With the rise in popularity of Crossfit, many people are trying it for the first time. Off-Season Athlete asked Coach Amanda: Should Teen Athletes do Crossfit? Here’s what she said…
Teen athletes are very adaptive to any form of strength and conditioning training because they are still maturing. This is the best time to introduce them to different types of training, which will allow them to have greater body awareness, and allow them to have great adaptations in strength and endurance because of their age. However, both CrossFit and HIIT training have their time and place to be used as a tool for fitness.
While I think both have benefits, it is important to remember that we are talking about athletes, and not just a person looking to get fit. Athletes should have a specific goal during the off-season, and minimizing injury should always be at the forefront of the training program. So, before answering this question in its entirety, let’s take a look at what both CrossFit and HIIT have to offer:
Breakdown of CrossFit
CrossFit is a training regimen that is defined by, “constantly varied, functional movements, performed at a high intensity.” This type of training uses any, and all, aspects of training programs and gym equipment, from all kinds of body weight exercises, to Olympic and Power lifts, to flipping tires, using sledge hammers, and pulling and pushing sleds. Workouts are constantly changing and typically involve the entire body.
Before the “WOD,” or workout of the day, a skill or strength component is added, such as a gymnastics skill like handstands or muscle ups, or a strength skill like front squats and snatches. This type of training is great for anyone who loves community and camaraderie, and who wants to get into the gym for an hour, not have to think about what they are doing, and get a full-body workout in.
The down side
Coaches are not created equal. There are plenty of boxes that have great coaches with wonderful backgrounds in exercise physiology and exercise programming. Then, there are boxes who were opened by a consumer or businessman, who saw it as a great investment, but they do not have the background necessary to program classes appropriately or to teach the correct techniques to ensure their clients do not become injured. Therefore, when choosing a box to attend, you always have to check the backgrounds of the staff and the coaches.
While athletes can build a great base of strength and stamina for their sport, in my opinion, the risk of injury is too great. Also, the strength training that is performed during the off-season is typically sport-specific, and certain exercises are used to mimic a component of that sport. While CrossFit can build strength, all of its strength components will not be relevant to every sport.
High Intensity Interval Training a.k.a. HITT
This form of training is very similar to CrossFit as it is very intense and challenges the heart rate. However, completing a HIIT workout does not necessarily have to include the Olympic and Power lifts that CrossFit usually includes. In fact, it is better that is does not.
Powerlifting and Olympic Lifting as a sport allows the athlete to lift a maximal amount of weight for 1 repetition, with about 2-3 minutes rest between another rep. CrossFit will use a very high amount of reps during a workout with these lifts, which actually poses a higher risk for injury because poor form usually accompanies fatigue.
With this in mind, HIIT training is a form of interval training, where the heart rate increases anywhere from 85-100% of your maximal heart rate for a certain period of time, with a recovery period where your heart rate decreases 20-30 beats from your heart rate during the working interval. There is a plethora of modalities that can be used for this type of training, and it is not limited to just cardio-type training. For example, HIIT training can be executed with running, cycling, rowing, body weight exercises, strength exercises with lighter weights, jumping rope, boxing, sled training, hill sprinting, swimming, plyometric training, and even walking the dog! And this is not an exhaustive list of options for HIIT training!
Both aerobic capacity and strength can improve with this form of training. Also, this type of training does not require long bouts of exercise. On average, a HIIT workout is 30 minutes in length, and the reason for this is because the athlete will not be able to push passed a certain amount of time with the same level intensity that is needed to complete the workout. This type of workout is safe to do on your own, and it is very effective when translating over to sport specificity.
The one detriment I can foresee with using HIIT training during the off-season is overtraining with the athlete, especially if building strength with resistance training is the main focus during this time. When an athlete over-trains, performance suffers, in both the sport and in training. They could experience feeling lethargic, usually cannot sleep adequately, may lose or gain weight unintentionally, and can become injured. If the athlete wants to complete HIIT training as part of their off-season program I would not recommend it no more than twice per week, especially when the volume of resistance training is higher during the off-season.
The question remains, should athletes use CrossFit or HIIT training during their off-season?
During the off-season, building strength should be the primary focus for an athlete. A HIIT training program can accompany a strength program really nicely, as long as there is adequate recovery time. As mentioned earlier, if an athlete is resistance training 4 or more times per week, then adding in more than two HIIT sessions per week can hinder the strength goals of the athlete.
How does this happen? HIIT training requires a lot of the same muscle used as strength training does. If HIIT is being completed on a regular basis, then the athlete will not be able to move as much weight as they should be able to, or be able to complete as many sets and repetitions for that exercise. Thus, in my opinion, HITT can be completed during the off-season program, but no more than twice per week. Most importantly, be sure this workout is not completed on the same day as a resistance training day. Lastly, before starting any kind of HIIT training programming, be sure to speak to your coach and your strength and conditioning coach, to make sure it is a good choice for you specifically.
While HIIT can provide many benefits for athletes, CrossFit has a much higher risk of injury. This is why I believe teen athletes should not partake in CrossFit training. It is best to wait until they are no longer competing in their sport. Personally, I have a CrossFit background and I think it is a great tool for people who are looking to get fit, and increase their stamina and strength. However, because an athlete’s main goal is to compete in their sport, and minimize injuries, HIIT training would be a much safer option than going to a CrossFit box, especially if the athlete is new to lifting or has never learned the Olympic or Power lifts.
Amanda Maddalena has a Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology, Exercise Science from SUNY Cortland and a Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Central Florida. She is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through NSCA and a CrossFit Level 1 Certified Coach. Learn more about her on the Coach’s Page.