For this piece, I decided to look at Crossfit because it’s a rapidly growing phenomenon, and many people reading this blog may have heard of it without really understanding what it is. I want to warn you, though; I'm not coming to any deep conclusion at the end of this article. I'm simply weighing up the pros and cons of a relatively new brand, which is rapidly transcending its own cult status into something mainstream. I’ll try to stick to the facts, and when I'm injecting my own opinion, I will try to make it clear. With that, enjoy!
Crossfit is a strange and complex beast to the masses. Strange because of its relative youth as a fitness regime and complex because of the breadth of exercises and goals it tries to tackle at once. For those who don’t know, Crossfit presents itself as the “sport of fitness”. Its mission statement is that it will prepare your body for any obstacle or feat that you will try to accomplish in life. It does this by coupling explosive weight-lifting with high-rep circuit training. This seems smart on the surface, but it has been criticized for its cult-like nature, the lack of periodization in its training, and the potential for injury that follows this type of training. Additionally, there are problems reconciling the principles of Crossfit with its implementation, and many people have criticized the organization itself for unethical practices.
There are many good things about Crossfit: a focus on general physical fitness and being prepared for any movement is something I’ve advocated in a previous article. Also, from what I understand, the community itself is very positive towards and supportive of each other, to the point when competitors at the Crossfit Games will cheer each other on. However, its lack of periodization and its seemingly random program is a cause of much consternation within the fitness community. Lack of periodization runs contrary to what Thegn himself has argued, and is my main problem with it as a fitness regimen. The random “workout of the day” (WOD) makes it almost impossible to track any progression outside of just feeling fitter. For someone like me, who enjoys the technical aspect of piecing together bits of data to mark gradual process over a long period of time, the WOD is unsatisfactory, and would be for anyone else looking to make quick, recognizable strength gains.
Another aspect of Crossfit is its promotion of the Paleo Diet, which “is based upon eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era, or Stone Age.” The Paleo diet does have its positives; mainly that it emphasizes healthy eating, but it is difficult to perform to a high standard on it. Rich Froning, the reigning champion of the Reebok Crossfit Games, and the face of the organization at the moment, has admitted that he couldn’t perform as well on the Paleo diet as otherwise because of the large volume of work he performs, and often drinks whole milk, eats peanut butter, and drinks supplements by the litre while going through his daily workout. He even admits to splitting a large pizza with Dan Bailey, another world-class competitor, almost weekly. Personally, I find Paleo too strict a diet, and prefer to eat clean and just try to watch my portions.
There’s also a lot of criticism for the seemingly injury-prone nature of the sport. Its “get it up” mentality causes a lot of coaches and crossfitters to emphasize reps over form, and several reports of rhabdomyolosis, -- Including one $500,000 lawsuit filed against the company, -- have put what seems like a permanent black spot on the reputation. However, as this man has pointed out, Crossfit is evolving. The bad coaches, and thus, the injuries that result from bad form, are slowly being filtered out of the system. This video shows how the coach’s training camp is focusing more and more on proper form and efficiency of motion. So, it’s probably safer to join a Crossfit now than it was five years ago, but it’s important to be aware of these possibilities. Like always, never try to keep going with a workout if you can’t keep up good form.
Lastly there are several ethical concerns with the company itself. Greg Glassman has been accused of committing several unjustified attacks on the characters of different members of the fitness community, and of being disrespectful to the American military community. There is a whole list of his transgressions online. Additionally, the rates charged by the affiliate gyms are exorbitant, and many people find fault with the company for trying to brand working out. It’s important to remember that, above all else, Crossfit is a brand that is trying to make money. Despite what may be said by the affiliates, its members, or even the top members of the company, Greg Glassman is mainly concerned with his bottom line, and there is a lot of money in this sport. That doesn’t make it evil, though; the company has also brought weightlifting and fitness to a massive amount of people, in a more effective way than the usual pump and tone B.S. you get in a lot of fitness clubs today -- it’s returning fitness to the “dungeons” of bodybuilding’s golden era.
That being said, the types of workouts endorsed by the company, compound lifts with an emphasis on endurance and speed, are advantageous to someone’s general physical fitness. Looking at the picture of Rich Froning, above, it’s hard to argue with his results. Though, unless you’re training for the Crossfit Games, I wouldn’t recommend making crossfit anyone’s only workout. Rather, I would advise it to be supplementary to a periodized program, if only so that you can keep track of any strength and speed gains you would make otherwise. Also, you don’t really need the Crossfit gyms to do these workouts. The Company itself even realizes this, as it posts a free WOD on its website every day. When you pay for a gym, you’re paying for the coaches and the community, which isn’t a bad thing, if you can afford it. If not, you can still do the same type of workout, and reap the benefits yourself.