Researcher to Study CrossFit’s Effectiveness for Adaptive Athletes, Seeks Community Input

November 19, 2020 by
Credit: Adaptive Training Academy
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This may come as a bit of a surprise, but there has only ever been one academic study designed to investigate “high intensity functional training” (i.e. CrossFit) in adaptive athletes, and it was just a pilot study. 

That is until now. Lyndsie Koon, a research professor at the University of Kansas and a CrossFitter has proposed a study that upon completion will provide empirical evidence for the effectiveness of CrossFit as an exercise program at the community-level across the country for people with all different types of disability. At this point, the research project is in the exploratory phase and the early efforts can be done remotely.

One big thing: A study such as this can provide useful data that, among other things, can be used by healthcare providers, occupational therapists, physical therapists and clinicians to help advocate functional fitness training for their patients.

The details: Because there is such a lack of empirical data on this topic, reviewers and organizations that can provide funding for research, “do not believe that people with disability are, in fact, engaging in CrossFit and Functional Training,” Koon said.

  • Many working in exercise science lack a basic understanding of the ways CrossFit coaches and box owners work to make their facilities and programming inclusive and adaptable, Koon continued.
  • “Yet as we know anecdotally, CrossFit, thanks to Alec Zirkenbach’s (and fellow coaches) efforts at the Adaptive Training Academy, has become an accessible and inclusive environment, and the methodologies applied to people with disability are just as, if not more, effective,” she noted.
  • The CrossFit methodology is intended to support functional, everyday movements (e.g., sit-to-stand, pushing, pulling, squatting) for people without disability. These same movements are “particularly important for people with disability, as they support other specified movements such as transferring, maneuvering an assistive device over a threshold, balancing on uneven surfaces without supports, or lifting a heavy item off the floor from a seated position,” Koon said.
  • Perhaps equally important, through sport and exercise, the individual may be able to cultivate what is referred to as ‘identify renewal’ by learning new skills and identifying as an athlete among peers of other adaptive athletes, resulting in a stronger sense of self.

Why this matters: By describing the demographics, as well as the behavioral and motivational attributes of adaptive athletes in CrossFit, Koon hopes her study will carry wide-ranging benefits:

  • She believes it will show others with disability who are inactive, or looking to try a different type of exercise, that CrossFit is an adaptable, safe, inclusive, and effective exercise/sport/physical activity option.
  • It will provide important empirical evidence for healthcare providers and other stakeholders where none currently exists.
  • It will highlight the strong sense of connectedness and relatedness that exists within the adaptive athlete community while providing opportunities to compete.

From Alec Zirkenbach, co-founder of the Adaptive Training Academy: “The efficacy of functional fitness training, namely CrossFit, for people with disability should be obvious because of the focus on exercises that have the most transference to real-world tasks. The CrossFit community, trainers and adaptive athletes, know how positively life-changing this training methodology can be.”

  • “We (at the ATA) are honored and thrilled to be advising on this study. We need a favor from the community…we need data in the form of accounting for an estimate of how many people with disabilities are training CrossFit methodology. Please take a minute to help.”

How you can help: The most important thing for Koon’s study right now is to gather information about the numbers of adaptive athletes in the CrossFit and functional fitness community. This will help her apply for additional research funding to expand the project.

  • If you are a coach or gym owner who works with adaptive athletes, please take a few minutes to complete this short survey.
  • If you are an adaptive athlete who is interested in being part of the study (which will involve answering questions about your training, primarily), please take a moment and fill out this form to be added to the list of participants.

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