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Article Response

You guys may have seen CrossFit in the news a lot lately with big names like Jillian Michaels and Men’s Health Magazine putting out anti-CrossFit articles and videos. Here is our response to the Men’s Health opinion article entitled: “If You’re Smart, You’ll Skip CrossFit 19.3” by Ebenezer Samuel, March 10, 2019.

The article has a lot of clearly biased anti-CrossFit rhetoric, but it makes a lot of good points.

Workouts should be progressive: if you want to do something hard, work your way up to it. If you throw yourself into something that you haven’t prepared for, you could risk serious injury. I agree.Our current technologically advanced lifestyles have not prepared us for properly aligning our arms in an overhead position. And stabilizing a heavy weight up there? Forget about it! I agree.If your shoulder can’t get into the proper overhead position, the back will get archy to compensate creating the potential for injuries in the back. I agree.

If someone wanted to safely do a workout like this, he/she would need to have been preparing for months, doing flexibility and stabilizing strength work specifically for the overhead position. I decided to take a look at CrossFit Cielo’s “CF Main” programming for the four months preceding the announcement of the 19.3 workout to see if we have been doing anything that might have prepared our athletes for this workout. Here is what I found:

There were 52 instances of exercise movements (or holds) that involved either pressing into or stabilizing in the overhead position. (This excludes all overhead hanging movements or holds, as well as movements that move into the overhead range but don’t really have a focus there, like wallballs, ball slams, and American kettlebell swings, even though all of these do help improve overhead stability). Both the dumbbell overhead walking lunge and the strict handstand pushup were among these movements (CrossFit Cielo only teaches the handstand pushup as a strict handstand pushup, unless a kipping HSPU is needed specifically for a competition. Bailey is very picky about this and it’s definitley not just so your handstands and movements will look pretty).

17 of the 52 exercises involved using the shoulders unilaterally, with dumbbells or kettlebells (or something weird like a barbell Turkish get-up), that specifically builds shoulder stabilizing strength. These exercises include kettlebell snatches, wall walk-ups, dumbbell presses, dumbbell overhead squats, handstand shoulder touches, etc.

20 of the 52 exercises involved squatting or lunging while holding (or catching) the weight in the overhead position, analogous to the shoulder positioning in the OH walking lunge position from 19.3. Examples include: overhead squats, split jerks, squat snatches, and Turkish get-ups

7 of the 52 exercises directly involved the handstand position, with an emphasis on proper body and shoulder positioning. Wall walk-ups, handstand kick ups, etc.

*In my survey, I only looked at the CF Main programming (3 workouts per week). Overhead movements from Strength, Gymnastics, or Bootcamp classes were excluded, even though these classes work specifically to improve the overhead position and strength.It’s hard to imagine that there is any other gym program or workout protocol that would have better prepared someone for 19.3. It is almost as if we were training specifically for this workout, that would be difficult or potentially injurious to a normal fitness buff. Except that we didn’t know. We couldn’t know. We just train in a way that makes human bodies as functional and capable as possible.

We could capitulate to the misshapen and weakened modern human form and start avoiding everything that is “dangerous.” Don’t walk on uneven surfaces! Don’t bend your knee past 90 degrees! Don’t lift anything over your head! But why not begin the gradual journey back to becoming a functioning human body again? Just because bad posture and lack of use have left our shoulders in a compromised state, doesn’t mean we should just give up on them! The shoulder is not “the most delicate joint in your body,” as the author of the article claims. It is the most versatile and mobile joint, and the second most powerful one (the hip gets the top spot for that) in the human body. I agree that 19.3 is too much for (and maybe even dangerous for) a lot of people to do, but shouldn’t we be encouraging them to develop their shoulders to be able to handle it in the future rather than discouraging people from participating?

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