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About This Episode:
The Benefits of High Intensity Workouts | With Julie Foucher – The CrossFit Doctor
In this episode of Discover with Dr. Dan | Proactive Health, Dr. Dan is joined by Dr. Julie Foucher to discuss the benefits of CrossFit and how the workout has grown globally. Julie has a wealth of knowledge on the science behind CrossFit and shares some helpful tips with the audience that can be applicable to anyone of any skill level. Tune in to the episode to learn more.
The Purpose of the CrossFit Movement
As someone who has competed in the CrossFit Games four times and placing twice on the podium, Dr. Julie Foucher is said to be one of the greatest athletes in CrossFit history. She actively educates people on the importance of exercise and the role that an active lifestyle plays in human health. Her journey to health excellence started when she was searching for a way to make her workout routine more engaging and exciting, which led her to discover CrossFit through a local affiliate. Soon thereafter, Julie started to see the benefits of participating in such a sport, both physically and socially. On her podcast, Pursuing Health, she leads discussions with field experts and other CrossFit athletes to help bridge the gap between medicine and fitness. Her rich background combined with her studies and expertise provides for an experience that drives listeners to reach their full fitness potential.
When asked about CrossFit and its purpose on the fitness spectrum, Julie mentions that the activities performed in the gym mirror those of everyday life, but in a more intense fashion. The movements taught by instructors are meant to strengthen the human body in ways that prepare it for daily demands. She adds, “They’re compound movements. They’re things like squats, like standing up and sitting down off of a chair or getting up off the toilet.” She then goes on to say, “No matter what you’re asked to do in life, whether it’s picking up a bag of dog food or picking your kid up off the ground or running after your dog that got away, or whatever it is that life throws your way, you’re going to be prepared, as prepared as you can be for those demands.” In summary, the activities of CrossFit were initially designed to move the human body in the way it was designed to move.
A Sense of Community Stems from Physical Activity
One of the most intriguing aspects of CrossFit is the sense of community one perceives when participating at an affiliate location. According to Julie, this is one of the most impactful and prominent features of CrossFit. She notes that having a sense of teamwork and community during a workout session helps to hold one another accountable for fitness goals, which in turn pushes individuals to work harder. In addition to the community aspect, Julie mentions that at the gym, labels are wiped away and every person works together on the same social level.
We have all these sorts of labels or like people that we are in the world, right? Like whether we’re a doctor or whether we’re a teacher or whether we’re a mom or a son or a friend, or all these sorts of identities that we have, when we walk into a CrossFit gym, all of that goes away and you’re just a person.
Outside of the gym, there is a perceivable sense of community where members rally together to help one another. For example, Julie says that if someone’s car breaks down, they can count on a CrossFit community member to help them out. Best friends are made in this realm and lasting relationships come out on the tail end, according to Julie.
Push Any Preconceived Notions Aside
CrossFit is one of many physical activities that is associated with tremendous speculation and media coverage. CrossFit was recently involved in a lawsuit against biased research and incorrect data pitted against the company. Stories like these make the general public wary of joining the program, in fear of injury or humiliation. To help ease the listener’s worries, Julie explains that anyone can do CrossFit, no matter the physical level one is currently on in their fitness journey. Understanding how intimidating it can feel to walk into a gym for the first time, she says that even the most experienced athletes get scared when initially being involved with the program. Also, for those in fear of injury, she says that injuries acquired in CrossFit happen less often or just as often as injuries from regular team sports. Most importantly, she hopes listeners will give the program a try and see for themselves how the community really is. “Consistently, what I hear from these individuals is that there’s something about CrossFit that made it stick and made it be a lifestyle change and a long-term change for them.” Julie implores listeners to give CrossFit a try and to live a proactive lifestyle for longevity through fitness.
To learn more about Dr. Foucher’s fitness journey, check out the Discover with Dr. Dan | Proactive Health podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Tuesday.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (00:09)
Welcome to Discover with Dr. Dan | The Proactive Health Podcast. This podcast is sponsored by Brilliant, an innovative proactive wellness company. Brilliant helps people to live a healthier and happier life by discovering and using bioactive natural ingredients from around the world to formulate products that help them discover and unleash their innate brilliance. To find out more, please go to feelbrilliant.com. Today we’re so excited to have Dr. Julie Foucher with us on the show. Dr. Foucher is a board certified family physician and has completed her coursework through the Institute for Functional Medicine. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in biomedical engineering and completed her medical school and residency training at the Cleveland Clinic. Julie also holds a master’s in nutrition from Case Western Reserve University and has completed the integrative medicine in residency curriculum through the University of Arizona. She currently serves as a Director of Content for Wild Health, a genomics-based personalized medicine practice. Julie competed in the CrossFit Games from 2010 to 2015, where she consistently finished among the top five women with two podium finishes. Julie’s passion lies in bridging the gap between fitness and medicine to empower individuals to live healthier, more fulfilling lives. She continues to do CrossFit for health and longevity and hosts a popular health and fitness podcast called Pursuing Health. And I’ve listened to a few episodes of that and that’s fantastic. So recommend that to our listeners. Dr. Julie, welcome to the show.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (01:43)
Thank you so much for having me and for that thick intro. Wow.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (01:46)
Well, it’s a delight. It’s a delight to have someone so credentialed as you to be here on the show, and I’m sure our listeners are excited and we’ll find the information that you share fascinating. So again, appreciate it.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (01:58)
Well, thank you for having me. I’m excited about this.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (02:00)
So Julie, I want to talk with you. Let’s have a discussion about CrossFit. This is an area that our listeners have heard about. Some people have tried it, I’m sure. Some have thought about getting into it, but maybe don’t really know a lot about it. So at its essence, what is CrossFit, if you were to describe it simplistically, what would you say?
Dr. Julie Foucher: (02:21)
That’s a great question. And that’s one that we pose actually at the beginning of the CrossFit level one, when we’re teaching the basic methodology of CrossFit, because there’s so many different ways to answer the question, depending on who you’re talking to, but there is technically a definition of CrossFit, which is constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement. And we can unpack that a little bit, but I like to tell people if I’m just having a conversation, that CrossFit is basically a way to exercise or a way to move your body, the way that we were designed to move. So you’re doing functional movements, you’re doing things that your body was designed to do. They’re compound movements. They’re things like squats, like standing up and sitting down off of a chair or getting up off the toilet. Something that you need to do. Presses, putting something up over your head to put it on a shelf. Deadlift, picking something up off the ground. And you’re constantly varying these movements. So you’re not getting into a pattern of doing the same thing every day or the same exercise routine Monday, Wednesday, Friday, every week, but you’re constantly varying it so that your body has to adapt just like life is constantly varying the demands that it puts on you. So that no matter what you’re asked to do in life, whether it’s picking up a bag of dog food or picking your kid up off the ground, or running after your dog that got away, or whatever it is that life throws your way, you’re going to be prepared, as prepared as you can be for those demands.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (03:46)
Oh, I love that. I love the application to realize that it’s not just –
Dr. Julie Foucher: (03:50)
Dr. Dan Gubler: (03:51)
Oh, that’s really cool.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (03:52)
Totally. If what we do in the gym is fun and exciting, but why we really do it, I think why most of us really do it, is so we can be better at life. That we can be better at all the things that we want to do outside the gym, whether that’s playing a sport, whether that’s playing with our grandkids, whether that’s at work, and it’s the physical demands, but it’s also the mental, emotional demands too. It’s getting really good at doing things that are uncomfortable, getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, facing adversity and working through it and building your confidence. Learning how to do things that you didn’t think you were capable of doing that transitions over into every area of life. And then the third piece of the definition is high intensity. And I think that’s what scares people a lot when they first hear CrossFit because traditionally it’s been presented in a way that’s very intimidating. Maybe people see CrossFit for the first time by watching the CrossFit Games and they’re watching these like 0.01% of what CrossFit is all about. It’s the best of the best. The athletes who are training hours and hours every day. And they’re doing things that look very intense. And so I think that can scare people away thinking that’s all CrossFit is, but that’s really such a small part of what CrossFit is. We celebrate that and we celebrate the best of the best and people who dedicate their lives to really maximizing their fitness. But for most of us, for me now, and for most of the world, CrossFit is just about being healthy, improving our longevity, being able to meet life’s demands and intensity is relative to the individual. So the cool thing about CrossFit is you can watch the athletes at the CrossFit Games or like, we just finished the CrossFit open, which is a, this year was a three week online competition where CrossFit releases a workout every single week for three weeks and we all do that workout either at our homes or at our gyms and we post our scores online and we can compare them to over 250,000 other people around the world who are doing the same workouts. And what’s intense for the athletes at the CrossFit Games, they’re, we’re all doing the same workout, but their variation of that workout and their intensity and their score is going to look very different from what, my score looked like this year is going to look very different from what our 70 plus age masters athletes did or what our adaptive athletes did. And we have categories for all of these different athletes. So we can all be doing the same workout with different variations and with different intensities, but we’re all doing it together.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (06:10)
Wow. So there’s something for everyone in CrossFit.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (06:13)
Exactly. Yes. I think I’ve heard the founder before would say, CrossFit is for everyone, but not everyone, or everyone can do CrossFit, but CrossFit’s not for everyone. So anyone can do CrossFit. It’s infinitely scalable, but it’s not for everyone in terms of you have to want to do it and you have to have sort of the mindset of wanting to take on that challenge and being open to it.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (06:36)
Okay. So you mentioned the founder of CrossFit. How did CrossFit come about?
Dr. Julie Foucher: (06:40)
Well, CrossFit came about, I believe it was back in, I think the first concepts and ideas for it, Greg Glassman, who was the founder first started playing around maybe in the seventies. But it really started becoming more formalized, I think, in the early two thousands. So he was just playing around with the concepts and the types of workouts and then in the early two thousands he, I think got kicked out of multiple globo gyms, trying to do these crazy workouts and causing a ruckus and then created his own gym. And then shortly after that, someone else reached out to him and said, “Hey, I want to do this in my town. Can I create a gym too?” And so they created the first CrossFit affiliate, I think that was Robb Wolf actually, and then after that, it just really grew organically.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (07:24)
At first it was, every day they would post a workout of the day online on the crossfit.com and people from all over the world would log on and they would do the workout at home, they would post their score into the comments and they would sort of have these competitions with each other to see what everyone was capable of. And then it really grew very quickly up to, I think 2007 was the first CrossFit Games. And that was just sort of like a backyard workout sort of feel, they said, “We’re going to get together, do some workouts, we’ll drink some beer, we’ll do a cookout.” And then my first year competing in the CrossFit Games 2010 was the first year it was at the StubHub center. It was, became a much bigger competition. And then we started taking on sponsors like Reebok came in. And so it really has grown immensely in the last 15 to 20 years to now being the largest fitness chain across the world. One of the largest chains period across the world. There’s –
Dr. Dan Gubler: (08:21)
Dr. Julie Foucher: (08:21)
I’m not sure the exact number of locations now, but somewhere around 12 to 15,000 locations around the world and it’s really all grown organically.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (08:30)
Wow. So you mentioned the CrossFit Games. Tell us about your experience there. You’re an elite athlete, podium finishes. Tell us about your journey and your experience in competing.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (08:42)
Sure. So I grew up playing or doing gymnastics. That was my main sport growing up and through high school and then I did some track and field in high school too. And I knew, I went to the University of Michigan for college. I grew up in Michigan and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do, I mean, they have an amazing gymnastics team, but I was never at that level to do gymnastics in college. And so I didn’t really have a sport when I started college. I just kind of got lost without having the sport and the team to work out with and a coach to tell me what to do. I really struggled those first couple of years of college. And I would just do the normal gym thing and go to the gym and bring my biochemistry book and try to read my notes and get on the elliptical and burn however many calories I thought I had to burn that day and it just wasn’t very fun. And I knew that there had to be more, I knew that my body was made to move. I knew that I loved working out, but I just couldn’t figure out what that was going to look like in the next phase of my life. And it was about halfway through college that I first learned about CrossFit.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (09:40)
This was in 2009, and I remember seeing crossfit.com and seeing some of the workouts and thinking, “Wow, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for because it’s a mix of gymnastics and weightlifting and endurance, running, rowing-type exercise.” And during those early years of college, I had experimented a little bit with triathlons and so I had a little bit of an endurance base then, and it just seemed perfect. So I went to the local CrossFit affiliate in Ann Arbor, and it just so happened to be one of the first, I think it was the 12th or 14th affiliate. It was very early on and there was a great coach there. So I just got lucky off the bat to be in a great environment to learn and it was, really happened pretty quickly. I just decided, there was a small group of people from the gym who wanted to train for local competitions. And I, at first I was just doing it for fun. I really, it was something that initially just helped me to get in shape, to feel confident, to try to really change my relationship with my body image and exercise. So that I went from thinking about what I was eating and trying to burn all those calories off in the gym to now looking at, what is my body capable of? What can I do to increase my performance to be able to lift more, do this workout faster and how can I fuel my body in order to support that performance, instead of thinking about burning off calories or how much I weighed. And so that for me was, it alone just changed my life. And then when I started training for local competitions, just for fun, I just sort of surprised myself every step of the way and ended up qualifying for the CrossFit Games that first year in 2010. And then I was lucky to be part of this first sort of early wave of athletes as the games evolved very quickly from 2010 to 2015, while I was competing, that we just all got so much better every year and were able to really push the envelope and it was amazing to see what our bodies are capable of with this type of training.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (11:31)
So how many people can compete in these events?
Dr. Julie Foucher: (11:34)
Well, the CrossFit Games open is the start and that’s open to anyone around the world. And that’s, I think one of the coolest things about the Cross Games is it starts from this huge pool. Anyone can join. You do the workouts at home or in your gym. It costs 20 bucks to sign up. And so you’re competing against hundreds of thousands of athletes, and then the format has changed throughout the years, but eventually that pool gets narrowed down through qualification process. So back when I was competing, it was mostly from there, you would qualify to a regional, in-person regional competition, where there were somewhere around 40, I think, 40 men and women or 30 men and women. And then from there, the top three or so athletes from each regional qualify to the game. So you get to the games with around 50 men and 50 women. And now the format has changed a little bit. This year is even a new format. So we’re having quarterfinals and then semifinals and then the games. But either way, I think it’s amazing that it starts from this huge pool of people. Anyone can compete against the best in the world, and then it really narrows down to those best athletes in the world. And they do a great job of programming it in such a way that they always find the top athletes, no matter how they, how they format it, no matter what the programming is, the top athletes seem to always find their way to the top at the end, year after year.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (12:52)
Wow. So what do you think is the future of the CrossFit Games? Do you think this is going to be an Olympic sport in the future? What are your thoughts there?
Dr. Julie Foucher: (12:59)
I don’t know. I mean, I think it would be amazing for it to be an Olympic sport. I think that we’re seeing so many different types of sports join the Olympics. And I think, I think that would be incredible. We’ve seen some CrossFit athletes, well, yeah, few CrossFit athletes that have come from prior Olympic experience, whether it was from rowing or, you know Tia-Clair, who’s been the most dominant female athlete the last several years. She went and competed in Olympic weightlifting at the Olympics in Rio, which is incredible just to think that she can be so great at CrossFit and so well rounded, but also have enough specialization in Olympic weightlifting to qualify for the Olympics. So I think it would be amazing. I don’t know if it’s possible. I think that the CrossFit Games is something that’s really unique and special even on its own. And it’s such a different sport from so many other sports because it’s so, there’s so many variables and it’s so not standardized. And part of what makes CrossFit amazing is, or the CrossFit Games amazing, is that the athletes don’t know what they’re going to have to do until they get there and it’s different every time. And so there is this element of training for anything and being prepared for anything. And so it’s a little bit harder to standardize, but I don’t know. I guess I can’t answer that. I would love to see it at the Olympics, but if it’s not, I think it doesn’t take away from how amazing it is.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (14:17)
Yeah. When I read that, I thought that was really interesting that you don’t know beforehand what’s going to be announced. And I was reading, there some interesting names for workouts from Fran to – I was reading, there’s a bunch of different names and that was, I found that interesting.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (14:33)
Yeah. Early on, the founder named a lot of the workouts, they’re kind of the classic girl workout. So they’re named after women and some of them, I mean, are women that we still know as prominent figures in CrossFit. So there’s one called Annie, which is sit-ups and double-unders, which is named after Annie Sakamoto, who is one of the first athletes to train at the original CrossFit gym. And now she owns a gym herself and has been a very prominent athlete in the sport, competing as an individual and then as a masters athlete. And she’s incredible. And so it’s really cool to see that workout named after her and Nicole also, which is pull-ups and running. Nicole Carroll, I think is one of the staples in our sport. She was there the original CrossFit gym. She’s the director of education at CrossFit now and has always been one of the most prominent leaders and someone who I think really represents the heart of what CrossFit is and has always tried to protect that. And so it’s cool to do those workouts and just have so much respect for these women who’ve played a big role in making CrossFit what it is. And then there’s also hero workout. So the other one of the other cool things about CrossFit is that there’s so much, you know, it’s always been very big in law enforcement and military, and there’s so much respect for the individuals who have sacrificed so much for the common good or for our freedom. And so often if there is a individual who passes away in battle or for some reason that, we name a workout after them and we all do it to honor them and realize that the suffering that we do in a workout is so minimal compared to what some of these individuals do every single day. And so, and the sacrifices that they’ve made. So that’s another cool thing and the CrossFit community really rallies around trying to do good in the world and trying to just be respectful of what everyone’s contribution is.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (16:30)
Wow. That’s really cool to weave those aspects of society into what you guys do. Very cool. So let’s talk about what are some of the health benefits of CrossFit?
Dr. Julie Foucher: (16:40)
Oh my goodness. So many. One of the reasons why I love CrossFit and why I think, I’ve talked to so many people who have had really dramatic lifestyle change through CrossFit and a lot of these people have struggled for years and years, some of them decades, with health problems, with weight, and they’ve tried so many other things that just don’t seem to stick. They try something and it works for a little while, but then they revert back. And I think consistently, what I hear from these individuals is that there’s something about CrossFit that made it stick and made it be a lifestyle change and a long-term change for them. And I think it’s just a special combination of what CrossFit is. So it’s not just the exercise. It’s not like you’re just going to a gym, putting in your headphones and exercising by yourself, which after time sort of loses its excitement and it becomes more of a chore. It’s, you’re doing different workouts every day. You’re constantly being challenged. So you’re never doing, you’re never getting comfortable. You’re, there’s always something to learn. There’s always something to get better at. The other, I think what makes CrossFit so is the community aspect. So you’re doing these workouts with other people and you’re doing these workouts with other people who are completely different from you. So you walk into a gym, we all the time we walk around in life and we are, we have all these sort of labels or like people that we are in the world, right? Like whether we’re a doctor or whether we’re a teacher or whether we’re a mom or a son or a friend, or all these sort of identities that we have, when we walk into a CrossFit gym, all of that goes away and you’re just a person.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (18:19)
And I think, I’ve talked to so many doctors, like very prominent doctors who at work, everyone’s sort of afraid to upset them because they’re like this really best in the world surgeon at what they do. And they love going into the CrossFit gym because they could just, no one calls them, Dr. So-and-so. They just call them by their first name and they’re going to call them out and say, your squat doesn’t look good, or it’s not deep enough. And they’re going to get called out on it, which is not something that they get in everyday life. And so it’s great for people to just be able to connect on this very real, raw human level and let sort of some of the identities that we have in day-to-day life fall away. And also the connection is so much stronger because we’re going through something challenging together.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (19:00)
So when you’re doing a CrossFit workout, we’re all in an uncomfortable situation. We’re in a vulnerable situation. People around us are seeing us struggle to get that pull up or struggle to finish the workout. And we talk about in CrossFit oftentimes, the last person to finish the workout gets cheered for the loudest because we do feel like we’re all in it together and we’ve all been there, right? Like we’ve all, even if I have a great workout and I see someone else struggling, I know exactly what it feels like because I’ve been there. And so we are there in these vulnerable situations, helping each other through it. And it’s recreating that situation in life that brings people close together, whether it’s a challenge, whether it’s, you think about something like a natural disaster happens and how a whole city or region comes together and people come in to help each other.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (19:42)
It’s sort of like a microcosm of that. It’s using challenge and vulnerability to bring people together and build these relationships and these bonds so that people, the CrossFit community is so strong and the people at your gym become your best friends. You can lean on them. If your car breaks down, someone’s going to come help you out. If you need something, like you can always call someone from the gym and they’re going to help you out. And that is, I think something that is hard to come by in day-to-day life these days, just because of how busy our lives are and how hard it is to like truly connect on that level. So I think the exercise is super effective. It’s super engaging, but then also the community aspect of CrossFit, and we know community in general and relationships are super good for our health too, is also something that makes a huge impact on our health. And then all the other things that come with it. The nutrition, when people start engaging in trying to be healthier and trying to make their performance better, they start getting more interested in sleep and recovery and all these other things that are such a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to health.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (20:44)
That was something that I found fascinating when I was reading the scientific literature. And there’s hundreds of papers published about CrossFit was the psychological benefit of CrossFit. And you mentioned many of the, many of the advantages there and I thought that was really interesting. You mentioned about it sticking. And I, again, I was really interested in reading some of the papers where they talked about retention of the CrossFit workout being better than other workouts. And so I, I thought that was fascinating.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (21:12)
I really talk it up to, and this is more anecdotal, but I really talk it up to the community. And I think you hear that over and over again. Like people know there there’s some accountability there and they don’t want to let people down by not showing up. It’s more fun, it’s more engaging. And I think that that community, I’ve not seen very many other communities with that close of a connection. And actually there was a great, well, a couple of years ago, they had the founder, Greg Glassman, come speak at Harvard Divinity School, and they had done some research on just different communities and what makes them so strong and comparing CrossFit to some of the things that make religious communities so strong. And it had basically all of the same elements there and so it was just very interesting.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (22:03)
Interesting. So when it comes to, one of the things I’ve heard a lot is, “I don’t want to do CrossFit because I don’t want to bulk up, I want to lose weight.” Weight management. What would you tell those people?
Dr. Julie Foucher: (22:16)
Yeah, I think that’s a common concern, especially for women. And I think that I always tell people that your body type is your body type and all CrossFit is going to do is help you become healthier and embrace sort of the way that your body is meant to be. And so, yes, you may look at the women at the CrossFit Games and they were like, “Oh, I don’t want to look like that.” But trust me, if you’re not training six hours a day, you’re not going to look like that. I think that the main benefit, CrossFit is going to make you stronger, but it’s also going to help you lean out and lose body fat and it’s very hard to like, really bulk up to that level, unless you’re doing tons of extra strength training or training for hours and hours a day like a lot of those women are. But I think that’s one of the other things about seeing the CrossFit Games as like the first thing you see when you see CrossFit is that you can jump to those conclusions, but I haven’t seen that happen in practice.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (23:15)
Okay. So a lot of people have heard about high-intensity interval training. That’s very popular. It’s still a big thing. The wave is going up. What is the difference between HIIT and CrossFit?
Dr. Julie Foucher: (23:30)
Well, there’s a lot of similarities and a lot of CrossFit is high-intensity interval training. So, when we talk about CrossFit being constantly varied, there’s a lot of variables that we can play with. There’s the movements, like we talked about doing different functional movements, doing things from gymnastics to weightlifting, to endurance movements. There’s the duration. So we sometimes do workouts that are extremely short and intense. Like some of these girl workouts like Grace or Isabel are only a minute or two, a couple minutes, all the way up to, a workout might be go run a 5k or go run a 10k. And so there’s a wide range in time domains. And then styles of workout. So sometimes we do workouts that are a circuit of different movements and you just do as many rounds as you can in 10 minutes or 15 minutes or 20 minutes, and sometimes they’re interval workouts. So sometimes we go, there’s a workout called “The Chief” which is power cleans and squats and pushups. And you do it for three minutes. You just repeat those as fast as you can for three minutes and you rest for a minute and you repeat that, I think for five rounds. So that would be more of a high-intensity interval type workout. But the cool thing is that you can do, like CrossFit encompasses everything. And the idea is that you want to train all of your energy systems. You want to train all the movements, all the time domains, so you can be prepared for whatever life throws your way. And so it includes everything from high intensity interval training to some long, slow distance workouts, and you’re trying to be balanced across all of them.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (24:59)
So there’s some breadth when it comes to CrossFit. It’s not just one area of weightlifting or those sorts of things.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (25:08)
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. The idea is, and the CrossFit Games being sort of the pinnacle of that being, they could throw anything at you and you have to be prepared for it. So you need to train that way so they could throw, you know, they’ve done a marathon row, or they’ve done like a two hour long triathlon, or they do a one rep max deadlift or clean. And so you have to be ready for everything in between.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (25:30)
Wow, very cool. So when I was reading the scientific papers, it seems like one of the big things, and I’ve heard it from a lot of people, I’ve heard it from a lot of people that when you do CrossFit, you’re more prone to injury. Shoulder injury, back injury, there’s literature going back and forth on that. What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Julie Foucher: (25:46)
Yeah, it’s a common concern I think that people bring up and a lot of it, I think, stems from just how CrossFit has been portrayed in the media and especially early on. CrossFit kind of liked to portray itself as a little rough around the edges. Like they had a mascot that was Pukey the Clown that was throwing up, or they talked about Uncle Rhabdo and talking about rhabdomyolysis. And so some of that, I think is just the media picking up on that and portraying it in a way that seems scary or that is associated with a lot of injury. But the research on this is complicated because there have been a lot of special interests that have influenced the research. So there was actually a big study, very controversial study and lawsuit that CrossFit went through with the NFCA, where there was a study, it was actually done at the Ohio State University. I can’t believe I just said the Ohio State University and I’m from University of Michigan.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (26:36)
I was going to say, I don’t know how you could say that with a straight face.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (26:39)
I lived in Ohio for nine years. But anyways, they did a study and essentially the researchers went to publish the study and the journal pushed back and told them they had to add injury data. And so they falsified some injury data to push it through basically to make CrossFit look like it was dangerous. And CrossFit went through a multi-year long lawsuit and ended up winning $4 million showing that they falsified data and lied about all this stuff. So there’s a lot of conflicts there. So when we read the research, we have to be careful of that, but regardless, that study was retracted. But, the other research that we have, it’s not great, but we have a lot more than we did even five years ago. And there was a meta analysis that was published last year of 14 different CrossFit injury studies and they reported injury rates that were very similar to other types of sports. So anywhere from 0.27 to 3.3 injuries per a thousand training hours, which is a very kind of usual range that you would get for other sports. Things like Olympic weightlifting, distance running, track and field, rugby, gymnastics, very similar, which is kind of what you would expect, because CrossFit includes pretty much all of those things. And so their conclusion is that the injuries that we see in CrossFit are not different or they’re either the same or lower than we would see in other similar sports, which is sort of what we would expect. And those, there’s always issues with that because most of these studies are retrospective. So they’re looking back and asking people questionnaires about what happened before, instead of collecting the data in a prospective fashion, but even when they did, there was a smaller study that looked at it prospectively in 2017. And they basically asked participants to report injuries while following them for 12 weeks of doing CrossFit and they found a similar injury incidents rate was 2.1 per a thousand training hours. So similar to what we’ve seen in the retrospective study. So from the research that we have, we can just say that CrossFit injuries are probably similar to what we’d expect with other similar sports or even less. And there’s some things that we can do to minimize the risk of injury. So we know that there’s a few different factors that are associated with injury and CrossFit. So one is, those that are doing it for a competitive reason are more likely to be injured, which just makes sense. And a lot of people do, whether they’re training for the CrossFit Games or just doing local competitions, we know that when we’re in a competitive environment, or when we’re trying to do a competition, we might push through something that might not be the smartest and could result in an injury. So that makes sense.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (29:06)
We know that the newer athletes are more likely to be injured, so in the first six to 12 months of doing CrossFit. We also know that those who work with a coach are at less risk of injury. So, especially in that early phase, working closely with a coach, with an affiliate and learning the movements properly using CrossFit’s charter, CrossFit has a charter called Mechanics, Consistency, Intensity. So learning the mechanics first, doing them consistency before adding in that intensity is really important to minimize risk of injury, especially in that early phase. And then training frequency is also associated with decreased training frequency is associated with more injuries. So if you’re only training one or two days a week doing CrossFit, you’re more likely to get injured just because your body probably hasn’t adapted as well. And you don’t have the same number of reps in. We know that there are certain areas, like you mentioned, shoulder injuries are by far or across all the studies we have most common and so that just sort of has to raise our antennas as a CrossFit community about what can we do better? Is there something about the way that we’re teaching movements? About the types of workouts that we’re doing that we could improve to decrease risk of shoulder injury? And I think we’ve done that as a community. Even in the past, in the level one, we used to teach the kipping pull-up early on, and now we, we teach to require individuals to be able to do strict pull-ups before they can do kipping and that just helps to protect the shoulder a little bit. So we are evolving as a community to try to minimize those injuries too. And I think especially now, and especially now that we have new leadership with Eric Roza, I think that’s a big focus of his too, is to really like pull the lid off what we’re doing and look at it and see, how can we really optimize what we’re doing in order to get the results and minimize injuries or minimize any possible negative impact that we could be having?
Dr. Julie Foucher: (30:53)
There’s other things associated with more injury too, like being male, which doesn’t surprise me too much. And having prior injuries also puts you at higher risk of injury, but overall, like I tell people if you implement CrossFit in the right way, if you’ve worked with a coach who knows what they’re doing, if you are doing the training consistently, if you’re waiting to add in that intensity until you have good mechanics and consistency, risk of injury is no different than most other sports. And also we have to think about the risk of not doing CrossFit, right? Like if you’re not exercising, the risk that you have of chronic disease, of aging, with aging, not being able to be functional later in life and having to require assistance, being in a nursing home, all those things go up dramatically. And so for me, I’d say, yeah, if I have an injury here or there over the next 30 years from doing CrossFit that makes me step back for a few weeks, I’m fine with that as long as the rest of my time, I can do the things that I want to do, and I’m healthy and I’m active, and I’m not living with all of these chronic diseases.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (31:58)
So this leads perfectly into what I’ve been thinking about a lot. So if I want to get into CrossFit and I want to get started and I want to do it the right way, a few things you mentioned, how would I do that tangibly? If I sign up after this podcast and want to start doing it, how would I do it and what would you recommend?
Dr. Julie Foucher: (32:17)
Yeah, so I always recommend, I think the best way to start is at a CrossFit affiliate. And I think that the cool thing about CrossFit is that every affiliate is different. And so every affiliate owner is, has the ability to run their gym however they feel is best and however’s best for their community. And so that means that when you walk into one affiliate, you might get a experience than when you walk into another. So I always recommend that people go to crossfit.com, check out the affiliate finder and find a few affiliate gyms in their area and just check out all of them before making a decision. And most of them will have a free, the ability for you to come in and talk to someone and check it out, or do a free intro session, or join a free workout in order to be able to see what the environment is like. And I just say, see how you feel like, how you get along with the coaches and the trainers. If you feel comfortable with them, look at the other people in the gym. And if you feel like you can relate, or if it feels like a good fit to you, I always tell people to look for some sort of an on-ramp program. So whether it’s called on-ramp or something else, you want to make sure that you’re going to be able to get instruction in how to do these movements in a one-on-one or a small group environment before you’re joining a larger class. And that you’re going to get the time with the trainer to be able to learn that and really implement that charter mechanics, consistency, intensity. And I usually tell people to check out multiple gyms because you may find there are certain gyms that are maybe tailored to different populations or that have different approaches and not every gym’s going to work best for every single person. So that’s my best advice.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (33:51)
If you are not ready to jump into a gym, you could certainly start at home with just some basic movements and there’s on crossfit.com, there’s some, tons of videos, tons of movements. They post a workout of the day, every day with different modifications based on your ability level. I know that CrossFit also has been working on a digital on-ramp program, which is essentially a way to start learning some of the basics and the movements on your own at home with no equipment or with limited equipment, with some of the best coaches in the world, but all through a digital platform. And so that is potential, I think it’s a 12, I want to say it’s a 12 week program, but I’m not a hundred percent sure on that. And so that’s potentially another way that someone could get started and maybe build up a little bit of knowledge and comfort and competence before getting ready to walk into a gym.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (34:41)
Okay. So these fitness apps are really big where you can turn on your TV, open up your device and find a workout that’s varied. Apple has their Apple fitness. Peloton. How does that compare these workouts that are on those apps, which are very popular compared to CrossFit? And as you mentioned, going through the CrossFit affiliates and the accredited people.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (35:08)
Well, I think that the coaching and the affiliate environment is really where the magic happens. So I think even doing the CrossFit digital on-ramp, which I think is just in beta testing now, it’s not available to everyone, but even doing that, I think is amazing. One, because you’re getting a lot of, you’re learning from the best coaches in the world, and you’re learning the basics of the movements first in the right order, before you really add in the intensity. But even then, I think the magic happens in that one-on-one interaction. And I think that the cool about the on-ramp too, is that at the end, the last week, you get an opportunity to either do a one-on-one session with a coach through Zoom, or to go into an affiliate and do a workout. And I think that having that personal interaction with a coach who can see the subtle things, that can give you cues on your movement of how to move better, they can kind of coach you on your intensity and how to scale a workout appropriately for you, that’s going to help you get the best stimulus and help you work up to improve your fitness incrementally along the best path, versus just choosing generic workouts and kind of doing them on your own. You may develop less than ideal movement patterns that could end up not serving you well over time, or maybe you’re not dialing up the intensity appropriately or all those things. And then the other advantage of being the affiliate is just having the community support. Like I said, something really magical happens when you’re in that environment with other people and pushing each other and supporting each other and having the cloud. I’ve noticed that myself, just this past year, not being in a gym as much with the pandemic and then going back into a gym and realizing, “Wow, it is a completely different experience doing this workout on my own in the garage versus doing this workout with a community.” Just having people around you, doing the workout with you, it it’s something special and it creates a much better experience and a much better stimulant.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (36:57)
Okay. So you mentioned earlier, good nutrition is important. It’s vital to overall human health. A lot of it begins and ends and throughout is in the kitchen. So if I want to do CrossFit, what type of nutrition regimen would I do? Macros is a big thing right now, protein, fat, carbs, the different ratios. What are your thoughts there?
Dr. Julie Foucher: (37:23)
Sure. So I think the CrossFit community, I think is the early adopters of any new nutrition trends. So I think CrossFitters have adopted paleo. Early on, it was zone and paleo and keto and macros and all of these different things. And I think that it’s because we just like to experiment and we like to just try different things and we’re all trying to optimize our performance and optimize our health. But if you look at what CrossFit itself recommends and what we teach at the level one, and what has always been part of our methodology and our ethos, we talk about sort of this hierarchy of fitness and, that Greg Glassman designed early on, where there’s a pyramid and the very base of the pyramid is nutrition, because that’s where we get all of our fuel.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (38:12)
And he talks about in his 100 words of fitness, he talks about eating meat and vegetables, nuts, and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar and eating in amounts that support exercise and not body fat. So it’s really simple. It’s eat real foods pretty much. I think it’s the place to start, it’s eat real foods, eat things that not processed, that do not have a lot of ingredients that you can buy around the perimeter of the grocery store. And then do the n-of-one experiments. So start by eating meat, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar. And then maybe try adding in, adding foods back in. If you want to try adding back in grains or gluten, or you want to try adding back in dairy or other things in small amounts and just see how your body responds, look at your performance. That’s why we’re always tracking our workout times and our performance so that we can see, is a supporting my performance or not? Is it causing symptoms that I don’t like, like skin issues or congestion or things like that? Then take it back out. And I think starting there with the quality of food is a great place to start, and will get people the majority of health benefits. And we’ll notice that when you’re eating real foods, your appetite changes, all those things. You’re able to sort of regulate the amount that you’re eating too. But if you’re really trying to dial in your performance, or maybe you have a chronic disease, and you’re trying to get more specific, that’s when you can really tailor it to meet your needs if you’re really focused on your performance, you’re a top-end athlete, and you want to start really being precise. That’s when you bring in the weighing and measuring, whether it’s dialing in a certain macro percentage or using a zone proportions, which is what kind of CrossFit adopted early on, just finding a way to measure the food quantity, and then dial that up and down based on how you feel in your performance is sort of the next layer of precision.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (39:59)
Okay. Well, this has been fascinating, Julie. I’ve sure enjoyed our conversation together. What final thoughts would you leave for our listeners about CrossFit? Is there something that we haven’t covered that you think is really important?
Dr. Julie Foucher: (40:15)
I would just emphasize the fact that, not to be intimidated by the name. So when we hear the word, I think when most people hear the word CrossFit, it’s like a lot of words that you hear just in general, they can trigger a strong reaction based on your past experience with it. Based on people you’ve talked to, experiences you’ve had, what you’ve seen, and so I would just encourage any listener to think about that and to say, “Okay, I have this strong reaction one way or another, because either I’ve seen it on the CrossFit Games, it looks scary,” or, “I know someone who’s had an injury while they were doing CrossFit,” or, “my friends are doing CrossFit and they won’t shut up about it and it’s really annoying.” And so I would just say to kind of put those perceptions aside for a minute and to give it a chance, whether it’s walking into a local affiliate and talking to coach, seeing, talking to some of the members there and seeing, I think often, people are extreme, it’s really scary to walk into a CrossFit affiliate, even for someone who has a strong background in athletics. Like I, for me, it was a little intimidating and I had a lot of athletic background. I know people. So Chris Hinshaw, who’s a good friend of mine, he was a world-class Iron Man triathlete, one of the best in the world.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (41:30)
Dr. Julie Foucher: (41:30)
Incredible athlete. And he, the first time he went to the gym, he went to Annie Sakamoto’s gym actually. And the first time he went, he just sat in the car and he got too scared and he drove away and he had to come back another day. And so even for people who have a very strong athletic background, it’s intimidating. And so I can not imagine for someone who maybe hasn’t exercise in 20 years, it is terrifying to think about walking into a CrossFit affiliate. But if you can just get yourself in the door, like get through that fear part and realize that the people there care about you, there are people there who are just like you. There are people there who, I just talked to someone on the podcast the other day, who was, he was 500 pounds when he first started doing CrossFit and he walked in and he started at square one and he lost almost half his body weight over the course of several years. And so anyone can do CrossFit and just be open to it and give it a chance and try to put some of those misc, or preconceived notions aside and just give it a chance. And it’s amazing to see what’s possible. I think the number of people I’ve talked to on my podcast about their lifestyle stories who say CrossFit saved my life, it’s just mind blowing. I haven’t heard of any other fitness program that people say that about.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (42:41)
Wow. Well, this has been amazing, Julie. We’re fortunate to have you on the show. Someone who’s a medical doctor who knows the science and also an elite athlete in the film. This has been amazing. Thank you again, and we’re so grateful that you would take time to be with us.
Dr. Julie Foucher: (42:55)
Well, thank you so much for having me. I love this.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (42:58)
Wonderful thanks for our listeners. And I’m sure you have found this episode as fascinating as I have. So thank you again. This is Dr. Dan signing off.
Dr. Dan Gubler: (43:17)
The information presented by guests in this podcast is their sole opinion and in no way represents the views of Discover with Dr. Dan | The Proactive Health Podcast or Brilliant. This podcast is for informational purposes only and does not replace professional medical care. Please consult with your medical doctor before making any changes in your lifestyle.