My Swimmer-Does-CrossFit Experiment Comes Full Circle

Retta Race
by Retta Race 64

September 29th, 2019 Lifestyle, News, Opinion

As a Masters swimmer, I have the flexibility to change-up my training and essentially do whatever I want whenever I want, which makes swimming a joy most of the time. To supplement what I’m doing in the pool, I often hit the gym.

Just over a year ago I entered the CrossFit world to spice things up and I learned several important things along the last 12 months.

Throughout the chronicling of my CrossFit experience, I was hit with all kinds of reader comments, from the rational feedback to the ‘I hate CrossFit no matter what’-type hysterics.

Here is what I gleaned from my swimmer-goes-CrossFitting experience as I now step away from ‘the box’.

As a refresher, here are my previous swimmer-does-CrossFit posts to give you background:
#1 – Gym Fatigue Carried into the Pool
Reader Comment: “This new fangled Crossfit thing has hurt a bunch of kids. My daughter hurt her shoulder. I say just be careful and protect your body!!!”
In CrossFit‘s defense, I am solidly on the swammer end of the ‘in-swimmer-shape’ spectrum. My age dictates I take recovery seriously and adhere to the signs my body relays to me when I push things too far.
As such, my usual week of hitting CrossFit at least 4 times followed by swimming workouts took its toll, where I wound up not being able to give my full effort in either and both wound up suffering.
#2 – Non-Specific Strength Got Old
Reader Comment: “But I eventually realized that doing random stuff for time doesn’t train you for anything specific.”
Although I saw a direct translation of certain CrossFit moves or elements to improved mechanics in the pool, we simply didn’t perform those particular exercises often enough to maximize that translation.
CrossFit prides itself on being varied and avoiding muscle memory, which I found prevented me from building on the specific movements I found were most helpful to my training in the pool.
#3 – Increase in Strength Comprised Mobility
Reader Comment: “Matt Fraser [American professional CrossFit athlete] is not similar to any elite swimmer.”
I’ve lifted weights in some form or fashion my entire adult life, but I’d never performed Olympic lifts before I joined CrossFit. Also, I’d never lifted as heavy as I did when in the CrossFit gym.  Over the course of my CrossFit year my overall strength improved in leaps and bounds, to the point where I had to shop for new clothes since my body was changing, especially in the shoulders and arms.
However, I found my new ‘big guns’ more restrictive in the pool. My mobility in the water definitely took a hit. I wound up feeling that my blending in aesthetically with the other members of the CrossFit gym wasn’t worth not being able to maintain swimming staples, such as a high elbow recovery in freestyle.
#4 – Reduction in Quality of Pool Training
Reader Comment: “CrossFit is good and all, but my shoulders hated it. Had to give it up.”
I didn’t suffer any performance-impacting injuries, but my body was indeed sore and tired literally all the time. I would wake up stiff and achy and go to bed the same way.
I wound up using my swimming workouts as a form of recovery from CrossFit WODs instead of using the pool as my primary form of exercise. I didn’t like that feeling that I was shortchanging what I loved to do the most.
#5 – Overwhelming Lifestyle
Reader Comment: “CrossFit: The Scientology of Fitness”
What I had heard about CrossFit wound up being very true at my particular box. Gym-goers form a very close community that can both be welcoming, but also extremely CrossFit-centric. I wound up living and breathing CrossFit and began to realize that every conversation or communication I had with my workout buddies revolved solely around CrossFit.
My experience confirmed I need to have more of a well-rounded mentality when approaching working out. When I meet fellow swimmers at the pool, the last thing we talk about is swimming. Yes, we happen to be swimming, but we chat on family life, we gripe about work and we trade weekend plans.
Do I miss CrossFit since I’ve stepped away? Honestly, not really. I still get my weight-lifting fix in on my own terms, on my own time, with the ability to do the gym stuff that best benefits what I’m doing in the pool. My body doesn’t miss feeling fatigued all the time and the quality of my swimming workouts is getting back to where it was pre-CrossFit.
The experience simply reinforced the fact that I’m a swimmer, first and foremost and that’s how I want it to be.

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Did you go any best times in the pool?


My experience has been that swimming- oriented dryland, not tee shirt bicep curls, has the potential to reshape bodies while avoiding shoulder trauma

The first years the kids do it (fresh-soph high school)usually generates Huge returns. It too requires tapering and monitoring

This article is a repudiation of cross-fit 4 days a week for a masters swimmer, not dry land per se


Girls should not be lifting until they are done growing and boys should not be lifting at all or at least not until after senior year for the rest. Unfortunately, coaches start recuiting “best times” early and that requires hitting them in your junior year at latest. Most boys that started lifting early and stopped growing early will never or very little improve in college. Lifting should be used for those big time cuts your freshman year in college. That is why Texas freshmen do so well. Eddie recruits 6’3”-6’5” stick figures and then puts some muscles on them their freshman year.


Your vision of what Eddie does and doesn’t do is so warped, it’s unreal. Carson and Jake Foster about 5’8 and far from ‘stick figures.’ Ethan Harder is 6-feet tall in shoes. He’s recruited a few of the 6’3″-6’5″ “stick figures” as you call them, and a lot of them haven’t even made it to their junior years, let alone to be contributors.

It’s like you’ve bought in to your own self-perpetuating Eddie Reese hype. You remember hearing something about how he recruits these unknown kids that are tall but guppies in the water and turns them into Olympians…because you keep saying it and listen to yourself say it often enough that you believe it to be true.


Carson and Jake are definitely NOT 5’8”


I’ve been on pool deck with them before. Jake seemed to be about eye level with me at 6’0” and Carson is a little shorter maybe 5’10”-5’11”


Well, first of all, I bet you are now “a Mom.” Second I see this kids when they come to Texas program and I see them for 4 years. I also talked to many former Texas swimmers. What I wrote is not based on my “self-perpetuating Eddie Reese hype” but, hey, believe whatever you want.


U are severely mistaken

Both fosters have done intensive dryland for ten years where my sons work out. It didn’t hurt them

Dead lifting big weight is totally different than resistance cords, rope climbs, sled pushes etc

Lacking in clues


Schooling was reported to be only 5’8” when he was swimming fast.


First, if you are alluding to weightlifting stunting growth, there is no scientific evidence of this. Second, weightlifting is an excellent way to teach children proper movement mechanics. Waiting until a kid is 18 to teach them how to squat or deadlift is going to make it harder for them to learn the proper execution. Especially for a kid who grows up swimming, because many swimmers have seriously dysfunctional movement patterns on land. Third, building strength increases stability around the joints and will help prevent injury, in addition to the previously mentioned improvement in movement function. Fourth, just because kids who don’t lift before college might drop more time, that doesn’t mean that their potential is any higher than it… Read more »


There are plenty of scientific. studies that show axial loading may stunt growth.


Thank you, Adam. I read so much about that because I had to. Our oldest girl was born with congenital bowing of tibia and when she was 11, we did tibia extension. For those who are not familar, the doctor cuts her bone, inserts 9 pins through the bone and places the Taylor Frame and every day I had to extend her leg by 1 millimeter using frame screws. The bone forms overnight. Unbelievable. The tibia on the shorter leg was extended by more than two inches over 2 months. I believe that axial loading may stunt the growth, by just doing a lot of reading about all of this. If the bone can form overnight within a one millimitar… Read more »


I think that’s the right call with regard to the tibia extension, but I don’t think it’s right to extrapolate that to natural growth. All of the evidence currently available says that resistance training in a healthy bone increases bone density (which is one physiological parameter that swimming does not improve) and will decrease the likelihood of bone injuries, without affecting final growth.

Corn Pop

We have a lady who wanted to go into politics but was too short , so she went to Russis for this op . It worked & I think she did reach both desired heights.
Russian meddling in elections for real!


My understanding is that if you introduce a large enough load to damage the growth plate, yeah, growth will be stunted. In rat ulnas, that took 17 newtons, which is a huge force when scaled up to a human ulna. At lower forces, no morphological changes in bone length were observed.

Still, I’ll admit that my earlier statement leaves too much room for interpretation, so here’s the amended take:
There is no scientific evidence that a well-supervised, reasonably programmed weightlifting regimen (i.e. slow load progression, no one rep maxes) will stunt growth.

Col. Trautman

“One of the commonest misperceptions surrounding youth strength training is the belief that it could stunt the statural growth of children and adolescents. This myth seems to have been fueled by an earlier report that suggested that children who performed heavy labor experienced damage to their epiphyseal plates, which resulted in significant decreases in stature. Other causative factors, however, such as poor nutrition, were not accounted for in this study. Current observations indicate no evidence of a decrease in stature in children and adolescents who participate in well-designed youth strength training program.” “The widespread fear of youth strength training primarily stemmed from data gathered by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. NEISS… Read more »

Ol' Longhorn

In rats and mice. Practically zero in humans. If so, quote an article. Here’s the most recent thing I can find in PubMed on the topic that gives weightlifting a fair appraisal in actual young people.


I was not talking about stunting the growth. They should not be lifting while growing though. Once a teenager stops growing, then maybe, although I am against that until college. Our 17 yo boy is 6’2” and still growing, and a stick figure. He just started lifting and there is no day when I am not checking with him making sure he is not increasing weights and just doing repetitions. I am against him lifting (except doing plyometrics) even if that means slower times, or not even swimming in college. I give him speaches about not taking anything but natural food or any kind of “drinks.” As fast as he can be, while eating and doing normal things, is fine… Read more »


First off, I appreciate that you’re not a “faster at all costs” type of parent. It seems like we both agree that a slow progression with a focus on good form is good, and more reps are probably better while learning so that the neuromuscular connections get more opportunities to improve. I just think there’s nothing wrong with that learning taking place sooner. It’s going to teach the kid better control and stability earlier in their life, which will make them both safer and more effective in everything they do.


What is your source for the opinion of “not lifting during growth”? Males have a tendency to continue to growth into their early 20s, holding back because “growth” seems a bit extreme. Having a foundation of technique before college is a HUGE asset when they step foot on campus.

Why stop him from incremental increases in weight during these years? It becomes stale and you don’t have advancement. If you have a smart CSCS on your hands, keep your mouth shut and let them do their work. If not, get them out of there and put them in the right situation.


Sven googled “axial loading” and quoted the first thing that comes up. “ all the evidence” is what he was able to find in the first 5 minutes of googling the subject.


Feel free to point out studies that show favorable bone mineral density comparisons of swimming to resistance training, or studies that show any link between weight lifting and stunted growth. Weightlifting is not the same as axial loading. Tendons, ligaments, and muscles will tear before you ever add enough load to cause an axial component large enough to stunt bone growth. I’m not going to write an entire meta-analysis on the subject, no matter how many snarky comments you make. Try adding some substance to the conversation, bud.

Sean S

Charlie Schienfeld also lifted all 4 years in high school and dropped a ton of time as a freshman.


Texas roster shows one swimmer under 6’0…most are well over. Paul Degrado is muscular freshman from Bolles (breaststroker).


Engaging in any training method with an injury rate over 70% should set off alarm bells. A “damn the torpedoes” approach probably isn’t a good idea. If you were to devise a plan to break your body by pushing it to extremes without regard for form or preparation, it might look a lot like cross-cult. There are smart ways to improve strength and mobility out of the water that will actually prevent injuries and improve performance and durability in the pool. With plenty of good information readily available these days, there’s never been a better environment for learning how to train effectively.

Strength and Conditioning Guy

CrossFit does not have a 70% injury rate – can you imagine if 70% of the people who participated in the classes got hurt? How would the be sustainable? How would CrossFit still be a thing? Please do not spread misinformation and attempt to perpetuate incorrect information. In recent years it has become a highly regulated and scientific training methodology. Yes there is good and bad but that is the same as anything, including teams that constantly cause burnout and overuse injuries with their swimmers. It has been acknowledged that injury rates published by the NCSA have been inflated with faulty data ( and that faulty data stated a 16% injury rate (which again is FALSE) – and is still… Read more »


The actual research statistic actually has the injury rate lower than CrossFit, NSCA just lost a law suit for falsifying the injury rate that you just quoted. -Physical Therapist, swim coach, crossfitter

Fred Wagner

I swim Masters and also have done Crossfit for 6 years and was never injured and I too do not believe a 70% rate, but I did recognize that the fatigue and tired shoulders definitely made swimming much more difficult. I have now reverted to strength work only (squat, press, bench, deadlifts) and am feeling much better and stronger. Crossfit is exercise that I enjoyed but it is not training. PS: when I was running a few half marathons a year, that is when I was injured the most.

Ol' Longhorn

What do you think the injury rate is in Masters swimming? I bet 70% of masters swimmers have been out, or at least reduced workload, because of a shoulder or other issue. Bad form, repetitive stress will injure any athlete in any sport.

About Retta Race

Retta Race

After 16 years at a Fortune 1000 financial company, long-time swimmer Retta Race decided to change lanes and pursue her sporting passion. She currently is Coach for the Northern KY Swordfish Masters, a team she started up in December 2013, while also offering private coaching. Retta is also an MBA …

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