Alright, so I’ve already made my stance on Crossfit clear. It is my personal opinion that while Crossfit certainly has a lot of glaring flaws, we’d all be a lot better off if we just forgot about it for a while and let everything blow over. I also made a Youtube video about it, saying that I hoped that it would be the last time I ever have to talk about Crossfit. Well, here I am again. I’m the worst.
A lot of the time, whenever Crossfit gets any negative attention from outside sources, the default reply from within the Crossfit community is “oh well, you must be jealous,” or something along those lines. It’s the argument that everyone hates, because it doesn’t really engage in good debate or lead to any sort of productive discussion. It borders on ad hominem (that is, it’s your fault that you’re hating, not mine, so I shouldn’t have to worry about your stupid thoughts) and typically leads to the debate getting derailed when the accuser angrily turns defensive to prove why they aren’t jealous. Here’s the thing though, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately: it’s actually really true.
Crossfit is, despite all its flaws, really good at making people enjoy working out. The typical group class environment is non-competitive and not actually very communal: everyone sweats alone in the midst of their aerobics classes (never more alone than when surrounded by the faces of others they don’t know) with no real connection to their fellows, or practices yoga inside their own walled-off head. Some people thrive in the group environment and like to show off, but many others likely just do it because classes are cheaper than personal training or because they have a friend to go with. The class format gets wasted rather than living up to its potential. This is where Crossfit steps in.
By injecting both camaraderie and competition into the setting, Crossfit creates an actual, real group experience. Suddenly people enjoy working out and lifting weights, because everyone else they know at their box is doing the same stuff right alongside them and everyone’s pushing each other while also trying to get better themselves. Crossfit has done more to revive Olympic lifting in the past ten years than probably the combined efforts of everyone else in the last fifty years. Suddenly women are lifting weights, praise Jesus. The Crossfit Games are the biggest new sporting event in quite a while. Crossfit is making exercising… FUN. Crossfit is making lifting weights… FUN.
In contrast, the rest of the fitness industry is largely a pissing contest between people trying to sell you things. Buy this program, buy that supplement, listen to me because I know the best way to hammer your biceps… as my good buddy Dick Talens puts it, they aren’t even asking the right questions. As another friend puts it, the first step is to get people exercising - we can worry about the best way to exercise, or the perfect form, or what your nutrition should look like, later. Consistency is the biggest thing, and once we get that sorted out, it really doesn’t matter what your training looks like because you’re going to get in better shape no matter what.
The fitness industry, to use my favorite insult, isn’t even wrong. It’s just arguing and debating over the little things and missing the forest for the trees. While people are busy keyboard-warrioring about stupid stuff like squat depth and rounded back deadlifts, and laughing about people who don’t understand macros, Crossfit is telling them its okay, and fun, to work out. Most run-of-the-mill trainers are the old-school “come on lets make you sweat to death while I yell at you” philosophy, which certainly isn’t convincing anyone that exercise can be fun. In our mad rush to make better and better programs for our clients, we’re missing the part where we have to get our clients off the couch and exercising first, no matter what it takes.
Crossfit does that. Crossfit is full of poor coaches and bad form, but nobody inside Crossfit actually cares. They’ve created a non-judgmental environment where newbies are free to screw up as much as they want. Can’t do a proper clean? No problem. Pregnant? No problem. Severe movement impairment? No problem. Considering that most card-carrying gym membership owners spend their time on the treadmill being afraid that they’ll be either mentally or verbally chastised for accidentally doing bicep curls in the squat rack or committing some other cardinal sin of which they aren’t aware, this is a huge improvement. Crossfit is the master of saying “okay, great job, but next time do this to make it a little better” rather than “you’re doing it all wrong, get out of here.” Considering that Planet Fitness is literally based on that same model, it's funny that Crossfit can get that going without even having to say it.
Large parts of the fitness industry are actively hostile towards Crossfit because while they’re working oh-so-very hard to promote whatever minimally interesting sport they cater to, Crossfit is coming in, swooping up all their potential clients, and getting them interested in kipping pullups instead. Silly? Yes. Effective? Abso-frickin-lutely. Crossfit is new. Crossfit is sexy. Crossfit doesn’t have the history of BS that a lot of lifting sports have acquired over the years. (Although certainly, Crossfit isn’t immune to this and of course people are actively creating a history of BS to attempt to cloud out Crossfit’s victories.) If nothing else, Crossfit will get people in shape. Is it the safest and most effective way to get in shape? Probably not, but that really doesn’t matter.
In the emptiest, most Freudian sense, most complaints against Crossfit amount to mere rationalizing. In the positive sense, rationalizing refers to finding legitimate reasons for phenomena, applying positive thought to things and actively adapting systems of thought to become stronger and more flexible. In the negative, Freudian sense, however, rationalizing amounts to an empty activity. Rather than admit the real truth of the situation (i.e., Crossfit is pissing us off by being so good at getting people interested), we rationalize by either finding or creating lesser reasons which we can use instead. It doesn’t matter what those reasons are; anything will work, so long as it supports the thesis. Yet the thesis itself is never examined; this is exactly how bigotry begins. Rather than taking the available evidence at hand and using it to create a model of the world, we take a thesis which we have some emotional attachment to and work backwards, ignoring contrasting evidence and overemphasizing weak evidence which supports our thesis in order to have the satisfaction of feeling right over the difficulty of actually being right.
Certainly, Crossfit can be dangerous. But if you do a risk/reward calculation of the number of people Crossfit has killed (probably zero? I’d think I would have heard) versus the number of people who have really started working out because of it, it doesn’t seem that bad after all. Kevin Ogar severed his spine doing Crossfit, but Brandon Lilly broke both of his legs (and then some) squatting in a powerlifting meet a while back and no one was holding it up as proof of powerlifting being inherently dangerous. Crossfit may have a high injury rate, but so does sitting your entire life, if in a less direct way, and certainly no higher than any other competitive sport.
All in all, Crossfit does the fitness thing waaaaaaaaay better than virtually everyone else. It’s great at getting people off the couch when often times that’s the only thing that matters. Sure it’s a bit rough around the edges, but then, no fitness program isn’t. As one of my friends put it, mediocre programming can and will save lives. But then, that’s not really the issue at hand - the real issue is that most people are too pissed off that Crossfit understands the whole motivation thing better than they do.