Inside The Cult of CrossFit

A couple of days ago, a member from our gym posted this article from Men’s Health on our member Facebook page. It sparked quite a bit of online commentary from our members and coaches….which I love. If you haven’t read the article and you are a CrossFitter, you must read it.

I’m writing this today to express how insanely lucky I am to have been at the quality gyms. I have worked with amazing owners and trainers. I have worked out with and coached stellar athletes, both in attitude and ability. My CrossFit experience has been the best and I cannot imagine doing anything else. I hope in thirty years I’m still doing pull ups and running 5K’s because of CrossFit.

Now onto the article and a few conversation topics I want to bring up…..

The author starts by telling how he got into CrossFit.  He talks about the ideology of CrossFit and has commentary from fitness experts (the degree kind and the “actually in the gym” kind).  He brings up some valid points during the article that I cannot 100% disagree with. First, he talks about how CrossFit trainers are trained. For those who do not know, to become a certified Level 1 CrossFit trainer you must attend a weekend certification seminar. This is a combination of classroom and hands on learning. I will be the first to admit, there are probably plenty of people who are certified that have no business training anyone.

That being said, there are a lot of fantastic CrossFit trainers who know their stuff and are flat-out phenomenal. I think it is pretty easy to spot a good trainer versus a poor trainer. If I see someone telling a first timer they need to be using RX’d weight no matter how long it takes, then I immediately have reservations. If they aren’t drilling good technique into their athletes every day, then I have some reservations. If they scream in your face, well, you just have to decide if that is for you or not. We all have our own style. 🙂 I dance to encourage my classes….

A good trainer or bad trainer can make all the difference in your CrossFit experience. I do my best to try to get to know every athlete in my class. There are always new ones so I’m not going to be able to size them up in one look and say, “You should use 225# on the dead lift” if I have never seen them dead lift. I’m not psychic. However, if I watch their form as they warm up and how they handle light weight I can give them a solid, informed suggestion erring on the side of caution until I get to know them better.  I like being able to look at someone and say, “you can do more” or “let’s modify this” because I know their history and abilities. It makes them feel like you care (because you really do) and they get more out of their time in the gym. Good trainers take time to get to know everyone. Not just the fire breathers.

He goes on to talk about how CrossFit programming doesn’t make sense from a strength training program. This is coming from the opinion of a journalist who “observed” a Level 1 Certification. It doesn’t say if this journalist has been active in CrossFit to remark on his own experience rather than his opinion from two days of spectating…

“The programming doesn’t make sense from a strength-training standpoint. The reality is, a lot of guys who go to the gym want to put on some muscle. CrossFit is not the optimum way to go about doing that.”
Bryan Krahn, C.S.C.S

Well, I guess if your goal is to only be able to squat 900 pounds than CrossFit might not be for you. But if you want to get stronger? How can this program not work for you? From my own experience, I am a heck of a lot stronger than I was when I walked in the door of CrossFit Jenks 3 1/2 years ago at 125 pounds and a size 4. Now, at 135 pounds and still the same size 4, I can lift more, push more, pull more, endure more than I could pre CrossFit. I would say CrossFit helped me put on about ten pounds of muscle and gain a lot of strength. Sounds like a good muscle-building program to me. So do you want to put on muscle so you can show off muscle or do you want to put on muscle so you can do something with it?

I have yet to hear a single athlete in my classes complain that CrossFit is not helping them become stronger.

A little further in the article Greg Glassman goes on to explains how CrossFit makes you functionally fit and not a specialist and that,  “In the real world, the best physiques belong to people who have functional capacity.” In response, the author of the article talks about his experience….

“That contradicts my own observations at my local CrossFit gym. If Glassman’s brand of functional fitness produces better aesthetic results than the traditional approach does, why did the gelatinous bodies at my gym often outperform those who appeared to be in better shape?”

First, shame on this man. My guess, there are a lot of people in that gym that are in the process of changing their lives. I see those people everyday. They might not have the model body, but they work hard, they are dropping weight, gaining muscle, they push themselves and they are strong. The physical aesthetic that comes from CrossFit takes time. You don’t walk in the door and walk out one month later looking like Rich Froning. However, that would be awesome for everyone involved.

I see ripped up bodies that couldn’t hold a candle to what some of the ladies in our gym can do. I think what Glassman is saying is that a strong CrossFit body is functionally fit. It doesn’t mean every CrossFitter is going to have a six-pack, but we aren’t soft. We have muscle and some curves and those are HOT!  We aren’t skinny Victoria’s Secret models and I don’t want to be one. I will gladly be the one that is underestimated because of how I look. Give me a barbell and then I will show you something.  If this guy goes back to that gym in six months I bet his jaw would drop to the floor when he sees those “gelatinous bodies” again.

He goes on to talk about how CrossFit encourages injury with repetitive movement. This can be so true with a lot of different movements. Olympic lifting is complicated and you can do some messed up things to your body if you don’t have someone teaching it correctly. We encourage our athletes to work with trainers one on one or during open gym to further develop their olympic lifting technique so when it shows up in class they are ready to go. You can’t learn a proper snatch in twenty minutes, I agree with his thinking here, but disagree that all gyms throw you to the wolves unprepared for the movements. Doing an olympic lift won’t hurt you, but doing it incorrectly can.

Good programming solves a lot of these problems. If you see pull ups in your daily WODs three days in a row that probably isn’t a good thing. If all you ever do is heavy dead lifts, that probably isn’t a good thing. If you get a good mix of cardio, gymnastics and weight lifting in your weekly programming then you are probably good to go.

Obviously, the author of this article did not have the best experience. Whether that is because of his trainers, the environment, the program or his ego remains to be seen. More than likely, it is a combination of all the above. I have yet to go to a gym where I am encouraged to go until I puke. I have never seen a trainer congratulate someone for becoming sick as he alludes to in the article.

I know CrossFit is not everyone’s cup of tea and that is fine. I love his sentiment at the end where he recognizes how much CrossFitters love CrossFit and he hopes he finds something he loves as much. Laura, from our gym, commented best when she said “CrossFit is not for those who cannot check their ego at the door”. Given the proper coaching and environment CrossFit can transform your life if you let it. You don’t have to be a superstar, you just have to want to be better. CrossFitters are fanatical about CrossFit because it has given them so much: Confidence, family, strength, fun, accomplishment and goals to strive for.

In my 11AM class today I saw two of our women going through the WOD together. They both admittedly do not like running so during running WODs they help each other to keep moving. It was a 20 min AMRAP of 400 m run, 10 KB front squats and 15 KB swings. During the squats and swings they were encouraging each other saying things like “you’ve go this”, “keep it up”, ” we can do it”. And you know what? They kept moving and did amazing. How inspiring is that? That is what CrossFit is about and what makes it awesome.

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