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CrossFit is more fun for beginners, but not more effective than traditional fitness

CrossFit is a controversial but increasingly popular way of doing fitness, in which certified trainers get their pupils, in groups, to do exercises from weight lifting, athletics and gymnastics as fast and intensively as possible. The speed with which things are done makes CrossFit ideal for all those thousands of people who want to take up some form of exercise, but often don't get round to it, you'd think. Sports scientists at Kansas State University have come to a different conclusion.

Study set up

The researchers performed experiments with two groups of about 10 women. The women were all in their twenties and overweight: they had an average BMI of 31.1. The researchers got the women to train for three times a week for 8 weeks.

One group trained in the traditional way [ART]. Three times a week they did a 50-minute session of moderate aerobic exercise, and twice a week they added on a full-body strength training session that lasted 20 minutes.

The other group did CrossFit three times a week [HIFT]. These training sessions consisted of a 15-minute warm up, a period of instruction and workout, and a 5-minute cool down. The workout lasted between 5 and 30 minutes.

Neither effect had any effect on the women's BMI, lean body mass or fat mass. So they didn't build up any muscle mass, nor did they lose any fat. The intensity of the training in both groups was probably insufficient to make any improvements to body composition.

The researchers did notice an effect on enjoyment of the training sessions. The women in the CrossFit group enjoyed their training sessions more than the women who trained in the traditional way, right from the start, as you can see in the figure below.

CrossFit is more fun for beginners, but not more effective than traditional fitness

The longer they had been attending the traditional training sessions, the more enjoyment the women in this group experienced. Because the enjoyment of training in the CrossFit group remained at more or less the same level, the women in the traditional group, if the experiment had lasted longer, would probably have ended up enjoying doing fitness almost as much as the women in the CrossFit group.

The women in the traditional fitness group spent an average of 63.3 minutes on each workout. The amount of time it took the CrossFit group to do a session was only 13.3 minutes [No sir! We did not make a typo...] and that's probably not enough to increase fitness. For this reason CrossFit is not the most optimal fitness method for inactive people seeking to make a lifestyle change, the researchers conclude.

"It may be helpful for adults with lower exercise enjoyment to initiate moderate-intensity aerobic and resistance training when beginning a new exercise program, as significant improvements in exercise enjoyment can occur", they write.

BMC Public Health. 2014 Aug 3;14(1):789.

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