Do physiological measures predict selected CrossFit(®) benchmark performance?

Open Access J Sports Med. 2015 Jul 31;6:241-7. doi: 10.2147/OAJSM.S88265. eCollection 2015.


Purpose: CrossFit(®) is a new but extremely popular method of exercise training and competition that involves constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. Despite the popularity of this training method, the physiological determinants of CrossFit performance have not yet been reported. The purpose of this study was to determine whether physiological and/or muscle strength measures could predict performance on three common CrossFit "Workouts of the Day" (WODs).

Materials and methods: Fourteen CrossFit Open or Regional athletes completed, on separate days, the WODs "Grace" (30 clean and jerks for time), "Fran" (three rounds of thrusters and pull-ups for 21, 15, and nine repetitions), and "Cindy" (20 minutes of rounds of five pull-ups, ten push-ups, and 15 bodyweight squats), as well as the "CrossFit Total" (1 repetition max [1RM] back squat, overhead press, and deadlift), maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), and Wingate anaerobic power/capacity testing.

Results: Performance of Grace and Fran was related to whole-body strength (CrossFit Total) (r=-0.88 and -0.65, respectively) and anaerobic threshold (r=-0.61 and -0.53, respectively); however, whole-body strength was the only variable to survive the prediction regression for both of these WODs (R (2)=0.77 and 0.42, respectively). There were no significant associations or predictors for Cindy.

Conclusion: CrossFit benchmark WOD performance cannot be predicted by VO2max, Wingate power/capacity, or either respiratory compensation or anaerobic thresholds. Of the data measured, only whole-body strength can partially explain performance on Grace and Fran, although anaerobic threshold also exhibited association with performance. Along with their typical training, CrossFit athletes should likely ensure an adequate level of strength and aerobic endurance to optimize performance on at least some benchmark WODs.

Keywords: aerobic; anaerobic; exercise; functional; high-intensity; strength; training.