CrossFit… What the hell is it?!!

22 Feb

The first time I heard about CrossFit was through a random hit on a website about 3 months ago. Yes I know that makes me kind of late to the party, but given I really only started to take a serious interest in health and fitness only about 3 months ago, it’s hardly a surprise that I only started learning about all of these different workout and training styles at around the same time as I started to get serious about my health.

I’ve read quite a few flowery descriptions about the benefits of CrossFit, and all sorts of wishy-washy fine-sounding stuff about goals, commitment, and better life preparation and all sorts of other almost religious sounding stuff. It took me a while to filter out the noise that CrossFit really isn’t in order to distil it down to a couple of facts about what it is that CrossFit really is.

So what is it?

Ultimately it is a fitness company that provides a strength and conditioning program that presents a very wide variety of movements in short, high intensity workouts which are typically between 10 and 20 minutes in length. The combined movements are highly varied and target broad functional movement with an aim to improve general fitness across a broad variety of domains.

What it isn’t

CrossFit is not a replacement for specialised training programs. It is perhaps more of a complimentary system of training designed to be scalable and broadly applicable. The CrossFit company states on it’s website that it’s speciality is not specializing, and that CrossFitters are encouraged to pursue other sports and activities. CrossFit is also not the only way to train and condition effectively, and it is really up to each individual to decide for themselves which particular training approach will be most beneficial for them.

Stuff I kind of dislike about CrossFit:

  • Acronyms!!! Geez, and I thought that the IT and banking industry was bad for “acronym abuse”. I counted 49 acronyms listed in the CrossFit FAQ, and I was reading through them I had to stop and recheck the list because of the prolific usages of acronyms within the acronym section itself!! And seriously, if there is one sure fire way to have me forget what something is, it’s to give it a name or a a snappy acronym… and I can count it as a personal victory that I actually remember the name “CrossFit”!. Yes, it’s true that I’m more of a visual kind of learner!
  • The Initial Impressions you get if you just look at CrossFit on the surface:
    • There appears to be lots of special equipment needed.
    • It seems to place a large emphasis on being competitive.
    • It seems a little hard to find information about how to do CrossFit without needing to join an expensive CrossFit gym or buy expensive equipment.
    • CrossFit memberships seem to be almost prohibitively expensive, especially when compared to other gym memberships.
    • It seems very non-specific in that it doesn’t seem to target a particular sport or fitness category.
    • It seems to be very difficult to get into, and the workouts seem to be really tough.
    • Many CrossFitters seem to think that there isn’t a better way to keep fit… that my [insert fitness activity here] is somehow inferior.

Initial impressions can be a kind of make or break thing for many people, and particularly those who are new to fitness or at the beginning of a transformitive health and fitness journey. While it seems that there is a lot that I don’t like about CrossFit, it turns out that most of these dislikes are really just a case of noobism which I’ll address with my own counterarguments in the next section. I guess the point that I’m trying to make though is that these surface impressions can create a very false view of a sport and training paradigm which I think kind of suffers for the initial image that it seems to project, but which in reality is much better that a cursory view would give it credit for.

Stuff that I really like about CrossFit

  • No crunches. Seriously, the crunch is such a silly exercise. It’s more likely to aggravate back problems by not fully and actively engaging the Tranversus Abdominus, and can be easily replaced with literally dozens of other compound movements which will not only work the outer abs, but will also engage the inner core muscles as well as working other connect parts of the body.
  • The competitive side of CrossFit is really all about competing with yourself, and giving yourself a measure of how well you have improved by giving you goals to achieve in the form of personal best times to beat. Yes, there are also CrossFit competitions for the elite few who are ridiculously athletic and fit, but for the rest of us who want to get serious about our fitness, setting your next goal as simply beating your last score is not only setting sensible realistic goals, it’s also a great personal achievement to beat your best time after you have been training hard to do it.
  • CrossFit really embraces the HIIT concept. As with Tabata/HIIT, CrossFit encourages you to work as hard as you possibly can. Harder and faster with perfect form means you are leaving nothing in the tank for later on, giving it your all to beat a personal best time or count.
  • CrossFitters seem to be a pretty tough group of people, and yet they are very supportive as well. You won’t find any posers in a CrossFit gym, and you’re more likely to be encouraged to do your best, guided to improve in everything that you do, and you’re more likley to get a helping hand from a group of CrossFit strangers than you would in a regular gym.
  • While I can’t help but think that the website kind of sucks a little, and the information contained at http://www.crossfit.com is kind of hard to locate at first glance, perservere with it, dig around, and you’ll find a treasure trove of information at your fingertips, including articles, exercise descriptions, workouts, and lots of text and video explaining everything that you really need to know about how to do each exercise, and all about the CrossFit sport itself. It takes a little getting used to, and yet like all good things in life, it’s only of any value to you if you’ve had to work at it. If you don’t have the will to learn about CrossFit, you’ll need to be asking yourself if you’ll have the will to do it at all.
  • There are many specialized pieces of training equipment that can be beneficial, yet it isn’t the equipment that makes a CrossFit program effective, but rather the effective use of the equipment you may have at hand, and understanding how to apply the use of such equipment to effect a highly intensive and functional program that will deliver the greatest result in terms of training and conditioning.
    • What is really nice however about the equipment used, is that it is simple, and requires no need to stock a gym with expensive single purpose weight contraptions.
    • The most interesting equipment in my mind is the frame with which a CrossFitter may perform a wide variety of functional bodyweight movements, and which may also be used to lift and release or squat with weights in a safe and controlled manner. While not strictly necessary, a simple box frame offers great versatility and takes up a minimal amount of space in a gym.
    • Even without all of the nice equipment however, a CrossFit program is still very doable with only the human body as its own training tool.
  • By being very unspecialised, CrossFit perhaps shows its greatest strength as a complimentary training regimen that can be used to supplement other programs, or can even provide a good framework on which to build a more specialized program if so desired.
  • Die-hard evangelists are found in every sporting situation, and there are always a very loud opinionated few who will tell you why their way is better than anything else. Most people however aren’t like this, and when you ignore the more vocal nonsense talkers in the Internet forums and actually meet CrossFitters face to face, you’ll find in reality that the CrossFit community is very supportive.
  • Memberships are unfortunately very expensive. Remember that CrossFit is a business as well as a community, and the Personal Trainers need to earn a living. The thing is that there is nothing about the CrossFit program that is hidden from the public eye. While you might not have the benefit of a trainer without a gym membership, the program itself is open freely to all via the CrossFit website, and you really can do it on your own if you have the drive and the dedication to push yourself hard enough.
  • CrossFit embraces the Paleo nutritional lifestyle.

My Friday Workout

In honour of this article, I decided that my Friday workout would be a slightly modified CrossFit WOD (that’s a workout of the day) that I found on Friday the 13th this year at the No Excuse Daily Fitness. This WOD calls for pullups, which I am unable to do as yet, so I substituted Lat Pulldowns using my heaviest resistance bands at a nearly maximal stretch. So the workout was:

  • 100 x Squat
  • 75 x Sit-up (that’s full sit-up, not those sissy time wasting crunches)
  • 50 x Walking Lunge
  • 25 x Lat pull-down
  • One complete set against the clock

It was harder than I thought it would be to do very quickly without resting. I had a couple of painful pauses along the way, and it took me 10 minutes 14 seconds to complete. I’ll repeat this again in the future, and I know that next time I will be able to do this WOD without pauses and that I will be able to complete it more quickly.

A few final thoughts

On the whole, I’m very impressed with what CrossFit has to offer to a Personal Trainer’s bag of tricks, and to the participants who train under such an intensive and rigorous program. I find the workouts are hard, and draining, yet also invigorating, particularly when you are measuring your performance and hitting a new personal best. While I can’t say as yet if I’m convinced that this would be an appropriate program to provide to all of my future clients, I can say for certain that it will be something that I will be using regularly both personally and as needed professionally once I am a qualified PT.

Imagine digging a ditch, shovelling dirt into a wheelbarrow and moving the dirt elsewhere. All of this requires repetitive functional movements of the sort that are very compatible with the CrossFit paradigm, so when viewed in this light I can see what CrossFitters mean when they say that CrossFit has the ability to better prepare you both physically and mentally for anything that you might need to deal with in other areas of your life.

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5 Responses to “CrossFit… What the hell is it?!!”

  1. teenieyogini 23 February 2013 at 03:56 #

    My brother is super into crossfit.

  2. joniautio 23 February 2013 at 06:44 #

    Just found out crossfit as well, eager to test it one day

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