I often get asked, What’s CrossFit all about? Is that good for me? Is that bad for me? Tell me about it. Today we’re gonna talk about some of the good and some of the not so good. So let’s dive in by starting with what is CrossFit? CrossFit is GPP, or general physical preparedness training. It’s a great way to improve all aspects of fitness, including strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, and mobility/flexibility as well. So it’s a well rounded fitness program that’s going to work on all aspects of fitness.
So now that we know CrossFit is a well rounded program, let’s talk a little bit about the specifics. CrossFit can be defined as constantly very high intensity, functional movements. Okay, so varied in that it’s rare that two workouts are ever the same. Whereas in a traditional program, you might go to the gym, say, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and your workouts might be the same each time you go to the gym. Whereas CrossFit, if you do Monday, Wednesday, Friday, it’s rare that Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays workout is going to be exactly the same, they might have a strength component and a cardio component. But the exercises within there are usually going to be different. So it’s more varied than a traditional program. Functional movement – what does that mean? Functional movements are things that are going to mimic or more mimic what we might do in everyday life. So let’s contrast functional movements with a traditional gym setting. In a traditional gym setting you get on machines (most of the time in seated position) and the machine dictates the range of motion you travel. Unfortunately that’s not really how our body operates in everyday life, if you’re picking up groceries, or doing yard work or playing with the kids. That’s not really what life is all about. Life isn’t on rails. So Crossfit uses more functional movements, you’re lifting bodyweight, or barbells or kettlebells, that you have to control the weight yourself. So they typically are more functional than a traditional gym. A quick side note, I’m not a big fan of people using what we call fixed plane machines. These are the machines that dictate the range of motion, you can’t just travel in the path you choose. So while machines can serve a purpose, I don’t recommend using them exclusively. I’d rather you do things where you have to learn how to control your body, use stabilizer muscles and often stand during the movement.
Besides functional movement CrossFit uses high intensity training. When you do a true CrossFit program, you’re pushing yourself. So let’s take cardiovascular, when you do a CrossFit workout, if you’re not huffing and puffing, and your heart rate is not close to Max, you’re usually not doing it right. So for example, if the CrossFit workout of the day incorporates running, you want to be running where your RPE (that’s your rating of perceived exertion) is at an eight, nine, or 10 on a one to 10 scale, you want to be working hard or very hard to do it correctly. And we know physiologically, that for you to maximize improvements in your cardio or your strength for that matter, you have to go close to max.
In addition to the high intensity and functional movements, it uses basic equipment. A traditional gym, as we mentioned earlier, might have 50 different machines that do a variety of different motions. In CrossFit, you’re not going to find a wide variety of equipment. You’re going to find some barbells, kettlebells, rings, pull up bars, a rower, dumbbells, and jump ropes. You’re not going to see elaborate fitness equipment and/or 50 to 60 different machines. Also the number one thing in terms of equipment is you, your body is the machine on a lot of different exercises in CrossFit. So those are some things and characteristics about CrossFit.
So now we know a little bit about what CrossFit it’s all about. Let’s talk about some of the pros and cons of a CrossFit program. Let’s start with the pros. One of the things is in CrossFit, there is a community. So there’s a CrossFit community where other people are going to be working out beside you, and that builds camaraderie. For many people, it helps you to push harder. Another pro is it does provide you with a high level of well rounded fitness. So if you want well rounded/high level fitness CrossFit is about the best game in town, so to speak. A lot of times in my programs, I use a hybrid approach, I’ll use some of the principles, as well as more traditional principles. But it always goes back to what an individual’s needs are and their goals. Some other pros of CrossFit is it does work on mental toughness. You have to be tough mentally to push through a hard CrossFit workout. So it gives you a sense of accomplishment. It helps build mental toughness. Another thing that’s positive, it has portability. So a lot of times your traditional gyms you can’t really move the equipment around. So you’re kind of locked into going to a gym with that equipment. CrossFit uses your body weight for workouts so you can take it anywhere. So it’s more portable. It also burns calories after the fact. We know that high intensity workouts continue to rev up our metabolism after the workout is over. It’s also time efficient, you’re going to get a good workout in a short amount of time, it’s going to cover all the aspects of fitness without having to spend hours and hours in the gym, you’re going to work hard, but you can get more bang for your buck, so to speak, and get more done in less time.
So now that we know some of the pros, let’s talk about some of the cons. Well, the first one is high intensity. This could be a pro or a con depending on where you are, I’d say most people would say it’s a con, because most people don’t want to work out really intensely. They don’t want to be out of breath. They don’t want to get an extreme muscle burn. They don’t want to have excessive soreness the next day, they just don’t generally like being uncomfortable. Some other things are it’s not for everyone (some people with CrossFit may disagree). As someone who has been certified in CrossFit and done this myself for many years, I don’t really think it’s the most applicable for the elderly. I don’t think it’s the most applicable for people with orthopedic problems. Also, I know just from working from people without for over 30 years, there are just different body types, and some people’s bodies are just more resilient to stress. whereas others just tend to get hurt more easily and more often. Sometimes even if they’re doing the right thing. There’s just a genetic component, where some people tend to be more resilient, or other people tend to be a little more fragile (age plays a role here). If you know that your body is more prone to get hurt. It definitely would be something you want to strongly consider prior to starting a CrossFit type of program. Another thing is in terms of it’s not for everyone, it can’t be intimidating. Some boxes (Crossfit coined the phrase box instead of gyms) are friendly and welcoming others not so much. I’ve been into many over the years and sometimes some seem to have a barrier up to new people (not all of them). So it does sometimes have an intimidating vibe to it in some circumstances. Also, for example, they often play loud music, that may be a good thing for you, maybe not so much. But realize that some people do find it intimidating. Another con is there is a higher rate of injury. Now CrossFit would argue that, and you could make an argument that it can be done safely. But here’s the thing, you usually have competitive people, you usually have to go against the clock or go against what’s called a PR personal record, or you’re trying to best your last performance. When you have competitive people, you’re going against the clock, or you’re trying to set a PR, think about it, you have to push yourself really hard. And if you want to beat the guy next to you, okay, you’re going to usually push yourself a little harder, you might cut some corners, and you might let your form on, say a deadlift get a little bit iffy. And that’s going to open yourself up for a greater risk of injury. Now, if you stay in perfect form, you go under control, everything stays tight. Yeah, you could probably prevent that. But just the dynamics of a class environment. I personally have seen more injuries, more aches and pains. There was a lawsuit from the NSCA and CrossFit where they went back and forth, and NSCA said there is a higher rate of injuries. CrossFit took exception to that and they went to court. And my understanding is CrossFit got the better end of the deal, because I don’t think there’s a lot of actual studies where 100 people went into CrossFit and 100 people went into a traditional gym, and then they measured the injuries. In addition, another thing I put in the con department would be complex lifts. And not all of CrossFit is complex lifts, but they do have some like a snatch, the clean and jerk, muscle ups, overhead squats, and handstands. These movements are highly complex. They require a great level of strength, but they also require some athleticism and some efficient movement patterns. And not having efficient movement patterns not learning the proper technique. They’re definitely higher risk movements.
Okay so what is the bottom line with CrossFit. First, there’s positives, there’s negatives. If you want to build a high high fitness level that incorporates all aspects of fitness. It can help you become more athletic, and is better or more designed for people who tend to have athletic bend. It’s prone to be more problematic for injuries. It tends to be a little bit better for the younger demographic. It’s good for people who are competitive, and like to work hard. So those are some of the bottom line or some of the summary points of CrossFit. Personally, as I briefly mentioned earlier, is that I use a hybrid approach where I use some of those principles, but not a pure strict CrossFit type program. And so that’s something you might want to consider is using some of these principles in your training program.
Glen Carrigan/Freedom 4 Life Fitness