Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

My Thoughts on Crossfit

One of the fastest growing fitness trends in the world today is Crossfit. Unless you live in a cave or under a rock, you have probably heard of somebody giving this trend a shot. I have seen many individuals in the fitness community give their opinions on this topic so I figured I would as well.

In today's society, we are dealing with a growing obesity epidemic as well as more and more people becoming more sedentary. I think it is utter nonsense to claim that any one fitness trend is better than another, so instead, we should all be aiming to move more, and I have always said that doing something is always better than doing nothing. Having said that, any individual who is looking for a change in their health and fitness journey or somebody who is just starting out on that path needs to assess their own goals and aspirations. The foundation of any fitness program should be built upon an individual's own personal goals, and to try and group all goals into one basket is utter nonsense. Not every wishes to bench press 300 pounds. Crossft, like any other fitness style or trend, has many pros and cons associated with it which I will address below.

What is Crossfit?

A simple Google search can answer this question for you, but in case you don't wish to see for yourself, I will do my best to concisely explain exactly what Crossfit is. Crossfit was originally designed to be a broad, diverse fitness style in order to train special operations academies in strength and fitness conditioning such as police forces, firefighters, military, etc. The principles behind these training modalities were originally focused on these groups because of the wide range of physical feats one would have to endure on the job. For example, a firefighter may need to scale a flight of stairs as fast as possible and then carry an injured person out of the building and away from danger. The programs that are offered are touted as being "scalable" so anyone from professional athletes to senior citizens can participate to their fullest capabilities.

Crossfit Training Goals

As I stated previously, the foundation for any fitness program should be the goals of the participant. Crossfit is no different here, however, they take a much broader approach. The mentality that is held by its faithful is that, "Why be really good at one thing (or a few things), when you can be competent at a bunch of things?" Most specifically, Crossfitters look to be 'competent' in each of 10 recognized fitness domains, which can be found in their Foundations. From their website: "Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist." Crossfitters take pride in their 'completeness'.

The Pros of Crossfit

There is no denying the fact that there are some incredibly athletic individuals who practice and even compete in Crossfit. There is even a "Crossfit Games" which is like their version of the Olympics. Like-minded trainees get together and compete to see who is the best at specific 'circuits' which are usually a combination of various exercises combined into single events. By following suit with what I said in the intro, I feel that Crossfit is doing a tremendous job at encouraging many folks to turn off their tvs and computers and getting out to get active.

By competing and working out in groups like Crossfit classes promote, certain people who thrive off of these types of situations will no doubt have a phenomenal rush of enjoyment. Not only that, but the workouts push you to your absolute limits, and then have you try and come back to beat your time from a previous session. A self-rewarding experience that not only makes you feel young, but can give that euphoric feeling deep down inside. Intense exercise also yields many benefits for individuals looking to reach optimal health.

The Cons of Crossfit

1. Rhabdomyolysis - According to PubMed: "Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle fibers that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents (myoglobin) into the bloodstream. Myoglobin is harmful to the kidney and often causes kidney damage." It is entirely possible for anyone to overtrain themselves to this point by using many other forms of fitness, but this condition seems to appear time and time again from Crossfit training styles. There are plenty of safety recommendations to prevent such an occurrence, however, the culture of Crossfit gyms appears to illicit these types of injuries out of their participants. The Crossfit website itself acknowledges this, mentioning it in their FAQs stating, "Don't kill anyone – Rhabdomyolysis is a potentially lethal threat to newcomers; be very careful. This is a very real and present danger. Avoiding “rhabdo’ should be the primary concern of first and second time workouts. Throwing a unknown newbie into an established group class is an invitation to rhabdo." Despite the fact that is a very serious issue, Crossfit appears to feel the need to poke fun at this;

In one specific instance, a Navy Crossfitter by the name of Makimba Mimms suffered Rhabdomyolysis, which he claimed resulted from a Crossfit workout, so he decided to file a lawsuit against the company. Because of this, there is now a Crossfit "WOD" (workout of the day) sarcastically named "Makimba" - names for these WODs are usually held by female names. Not only that, but Crossfit has a video on their website showing children performing "Makimba" as if this is a safe practice for all with absolutely no hazards whatsoever.

2. Crossfit certification - Anyone can get certified. Let that one sink in for a few seconds...ANYONE. All you need is $1000 and a weekend to learn the ins and outs of powerlifting. I for one believe that we need as many people in our society to promote health and fitness as much as possible, but there are far better (and safer) methods to promote an active lifestyle than having unqualified instructors telling Joe Couch Potato to thrust heavy weights over his head.

3. Specificity Training (or lack thereof) - The human body is a remarkable thing. When you train it to do something, with repetition and proper training modalities, your body gets better at that 'thing'. This is called training. For athletes, this is how they make their living, off of what is known as the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands). Someone training for a marathon would never use heavy back squats as a staple in their training regimen, and likewise Olympic powerlifters would never run 21 miles to improve their strength. Crossfit knows this and I discussed this earlier that they feel that it is much more important to be 'good' at a bunch of things rather than be 'great' at a few things. Fine, Crossfit is great at pushing you to your limits, but please do not try and sell this to athletes as a way to improve their game. Yes, these training modalities can translate over to some sports to improve physical endurance, but all athletic training eventually needs to reach a point of specificity where training and skill development mesh together.

4. The Workouts Don't Really Make Any Sense - Research has shown that for maximal "power" gains from training comes from heavy resistance being used within a 2-5 repetition range. The snatch for example is a "power" exercise that improves total body strength and a power hip drive (advantageous in many sports). Having said this, there is a Crossfit WOD (just one of many examples) where individuals are asked to snatch 135 pounds for 30 repetitions. Why? Once your body progresses beyond the 15 repetition range, you are now "endurance" training. Why on earth would you combine a power exercise with endurance properties? There are many examples of this. Such examples are also found in the exercise styles that are used. For example, a Crossfit saying is "no matter what it takes to get your chin over the bar, just DO IT!" This creates the potential for incredible muscular imbalance and poor form as the trainees will simply aim to complete something, often times with complete disregard for personal safety or proper form. Which leads me to...

5. Dangerous - Time and time again I see incorrect form used on many different exercises. Not only can this increase the risk for injury, but it can completely defeat the purpose of an exercise completely. One such exercise that I have seen performed on many occasions that literally scares me every time is the "Kipping Handstand Pushup". By pushing yourself to your limit in such a compromising position such as this increases the risk of injury immensely! Not only that, but the "kipping" motion (coiling the legs by bending the knees and then 'thrusting' upwards) takes much of the emphasis off of the deltoids (shoulders) which is intended to be worked in such an exercise. Yes, I know, there are plenty of other exercises that have inherent dangers associated with them, but that is the idea of years of research and experience within the physical fitness field of study. There are MUCH safer and more effective ways to work the same muscle group, especially for those that do not have the strength to do a handstand pushup. You can watch an example of this below (fast forward to the 0:38 mark to see the move being performed).

6. The "Cult" - For me, this has to be one of the worst parts of Crossfit. I have run into quite a few Crossfitters who have their noses extremely far into the air. Let me state this; I think Crossfit is great. I think Crossfit works wonders for the right crowd. I do not think this is for everyone. I don't really care if you do Crossfit or not. Do not think that you are better at everything just because you can do a "Fran" in under 5 minutes. I have also met some Crossfitters who are extremely educated, knowledgeable and in phenomenal overall physical shape. Having said all of that, I feel these types of personalities can be seen everywhere. There always seems to be a select few from any workout fanaticism (Cyclists, Crossfitters, "Jocks", yoga-ers, barefoot runners, etc.) that believe their workout system is the "cat's pajamas". I'm sure it speaks to the boredom and loneliness of our modern life. People gotta have something to believe in, whether it's god, rock hard abs or the saving grace of doing a "Cindy" in record time - for the most part, the point of the belief-system is to give one a sense of superiority over others. If you are a fan of Crossfit and love it, great! But similar to those folks that wish to drive down the street with the windows of their car down so that everyone can hear their blaring music, I have some news for you, nobody really cares what you do to stay fit and healthy (except maybe for fellow Crossfitters) so keep it to yourself.

In Summary

I may receive some flak from some of you Crossfitters out there, and that is fine, you are more than entitled to your opinion. Let me remind you that I think Crossfit is great for getting in shape. There are some inherent dangers associated with it (along with all forms of fitness) that I believe are not worth the risk for many of the individuals who decide to 'give it a shot'. There appears to be a greater risk of injury doing these types of exercises while sometimes being supervised by unqualified trainers. Many folks out there should look to attempt far safer methods of physical activity and then maybe 'building up to' Crossfit.

Crossfit, like many other health and wellness endeavors, is a business and above all else, wishes to make money. Modern society, the way it is today, people are constantly looking towards becoming 'thin' and 'looking good' faster than ever before. I think it has become a product of our fast-paced lifestyles that causes many to always look for the quickest fix possible. These two factors have lead to (in my honest opinion) a tremendous popularity rise in Crossfit because of the 'rush' you get from doing a workout so intense. If it is this hard, it must give me the fast results that I am looking for, which is not always the case, and certainly should not be the intention if safety has to be pushed aside.

Also, athletes training for a specific sport should be encouraged to train in much more specific modalities to aid in their athletic performances. Crossfit trains individuals to be 'good' at a number of things, but not 'great' at any one thing, and they even proclaim that. Crossfit is one tool, in a list of many, that can help certain people with their goals, but it is certainly not for everyone!

-Tyler Robbins