Crossfit: Pro’s and Con’s

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I write this to you, not to dismiss the Crossfit concept but to educate you a little about it.

I am not a Crossfitter, but for an odd reason, people over the last 2-3 weeks have been asking me about it, so I thought I’d do a little research and here is what I found. Pro’s and Con’s.

CrossFit is a system of exercise and nutrition (founded in 2000 by Greg Glassman) that claims to “forge elite fitness.” Their Reebok-sponsored annual games boast that the winners have proven themselves to be “the fittest on earth.” CrossFit advocates a mix of aerobic exercise, gymnastics (body weight exercises), and Olympic weight lifting. Workouts are typically short—30 minutes or less—and intense, requiring maximal physical exertion.

Pros:

Difficulty. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is an effective and highly efficient way to improve muscle strength and cardio-vascular endurance. In my opinion, CrossFit’s greatest contribution to the fitness industry is its emphasis on HIIT, something that has not been sufficiently emphasised in the past.

Nutrition. CrossFit emphasises the importance of healthy nutrition as part of its fitness strategy. This is sorely lacking in other “Paleo”  is the the way to go, but the jury is still out as whether it is a sustainable lifestyle choice.

Community. Peer support encourages consistency in participation. CrossFit does a good job in building community and making everyone feel welcome. All levels of fitness (and all ages) are welcome to join a CrossFit gym and participate to the best of their ability in the workout of the day (WOD).

Affordability. CrossFit gyms are relatively inexpensive to outfit (less high-tech equipment) and are easy to scale. For this reason they provide greater access to people at all income levels, which is a huge plus.

Portability. CrossFitters learn how to use their own body weight to create challenging exercise routines anywhere, anytime. There is no longer any excuse not to get a good workout in, whether you are traveling and can’t get to the gym or you are too busy to break free from the kids to do a more formal work out.

Cons:

Frequent Injury. CrossFit injury rates are substantially higher than most other fitness regimens. Herniated disks, muscle and tendon ruptures, rhabdomyolysis are not uncommon. In fact, most  former or current CrossFitters that I know have  been injured “in the line of fire”. I hear of bloody/blistered hands as some kind of badge of honour. I have heard about low back injury,  ripped off  biceps when attempting an Olympic weight maneuver, fractured wrists after falling down during a series of box jumps to exhaustion. This is not to say these don’t occur outside Crossfit workouts, but these type of injuries tend to be more prominent due to working beyond fatigue and pushing you extreme limits.

Challenging Technique. Correct exercise form is hard to master, and since many CrossFit moves derive from gymnastics and Olympic weight lifting (sports that take many years to perfect), it is incredibly important to perform movements according to correct mechanical form. Although CrossFit experts strongly agree that good form is the key to safe and effective exercise, the fact is that people don’t always follow directions. In fact, most athletes that I’ve watched at CrossFit gyms suffer from poor form in one or more of their moves – sometimes because of inexperience, and other times because they are too exhausted to perform their final rep(s) correctly and their attention has waned. Functional movement is freer than the usual, controlled weight scenarios in a gym’s circuit training machines. And with that freedom comes the benefit of activating more muscles at a time, but the danger of injury, especially for new initiates or older athletes.

Peer Pressure. The flip side of having a “strong community” that encourages participation, is that the same community may push participants to engage in unsafe exercise practices.  There is a fine line between healthy encouragement to challenge yourself, and dangerously heavy weight lifting. It’s normal to want to “keep up with the Joneses” to your right and left during a WOD, but when Mr. Jones is a 115kg tower of muscle, you might not want to be lifting the same weights.

Glorification of the mesomorph. There’s no doubt that committed CrossFitters develop enviably lean, muscular bodies. However, I wince a bit at the tendency for CrossFitters to promote the idea that their way is “THE best way” to be fit, and the bravado surrounding their competitions for “fittest on earth” is exclusionary and unfair. Just because an athlete was born with a different body type, ill-suited to Olympic weight lifting for example, doesn’t mean they can’t be fittest on earth (a rather subjective measure – why not an Ironman as the fittest?) There’s not much variation in the body types of those who are at the top of the CrossFit heap (i.e. large muscle mass, not too short or tall), which speaks to the fact that ultimately this sport is not optimal for all-comers (nor is the position of linebacker on a football team).

Lack of Personalisation As much as I like how CrossFit inspires and motivates people, one thing that irks me is the lack of personalisation. Personalisation is customising a training program for an individual.

Yes, I know CrossFit gears their training for a group setting but there cannot be a one size fits all program for everyone all the time! Assigning the same workout for both advanced trainees and beginners is a mistake.

Lack of Programming. Programming is everything! If you want solid and safe results, then you need to address the individual and their specific needs. Everyone is unique and has different strengths and weaknesses. Personalisation zeros in on weaknesses, corrects them while enhancing your strength, and prevents future injury. Personalisation is the key to true fitness.

Most (not all) CrossFit instructors don’t program. They just follow the WOD posted on CrossFit.com and implement it to their clients. There are many problems with this (as mentioned).

How would you implement a WOD to someone who has flexibility issues? Will “Terry” (a CrossFit WOD) help fix the problem? No it will not! Terry involves an 800m run, 100 Pull Ups, 200 Push Ups, 300 Squats, and another 800m.

Remember that a WOD consists of both power and strength lifts mixed together into one high intensity interval, so applying a random WOD isn’t going to address anyone’s specific needs.

You might disagree with me completely, and you are entitled to if you so choose.But if you choose to Crossfit, as with any other training concept, please make sure you are well aware of exactly what the program is all about and what you are getting yourself into.

 

Happy Training everyone,

 

MW