Monday, February 23, 2009

CrossFit and Science

Today's WOD:

21 Deadlift 123#
21 Knee to elbows
Run 400 meters
15 Deadlift
15 Knee to elbows
Run 400 meters
9 Deadlift
9 Knee to elbows
Run 400 meters

My time: 18:49. Not too far from the Rx'd weight of 155#.

Check out Tim's post today. I really like his rant (quoted below). Read this! Please think about it!

"If you are one of those people who are at a crossroads about what to do about improving your health and fitness keep this in mind: None of your physical ailments or health is going to improve unless you do something about it. None of your ailments will "just go away". These problems will not only not go away, but will continue to get worse, robbing you of the quality of life you deserve. It is up to you to make the choice to change and take control of your life."

Okay, now I'm going to be a little snarky. Also on today's post was a video of Coach Glassman talking about sickness, wellness, and fitness and measures of health and fitness. There were some important points in there, but I think it was a confusing way to make them, especially all the nonsense with the graphs. So I'm going to try to distill it into the points I think he was making.
  1. All people fall somewhere on a continuum with sickness at one end, fitness at the other end, and wellness in between.
  2. There are many ways to measure where you fall on this continuum (percent body fat, cholesterol, blood pressure, VO2 max, bone density, Fran time, max deadlift, etc.).
  3. These measures tend to be highly correlated. If your Fran time improves, your VO2 max gets better, your percent body fat is likely to fall, your cholesterol levels improve, etc., indicating better overall health.
  4. If you try to optimize on only one measure, there will be tradeoffs with other measures. For example, your doctor wants you to get your cholesterol down, so he prescribes a drug, which then hurts your bone density.
  5. If instead you concentrate on doing the right things (varied, high-intensity, functional, weight-bearing exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep, etc.), your measures will improve across the board, resulting in better overall health/fitness.
  6. To maximize quality of life, your goal should be to retain as much functional wellness-to-fitness as possible as you age. (So you can be that 90-year-old guy who kicks the mugger's ass and gets all the ladies - I think this was stated somewhat more colorfully in the video.)
(If you think I'm missing any of his points, please leave a comment.)

The graphs Glassman was drawing were pretty irrelevant to the points he was making. When you want to describe a linear relationship between 2 (or more) meaures - when measure 1 goes up, measure 2 goes up - you don't really gain anything by graphing it. It's just as easy to say "these two measures are related; when one goes up, the other goes up". Similarly, the curve representing the continuum from sickness to fitness doesn't seem to mean anything - it's just as easy to describe the continuum in words. It might be interesting to see a graph that showed how many people fit under which part of the continuum, so that the x (horizontal) axis is the continuum from sickness to fitness and the y (vertical) axis is proportion of the population. I suspect it would be a normal (bell-shaped) curve, but I don't know. Actually there are probably a lot more sick people than fit people, so maybe not.

Now for a little rant. The CrossFit gurus are very drawn to scientific explanations, the scientific method, data as evidence, etc. This is a great tendency in a world that's not very friendly to science! I really respect these guys for their focus on data and mechanistic explanations. However, they generally don't have the background/scientific vocabulary to explain things this way, and without this background, they're likely to grasp onto things that sound or seem scientific, like graphs. It makes me want to write a book, Science for CrossFitters! Or maybe Data Analysis for CrossFitters or The Scientific Method for CrossFitters. I bet I could sell at least 10 copies! :)

In all seriousness, I think it is critical for CrossFit to be explained and validated in clear scientific terminology, in a way that's respected by the scientific community, in order to break through barriers and be taken seriously, by the academic community (kinesiology departments, etc.) and society at large. The data is there to back up the methods, but sound science and clear communication are key to changing the world and its approach to fitness and health.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

Crossfit Science of Exercise Cert,
micheal Ray - U of CO
Mathieu LaLond PhD BIOChem - Harvard
Stef Bradford PhD Pharm and Cancer Bio
Lon Kilgore PhD Physiology
Jeff Glassman PhD systems Science

I want to go