I am fully aware the following discussion will likely generate a lot of controversy as it is a hot button issue for a lot of people. However, as the debate continues to permeate the fitness world I thought it important as both a (somewhat serious) endurance runner and a (not so serious) CrossFit athlete to offer my two cents.
I received an interesting article in my e-mail this morning with the subject line “In Defense of Specialization: How CrossFit Gets It Wrong Again.” It was written by Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running, a running coach and athlete who I have generally enjoyed following on social media and learning from. Immediately I had mixed feelings just from reading the headline. While drawing upon my foundation as a runner I believe that there is significant value in specialization – I disagree with the initial characterization that there has to be an “us vs. them” mentality. Why does defending specialization have to come at the expense of attacking another form of fitness? The article itself starts with (admitted) rants and name calling which to me detracts from the (sometimes) valid points that were made therein.
The article first attacks CrossFit’s mantra that it produces the “fittest athletes on earth” and proclaims that this can’t be the case because there are so many definitions of what it means to be fit (and each definition will vary depending on the context). The fittest marathon runner will not be the same athlete as the fittest sprinter. A hockey player cannot be compared with a baseball player. I understand this logic and whole heartedly agree that in evaluating fitness apples need to be compared to apples. Okay, so far (aside from the name-calling) I’m buying in.
Where I really start to disagree with the article is midway through where it states“…[b]ut ultimately, this line of thinking gets bogged down in mediocrity: If you want to be good at many things, then that’s possible. But it comes at the expense of being excellent at one thing.”
Is this true to some degree? Yes. Again, as a runner I am a believer in specialization (for my sport). Can someone who relies primarily on CrossFit run a marathon? Yes (and they may even be good at it). Will that person ever reach their potential as an endurance runner by relying primarily on CrossFit? Probably not. But who cares if that isn’t their goal to be the fastest runner that they can be? What if they want to (and enjoy) developing basic skills in a lot of areas? (As a side note, the athletes who perform at the Games are pretty darn elite and far from “mediocre”).
At the same time with regard to specialization, I know plenty of runners who do nothing but run who will also probably never reach their full potential. Even though they “specialize” in the sport insofar as they only run, they may not be doing speed work or tempo runs (or races for that matter). They don’t do plyometrics or agility exercises. There are plenty of “mediocre” runners who are perfectly happy with that because it is not their goal to be the best or the fastest athlete.
Which brings me to the real question – what’s wrong with being mediocre? Is the average CrossFitter a super athlete? No – because unless you are seriously competing CrossFit is not about being the best. It’s about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and developing a broad skill set. Can certain things be “dangerous” or “stupid” – absolutely. But this is not exclusive to CrossFit. It’s just as true with running (trust me- I have seen people do some pretty dumb things in the name of training) or any sport for that matter. The majority of us aren’t superstars. We run or lift because we want to be fit. We want to be the best version of our self that we can be. If this means trying to get faster or trying to hit a new PR – so be it.
The article concludes by stating “[i]
While in this post it may seem that I am defending a lot of things about CrossFit (namely because it was the subject of this particular attack) I am not oblivious to the fact that like runners who bash CrossFit, there are plenty of CrossFitters who bash runners. I have personally been the subject of comments along the lines of “I wouldn’t *always* be injured if I wasn’t running so much,” “I will never be as strong as I could be because I run (to which I could as easily counter “you will never be as fast as you could be because you lift too much”), or my personal favorite “running sucks.” But just as there are certain things that I will never *get* about CrossFit there are certain things that I cannot expect them to *get* about my running. And at the end of the day – the people have been nothing but welcoming and supportive and I have become a better athlete for it. So how is that a bad thing?
My conclusion: live and let live. In a society where people are becoming more sedentary by the day, we should be rejoicing in the fact that people are out there and working out regardless of the form it takes. Do what works for you. Support others in their own athletic pursuits. Because at the end of the day we are all in this together. We are all athletes.
What do you think? Specialization or All Around Training (or both)! What are your fitness goals and what do you do to achieve them?