Health and Wellness
FitSmart: July 2009
By Brad Lawrence
I still remember my first CrossFit experience. I was about 20 and I didn’t know it but CrossFit had been around for as long as I had. I was exhausted after my final set of squats for the day and began walking through the crowded gym toward the fountain.
By Brad Lawrence
I still remember my first CrossFit experience. I was about 20 and I didn’t know it but CrossFit had been around for as long as I had. I was exhausted after my final set of squats for the day and began walking through the crowded gym toward the fountain. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something I thought was a little out of the ordinary. I wiped the sweat from my eyes and peered into the training studio to find a small group using Olympic rings, medicine balls, truck tires, resistance bands and what I later discovered were kettle bells.
I stood and watched for a few minutes thinking, “Where am I?” A friend passing by told me those in the studio were doing a training program called CrossFit. They were performing the WOD (workout of the day). I’ll admit I was a bit intrigued – I had never seen anything like it – and the guys in the studio all seemed to be in reasonable shape. Over the next year I continued to see more and more people performing these types of routines and I decided it was time to take a look at CrossFit in a little more depth. I’d like to share what I’ve learned about this revelation in the fitness industry and help you decide whether it’s for you. It may surprise you. It sure surprised me.
I quickly learned CrossFit was created to break the old, mundane mould of the typical workout.
There are basically 10 domains of fitness: cardiovascular; respiratory endurance; speed; strength; agility; stamina; flexibility; power; co-ordination; and accuracy. The goal of CrossFit is to make you competent in all 10 domains.
Obviously, then, CrossFit is a very broad, general type of training. The goal of CrossFitters is to be fit through overall completeness in their conditioning.
The CrossFit website states, “our specialty is not specializing.” While this sounds good on paper, critics are quick to point out that if your specialty is not specializing in anything, you’ll likely be elite at nothing. The CrossFit critics have a valid point. The experienced CrossFitter should be in good shape. The workouts are definitely challenging whether you agree with the principles behind them or not. A typical CrossFitter should be strong but not nearly the strongest, fast yet not the fastest and so on. For these reasons, if you’re training for anything specific, CrossFit is not the way to go.
Despite quite a bit of criticism, CrossFit has built an undeniable, almost cult-like following. As a non-CrossFitter, I admit there are some attractive features. Every day your workout is planned for you and posted online, requiring no work on your part. The workouts are different every day and CrossFit is popular enough that finding a workout partner is generally easy. For those with time constraints, many workouts are over and done with very quickly, some in less than 20 minutes. For these reasons alone, you can see why fire and police personnel have taken such a liking to CrossFit.
Unfortunately for the CrossFit community, it’s not all roses. As with anything this popular, many critics have made it their mission to expose the flaws in the CrossFit system, and there certainly are a few.
The majority of CrossFit workouts are performed at near maximum intensities with a very high number of reps. Many of these workouts include things like Olympic lifting, explosive snatches, cleans and other highly advanced exercises. One CrossFit workout calls for 30 snatches at 135 pounds. Anyone with any fitness education will see danger written all over this. A snatch is performed for explosiveness, not for endurance, and 30 reps of an exercise like this is a recipe for disaster.
The same comparison can be made for the deadlifts. Again, CrossFit recommends very high weight and calls for 50 consecutive deadlifts. For anyone not familiar with the deadlift, this is an advanced exercise that could cause catastrophic injuries if performed improperly or when your form fails.
The programs set out for each day seem random at times. It seems every workout has maximal loads for the shoulders or squat muscles or both, often followed up a day or two later with similar loads. Shoulder muscles simply aren’t built for that type of repetitive maximal load. A former navy CrossFitter was awarded $300,000 after he won a lawsuit against CrossFit, claiming that he sustained a permanent disability due to performing an unsafe CrossFit workout.
All CrossFit workouts are supposed to be designed with a certain degree of scalability involved to make even the most amateur lifter comfortable. Generally, however, with regular training regimes, amateurs will spend months working up to the exercises discussed above with safe, progressive, foundation exercises.
The higher-ups in CrossFit aren’t always doing the program favours either. Listed on the CrossFit website (www.crossfit.com) is the following hierarchy of mass building strategies, in order of most effective to least effective:
- Bodybuilding on steroids
- CrossFitting on steroids
- CrossFitting without steroids
- Bodybuilding without steroids
This is a blatant error. I don’t expect anyone to believe that CrossFit would in any way be more effective at mass building than traditional bodybuilding. If it were even remotely close, there would be bodybuilders who do CrossFit. Bodybuilding has a storied history established through decades of competitors using proven methods to achieve their ideal physiques. Bodybuilding is a specialized competition and CrossFit is the self-proclaimed anti-specialization program. Even a diehard CrossFitter must admit this hierarchy is incorrect.
Through my training and work I’ve discovered CrossFit isn’t for me but you may find it to be a fine supplement to your workout. I respect those who have taken the plunge and there are definitely some impressive results to be seen from those using the program. I have no intention of persuading you one way or the other but I would recommend that if you decide to try CrossFit, proceed with caution.
Brad Lawrence is a firefighter with the Calgary Fire Department and a certified personal trainer who specializes in training and nutrition for emergency responders. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org