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CrossFit: New Research Puts Popular Workout to the Test

Article by Paige Babiash, M.S., John P. Porcari, Ph.D., Jeffery Steffen, Ph.D., Scott Doberstein, M.S., and Carl Foster, Ph.D. http://www.acefitness.org/prosourcearticle/3542/crossfit-new-research-puts-popular-workout-to?utm_source=ProSource&utm_medium=email&utm_term=October%2B2013&utm_campaign=ProSource

Newly released ACE-sponsored research gauges the calorie burn and intensity of two popular CrossFit workouts.

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“It can kill you…I’ve always been completely honest about that,” said Greg Glassman in a now somewhat infamous New York Times interview about CrossFit, the high-intensity workout program he founded in 2000.

A former gymnast and gymnastics coach, Glassman designed the no-nonsense and notoriously tough workout regimen by combining functional strength training with gymnastics, circuit training and endurance exercise. It started with a single gym in Santa Cruz, Calif., and grew slowly from there in a cult-like manner, mostly the territory of underground fitness types and hardcore military guys. But it has since blossomed into a full-fledged global workout craze, attracting everyone from soccer moms and college coeds to middle-aged executives and cubicle dwellers.

Today, CrossFit boasts more than 7,000 CrossFit gyms (except they call them “boxes”) worldwide, more than 35,000 accredited trainers, more than 10 million Crossfitters (nearly 60 percent of whom are women) and even recently inked a 10-year multi-million dollar deal with Reebok to sponsor the annual CrossFit Games, which crowns the man and woman deemed the “Fittest on Earth.”

While all of this newfound popularity certainly lessens some of CrossFit’s original underground fitness street cred, it does not diminish the workouts themselves. Anecdotally, the body sculpting and endurance/strength-building success stories of CrossFit are many. But surprisingly, very little real scientific research has been conducted on CrossFit.

Spurred on by CrossFit’s immense popularity, the American Council on Exercise enlisted researchers from the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse, to gauge the energy expenditure and relative exercise intensity of a pair of CrossFit workouts.

THE STUDY

Led by John Porcari, Ph.D., head of the University’s Clinical Exercise Physiology program, and Paige Babiash, M.S., the research team first recruited 16 healthy, moderately to very fit female and male volunteers between the ages of 20 and 47. Next, to establish a quantifiable baseline of fitness, each subject completed a maximal exercise test on a treadmill while researchers gathered data including heart rate (HR), VO2max and ratings of perceived exertion (RPE). This data also enabled the research team to create a regression equation for each subject to predict their individual VO2max based on HR data. This is key because it would be impossible for the subjects to complete the CrossFit workouts while wearing the bulky VO2max metabolic testing gear.

For this study, researchers selected two separate CrossFit workouts—each of which has been used as an official CrossFit Workout of the Day (WOD). For each WOD the goal is to complete all of the prescribed repetitions in the shortest amount of time possible. The first WOD used in the testing, named Donkey Kong, incorporated burpees, kettlebell swings and box jumps. Each exercise was performed three times, with the number of repetitions decreasing each time. During the first round, each exercise was performed 21 times, the second round 15 times and the final round nine times. Between each exercise, subjects climbed a flight of stairs.

The second WOD selected is one of the most popular WODs within the CrossFit community. It’s called Fran and consists of just two exercises: thrusters (a front squat into a push press with a barbell) and assisted pull-ups. This WOD was performed in the same sequence as the first. Each workout included a five-minute warm-up, a skill phase, a WOD and a five-minute cool-down phase. Prior to completing each of the CrossFit workouts, each subject was required to practice the selected exercises and then demonstrate to researchers that they were proficient at each one.

During actual testing, researchers recorded HR for each subject every minute throughout the entire workout and RPE was assessed after each round. Additionally, an overall RPE was taken at the end of the workout session, while blood lactate concentration was tested at the beginning and upon completion of each CrossFit WOD.

Anecdotally, researchers noted that the workouts seemed very difficult for most of the subjects. “It didn’t matter their skill or fitness level, and it didn’t matter how long it took them to complete the workouts,” says Paige Babiash, M.S., “Each person was extremely exhausted at the end.”

THE RESULTS

Immediately following both testing sessions, the researchers crunched the data and plugged each subject’s HR results into their individual regression equations to predict VO2max for each WOD session (Table 1).

Table 1. Average Exercise Responses to Two CrossFit Workouts
Crossfit Workout 1
Mean ± SD
Crossfit Workout 2
Mean ± SD
Heart Rate (bpm)
Females
Males
167 ± 7.56
162 ± 12.5
158 ± 13.9
160 ± 7.33
% HRmax
Females
Males
91 ± 5.4
91 ± 3.7
86 ± 7.4
90 ± 5.5
VO2 (mL/kg/min)
Females
Males
36.6 ± 9.14
44.8 ± 7.75*
32.4 ± 5.31
44.2 ± 8.85*
% VO2max
Females
Males
86 ± 6.0
83 ± 4.7
78 ± 13.9
81 ± 10.2
Kcal/min
Females
Males
12.9 ± 2.74
20.6 ± 2.80*
11.6 ± 2.22
20.4 ± 3.69*
Session RPE (6–20)
Females
Males
16.9 ± 0.99
16.1 ± 1.54*
15.3 ± 1.17#
14.3 ± 1.25#*
Change in Lactate (mmol/L)
Females
Males
10.2 ± 3.20
11.6 ± 2.96
8.46 ± 1.88#
11.0 ± 4.41#

* Significantly different than females (p<.05).

# Significantly different than workout 1 (p<.05).

Values represent Mean ± SD.

 

On average, this study found that caloric expenditure averaged 20.5 kcal/minute for the male subjects and 12.3 kcal/min for females. That said, the amount of time it took each participant to complete the WODs varied greatly (some did it in less than 5 minutes, while others took as long as 20 minutes), a discrepancy that definitely affected the averages for total number of calories expended during each workout. Still, researchers found that males burned an average of 169.6 calories for workout 1 (completing the workout in an average time of 8 minutes, 23 seconds) and 112.5 calories for workout 2 (average time: 5:52). Meanwhile females averaged 117.2 calories for workout 1 (average time: 9:08) and 63.9 calories for workout 2 (average time: 5:52).

As for heart-rate responses, during the first round of both CrossFit workouts HRs were elevated to an average of 90 percent of maximum heart rate (HRmax), which was maintained throughout the remainder of the workout (Figure 1). Given that fitness industry guidelines suggest maintaining a training range of 64 percent to 94 percent of HRmax to improve cardio endurance, these CrossFit workouts both meet the mark.

Similar to the HR responses, VO2 increased immediately during the first round of both workouts and increased slightly with subsequent rounds (Figure 2). Researchers found that VO2 averaged 80 percent of VO2max during both CrossFit workouts, indicating that the subjects were exercising well above their anaerobic thresholds. This is at the higher end of industry recommendations of maintaining 40 percent to 85 percent of VO2max to improve cardio endurance.

The vigorous intensity of a CrossFit workout was further illustrated by participants’ blood lactate values, which averaged 15.9 mmol/L for men and 12.4 mmol/L for women, both of which are well above the normal lactate threshold of 4 mmol/L. Across the board, subjects’ RPE values for both workouts were rated as “hard”  (Figure 3) and the RPEs during Donkey Kong (workout 1) were markedly higher than those for Fran (workout 2). 

THE BOTTOM LINE

CrossFit works. For those who already do CrossFit regularly, this is surely no news flash. Based on the high intensity of the workouts tested, researchers conclude that CrossFit does a really good job of helping exercisers improve their aerobic fitness, while burning a fair number of calories in the process. And, like other high-intensity interval-training (HIIT) workouts, one can expect greater increases in aerobic capacity than what is seen with traditional aerobic training, which is typically performed well below an individual’s anaerobic threshold.

Working out more intensely for shorter periods means that exercisers can likely get good results with CrossFit while spending less time exercising, says Babiash. “The two workouts were completed in fewer than 12 minutes, not including the warm-up and cool-down. Yet, despite this short duration, subjects still burned an average of 115.8 calories,” she says. “Seeing the benefits in such a short amount of time is encouraging, especially if you have a busy lifestyle.”

Porcari agrees, but also notes that a pretty big asterisk should accompany all of his team’s findings. “You look at the intensity of CrossFit and it’s off the charts,” he says. “This is not the workout for a 45-year-old person with multiple cardiovascular risk factors. People absolutely need to be properly screened before beginning CrossFit.”

Beyond being potentially risky for heart-attack prone, would-be exercisers, Porcari warns that the competitive nature and emphasis on completing CrossFit exercises as quickly as possible may well be a recipe for injury for some exercisers.

“The thing we’ve seen with a lot of these workouts is you go flat-out as fast as you can, but then your form falls apart. You really need to be technically correct with a lot of these exercises or else you’re going to get hurt,” says Porcari. “And it’s nice to be competitive with other CrossFitters, but at what point are you pushing yourself outside the realm of safety?”

Naturally, ACE contends that any exercise is better than none and that if CrossFit gets people up and working out regularly, then that’s success. That said, would-be CrossFitters and those who train them should pay close attention to the potential pitfalls outlined by Porcari to ensure that this current fitness craze doesn’t create more injured bodies than fit ones.

Simple Steps to Holding a Handstand Like a Pro

Article by Tanya Ho http://www.tabatatimes.com/simple-steps-to-holding-a-handstand-like-a-pro/

A handstand is a resting position for gymnasts. It is the point in their bar routine where they can actually take a breath.

Along with being a foundation for gymnastic skill, handstands provide a range of benefits including body awareness, balance, stability, kinetic chain alignment, and midline stability. However, it can be a frustrating endeavor to master, especially in conjunction with all those other skills in CrossFit. Spending lots of time with the wall is key, but try not to get too comfortable here. Like all other skills, the wall is just the first step in seeking perfection in this skill.

Already spent enough time on the wall? Then start coming away from the wall.

The free standing handstand is the next progression after mastering a wall handstand. If you are having trouble being successful at holding a handstand, go through this check list about your body shape.

Are my arms shoulder width apart?


If not, go back to the wall and develop comfort with this set-up position as it provides the necessary alignment, stability, and comfort.

Are my arms straight?

You want to be as straight as possible with your toes over your hips, your hips over your shoulders, and your shoulders over your hands.

A handstand is a resting position for gymnasts. It is the point in their bar routine where they can actually take a breath. Lock out your elbows and push your shoulders up so that you can use your shoulders to stabilize, instead of having flexed arms the whole time.

Is my body straight?


Work on having your body move as one segment. There should be no hip or shoulder angle, and your back should be straight. Any arching or hollowing will shift your body weight and make your handstand more difficult to hold. You want to be as straight as possible with your toes over your hips, your hips over your shoulders, and your shoulders over your hands. Try to be as tall as possible.

Are my ears covered?

Keep in mind that your head still needs to stay in line with your body.

Your head should be aligned with your body and your shoulders should be pushed all the way up, touching your ears. If someone were to look at your handstand from the side, your ears should be covered by your arms. If you have to arch your back in order to do this, work on your shoulder flexibility. A quick test can be done by standing up and raising your arms up by your ears. Can you do this without arching your back?

Where am I looking?


Look at your hands. Keep in mind that your head still needs to stay in line with your body. So move your eyeballs, not your head.

Am I squeezing my butt?

Surprisingly, squeezing your butt can make a huge difference! Remember that squeezing your butt does not mean arching your back. This will make sure that you have no hip angle in your handstand and help keep you tall and straight.

Am I using my fingers?

Practice “saving” your handstand by transferring your body weight around and pulling yourself back to the center.

They are there for a reason. Spread them out and use them to make small adjustments to transfer your body weight.

Once your body shape is mastered, have a friend stand beside you to spot and to help you find your center. Do handstands for sets of 30 seconds and work up to 1 minute handstands with a partner, gradually finding the center yourself and needing less and less of a spot. Take advantage of your spotter and fall in all directions. Practice “saving” your handstand by transferring your body weight around and pulling yourself back to the center. If you do not have a friend available, do a wall handstand with your back towards the wall. Walk your hands out about 5 inches or so and pull your feet off the wall. Try to hold for a few seconds and then rest against the wall and repeat.

The Science of Happiness – An Experiment in Gratitude

Original by Soul Pancake http://www.upworthy.com/scientists-discover-one-of-the-greatest-contributing-factors-to-happiness-youll-thank-me?g=2&c=ufb1

Who would have thought that such a simple action can have such a profound effect on the level of happiness in our lives? Catch the setup in the first 30 seconds, the beauty of the experiment unfolding, the perfect moment at 4:25 that had me a bit choked up, and the best takeaway from it all at 6:25.

Are Altitude Training Devices Worth It?

Article by Eric Wong http://ericwongmma.com/mma-altitude-training-device-review/

OK so we got 100+ Comments on Part I of the MMA Altitude Training Device Review, which tells me you guys have seen the ads and heard the hype and really want to know…

Are Altitude Training Devices Worth It?

To recap, this is where we left off last time:

“There are no studies on MMA specifically, so I had to search LONG and HARD to find something that would at least come close.

This took me FOREVER, because most of these altitude studies are done on endurance sport athlete such as runners, cyclists and cross-country skiers.

But lo and behold, I stumbled upon one, a moment before my eyes were about to explode from reading these cryptic journal articles all day. Scientists reading this – why can’t you write in normal English!”

Let’s go:

The title of this next study is, “Effects of intermittent hypoxic training on aerobic and anaerobic performance.

The subjects included 16 moderately trained team sports players, born and living at sea level, with an average age of 20 years old and weight of 175 lbs.

The average VO2 max (marker of aerobic fitness) was 52.35 ml/kg/min, making the subjects a pretty good comparison to a typical MMA population with above average aerobic fitness,which should include YOU since you’re a regular on my blog.

If not, what the heck are you doing with all the info I’ve made available, both free and premium?

Moving on…

The subjects were divided into 2 groups: control (normal exercise at sea level) and hypoxic training (HT).

Just think of HT as the altitude training group (aka Live Low Train High).

Here’s the cool part, the exercise program they put these 2 groups through is an interval training program, specifically aerobic power intervals, for those who are familiar with the term from my MMA Ripped 8-Week Training Camp or my Optimal Interval Training report.

Here’s the program the subjects followed, 3 times a week for 4 weeks on a stationary bike:

  • 10 reps of 1 minute above the Anaerobic Threshold (80% Wmax) alternated with 2 minutes below AnT (50% Wmax*)
  • Training intensity was increased by 5% after 6 workouts, then another 5% after 9 workouts

This is a decent interval training protocol as it includes a sane amount of repetitions, proper intensity recommendations and progression.

And, drum roll please, here are the results that I’ve put together for you in simple to read chart format:

Measurement Hypoxic Training(HT) Normal Training
(Sea Level)
VO2 max + 7.2% + 8%
Wmax + 15.5% + 17.8%
Onset Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA) + 11.1% + 11.9%
Peak Power + 2.1% + 8.5%
Hemoglobin 15.4 –> 15.3 14.3 –> 14.5
Hematocrit 44.9 –> 44.8 43.9 –> 44.0

“What exactly do these results mean Eric?”

Basically, that when hypoxic training (training at altitude) was compared to normal training, subjects on a 4 week interval training program showed NO DIFFERENCES IN RESULTS.

That means there were NO CHANGES in:

  • Aerobic fitness (VO2 max)
  • Anaerobic power (Wmax)
  • Anaerobic lactic power (OBLA)
  • The ability of your body to transport oxygen (hemoblogin and hematocrit)…

… between training at altitude vs. training normally at sea level.

Things are NOT looking good for Altitude Training Devices!

Now, you might have noticed the difference between the 2 groups with respect to peak power, especially since I highlighted them in yellow. 🙂

While these #’s show that normal training resulted in greater increases in peak power, these results are tricky and are actually NOT significant.

This is mainly because the normal training group started at 729 watts vs. 872 watts of peak power, making it a lot easier for them to increase because they started at a lower level.

It’s like the guy who just starts Bench Pressing can go from 100 lbs to 200 lbs a heck of a lot quicker than the guy who has trained for years and can Bench 300 lbs and is trying to hit 400 lbs.

The bottom line is that this study, which used interval training that resembles the training an MMA guy would do, showed NO DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ALTITUDE AND NORMAL TRAINING.

I repeat…

Over a 4 Week Interval Training Program, Altitude Training
Showed No Benefit Over Normal Training at Sea Level

Sorry, but based on the pure science of altitude training, seeing as it doesn’t work at all, that would make altitude training devices pointless to begin with!

The studies I’ve cited have shown that High Altitude Training (Train High) is pretty much worthless with respect to aerobic AND anaerobic fitness.

Altitude training does not result in increased red blood cell count or improved oxygen transport, thus does not improve aerobic or anaerobic fitness at all and neither will Altitude Training Devices!

Now, let’s move on to some of the other claims these devices make:

  1. Increased lung capacity
  2. Improvements to something called your Anaerobic Threshold
  3. More energy
  4. Improvements in physical and mental endurance and mental focus… and many more.

More pretty big claims from these Altitude Training Devices I’d say!

From the study I just described, #2, 3, 4 and the “Physical stamina” portion of #5 are all out the window.

But here’s something interesting I found about #1, “Increases in Lung capacity as your lungs have to work 9 times harder to get the oxygen in.”

When using the Altitude Training Devices, yes, your lungs do have to work harder.

But that begs me to ask,

“Do stronger lungs or increased lung capacity result in improved performance?”

This is all that really matters and I’ve got an answer for you that comes from a highly unlikely source…

The PowerLung is another device that trains your lungs via constricted breathing. They’ve put some studies on their website here.

The one that we’re interested in as athletes is the very last one (coincidence?) found here:

The study tested a control group vs. a group that used the PowerLung five days per week for five weeks 5 sets of 25 breaths.

Let’s look at the results: using the PowerLung improved lung capacity and lung strength by measuring how much air was blown out after a maximal inhalation and how much air could be blown out in 1 second and 3 seconds.

So maybe there’s something to this constricted breathing after all?

Well, maybe not…

Here at the performance results from this study, straight from the PowerLung website:

“No significant differences for VO2 max, ventilation (VE), tidal volume (VT), or total time.

The control group demonstrated an increase in Anaerobic / Lactate Threshold (LT), a decrease in HRmax and a decrease in RERmax.”

So in terms of performance, there were no changes, except the group that didn’t use the PowerLung improved their Anaerobic Threshold!

What this means for the MMA Altitude Training Devices is that although it may improve lung strength and lung capacity, this has no bearing on aerobic fitness (VO2 max) or anaerobic fitness (AnT).

Finally, with respect to the mental aspect of having your breathing impaired, I suggest you simply train with a partner who mounts you and keeps trying to cover your airways as you try to escape…

Or, you could do this…(http://ericwongmma.com/mma-altitude-training-device-review/)