Readers of this wonderblog know I do some semblance of Crossfit programming, and have for approximately a year. I’m a gym member though only go to the gym once or twice a week and follow a different program than what my gym prescribes (though there are other members who do this as well). Personally, I think those who have drunk the Crossfit cool-aid, and most members have, are a little cultish but what’s a little crazy cult mentality amongst friends? I think it has way more good points than it does bad, but individual experiences may vary.
What is Crossfit?
By now, you’ve likely seen the Crossfit Games on one of the ESPN networks or have a friend who does it or something like that. If not, I’ll lay some basic knowledge down before I move on to my personal thoughts. Started by Greg Glassman, who released the first Crossfit Journal article in 2002, it had 13 gyms (called a “box” for some reason) in July 2005, 250 boxes in 2007 and has now grown to over 5,000 gyms world wide. The gyms are spartan by today’s standards, with rubber horse mats, pullup bars, gymnastic rings, and barbells…lots of barbells and bumper plates that can be dropped. You won’t find any dreadmills or ellipticals or too many bells and whistles.
The goal of the program is to deliver broad functional fitness and strength in ten “fitness domains”: endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy. A good intro article on what it is and is not is located here from the official Crossfit e-library. Each box is an affiliate and independently owned, so while every one will have the basic equipment, how they create their Crossfit exercise “program” will vary from gym to gym, sometimes significantly. To open a box, you have to be certified over a weekend course by the Glassman gang, and that’s it. Because of that, levels of coaches/trainers vary wildly as well. Typical programming in a single session will have some moderately heavy to heavy weight sessions along with a “metcon” (metabolic conditioning) with weights and gymnastic movements (pullups, pushups, handstand work), and is in a class session. They have recommended weights, but if they’re too heavy you can “scale” the weight to suit your needs to be able to do the workout.
Crossfit has a lot of good going for it. It’s motivating, it’s fun, and it does get results, especially if you’re new. If you have good coaching you’re going to learn how to do movements correctly, you’re going to get stronger and you’re going to push yourself in ways you probably never have. It forges physical and mental toughness that I think it’s difficult to find in other types of gyms and programs. The fact that you’re working with other people in class towards this goal means it’s harder to slack and forges a camaraderie that comes from fighting through.
Another good thing is that it makes women look hawt! Seriously, adding some meat to them bones and loss of fat is a serious improvement. Doing squats makes for better buns. Check out Lift Big, Eat Big’s collection of butts in yoga pants (Facebook).
Really, for many, Crossfit is really the gateway drugs to lifting heavy weights, which is never a bad thing. Here are some good exercises that make Crossfit (and other similar type “workouts”) fun:
– Tire Flips, Railroad Tie Flips: You take a huge tractor tire or railroad tie and flip it. Basic, hard and dirty. Simple and manly. Love this one, never have seen it as a workout until xfit.
– Farmer Carries/Walks: Pick up a heavy weighted item in each arm, walk as far as you can without putting it down. Sounds easy but is awesomely hard. Man makers!
– Olympic Lifting: Snatches and Clean and Jerks are totally awesome and a staple of the program, and there are so many great jokes you can make with their names. Never Olympic lifted before, now I’m hooked and do some semblance of it 4-5 days per week.
– Burpees: I think most people hate burpees, while I wouldn’t say I love them, I sort of do at least like them, maybe because the hate is so strong I feel like they need a friend.
So to summarize, you’re going to get stronger, you’re going to look better naked, if you’re a girl you’re going to get hotter with a better butt. If you’re a dude, you may or may not have big muscles as it entirely depends on the programming, but you will get stronger and fitter. You will also make new friends, forged in the fires of pain.
Since people try so hard under tired conditions their form starts to fall apart. When form starts to fall apart, people get injured. It’s going to happen. What doesn’t have to happen is the way this happens. Overzealous trainers/owners/coaches who don’t know enough about the best way to build people up will schedule some crazy 40 minute workout too many days, pushing people into repetitive use injuries or simply contributing to form loss and injury from that. Some of their movements are also just plain dumb, have no real “functionality” or directly result in injuries. Let me explain my worst offenders from least to worst:
– Wall Balls: You basically take a medicine ball, throw it up 10′ against a wall, catch it on its downward path to a squat and stand up and do it again. Really, really dumb, but not dangerous.
–Handstand, handstand walking: not sure when you had to walk on your hands for a reason. If you do Crossfit, consider it a “functional” movement. I suck at them, they’re sort of fun, but I have to ask “why?”
– Box Jumps: You jump up onto a box, and jump down. This isn’t so bad the first time or ten, but some of the programming is many, many box jumps in a row. There’s been torn achilles from this workout that’s fairly well documented by the haters.
– Sumo-Deadlift High Pull: A wide-legged deadlift with arms inside, as you pull to your chin your shoulders have to go in an unnatural range of motion. I’m not the only one who hates this: SDHP are stupid, dangerous. -Handstand Pushups: Basically you put hands on the ground and kick up to a handstand against the wall. Bend your elbows until head touches the ground and then back up into a handstand. Oh, don’t forget the spinal compression in the neck when you go down, especially when you have a workout with 30-40 of these. But don’t worry, your arms won’t be tired and you’ll be able to control your decent on to your head.
– Kipping Pullups: without a strong, stable shoulder, kipping pullups can cause some major wrongness to occur in the shoulder, especially the butterfly type. While I do kipping pullups, I spent about 4 months doing strict pullups so had strong lats and shoulders prior to learning to kip (which I admittedly still suck at).
– Rowing: Rowing won’t cause injuries really, it’s just bad. It’s a torture device. .. and I have a rower in my home gym and closing in on half a million meters. Ugh.
Really any of the movements can cause injuries when form falls apart, but those are the worst offenders. I’d say more “bad” is a result of bad programming than anything else. What I consider “good” programming is heavy weights, low reps and a shorter 10 minute or so metcon with the occasional longer one thrown in. Bad programming is a 40 minute “chipper” with 10 exercises, a roadmap and a calculator to figure out the scoring. Seen a lot of those too.
The only other “bad” thing I can think of is that it’s expensive as hell at most places. I have no issue with gyms charging what they can, but fees are often $150 a month, which is pretty high. I built my home gym weight setup for about $700. If I chose to, I could follow the free workouts at Crossfit.com (AKA “Mainsite”) but most of the time I hate the workouts posted there and could usually poop something better.
Glassman for one. A chronicled history of Crossfit called: The White Papers shows that from an organizational side of things Crossfit is poorly run and have basically succeeded in spite of the top brass. While the White Papers link only goes to 2011, since then, Glassman got divorced, his wife tried to sell her half of the company to an equity partner, she got sued by Greg who slung mud on forums and in internet media, and Glassman “won” by having to pay his ex-wife $16 million for her half. The so-referenced “Couch Thread” is located here if you want to read what the haters have to say. May take you awhile though, the forum thread is almost 1,300 pages long (as of November 2012).
Glassman and his cronies are also not a fan of criticism against them and will take some pretty shady action against those who they feel go too far. They’ve crossed the line in some cases and ended up shutting down some quality blogs through legal means that they felt didn’t put them in the most positive light. A recent example of this is the flame war on a civil critique of how crossfit is claiming the top crossfitter is the “fittest” on the planet while the author (a former marine and crossfitter) thinks otherwise. Glassman cronie and one of the top brass at headquarters, Russell Berger (co-director of the games and I’m sure some other fancy titles) get’s into a fucking internet flame war. That’s like Roger Goodell getting into a flame war with a fan who criticizes the NFL, rediculous for the top brass at a multi-million dollar organization to behave like a bunch of teenage goons, intimadating and insulting their core audience, but that’s par for the course.
Crossfit is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Like I said right away, once you’re in, you end up in the cult whether you like it or not. It is a fun change of pace from the traditional gym environment, but no matter how hard you try not to, you’ll likely end up injured at some point. Getting injured comes with the territory, and I can say that no matter what sport I played, if I tried to get better and stretch that rubberband out (my analogy for slowly improving your body through fitness) I got hurt at some point. It didn’t mean it was the sports fault, but recognize that it will likely happen and don’t get discouraged. A good gym will bring the newb along slowly and expand that rubberband while the crap gym will throw them in the midst of a chipper on their second day.
The ownership structure means there are some really good boxes out there and really good coaches, and because they’re individually owned there’s really no need to get involved with the drama that is the actual organization unless you’re a fanboy or hater. There are also really shitty boxes and coaches. If you find one that fits your goals, and whose coaching is good, it can be a really great place to be a better version of yourself. Recognize it is a social environment and those introverts out there may be a little uncomfortable at first. Also, you may very well be intimidated by the fit 50 year old who can kick your ass at workouts. Deal with it. When your workout drunk sucking wind, it only matters that you compete with yourself and work to get better. Crossfit does a great job of pushing those boundaries and challenging ourselves to do one more rep.
For some Crossfit Lulz, check out The Naked Crossfitter and Drywall’s Facebook Page. For some more random LOL and hot crossfit and buff chicks, check out Wild Gorilla Man’s Facebook page (PG-13). Peace out.