I have been to a Crossfit on three separate occasions, all recently, and a few Saturdays ago I competed in a large Crossfit competition. I trained like a Crossfitter for about a month to prepare for the competition, and I don’t claim to be an expert or even highly knowledgeable. My experience is limited to one Crossfit “box” and one competition that included Crossfit enthusiasts from all over Southern California. What follows is a summary of what I’ve read, witnessed, and experienced in my few-month flirtation with Crossfit.
Crossfit is everywhere. There were 49 Crossfit gyms, or (“boxes”–more on that later) in 2001, and now there are 2,800, according to a Crossfit spokesman. Kind of like Starbucks, but sweatier.
And just like Starbucks, the haters are out and about in full force. People get touchy about their exercise, but I’ve never seen the likes of all the love and loathing Crossfit gets. People love Crossfit. And they hate Crossfit.
After taking a few classes, and even competing in a Crossfit-style competition, I’m ready to venture a few opinions.
Crossfit in 5 Sentences or Less
A system of exercise that draws from gymnastics, olympic weight lifting, body weight exercises, and a hodgepodge of other activities designed to tax the entire body (rope climbs, rowing, tire flipping, etc.). Participants work with a group under the supervision of a coach, who designs the “workout of the day” (WOD).
Workouts usually consist of several different movements, and are to be completed as fast as possible, or for as many “rounds” as possible within a given time frame. Workouts conclude with participants sprawled about in various states of exhaustion, most of whom pay good money to repeat the process several times a week.
This is a major simplification, but you get the basic idea.
Now for the rumors.
The Good Rumors:
“Crossfit has coaching.”
It’s true. Each class is run by a coach, and the difficult movements are taught and scaled to individual ability. This is far superior to the brand of personal training you will get at LA Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, etc.
The quality of the coach is a different question. I’ve heard some nightmare stories about terrible programming and exercise selection, so I guess this one just depends on the knowledge and experience of the particular coach.
“Crossfit is the complete package when it comes to fitness: cardio, flexibility, agility, coordination, strength, power.”
I would tend to agree with this statement. Someone who participates in Crossfit would seem to be exceptionally well-rounded in terms of overall fitness. The “jack of all trades/master of none” principle is at work here.
“Crossfit is definitely not boring.”
True again. There is ridiculous variety within every “WOD,” not to mention the variety in the different domains of fitness (strength, power, endurance, flexibility, agility, etc.)
“Crossfit encourages camaraderie.”
I’ve heard some call Crossfit a cult, and either way I think we’re talking about the same thing. All of the Crossfitters I’ve encountered have an intense shared bond, sort of like a team. There’s encouragement and motivation (or isolation and exclusion, depending on your perspective).
“Crossfit gets results.”
Sure. But anything halfway decent gets results, provided you stick with it and maintain a level of intensity and dedication. I tend to think Crossfit is superior to many other forms of training, simply because it emphasizes the tried and true (but often neglected) movements like squats, deadlifts, power cleans, lunges, presses, etc.) That said, Crossfit by no means has the monopoly on those movements, or effective training in general.
The Bad Rumors:
“Crossfitters are arrogant exercise elitests. They think their ‘way’ of exercising is better than anyone else.”
Well…to quote one Crossfit T-shirt I’ve seen:
“Our warm up is your workout”
And to quote Crossfit founder Greg Glassman (as reposted in Crossfit forums):
“We do what you do almost as well as you, you can’t do our stuff at all, and we do what neither of us do better than you can.”
Yeah, these sorts of comments definitely paint the entire brand as arrogant. Personally, the message I get from “Crossfit” as an entity is consistent with this arrogance. However, all of the individual people and coaches I’ve met who do Crossfit have been friendly, helpful, inclusive, and welcoming. It’s definitely a paradox.
And I’m not sure who Glassman was talking to in the above quote, or even if it’s he really said it. But in a lot of cases, it’s simply not true. There’s nothing superhuman about doing Crossfit.
“Crossfit will injure you. It encourages you to train up to and through pain.”
I took a one-day seminar last summer to get a personal training certification for LA Fitness. The trainer, who was a certified strength and conditioning specialist, said he loved Crossfit, because it injured people and sent him new clients. He may be right. Then again, he probably certified a few dozen people that day who had no idea how to perform a proper back squat. I guess he’ll get more clients that way too.
I think this one comes down to the coach. The level of intensity involved with the Crossfit WODS can definitely predispose people to injury, so it’s important to learn the movements properly, and then scale them to individual ability. This seems like common sense that holds true for any exercise routine. I guess the intensity and movements associated with Crossfit simply make having a quality coach that much more important.
One criticism I tend to agree with is that many Crossfit workouts prescribe performing highly skilled Olympic lifts and power movements like the snatch, power clean, and jerk for a high number of repetitions. These movements require lots of skill and practice, and form starts to fall off when fatigue sets in. Most coaches recommend training these in very low rep ranges (like 3 or less). Crossfit WODS call for all sorts of reps on these, albeit at lower weights. For example, the WOD for October 12 calls for 30 135lbs. clean and jerks to start off a workout.
Imagine knocking out 30 of these in a row as fast as you can. It can get ugly:
Bad form on pretty much anything leads to injury, so it seems logical that high reps + bad form + complicated movements=good chance of getting hurt. At any rate, I definitely wouldn’t advise a beginner to pick up the workouts off the Crossfit main page and start trying them on their own. Recipe for injury for sure.
“Crossfit has no systematic programming. It’s just a bunch of random junk thrown together.”
Sometimes I get this feeling when I look at the main page WODS. Check them out for yourself. And there is definitely no progression that would lead to systematic gains in strength. At the same time, the individual gyms and coaches can take care of programming, thereby eliminating this criticism. Judging all of Crossfit for lack of programming based on the main page WODS seems a bit simplistic and immature. Check out the blogs of individual Crossfit boxes, and you will find more systematic programming.
“Crossfit is a Cult.”
Well…they do sponsor their own competitions, hang out together, have a fearless leader, and use a specialized vocabulary, which seems a bit intimidating to outsiders. For example, show up at a box and the WOD might be SDLHP, HSPU, and double unders AMRAP for 15 minutes as Rx’d.
(Box=gym, WOD=workout of the day, AMRAP=as many rounds as possible, and Rx’d= as prescribed. I’m still figuring out the rest of it).
Then you’ve got quotes like these:
“Normal people don’t get it. It’s like being in the mafia. You can’t understand what it’s like unless you’re on the inside.”
I guess this is the attitude of some Crossfitters, but I wouldn’t judge the entire outfit by a few zealots. There’s nothing particularly abnormal or mafia-esque about Crossfit, at least in my opinion. Crossfit just brands and repackages what sensible strength and conditioning coaches have been doing for years.
Yeah, there’s an air of superiority, and yes, there may be a hint of condescension when they talk about LA Fitness and 24 Hour as “globo gyms.” But isn’t it human nature to find your niche and forge a common bond with like-minded individuals?
Here’s my wrap up:
- Everyone I’ve met personally via Crossfit has been welcoming, nice, and encouraging, but the vibe of Crossfit as a whole can come across as arrogant and condescending.
- They have some clever T-shirts.
- It’s fun, and it pushes you to explore your physical limitations.
- An experienced coach is a good idea.
- It’s expensive, but probably worth the money. Much better than spending your money on personal training at LA Fitness, 24 Hour, etc. If you’re paying for training at either of those locations, please email me (there’s a 75% chance I can give you more help for 1/4 the price). Crossfit offers coaching, equipment, camaraderie, and variety. Not to mention it’s pretty good at whipping you into shape.
After training for my first Crossfit competition, I’m definitely going to continue incorporating some Crossfit-style WODS into my strength and conditioning routine.