What Happened to Bull Run CrossFit?

We made some pretty big changes at Raise the Bar Fitness over the past year and a half. One significant change was what happened to Bull Run CrossFit.

In 2020 we canceled our Affiliate agreement with HQ and have since overhauled the programming.

The intention of this blog post is to share some of the details that led to those decisions.

Before I get too far into the details I should qualify my position to make such a case.

I have over twenty years of immersed experience in fitness with a decade as a gym owner and head coach. Of the ten years Raise the Bar has existed we were a CF Affiliate for 7 years of it. I carry active “movement” certifications with NASM, ACSM, USAW, & CF. My industry exposure has taken me to the presentation stage at IDEA & ISSM, Reality TV, Xbox, and over a dozen DVDs as well as holding the prestigious title of Format Expert for Beachbody’s P90X Live brand.

Which is a roundabout way of saying I’ve seen a lot, taught a lot, and done a lot in the fitness industry. Hopefully, this establishes my bona fides.

My belief in the CrossFit methodology started to wane somewhere between 2017-2018.

Worth noting, these were some of the busiest and best times for our business. Our CF memberships increased nearly 200% over that period. The issue I took with the discipline was not one born of poor profitability. Quite the contrary – the model was exceedingly profitable.

Though it was a great time for business I started to see cracks in the methodology as it pertained to the general population. By “general population” I’m referring to folks that were NOT classified as full or part-time athletes at any point in their lives.

Starting with existing clients …

We started seeing higher rates of sprains, strains, and major injuries among our established members “pushing the envelope”. Additionally, we started to see our older clients (40+) “fray” around the proverbial edges. Again – from pushing the envelope.

CrossFit was never about “peaking” or getting to a specific level of fitness. It was about competition. It was about always pushing the envelope … “better than yesterday”.

And that’s where we started to see folks get in trouble.

I’ve trained significantly more people with existing range of motion issues, bad joints, and bad backs than those without issues (who btw were mostly under 30).

Point of fact – existing injuries are always at a higher risk of re-injury regardless of the safety protocols or coaching staff. Because the CF mentality was to push the envelope (and climb the leaderboard) more people were drawn into performing higher risk movements, at a greater intensity than their physiology could (should) endure. Once a rotator cuff (your shoulder) is damaged it’s never the same. Ditto for your knees and of course, any major injuries to your back.

A competitive nature is a competitive nature … it’s not something that can be turned off, and CF encouraged it at every turn. The very nature of CF is leaderboard-driven. Which makes “scaling” a difficult social-pill to swallow for the competitive CF’er. So we started seeing higher injury rates (though CF doesn’t talk about it).

As our CF program grew I saw a greater ability gap between the established members and the newer “deconditioned” members.

So we started adapting our programming to accommodate the progressions needed to properly strengthen and acclimate our newer members in a responsible manner that would still facilitate improvements in strength, mobility, and endurance.

We started to omit “high-risk” movements from the programming model in an effort to reduce “opportunities for injury”. The logic? Bodyweight exercises rule. If a person cannot manipulate their body weight while executing foundational movements it becomes a “high risk” activity.

Pull-ups, push-ups, squats, running, lunging, etc … if a member could not correctly do these movements “un-weighted” it would be irresponsible to encourage them to perform them “weighted”. If a person cannot perform a near-perfect squat what logic is there in having them perform an overhead squat with a loaded barbell. Similarly, if a person cannot hold their bodyweight overhead with a loaded barbell, where is the logic in having them perform a handstand pushup? Or walk on their hands?

So we shifted our programming focus. The change in programming was largely accepted but not wholly.

Some of our established CF members started negatively viewing new members (and our shift in programming) as catering to a weaker community.

A large number of established CF members (even a few prior coaches) started to refer to our gym as a “fat person’s gym”. Because I had removed some of the higher elements of “competition” in our programming it started to sour and pervert our culture. So much for community.

I didn’t like the elitist mindset that was seeping into our culture and I didn’t like that my newer members felt compelled to do risky shit for the sake of doing it  (when they weren’t ready to do it) just to keep up with the “cool kids”.

Our gym was established for the benefit of the masses … not cater to the vanities of the few. Our mission was to improve the lives of our members. Not put them in harm’s way for the sake of “fitness”.

Needless to say – our training methodology for CF was rapidly shifting. So much so it didn’t make sense to still call what we were doing “CrossFit’. Seriously – if an individual is still using a band for assisted pull-ups after years of scaling something is wrong with the training.

My background is bodybuilding & strength training. While I’d always prioritized these disciplines into my CF programming it was becoming more and more apparent that was the direction that best serves my athletes. They would see the greatest gains with the least amount of risk.

I still love the endurance aspects of CF but not with the inclusion of unnecessarily high-risk movements. And not at the expense of having to forever “scale” an athlete that is physically unable to properly perform a movement.

Fast-forward to 2020 and we decided it was time to shift from the CF model entirely. CF HQ had made some publicly stupid statements at the time that finally put the nail in the coffin for us and Flexx & Fiire Barbell was born

I hate telling people it’s “similar” to CF because it’s really not. Other than the high-intensity nature of some of the endurance programming there are significantly fewer opportunities for injury.

In a nutshell …

The program is still strictly form-based. Full range of motion is critical to the strength-building continuum. We overemphasize purity in motion for the sake of eliminating “training dead spots” that can later lead to deficiencies and injuries.

The program focuses on traditional strength training. High-volume, time under tension, drop-sets, super-sets, agonist/antagonist, periodization training. We program in cycles (macrocycles) with the intention of achieving a specific strength outcome. Every quarter the strength programming will change to pursue a NEW strength outcome

Endurance training will focus on improving your anaerobic engine and lactic threshold using exercises and modalities that minimize risk opportunities.  You won’t have to worry about your desire to “push the envelope” resulting in a permanent injury.

Olympic lifting is an earned skill. Performing maximal strength olympic lifts with an under-developed muscular system is irresponsible and foolish. Heavy OLY will happen in specialty classes with a dedicated focus on the purity of movement and a progression of strength development.

High-risk movements are gone. If the movement doesn’t compliment a strength or endurance objective we won’t do it. What determines “high risk” could vary depending on the individual.

Scaling is not a bad thing as long as it serves the targeted outcomes. Weights listed in workouts are recommendations. The athlete can go above or below based on their skill level. The objective is to be “challenged” … not broken.

The leaderboard does not validate your progress. How you look, feel, and function does.

You can train 5 days a week without worrying about over-training. “De-load” days are programmed in to accommodate recovery & accessory work.

This new model is going to turn off traditional CF’ers, and I’m ok with that. I’ve been doing this long enough to feel confident in the direction we’re taking at Raise the Bar Fitness.

I also believe there is a fair number of people looking for the “Not CF” alternative based on a negative experience or injury with the “now popular” interpretation of CF.

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