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The Fittest Man In History, Rich Froning, Talks CrossFit Philosophy (and That Includes Kipping)

Rich Froning Jr. holds a bachelor of science degree in exercise science with a concentration in fitness and wellness from Tennessee Tech University. He's been dubbed "The Fittest Man in History" after winning four back-to-back individual CrossFit Games championships (20112014). He also owns and operates CrossFit Mayhem in Cookeville, TN, and hosts a weekly health and wellness podcast called Froning and Friends.

I have been doing CrossFit for 10 years and competing for nine. I opened my own CrossFit gym in 2009 and worked as part of the CrossFit Seminar Staff for six years. I am a big supporter of the CrossFit community and enjoy helping people gain a better understanding of the CrossFit style of workouts. I know many people are unaware and do not fully understand our idea of fitness. While everyone has a right to their own unique opinions, I would like to clarify our beliefs, the way we go about training, and the way the CrossFit community defines fitness.

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Photos: Dre Strohm

There are 10 skills at the foundation of everything CrossFit is about.

One of the pillar ideas of how CrossFit thinks of physical fitness is how competent an individual is at cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance. For example, I want to be as powerful as I can without affecting my endurance, and I want to have as much endurance as I can without affecting my strength.  Meaning, you are only as fit as you are competent in each of these 10 skills. Together, they define fitness for a CrossFitter.

We train in a wide range of modalities.

Many people also believe that in CrossFit, we do not do many different types of movements and that they do not vary. To illustrate my point, here are 50+ (!) movements that have shown up regularly on CrossFit.com's daily Workout of the Day (WOD) or in CrossFit competitions over the previous year. Most of the exercises build off of each other and challenge you in different planes of motion ("different angles").

Examples of CrossFit exercises: Deadlift, Power Snatch, Full Snatch, Power Clean, Full Clean, Shoulder Press, Push Press, Push Jerk, Ring Dip, Strict Pull-Up, Kipping Pull-Up, Chest-to-Bar Pull-Up, Bar Muscle-Up, Ring Muscle-Up, Front Squat, Back Squat, Overhead Squat, Pistol, HSPU, Push-Up, Sled Push, Double Under, Burpee, Box Jump, Burpee Box Jump, GHD Sit-Up, Glute Ham Raise, Back Extension, Hip Extension, Rope Climb, Legless Rope Climb, Pegboard, Dumbbell Snatch, Double Dumbbell Snatch, Dumbbell Clean and Jerk, Sandbag Clean, Handstand Walk, Rowing, Cycling, Swimming, Running, Sled Pull, Yoke Carry, Sandbag Carry, Farmers Carry, Toes-to-Bar, Knees-to-Elbow, Wall Ball, Thruster, Walking Lunge, Front Rack Walking Lunge, Back Rack Walking Lunge, Overhead Walking Lunge

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, and you know more about what CrossFit is all about, I'd like to directly address some of the recent negative comments made about the CrossFit training style and debunk some common myths.

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First, let's look at kipping pull-ups. 

It's not just Jillian Michaels. A lot of people are against or are skeptical of kipping pull-ups. So why do I believe in them? In very basic CrossFit terms, with kipping, you are able to do more work faster. While, sure, that's not always the point of every workout or every exercise, it is a part of the 10 pillars of fitness as defined by CrossFit. 

By kipping, you are able to generate power from the hip, transfer it through the body, then into your arms, creating a movement that originates in your core and moves to your limbs, and also generates more power. It's like the difference between a push press is to a shoulder press. A shoulder press is a strict movement that does not utilize momentum, whereas a push press uses force generated through the lower body to propel the arms up. 

I also believe kipping helps build functional strength. You are teaching the body to create and control a core-to-extremity movement like throwing a baseball—or if you want to go way back, throwing a spear.

Plus, kipping does apply a full range of motion if done correctly. The kip involves a concentric phase (contraction) when you are pulling up, no real isometric phase (static hold), maybe for a split second at the top, and an eccentric phase when you are coming down into the next rep (lengthening). Also, in CrossFit, we perform many variations on the pull-up—strict pull-ups, kipping pull-ups, strict chest-to-bar pull-up, kipping chest-to-bar pull-up, and, finally, a bar muscle-up. All five of those movements build off of each other and have your body pulling in a different plane of motion.

Next, I'd like to address the broader effectiveness of CrossFit training. 

Are there more effective ways to target multiple muscle groups and practice synergy between the upper and lower body than through AMRAP training [as many reps as possible] and CrossFit? Yeah, I'm sure there are more efficient ways to target muscles but, that isn't what we're trying to do in CrossFit. We think more about movements and general physical preparedness than we do about specific muscle groups and how to target them. 

To further show the variety of CrossFit training, take a look at what my workout routine has consisted of this week: I indoor biked 30 plus miles (it's cold!), swam 5,000 meters, front squatted 325 pounds for reps, performed kipping pull-ups along with chest-to-bar pull-ups and bar muscle-ups (in the same workout). I also snatched 205, 225, and 245 for reps with handstand walk obstacles between sets. 

And what about the safety concerns surrounding CrossFit? 

People constantly ask if CrossFit is safe, and the answer is simple: Yes. CrossFit is safe if practiced correctly. Regarding the safety of kipping, specifically, I believe you need to have the strength to do strict movements before you try to kip anything. (BTW, that's exactly what this chiropractor and CrossFit coach had to say.) If you don't feel comfortable kipping, just don't.

I do believe CrossFit is accessible to everyone. 

I know my week's worth of WODs sounds like a lot, and it is. But CrossFit workouts can be tailored for everyone's skill level and goals—it's not just for elite athletes. It’s about the functionality and scalability to the masses.

My gym, CrossFit Mayhem, has members ranging from 5 years old to 76 years old. We have people with every fitness level on the spectrum walking through our doors every day. CrossFit gyms embody a community that is enjoyable to anyone, even if you aren't looking to ever compete in the CrossFit Open. I truly think the secret to the effectiveness of CrossFit is the community side of it: People suffer together, accomplish together, and support each other along the way.

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