Hey Folks!

A big bang.  God says let there be light and creates all that is.  A tiny prokaryotic organism eats another.  We came from Neanderthals.  No, wait, maybe not.  And then…?

Despite how you feel the world (and our species) began, most believe in some form of adaptation or evolution over time.  During my Biology degree the topic of Darwin came up often (hell, it was an entire course).  We learned about fruit flies, pea plants and agouti mice.  But before Darwin, we study the many different ideas that lead to his hypothesis and it’s rough acceptance (there are always caveats).

Lamarck is one of the people you learn about when considering evolution/adaptation.


Lamarck believed that giraffes evolved to have long necks by constantly striving to elongate their necks.  By the slow and constant effort to reach higher leaves, they eventually achieved the necks they have now.

Shortly after Lamarck came Darwin and his theory of evolution.  Darwin postulated that it wasn’t an effort being made to reach for tall branches, but the demise of shorter necked giraffes that led to the long neck that characterizes giraffes prevalent today.  Only the most “fit” will survive.  I don’t mean fit as in giraffes with 6 packs, I mean they were fit to reproduce because they were fit to consume leaves off tall branches.  Although less inspiring, Darwins theory was more likely what was happening and was widely accepted, and Lamarck was then viewed as “silly”.

SO… What does this have to do with CrossFit and you?

It brings up the nature versus nurture AKA the genetics versus environment debate (with regard to training).

Rich Froning is genetically and anthropometrically (his limb length, height, etc.) gifted when the task is CrossFit.  He was born with the potential to win 3 consecutive CrossFit Games.  Put him in the NBA and he would be made to look like a fool.  Not only did he have the right tools to do the job, but he found the right job to do too.


But what if your genetics dictates that you have lots of slow twitch muscle fibres, making you naturally good at endurance?  Or that you can work your butt off, eat an immaculate diet and that six pack just won’t peak through?  What does that mean for your training?

You can be genetically designed to run marathons, but if you aren’t jazzed up about running marathons, should you?  Is it even healthy?  The saying, “We don’t know what happened – he just had a heart attack out of nowhere!  And he’s in great shape, he runs marathons all the time!” is more or less a cliché these days.  Why is that?

Long distance endurance events create a significant stress load on the body, but most of all on the heart.  In 2005 a group of scientists tested 30 non-professional runners in the Boston Marathon (one which you DO need to qualify for) and found that 2 had blood markers change from normal to high risk for stroke, while 7 runners had troponin levels high enough to indicate damage to the heart.  It wasn’t difficult to find articles that established a very real risk of damage to the heart after intense endurance events.  Keep in mind, there is also lots of literature to suggest that moderate endurance training is very healthy for the heart.  However, endurance may not be the area where you want to test the limits of your capability.

So, the point is that it doesn’t matter what your genetics dictates when it comes to your health and longevity.  When it comes to elite performance, genes may make the difference between being Wayne Gretzky versus Gary Roberts.  OR Rich Froning versus Chris Spealler (sorry Speal).  Taking those elite marathoners into consideration as well, being elite isn’t exactly healthy either.

If the goal is health then, what is the answer?

Lean mass, strength, balance, flexibility are all associated with reduced pain levels, greater quality of life and reduced mortality (death) from ALL causes.  Did you read that?  If you want to reduce your chances of dying from ALL causes, you need to maintain lean mass, and flexibility, balance, and strength.  Sounds a lot like CrossFit.

So that brings us back to Lamarck and Darwin.  Following Darwin would mean that being born with a predisposition for fast twitch muscle fibres and a lean body would make you a sprinter – Don’t bother doing endurance work or yoga to maintain flexibility or anything else that would be a waste of time.  OR, we can go the Lamarckian route, where we can strive to be stronger, faster, flexible, better endurance, more stamina, greater coordination, agility, accuracy, and speed.  That by striving for these things we will improve on them, and while our genetic predisposition may dictate we excel at some more than others, they are all worthwhile and health-wise, very meaningful endeavours.

It’s important to know why you’re training, but it’s also important to know that while you may be very slow to improve in a given area, and it may be frustrating, it’s helping you live a longer, better life.  Aside from the frustration, that is.

Stay Healthy friends!



some references:

Yoga reduces pain and increases flexibility (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18673078)

Muscle strength inversely associated with death from ALL causes. (http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a439)

Greater lean mass is associated with reduced mortality risk (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20070416)

Running Marathons and heart damage – 23% of runners! (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16891191)

Strength and Balance improvement in elderly (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24409027)