The article stems from a quote from my previous article on the problems with the paleo diet, “Crossfit, a popular and generally-looked-down-upon, dangerous and poorly-implemented fitness fad…”
“What did you mean by that? Hang on just a second! You can’t slam Crossfit! Crossfit is the shit! Crossfit has made me the badass I am today! Crossfit isn’t for pu$$!eS . Clearly you can’t handle it.”
…well, this is how I imagine the response. I’m sure the Crossfit community is more dignified than that, so what is the story? Why do I exaggerate such a barbaric response?
Because of the paleo-centric community.
I wish I could say that I’m sorry for being unfair, but I can’t. I devoted several weeks to researching the plant-based vs. paleo camps, and read dozens of meticulously written articles, and then spent many hours combing through each of their avalanches of comments and the links contained within.
I was absolutely appalled by what I read. While plant-based enthusiasts are not immune to being petty and insulting, the paleo community had it in spades. There is something about glorifying man as a meat-eating ,savage, athletic, shirtless, smooth-chested stud that gets the paleo people up in arms whenever you suggest that man really wasn’t that impressive–and that he didn’t gorge himself on delicious meat.
By comparison, man is a skinny, hairless, weak-looking dweeb who was smart enough to use tools to scavenge leftovers, steal eggs from nests, and eat his own parasites. He was lean, wiry, and as strong as his environment functionally permitted him to be.
Rest assured, nothing in the paleolithic environment resembled a gym.
The fact that the paleo movement and Crossfit are married makes me shudder at the thought of receiving paleo community backlash. Seriously.
I admit this might be my way of criticizing those same hyper-defensive paleo people (not all paleo people are assholes). This time I’m striking at the paleo cult from a different angle: Crossfit–the holy grail of paleo fitness.
For the record, I don’t hate Crossfit. I like it a lot. Really. A lot. I still do it.
- Crossfit is the most efficient training protocol I have ever encountered (up there with RKC) when measuring gains spread broadly over power, speed, and medium muscular endurance.
- The dietary guidelines are perfectly sensible for its aim and scope.
- Crossfit teaches mental toughness in a way unlike most training regimes.
- It offers a wide variety of workout styles, and keeps things interesting, both on a metabolic level, and for entertainment purposes.
- Crossfit focuses predominantly on functional training exercises, dismissing isolated lifting and long bouts of cardio.
- When executed smartly, Crossfit makes fitness animals who are prepared for just about anything life can throw at them.
- The Crossfit Website is an amazing free resource and exercise library, full of tutorials for anyone seeking a better understanding of its core movements.
THE CONS, or at least THINGS TO CONSIDER:
- The Crossfit I certification is too easy to obtain – and serves as a money-making scheme, as well as a stepping stone for it’s Level II certification, required for its franchise. Crossfit may very well be the most rapidly expanding fitness franchise out there.
- Lack of depth and understanding in its certification - a Crossfit certification demonstrates that you have sufficient understanding of Crossfit methodology, in order to pass a short test at the end of a two-day seminar. Understanding Crossfit methodology is not the same as understanding exercise physiology. Most training certifications, for those with no B.S. in anatomy, kinesiology, of physiology, takes at least several months to study for, and the tests are proctored. Furthermore, most reputable certifications require regular continuing education courses, to ensure that fitness professionals are staying current with the trends and findings in exercise physiology. The fitness industry is plagued with bad certifications, and only a handful of nationally recognized certifications carry any weight in the fitness industry. Having a Crossfit certification means little more than having a certification in TRX Suspension training, and should only be considered supplemental to any trainer’s list of qualifications.
- Inattentive and/or unqualified trainers - I could be wrong. I haven’t looked up the resume skirt. But the proof is in the pudding. I have witnessed it with my own eyes, and there is a plethora of video on youtube demonstrating this fact: that Crossfit’s attention to safety and form is lacking. This leads me to believe that many Crossfit instructors have no idea how to correctly teach Olympic and Power lifts; or if they do, they certainly do not care if the trainee is performing these lifts properly. Olympic and Power lifts are not things to play around with. It is extremely easy to hurt yourself, and it happens all the time, which leads me to the next point…
- Insanely high rate of injury - This is a multi-faceted problem. First, Crossfit seeks intensity and speed in favor of safety. The lifts are so physically demanding, the metabolic pathways so punishing when mixed and matched, that the trainee fatigues rapidly, leaving room for error. Second, Crossfit relies heavily on medium muscular endurance activities which, at a high enough and sloppy intensity, can easily cause overuse injury. Third, quantity is favored over quality. ”Come on, push! You got this! One more!” as someone struggles under the weight of their hang clean caught at their stomach, rather than in an appropriate rack position.
- Business model - Aside from being a rapidly expanding franchise, Crossfit has capitalized on the next biggest thing in fitness: group training. Group training is both cost-effective and motivating for the trainee, and the intensity of group training usually helps provide a better workout. Group fitness has known this for years; group training is supposed to be a compromise between group fitness and private training. Crossfit workouts are usually drop-in, as trainees purchase entry on a month-to-month basis, or class packages. The affordability of Crossfit (along with its cultish ambiance) makes for an easy revenue stream. The groups, in my opinion, are usually too large and cannot be appropriately monitored. If someone gets hurt, its easy to fill his spot. People are always coming through the door, transfixed by the heavy metal music, grunting, and slamming of weights by sweat-soaked, shirtless animals.
- Lack of training infrasctructure – Huh? This will depend on the location, for sure, as well as the quality of training and instructor staff. In large part, Crossfit lacks scaled training options for beginners, people with contraindications, and people with significant muscle-skeletal imbalances. Crossfit is only appropriate for healthy, well-moving people, and lacks programming for everyone else.
- Vomiting – I have no idea why this is considered a badge of honor. Vomiting from a workout says only one thing to me: you’re out of shape. I’ve trained with dozens of truly elite athletes. They don’t vomit after their races. Ever. Furthermore, the people most likely to experience vomiting and dizziness during or after a workout are those who are just getting started in a training program. If anything, the high rates of vomiting speak only to the volume of amateurs embarking on the very technical aspects of Crossfit, and thus putting themselves in danger.
- Lack of logic in program design/ no program design – In other words, there is only one goal for anyone in Crossfit: to be a badass. That’s it. For anyone with specific fitness goals, I recommend going somewhere else. Exercises are neither good nor bad; they are simply appropriate or inappropriate with respect to the trainee’s goals.
- “Oh my god, I’m soo sore!” - Giving someone 150 of anything will make him sore. Any trainer, if he’s any good, can make you ungodly sore in 20 minutes. That’s not an accomplishment. Over-training large muscle groups isn’t a skill. Fine-tuning smaller, more stabilizing muscle groups with patience and precision is more difficult.
- Crossfit is not “elite” athletics - Crossfit enthusiasts are typically only good at one thing: Crossfit. Crossfit has no specialization outside of the scope of itself. It doesn’t seem to have any progressive training protocol to prepare its athletes for upper-level competition in anything, even its own Crossfit games.
- Introductory exercises are anything but introductory – If a seasoned athlete or skilled gym rat enters a Crossfit gym, he’s got a pretty decent chance of doing well in his first week, especially if he’s coordinated. But the complexity of compound movements, for most people, cannot be taught or understood in a day, or even a week. It must be taught in a dedicated and progressive manner. One under-appreciated compound movement used by Crossfit is the rowing stroke on a Concept II ergometer. I have yet to see one Crossfit member or instructor perform a single stroke properly.
Obviously, I’m generalizing. Rest assured, there are some great, disciplined, serious Crossfit affiliate gyms out there. Crossfit is like personal training: there are good trainers and bad trainers.
I liked Crossfit when I first got involved. It put a whole new spin on fitness; but I was a young, impressionable, and inexperienced trainer at the time.
I got insanely fit from doing the workouts on their website, and by daily conferring with a hot meat-heat named Brad (of all names!). I did well with Crossfit, possibly because I’d already had training in the technical lifts from my collegiate rowing years, but mostly because I had an insanely large aerobic base to work with, and did not fatigue easily. Busting my butt for 15 minutes was nothing, so I started designing my own Crossfit-style workouts to last 45 minutes to an hour.
Years later, I ended up doing WODs with a group of guys who were just about to open their own Crossfit gym across the street from mine. I liked working out with these guys; and I beat them–every time (Crossfit will never give you the stamina of years of aerobic base training, to be fair). They then offered me a job. I declined, preferring to travel to Europe.
As I got older, the awe of Crossfit waned. I met too many people who got hurt; I spoke with too many Crossfit certified trainers who identified its short-comings. My style of training shifted into the direction of smart training, not insane training.
Oh Crossfit, I don’t hate you. I just think you have a lot of design flaws. If the masses of under-qualified trainers and over-zealous trainees would pause to consider these design flaws, you might not have such a controversial reputation.