PT on the Net Research

Proper Form and Muscle Fatigue


Question:

I was just reading the article "Hurricane Endurance Training" by Martin Rooney. This seems to be a similar workout structure or at least thought process as the programs represented by Crossfit.com. I have been curious as to the safety of Crossfit workouts in that the intensity is so incredibly high, form and technique seem to suffer greatly by the end. While the intensity builds a strong athlete, does the risk outweigh the benefits? I know crossfit has a very strong following, and their program surely does work, but as Gray Cook says, "If your fifth rep doesn't look like the first, you should have done four.” Thanks!

Answer:

You make a great point, and although sometimes it is just nice to burn it out, I believe that exercises requiring technical attention should be done with respect and intelligence. I don't think Martin's perspective is part of the Crossfit model. He is a great athlete and a great coach, and I think he is just trying to mix it up a little. Non-technical pushing and pulling is not lifting. I think the point he is making is that endurance needs to be multi directional and multi load. This is different than doing a technical lift with a straight bar in the presence of extreme fatigue.

My suggestion for those who like to totally deplete themselves is to hit your technical stuff first and never finish a rep "ugly." Then if you have anything left, hit some push ups with claps, jump rope, sprint some hills or climb a rope. Recently, I have started to incorporate a lot of kettlebell work into my corrective and conditioning programs. You must respect weight. I would rather see someone lift heavy and correct for low volume than light and sloppy for high volume. Personally, I think the "burn out" or "extra work" that totally depletes you is actually for mental toughness anyway. You actually break mental barriers, which to me seem to be a much bigger problem than physical barriers. You need to do it to stay "brain barrier free" but not three times a week.

My general advice is to do some movement prep that improves your basic movement patterns (squatting, lunging, single leg stuff, shoulder mobility, "movement screen stuff," etc.). Next, hit some basic exercises to check your symmetry (single leg dead lifts, half kneeling chops, etc). Then hit your technical stuff next (big weight or explosive moves) with perfect form. Then taper down with another check to see how your symmetry is doing under fatigue (this is key and something most forget). If you need to toughen your mind (or think you need to toughen your body), hit the hill, grab a jump rope or do sets of push ups with claps (incline if needed) or anything else not too technical. I would rather see multiple sets of one minute or less with some rest. Intervals are best, and you can mix it up with an obstacle course, but don't make it too technical!

Being a Physical Therapist, I am totally aware of the increased risk of injury during exercise and competition as fatigue increases (the research is clear). Working with high level professional athletes, I understand the implications of someone becoming injured on "my watch" as a conditioning expert. The risk is not worth my reputation. I am consulted for one reason: to get results. Today’s fitness market seems to always need to have an entertainment factor, and many like the "in your face” boot camp style. Great! Sometimes the herd finds a green pasture, and sometimes the herd runs off a cliff. Herd mentality has never really impressed me. Most of the time, what is considered popular in fitness has more to do with perceived entertainment and good packaging. But for some reason, it never stays popular because there is always the next best thing. Often, someone will think he had a great workout for the past month, but our measurements say something different. People will also feel that they have been wasting time doing little corrective stuff and focusing on one lift for perfection, and our measurements say we made huge progress. An individual’s personal subjective appraisal of the workout effectiveness should be based on objective measures and positive changes in performance. It is up to us to educate clients and guide them. "If we don't help them find water, they will drink sand." Some people just can't help thinking that a good butt kicking is somehow good for you. If you have one of these clients, do what is right and use some safe and simple moves to kick that butt, after (and only after) you have done what is right, which is getting them results!

I hope that helps.