Saturday, 2 January 2010

LuLuLemon, Board Shorts, and Starting Strength.

What do you think of when you imagine a typical CrossFit gathering? You probably think of the latest trends in Crossfit culture. There are many trends in CrossFit: board shorts, barbell strength specialization, CrossFit football, using ridiculous quantities of chalk, and lululemon pants. With the constant changing of style, how are we to distinguish truly superior methodology from passing trends?

The mark of superior methodology is consistently superior performance. Within the realm of CrossFit, we should recognize superior methods by the superior work capacity across broad time and modal domains which they consistently produce. In other words, for us to consider board shorts a superior method of fitness, then the athletes who wear them must consistently and significantly outperform those who train in sweat pants, regular shorts, jeans, and even those who train naked.

We will recognize improved methods by data such as faster run times at all distances, heavier clean and jerks, higher quantity and quality of bodyweight exercises, and better benchmark workouts such as Fran, Elizabeth, and Murph.

Note that efficacy does not imply superiority. Many methods improve fitness, but that does not necessarily mean they are superior. We often see examples of how a CrossFitter used Method X and got fitter. What is missing is how the results of Method X compare to the results gleaned from other methods.

Performance data, and not exercise physiology theories, is the basis for intelligent discussion of fitness methodology. The best available test of fitness as CrossFit defines it is the CrossFit Games. We look to the Games as a valuable source of performance data, though it is by no means our exclusive source. At EYF we also consult our personal experience as athletes and coaches, as well as much outside performance data as we can get our hands on.

Unfortunately for the proponents of popular CrossFit trends such as ultra low-carb diets, lululemon pants, and barbell strength-focused routines, few recent claims of superior methodology have met the above standard. It is hard for us to see the difference between advising Starting Strength for CrossFit and getting tribal tattoos.


JimmyJames said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JimmyJames said...

These are my board shorts. There are many like them but this pair is mine. My board shorts are my best friend. They are my life. I must master them as I must master my life. Without me, my board shorts are useless. Without my board shorts I am useless. I must fire my board shorts true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy, who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my board shorts and myself are defenders of my country, we are the masters of our enemy, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.

Kristi said...

Hey I love my Lululemon pants and I do think that they improve my training because I can blaze through a workout without having to stop and adjust my pants. :) I think that is the reason many people put so much importance in what they wear to train in. If it is comfortable, allows full range of motion, and stays put you will be able to focus on your workout more and not worry about your pants hitting the floor after one strong kip. Now granted it doesn't have to be high speed board shorts or lululemon to work. I have a very comfortable pair of fleece pants, sweats, running shorts, and climbing shorts that all do the same job. I think the problem is that people see certain trends or things done by the elite CFers and think that is the only way to be great at CF because they have not done their own research or seen anything different. That and they wanna look like the cool kids. It is what it is. People should focus more on performance and what will enhance that, not necessarily what the current fashion trend is.

Chris said...

I worry as much about keeping up with gym fashion trends as Tsypkin does about keeping up with shoe fashion trends. I have however, put my ass through 3 sets of tracksuit bottoms in the past 9 month's, all from squatting. If board shorts take the load off my wallet then I'll give them a try, if they don't work then Lululemons it is.

Andrew Stemler said...

and lululemons are??

(posted by an aged uk Crossfitter, 49 and 1/4)

JimmyJames said...

Actually - I've found that Quicksilver board shorts or the like aren't fantastic for squatting unless they're two sizes too big.

What I go with is a MMA shorts from Sprawl with a stretchy crotch. There's never a worry about your goods busting out.

Rich Vos said...

Why do I keep buying CrossFit shirts if they always end up being used as a sweat rag and thrown on the floor...?

Tsypkin said...

Aaaaaand everyone missed the point. We fucked this one up Russ.

Anonymous said...

Wait! I wanted to send a shot out to Kristi for pimping the LuluLemon pants out to me. I love the bumblebee outfit, and it is a proven fact that I have PR'd every time I have ever worn it.

Also, just for effect, Russ has acknowleged the fact that LuluLemon pants make anyones but look better...

John Frazer said...

I think both the critics and advocates of increased strength focus have lost sight of the reason it really got rolling, which is that a lot of coaches (including Coach Glassman, IIRC, but definitely including Coach Rutherford) found that athletes needed the extra strength to be able to complete WODs as prescribed.

Those who've implemented it have often found it effective for achieving that original goal. Many have also found it gives the best bang for the buck with rank-and-file athletes. I think the Affiliate Cup results support that.

Personally, going on 44 and with zero athletic background before age 30 to draw on, I've found Coach Rut's workouts both effective and enjoyable, and more sustainable than the main page WODs.

Finally, don't you all understand that board shorts aren't a fashion trend? They're a necessary part of maintaining the CF brand. Read your CF Journal, people! :)

Russ Greene said...


The barbell strength stuff is effective. My issue is with it being oversold as inherently superior to other forms of training, or even necessary for improvement.

Cindy said...

Too Funny. This whole post and the comments have me laughing.
You forgot to mention Under Armor and 2xist and Nike dry fit clothing.

Anyhow, I've been wearing the ugliest and oldest clothing in my closet. It seems to be working out for me; just fine. Hooray for ugly, old, worn out clothing!

Richard said...


Who says that barbell strength training is superior than crossfit in developing GPP? They would be wrong in my judgment.
However, as John stated, many people have a strength deficit that they need to overcome. It has been my personal experience that focusing on the specific weakness will allow one to advance in GPP more quickly than doing crossfit alone.
Drawing on an old Glassman lecture, a lack of strength is a chink in ones armor. Do you constantly fix up the entire set of armor equally until that one chink is fixed, or do you focus on the weak spot then continue along the path to greatness?

Russ Greene said...


Many people come in to Crossfit with strength deficits. This is true. There are several flaws in extrapolating from this the need for barbell strength specialization:

1. The defining of strength and power strictly within the realm of barbell lifting. Sprinting and gymnastics both build and require high levels of strength and power.

2. Ignoring that nearly every athlete who is deficient in barbell lifting is also deficient in every other aspect of CrossFit, from 200m sprints to L-holds to 10k rows. New CrossFitters aren't just barbell-strength deficient, they are fitness deficient. Rarely will you see someone come into CrossFit with a low 50 400m run, high rep muscleups, 2 minute L-hold, 100 ft. of handstand walking, and a 30 round Cindy, but with a 300 lb deadlift. Not to say it doesn't happen, just that it's very rare.

3. Your hypothesis is that focusing on a particular aspect of GPP is superior to a general fitness program. I am familiar with this argument, as well as with the achievement of strength and fitness that you have achieved with it. Note however, this post's main point, that efficacy does not imply superiority. I agree that your method is effective. However, in order to demonstrate its superiority, you will need to show me performance results consistently superior to those achieved by alternative methods across a larger sample group.

My objection is to your method of thinking, not your method of training.

John Frazer said...


I think the aspect you're missing is that while a person's fitness may be deficient across the board, deficiency in absolute strength numbers is a key factor that prevents people from completing many workouts as prescribed.

If you have an athlete who can only do 2 pullups and 8 pushups, and can only press 45# (not far from where I started off, BTW) the person will be able to complete "Cindy," although he may only get 3-4 rounds in 20 minutes.

However, that person will almost certainly not be able to complete "Fran" or "Grace" or "Lynne" as prescribed. The argument is that up to (and somewhat beyond) the point where the person can complete workouts as prescribed, there is more bang for the buck in barbell strength training than in other avenues.

This assumes that Crossfit performance is the goal, of course. If the person's priority is to get stronger, rather than better at Crossfit, then both barbell strength and other Crossfit methods are only end toward that end.

John Frazer said...

Oops, "means toward that end."

Russ Greene said...


In your hypothetical example, it is unclear to me why barbell strength focus, and not more focused gymnastics training, is the solution. If your deficiency is in pull-ups, push-ups, and pressing strength, then a dedicated ring, pull-up, and handstand routine, scaled down at first and then up as ability improves, will surely correct these deficiencies.

Strength and conditioning coaches who are only comfortable with coaching free weights, will tend to recommend barbells and dumbbells as the solution to all problems. When your only tool is a hammer...

John Frazer said...


I never said that a person should do no gymnastics. Anyone who says that isn't advocating a barbell strength focus, he's advocating barbell strength tunnel vision. Even Rippetoe recommends chins, pullups, situps and weighted situps, glute-ham raises, etc.

I do think the best remedy for a specific deficit is specific training.

If a person has trouble getting the bar off his shoulders in the press, partial handstand pushups won't help as much as more pressing will.

The same goes the other way. If a person has trouble with pullups, he's likely to improve faster by doing more pullups (and weighted pullups) than by doing barbell rows and curls.

redteamo said...

Clothing trends will be clothing trends. People at my box wear all kinds of things, and I don't think anyone looks any differently at anyone based on that criterion.

As for the focus on barbell training, it's certainly not a double-blind, peer-reviewed study, but the data collected at my box (Team CrossFit Academy down in Socal, where I met Russ at the Level 1 cert) is certainly suggestive. I don't have the hard numbers myself, but Coach LeClair could tell you more specifics.

Basically we switched from what you might call a more all-around hopper model of programming to a model based on Pierre Auge's "Relative Intensity" approach, which combines a progressive overload barbell cycle with shorter WODs, scaling the WOD loads based on percentages of the athlete's 1RM lifts.

Coach LeClair started introducing the Relative Intensity programming with just the staff, and after getting very positive results with this (by definition) more advanced population, then expanded the programming to the entire box. All athletes were (and still are) required to keep training logs to track loads and WOD times.

What were the results after several months? Again, I don't have the specific numbers, but my understanding is that there was a dramatic increase in PRs across the board, not only on the lifts (which we would expect) but also on the benchmark WODs (which we wouldn't necessarily expect).

Of course, to be truly scientific, we would have had to keep a random sample of athletes in a control group with the hopper programming, and then compare those results to the results of the Relative Intensity group. Since we had no control group, we have no way of showing decisively that it was the change in programming that led to the noticeable PR increase. However, as I said, the results are very suggestive. They are also consistent with a variety of peer-reviewed, academic studies which have shown a link between incorporating strength training into programming and increased athletic performance in more aerobically-oriented sports (cycling, running, swimming, etc.).

Having said that, I take your overall point, namely that it would be wrong to say that any one model is the one and only model for achieving personal fitness. It is crucially important to be open to a variety of approaches. But it would also be wrong to say that an adherence to combining regular barbell lifting with metcon WODs is merely following the latest fad, without any reliance on performance data.