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NSCA, CrossFit, and High Intensity Training Protocols Q&A

July 2014

NSCA and the CrossFit Lawsuit

Q: What does the NSCA believe about the lawsuit CrossFit has filed against the organization?
A: The NSCA is addressing the allegations leveled by CrossFit through appropriate legal channels. To learn more, click here.

NSCA and High Intensity Training Protocols

Q: Does NSCA have an official opinion of recent intense training protocols, such as CrossFit, HIIT, Tabata, Training for Warriors and Tough Mudder race preparation?
A: Both resistance and aerobic training protocols that utilize higher intensities (greater than 80% 1RM or Heart Rate Reserve) have been shown in the scientific literature to be effective at improving performance. The caveat being that the athlete should previously have a thorough health and fitness evaluation and be accustomed to increasing intensities of training. In addition, training programs should be individualized to demonstrate appropriate levels of progressive overload and recovery while reflecting the athletes training history, experience, fitness level, medical and injury history, and goals.

Q: With the proliferation of more intense training over the past few years, is NSCA adding to its workshops/courses/conferences to help prepare fitness professionals to lead these types of workouts?
A: Athletes have utilized high intensity training protocols for over 100 years and utilized by running greats such as Paavo Nurmi in the 1920s, Gunder Hägg in the early 1940s, and Emil Zatopek in the late 1940s to 1950s among others. High intensity interval training first appeared in a scientific journal in 1959, and while the popularity of this training technique has ebbed and flowed since that time, the body of scientific knowledge has continued to develop. Research and the use of high intensity training have experienced another resurgence in recent years, which you can see in educational content like the NSCA Journals.

Q: How does NSCA address potential safety concerns with these high-intensity workouts, including various populations (such as kids versus older adults), frequency of workouts, injury risks, etc.?
A: There are a couple of issues regarding safety concerns, detailed below:
The health and safety of participants is the NSCA’s number one priority. The safety of all athletes should be addressed prior to participation in any exercise or physical activity program. While the age of a participant is certainly something that should be considered when designing and implementing a training program, the general consensus in the literature and among coaches and exercise scientists is that training can be undertaken safely. The key is for the coach or personal trainer to be knowledgeable about the physical and psychological differences at different ages. 

For children and youth, it is imperative that coaches, parents and the participant recognize and understand they are not miniature adults. For example, preadolescent boys and girls increase their strength primarily through neurological pathways such as improved coordination and timing rather than muscle mass. Another difference from adults is that during puberty when youth are experiencing peak height velocity; these individuals may be at an increased risk of injury due to muscle imbalances affecting joint stability and weaker bones. Therefore, the strength and conditioning professional should change the exercise accordingly, which may include reducing the intensity, duration and/or frequency. Scientific evidence has shown children and youth can safely participate in and benefit from high intensity training such as plyometrics with proper supervision and appropriate programming. That said, some plyometrics such as depth jumps and high intensity exercises are not recommended for these ages. So, adjustments such as different frequency, volume, intensity and progression can all assist in initiating and maintaining a safe and healthy environment for individuals of all ages and experience levels to participate.

Q: What do facilities offering these workouts need to be aware of? Do these workouts inherently present more liability risk to coaches and fitness professionals? What does NSCA recommend when considering this type of programming?
A: Training facilities should be aware of the important information previously discussed and the following key considerations:
  • Pre-training evaluation – Anyone undergoing high intensity exercise should possess a sufficient foundation of strength, speed, coordination, balance and technique/skill before engaging in higher intensities.
  • Technique – The exercise professional must be able to demonstrate and have the participant likewise demonstrate proper technique in order to maximize the benefits of the exercise but also minimize the risk of injury.
  • Progressive warm-up – Progressive warm-up should be utilized for every session.
  • Strength – The participant should demonstrate a sufficient level of strength before engaging in activities such as plyometrics. 
  • Speed – Many high intensity exercises occur at higher speeds with additional weight such as a barbell; however, before any load is added it is important for the participant to be able to demonstrate they can move efficiently through the activity, first slowly then progressively more rapidly, before adding any resistance.
  • Balance – Oftentimes high intensity activities require coordination and balance for safe and efficient execution. Progressively difficult balance tests are recommended before initiating high intensity exercise to provide information on the ability to maintain balance through the exercise. Examples include standing single leg, quarter squat, 2 leg or single leg.
  • Landing surface – High intensity activity such as plyometrics can have very high impact forces that are transferred to the body of the participants. Having a landing surface with shock absorbing properties (but not excessive thickness), such as a level grass field or non-slip rubber, are a must to reduce injury risk.
  • Training area – Be cognizant of the amount of space needed to complete the exercise and allow a safe environment for multiple people to be moving at any one time. Don’t forget to check your ceiling height before initiating any jumping or pull-up exercises.
  • Equipment – Equipment, such as boxes, should have a non-slip base and top surface and be of a sturdy wood or metal frame.
  • Proper footwear – Footwear utilized should have good ankle and foot support to provide stability.
  • Supervision – Independently accredited strength and conditioning coaches and personal trainers with training and experience can provide the necessary monitoring to ensure proper technique and maintain the highest level of safety.
Q: Is a specialty certification necessary to help professionals lead this type of training? Why or why not?
A: No, a specialty certification is not needed if the professional has an independently accredited certification that provides appropriate coverage of the subject matter.

Copyright (c) 1999-2014 National Strength and Conditioning Association. Use with permission. All rights reserved. 

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