Ask The Real Fitness Nerd: Crossfit Cross-examination

by Denis Faye | June 22, 2012

I would like your view on Crossfit. I have scoured your blog and nada. Just curious, since your my favorite blogger.

– Krissy the Blog Connoisseur 

Shucks, Krissy. I bet you say that to all the sarcastic, self-righteous, overly-opinionated wellness bloggers out there.

My new BFF wants to know my opinion of Crossfit, so here we go. I have no problem with the act of crossfitting. Throwing around kettlebells, lifting huge weights without attention to form, and working out until you chunder all over the gym floor sounds like my idea of a good time. A lot of people judge the activity negatively due to this over intensity and the lack of attention to form. As my physical therapist points out, “I love Crossfit. Every time I walk by the gym, I look in and see a room filled with future clients.”

He has a point, but at the same time, for some people, it’s fun to go extreme. Crossfit is hardly the only exercise that can push a body too far. Hell, even yoga can injure some people. Although I’m not a crossfitter, I spent most of my twenties and thirties doing “extreme” sports – rock climbing, caving, mountain biking, surfing, bombing hills on my skateboard – so I’m not adverse to gonzo workouts. My talents as a fitness enthusiast have never been grace, skill or, frankly, talent. Rather, I possess a Labrador Retrieveresque willingness to hurl my body into anything, so I might be well-suited for Crossfit. Maybe when I recover from my current cycle of injury, I’ll give it a try.

All that said, what I do have an issue with is the cult of Crossfit. It is a form of exercise, not the form of exercise. There’s nothing magical about lifting a kettlebell or a tire as opposed to lifting a barbell. It’s just different. When I walk by the Crossfit gym down the street, the people I see inside are no more fit than the people I see at any other regular gym, yoga studio, or dojo in town. The only thing that separates that gym is the vomit on the sidewalk out front.

If you want to make Crossfit your only form of exercise, more power to you, but that’s a little sad. Many people are attracted to Crossfit because it’s a hip and trendy. You, I’m not interested in talking to. Please gather up your boardshorts, trucker hat and paleo diet; hop on your fixie and be on your way before I bitch slap that handlebar mustache off your face.

However, for those of you who do it because it’s a fun way to workout, why limit yourself? Making these extreme workouts part of a larger regime just means all the more variety. It’ll also be a lot more fun, promote recovery and train systems that Crossfit doesn’t touch – flexibility, for example.

On this note, I’m baffled how Crossfitters often look at P90X as the enemy. Given I work for Beachbody, maybe I’m biased, but it seems to me that the two systems complement each other nicely. They’re essentially the same thing. They both stand your standard weights and cardio program on its head. You just do one at home and one at a gym.

Also, I think it’s important to understand that Crossfit isn’t for everyone. (Just as P90X isn’t for everyone, for the record.) This paragraph on the official Crossfit website kills me:

The CrossFit program is designed for universal scalability making it the perfect application for any committed individual regardless of experience. We’ve used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart disease and cage fighters one month out from televised bouts. We scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs.

In other words, less healthy people do the same exercise, only not as hard. Why is that a good thing? Isn’t the whole point of Crossfit to offer variety? And again for the record, I’ve watched a lot of Crossfit workouts and talked to a lot of Crossfit trainers. I have yet to meet one I’d trust my 70-year-old father’s dodgy heart with.

Take a look at martial arts. They’ve been around for centuries. Along the way, practitioners figured out that one karate gi doesn’t fit all, so different forms have sprung up to suit different abilities and intentions. You don’t walk into a Martial Art Dojo and say “I want to do The Martial Art!” and then have the instructor explain that there’s only one form of Martial Art and it’s awesome for everyone. Same with yoga and surfing and biking and aerobics. Different people have different needs and desires. Crossfit is a good fit for some, but not all.

Same with the Zone-inspired, grain-free, meat-heavy Crossfit diet. It’s a fine diet, but it’s not for everyone. Some people need more or less protein, fat, or carbs. Some people do well with grains. Some people have perfectly reasonable ethical animal-based food concerns.

To repeat, I think Crossfit is fun and if you want to try it, go for it! But survival is about adaptation. It’s why we’re here and the dinosaurs aren’t. To become rigid with exercise and insist there’s only one way to do it isn’t Paleolithic, it’s Jurassic.


12 thoughts on “Ask The Real Fitness Nerd: Crossfit Cross-examination

  1. Anonymous

    An interesting perspective, and I agree that Crossfit as a program is not nearly as off-putting as the Crossfit mindset that believes it’s the cure for everything negative. Then again, I would also say that Beachbody’s Shakeology is all too often touted by coaches of questionable knowledge as a cure-all, to be even-handed about it.

    The only thing you seem mostly unconcerned by is the thing that freaks me out the most about cross fit: poor form, especially on lifts. I know a few people who have had some absolutely horrifying injuries (ruptured discs, cauda equina..) as a result of bad form plus too much weight, and it was all courtesy cross fit. Sure, it could happen in any program, but it seems to be more common with XF.

    I’m maybe not the most religious about form, though I occasionally re-focus on it. If someone wants to kip the hell out of pull-ups and do 15,000 of them, I don’t really care. Nor does the cult of 1000 crunches or the people who do 500 reps at 2.5 lbs on their quads.

    However, when you get into the whole olympic lifts with heavy weights, man… I think taking it slow, working up and paying attention to form is a good thing, and that’s what I think Crossfit neglects dangerously.

    Beyond that, different is good… can’t we all get along?

  2. Patrick

    “Please gather up your boardshorts, trucker hat and paleo diet; hop on your fixie and be on your way before I bitch slap that handlebar mustache off your face.”

    Genius. I really think this sums up everything I think about people who do Crossfit. I’m a fan a handlebar every now and again, but nothing should be paired with boardshorts. Ever.

  3. benji

    I crossfit in San Francisco, which has got to be a world capital of hipsters, and I’ve never seen a crossfitter with a handlebar mustache or a fixie. Crossfit is way too much work for hipsters. Also it might make them not fit into their kids-size t-shirts and super-skinny pants anymore.
    Also, *some* crossfit gyms pay attention to form.

  4. Collette

    Definitely don’t agree on so many levels (as you would expect). 

    I’m sure some boxes are completely rigid, but I know my box owner loves P90X and wishes he could team up with Beachbody. 

    If CrossFit was only one exercise, then saying CrossFit is the only exercise would be ridiculous. But CrossFit is weightlifting, gymnastics, running, rowing, mobility, and cross-training + more. But I don’t see anyone getting upset when people say “I’m a runner” or “I row crew.” I don’t see people blogging about “WHAT IS WITH PEOPLE WHO ROW CREW? DON’T THEY KNOW THERE ARE OTHER EXERCISES OUT THERE?” What is it about crossfit that upsets people so?

    CrossFit is about diversity in working out. I think most individuals can do CrossFit. That’s what is great about it. It’s not just a kettlebell or just a barbell. You are lifting things up and putting things down for the most part (functional movement), but you do it in so many ways and I think you really limit yourself here. Med balls, pull up bars, rings, wall balls, free weights, body weight, jump rope, olympic bars, etc. Also — the box I go to offers a mobility class and we do mobility at the beginning and end of every workout. And there’s a lot of things magical about lifting kettlebells in that it incorporates so many muscles in one functional movement. If your form fails, put the weight down or lighten it up. 

    I agree in that many people don’t stress form. But you find that everywhere..not just CrossFit. I think because the intensity is so high, you just hear about it more in CrossFit. But just as in everything else, if a coach allows your form to fail — shame on that coach! There are good coaches and bad coaches at my box and I’m discovering which is which so I know what classes to go to / what classes to skip. Unfortunately, most people are not educated enough to know the difference, so that is definitely dangerous. But you could easily have a certified trainer or athletic coach teach incorrect form or not have the right cue or not notice someone’s core is engaged, etc. That is dangerous as well. 

    I think to say someone does well with grains is fine, but they’d do better without them. I’m a believer. Not to say I don’t indulge from time to time, but I understand that my body function better without them. If my energy output (or another individuals energy output) is extremely high i.e. triathletes, then I’d say you need to supplement with extra calories.

    “Cult” should really = community. I’ve never had so many people support me in a gym than I have at CrossFit. They’re not so cultish. I don’t think people would cut me out of the gym if I didn’t eat paleo, but maybe I just go to a cool box. I’ve never seen the competition go back and cheer each other on. You don’t see that happen in many sports. So it might rustle a few feathers, but it’s having an important impact on the fitness community.

  5. aaron

    crossfit is more of an intense sport than a personal fitness program. it lacks structure which you must have to progress in your personal fitness level. i’ve seen a lot of people plateau in crossfit due to this. at the same rate, they wouldn’t have gotten where they did by sitting on the couch. the people who really enjoy it typically go for the atmosphere so it works for a lot of folks. other people like a more personal style of fitness and that’s fine (arguably better IMHO), and some even mix the two which is great as well. it’s your life, do what works for you.

    the form problems are not so much due to the intensity it’s more due to the competition. a lot of people sacrifice because they’re trying to beat someone and that’s a recipe for problems. i’ve seen one friend get inured more since he joined crossfit within 3 months than he did over 10 years i’ve known him. keep in mind not all boxes do that though and some actually do preach form and coach, but it comes at a price (150-200/month).

    i agree with the person about shakeology; it’s a business. most coaches recommend it for the points. nutrition first, supplements last people.

    look at the countless p90x transformations on youtube. i just don’t see any other program competing with that, at all.

    diets don’t work. they teach bad habits. avoiding grains is silly. you need nutrition plans that change your habits.

    there have been some ugly wars pop up from crossfitters calling p90x’ers ‘manrobics’ and what not. i’d encourage the beach body folk not to retaliate but just to compare and even build relationships with these folks. funny enough i was in whole foods just yesterday with my p90x shirt on and two crossfitters walked by with their crossfit shirts on. we didn’t fight. they just kept on walking. 😉

  6. Steve Edwards

    As I’ve said many times I personally dig Crossfit workout. They’re fast and efficient if done correctly. The problem with injures comes down to speed. I’ve been following fitness trends for nearly 40 years and it leads, by far, to the most injuries of anything I’ve ever seen (though the Nautilus/isolation movement led to the most biomechanical problems and that’s probably worse in the big picture). The reason is the racing. The racing is always Crossfit’s hook. Throw a bunch of people into a room and have ’em race and there is almost no way to monitor form, especially given a gym can get CF certified without knowing jack about form (I have a copy of their cert guide and it’s awful–a joke almost). Then there are max lifts. I mean, no one really needs to do one rep maxes ever, especially regularly. So you’ve got racing and max lifts and a system that makes monitoring form virtually impossible. No shock there injury rates are high. Anyway, it can be cool training but it’s limited and has an almost unavoidable template for injuries. And while my FRAN time is very fast and my max squat is only a blip of what is was in college I’m still going to agree with Hitler, “what ever happened to the days when people cared about being strong?”

  7. Dan V.

    I’ve never understood the “P90X vs. Crossfit Grudge Match To The Death” mentality from a purely functional fitness standpoint. But resentment and attitude? Yes… Let’s fight!

    For the Fitness Nerd record of allegiances, I’m married to P90X and am thinking of starting a family but at each program’s heart, they’re both thumping to the beat of adaptation and “indoor training for the outside world” (to poorly coin TSH’s motto), aren’t they?

    We can argue XF has kind of strayed from its original intent with its emphasis on competition, timing and besting your pal (shoot- XFit pioneer and paleo fist-pumper Robb Wolf does). And on a personal level we can more than effectively argue XFit’s if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us coda “We invented elite fitness, now please stick it” lends itself to mental eye-rolling and a justified desire to offer rhetorical swirlies to Crossfitters in the toilet bowls of reality.

    BUT… Crossfit workouts are legit when form and personal limits are King and Queen provided it’s structured and aimed at some overall goal as opposed to simply slapping move XYZ together for a WOD that’s a sure-fire lunch-launcher. That and the XFitters with their feet on the ground are cool, welcoming folk.

    Still, a little friendly competition between disciplines never hurt anyone (hello, Iron Man). And maaaaaaaan… that Crossfit take on the “Downfall” meme above is FUNNY.

  8. Dan Vinton

    Good. NIGHT.

    I’m enjoying a rhetorical clusterfudge headache just reading through my previous comment again. Short version:

    –I like P90X.

    –I don’t like being condescended by Crossfitters because P90X and Xfit are so similar in training methods (not necessarily style… some “boxes” have lost their way).

    –Let’s all get along and do a round of pullups -no kipping- together. That or box jumps.

    –The Downfall meme is always comedy gold.

    — I love lamp.

  9. Anonymous

    i would like to say as a “crossfitter” that this was an interesting point of view, the only thing i would like to say is that at my box (cannot speak for evey group of people that do CF) safe technique is of the highest importance and we all spend a good amoint of time before each workout going through the movements we will be preforming at a safe but hard weight for each individual person, which means everyone can do the same workout at a level suited to them in a safe way.

    “In other words, less healthy people do the same exercise, only not as hard. Why is that a good thing? “
    your comment as above – its a good thing because it means for someone like me who is proud to be over head squatting a mere 15kgs can still workout with the people doing it with 30kg , keeping the team together and leaving no one behind, who cares if your doing it with only a broomstick at least your doing the movements and working hard.


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