Ask a Trainer (Vol. 14)

Welcome to Ask a Trainer, Volume 14.

We haven’t done an omnibus question post in a while, so today’s the day! If you’ve missed the ones that came previously, head on over to the Ask a Trainer archives and read on!

You got questions? We got answers! Send an email to crossfitcatonsville@gmail.com with all your fitness, health, and wellness queries. You might even end up in the next Ask a Trainer!


1. I’m a woman who is interested in lifting but I don’t want to get bulky. Can I still do CrossFit?

I get this question so often it’s nuts, and the answer is: absolutely! Women and men differ in a great many ways, not the least of which is in the realm of how we respond to different fitness modalities (i.e. ways of working out). While both men and women can lift weights and see amazing health results as a function of doing so, very few women have the genetics to become anything even remotely close to bulky. The two key factors are both hormones.

Men have a higher level of testosterone and lower estrogen. This makes us more inclined towards building muscle mass in general, but especially as a result of dedicated training to do so. Women, conversely, have higher estrogen and lower testosterone, making them more likely to store body fat and less likely to build muscle mass. This is also the reason why men tend to be sore from a workout the day after, while it often takes women two days to feel the same muscle soreness even from the same level of intensity. The more testosterone in the body, the faster muscle can be repaired after exercise, and the quicker healthy soreness kicks in.

This being the case, it means that women have a harder time building bulky muscle, but not necessarily a harder time getting stronger. It’s the “bulk factor” that changes between the genders. So, ladies, don’t worry about turning into Arnolina Schwarzenegger. Without steroids, it probably won’t happen.

2. When do I change my fitness plan/routine?

Short answer: when it doesn’t work (at all or anymore).

Longer answer: the entire point of engaging in a fitness program is to see beneficial changes to our health. We lift weights to get stronger, build muscle, burn more calories at rest, and look better naked. We run so we can run better…and to look better naked. Pilates or yoga should be helping us become more flexible…and to look better naked. Yes, it’s a theme, we like to couple health with aesthetics, but who says that’s such a bad thing?

Anyway, if you are working based on a fitness program that is providing you the results you want, then you can stick with that program. Once that program stops providing the results it’s supposed to provide, it’s time to make some kind of change. This is called a “plateau” and it’s a great indicator that your current program no longer meets your needs. Changes might be as simple as adding another movement in your lifting set, or as complicated as a total overhaul.

Another reason to change the program is if you’re getting bored and it’s affecting your ability to motivate yourself to workout. This isn’t to say that not wanting to hit the gym every so often is reason to switch, because everyone gets that from time to time. For instance, I love CrossFit classes but sometimes I just want to do something else that day. On days where it makes sense, I’ll change up my plan to work the same muscle groups but in a different way (like by practicing a little Parkour). On days where I can’t do that, I just roll with my normal workout and deal with it. You don’t have to love it every single time for it to be effective. BUT that being said, if you find yourself continually missing workouts due to demotivation, it might be a good idea to change it up for a few weeks or months to refresh yourself.

3. Should my kids be in a general physical fitness/Strength & Conditioning program?

Yes!

First, lets look at the current most common physical outlet for kids: sports. About 30 million kids in the United States play some kind of children’s sport such as football, soccer, tennis, etc. Of those kids who play every year, 3.5 million of them will incur some kind of injury that forces them to miss game time, practice, etc. Said a different way, every year approximately 11.7% of all kids playing sports will be hurt bad enough to not be able to play for a significant amount of time.

The most common reasons include heavy contact (football), failure to prepare properly (i.e. not warming up in practice), or over-use injury (i.e. throwing out a shoulder or hip from doing too many sport-specific drills). Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students, while younger kids are usually seen for impact traumas (with people and objects) or over exertion. About 62% of these injuries happen during practice, which in theory should be less likely due to a more controlled environment (the reality is, this isn’t the case). There are some resources for further reading on this a little later.

Next, lets look at a general strength and conditioning program for kids (like CrossFit Kids, for example). There are three major differences between a kids S&C program and a sport program:

  1. The S&C focuses on general health and fitness instead of focusing only on sport-specific drills.
  2. The perceived danger of S&C causes parents and coaches to be more mindful of proper form, warm-up, and other safety enhancing factors.
  3. Good S&C program focus on functional, foundational movement patterns that help kids learn to move better from core to extremity.

These changes make S&C programs safer in general. In a review of 27 separate data collection studies where kids of ages 6 – 18 years were taken through various general fitness programs, a grand total of three (3) injuries occurred out of over 400 participants. This is a less than 1% injury rate total in all 27 studies, and no study had more than one injury. You can find the results yourself here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3483033/table/T1/

So the question of whether or not your kid should be in a Strength & Conditioning program is moot: they’re safe and show great efficacy. The better question is, how can we make them safer in sports? A good starting answer: better Strength & Conditioning programs for kids!

Resources on Kids Sports Injuries:

  1. JS Powell, KD Barber Foss, 1999. Injury patterns in selected high school sports: a review of the 1995-1997 seasons. J Athl Train. 34: 277-84.
  2. Safe Kids USA Campaign Web site. 2009.
  3. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 2009.
  4. Preserving the Future of Sport: From Prevention to Treatment of Youth Overuse Sports Injuries. AOSSM 2009 Annual Meeting Pre-Conference Program. Keystone, Colorado.