Just what is a “core strength and conditioning” program?
CrossFit Löwe is a core strength and conditioning program in two distinct senses. First, we are a “core” strength and conditioning program in the sense that the fitness we develop is foundational to all other athletic needs. This is the same sense in which the university courses required of a particular major are called the “core curriculum”. This is the stuff that everyone needs. Second, we are a “core” strength and conditioning program in the literal sense meaning the center of something. Much of our work focuses on the major functional axis of the human body, the extension and flexion, of the hips and extension, flexion, and rotation of the torso or trunk.
The primacy of core strength and conditioning in this sense is supported by the simple observation that powerful hip extension alone is necessary and nearly sufficient for elite athletic performance. That is, our experience has been that no one without the capacity for powerful hip extension enjoys great athletic prowess and nearly everyone we’ve met with that capacity was a great athlete.
Running, jumping, punching and throwing all originate at the core. At CrossFit Löwe we aspire to develop our athletes from the inside out, from core to extremity, which is by the way how good functional movements recruit muscle, from the core to the extremities.
What is an athlete?
According to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, an athlete is “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring strength, agility, or stamina”.
Our definition of an athlete varies a bit “a person who is trained for skill in strength, power, balance and agility, flexibility, and endurance”. We hold “fitness”, “health”, and “athleticism” as strongly overlapping constructs. For most purposes they can be seen as equivalents.
What if I don’t want to be an athlete; I just want to be healthy?
You’re in luck. We hear this often, but the truth is that fitness, wellness, and pathology (sickness) are measures of the same entity, your health. There are a multitude of measurable parameters that can be ordered from sick (pathological) to well (normal) to fit (better than normal). These include but are not limited to blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate, body fat, muscle mass, flexibility, and strength. It seems as though all of the body functions that can go awry have states that are pathological, normal, and exceptional and that elite athletes typically show these parameters in the exceptional range. Our view is that fitness and health are the same thing.
Examples of CrossFit Löwe exercises
Biking, running, swimming, and rowing in an endless variety of drills. The clean & jerk, snatch, squat, deadlift, push-press, bench-press, and power-clean. Jumping, medicine ball throws and catches, pull-ups, dips, push-ups, handstands, presses to handstand, pirouettes, kips, cartwheels, muscle-ups, sit-ups, scales, and holds. We make regular use of bikes, the track, rowing shells and ergometers, Olympic weight sets, rings, parallel bars, free exercise mat, horizontal bar, plyometrics boxes, medicine balls, and jump rope.
Aerobic and Anaerobic
There are three main energy systems that fuel all human activity. Almost all changes that occur in the body due to exercise are related to the demands placed on these energy systems. Furthermore, the efficacy of any given fitness regimen may largely be tied to its ability to elicit an adequate stimulus for change within these three energy systems.
Energy is derived aerobically when oxygen is utilized to metabolize substrates derived from food and liberates energy. An activity is termed aerobic when the majority of energy needed is derived aerobically. These activities are usually greater than ninety seconds in duration and involve low to moderate power output or intensity. Examples of aerobic activity include running on the treadmill for twenty minutes, swimming a mile, and watching TV.
Energy is derived anaerobically when energy is liberated from substrates in the absence of oxygen. Activities are considered anaerobic when the majority of the energy needed is derived anaerobically. These activities are of less than two minutes in duration and involve moderate to high power output or intensity. There are two such anaerobic systems, the phosphagen system and the lactic acid system. Examples of anaerobic activity include running a 100-meter sprint, squatting, and doing pull-ups.
Our main purpose here is to discuss how anaerobic and aerobic training support performance variables like strength, power, speed, and endurance. We also support the contention that total conditioning and optimal health necessitates training each of the physiological systems in a systematic fashion.
It warrants mention that in any activity all three energy systems are utilized though one may dominate. The interplay of these systems can be complex, yet a simple examination of the characteristics of aerobic vs. anaerobic training can prove useful.
Aerobic training benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat. This is certainly of significant benefit. Aerobic conditioning allows us to engage in moderate/low power output for extended period of time. This is valuable for many sports. Athletes engaging in excessive aerobic training witness decreases in muscle mass, strength, speed, and power. It is not uncommon to find marathoners with a vertical leap of several inches and a bench press well below average for most athletes. Aerobic activity has a pronounced tendency to decrease anaerobic capacity. This does not bode well for athletes or the individual interested in total conditioning or optimal health.
Anaerobic activity also benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat. Anaerobic activity is unique in its capacity to dramatically improve power, speed, strength, and muscle mass. Anaerobic conditioning allows us to exert tremendous forces over a very brief time. Perhaps the aspect of anaerobic conditioning that bears greatest consideration is that anaerobic conditioning will not adversely affect aerobic capacity! In fact, properly structured, anaerobic activity can be used to develop a very high level of aerobic fitness without the muscle wasting consistent with high volume aerobic exercise!
Basketball, football, gymnastics, boxing, track and field events under one mile, soccer, swimming events under 400 yards, volleyball, wrestling, and weightlifting are all sports that require the majority of training time spent in anaerobic activity. Long distance and ultra-endurance running, cross-country skiing, and 1500+ yard swimming are all sports that require aerobic training at levels that produce results unacceptable to other athletes or individuals concerned with total conditioning or optimal health.
The approach we take at CrossFit Löwe is to judiciously balance anaerobic and aerobic exercise in a manner that is consistent with the athlete’s goals. Our exercise prescriptions adhere to proper specificity, progression, variation, and recovery to optimize adaptations.
The Olympic Lifts, a.k.a., Weightlifting
There are two Olympic lifts, the clean and jerk and the snatch. Mastery of these lifts develops the squat, deadlift, power clean, and split jerk while integrating them into a single movement of unequaled value in all of strength and conditioning. The Olympic lifters are without a doubt the world’s strongest athletes.
These lifts train athletes to effectively activate more muscle fibers more rapidly than through any other modality of training. The explosiveness that results from this training is of vital necessity to every sport.
Practicing the Olympic lifts teaches one to apply force to muscle groups in proper sequence, i.e., from the center of the body to its extremities (core to extremity). Learning this vital technical lesson benefits all athletes who need to impart force to another person or object as is commonly required in nearly all sports.
In addition to learning to impart explosive forces, the clean and jerk and snatch condition the body to receive such forces from another moving body both safely and effectively.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the Olympic lifts unique capacity to develop strength, muscle, power, speed, coordination, vertical leap, muscular endurance, bone strength, and the physical capacity to withstand stress. It is also worth mentioning that the Olympic lifts are the only lifts shown to increase maximum oxygen uptake, the most important marker for cardiovascular fitness.
Sadly, the Olympic lifts are seldom seen in the commercial fitness community because of their inherently complex and technical nature. We do our best to make them available to anyone with the patience and persistence to learn.
The extraordinary value of gymnastics as a training modality lies in its reliance on the body’s own weight as the sole source of resistance. This places a unique premium on the improvement of strength to weight ratio. Unlike other strength training modalities gymnastics and calisthenics allow for increases in strength only while increasing strength to weight ratio!
Gymnastics develops pull-ups, squats, lunges, jumping, push-ups, and numerous presses to handstand, scales, and holds. These skills are unrivaled in their benefit to the physique as evident in any competitive gymnast.
As important as the capacity of this modality is for strength development it is without a doubt the ultimate approach to improving coordination, balance, agility, accuracy, and flexibility. Through the use of numerous presses, handstands, scales, and other floor work the gymnast’s training greatly enhances kinesthetic sense.
The variety of movements available for inclusion in this modality probably exceeds the number of exercises known to all non-gymnastic sport! The rich variety here contributes substantially to the CrossFit Löwe program’s ability to inspire great athletic confidence and prowess.
For a combination of strength, flexibility, well-developed physique, coordination, balance, accuracy, and agility the gymnast has no equal in the sports world. The inclusion of this training modality is absurdly absent from nearly all training programs.
There is no ideal routine! In fact, the chief value of any routine lies in abandoning it for another. Our ideal is to train for any contingency. The obvious implication is that this is possible only if there is a tremendously varied, if not randomized, quality to the breadth of stimulus. It is in this sense that the CrossFit Löwe program is a core strength and conditioning program. Anything else is sport specific training not core strength and conditioning.
Any routine, no matter how complete, contains within its omissions the parameters for which there will be no adaptation. The breadth of adaptation will exactly match the breadth of the stimulus. For this reason the CrossFit Löwe program embraces short, middle, and long distance metabolic conditioning, low, moderate, and heavy load assignment. We encourage creative and continuously varied compositions that tax physiological functions against every realistically conceivable combination of stressors. This is the stuff of surviving fights and fires. Developing a fitness that is varied yet complete defines the very art of strength and conditioning coaching.
This is not a comforting message in an age where scientific certainty and specialization confer authority and expertise. Yet, the reality of performance enhancement cares not one wit for trend or authority. The CrossFit Löwe program’s success in elevating the performance of world-class athletes lies clearly in demanding of our athlete’s total and complete physical competence. No routine takes us there.
“Neuroendocrine adaptation” is a change in the body that affects you either neurologically or hormonally. Most important adaptations to exercise are in part or completely a result of a hormonal or neurological shift. Current research, much of it done by Dr. William Kraemer, Penn State University, has shown which exercise protocols maximize neuroendocrine responses. Earlier we faulted isolation movements as being ineffectual. Now we can tell you that one of the critical elements missing from these movements is that they invoke essentially no neuroendocrine response.
Among the hormonal responses vital to athletic development are substantial increases in testosterone, insulin like growth factor, and human growth hormone. Exercising with protocols known to elevate these hormones eerily mimics the hormonal changes sought in exogenous hormonal therapy (steroid use) with none of the deleterious effect. Exercise regimens that induce a high neuroendocrine response produce champions! Increased muscle mass and bone density are just two of many adaptative responses to exercises capable of producing a significant neuroendocrine response.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of the neuroendocrine response to exercise protocols. This is why it is one of the four defining themes of the CrossFit Löwe program. Heavy load weight training, short rest between sets, high heart rates, high intensity training, and short rest intervals, though not entirely distinct components, are all associated with a high neuroendocrine response.
Power is defined as the “time rate of doing work.” It has often been said that in sport speed is king. At CrossFit Löwe “power” is the undisputed king of performance. Power is in simplest terms, “hard and fast.” Jumping, punching, throwing, and sprinting are all measures of power. Increasing your ability to produce power is necessary and nearly sufficient to elite athleticism. Additionally, power is the definition of intensity, which in turn has been linked to nearly every positive aspect of fitness. Increases in strength, performance, muscle mass, and bone density all arise in proportion to the intensity of exercise. And again, intensity is defined as power. Power is one of the four defining themes of the CrossFit Löwe program. Power development is an ever-present aspect of at CrossFit Löwe.
Cross training is typically defined as participating in multiple sports; however we take a much broader view of the term. We view cross training as exceeding the normal parameters of the regular demands of your sport or training. We recognize functional, metabolic, and modal cross training. That is we regularly train past the normal motions, metabolic pathways, and modes or sports common to the athlete’s sport or exercise regimen. We are unique and again distinctive to the extent that we adhere to and program within this context.
There are movements that mimic motor recruitment patterns that are found in everyday life. Others are somewhat unique to the gym. Squatting is standing from a seated position; deadlifting is picking any object off the ground. They are both functional movements. Leg extension and leg curl both have no equivalent in nature and are in turn nonfunctional movements. The bulk of isolation movements are non-functional movements. By contrast the compound or multi-joint movements are functional. Natural movement typically involves the movement of multiple joints for every activity.
The importance of functional movements is primarily two-fold. First of all the functional movements are mechanically sound and therefore safe, and secondly they are the movements that elicit a high neuroendocrine response. The superiority of training with functional movements is clearly apparent with any athlete within weeks of their incorporation.
The soundness and efficacy of functional movement is so profound that exercising without them is by comparison a colossal waste of time. For this reason functional movement is one of the four dominant themes at CrossFit Löwe.