I recently got a chance to read Gillian Mounsey’s description of her experience within the Crossfit community, and that got me thinking on the topic of Crossfit in general. I personally don’t like Crossfit but neither do I have anything against it. Further, it annoys the PISS out of me that hating on Crossfit is such a regular and routine thing at this point. Here is my overview of the situation, in as objective of a view as I can take of it.
Crossfit is great at getting people to do things that they probably wouldn’t do otherwise, even serious exercisers. Crossfit has gotten women to regularly lift heavy (gasp), has caused a resurgence of interest in Olympic lifts, and implements gymnastics movements that would rarely be seen otherwise.
Crossfit is great at tapping into group exercise populations. Since everyone is doing the same thing, struggling along with each other on the same workout, a sense of camaraderie that you probably wouldn’t see in any other competitive sport emerges.
Say what you want about lack of programming and all that, but serious Crossfitters get ripped and are usually hella well-rounded. (Have you seen Rich Froning?) In terms of “functionality”*, Crossfitters are about as good as it gets.
The highly competitive nature of Crossfit means that people will often push themselves too hard for the sake of performance, sacrificing their bodies in the process. This accounts for the anecdotal claims of high injury rates we see within Crossfit. (For a counterpoint, see here, though it should be noted that the study in question is shaky, an opinion shared by Chris and Bret..)
Some of the exercises Crossfit advocates (kipping pullups being the most visible) are mocked for being weird or unusual. Frankly, if you’re trying to get pullups in as quickly as possible, kipping pullups are the way to do it, and that’s exactly what Crossfitters are trying to do. (I realize this isn’t really a con, it’s just perceived as one by the less open-minded in the fitness community.)
While the community building aspect of Crossfit is great at building adherence, it is often considered “cultish” from those looking on from the outside. (Again, not strictly a con.)
Crossfit promotes the Paleo diet, which is cool I guess but not really superior to any other diet.
Crossfit is not great at preparing you for other competitions or tests of performance requiring more specific modes of training.
The requirements to own a Crossfit gym are low. This, combined with its great popularity in recent years, means that Crossfit locations are numerous and many of them are poorly run/supervised.
Beginners are often thrown into the same workouts as more advanced exercisers with little to no accommodation for their unique needs.
Crossfit style high intensity workouts are best at one thing - weight loss - yet are not well suited for the extremely overweight because of their frequent incorporation of bodyweight exercises and other exercises that the overweight are likely to be unable to complete without serious injury risk or first losing a good deal of weight. This creates a culture of thin people doing weight loss workouts - I personally find this a little weird - and can contribute to body image issues.
Crossfit is like super expensive, bros. A membership at the gym I work at will run you between $240 and $480 a year depending on your payment plan. A membership at a hole-in-the-wall Crossfit in the area will run you between $1200 and $2000! If you’re rich enough to throw that sort of money away, all power to you. Admittedly, you’ll get a lot more attention than you would at a normal gym for that amount of money, but if it isn’t for you, that’s a lot of money to drop on a gym you won’t use.
Greg Glassman, founder of Crossfit, is by all accounts a royal asshole and has reacted extremely violently to any criticism in the past. Various others within the Crossfit hierarchy have also made questionable statements with a tone of absolute authority. For a while, someone maintained a page with sources for a lot of Crossfit’s wacky antics, but it hasn’t been updated since 2011.
From the list above, it might look like Crossfit has a lot more negatives than positives. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Crossfit is a form of exercise just like any other. Hating on it from an outside perspective isn’t going to do much to reform it, and instead will more likely simply convince it of the correctness of its own position and further entrench it, creating a wider gulf between it and other forms of exercise. It’s honestly in the best interest of everyone to open dialogue and bring everyone closer together so that we can share our own unique perspectives, but that’s not the reason why I believe that we should stop hating on Crossfit.
I think we should stop hating on Crossfit because that’s like, so 2010. Seriously guys, get over yourselves. If someone wants to sever their spine doing Olympic lifts as fast as possible, that’s their choice. Most of the people serious enough to put themselves in a lot of danger in an exercise program are also smart enough to do a little research. Most of the ones not serious enough will drop out before the going gets too rough, or would likely have hurt themselves in a traditional workout routine or wasted their time walking on a treadmill for three hours a day. The reason we hate Crossfit isn’t because it’s inherently evil - it’s because we like to make fun of them and they want to be made fun of.
I cannot make that last statement more clear. Crossfit has thrived on negative publicity. While you’re talking shit about Crossfitters, they’re too busy blacking out from their WOD’s to hear you. Crossfit HQ’s response to criticism is usually to fan the flames in the hopes of generating even more controversy and even more cash. If they wanted not to be made fun of, they would open clear lines of dialogue with other major aspects of the industry and make efforts at communication. They don’t.
Further, since Crossfit hating has become such a routine thing, people on the other side are now trying to fan the flames for profit, too. Elgintensity's Youtube channel, for example, was recently shut down by Crossfit because of the level of hatred he pours on them. This, of course, only gave him more publicity and more money. Now I have no negative opinion of Elgin, but it should also be clear that making fun of Crossfit directly makes him money, and he has a vested interest in Crossfit continuing to be made fun of. What this means is that the war between Crossfit and the common public is increasingly something being manufactured for money. I have nothing against that, but frankly I'm tired of seeing Crossfit hating everywhere. I just don't want to have to think about it, and people keep bringing it up.
So let’s seriously get over it. Stop giving them what they want. Move on. Crossfit is either gonna die out and go the way of the faux-hawk haircut I wore in high school or its going to stick around until it becomes a semi-respected sport along the lines of strongman or bodybuilding. Complaining about it is only going to fuel its popularity and obscure its real potential - whether positive or negative. The sooner we start ignoring it the sooner we’ll get over it and Crossfit will stand or fail by its own merit.
*Functional not meaning very much nowadays but frankly I’m going to use it anyway so deal with it. This is not an endorsement of functional training, which is often overzealous and anything but.
BONUS: The best Crossfit parody ever IMO.