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Dr. Paul Juris of Cybex Sheds New Light on Crossfit Training

CrossFit training has grown in popularity over recent years, but for many individuals, deciding whether this regimen is compatible with overarching health and fitness goals can be difficult. Recently, we spoke with Paul Juris, Ed.D., the executive director of the Cybex Research Institute, about the benefits and disadvantages of CrossFit training.

Q: What is your stance on CrossFit as a form of fitness training?
Paul Juris, Ed.D.: Much of [the CrossFit regimen] is modeled off Olympic lifting and high-performance training solutions and strategies. The concern that I have is that while it is very romantic for people to think that they can train like elite athletes, there is a reason why people are called elite athletes and that reason is that there are very few people in the world who are capable of doing things with their bodies the way that these people actually do.

I think the risk that is associated with some of these applications like CrossFit is that people may be pushing themselves by engaging in activities that they're really not suited to do. I wouldn't say that I don't support it, but I do have concerns about it.

Q: Is there a training regimen that newcomers can use that incorporates some elements of CrossFit?
A: Intensity is something that could be applied to any type of exercise. I don't think the advantage of CrossFit is in the intensity of the work out - any workout can be done with a high level of intensity. I think the thing that's attractive to people about CrossFit is that it's highly variable - that every day there's a new workout. That can be done anywhere - that can be done at the gym. There's plenty of variety for people to engage in, in a controlled environment, especially for novices, that would be just as effective and much safer.

Q: Can CrossFit be modified to fit someone's level of strength and fitness aptitude?
A: It depends on the exercise. You know, if you're flipping a truck tire, you have to flip the truck tire, so there's really no way to modulate the demand placed on the individual - a truck tire is a truck tire.

In terms of volume, if you don't want to do as much, you don't do as many repetitions... Most of the exercises that [people] do on some level can be modified. It really comes down to an individual knowing what their own limitations are, and I think that's where you run into problems. Believe it or not, I believe most folks don't know how hard they should be training.

Q: How could CrossFit culture result in overtraining?
A: When you're placed into this environment where there's a room full of people and they're all doing these explosive, dynamic movements, then you think because it's a group environment, it's an interaction - and that, by the way, is what creates a lot of the popularity of CrossFit [because] they've created a great community feel for this - when you find yourself in this environment with a lot of people who are doing [these movements], you don't want to be the one person who's not doing this. You don't want to draw attention to yourself by being the person who's sort of faking it, and so you try to do it, and when you try to do it, that's how you get hurt.

Q: So what are some signs that people may be overdoing it?
A: I think that when an exercise is challenging to the point where you can't get the coordination down and you're struggling with the pattern of movement and with the technique - if you have any struggles at all with the technique - then you absolutely have to modify the intensity of the workload until such time as that technique has been really well cemented. That's number one.

I would look at heart rate response. Any other typical signs and symptoms, [like] you feel lightheaded, you feel faint, anything like that [can show that you're overdoing it]. If you feel like the weights are so heavy you have problems moving them, that's probably an indication that they are too heavy. If you're looking at this and thinking, "I'm not sure that I can do this," you're probably right.

Q: Would you say there's a benchmark that may indicate when a person is ready for CrossFit?
A: When you have a newcomer in the gym, you're not going to take that person and throw them on dynamic ballistic training exercises. What you need to do is get that person indoctrinated and trained and developed and sort of systematized [to the gym] and the initial period over which some does that is, say, six to 10 weeks, before you're ready to move onto anything challenging at all.

[But] the first thing you want to do is create a training habit where people are coming into the gym on a regular basis. Once you've accomplished that - now you're in a position where you can start expanding the exercise repertoire... I think you're talking about 15 to 16 weeks - 4 months [total] - before I'd ever recommend someone go into that [CrossFit] environment.

Q: What does it take to become certified to instruct CrossFit?
A: There's no formal education process for anyone teaching CrossFit. And the concern that I have with this is that these are very demanding, highly dynamic types of exercises. Not only are they challenging for the people doing those exercises - the end users - but they're equally challenging for the instructors to be able to look at what people are doing and very carefully quantify and qualify that movement so that they can provide effective feedback and coaching.

I think it requires a high level of education and training for people to be able to administer that type of exercise solution. And my concern is that without a formal education process in place for these folks, I'm not sure how qualified they are to be overseeing these [exercises].

Q: How can individuals make sure they're working with an educated CrossFit instructor?
A: I would ask them what kind of education they have, what kind of additional training they have, [if] they have a certification that is consistent with the kind of training that one might be doing at a CrossFit facility.

For people who, the extent of their education is that they've spent some time at a CrossFit facility watching other people do this or they worked at a CrossFit or were some kind of apprentice there and that's really the extent of it, 'm not sure that I would entrust that person with my long-term health.

Q: Is there any commercial gym equipment offered by Cybex that offers a comprehensive workout that rivals CrossFit training?
A: I think all of our equipment rivals it in different ways depending on how you use it. The Eagle line of [commercial gym equipment] is designed to offer the highest degree of versatility and flexibility within a [select] product line. So, are you flipping tires on that? No, but you're certainly building dynamic strength, power and muscular endurance which are all very beneficial.

The Bravo line - now we're talking about a functional training system that has some unique advantages which are not available in other cable-based systems, predominantly the stabilization pad and what I now refer to as the muscle activation system. The Bravo line is now really getting into a functional training system that gives people the best combination of movement coordination, loading capacity and muscle targeting of any product line that's out there.

When you start to combine these different elements, when you take a very flexible and selectorized line like the Eagle line and combine it with the Bravo line, which is cable-based and unique and versatile in itself, and throw in an Arc trainer, there's everything you need there to do anything you want to do. 

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