train with Crossfit! In modern warfare, big muscles just make you a bigger target. Our soldiers should focus on stamina, endurance, stress management under fire and having a cold heart combined with a steady hand. Who gives a crap if you can lift 50 lb kettle bells and do ten snatch cleans with 135lbs! How is that going to help when bullets are cracking over your head and you're trying to make yourself appear as small as possible?
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WOW!! Come on guys, it's right in front of your face and you don't see it! Mike: run a mile, do push ups and sit-ups and run another mile? That sounds a lot like a Crossfit workout--just add in the shooting component. And I never said Crossfit was the best way to train or the most specific way to train. But right now, it is a POPULAR way to train. And people work HARD when they train (as opposed to what we see in a typical health club--walk on the treadmill for 20 min and then perform 6-10 exercises on a few machines but keep the weight light so you don't get sore). Crossfit IS a business and the goal of any business is to make money. The fitness industry has struggled to find ways to get "new" people exercising. Crossfit is one way to do that. It's not the only way. It has risks--just like any other form of training. Are you guys big fans of the weekend certifications for personal trainers? Or how about the on-line certifications? You don't have to become Crossfit fans or supporters, but maybe you could find SOMETHING positive in it. Take something from what they have done and grow it, improve it, use it in what you do!
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I thought CrossFit was a VERY expensive weekend certification? And a very poor one at that. It is not possible to teach the Olympic lifts in a two-day seminar using wood and PVC. It is all about money and nothing about known principles of exercise science.