Why (and when) you should stop CrossFit and Paleo
Alright CrossFitters and Paleo aficionados, get your pitchforks out!
I have seen way too many people over the last few years destroyed by CrossFit and Paleo. The typical story goes like this:
"Been doing CrossFit for a year or more, eating Paleo and the results that were awesome to start off with, have tapered to minimal, my workouts are suffering, I used to think about it all day, and now I struggle to get the motivation to go. I have a weekly appointment with my osteo/physio for [joint issue of some kind]. I'm cheating on my diet, eating chocolate and carbs... I'm in a destructive phase and I just want to get back to where I was 3-6 months ago."
Essentially, the lifetime of a Paleo CrossFit athlete goes like this:
NO BENEFIT/NO HARM
What this means is that when you start CrossFit and Paleo, the benefits are massive, you get very fast physique changes, your energy levels go up, your general outlook on life is better, your health biomarkers all improve. As time goes by, your results start to wane, steadily dropping until you get injured or earn yourself chronic fatigue, or start smashing chocolate bars.
Now, here's the big question...
Is the initial benefit from CrossFit and/or Paleo because they are the greatest things in the world brah? Or is it because CrossFit and/or Paleo are just better than what you were doing previously?
You see, Paleo may have saved your life and changed your health, but it's just a very simple way of saying, "Don't eat shit, add fat to your diet and reduce your overall GI". It may have saved your life, but why continue with it, if it begins to do you harm? I'll go into this a bit more later, but what I propose is:
- athletes who no longer benefit from CrossFit, give it a rest for at least 6 months.
- Change from Paleo to a balanced diet.
- Go one step further and balance your macros.
Let's get into the why...
Shocking the system is what created results initially, but what if you're now used to CrossFit/met con as a singular training modality? Pretty soon, you’re going to be bored of it. Shocking the system with CrossFit every day will make you numb to the effects and is hell on your endocrine system.
Let's get one thing abundantly clear, CrossFit is not a training system. CrossFit is a sport. Any high intensity sport should have a season. The demands on a serious CrossFitter's body are similar to that of a Rugby player. Just like training for Rugby, training for CrossFit should be periodised. And if you're a middle aged sedentary person, exercise as much caution starting CrossFit as you would starting Rugby.
Periodisation is in short, the balance of intensity and duration, making sure recovery is included (rest weeks, slow weeks). There is a lot more to periodisation than this, but if you think of cycling your training between 4 weeks of strength, 4 weeks of power, 4 weeks of endurance, then within each 4 week cycle, you balance intensity with recovery, you'd be pretty close to the mark.
The temptation with CrossFit is to go all out every single time or you're just not doing enough. Many CrossFit coaches tell me that they desperately want to cycle, and even go through the process of creating macro and micro cycles for their box, but the pressure from their clients means that they get pushed back to met-con and oly lifting.
When you're used to the thrill of going all out, a rest day seems like the coach is being lazy. Too often, the uneducated "community" demands through their purse strings things a coach just doesn't want to do. This is the problem with the "community," nobody wants to be left behind.
But, your body doesn't give a shit about how great the community is, how cheap the fees are or your place on the leaderboard. Once your body starts to become chronically tired, and workouts become really poor, and injuries start to occur, it means your body is telling you to slow down. You can’t red line your body all year round.
For the girls
Olympic lifting will make your shoulders, traps, forearms, thighs, upper back and bum big and powerful. Have a look at the top CrossFit and Olympic lifting female athletes on Google and you’ll see what constant oly lifting will do for your physique. It’s also a good idea to look at some photos of yourself when you started (or 3-6 months in when the results were great) and compare your physique. Where has the growth occured? If the growth continues, will I like it?
Below is a photo of the top CrossFit female athletes at the international CrossFit games. Note the quad, glute and trap development the introduction of excessive oly lifting has created.
If you have injuries
Explosive high rep exercise is not conducive to repair. I really think you should, for 6 months, do a strength training program to allow the body and the time to recover. I’d go as far as to say that if you do happen to do any cardio, it is for the joy of it, not forced. This may sound counterintuitive, but if you are doing a strength (controlled weight training) program, you will be keeping your cardiovascular efficiency quite high. Doing a split program with plenty of rest will ensure time for tendons and ligaments to strengthen, muscles to repair and develop, mind-muscle connection to improve, range of motion to improve, midline stability to improve, and a balanced power curve.
The same goes for Paleo
It worked well initially, I’m sure, but increasing fats too much, while reducing carbs is not conducive to long term athlete development. I’m not saying Paleo is bad, what I’m saying is that it’s a concept, and a concept can be manipulated. I worry about people having too much fat in their diets, which is the exact same thing paleo is trying to mitigate – too much of something in the diet (in their case, sugar). Now, paleo people are eating way too much fat.
When you overconsume a certain macronutrient chronically over time, the one that is lacking will become more and more agitated and your body will find a way to get it. In this case, carbs. You're either going to get your carbs from junk, or you're going to get them from veggies.
If you're a Paleo CrossFitter, there will come a time that you just need to change to a strength training program and a balanced, whole foods diet that is mathematical, not conceptual. You can still stay within the realms of Paleo, but certainly not allowing the free-for-all on fat consumption.
Measure your calories, measure your macros. Make sure that one isn't remarkably higher than any other. Remember that there are 9 calories in a gram of fat, but only 4 in a gram of carbs or protein.
Next season, when your body is repaired and stronger, go back to CrossFit if it is what you think you will enjoy. Remember, you only live once, don't play a particular sport because you have to, do it because you want to. Find something you love to do and change it when you get bored of it. The same goes for exercise.
PS, before you start defending CrossFit or Paleo, just remember that you are not CrossFit or Paleo, you are you, and these are tools you've used.
Also, before you start slamming CrossFit, remember that the coaches actually want to help, they want you to be great athletes and achieve your dreams. Why on earth would someone own a business with such low income. CrossFit coaches are great people and some of the most knowledgeable fitness coaches around and I'm sure if you asked them, they would fully support you and in fact encourage you to join a gym as well. Being stronger and more injury resistant will make your lifetime value as a client far better.
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So, what do you think?