One of the slogans I find incredibly ironic is, “What is CrossFit?” which usually precedes a video of people exercising, sweating, and coaches screaming with hard music. If you were to look up CrossFit, the website would have you believe its a “new form of physical training.” The truth is, circuit style training has been around for a hundred years, this is nothing new. I would even consider CrossFit to be an inferior form of circuit training at that. If I had to describe CrossFit in one sentence, it would be, “It’s a franchise for old school gym class for adults.”
Greg Glassman is considered the founder of CrossFit, starting it out of his garage. Thus CrossFit consists of various calisthenics, free weights, gymnastic rings, kettle-bells, and pull-up bars; all things that require minimal space and expense. CrossFit gyms are referred to as box gyms, keeping much of the same style. The box gym concept provides a very cheap start up and maintenance for the CrossFit trainer. Technically CrossFit gyms are not franchises
- CrossFit does a uniquely good job of getting people to work hard and push themselves. This is perhaps the best attribute to the system. CrossFit is hard work. A CrossFitter will likely outperform likely any average gym user or aerobics class groupie.
- They implement a Paleo style diet. More than likely this is the cause for the majority of CrossFit’s success for its followers. The Paleo diet is arguably the healthiest diet you could follow. Where CrossFit falls short is that there is no customization for a person’s unique biochemistry, but that takes me to my next point.
- CrossFit is extremely simple. It doesn’t take a lot of time, it doesn’t cost a lot, and it’s fairly simple to follow. I am not referring to use of proper form and technique here though. Those things take time and practice, often neglected at this level.
- It works on general fitness, which is what many people are looking for and is best suited for those who are already healthy and physically functional. The staple of the CrossFit concept is it makes people good at all aspects of fitness instead of great in just a few areas.
- In my opinion, CrossFit is not good for longevity. By that I mean soon down the road I anticipate piles of injuries, and bad joints from a system that just simply does not follow the rules of strength training very well. CrossFit uses exercises for inappropriate rep ranges, and in many cases poor form to suit its purpose. There is no reason a person should do more than 5 reps per set of an Olympic style lift. Doing so is just asking for injury. According to Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, the risk of injury from some CrossFit exercises outweighs their benefits when they are performed with poor form in timed workouts. He added there are similar risks in other exercise programs but noted that CrossFit’s online community enables athletes to follow the program without proper guidance, increasing the risk. Because of the perceived risks of CrossFit, it has been difficult for many trainers and affiliates to get insurance.
- Lack of individualization. CrossFit is essentially group fitness taken to a new level, so you’re not going to get the type of individual programming you would in one on one or small group personal training. So for individuals coming in with flexibility, or strength imbalance issues, their progress will be limited and possibly ill fated. Some coaches will argue that CrossFit is for everyone because they can adjust the difficulty by adjusting weight, reps, and time. I disagree, for example, if a person does not have the flexibility to do an overhead press properly, then they shouldn’t do them at all, and they need exercises outside of those used in CrossFit to fix that issue. Articles on many websites criticize CrossFit for lack of periodization, illogical or random exercise sequences, and lacking quality-control accreditation standards for trainers and affiliates
- CrossFit is trying to be something it’s not. The whole pride of the CrossFit concept is that it works on a broad domain of fitness goals. Strength, endurance, agility, etc, etc. Basically as I said before, it promotes general fitness, like a physical education class for adults. Now CrossFit is trying to make specializations and work its way into sport. Take someone who is out of shape and sure they will get faster and stronger and have more endurance after working with CrossFit. However, take any well trained person or athlete worth their salt and switch their training to CrossFit and they will lose performance. Everyone knows that marathon runners and sprinters don’t train the same. There simply isn’t a program that will make you the best in everything. CrossFit will make you OK in most things, and it needs to stick with that.
- CrossFit makes up its own science. If you are a first time reader of any CrossFit article, often times you will come across words you have never heard before. This is where I think too much gimmick marketing gets used. In fact I think the major learning curve for most is probably adjusting to all the terminology used. Hiding behind this mask of vocabulary is evidence that no real science is involved in this programing.
In conclusion, I don’t recommend CrossFit and neither do many other experts. Like any exercise system, some people are bound to get great results, but you must take most things with a grain of salt when it is part of a mass marketing scheme. It’s easy to make something good when you don’t have to show all the details and fine print. I know everyone wants something new and cool, but you still just can’t beat a good qualified strength and conditioning coach for exercise design. CrossFit will still remain popular though because it is cheap to start, simple to coach, and clever marketing as seen on the right. You’re smarter than that though, right?