I’ve written about CrossFit before. This CrossFit post I wrote a year and a half ago gives a decent enough intro and my thoughts at the time. That one, or another CrossFit post I wrote, got noticed by Men’s Fitness magazine, and I ended up doing a phone interview with them for an upcoming article they’re doing about Crossfit, which I’ll share more when it actually hits the newsstands.
Since then, my thoughts on the subject have firmed up a little more and the pendulum has swung the other direction from being a general supporter of CrossFit in concept and practice to be largely against it at this point. My wife and I both belonged to a CrossFit gym (though I admittedly thought even then the programming stupid, so usually did an abbreviated version of Outlaw and maybe jumped into a gym-led class about once a week). We both enjoyed it for awhile and even competed in a few competitions, but neither of us felt it is a sustainable long-term program, which I’ll get into. We eventually got enough equipment for us both to work out at home in whatever manner we saw fit, and quit our gym.
Here’s a bullet point list of why we don’t do it anymore.
- It’s really expensive. We were getting the grandfathered “friend” price of $150/month total for both of us. I think new members are being asked to pay $150 per month individually — crazy expensive. After quitting, our payback on a new Pendlay barbell set with new bumpers was four months. Much better equipment than what our gym had too.
- Cult mentality – working out and suffering as a group is fun, which is their biggest selling point. But have a contrarian viewpoint and challenge the Borg (especially the owners or trainers) and you won’t be part of the “in group” for long. This was our experience and we consider many of those people our friends. If you aren’t doing paleo, or lifting, you’re an idiot…according to many gym owners, attendees, and coaches. They don’t have enough appreciation for people’s needs to do other things that bring them enjoyment. For some people running long, playing soccer, swimming, CHRONIC CARDIO. They’ll say they understand, but will shake their head or roll their eyes if you tell them you’re running a half marathon or something that doesn’t fit into their little box of “functional fitness.”
- Typical trainers/owners don’t know shit – for $1000 and a free weekend, you too can train unfit people in the Sport of Fitness. No experience required. And if you have $3000 and some equipment, you can be an official CrossFit affiliate/Gym Owner. Now some of the trainers and owners undoubtedly have kinesiology or some other applicable degree and have studied and apprenticed for a long time. But even that doesn’t guarantee they know much. One owner with a degree in this field was convinced Holly (and others) could rehab/mobilize their way out of torn labrum or other major issues that require surgery. And go to any Crossfit gym at any time, watch the Workout of the Day (or WOD) and watch how not to move, or how to move with bad form. And then see the trainers not say jack about their members’ shitty form.
- Many movements are dumb, will injur you. Many of the movements are really, really dumb and even if you are smart, you will get injured. Kipping pullups may look cool to the newbs, but until you have a strong shoulder girdle, (and even if you do) you’re welcoming a SLAP tear. Yay! And Crossfitters LOOVE the kipping pullup. Handstand pushups – inverted against the wall, come down on your head and push back up. Great shoulder workout, but your cervical vertebrae (C1-C7) are not designed to hold up your weight. Dumb. High rep box jumps. High rep deadlifts. Shit form, butt-wink squats. All bad ideas. And my favorite, overuse injuries. The beneficiaries are chiropractors and rehab specialists. Yet the coaches or trainers will tell you the injuries are your fault, despite the competitive culture and workouts that inevitably result in a breakdown of form. While big injuries are less common, I’m seeing a rash right now with members who belonged to our gym. Multiple hip labrum tears (hard to prove actual causation, but definitely contributors and a pattern is emerging as three women including Holly have had or need surgery), a torn ACL, shoulder labrum that needs surgery, plus all the minor stuff people get.
- CrossFit will likely NOT make you look better naked, and here’s why. One reason people go do the high-intensity CrossFit workouts 4-5 days a week is because they think they’ll lean out and get big muscles and look better. I look at the people doing Crossfit at the gyms I’ve been at and acknowledge they look better than regular people off the street. But I don’t see many six packs or people looking that much better than when they started. Seems totally counterintuitive. I’m sure there are exceptions, and many people are a lot stronger than when they started (and have a harder time fitting into shirts or pants because of it, especially women), but bodyfat percentage hasn’t changed much. Even if they are eating paleo and doing everything else right. And here’s why: recovery, sleep, and cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone released from stress. Doing CrossFit (or really any High Intensity training program like Insanity — or even excessive cardio like running or biking) releases cortisol and the high frequency keeps it elevated. Cortisol blunts testosterone production (you know, that most important hormone that makes muscles, gives us a boner, and keeps manliness high and fat low). This U of T study (just one of many showing adverse relationship between tesosterone and cortisol): “According to research, chronically elevated cortisol levels can produce impotence and loss of libido by inhibiting testosterone production in men. In women, chronically high levels of cortisol can produce severe fertility problems and result in an abnormal menstrual cycle.” Regular people have enough stress, usually don’t eat as well as they should for recovery, and don’t get enough sleep. Add on more stress from CrossFit, blunt the testosterone production and you have a recipe for the body to keep the fat it has. A recent groupshot of our former gym I saw on Facebook looks like a bunch of regular people – not “athletes” and not that lean either.
- The terminology makes my ears bleed. They can’t just call it a gym or a workout. It’s “Box” and “WOD.” If you workout so hard you want to hurl, you go to Pukie’s Bucket (a dumber mascot I can’t imagine). If you do the workout as written (with the weights they recommend) it’s Rx (a really funny way to say “prescribed,” ha! peed my pants on that knee-slapper).
- and finally – all CrossFitters want to talk about is CrossFit and themselves. Seriously. CrossFit is their life. They won’t go to sleep until they know what the next workout is. They all want to talk about how tough the workout was, or how so-and-so got a great time, or the new gear they are getting or brag on numbers they hit or are trying to hit. You also have a high level of douchiness with WODkilla t-shirts and goofy ass knee socks. It was one reason why I rarely went to my gym when I was a member. I don’t like talking about myself that much, and felt I had to (or listen to others brag about themselves) to properly fit in or relate. ugh.
As I was researching and looking around for similar articles/blogs/post on the subject, I came across the following comment responding to this Crossfit Dropout post (about a mom with similar thoughts as me).
“Thank you for this. In my experience, crossfit has pretty much destroyed my life. My wife is so addicted to it and her friends that she gave up our marriage, our home, and our family in order to pursue crossfit. We did have issues before and this change in our lives has made me aware of my flaws as well as what I need to do as a husband and leader of my family. Unfortunately, it seems too late. I sought after God and she says she gets fullfillment from Crossfit. This leads me to believe that in her eyes crossfit is as important or more important than God.
Another thing that I don’t like about crossfit is the fact that it puts together married people with single people. It increases the temptation to stray away from your partner. My wife found other men that were fullfilling her emotional needs. This is what made things very dangerous and ultimately caused a stain in our marriage. I regret the day I recommended crossfit to my wife.”
Good point Mr. Anonymous commenter. Good point.
So what can you do to look better naked and simply be healthy? For most people, I really recommend the Mark’s Daily Apple approach to fitness and life: walk frequently, lift heavy things occasionally, sprint once in awhile, sleep well (AMD adds: with lots of sex), and eat mostly Paleo. This approach has the advantage (over CrossFit or other HIIT or chronic cardio programs) of mostly lower intensity, weights for strong and bigger (and sexier) muscles (unlike the Crossfit or cardio programs which cannibalize muscles for fuel), and above all recovery. This approach is sustainable. It also means cortisol is lower, testosterone is higher, muscles are built and body fat isn’t preferentially held on to.
But we’ll still watch the CrossFit games, those people are freaks and it’s like a circus show – can’t miss those crazy distended roid bellies from the ladies I like so much!