Monday, July 29, 2013

"Buy the ticket; take the ride." Training for health and longevity versus training for sport-specific fitness.

I am a proud CrossFitter, and, like a lot of you, I just got done watching the annual ritual of endurance and fitness called the CrossFit Games. It was a blast seeing athletes from all over the world throw down hard, day after day, in multiple workouts.

So what I am about to tell you may not sound like CrossFit-style advice:

Be careful out there. Understand your choices. There's a difference between training your body in a way that promotes health and longevity, and training in a way that makes you excel at a particular sport.

And CrossFit, in its competitive form -- whether that's the actual CrossFit Games or a local throwdown between some gyms in your area -- is most definitely a sport. Like a lot of sports, whether we are talking marathoning, weightlifting or playing football, you have to beat yourself up in a pretty sports-specific way to get really really good at it.

Sure, if what you *really* like to do is melt yourself down six days a week with CrossFit metcons that leave you splayed out on the floor gasping for breath at the end of every one, then go for it. Fun is important. And maybe that is your definition of fun. And, yeah, you can possibly become a pretty good CrossFitter training like that. If you then step up your CrossFit training, and start pulling some two-a-days, or putting in extra time on working various skill sets, you might even become *really* good at CrossFit. But here's the thing: don't confuse training to be a really good CrossFitter (or a really good marathoner, or a really good football player, or a really good weightlifter) with training in a way that promotes health and longevity. You may have left that goal behind a while ago when you stepped up your training to get really good at your sport.

Like I said, it's a choice.

When you head into intense, sport-specific training, you have entered the world of grinding yourself into bits to get really fucking good at something. And, if you do it right, you may very well actually succeed and become really fucking good at that sport. But you almost certainly will eventually grind yourself into bits in one form or another. Beyond a certain point, hard intense training takes its toll.

But it's a perfectly valid choice, as long as you understand that you are making it. When you reach the Training Crossroads -- where the sign points one way to health and longevity, and the other way to pain, sacrifice and *possible* sports-specific awesomeness -- you may think the latter path sounds too amazing not to try. Just understand that when you make that choice, you have parted ways with the goal of health and longevity, and headed for something more dangerous that comes with a cost.

Then there is the complication of the age factor.... That choice gets considerably more daunting and monumental depending on how old you are when you are making it. The workouts that twenty-somethings can handle on a regular basis and still be reasonably on a health/longevity pathway are considerably different than what the 35, 45 or 55-year-old can do and remain on that road. If those older folks do more than a couple/few metcon-style workouts a week, they may be headed into jacked-up cortisol and stress, wrecked sleep, and a path of diminishing returns that somehow got them sidetracked off the Road to Awesome that the twenty-somethings may be able to stay on.

Does that mean I am telling you, Mr. or Ms. older-than-30 not to do CrossFit? No. But, first, understand why you are doing it -- have a goal -- and, second, choose a frequency of CF that actually fits that goal.

There are a whole lot of smart people these days out in the strength and conditioning world -- like Dan John, Jason Seib, Robb Wolf, Jim Laird, James Fitzgerald, etc. -- telling you that the basic prescription for general health and longevity goes something like: eat clean, sleep well, manage stress and exercise smart. And they define "smart" exercise as something along the lines of: lift heavy a few times a week, do some sprints (or sprint-style short metcons) a couple days during that week and take a walk every single day that you can.

Note that the word "CrossFit" isn't in there, but also understand that the word "CrossFit" can be perfectly compatible with that strategy. You just have to do it right.

First of all, if health/longevity is your goal, make sure your CF gym has a strength bias. That means they don't *just* (or mostly) do metcons. They lift heavy too.

Secondly, if health and longevity is your goal, it is going to be the rare 30-y.o.-plus person whose *health* is going to benefit from more than three days a week of the CF grind. Sure, that person's CrossFit *performance* may get better and better, but is the grind of that -- and its toll on cortisol, stress, sleep and general health -- worth the reward? It's your call, and I wouldn't ever tell you not to do six-days-per-week CF any more than I would tell a marathoner not to run marathons. If that is what you truly love to do, have at it.

Just don't pretend that training at that level is making you "healthier." It probably isn't. It grinds you down. It can stall your fat loss and actually make you less healthy than if you backed off a little.

So what's the point of all this? It's what Hunter Thompson used to call: "Buy the ticket; take the ride." Pick your goal, and move toward it appropriately. And if that goal is basic health and longevity, there is a point -- and it may be a point that you have already passed -- where you put in more time, yet get diminishing returns on your goal.

The cool thing is that you can start to fix all that right now.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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