For those with a tuned ear to the fitness industry, just this simple word can bring about a plethora of emotions.
Best known for its annual games held each summer, Crossfit has become a mainstay in today’s fitness industry. Crossfit has infiltrated the fitness conversation with its high-intensity workouts, many of which bring into play questionable methodology, such as high-repetition Olympic movements and variations. Crossfit claims to be much more than a fitness regimen, offering the members of its affiliate “boxes” (gyms) the chance to be a part of a real community, a place where people genuinely care about each other. However, there has been so much bad to go with the good, particularly in recent months, to make people question Crossfit’s legitimacy.
Defining Crossfit isn’t particularly easy; often, it depends on whom you ask. We can take information directly from the Crossfit site—“CrossFit is many things. Primarily, it’s a fitness regimen developed by Coach Greg Glassman over several decades. He was the first person in history to define fitness in a meaningful, measurable way (increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains).” However, as a keen reader can already see, there is some propaganda behind Crossfit’s self-branding. The site claims that founder Greg Glassman is the first person to define fitness in a “meaningful, measurable way.” Withholding judgment, this just cannot be true.
It comes as no surprise that followers of Crossfit are so rabid in their defense of the program. Surely, it does work—the modem of training wouldn’t exist were it not effective. Having gone to a box for a month, I can also confide in the belief that Crossfit gyms exist to create a communal, supportive space for exercise. It is not something people can find at an LA Fitness. But it is the implementation of Crossfit methodology into the Workout of the Day (WOD) that has people both inside and outside the reach of Crossfit questioning both its safety and validity.
Crossfit has popularized high-repetition Olympic movements, such as the clean, the clean and jerk, and the snatch—violent, full-body movements in which the athlete moves a loaded barbell from the floor to an overhead position. Moreover, Crossfit uses these movements with everyone who signs up as a member at any box—the common title for Crossfit affiliate gyms. These movements are highly technical and require a great deal of training for basic mastery; even “games athletes,” those who qualify and compete in the Crossfit Games shown on ESPN each summer are susceptible to injury when performing high-rep Olympic lifts. There is a chance, however, that if one were to walk into any box in the United States on any given day, he or she might watch a member perform these movements with little to no coaching. It doesn’t take much to realize that this just isn’t safe.
If Games athletes are getting hurt during competitions, then there has to be something inherently wrong with the design behind Crossfit competitions. The most recent (and most horrific) of Crossfit injuries occurred during a competition in January, when experienced Crossfitter Kevin Ogar was paralyzed during a three-rep snatch workout. The video of the incident shows the freak nature behind the accident, but the accident does make both Crossfitters and the general population question the methodology behind a workout that would leave one of the most experienced athletes paralyzed.
Crossfit’s popularity has spiked in the past few years with the emergence of the Crossfit Games. The Games, which started from humble beginnings, are now a crown jewel of fitness. Three-time defending champion Rich Froning has become a household name in the fitness industry, and this has done nothing but good for the brand of Crossfit. Other top finishers at the games, including Ben Smith, Jason Khalipa, and Lucas Parker, are celebrities in their own right; in short, these athletes are beginning to be idolized and worshipped much like Major League Baseball players. Their success helps promote the industry, which is beginning to appeal to more and more people across the world.
The most educated people in the traditional fitness industry—strength and conditioning coaches, in particular—have a respect for Crossfit, though they may not always agree with Crossfit’s methodology. In truth, most of the hatred that is geared toward Crossfit comes from people who’ve never even done a Crossfit workout. There’s an old adage that you can’t hate something if you’ve never tried it—maybe these people should give one of Crossfit’s hero WOD’s a try before spitting on the concept.
The desire to go against the grain is what has led Crossfit to an undeniable position of success. However, this desire to be different has also earned Crossfit a great deal of hatred from many in the fitness industry; and, at times, this hatred is well-earned. One does have to understand, though, that Crossfit’s popularity is only going to increase, if anything. This should not stop the brand from altering some of its methodology to be both more effective and safer for its followers and members.