- CrossFit used to have a much more controversial presence on the internet than it does today.
- I've always thought that this fight was mostly silly, an arms race engineered by CrossFit on one side and bloggers/YouTubers/coaches on the other, who could both profit from stirring up controversy.
- Hopefully, we can move forward from here and find a way to learn lessons about both the science of training and the spread of fitness fads from this experience.
When I started out as a trainer and coach, I can remember exactly how often CrossFit was brought up. The answer is: “constantly”. It was the only thing anyone wanted to talk about.
"CrossFit causes injuries! CrossFit is dumb! CrossFit is cult-like!"
At the time (one of the first posts I ever wrote, and one of the few I haven’t purged from my embarrassing early days as a blogger), I wrote a post about how CrossFit at the very least had tapped into something very powerful: the ability to more effectively leverage community to improve motivation. For that, CrossFit is unrivalled. I still stand by that.
At the time, it was easy to hate on CrossFit, and it still is.
It was a new sport, and trying to prove itself. Greg Glassman seemed to be constantly making large and bizarre public missteps that didn’t do CrossFit HQ any favors. Glassman insisted that CrossFitters were the best athletes at everything, even beating out specialized athletes in specialized sports. There were stories of rhabdo, CrossFit HQ trying to “reclaim” rhabdo with a new mascot, and so on. Highly public stories of serious injuries incurred during CrossFit were hungrily seized on. Blogs hungrily created detailed and comprehensive lists of every mistake CrossFit made.
A whole profitable machine sprang up: traditional fitness industry types could get an easy following hating on CrossFit, CrossFit continued to grow thanks to this notoriety, and both sides ended up better off. Both sides seemed intent on fanning the flames.
A few years back, CrossFit started a crusade against Big Soda, attempting to sniff out sources of fitness industry bias centered around the soda industry’s influence on many important industry institutions. As far as I know, they’re still at it. I sure gave up caring a long time ago, and I think almost everybody else forgot about it too.
Now, five years later, it feels like the hype machine has finally cooled. Everything that you can say about CrossFit has already been said, and it’s certainly not convincing CrossFitters to quit. CrossFit, once known for having a quality assurance problem, has theoretically improved in quality as the lower quality boxes faded into oblivion and the ideal (safe) training methods for CrossFit have become more visible. Time has worn off many of CrossFit's sharp edges.
CrossFit HQ got some social media people (or maybe the ones they had just got better at taking the phone away from Trump, so to speak), insulating us against the raw, unfiltered absurdity of Greg Glassman and putting a better face on the company. CrossFit showed the world that it’s ok for women to lift heavy weights and that women can train like men do. CrossFit caused a huge resurgence in interest for niche sports like gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting thanks to the inclusion of their training methods. Scandals and criticisms continued, but at some point, the good seemed to start outweighing the bad, and the rest of the internet stopped paying as much attention.
I have no horse in this race. I decided a long time ago that it’s silly to argue about CrossFit anymore. Plenty of good work is being done by CrossFit, and the traditional fitness industry is certainly far from being blameless, perfect, or free from sin. For every “CrossFit fail” there’s probably just as many idiot personal trainers peddling the whole 30 as your key to IMMORTALITY and talking about how you need to HARD WORK your way to SUPERIOR LIVING, or else you’re WEAK. The traditional fitness industry is still responsible for the silly myths about how women shouldn't lift, for fat shaming, for creating often hostile and unwelcoming gym environments that make it hard for beginners to get started.
It's still easy to make fun of CrossFit - they're one small organization (if a popular, new, and influential one) compared to the entirety of the rest of the fitness industry. Is it responsible for a greater or smaller relative portion of all the stupidity that happens in fitness? It's unclear, but since it's all concentrated in one place, it seems like a lot more. Meanwhile, we don't go around talking crap about the entire gym chain of, say, LA Fitness, even though just as much silly stuff goes on in them. People get hurt doing CrossFit, but people also get hurt lifting weights.
I briefly worked in a CrossFit, and I saw plenty of good results with clients. I made friendships. It was far from the worst place I worked in terms of how many injuries occurred. That dubious honor, in fact, goes to a gym that specifically hated CrossFit and pitched themselves as “the anti-CrossFit” despite tossing their clients into exercise programs that were more absurdly designed and caused many clients injuries on a regular basis.
This post isn’t intended to be a starting point for a big discussion on the relative value of CrossFit. CrossFit does their thing, and I do mine. There’s bad coaches and good coaches on both sides of the fence. I’m just glad that, finally, it seems like we’ve gotten to a point where we don’t feel the need to fight about it constantly.
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