My Take on Crossfit

Posted: March 17, 2013 in Training
Tags: , , ,

Before I write this, I realize that I may alienate a few people with this post. It’s not my policy to go around bashing different training styles, but this is a topic that comes up often between me and other trainers, as well as gym members, and frankly I’m tired of talking about it.

"I don't care how long it took you to do 7 rounds of 13 kipping pullups and 49 back squats!"

“I don’t care how long it took you to do 7 rounds of 13 kipping pullups and 49 back squats!”

This is my official stance on Crossfit training, take it or leave it.

Crossfit seems to be the most polarizing training method out there right now; people either love it to death or absolutely abhor it.  I’ve talked to people on both sides of the argument and both make some valid points, but I tend to fall on the anti-Crossfit end of the spectrum.  I’ve done Crossfit workouts before, and I can see why people like doing them. It’s actually a brilliant idea, and the guys who came up with it and marketed it so well should be commended. Notice I didn’t say it was a brilliant training strategy, though. I still think Crossfit is nonsense, but its creators were smart enough to know what will get people in the gym. There are 4 things that I’ve identified as the main reasons people seem to love Crossfit:

1) It’s fast-paced 

2) It’s different and fresh each day
 
3) It allows people to be a part of a community
 

4) It gets you in shape

This is all well and good, but these same traits that make Crossfit appealing to people are also some of the things that lead me to dislike it.

For example:

1) “It’s fast-paced” = “Go as fast as you can at the expense of good form”

If you check out the Crossfit website, you’ll notice that a lot of the exercises they do in their Workouts of the Day are Olympic-Style lifts. I love this, because compound, Olympic lifts are great for building strength and power. However, Olympic lifts need to be performed with good mechanics, and when you’re exhausted after running a 400 meter sprint or rowing 1000 meters, your mechanics are not going to be very good when you rush back into your barbell snatches. All too often I see people doing Crossfit who are more concered with their times than they are with doing these exercises safely and properly. If people are using correct form, then fine. But when you put more of an emphasis on time and less emphasis on actually doing things right, people can end up getting hurt.

2) “It’s different and fresh each day” = “This is pure randomness”

This is the go-to knock on Crossfit that you’ll hear from trainers most of the time: “It’s random and there’s no progression.” From what I know about Crossfit, this seems to be absolutely the case. Their Workouts of the Day look like nothing more than haphazardly thrown-together “workouts” that have neither rhyme nor reason.

Pictured: Crossfit's Workout of the Day creator

Pictured: Crossfit’s Workout of the Day creator

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you can’t tell the difference between a “real” Crossfit workout and a “fake” one that I’m going to make up on the spot.

Here’s four Crossfit workouts. Two of them are real,”official” Crossfit workouts. Two of them I made up just sitting here now.

A) For time:
Run 1000 meters
100 Push-ups
135 pound Snatch, 10 reps

B) For time:
100 Bodyweight Overhead Squats
75 Push-ups
10 100 meter Sprints

C. Complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of:
15 Box Jumps, 24″ Box
95 Pound Thruster, 20 reps
135 pound Deadlift, 20 reps

D. Complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of:
10 Pull-ups
75 pound dumbbell Deadlift, 5 reps
135 pound Push-press, 8 reps

Can you tell which are the “real” Crossfit workouts? I doubt it, because they’re all equally random and silly. (For the answer, scroll to the bottom of the page)

This brings me to another gripe of mine: Crossfit “certifications.” People are paying money to go to seminars to learn how to create these workouts, and then other people are paying them money to create them. Any joker with a functioning brain can come up with workouts like this. Just write down some exercises, put them in a hat, and pull out 3 or 4. Then decide on an arbitrary number of times to do each exercise, or to do as many as you can in 20 minutes. Nothing to it. If you don’t have the brainpower to come up with a random workout, and you actually want to pay somebody money to do it for you, I’m sorry. But then again, I’m not 100% sure people do Crossfit for the exercise aspect of it. I think mostly, people are attracted to it because…

3) “It allows people to be part of a community” = “I see lots of people doing this so it must be awesome”

Crossfit got its start as a training method for police officers, firefighters, and UFC fighters; people generally considered badasses. Then, the wannabe badasses started doing it too because they thought it looked cool. Then, the average person started doing it because they heard it was cool, and so on and so on. Everybody does the same workout, and they can all post their best times on the Crossfit website, they can discuss their favorite workouts on message boards, etc. Crossfit built their empire on connecting people and making them feel like part of a group. If there’s one thing people like, it’s being part of something bigger than themselves. And that’s fine. It’s a very smart, shrewd marketing strategy. But, an exercise program’s merit should be based upon its effectiveness, and not its appeal to the human need for community. Which leads me to my next point:

4) “It gets you in shape” =  “It gets you ‘in shape’ “

Crossfit’s website describes their program as “broad, general, and inclusive.” That would be terrific, if everybody was at the same exact fitness level and had all the same needs. But as we all know, everybody is different. You can’t train everybody the exact same way and expect them to all make the same gains and reach the same fitness level. This is especially true for athletes. If I had a quarterback come to me and tell me he was doing Crossfit to get in shape for football, I would be incredulous. For one thing, if you look at Crossfit’s list of exercises on their website, you’ll notice that there is a fairly large discrepancy between the amount of pushing and pulling exercises. If you want to give yourself a muscle imbalance and rounded, crappy shoulders, Crossfit is for you.

This is your future. Enjoy.

This is your future. Enjoy.

Not to mention that one of the few upper body pulling exercises listed is kipping pullups. There’s even multiple videos about how to kip properly. Kipping pullups are garbage. Do some real pullups, please.

There’s a reason why not everybody should follow the same exercise regimen: everybody has different needs. If I have a baseball pitcher come to me, am I going to have them doing 135 pound overheard presses? God, no. That will ruin his shoulder and career. If I have a person with lumbar disc damage, am I going to have them doing deadlifts? No shot. Giving everybody the same workout isn’t just lazy, it’s dangerous.

Crossfit is great at increasing people’s endurance and stamina. I have no argument there, but as far as creating a person with great overall strength and power, I just don’t see it. Having a grown man do burpees isn’t going to make him any stronger. It just makes him look silly because he’s a grown man, doing burpees. And again, it doesn’t take any brains or talent to put together a program that will just make people tired. People will say “Crossfit is great because I’m more tired after those workouts than I am after my normal workouts.” Well, no kidding. If you did your normal workouts at the same absurd pace that Crossfit workouts are done, you’d be just as tired.

While I do think that Crossfit is kind of a money-making scam – especially now that they offer certifications to every bum off the street who wants to give them money for it – I also think that it’s better than nothing. If it’s going to get people off the couch and into the gym, great. If you want to lose some weight and work out with other people who love Crossfit just as much as you, have at it. But if you want to get really strong, powerful, and better at sports, look elsewhere.

Quiz answer:
I made up B and C. You had no idea.
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