Should Firefighters Do Crossfit?

For the past month I’ve been talking about different types of exercise regimes – whether I recommend them for firefighters and what their pros and cons are. I’ve written about yoga/pilates, P90X, circuit workouts, high intensity interval training and endurance training/running. Tons of firefighters have weighed in too, so head over to the comments sections to get some great insight from your peers.

Today I’m going to broach the topic of Crossfit. I feel like I’m swimming in shark infested waters because Crossfit is a very hot topic right now in the fitness industrycrossfit freedigitalphotos and lovers of this exercise regime tend to be quite passionate about it.

Here’s my opinion: Crossfit is a great full-body workout and one that I think could be beneficial for firefighters since it is high intensity, it improves all the components of fitness, and it burns a lot of calories. However, I encourage people to use caution when doing Crossfit, or any extremely challenging exercise for that matter, since the potential for injury is obviously increased. Research illustrates that fatigue significantly compromises good technique, so that is concerning when the goal is to perform as many repetitions as possible in a given amount of time.

Crossfit encourages a very large range of motion for most joints in the body. This can be really helpful for some who need to improve their flexibility, but detrimental for others who don’t have (and never will have) the ligamentous support to keep their joints in a safe position when performing these moves. So, when performing this type of exercise, it becomes extremely important to listen to your body and back off if you feel any overuse injuries coming on.

The training to become a Crossfit instructor is not, in my opinion, too rigorous. So although I often hear that Crossfit instructors enforce that their clients start out slow and make sure they are doing things “right,” I wonder to myself “well do they know what right really is?” So make sure your Crossfit instructor has a strong background in strength and conditioning and a real appreciation for injury avoidance. A good site to follow if you want to be sure you’re getting correct information is http://www.mobilitywod.com/. Kelly Starrett, DPT, is a fellow doctor and a proponent of Crossfit.

Ultimately, I’m ecstatic that so many people have found a love of exercise through Crossfit. But I don’t think it’s right for everyone, just as I have stated in previous posts that there is no ONE right way to exercise for everyone; it depends on your body type/build and your strong and weak areas.

After I originally posted this article, one of my readers told me about an interview with one of the world’s most prolific spine researchers, Stuart McGill, who also works a lot with firefighters and has done amazing work helping people avoid back pain and injury. His thoughts/suggestions about Crossfit are in line with mine. Click here to read the article.

If you’ve tried Crossfit yourself, tell us about it in the comments section so others can learn from your experience.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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By | 2018-06-01T07:55:33+00:00 August 28th, 2013|Uncategorized|19 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Karlie Moore has a PhD in Exercise Science and Nutrition and specializes in firefighter health. She has conducted fitness testing on hundreds of firefighters and has created the most comprehensive online wellness program for fire departments called the FitCulture program. Dr. Moore is also married to a firefighter and so understands their lifestyle and the health challenges associated with it.

19 Comments

  1. Kirk Rains August 28, 2013 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    I must say your write-up is right-on. I started CrossFit in May last year (2012). For me, it has been a positive life changer. Like I said in an earlier post, if someone is starting into circuit / intensity workouts, like CrossFit, you must know your limitations and start out slow, as well as do your own research. My instructors (CrossFit Ad Alta & CrossFit Bellevue) seem to know their stuff. Each is different and offers their perspective on style which, to me, reinforces that everyone is different and will progress likewise. DON’T expect instantaneous results in a short period of time, even if your are athletic to begin with; there will be a learning and development curve. While the emphasis is friendly competition and getting stronger, most people in CrossFit do NOT compete at the Regional or Games level; most just want to gain strength and shapeliness, as well as feeling fit and healthy. I saw positive changes within six months. I encourage everyone to give it a year before assessing if CrossFit, or any circuit / intensity workout, is working for them; what took years to let go won’t reverse overnight. Great article, Karlie!!

  2. Jon August 28, 2013 at 6:53 pm - Reply

    Kirk
    Thanks for your perspective on crossfit. I have tried crossfit myself and decided that it is not the best fit for me. One thing that crossfit has done a great job with is creating a close knit group that is very supportive. This is huge in helping people. My only word of caution, and from the tone of your post does not appear to be an issue where you train, is to not become as a group, so exclusive thinking that crossfit is the end all be all way to get fit and that anyone who trains different is a lesser human. Unfortunately a few crossfit people and gyms have left this taste in my mouth. Awesome to hear a crossfitter who does not come across this way. Thanks Kirk! Keep training hard and enjoy the results!

    Jon

    • Karlie August 28, 2013 at 7:17 pm - Reply

      Agreed Jon. One thing that I didn’t mention in the article, because I try to keep them pretty brief, is that I really appreciate the “communal environment” that Crossfit encourages. It’s a strong example of how effective social support is toward engaging in healthy habits.

  3. Ryan August 28, 2013 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    I have been crossfitting for almost two years now, and am able to do things that I have never done before (pullups, rope climbs, etc.). Crossfit has definitely changed my life. I strongly feel the the workouts are exactly what firefighters need to perform effectively on the fireground.

    Like any program, proper form and techinque are the key. A good coach will ensure that the movements are done properly. Everyone is at a different fitness level, and Crossfit offers something for all levels. Mental toughness is a key aspect that is attained in Crossfit that was lacking in other fitness programs for me.

    I would encourage everyone to find a GOOD box and go through the elements class. It will be the hardest thing you have ever done. You may just walk away feeling like your are better than everyone else. It’s not always a bad thing!

    • Karlie August 28, 2013 at 7:53 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your input Ryan and keep up the hard work!

  4. Daniel August 29, 2013 at 5:17 am - Reply

    Crossift is certainly intriguing, but I find the Crossfit certifications to require too little background in exercise science, anatomy/physiology, or kinesiology. It does not surprise me, therefore, that instructor quality reportedly varies widely, and that injury rates are also reportedly quite high.

    As an over-40 widland firefighter, I can’t afford to entrust my health to amateurs.

    • Karlie August 29, 2013 at 6:12 pm - Reply

      Hey Daniel, thanks for your comment. I too am very cautious about what I subject my body to. I just absolutely hate having an injury/painful area because then I can’t live the active lifestyle that I so enjoy. Like I said in the article, listening to your body is key.

  5. Micah Tolbert August 29, 2013 at 7:08 pm - Reply

    I just recently took up cross fit again after taking a year off from a broken leg. My biggest issue this second time around was putting my male ego aside when it came to choosing a weig to work with. I was trying to keep up with and do the same weights of the other guys in our group that was similar in build to me. Even though they had been much more far along in the program than I was on my first week back. I believe crossfit is an exceptional fitness regimine for firefighters, but it’s not for all firefighters. You have to do what’s best for you. I have had pretty good success so far at increasing cardiovascular fitness and an increase in energy and flexibility. Not to mention the medical benefits of exercise Along with a much better diet than before I was doing crossfit. Ive cut out soda..acut way way back on fried and junk foods and I feel so much better for it. I reccomend trying crossfit as a firefighter/paramedic but also to keep in mind to scale back your workouts to what’s comfortable for you! Listen to your body while doing any exercise…don’t let a stubborn male ego get yourself injured. Thanks so much karlie for providing the services you do and looking out for our health and well being.

    • Karlie August 29, 2013 at 7:50 pm - Reply

      You are welcome Micah. I love my work, especially hearing great things from those who benefit from it!

  6. bob August 30, 2013 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    karlie
    Crossfit has peaked the interest of many ff’s who, in the past, were not making a “professional effort” to pt. (i am sure that this attitude exist “only” in our dept.)
    So for that reason i am a crossfit supporter, it allows each person to follow a daily suggestion of workouts or the individual can put together a set of exercises that develop strength endurance and speed.
    i do not attend a crossfit gym but have used plyometrics in my workouts and as a coach, since the 70’s.
    if the variety, intensity and comraderie keeps an individual motivated to keep fit-then crossfit up!

    • Karlie August 30, 2013 at 5:13 pm - Reply

      agreed Bob!

  7. Paul Luizzi September 1, 2013 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    I think a cross fit type of work out is important and prepares firefighters to work at a higher level of intensity on the fire ground. I don’t like this work out when they are on shift, we have seen more injuries from cross-fit like workouts. I am also concerned that they may not be recovered sufficiently to respond and be effective on the next incident. I think this type of work-out off duty, when they have opportunity to recover properly, makes more sense.

    • Karlie September 1, 2013 at 5:52 pm - Reply

      This is an EXCELLENT point Paul. Research shows that sometimes firefighters do get injured while working out on duty, so that is something we obviously want to avoid. It’s great to have time on-duty to exercise but that may require more attention to fatigue than when working out on days off.

  8. Andy September 2, 2013 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    Another firefighter and I started regular CrossFit attendance about 3 months ago. We’re both in our 50’s and have typically maintained reasonable fitness with more typical weight lifting and aerobic regimens. Being a nut, I had to have 2 total knee replacements about 2 years ago and started back into fitness training after just under a year post-op. While “normal” workouts definitely brought back much strength and mobility, CrossFit has made the greatest improvment in my overall fitness, strength, and mobility. The folks where I train at CrossFit Roots in Boulder, CO have been very accommodating of my needs, replacing rowing for running (can’t impact the new knee “bones”) and generally watching out for possible concerns related. It’s great to be able to do reasonable pullups again, climb ropes, jump high (but step down, see impact…), do hand stand moves, and handle reasonable weight in proper full squat form. I’ve a ways to go to keep up with the fitter and younger folks but this is working out nicely and with lots of support so far. Unfortunately, Eight other coworkers that started CrossFIt with us decided after a month or two that injury probability was too high and classes too exhausting so they have dropped out (leaving only the two firefighters, go figure). I’ll decide whether to continue after a few more months, I think.

  9. Sarah September 5, 2013 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    Crossfit now for 4 months luv it & addicted. I am a 5’4 female fitness enthusiast. Did P90x, insanity & the hybrid. Very good for the glamour muscles and to prepare for crossfit. My body hit a plateau with those always same thing. Crossfit is never the same. I have gained 18lbs of muscle in these 4 months but I lift & train hard with pride. I can currently do most workouts with the Rx weight (crossfitters know what that means!) If you are going to do it do a drop in at a crossfit affiliate not a knock off. It is pricy but so worth it. I have done several fire tests and crossfit provided phenomenal results. But be warned you will love it or hate it, no one really falls in between. However, if you enjoy pushing your limits crossfit is for you. Only problem is crossfit is designed to push those limits so you must ensure you have a good trainer with your best interest in mind. Was actually really frustrated at the start he would say your skill has not matched your strength. Takes awhile to learn the moves properly. Still stronger than my skill. So many transferable techniques though. I actually did a crossfit competition hardest physical day of my life, but I look forward to the challenge of another. Watch one these people define fitness!

  10. Karlie November 30, 2013 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    Here’s a good article to follow this one: http://www.tabatatimes.com/top-ten-mistakes-crossfitters-make/

  11. Roy S. March 26, 2015 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    I’m not anti-crossfit, but I believe it’s far too saggital plane dominant to be useful as the only exercise regimen for a firefighter. At the very least, one needs to augment with more multiplanar functional and corrective exercises outside of the WOD.

  12. Bob May 14, 2015 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    One of the guys who works in our Dept has a crossfitt box as his side business. we workout there on shift sometime. It is a tough workout and I see the benifits, but I have to say it may not be for everyone. I have a regular fitness class that I attend that have alot of the same exercises and movements as crossfitt and I enjoy it. The workouts are mixed up so you never do the same thing everyday. But some of the things I had to work up too, and just couldn’t jump right in at full blast. I also swim, bike and walk.

    • Karlie May 14, 2015 at 5:54 pm - Reply

      thanks Bob for your insight!

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