Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Evolutionary Fitness & CrossFit

This is taken from . He was the Nutritional speaker at my CrossFit Level 1 Certification. Robb is a strength & conditioning coach, formerly a research biochemist, living in Chico, CA. He is an incredible Coach and Nutritionist.

Evolutionary Fitness & CrossFit

Posted on March 11, 2008Filed Under
CrossFit 34 Comments
Here is a great question on the compatibility of EF and CF:


Hi Robb,
Sorry, I couldn’t find a better place to post these questions. There a bit deep so I’m just hoping for any golden nuggets of wisdom.

Are Devany’s Evolutionary Fitness and Glassman’s CrossFit programming mutually exclusive because of the power law variation? People seem to be having great success doing both EF and CF (I’m a CrossFitter).

Also, do you ever incorporate EF principles into you or your client’s training?
Thanks in advance!

- Mikey
Here are a few interesting similarities between CF and EF:

1-A strong interest in economics and free markets.
4-Functionality (with a few caveats)

Now the question is do I think EF and CF are mutually exclusive? No, not at all. I think they are derivatives of a base theme or perhaps a better way to describe it would be fractal: self similarity at all scales. I like thinking about training and lifestyle in terms of how much emphasis we place on Performance, Health and Longevity. I think CrossFit is focused more on performance but I’m still unclear if that is at the expense of health & longevity as compared to a more Evolutionary Fitness-esque approach. I think dropping into periods of ketosis either with or without some fasting is of benefit to health for reasons ranging from cancer prevention to decreasing the rate of cellular senescence. ketosis however will absolutely crush one’s crossfit performance…so perhaps there is a place for some periodization with more of a strength emphasis at some points of the year and more metabolic conditioning at others. I’ve written about this in the Performance Menu quite a bit and some folks like Scotty Hagnass have tinkered with it to good result so there might be something to it. It’s all pretty speculative but interesting none the less.

Coach Glassman has developed an interesting definition of fitness. At one time this involved looking at three models:

1-The 10 physical adaptations to exercise.

Cardiorespiratory endurance

2-A statistical approach to modality competency in which one throws a potentially infinite number of activities into a hopper and draws them out. He or she who does best at this stuff is on average the “fittest”.

3-Another model is the notion that to be fit one should have a good balance in the development of all the engines that drive human activity: the ATP/CP pathway, glycolytic, and aerobic paths. We tend to focus on the use of anaerobic training to develop the aerobic pathway so we do not destroy our power production too much.

What this boils down to is competency or aptitude in various modalities, physical adaptations and metabolic engines. It’s a slick way of looking at things and it mirrors what folks like Devany and Cordain have written with regards to the generalist nature of our hunter gatherer ancestors. Recently however coach Glassman has put forward a more quantifiable method for both assessing and defining fitness. In this scenario Fitness IS work capacity across broad time and modal domains. What the hell does that mean? If we graph the power output we can generate on a huge variety of tasks we will see a power law distribution of our efforts. High power activities like the clean & jerk on the left, relatively lower power activities like 5K runs on the right and a everything under the sun mixed between.

CrossFit’s contention is the smart use of mixed modal strength & conditioning will increase ones capacity across all these domains and modalities. There are obviously limitations to this and we see a point of diminishing returns on the strength side of things. Once we get past a 6XBW on the crossfit total the ability to express high work output on things like 5K runs drops off pretty severely. Interestingly however we are seeing some top end endurance athletes get a fairly impressive strength base and this is increasing their long efforts…it will be interesting to see where that experiment finishes.

So this concept of increasing work capacity across broad time in modal domains offers a quantifiable way of measuring fitness. Perform more work in less time and you are more fit! Another model that can be helpful is the sickness-wellness-fitness continuum. In this model we can order any marker of health we like, blood pressure, bone density, mental state…we can stratify this from sick to well to fit and we can use this as a guide for assessing our efforts. If we want to add 50kg to our OL total but the gallon of ice cream we eat each night drives our triglycerides through the roof this decision is most assuredly counter to fitness and I’d wager health and longevity. Keep in mind this is not a value judgement, if you want to add that 50kg go for it, just know there may be a price to be paid for your efforts.

From both the Evolutionary Fitness and CrossFit perspective we are wired to have a fitness the is “Broad, general and inclusive”. With this in mind we can use the model of increasing work capacity across broad time and modal domains coupled with the sickness-wellness-fitness continuum to quantify fitness and balance our efforts.

This is a loooong winded way of saying I think CF and EF are quite compatible ideologies and really just show a difference in focus.

Mike also asked if I use EF technologies in my training and I definitely do. The Hierarchical sets are very time efficient and a nice way to introduce some intensity without too much volume. On the CF side of training I end to stick with couplets and triplets with an emphasis on shorter efforts. Most of our folks are lacking in strength and this is a great way to focus on fundamentals and help people get stronger. Many of the newer affiliates get enamored with chippers and hour long WOD’s…they are really missing the point of CF and blunting the potential adaptations.

Thanks for the question Mike!

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