Is CrossFit Fit For You?

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Is CrossFit Fit For You?

CrossFit is one of the newest crazes in fitness. It’s grueling, relentless and one-size-fits-all to a degree. Group classes are expensive, and injuries are flaunted. So what makes it so popular?

As with most fitness programs, there are benefits and drawbacks to CrossFit. Here you will find the good, the bad and the questionable of the program.

What It Is

CrossFit is hard to pinpoint because it borrows from so many different disciplines. The March 2004 CrossFit Journal describes the program succinctly: “CrossFit is a strength and conditioning system built on constantly varied, if not randomized, functional movements executed at high intensity.”

Essentially the task is to do what they tell you to do in as little time as possible, whether it be swinging kettle bells, dead lifting or sprinting.

There’s a whole CrossFit sub-culture with their own lingo, clothing and even competitions.

CrossFit Versus P90X

I often see comparisons of CrossFit to P90x, but the programs are different. P90X is like CrossFit for beginners. I know it sounds harsh, but having done both, P90X is a good primer for the harder stuff that is CrossFit.

That said, the premise of each is different and that necessarily leads to differences in methodology.

P90X promises you a beach-ready body in 90 days and, to varying degrees, delivers.  However, CrossFit’s goal is to make you an all-around athlete, strong, fast and agile. They don’t promise weight loss or anything about looks, just strength and speed gains.

The Good

1. Free Workout of the Day (WOD) posted right on CrossFit’s home page. One of my biggest gripes about

P90X is the price tag, so it makes sense to laud the “free” nature of the CrossFit workout. You can’t do everything they prescribe unless you have extensive equipment, but the knowledge is free for the taking.

There are several different ways to approach the program. One of which is the straight program that on the homepage. It’s designed to make all-around athletes, not specialists.

There’s also CrossFit Endurance for endurance athletes (runners, cyclists, triathletes, swimmers), designed to reduce training time and improve speed; and CrossFit Football (for contact sports), designed for maximum strength and bursts of speed.

2. Free videos of most exercises to help you get started. This is important because CrossFit uses many Olympic lifts, which need to be precise in order to avoid injury. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case that’s absolutely true.

3. Amazing community support. The message boards for CrossFit are really great. The people are supportive, but there’s zero coddling and hand-holding. That said, there is much encouragement and praise or attempts, even for times that aren’t record-breaking.

4. You can’t deny the results. The strength gains are amazing, even for people whose bodies are still hidden in layers of fat. For those that follow a Zone or Paleo diet, the changes can be absolutely staggering. Muscles pop, lean mass increases, and even stubborn fat seems to melt away slowly but steadily.

5. CrossFit is fast. P90X requires at least an hour per day, seven days a week (if you do the amazing stretching DVD, which I highly recommend). Most CrossFit workouts can be accomplished in under half an hour, and then you’re done for the day. Some workouts can even be finished in fifteen minutes!

The Bad

1. Gyms are often hard to find. In smaller cities, you may have to travel more than an hour. If you’re outside the US, your choices are few and far between. If you’re interested in joining a CrossFit affiliate (called a “box” in CF lingo) or just want to check for one in your area, the left sidebar of the CrossFit site has a list.

If you want to do the WODs with mostly body weight exercises, a CrossFitter made a comprehensive document (see post #33 on the PDF)

2. CrossFit gyms are pricey. Not everyone has kettle bells, bars, and plates readily available at home, and there aren’t many gyms that carry kettle bells. In my area, the best price I’ve found is $100 per month.

The good in that is that you may come as frequently as you wish, seven days a week.  However, at my “real” gym (called a “globo”), I can go seven days a week for $20 per month including classes and child care!  The expense may lead people to go more than they should and encourages overtraining.

3. CrossFit is not a weight loss program. CrossFit is designed to get you strong and fast, but not necessarily lean. You’ve got to get your diet in order and may need to supplement with more cardiovascular exercise.

Pure CFers will say that I just don’t “get it” to recommend more cardio, but I care about the strength and integrity of my heart muscle more than following any program to a “T.”

4. Burnout is common. To be fair, burnout is common in fitness in general. Here, there’s a great deal of room for overtraining, as well as injury. A good gym will help keep you safe, but costs a lot. You may motivate yourself well, but most people don’t remember to check their form as they’re racing to finish a workout. Be careful.

5. Rhabdomyolysis. This dangerous condition occurs after large amounts of muscle are broken down too quickly for the kidneys to metabolize. They shut down and without quick care, may cause severe illness that can possibly lead to death.

It can happen with any grueling exercise, but it relatively common in CrossFit and marathon running. It’s seen with the most taxing exercises in CF, such as jumping pull-ups, thrusters, GHD sit-ups and kettle bell swings.

The Questionable

Sample Crossfit WODs

  • For time:185 pound barbell, Shoulder to overhead, 20 reps40 Burpees
  • For time:115 pound Thruster, 21 reps15 ft Rope Climb, 12 ascents115 pound Thruster, 15 reps15 ft Rope Climb, 9 ascents115 pound Thruster, 9 reps

    15 ft Rope Climb, 6 ascents

  • Five rounds for time:Run 800 meters2 pood Kettlebell swing, 30 reps30 Pull-ups

“They” Said

  • Announcement: CrossFit Appearance
  • Fitness as a Full-Time Pursuit
  • P90X and Crossfit

1. One-size fits all. The plan is the same for everyone, from your day-one beginner to a seasoned CrossFitter. That’s right, my grandmother could be doing the same workout as a guy who has an MMA cage match tomorrow.

Of course workouts can be tailored, and CFers tell you this program isn’t for the faint of heart (or the faint of gut), but it gives me pause when someone who doesn’t know better goes all out and gets injured out of the gate.

For that reason, I recommend that everyone interested in the program check out a beginner’s class, offered at most CrossFit affiliates.

2. CrossFit Kids. I don’t mind that there’s a program for kids . . . quite the opposite. There are a couple of issues for me here, though. First, the names of some of the activities. “Minute of Doom” doesn’t sound like much fun, and isn’t the goal to make fitness fun for children?

Small children (I’ve seen as young as four) are doing the same exercises as teens—again, the one-size-fits-all may not be appropriate. I worry about growth plate injuries. No one wants to see kids hurt, and I believe that CF wants to encourage kids to be their best, but I guarantee that you won’t see my own kids doing the program.

3. Boasting over injuries. I’ve seen people boasting about doing handstand push-ups with broken hands and others wearing the “I Met Pukey” t-shirt. I get it—people are competitive.

Heck, I don’t even mind a good retch after a particularly crazy workout, but I also don’t boast about training when I’m hurt, because that’s just flat out stupid. Know your limits, and don’t test them when there’s permanent damage on the line.

Interested?

If you want to know more about CrossFit, the website is really a fantastic resource. From there, you can subscribe to the CrossFit Journal and peruse the message boards. The Beginner’s Board is more than helpful, with lots of seasoned vets at your disposal—people who want you to succeed.

You can read around, check the archives for workouts to get a feel for what’s coming your way, and get started. You can even start your workouts for a set time period behind the current WOD (one month or one year, for example) so that you can plan your workouts with no surprises.

Give CrossFit a shot. You’ll probably hurt more than you knew was possible, but you can say you got a primal workout!

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