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  • Nathanael Littauer, CSCS

What I Think Most CrossFit Programs Lack

Updated: Jan 31

I've written about my thoughts on CrossFit for sport performance before, but after spending the last few weeks training in a CrossFit gym during CrossFit classes I started to make some observations about the training style that I find worth sharing. Now, I have been outspoken about my neutrality on CrossFit because I agree with a lot of it, and I disagree with a lot of it. This article touches on the latter viewpoints, but please don't miss the forrest for the trees.


As a weightlifter, I've been recruited to compete on several crossfit style competition teams. Which has helped form some of my thoughts on the training style as whole.Photo: Buckethead Media

In utilizing CrossFit as a method of losing weight at the moment, I have trained with the 9am class, which is primarily made up of mom's, dad's, and people who have lots of control of their schedule (such as retirees). I do this because it allows me to scale the workouts to my individual needs; I rarely chase the little "RX" symbol next to my name on the whiteboard. And let's be real, the people in the class are an absolute joy to be around. This also allows me to notice the big 3 things I believe most CrossFit Gyms overlook.


1. Training Through Different Planes of Motion

I've noticed that a lot of gyms miss this, and understandably so. What is typical in CrossFit are movements that are quantifiable to some standard, which usually leads to a lot of Sagittal Plane movements (Forward/backward, Stationary up/down) and a lack of Frontal Plane movements (Side to side) or Transverse Plane movements (rotational primarily). Since CrossFit's training model relies on a little bit of community competition, movements are done to standards, and many movements outside of the Sagittal Plane can be hard to create a standard for. It is far easier to create a standard for execution on a reverse or forward lunge, while doing the same for a lateral lunge can prove to be more difficult. This is just an example, but hopefully you see where I am going with this. Being able to move laterally, vertically, or linearly is crucial to the overall physical health of the body. The same could go for rotational movements, they are hard to create a standard for that can be implemented in a WOD. While every CrossFit gym I've gone to has varied exercise selection, they often miss out on varying the planes of motion used. This isn't all gyms, as I've seen more of them begin to program some more multi-planar work into the optional accessory exercises done "Post WOD", but this is something I believe a lot of gym miss.


2. Not Doing Unilateral Work

This is similar to the above point, but I do see this one as a lesser issue as of recent. More gyms are doing this and it's trending in the right direction. I believe the trend is coming from more inclusion of unilateral variations in the CrossFit Open and CrossFit Games, which is a good way that the sport aspect is influencing the programming as a whole. The problem with a lack of unilateral work is very similar to what is mentioned above regarding physical health, and in particular joint health and integrity. Increasing the amount of unilateral exercise variations in daily programming can help build an even more well rounded fitness. Some gyms are not necessarily doing it in WODs, but many are starting to include it in the "Post WOD" work that is usually optional.

Fun Fact: CrossFit got me into the field of Strength and Conditioning. I originally went to school for Athletic Training before switching my major to Exercise Science. Photo: Tony Pearce

3. Not Having or Communicating Goals For The Daily Programming

Part of fitness or training, regardless of discipline, is to have some sort of goal: long term, short term, and daily. When designing training sessions or workouts, there should be some goal. There is a difference between random and varied, and I've definitely noticed that the best CrossFit gyms out there usually know the difference. If the daily goal is to build strength, then the workout should reflect that, considering the different factors of strength training and physiology that play into reaching that goal. The same thing could be said for trying to develop endurance, power, or anaerobic capacity. These things can all be done through the CrossFit methodology, but having a daily goal is crucial to doing so. The other thing I see as a trend is that if there is a daily goal, it is not always communicated. If you've designed a workout to develop anaerobic capacity and you don't communicate it, then people will ultimately pace the workout and you may lose your training effect. Having a goal is good, but it's only effective if you communicate that goal.


Overall, I have stated that I am neutral on the realms of CrossFit. I personally have enjoyed it as of recent for the community aspects and how it fits my own personal goals. The gym I go to currently is one of the best that I've stepped into, largely due to its culture and how the programming is varied but not random. Certain exercises are included and some are excluded, solely based on the gym's population and the community's values. But from an overarching perspective, I think many CrossFit gyms could benefit from taking into considerations the amount of variation in their movements, and why they choose each exercise. In the end, if they are going to positively effect one fitness levels there must be an inclusion of movement patterns that go beyond what is always subject to a competitive standard.

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