I am not the first person to write an article on this topic and I probably won’t be the last, but I have recently heard of several baseball programs and players who are using Crossfit workouts as a conditioning program and I thought I would share my thoughts on this topic.
First of all let me make clear that I am in no way saying that Crossfit is a poor workout methodology. In fact, I have been a member at two Crossfit gyms in the last 3 years and have performed a substantial number of workouts that Crossfit has to offer. And yes, most of them thoroughly kicked my butt and left me gasping for air by the end. But I am also a member of the general public these days. I am no longer a baseball player or pitcher who is trying to improve my specific skill set to help enhance my performance on a baseball diamond. These days I am just trying to stay in shape and find a way to be competitive while working out, which Crossfit is great at.
Although Crossfit may be good for the general population, it fails to beneficially train baseball players in several ways. First, and perhaps most importantly, Crossfit is inherently a workout regimen designed to target the aerobic energy system. The aerobic energy system is the long duration energy system in which energy is supplied by oxygen. This system normally becomes the primary energy system after a few minutes of continuous exercise. In nearly every WOD (workout of the day) in the Crossfit regimen, even the shortest workouts are at least 3 or 4 minutes in length, with many approaching 20 minutes of continuous exercise.
The reason this is a problem is because of the fact that a baseball player, whether a pitcher or hitter, doesn’t use this energy system. Baseball athletes use the ATP energy system, which can provide energy for movements up to 10 seconds. A pitch or swing is a very short, explosive movement that is followed by a 10-20 second rest before the movement is repeated. This is far different than a continuous movement for many minutes at a time. Consequently, if a pitcher or hitter wants to increase their explosiveness, whether it is to increase the velocity on his fastball or improve his bat speed, he will need to train to be explosive through short explosive movements.
Perhaps the best way to put it in perspective, a 100 meter sprinter does not train by running long distances. Instead, that sprinter works on running short distances, such as training to be as explosive as possible off the blocks. In the same regard, a baseball athlete is not going to be helping himself by training for long periods of time in order to be more explosive.
Another problem with Crossfit for baseball athletes are the types of movements that are performed in most Crossfit workouts. The majority of workouts are a random sampling of linear movements. Whether it is running, pushups, pullups, kettlebell exercises, dead lifts, cleans, wall ball shots, squats, jerk cleans, etc., all of these exercises are linear in nature. Baseball on the other hand is a rotational game. Nearly every movement requires the athlete to generate as much rotational power possible in the shortest amount of time. This specific rotational demand is physically demanding and requires that attention be paid to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are helping to generate this rotational movement.
By simply performing a random selection of exercises that don’t require any type of rotational movement, a baseball athlete is not preparing himself for the stress that those rotational movements will create on his body. In particular, a baseball athlete needs to specifically address thoracic spine and hip mobility as well as anti-rotation core stability. Crossfit does not address these sport specific concerns.
As I alluded to earlier, Crossfit is a workout designed for the general population and the needs of the general public, not the specific needs of a baseball player. Baseball players are unique specimen in several regards. As Eric Cressey stated, “the shoulders you are training when working with baseball players (and pitchers, in particular) are not the same as the ones you see when you walk into a regular ol’ gym.” Baseball players have a much greater degree of motion in their shoulders than the general public as well as a number of other abnormalities in the form of extreme mobility in some joints and extreme lack of mobility in others, due to the repetitive, one sided movements that the game requires. Crossfit does nothing to take these factors into account.
Last but not least, is the fact that Crossfit workouts require athletes to perform movements when they are fatigued, and for any elite athlete this is dangerous. If you have ever seen the end of a Crossfit workout athletes are often barely able to stay on their feet, much less perform lifts with proper form. It is often scary to see the amount of extra stress placed on the back, shoulders, and knees because the Crossfit athlete is too exhausted to maintain his posture. Baseball already poses so many risks of injury to the body that to put yourself at risk with a workout that doesn’t prepare you very well for your sport’s movements is not smart.
There are many sport specific training programs out there that can help prepare a baseball athlete for the sport specific needs that he requires. Whether you are an innovative and knowledgeable person that understands the types of exercises needed to help a baseball player improve, or find great training programs that have already been assembled by people such as Ron Wolforth, Eric Cressey, or Lee Fiocchi, you will be far better off than relying on a generalized program like Crossfit.
Until next time,