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A study was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research today by Smith et al. (ahead of print) titled: Crossfit-based High Intensity Power Training Improves Maximal Aerobic Fitness and Body Composition.

Here’s the Pubmed link and the Abstract:

The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of a crossfit-based high intensity power training (HIPT) program on aerobic fitness and body composition. Healthy subjects of both genders (23 males, 20 females) spanning all levels of aerobic fitness and body composition completed 10 weeks of HIPT consisting of lifts such as the squat, deadlift, clean, snatch, and overhead press performed as quickly as possible. Additionally, this crossfit-based HIPT program included skill work for the improvement of traditional Olympic lifts and selected gymnastic exercises. Body fat percentage was estimated using whole body plethysmography and maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max) was measured by analyzing expired gasses during a Bruce protocol maximal graded treadmill test. These variables were measured again following 10 weeks of training and compared for significant changes using a paired t-test. Results showed significant (P<0.05) improvements of VO2max in males (43.10±1.40 to 48.96±1.42 ml/kg/min) and females (35.98±1.60 to 40.22±1.62 ml/kg/min) as well as decreased body fat percentage in males (22.2±1.3 to 18.0±1.3) and females (26.6±2.0 to 23.2±2.0). These improvements were significant across all levels of initial fitness. Significant correlations between absolute oxygen consumption and oxygen consumption relative to body weight was found in both men (r=0.83, P<0.001) and women (r=0.94, P<0.001), indicating HIPT improved VO2max scaled to body weight independent of changes to body composition. Our data shows that HIPT significantly improves VO2max and body composition in subjects of both genders across all levels of fitness.

HIPT

 
In the experiment, the researchers referred to the training program as “crossfit-based high intensity power training” or HIPT for short. Differentiating HIPT from HIIT (high intensity interval training), the researchers state that HIPT “includes a lack of a prescribed rest period, focus on sustained high power output” and use of multi joint movements. HIPT also incorporates multi-joint functional lifts such as the squat, deadlift, clean, snatch and overhead press with the addition of gymnastic based movements (Smith et al., 2013). The researchers go on to explain the concept of a WOD (workout of the day) describing how they are “a random selection of multiple joint exercises” that are supposed to be performed as quickly as possible.

Nonetheless, it all appears fine and dandy from just reading the abstract but after reading the actual paper, I found out some things not included in the abstract.

  • -stats were run on the entire group and also on subsets of participants that were divided up by initial aerobic fitness and body composition values (based on normative data for age and gender)
  • -out of 54 original participants, 43 fully completed the 10-week program (11 dropped out: 2 with time concerns and 9 from sustaining injury = 16% of total recruited subjects, despite being supervised by American College of Sports Medicine clinical exercise physiologists and the fact that the 10-week program was “deliberately periodized”)
  • -the training protocol was not provided (therefore, I’m not sure if kipping pull ups or other traditional Crossfit exercises were included or not)
  • -subjects were following a “Paleolithic” type diet prior to and following completion of the training program (but was not controlled for)

So that leaves me with some questions. (I’m in the middle of my research in my Masters program and as a researcher, you can’t account for every single variable, it’s practically impossible! But it still warrants some discussion.)

Obviously this program was effective at improving VO2 and body composition in both sexes, but would the results have differed if the participants were not on a Paleo-type diet? Would it have been beneficial to have the diet controlled and monitored?

If you’re a Crossfit-beginner, I strongly caution you to learn how to move first with light weight before adding more weight and speed.

16% drop out!? That’s a bit much don’t you think? So this tells us, if you’re not ready for this type of intensity, maybe you shouldn’t be doing a Crossfit-based training program. “Skill training” was provided to the subjects prior to the 10-week training program, but how effective was their technique to begin with and how good did it get after the skill training? If you’ve ever done as many reps as possible in a timed-set, you and I know your form (and mine) would go out the window after a few sets. If you can keep it together longer, you’re probably not going to get injured. This especially applies to the clean and the snatch which are considered very technical lifts. A beginner thrown into high rep cleans or snatches, even after some skill practice is a recipe for disaster (in my opinion). I have a hard enough time doing sets of 5 cleans or snatches perfectly – I couldn’t imaging compounding that with fatigue, other exercises and a time-limit. However, if you’re technically proficient, then I don’t see too much of a problem with this type of programming, especially if you plan to compete at Crossfit competitions (hence sports specific training).

Lastly, I have a problem when a Crossfit-based program is prescribed to the wrong person. People who are not technically proficient, have a current injury or a predisposition for a future injury should take down the intensity a few notches to keep their injury risk low (think cost to benefit ratio). Perhaps they can still participate but with the workout regressed to their level. Also, as I said above, it would have been great to see the actual 10-week program and how they periodized it.

Wrap up

 
So, high intensity training with weights and compound lifts with minimal break (combined with a paleo-based diet) can work wonders for your VO2 and body composition. But you have to survive the training program without getting injured. If you can survive it and enjoy it, have at it. If you’re a beginner, I strongly caution you to learn how to move first with light weight before adding more weight and speed.

Furthermore, this is a prime example, as pointed out by my buddy Josh Henkin, that you can’t just read abstracts. To get the entire story, you have to read the actual paper.

-JK

I’ve always struggled with both my weight and anxiety throughout my life. As a writer you live a pretty sedentary lifestyle filled with both realistic and unrealistic deadlines, so I needed something to get me off my butt and to get me moving. JK has been a godsend during this past year and a half in particular. The pandemic has been tough, but workouts with both Thomas and Jon have really helped reduce the stress and strain of a global pandemic, and added an anchor of normalcy back into my life — which has been worth its weight in gold.

JKC has created an incredibly inclusive environment that’s filled with all kinds of supportive folks from all kinds of different backgrounds. For folks like myself, being surrounded by people with such athletic ability can be intimidating in most gyms. It can actually be a deterrent, and it sometimes has been for me. But, at JKC it’s far from that — it’s inspirational. Everyone supports one another. Which is something that’s not easily found in this day and age, inside of a gym or out. Not to sound like a total cheeseball here, but it really feels like a family.

I had signed up for other gyms in the past and never went or rarely went. Something always got in the way or I was just too tired and lacked motivation to go. This way I’ve made a commitment to Jon or Thomas and I try very hard to keep my sessions once I’ve booked in. JKC is different from other gyms that I’ve tried in the past because no one is there to be “seen”. We are all there to get a good workout in and go on with our lives. And it’s a small gym so you get to know everyone and it’s like a big family. When I joined JKC, I couldn’t do a chin up with an elastic band, but I’ve slowly worked up to 10 free hanging chin ups. That was big because I hate chin ups.

I came to JKC through recommendations from my peers from lululemon. As a current ambassador, I’ve been introduced to legacy ambassadors, like Jon, and I knew a bunch of other people from the store were working out here so I wanted to give it a go. I often dread lower body workouts so I started coming here to do legs. I’ve had such great progress that I now come twice a week— and, I no longer hate leg day!

I’ve never experienced this sort of hybrid between group workouts and personalized service. Many group strength training services offer a sort of one-size-fits-all workout for the general population, which has never been of interest to me, because I want my workout tailored to my needs! I LOVE that you can be in a group setting while doing your own personal program; I love the camaraderie and community at JKC, and, I’ve seen incredible results thus far! Jon is always so attuned to what I need.

I chose JKC originally to help prevent rowing injuries. I’m a rower and we won the St. John’s Regatta in 2019 but I rowed through a rib stress fracture and missed significant time in the boat during the racing season. Training at JKC consistently since the pandemic helped me stay injury free this year and made me the strongest I’ve ever felt, which helped me help my team win the 2021 St. John’s Regatta! Jon adds variety and mixes the exercises up well so that the workout goes by quickly and strength is gained. The gym is very personable and I like the eclectic mix of people that are there. JKC is much more intimate and personal than other gyms.

I heard really good things about it from my sister, and I could see the positive results she was getting.  I needed to do something.  I was overweight, depressed, and recovering from a back injury.  I had reached a point where simply getting up out of a chair was becoming difficult.  I knew that if I didn’t do something about it my senior years would be very burdensome to the people close to me.  I’m so glad I did!  After just a few weeks my day-to-day pain was drastically reduced, and my mobility increased. I had the confidence to try sea kayaking, and I now play ice hockey twice a week!

The key difference is the expertise.  The trainers know the gym equipment and the exercises, but they also have degrees in kinesiology, and can apply what they know to your workout.  As someone who was in poor physical condition starting out, I was worried about hurting myself.  Previously I tried an outdoor weekly bootcamp and injured my knee by pushing too hard.  The trainers at JKC constructed a program that started at the right level for me, evolving it as I grew stronger and more fit.  I feel well looked after.

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