What is CrossFit? What is behavior analysis? You may be familiar with one, none, or both. By now, you may be asking yourself: what does science have to do with CrossFit? Or, how is behavioral science related to CrossFit? exercise, workout, lifestyle, weight loss, diet, nutrition, healthy eating, science
You may be a CrossFitter that has never heard of behavioral science, a behavior analyst hesitant about joining CrossFit, or some variation in between. I will highlight the commonalities between the two and give a little of my backstory with both worlds. This article is not a plug for CrossFit or to get you to drink the behavior analytic kool-aid, but a humble observation of how my two passions gel with each other. If anything, this blog is a brief introduction to each.
To make sure we are on the same page, let’s first review the definitions of each…
From CrossFit.com: exercise, workout, lifestyle, weight loss, diet, nutrition, healthy eating, science
CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.
Behavior analysis is (my own wording; based on 8 years of clinical and academic experience):
The science of human behavior, a science that teaches us how to solve socially meaningful* problems.
*Important targets like teaching people how to talk, improving job safety, or getting people to quit smoking.
When I started CrossFit (going on 3+ years now), it was new and challenging. However, the transition into CrossFit was quick and seamless because I recognized how its scientific background overlapped with my other passion, behavior analysis. This article may be long overdue but these core principles have always existed.
Here are 3 core principles that CrossFit and behavioral science share:
Core Principle 1 – Emphasis on Function
Function is the most important aspect for both CrossFit and behavior analysis.
In CrossFit, the prescription for workouts is “constantly varied, high intensity, functional [italics added] movement.”
Functional movements are the core movements of life. They are they actions that you need to perform to get by every day without the help of others. To name a few, these include:
- Standing up exercise, workout, lifestyle, weight loss, diet, nutrition, healthy eating, science
- Picking something up off the ground
- Getting up off the ground
- Reaching above your head to grab something from a shelf
- Pulling yourself up over an object,
- Carrying something for a certain distance
- …actions that have a purpose.
For each of these core movements, comes a matched exercise. To get better at picking things off of the ground you may need to work on movements like deadlifts and squats.
These functional movements are in contrast to non-functional movements like bicep curls and calf raises. Sure, these exercises may add to your overall strength in some way, but it is doubtful that your daily activities require you to perform a bicep curl. This is the distinction between functional and non-functional movements. Non-functional movements have their place in training but are beyond this discussion.
In behavior analysis, function is at the center of its science. Behavior analysts want to figure out why certain things happen in the world around us. Explanations often come in a friendly “If, then” package.
If I fly a certain airline, then I have a great experience.
If I yell this loud at a bar, only then will the bartender hear my order.
If I smile in an interview, then my conversations are likely to be well received.
At the core of solving socially important problems, is understanding what things (or variables) happening in the world around us make up these “If, then” statements.
Although function is used differently for CrossFit and behavior analysis, it is a core principle for each.