Is CrossFit Good Training for My Sport?

I took a personality test recently that suggests I enjoy arguing. I have the mentality that spirited debate is a sport to be played aggressively. This can sometimes be confrontational and less-than-productive, but arguing about training makes me evaluate my own coaching methods. This all started because I got to arguing on the internet again…

Melissa Witmer wrote an interesting article about Ultimate players using CrossFit as preparation. If you scroll through the comments, you’ll find me stating, mostly-professionally and occasionally not-at-all professionally, that personalized training in sport is essential.

[Ultimate players, if you just want to get to “what should I do to sky more people?” scroll until you see Slev skying some poor helpless defender.]

Melissa argues that CrossFit is NOT good training for any sport. It IS a “general fitness” method. If you lack general fitness – if you are out of shape, if you are weak, if you are uncoordinated, if you lack experience with lifting, if you have never done structured training of any sort, if you simply don’t want to become an elite athlete, if you are an extraordinary technical wizard who is awesome regardless of your training program – then general fitness will work for you. Later in this article, I will introduce a new term for “general fitness” which should help clarify this point. Training moves toward a very specific physical end-goal, while CrossFit moves toward randomness and general physical preparation.

But I don’t want to re-open that debate. Feel free to get involved in the discussion on

This article is about sport training specificity and why you must have skill progression in your training.

I devised this list of exercises for a 100 meter dash runner two years ago, guided by Dr. Mel Siff’s Super training and inspired byThe Charlie Francis Training System:

table of exercises for sprinters

There are 4 trainable components to a sprint race. Exercises should be chosen to improve each of those components. Those exercises range from “the skill exactly” [specific] to “probably helpful somehow” [general].

Improving those exercises and practicing the full race create better performances in the 100 meter dash.


In order to answer, “what program is best for my sport?”, first consider these quotes from Super training:

“Work capacity refers to the general ability of the body to produce work of different intensity and duration using the appropriate energy systems” (this is our new term for “general fitness”)

“Fitness refers to the specific ability to use this work capacity to execute a given task under particular conditions”

“Virtually any methods of strength training will enhance the strength of a novice during the first few months”

“Even though a relatively amateurish approach may produce strength increases during the first year of training, this may not be entirely beneficial to the athlete, because the improvements may not be sufficiently sports specific”

What would be specific exercises to sky someone (catch a disc in the air over another player) in Ultimate?

And when should you use them?

athlete catching flying disc
Photo credit: Skyd Magazine

An Ultimate player needs the ability to jump high after running full speed. Here are sample exercises, arranged from most specific to least specific.

Jumping off one foot to catch a disc at the end of a long sprint.
Jumping off one foot at the end of a long sprint.
Jumping off one foot from 2-4 steps.
Bounding OR one-foot box/vertical jumps.
Box jumps.
Broad jumps or squats.

Reference the last two quotes above. When describing beginner athletes, as Dan John has said, “Everything works.” Researcher N. Ozolin is quoted in Easy Strength saying, “physical preparation should become progressively more specific in an athlete’s career.” In that same book, Pavel notes that “if one can make progress with general exercises early on… why not save the ace card of high-specificity preparation until nothing else works?”

A player that needs to jump high after running full speed should
(1) play Ultimate as often as possible to practice doing that in competition;
(2) learn to broad jump and squat.

When that player has gotten all the easy gains they can from broad jumps and squats (by attaining some basic strength standards and moving proficiently), he should

(1) continue playing Ultimate as often as possible to practice the skill and
(2) progress to box jumps

The vertical component of box jumping, the fast transition from loading the legs to springing up, and the need to reach a certain height are all more specific to the needs of this particular Ultimate skill.

The player continues with box jumps until they have effectively mastered them. Then she moves on to bounding or one-foot jumping. Running takeoffs are always from one foot. So we’re advancing the training exercise as the athlete grows stronger and better coordinated. We’re milking each stage of progression for all its possible gains. The athlete is developing the strength, power, and coordination that support an epic catch by progressing from simple to complex movements.

Dr. Siff notes in Supertraining: “Both short- and long-term progress has [sic] to be carefully planned if the path to Sports Mastery is to be efficient and largely injury-free.”

CrossFit works in the beginning but won’t be the most efficient method over your career as a player, unless your sport is CrossFit.
CrossFit does not progress you toward specific Ultimate skills.

An attentive coach, experienced in teaching movement skills, building periodized programs, and focusing on sport-specific skills can design exercise progressions for any skill. The following is a reference chart of different athletic qualities from Super training. Every sport skill is a combination of two or more of these qualities. It can become complex quickly, depending on an athlete’s needs.

list of qualities for athletic performance
Source: Siff, Mel. Supertraining.

But the question we came to answer was this: “Is CrossFit good training for my sport?”

The answer, as always, is, “It depends.”

In this case, it depends on how capable you are as an athlete generally, how much training experience you already have, what your weaknesses are, and how good you want to be in your sport. If you’re a beginner – or new to strength training of any sort – then a smart CrossFit instructor will help you become stronger and better coordinated. She will improve your work capacity.

Improved work capacity combined with practicing your sport will make you a better player up to a point. However, when your work capacity is effectively maxed for your current skill level, you need exercises that are more like your sport. You need fitness.

No CrossFit instructor is improving your fitness for Ultimate. No CrossFit instructor is improving your fitness for soccer, tennis, or cycling. CrossFit improves your fitness for CrossFit.

A program designed with the needs of your sport in mind, which progresses from your current skill and strength levels to the levels necessary to perform at your best, and which focuses on your exact weaknesses is the only program that is “good” training for your sport over the long haul. That’s a lot to figure out on your own.

Hire a coach. Then you can just focus on playing intelligently and working hard. We will handle the details.

Someone out there is asking, “So why not just practice sport skills exclusively?”

Two reasons:

1. Your skills, at some point, are limited by your available speed, strength, power, and coordination. Example: You have to have more basic speed available in order to make faster cuts. You have to have more basic power in order to jump higher.

2. Training fatigues your brain and specific training is more fatiguing than non-specific training because of emotional factors (you want to be awesome at the skill), physical factors (you do the skill in practice and games frequently and can develop overuse injury), and mental factors (if you’re tired or stressed, you won’t work as hard) (MA Godik, The Preparation of the Soccer Player). So some general work is needed for every hard-charging athlete in order to keep improving.

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