My Take On CrossFit

CrossFit

CrossFit is the craze these days. Gyms and makeshift warehouses are popping up all over the place that offer CrossFit. They even have the “CrossFit Games” televised on ESPN. The concept has gone viral.

I’m asked often (not quite as often as How To Burn Belly Fat) what I think about CrossFit and whether I think it’s beneficial. Here’s my take:

(I’m writing this post assuming the CrossFit instructor is good…and safe…and knows what the heck they’re doing)

 

PROS

–       CrossFit actually follows the exact same philosophy I had when I first started personal training – at the end of the day, everybody just wants their ass kicked. After seeing burnout and injury rates I’ve shifted my attitude, but a big pro to CrossFit is that it does kick your ass. You know you’ve accomplished something when you walk out of there.

–       It’s highly efficient. You’re going to burn a ton of calories in a short period of time, which is the benchmark of efficiency.

–       You lift heavy. Almost everyone can benefit from lifting heavier…not only for muscular development but also for the metabolic response. Love that CrossFit makes you grunt and pump heavy iron.

–       Well-rounded fitness. You have to be able to move in a lot of different planes and perform complex, compound movements. This is what keeps it fun and interesting for many people.

–       The classes I’ve seen add a measurable component to it, which is awesome. You can document Progressive Overload over time and it’s you against you. You know exactly where you stand. Of course, it can also be you against other CrossFitters too…if you dig on that type of competition.

CrossFit

CONS

–       Ironically, CrossFit’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. Yes, you are burning a bunch of calories and you get your ass kicked, but I’m yet to see ANY compelling physiological argument as to why you would ever want to run a mile as fast as you can, then lift heavy afterwards. It makes no sense. But, then again, you do get your ass kicked (notice a reoccurring theme here?).

–       You’re teaching your body to burn almost exclusively carbohydrate (sugar), which may be effective as an initial jumpstart to weight loss, but is NOT what most people need if they’re looking to really get lean and lose the last 10 lbs (or so). I know this for two reasons: 1 – we used to monitor heart rates in CrossFit classes when I worked for Polar and they were consistently at 90%+ of max for the duration of the class. 2 – all my metabolic testing data (when I used to do New Leaf metabolic tests) supports this as well. It pays to develop your aerobic, or fat burning, system.

–       The psychological component of staleness and burnout. I always tell athletes, you can only go to the well so many times before the well runs dry. The well, in this case, is getting your ass kicked. Even the most motivated person will start to lose drive and focus after a while.

–       MOST IMPORTANT – not to sound like a downer, but I’m 100% confident you’re going to see scores of CrossFitters popping up with shoulder problems (impingement, rotator cuff issues) in the next 2-4 years. Why? Because we live in an anterior-dominant, protracted society and the typical CrossFit exercises (pushups, pullups, presses) only exacerbate it. To simplify what I’m saying, it means we all sit down too much, we’re way too hunched over and our posture has gone to crap. Now, add in exercises that are only going to further shorten and tighten these muscles and you’re treading a very slippery slope. This is the principle reason you see very few renowned fitness professionals endorsing CrossFit.

 

CONCLUSION

I’m actually still a fan of CrossFit, if for no other reason than its efficiency. However (and this is a BIG however), 4 conditions NEED to be met:

1 – You need to be in decent shape starting out. Why? Do this – go down to your local used car dealership and buy a broken down station wagon. Then, take that bad boy out and do nothing but slam on the gas and hammer the brakes. How long do you think that wagon is going to hold up? Probably not long. If you don’t have a reasonably stable car to begin with, the toll on it will be too great and it will break down.

2 – It should NOT be the only strength training you’re doing. You need supplemental, posterior-dominant, corrective exercise (see last point under CONS) to keep your body in balance. If you don’t know what this is, hire a good trainer. Or hire me.

3 – Even if you’re in good shape, you should not be doing CrossFit more than 1-2x/week. Too much high intensity stuff and too much going to the well. You’re going to be that person waking up in the middle of the night with cramps and massive arm/shoulder pain. No good.

4 – The class needs a good instructor who teaches good form. I’m hoping all CrossFit classes have this…but I know that’s probably wishful thinking  😀

 

I’ll sign off with this – I was at a fitness conference last summer sponsored by Perform Better and a VERY prominent person in the industry was asked about CrossFit. He kind of laughed and said, “You don’t need to finish in a pool of sweat and vomit for it to be an effective workout.”

He’s absolutely right. But then again, it is fun to get your ass kicked every once in a while  🙂

– SW

 

 

 

 

 

  • Gretchen Ditto

    Hi Scott – interesting post.

    I finally started doing crossfit after seeing a lot of people I know and respect have great results from it. Their results included a variety of things – some lost weight, others gained strength, and another contributes her PR in a marathon to her crossfit training.

    I don’t think crossfit is for everyone – but I do believe it’s great for many people who tire of the same ‘ol routine (that’s me!) and who want to progress at a safe pace (me!).

    I’ve never finished a workout in a pool of sweat or vomit – so I hope I’m not doing it wrong.

    I also really like the fact that an entrepreneur in the fitness industry can own one (or several) crossfit gyms and actually make a decent living at it. I think it’s financially hard to own a huge gym or to be a solo coach, so this is a great alternative that is good for the owner and great for their clients.

    And one departing thought – I’ve run marathons and have done an ironman. You would think that was enough to inspire my sister to get in shape – but no, my sister was inspired by my other sister who was working on toning through weights and walking. My newly inspired sister is 50, a grandmother of 3, and is in the best shape of her life after doing crossfit 3x a week for six months. She is strong, but more importantly she is confident and happy.

    I would recommend going To crossfit for a few weeks and then let us know your take.

    Happy sweating!!

    Gretchen

  • Gretchen – this is great stuff and thanks for sharing! Also great to hear about your sister’s results!

    Interesting take on the financial side of CrossFit. Definitely true and not something I thought of including in the post.

    I would actually tell everyone to give CrossFit a shot…if they think it’s a good fit for them. You never know unless you try. I would simply encourage people to progress at their own pace (like you said) and join a class with an instructor you know and trust.

    Happy vomiting!! Kidding.

    SW