“Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.”
For a lot of us, CrossFit has become our sport. Where we once may have devoted all our time to practicing our jump shots, pitching, batting, striking, tackling, we now focus on our attention on pull-ups, snatches and clean & jerks. We no longer want to become better basketball, football, soccer players, but better CrossFitters. And yet, being a true CrossFitter doesn’t mean we need to give up those other sports entirely—quite the opposite, in fact. As CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman states, we need to regularly play new sports and new activities. Why? For one, it’s an excellent way to help develop the ten skills of fitness (which includes things like accuracy and agility that aren’t always emphasized in a WOD) in a new setting. It’s also fun, aids in your active recovery, adds variety to your week and allows you to reconnect to your sporting roots from high school and college. There are so many different ones out there, but we can be limited by the weather and geography (not everyone gets to surf on the weekend, California). However, if you’re looking to try out some new activities (or get back in touch with some old ones), we think this list will be a good place to start.
Swimming, if you didn’t already know, is a particularly vigorous workout. The world’s best swimmers move through the water with grace and economy, while the inexperienced are awkward, clumsy and inefficient. As Terry Laughlin notes in the CrossFit Journal, a world-class runner is about 90% mechanically efficient—meaning that 90 of every 100 calories expended produce forward motion. The remaining 10 are lost to muscle heat, ground friction, wind resistance and so on. Water, on the other hand, is 900 times thicker than air and is highly unstable as a medium for applying power. Therefore, Laughlin estimates, a world-class swimmer is only 9% mechanically efficient. A typical novice swimmer, on the other hand, is only 3% efficient. Yikes.
Even so, getting into the water can regularly produce some great results, particularly if you are on the mend from an injury. It’s a low impact activity, as well as a form of active stretching, and since you approach near weightlessness in the water, it’s a great way to get some exercise in when you are coming back from an injury. Swimming is also a form of both cardiovascular and resistance training—seeing as you have to propel yourself through water. Swimming significantly enhances core strength, which is important to overall health and stability in everyday life. The hip, back, and abdominal muscles are crucial to moving through the water effectively and efficiently. It is a full-body activity that will boost your overall muscular endurance. When you swim, your breath is somewhat restricted (both in volume and frequency), so as you fight against the resistance of the water your lung capacity is growing, resulting in both anaerobic and aerobic gains.
Targeted areas: Active recovery, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, stress relief, fat loss
You can tell how much the CrossFit community values yoga as a complementary activity by the number of yoga classes currently being offered at affiliates all across the world. This is for good reason: Basic yoga poses (such as downward facing dog and warrior two) help to reinforce external rotation of the shoulder and hip joints—not to mention your overall mobility—which is important for numerous movements within CrossFit. In addition to completely revamping your flexibility, practicing yoga can help you focus, help to control your breathing (which can be a lifesaver in workouts where you are too excited and starting to lose your ‘chi’), improve your balance, coordination and reinforce good positioning. “As Debbie Steingesser writes, “Most of the classical poses in yoga support the same concepts of creating torque, finding a braced neutral spinal position, and always working from core to extremity.” Essentially, doing yoga helps you learn how to move your body more efficiently.
Targeted areas: Stress relief, flexibility, balance, coordination, active recovery
Running can be performed almost anywhere—the beach, on the street, in the woods, even in water—therefore making it a useful variant to your regular CrossFit work. And because so many CrossFit workouts require a good deal of running, it can’t hurt to get a little extra practice in on the side, right? In addition to relieving stress, improving cognitive function, lowering blood pressure and reducing your risk of getting cancer, running can burn a shit-ton of calories, increase your bone mass and improve your cardiovascular endurance. You can vary your workouts based on the distance you choose to run, whether you want to run intervals or even add some muscular endurance training to a run by wearing a weight vest. You may even want to do some sprint training, highly valued by Olympians and professional athletes of varying sports for its ability to build muscle and power (by strengthening the size and strength of your fast-twitch fibers) and increase work capacity, to name just two benefits. Clearly, running has a place in your fitness regimen.
Targeted areas: Stress relief, cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, muscle and power development, fat loss
I love rock climbing. I’m not that good at it, but I love the idea of having to utilize your entire body to scale a massive wall or rock face. It’s quirky, it’s different, and it scares the shit out of me, but it also provides me with a huge adrenaline rush. Obviously, your grip strength is going to double, probably even triple. After all, you’re going to be using every muscle group in your body and multiple joints to move your body upwards. Like the squat, rock climbing requires multiple compound movements to be performed over and over again, which can only mean good things when it comes to improving your strength and learning how to move your body. On top of that, rock climbing can shred fat. Think about it. You’re clinging to the side of a mountain/wall, sweating buckets as your muscles are constantly relaxing and contracting as you move from crevice to crevice. Rock climbing exposes you to the natural beauty of the great outdoors, which can be enormously powerful for relieving stress. Finally, rock climbing is a great active recovery exercise (low impact), and useful for forging perseverance and confidence in an athlete. Fran may not look so intimidating after spending the better part of an hour contemplating falling to your death as you climb the face of a big-ass mountain.
Targeted areas: Grip strength, muscular endurance, strength, fat loss, active recovery, stress relief
Traditional ball sports
Football, basketball, baseball, rugby, soccer—traditional ball sports are what most of us grew up with, and we love them. The athletic benefits can vary depending on the sport in question, but a general list would include coordination, accuracy, speed, endurance (both muscular and cardiovascular), agility, strength and power. But perhaps the greater value in playing ball sports is that they allow you to be part of a team. In truth, playing team sports and joining a rec league is a great way to socialize outside the box, relieve stress, improve almost all the skills of fitness, help with active recovery, avoid the CrossFit burnout and simply have fun.
Targeted areas: Stress relief, social benefits, agility, strength, speed, coordination, accuracy, power
Like rock climbing, mountain biking is a great way to relieve stress and reintroduce yourself to the great outdoors. It can be detrimental to your physical and mental state of being to be cooped up between four walls during the week, so grab your bike and hit the trail! In addition to stress relief and having some great ‘fun’ trying not to die as you hurtle down a steep path, mountain biking can provide you with some great athletic benefits. First off, your legs are going to get a great workout from having to work overtime to get you up the damn hill, mountain, forest, whatever in the first place. As a result, expect to see the muscular endurance of your lower body muscle groups improve. Balance and coordination will also improve, especially if you’re one of the mentalists that insist on hurtling down the slopes at breakneck speed while simultaneously trying to avoid rocks, trees, ditches and so on. Depending on the type of mountain biking you want to try (i.e. terrain, uphill vs downhill, speed, intensity, duration), you can expect to burn a ridiculous amount of calories and beef up your cardiovascular endurance. It’s thought that mountain biking 2 to 3 hours a week can improve your lung capacity by up to 20 percent, which will come in handy at the box!
Targeted areas: Stress relief, balance, coordination, fat loss, cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance
Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.