The NSCA’s most recent Tactical Strength & Conditioning Report (Issue 32) has an article that discusses recent peer-reviewed research on “Extreme conditioning programs (ECPs)” which they define as Crossfit/P90X/Insanity type approaches.  What did they find?  Here are some key highlights in my opinion.

1) A military study of almost 1,400 soldiers found that “when comparing the injury rates of soldiers who participated and those who did not participate in ATAC (Advanced Tactical Athlete Conditioning)/ECPs, overall rates of injury were similar, though the ATAC/ECP group did exhibit a significantly greater increase in overuse injuries after the programs were initiated.”    This is one of the biggest drawbacks that I see, the potential for injury caused by failing form as you go flat-out trying to beat your own or someone else’s time, as well as overtraining potential.

2) Another study compared the anaerobic/aerobic power of ECP-trained individuals vs. those who use traditional resistance training (RT).  Results showed no significant differences in VO2 max or Wingate peak power.   The same lab also tested whether ECP-trained subjects differed from RT-trained subjects in one rep Bench press, back squat, medicine ball shot put, vertical jump and the Margaria-Kalamen power test.  There were no significant differences in performance between the ECP and RT subjects on any of these tests. 

3) Another study compared ECP-trained vs. RT-trained subjects on pushup, pull-up, T-test, and sit and reach.  There were no differences in performance on the pushup, T-test or sit and reach test.  ECPs did perform significantly more pull-ups than the RT, although the mean body mass of the ECP group was less than the RT group, which impacts such a test.

4) Another study compared the anaerobic step test and the Cooper 1.5mile run test between CrossFit trained subjects and subjects that followed a ‘traditional’ program recommended by ACSM.  There were no differences on the step test or the Cooper 1.5 mile run. 

Findings and Conclusion

There does not seem to be convincing evidence at this point that ECPs significantly improve aerobic power or VO2 max……The adaptations seen from ECPs appear to be broadly similar to those obtained from traditional RT, as no consistent differences in strength, power, and muscular endurance have been seen when ECP-trained subjects are compared to RT subjects.”

“From the limited evidence to date, it does not appear ECPs offer training benefits which cannot be acquired through more traditional training programs, such as resistance/cardiovascular/HITT training.  These more traditional training modes may also offer the potential for lower injury risk, yet result in the same training adaptations.”

 Can “extreme conditioning programs” work?  Sure they can.  And they may be perfect for certain populations or individuals.  But everyone should decide for themselves what they’re trying to accomplish and what they’re willing to risk if the same results can be achieved from less “extreme” programs.  No matter what you decide, get out there and train.




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