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Four Big Problems With Crossfit (That Aren’t Really Crossfit’s Problem)

I like Crossfit. I do the workouts, I love the competitive aspect and record keeping that goes with it, and I like the variation and creativity–especially the challenge of gymnastics movements and olympic lifting. However, I can’t spend over 100 dollars a month to join a Crossfit “box,” and I am not an apologist for all things Crossfit.

That said, there are a lot of haters spreading overly simplistic CrossFit criticisms, and in my experience, these criticisms are widely believed and mindlessly repeated by those with little Crossfit experience.

I train everywhere, I have no “box loyalty,” and love my monthly $25 LA Fitness membership. I’m also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), and trainer at a gym that is not a Crossfit affiliate. But I know something about Crossfit, having trained at a few local affiliates, and as of this January, I’ll have competed in four Crossfit competitions. If you want a humble opinion from an outsider with some inside knowledge, here it is: Most criticisms of Crossfit are criticisms of working out in general. Check it out.

There Is No Programming

This is sort of like claiming that there is no outdoor seating at Starbucks. It’s true for some, but not for most. To really know, you have to go to Starbucks to find out. If there is no outdoor seating, leave.

I hear this one from trainers and seasoned lifters, who claim that Crossfit has no systematic programming, the workouts are random, and progress is left up to chance. This is true if the coach doesn’t program. But for the most part, the coaches of reputable Crossfit boxes know more about programming than your average personal trainer and 24 Hour Fitness and LA Fitness.

If you don’t know what programming is, I’ll tell you that there is VERY LITTLE of it taking place at ANY commercial gym. Lack of programming is not a criticism against Crossfit. It’s a criticism of anyone or place that doesn’t program.

Crossfit Encourages Terrible Form

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When you’re competing against the clock while performing technical movements like the snatch, clean, and jerk, you’re bound to see some crappy form. But for the most part, I’ve see far better form from Crossfit participants than I do in a conventional gym. Part of that is because Crossfit actually prescribes movement standards that increase the chances of a lift being performed correctly. Plus, Crossfit has tons of people squatting and deadlifting, which is HUGE (in a good way). Yes, these sorts of lifts have more moving parts, and as such more can go wrong. This happens ANYTIME inexperienced people begin squatting, deadlifting, pressing, etc. Again most, if not all Crossfit boxes have intro/fundamentals/onramp class where they teach newbies the basics of these movements. This is more than I got at a personal training clinic where I was certified to train other people (see below).

I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but I attended a one day certification course where the trainer said he loved Crossfit because all the bad form created injuries that sent him business. Then he went ahead and certified a bunch of people without checking to see if they could squat correctly.

In a conventional gym, not only do I rarely see anyone performing squats, deadlifts, or cleans, I see a lot of folks having difficulty doing a bicep curl with decent form. If you’re going to go after Crossfit for “form” issues, you’d better have the same criticism of any public gym. 24 Hour Fitness encourages bad form. Gold’s Gym encourages bad form. Working out encourages bad form.

Bad form is everywhere. This is not a problem unique to Crossfit. This is a problem unique to working out with weights.

High Rep Olympic Lifting Is Dangerous

Yes, throwing together a ton of reps with the snatch of clean and jerk can get sketchy. You dial in the best form you can, and when it comes time to compete, you get through it. This is a fair criticism, but I find it disingenuous that it’s leveled primarily at Crossfit. First, your average Crossfitter scales movements and reps so that they can finish the workout safely. If you can’t do a movement correctly, you work on it until you can. This criticism does not apply, in my experience, to any individual who pays attention to their limitations and uses common sense. It’s a bad coach who encourages a client to do otherwise.

Things might get ugly with competition, but consider other widely accepted sports: How about throwing a baseball overhand, over one hundred times in a three hour span? Pitchers need over three days to recover before they can do it again. It’s high reps of a movement that is not too healthy for your shoulder. And we let kids play this game?

How about football: High rep hitting…hmmm…not healthy. Don’t even get started on recreational running. How many foot strikes did you log on that last 10K? How many pounds of force shooting up your leg and spine with each stride? Stress fractures anyone? Too many reps, that’s what I say.

The criticism is sort of a waste, because it can be leveled ALL OVER THE PLACE. A better question is to compare the rates of injury among various activities, and then evaluate from there. Most of what I hear now is anecdotal:

“I know 10 people who got hurt doing Crossfit” or “I played football and everyone was hurt, but now I do Crossfit and I know only one person who has been injured.”

A dose of patient, evaluative common sense would do us some good. As far as the competitive nature of Crossfit (which is, I admit, where things get nasty and risk of injury probably skyrockets), remember that we do all sorts of things in the name of competition that are not necessarily “good” for us, but we don’t get all sensitive about it and tell everyone they shouldn’t do it because, you might get hurt! 

Unless we’re talking about Crossfit.

You’re Trying to Be the Best at Working Out

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This is my favorite, and I hear it all the time:

“Trying to be the best at working out?”

Yes, I am. And a better question is, why aren’t you? Why would you not try to be the best you can at everything you do? I know it’s a joke, but it’s a Crossfit joke. It should be a joke against any athlete.

Bodybuilders, powerflifters, gymnasts, and olympic lifters all compete, and therefore are “trying to be the best at working out.”  And, you can use this goofy insult for pretty much any sport you don’t like:

  • Soccer: I’m not trying to be the best at “fetch” with my feet. Kick a ball and chase after it? No thanks.
  • Basketball: Sorry bro, not trying to bet the best at tossing a ball through a hoop. It was cool when I was three.
  • Baseball: Not trying to be the best at hitting a ball with a stick while wearing tight pants.
  • Track: Not trying to be the best and running around in circles and throwing sticks through the air.
  • Football: Not trying to be the best running back and forth across grass and touching other dudes.
  • Golf: Fetch after your own ball? Sounds like a game to keep an idiot busy.

Any sport has it’s idiosyncrasies that might make it seem ridiculous to someone without a taste for it.

Working Out Is Risky

Most of the problems people have with Crossfit are problems with working out in general. And in general, Crossfit as a whole does a pretty good job of minimizing these issues–at least they do a heck of a lot better than your average commercial gym.

I don’t think Crossfit is  the be-all end-all of fitness, and there are plenty of drawbacks and risks.  But there are risks that are inherent to any physically demanding task.  As individuals, we need to make an informed decision weighing the costs and benefits of any physical activity before choosing to participate. Most problems with Crossfit aren’t Crossfit problems.

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