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CrossFit Science Blog- Tony Leyland

Patty has asked me to start a regular contribution to the CrossFit Science page on the website. Although I have been with CrossFit Vancouver for five years now I thought I would start by re- introducing myself more fully and discuss what CrossFit Vancouver hopes to achieve with my involvement (other than improving my overhead squat....which I admit is X-rated). As you know CrossFit is not about getting you to sign up on a cheap monthly package and hope you don’t turn up (as in the Fitness World model where if all members came regularly there wouldn’t be room for them). Not only is there instruction from knowledgeable coaches during your gym time but there is also an on-going education component. CrossFit wants to make a difference in your life and help you to become an informed consumer of the health information that we are bombarded with (some good, some bad and, unfortunately, a lot unspeakably bad). So here is a little about me and how to contact me....... try to stay awake now! I am a Senior Lecturer in the School of Kinesiology at Simon Fraser University and have taught there since 1983. I teach physical conditioning, fitness assessment/counselling and biomechanics courses. When I was new to CrossFit I read the CrossFit Foundations Article and realised Greg Glassman had brilliantly captured what I believed about conditioning from many years of involvement as an athlete, coach and university lecturer. I strongly believe that the science in the field of Strength and Conditioning supports CrossFit methodology. I think CrossFit captured my immediate attention due to the all-round nature of its training. I have been interested in physical activity since my youth, primarily in competitive sports. I have played soccer, field hockey, rugby, tennis and squash at advanced levels. I am an avid skier and during my Physical Education degree I did lots of gymnastics, swimming, and other activities. Although I have been somewhat guilty of focussing on a given sport at times at least one benefit of the sports I play(ed) is that they do not require one-dimensional fitness. Granted I should have done more weights and paid more attention to flexibility, but even a soccer player requires, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy, along with cardiovascular and muscular endurance. I believe this is a big factor as to why I have done quite well in many CrossFit WODs – and nearly puking my guts out on a squash court many times was a big help with the mental aspect of CrossFit as well! Mark Twain once said, “Specialization is for insects” and I think this statement is relevant to this exercise science blog. The marathon runner gets 99%+ of his/her energy from the aerobic system and carrying upper body muscle mass is pretty much a detriment to this event. The picture opposite is of Haile Gebrselassie. He is 5’ 5” 123 lbs and has the world record time for a marathon at 2:03:59. That is 26.2 miles at an average pace of 4 min 44 seconds per mile! In the cause of equal opportunity, the picture below is of Paula Radcliffe. Although perhaps more “acceptable” in our society, it doesn’t take much of a look or knowing she is 5’8” and only 120 lbs, to see she too has sparse upper body musculature. Her marathon world record time is an amazing 2:15:25, 26.2 miles at an average pace of 5 min 10 seconds per mile! These performances are truly incredible, but at what price is that specialization? Apart from the sparse muscularity – which will probably come back to haunt them as they age – there is also evidence that very serious distance runners have a higher incidence of calcified arteries. Here is an easy to read article on this topic (marathon runners have calcified arteries!). Here is another research article if you are so inclined. The fact marathon runners often had more plaque in the arteries than controls may seem counterintuitive but metabolic and mechanical stresses might be a contributing factor. For example, long-distance runners train at increased heart rates and blood pressures (BP), as well as spend increased time in an anaerobic state, possibly leading to antioxidant damage. In addition, damage to the bones might lead to calcium leaking into the bloodstream. Such possible mechanisms need further research, but running for 3 hours with your systolic blood pressure (SBP) at 200+ mmHg does seem a plausible cause. In one case study, based on the patients running duration and intensity, researchers estimated that the patient spent about 30 minutes a day at a SBP above 200 mmHg. This number is well into the BP danger zone and meets one definition of exercise-induced hypertension—a jump of at least 60 mmHg from baseline after exercise. Admittedly your SBP will probably hit mid-200 or more during a max back squat or deadlift, but how long in the week are you going to be at such intensity? CrossFit WODs are, by design, intense – but they are relatively short – also by design. According to research, these temporary BP increases have no long-term effect on resting BP. It is also interesting to note that this transitory increase in blood pressure becomes blunted in trained individuals compared to untrained one. So be wary of sports/activities that focus on just one or two of the 10 components of fitness. If you like to engage in some distance running that is fine, as long as your training includes CrossFit rather than just running. This is also true of just focussing on strength. I can tell you I have seen many students come into my classes who are very strong but crash and burn when required to sprint 400 or 800 metres and run longer distance. From a health and functional capacity point of view, there is no point having a Ferrari engine (muscle) and a lawnmower fuel pump (cardiovascular/respiratory endurance). I am committed to the CrossFit program and education process. So I will be posting information explaining the rationale behind CrossFit Training and Nutrition on the website regularly. I am also happy to hear what questions you have and what you would like more information on. So if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to e-mail me at Tony Leyland I may answer with an article if I think it is a question of general interest or reply privately otherwise. Thanks for reading.