CrossFit and The Seven Grandaddy Laws

by: Josh Bryant

Popcorn Sutton had a meticulous approach to moonshine-making. He would scour the mountains for the perfect holler, a secluded spot where he could set up his operation undisturbed. 

Popcorn would search for the finest creek, with water that ran pure and crisp, which was essential for creating a top-notch brew. When it came to the pipes, he had an eye for detail, carefully choosing ones with just the right amount of rust to infuse his moonshine with a unique character. The result was a potent concoction that packed a punch but went down as smooth as a mountain breeze.

If you want this same kind of success when writing training programs, you turn to the Seven Grandaddy Laws compiled by my mentor, the late, Dr. Fred Hatfield!

A Review of the Seven Grandaddy Laws

Over the past 15 years, Crossfit has undeniably made significant strides in advancing legitimate training modalities. No other method, system, or individual has had such a profound impact on the world of fitness. Kudos to Crossfit for their contributions. Now, the question arises: Does Crossfit adhere to the Seven Grandaddy Laws?

CrossFit’s mission is to prepare trainees for every physical contingency, whether it involves assisting your neighbor in moving a couch or unexpectedly dominating a Chippendales-style dance-off at a Waffle House bachelorette party. They truly believe in the importance of staying ready, so you don’t have to get ready.

CrossFit does this with varying functional movements at high intensity with a very strong community environment.

“Our specialty is not specializing,” says CrossFit founder, Greg Glassman.  

What exactly is CrossFit?

CrossFit training concurrently trains powerlifting, aerobic exercise, bodyweight/gymnastic exercises, and Olympic weightlifting. Workouts are demanding, all-out physical exertion.

Training sessions combine movements such as sprinting, rowing, jumping rope, climbing rope, flipping tires, weightlifting, carrying heavy objects, and many bodyweight exercises; equipment used includes barbells, dumbbells, gymnastics rings, pull-up bars, kettlebells, medicine balls, and boxes for box jumps. 

The aforementioned modalities are combined to create the “Workouts of the Day” or “WODs”. CrossFit classes at affiliate gyms, or “boxes”, consisting of practicing a skill of the day, a high intensity WOD and a group cool down.

Performance on each WOD is often scored to encourage competition and to assess progress. The better affiliates offer extra classes aimed at the acquisition of skills like Olympic weightlifting, not as part of WOD.

The WOD changes each day and there are a lot of them.  Here are some examples.

  • The Barbara involves five circuits of 20 pull-ups, 30 push-ups, 40 sit-ups, and 50 body weight-only squats performed in order, while only resting at the end of each circuit for a 3-minute period.
  • The Angie – 100 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 bodyweight-only squats to be accumulated (not performed in a row, unless you are fit enough) during the entire workout.  
  • The Murph – a timed 1-mile run, followed by 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 body weight squats, finished off by another 1-mile run.
  • The Jackie – 1,000 meter row, 50 thrusters with a selected weight, and 30 pull-ups: preferably performed without any rest between each exercise.  

There are more WOD than carter has pills! 

A recent one I heard from a supposed competitor that accosted me at Allsup’s in West Texas was a 400-meter sprint  followed by a 275-pound max reps deadlift and then a number of gymnastics movements, done three times in a row. Mind you, this Clodhopper looked like the only training he had been doing was at the International House of Pancakes!

CrossFit, to reiterate, has benefited the fitness industry as a whole. 

Bosu balls have popped and have been swapped out for more effective barbell training, bodyweight exercises and rope climbs.  Long, slow cardio no longer has a monopoly for all conditioning.  Frankly, just more folks are testing their testicular fortitude.  

CrossFit potential benefits: increased strength/endurance, mental toughness, minimizing overuse injuries because of exercise variety, time effective, camaraderie and positive hormonal response because of high intensity/high volume exercise with minimal rest intervals. 

Strength Coach Mark Rippetoe had this to say about CrossFit founder Greg Glassman (and I agree), “My own opinion of Greg [Glassman] is that he has done more to legitimize actual training in the minds of the public than any other person since Arthur Jones destroyed it in the mid-70s.”

World renowned spinal biomechanics expert, Dr. Stuart McGill, acknowledges any serious strength training program carries some risks but believes the risks of CrossFit far outweigh the potential benefits because of rep maxes in complex movements that must be completed in specific time intervals.  McGill has gone on to criticize CrossFit’s online community that post workout routines to follow that are completely unsupervised.

Fitness guru, Alwyn Cosgrove, had this to say about CrossFit, “A recent CrossFit workout was 30 reps of snatches with 135 pounds. A snatch is an explosive exercise designed to train power development. Thirty reps is endurance. You don’t use an explosive exercise to train endurance; there are more effective and safer choices.”

Cosgrove is being polite; high rep Olympic lifting is on par with running head first into brick walls in the name of neck strengthening.

 Most division one athletes have horrendous form with Olympic lifts, the average person doing these neurologically complex movements for high reps epitomizes poor, unsafe form because snatches and clean and jerks are technically-complex lifts, and technique deteriorates under fatigue.

There is a time and place for conditioning but not with the Olympic lifts. After 6-8 reps, the relatively small rhomboids will tire out; so even if you start cleaning with great technique, technique will change regardless.

Alwyn Cosgrove had an interesting observation to CrossFit’s claim of avoiding overuse injuries because of constant exercise variation, “Another one (workout) was 30 muscle-ups. And if you can’t do muscle-ups, do 120 pull-ups and 120 dips. It’s just random; it makes no sense. Two days later the program was five sets of five in the push jerk with max loads. That’s not looking too healthy for the shoulder joint if you just did 120 dips 48 hours ago.”

Besides potential injuries, CrossFit has other issues.

Believing you can progress maximally without a plan is like believing that Uncle Fester just read Playboy for the articles.

 CrossFit prides itself on participants being ready for anything. If everyone trains the same, this is impossible—if a world champion super heavy weight powerlifter with poor endurance, a middle-aged, untrained lawyer with little limit strength and a marathon runner do the same WOD—this is the antithesis of being ready for anything—they all have different needs!

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and to be balanced across biomotor abilities, individual weaknesses will have to be addressed.  This will be accomplished through training weaknesses in specific blocks focused on the lacking areas of fitness—until it is no longer a weakness.

According to Charles Poilquin, “If you try to do everything in your workout, you get nothing. CrossFit is different, and maybe even fun for some people, but it’s not very effective. No athlete has ever gotten good training like that.”

It is impossible to be at 100 percent all the time. 

The human body can only handle so much concurrent training and trying to train all aspects in one block, let alone one workout, in a best-case scenario, desired adaptations will be subpar and in a worst case scenario, injury will result. 

Many in CrossFit might consider this a “copout” because emphasis would be misconstrued as specialization.  Compromise has to be part of a periodized program, there is a tradeoff between power and endurance, to what degree will have to be programmed on a case-by-case basis.

The more a person compromises, the greater the improvement is on the focused trait.

Crossfit  founder Greg Glassman believes CrossFit methods are superior for developing muscle mass. Glassman has espoused this list of effective muscle-gaining methods, ranked from most to least effective:

1. Bodybuilding on steroids 

2. CrossFit on steroids 

3. CrossFit without steroids 

4. Bodybuilding without steroids 

Scientific and anecdotal evidence disagrees with Glassman. Anecdotally, I have always been amazed at how little physical change takes place when someone starts CrossFit transitioning from more traditional methods.  

People are giving full effort or flat out lying about doing CrossFit because some physical change would have to take pace with that intense of a regimen, it’s like the 400-pound powerlifters that claim they are on a on a regimented meal plan.

CrossFit is working out, not training.  Working out is what you do to feel a certain way today, training is specific plan with long term progression and adaptations in mind.

You cannot overload training, if exercises are constantly changing, it is impossible to quantitatively track progress.

Periodization would be impossible with a CrossFit group simply because of attendance.  Every day is a workout of the day—doesn’t matter if you train daily or twice a weekend; frequency is a key factor in how to distribute the training load. It is impossible to plan off the Fitness Fatigue model.

Furthermore, high levels of limit strength take years of training, relatively high endurance can be achieved in a few months of training.  Strength is the foundation of all athletic endeavors, the ideal way to train for CrossFit would be to first develop a limit strength case then build other motor abilities off strength.

CrossFit—Good or bad?  It really comes down to the coach; good coaches emphasize technique and limit strength before metabolic components.  I have met really knowledgeable CrossFit coaches and really bad ones, good or bad comes down to the coach on a “box” by “box” basis. 

PrincipleDoes CrossFit Obey
Principle of Individual DifferencesNo
Principle of OvercompensationPossible
Principle of OverloadPossible
SAID PrincipleNo
USE/Disuse PrincipleNo
The Specificity PrincipleNo
GAS PrincipleNo

CrossFit’s WOD clearly violates the Principle of Individual Differences. The Principles of Overload and Overcompensation can easily be violated because exercises are always different, so if weight, reps, sets, density etc. are not increased, this is clear violation.  Because of all of the conflicting demands, specific adaptations do not happen, violating the SAID Principle.  The USE/Disuse means simply use it or lose it; since workouts are random, you can’t lose what you don’t use.  

CrossFit training violates the Specificity Principle because training should work like a funnel; moving from general to specific.  From day one workout of the day, there is no pretense to any sort of foundational training. The GAS principle is violated because all CrossFit workouts are 100 percent intensity.

Final Thoughts 

Overall, I am grateful for CrossFit and its contributions to our industry.  While there are plenty of bad boxes run by overzealous fools, there are also many amazing ones!  

CrossFit, properly periodized, is an amazing thing, non-periodized WODS are a complete disaster. 

My advice- judge CrossFit on a box-by-box basis!

Thrive with one of Josh’s Periodized Programs HERE