Contentious CrossFit

Or "Why I Love and Hate CrossFit"

 I have a history of making fun of CrossFit, even when I did CrossFit like a maniac. When I moved to California and became a weightlifter, my razzing on the method got even greater. So it was understandable when some people were really surprised when I got my Level 1 certification. Some people were surprised when, as a trainer, they found out I trained my clients in my own interpretation of CrossFit. And I know Jenny and Olivia, the boss-ladies of United Barbell, were pretty surprised when I showed interest in teaching CrossFit classes.

Let's start with the negative:

  1) Super Aggro Environment

From some of the things that CF headquarters (CFHQ) says, to the banter on the main site forums, to some of the people that accumulate in different boxes, the environment can seem more like testosterone pissing contests than actual attempts at getting stronger, faster, and in better shape safely. For those people that like the competitive drive, but aren't big on faux swagger, this is a HUGE turn off. It also sets the stage for poor technique and injuries when athletes attempt moves, weights, or reps their bodies aren't ready to handle. Fortunately, these personalities tend to coalesce at specific boxes and can be avoided by taste testing several CF gyms.


2) Coaches who aren't

You can be certified to run CF classes or even open an affiliate by attending a two day certification course for $1000. Basically, you're tithing to CFHQ to be part of the club. It was cheaper for me to get my NSCA CSCS, and in athletic circles, it's far more appreciated. (My CF level one won't clear me to work with a collegiate team, but my CSCS will.) So you get coaches whose only experience might be doing some CF themselves, taking the weekend course, and then trying to pass on their meager information to others without actually ever exploring different methods of training, programming, sports needs, and the like. Again, coupled with the aggro environment, this can be a disaster.


3) Pre-hab / Re-hab

CF is all about "functional training" which is all good and well, but they've gone so far off on that side that most "kool-aid drinkers" (term for those who bow to the shrine of CFHQ) scoff at supplemental exercises that can be used as re-hab or pre-hab to help balance out an athlete.

"But CF uses the whole body so you work as a total system! LOL!" Riiight. No one is perfectly sysmetrical, and we all have imbalances and move in unique ways to take the path of least resistance. So no matter how awesome you are at being "functional", over time you will accumulate enough imbalances that can become fodder for injury. I have people do things like hamstring curls, goodmornings, the occasional bicep curl set at the end of a session, because dammit, some people need that.


4) Blinders to Other Methodologies

For many CFHQ kool-aid drinkers (catching the lingo yet?) they think that everyone should do CrossFit as prescribed by HQ and you'll be a better athlete. Bollocks. Frankly, if CrossFit year round made baseball players, soccer players, or swimmers better at their sport, then it would have been figured out already. Coaches aren't dumb.

In the off season, many athletes do workouts similar to CrossFit, only it's called something traditional and less marketable like "High Intensity Interval Training" (HIIT). Some might call it CrossFit. But it's HIIT cross-training. They do it. Just not in season.

5) High Rep Olympic Lifts

My personal issue. The Olympic lifts are very technical. Any amount of muscle or neurological fatigue is going to make them go awry. Given, they use weights light enough that one can muscle them into place, but that's a recipe for all sort of problems down the road. You can see it in the weight that most of them lift: stiff arms, bar never touching the body, throwing shoulders through on the catch, knees rolling in, everything up on the toes.

Being a competitive lifter, obviously I take major issue with this. The purpose of the Olympic lifts is to lift as much weight as possible, and while you have to be fast to create the momentum on the bar and to get under the weight, creating speed of the lift itself is actually NOT what you want. You want to the bar to "levitate" so you can pull under it, basically, you want to buy time. Obviously, that's contrary to what you want to do in a CrossFit "met-con."

CrossFit does get a lot of things right, though.

So, now for a change of pace, what I like about CrossFit:

1) HIIT and total body focus

The body really IS supposed to work as a unit. You'll find time and time again, the guy doing multi-plate leg presses can't actually back squat anything respectable. However, the reverse situation is quite opposite.  Plus, study after study is coming out that higher intensity training does more for fat loss and the "after-burn effect" and positive changes in hormones than long, slow activity.

2) Most trainers really DO want to know what's best for people

Maybe I'm lucky, but most of the coaches I've met since joining (back) with CrossFit are genuinely interested in getting better at coaching, learning new techniques and new methods of teaching, training, and programming. Most coaches I've met, and all coaches I work with, aren't kool-aid drinkers. They want to get better, and are eager to share their knowledge with each other.

3) Introduce people to sports they might otherwise never would have considered

I would have never gotten into Olympic weightlifting if it weren't for CrossFit. As a dancer, I thought competitive weightlifting was dumb. As a judo player, I loved the deadlift and being strong, but I wasn't about to leave judo for anything. But through CrossFit, I gained an appreciation for the technicality of the lifts that I otherwise would have never learned.

The same story can be found all over the CrossFit community. Not only are people directly exposed to things like Olympic lifting and powerlifting, but they gain the confidence to try other sports and activities.

4) Community!

Different boxes have different personalities, and there is usually a group that a person will mesh best with. People get together and cheer each other on through a tough workout, lament together over missed PRs, and generally get along and hang out outside class times. For many people, exercise alone won't keep them coming back, not matter how effective it is, but the relationships they forge certainly will.

5) The athletes/practitioners generally want to BE better, not just look better

Along with coaches who really do want to expand their knowledge base, the clients/athletes/practitioners, or whatever you want to call them, also typically genuinely want to get better. When giving a technique correction or suggestion, I've yet to have someone be like, "No thanks, doing it this way works." No one comes to CrossFit expecting a walk in the park, or to not put in the work and sweat. People come to feel like an athlete, and ideally end up looking like an athlete in the process.