The CrossFit Chronicles Part 3: Doctor’s Orders

Part Three: CrossFit in an Ideal World

What an ideal CrossFit would look like while still flying the CrossFit flag

Part 1: In Defense of CrossFit

Part 2: Admitting the Faults with CrossFit

First off, as you know, I am fallible. Because I said it was good does not make it so. Because I said it was bad does not make it
CrossFit Earthquakeso. Neither does the opinion of anyone else. Nearly all of my colleagues will disagree with 2 or 3 points across all three articles. What’s important is that we speak freely and try to improve things for everyone, rather than set a stage of exclusionary thinking and better-than-thou behaviours. We should be working together, allowing each other to make mistakes of both philosophy and execution. There are no right and wrong exercises for fitness, only options (unless of course said exercises cause an earthquake…which would be wrong). As I said in part one, I often change my mind.  That could happen this afternoon or it could happen 3 decades from now. I am open to discussion on any of the points I bring up, as should be anyone using the internet as a means of opinion-formation

Now, in my humblest opinion, this is what a fantastic CrossFit affiliate would look like. We will call it “CrossFit Doctor’s Orders”.

1. Before the weights…Functional Movement Screen

Crossfit FMSFunctional Movement Systems teaches trainers and doctors alike how to assess and affect change in a realm that is extremely important for high intensity activity: movement competency. As one of the founders, Gray Cook, likes to say,

First move well, then move often.

CrossFit coaches should find the nearest FMS certification workshop, preferably a FMS 1 & 2 Combo course. Before you start, read the book “Movement” by Gray Cook. It will have a profound impact on your view of human movement and grow your appreciation for movement standards above and beyond typical good form cues.

2. Once the client is cleared to move… a thorough OnRamp

Dan John Exercise AlgorithmA good OnRamp should follow a consistent progression similar to what Dan John has outlined many times, addressing the basics of human movement: Push, Pull, Hinge, Squat, Carry. Then, take the clients through progressions from patterning the movements, building strength and diversity in each of them, assuring side-to-side symmetry, and then producing explosive power.

The OnRamp includes WODs, but does not include the more complex moves, such as Olympic lifting, until later in the program. Each well planned hour will have four parts

  1. Quick and easy warmup with foam rolling, smashing, and pain ball work…all specific to the WOD
  2. Minimal Correctives found through the FMS process or taken from a systematic approach of some sort (I might also suggest the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s Corrective Exercise Specialist Course)
  3. A short demo and technique in Olympic lifting, powerlifting, and/or complex movements such as muscle ups and kipping pull-ups.
  4. A progressive WOD, starting with only bodyweight and patterning movements, eventually involving Olympic lifts and many explosive actions over the course of the OnRamp process.

3. Before joining regular WODs…Benchmarking

People will be asked to perform everything they have learned. They will be tested for their approximate 1RM in the lifts that require coordinated strength as the primary driver. Depending on how people score overall, they will be separated into different WOD groups. For instance:

  Apprentice    Resident    Specialist 
Squat BW 1.5 BW 2.0 BW
Bench 1/2 BW BW 1.5 BW
Deadlift BW 1.5 BW 2.0 BW
C+J 1/2 BW BW 1.25 BW
Snatch 1/4 BW 1/2 BW BW


There are 5 moves there. Whatever category they get the most of, that is the WOD group they will be in for the next 90 days. For instance, let’s take me. I will estimate what I think to be true:


Bodyweight     155 lbs    
Bench 185 lbs   Resident
Squat 255 lbs   Resident
Deadlift 375 lbs   Specialist
C+J 185 lbs   Resident
Snatch 155 lbs   Specialist


I would then be categorized as a CrossFit “Resident”. I would do the Resident WODs for 90 days. It would include more strength work and barbell work than the Apprentices’, but less Olympic lifting and plyometrics than the Specialists’. This is done in order to avoid potentially injurious situations (such as snatching to exhaustion before you can snatch your own weight).  My Resident weights would be calculated based on my BW (according to a chart clearly posted on the wall) and/or how I am feeling that day. The Specialists would use “Rx” weights. The Apprentices would use BW or standardized systems to choose their weights as well. Since everyone will still be working out in the same room, the WODs will work together so that everyone has the same time cap or would get finished around the same time. (For calculations, LBM might be better than pure BW calcs.) These types of WODs would continue for approximately 90 days 

4. Once the client is certifiably converted and classified… Periodic Retesting

Every 90 days the box would hold testing for those who wish to progress to the next level. It will be held a few times over a one week period so that people have the opportunity to test. If they hit the benchmarks, they move up. If they don’t, then they stay, and the coach gives them suggestions on how to improve their game, whether through individual sessions or…

5. Throughout the year…workshops, both internal and external.

Olympic lifting WorkshopsCrossFit Doctor’s Orders will put on regular workshops for people wanting to improve their health and performance. They could include topics such as Olympic lifting, Mobility, Joint Health, Nutrition, and Mental Sensibility. This will include a mix of the local coaches and external experts. No more self-validating system here.  In the USA, bring in an expert from the USAW. In Canada, bring in an expert from NCCP Olympic Lifting. Bring in a local nutritionist, sports psychologist, chiropractor, gymnast, running coach, etc. The more the clients know, the better they perform and the safer they are. But even then, things will go wrong. So..

6. When needed…associate with good clinician(s) in town (preferably that “shprekken zee CrossFit”)

The number of CF’ers who have told me that their last chiro/physio/MD told them to “stop doing CrossFit” just baffles me. doctor exerciseWhy don’t they just banish them to a life on the couch, covered in chip crumbs and white vanilla ice-cream pasties around their lips!? In my opinion, a healthcare practitioner should never get in the way of someone who is passionate about fitness. EVER. I can’t count the number of 50+ year old clients I have had who are overweight and under enthused because their doctor told them that they should never run or hike again due to X condition. Opinions on CrossFit aside, that is just not what the world needs. The world needs more doctors refusing to prescribe a drug until people get off their butts and exercise. The world needs more doctors with calluses on the their hands. *Rant over*

CrossFit Doctor’s Orders will associate with a clinician who can deadlift his/her own bodyweight. This clinician knows what “packed neck” means and can at least demonstrate a proper hip hinge. He knows that squats should go deeper than 90 degrees most of the time. He doesn’t put on the gloves when you mention problems with your snatch (sorry, there had to be at least one snatch joke across 3 articles).

exercise-its-cheaper-than-medical-billsMany good clinicians these days walk the line between rehab and performance. Guys like Charlie Weingroff, Jeff Cubos, Gray Cook, and Craig Leibenson fall into this category. They have lots of knowledge in the fitness world as well as healthcare. For instance, yours truly is certified through  NSCA, NASM, FMS, Dragon Door, MovNat, and other certifying bodies in healthcare. If I had to be specific, I would say find someone with some or all of the following designations on their resume:

  • Holds some sort of degree in exercise science
  • Regularly exercises and/or lifts heavy things on occasion
  • Certified in FMS/SFMA
  • Certified in Graston (find a provider here), ART, IASTM, FAKTR-PM, FAT Tool use, or some other standardized soft-tissue treatment
  • Knows what a kettlebell is
  • Gets involved in the fitness world educationally
  • Has a big library and a small TV

A good working relationship with a fitting clinician will not only keep your people healthier, but much, much happier. When needed, they will be going to someone who can help with their kettlebell swing, instead of the last guy, who told them to quit. (If you are reading this and need help finding someone in your area, let me know.)

And finally, some scattered guidelines:

  • Clients would be asked to buy a pair of straps, Olympic lifting shoes, a weightlifting belt, and some tape. This allows them to do whatever they need to.
  • Shirtlessness would be encouraged. It’s lifting, not haut-couture.
  • People would be encouraged to drink water during their WOD, regardless of their time/score.
  • Hook Grip would be used where applicable.
  • Clients would keep a lifting journal, just like any respectable lifter in any other strength sport.
  • Clients are encouraged to set performance goals, not weight goals.
  • Blood and puke will not be praised, nor looked down upon. (These are not badges of honour for training any more than gunshot wounds are badges of honour in war; they are unwanted side-effects on the way to the desired outcome).
  • Scores will be posted only  in the clients’ journal, unless they express that they would like them on the board.
  • There will be lots of team-building activities outside of the box, ie Tough Mudder, Oktoberfest, Paleo Potluck, and whatever else happens around you.
  • Amazeballs. (It needed to be said somewhere in this article.)

In Conclusion

Reasonable is not a word often applied to CrossFit. It is extreme, it is difficult, and it is taxing on the human body. And yet, we see people injuring themselves all the time doing pansy, half-hearted beer league sports and we do not blame the sport. As Big Al (CrossFit owner) points out, I have seen more injuries on the field or in the rink than I have in the closest CrossFit affiliates. Not to mention you can bet your Gramma’s spitoon that CrossFitters are far more capable than the beer-leaguers in every single way. I agree with Glassman when he says, “100% safe is 100% ineffective”. Even the best in the strength and conditioning business have injured athletes training under them from time to time, whether due to their guidance or not. It’s going to happen, and it is not CrossFit’s fault.  Albeit, there are many things that can and should be changed or monitored to take CrossFit from the injurious “black sheep” reputation to a household name. What’s more important than jumping on or off the CrossFit train is that we have a reasonable discussion about it and try to make it the a viable option for Tom, Dick, and Harry. CrossFit is not the problem, so let’s stop pretending that it is the Anti-Christ in our fitness belief system. It has many, many benefits and a few drawbacks which can be circumvented through attention to detail. It can be applied to much of the population safely and effectively if monitored by good coaches and reinforced by proper mental practices on behalf of the client.

Many of the CrossFits that I work with have already implemented lots of the the actions I have outlined here. All of them show the strengths in Part 1. None of them show all the weaknesses in Part 2, but each one has it’s own variety of CrossFit. Maybe I am fortunate to work in a little bubble that has some great CrossFits, but I would beg to say that there are CrossFits in the many areas of the world who are progressing in a fashion similar to the ones here.

Not everything is perfect with the CrossFits I work with, but neither is everything perfect with all the other trainers I work with either. The gyms I like to work with are ones who want to grow in their knowledge and keep people as healthy as possible. Period. I will be advocates for them, solely for this reason. In case you are wondering, the local boxes that I support are:

If you are interested in connecting with me about your CrossFit or facility, whether for a workshop or something else, find me on FaceBook. I would love to connect.

So now the real discussion starts. I have set the framework for what I believe to be the state of affairs in CrossFit. I have told you what the good and the bad is in the opinion of one dude, even though it varies massively from one box to the next. Now take it, digest it, and come up with your own reasonable version. Next time someone asks you what you think about CrossFit, have an informed answer. Go do an OnRamp program. Go talk to the owners. Remember,

Freedom goes hand-in-hand with mutual respect. – Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao