What’s The Hype about CrossFit?
If there’s one sport that has received a high amount of buzz within the last decade, both extremely positive and extremely controversial, it’s CrossFit. Many of our readers are health and fitness fanatics, always looking for new and relevant information. So, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard of CrossFit. If you haven’t, it’s about time you did.
CrossFit is an unorthodox fitness program that’s grown immensely within the last few years. Even celebrity personal trainer and star of NBC’s hit series The Biggest Loser, Bob Harper, has jumped on the CrossFit wagon. He stated that the results he has received from CrossFit are “unparalleled to any other thing [he has] ever done in [his] more than 20 years in the fitness business” (Harper 2014), and he has even begun using CrossFit on the NBC show. Since 2007, the sport has even acquired its own competitive games, the Reebok CrossFit Games, and Harper will be competing in them. Designed to find the Fittest on Earth™, the official games begin on July 25th, and so I’ve decided to shed some light on this cutting edge sport.
CrossFit is a fitness system accredited to personal trainer, Greg Glassman. A man determined to design a training program that deliberately did not specialize in any one avenue of fitness, Glassman was innovative with his approach to personal training. He certainly did not like being told what to do and was actually kicked out of several gyms as a result before someone approached him about training police officers in Santa Cruz, California in 1995. He used his background in gymnastics and powerlifting, along with functional calisthenics, like squatting and pull-ups, to force the body to work multiple muscle groups at once. Glassman began establishing “Workouts of the Day” (or WODs), and these formed the baseline of CrossFit today.
By 2000, Glassman’s clients were asking him to put his WODs online. It seems strange that his site, a fitness hub with WODs posted daily, would lead to this giant fitness development. The WODs were eccentric in how much they could vary. Even if they were only 10 minutes long, Glassman could get his followers sorer than they had ever been in their lives at the level of intensity he demanded. By 2002, CrossFit had multiple gyms, and an online website called the CrossFit Journal. The CrossFit phenomenon was just starting, and there was plenty of controversy. In fact, there is still plenty of controversy and debate about the safety of this unconventional approach to conditioning.
As I mentioned above, the original idea behind CrossFit was to create a fitness regimen that was broad and all-inclusive. CrossFit would not specialize in only one aspect of fitness, an idea originally deemed impossible.
CrossFit became notoriously defined as constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement. To break this definition down further, I’ll explain intensity and functional movement as defined by Greg Glassman.
Intensity in CrossFit is defined as power. Power is not measured by the level of exertion or commotion as seen with body builders, and it is not measured by heart rate as with endurance athletes. Power is taken literally as the equation P = (Force x Distance) / Time. How far and how heavy you moved something, divided by how long it took. In other words, intensity answers how fast and how hard. It is the one variable CrossFit athletes believe optimizes any form of athleticism and fitness. So, why then isn’t every athlete pursuing intensity? Because it’s not easy. Intensity is the driving force behind the effectiveness of the CrossFit sport, and it’s something that can consistently be increased as an athlete becomes stronger. There is no limit for intensity. However, this is an aspect of the sport that sparks criticism due to concern for potential injury.
Functional movements are defined as movements that are categorically unique in their ability to express power. For example, lifting weights is a non-functional movement. This means that other than for the sake of lifting weights, those movements serve no function to you. Glassman wanted a regimen that modeled movements that are meaningful to life, like the movements common in the lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. CrossFit athletes are also encouraged to eat a Paleolithic diet, modeled after the diets of these ancestors.
There are 10 fitness domains to CrossFit:
• Cardiovascular and Respiratory endurance
Examples of CrossFit exercises vary quite a bit. For example, swimming, biking, and rowing are definitely implemented in CrossFit exercises. But the sport also calls for plenty of squats, deadlifts, jumping, burpees, snatches, medicine ball throws, along with cartwheels, handstands, pull-ups, sit-ups, scales and holds, to name a few. CrossFit combines gymnastics, sprints, plyometrics, and weightlifting to give you a butt-kicking workout. Interestingly, many CrossFit workouts are named after women. Cindy, Mary, Fran, and Annie are some CrossFit workouts you can actually look up online to gain a clearer picture of a CrossFit workout.
Why So Much Controversy?
Despite the growing fan base of the CrossFit program, it has experienced A LOT of criticism.
CrossFit makes use of compound movements, but performed to the point of an individual’s exhaustion, increasing the chance for injury. WebMD advises caution before attempting CrossFit, noting that “not only are the exercises themselves risky, but performing them under a fatigued state, such as during an intense circuit, increases the risk of injury even further.” As with any training program, you should always consult a physician to determine your current fitness level and to assess any past injuries in order to prevent future injuries.
That being said, some of the lifts and movements used in CrossFit training are pretty extreme for an average Joe. Mathew Basso, the president of Iron Lotus Personal Training and the founder of DBX3 Functional Fat Loss, says CrossFit is “the most advanced training one can do. The Olympic lifts tax your central nervous system a tremendous amount. Worldwide, the protocols of an Olympic lifting program agree on a main principle: higher weight, less reps. CrossFit does the exact opposite” (Basso 2014). CrossFit is supposed to be physically taxing, and as I mentioned earlier, the level of intensity is substantial. Further, the core fitness ideals are very different in this sport than in any other sport, and that is why you should always work with a trained CrossFit professional before trying the advanced lifts on your own.
There also seems to be criticism about the community spirit of competition among CrossFit athletes. In his book Double Crossed: CrossFit’s Dirty Secrets, Dr. Sean M. Wells briefly discusses a concern that the CrossFit sport tends to be cult-like, depending on the training location, or “box”, as they are commonly referred to. Dr. Wells also remarks that since trainers are pushing clients harder than they wish too (this is the point of hiring any trainer), prolonging injuries is a higher possibility here.
Another possible explanation for the number of injuries associated with CrossFit comes from Richard Lustberg, a New York-based Sports psychologist, who has mentioned that people can become addicted to the rush from CrossFit workouts. People who enjoy the endorphin highs of working out tend to ignore signals from their body that would normally stop them from pushing further. According to Lustberg, “when you feel good, the brain feels good…you have that biochemical piece with people who tend to get intensely hooked on things, and that’s why they overdo it” (Ogilvie 2014).
Expressing concerns about injuries to a CrossFit trainer is always advised, and consulting a physician first is extremely important before beginning any fitness program. Obviously the purpose of the sport is to get you to your peak physical condition, and I doubt encouraging and prolonging injuries is a priority of any CrossFit trainer. However, it is your job first to be aware of your body’s physical state of health and your past injuries, so you can discuss these or other issues with a trainer before she begins working with you. I would advise talking to actual CrossFit trainers and athletes before making a final judgment based on criticism.
In fact, there are 5 different CrossFit boxes within about 20 miles of Santa Barbara where you can learn firsthand what the hype is all about. If you’re interested in checking out a real “box” and speaking with trainers yourself, here are some local places to try:
• CrossFit Santa Barbara http://www.crossfit-santabarbara.com/
• Crossfit Pacific Coast http://www.crossfitpacificcoast.com/
• Crossfit Innate http://crossfitinnate.com/
• Crossfit Goodland http://santabarbarastrength.com/
• Crossfit Carpinteria http://crossfitcarpinteria.com
And if you’d rather watch CrossFit athletes rather than becoming one yourself, you can tune into the Reebok CrossFit Games starting on July 25th. These competitions were designed to find the fittest athletes in the world, athletes who could train and be prepared for any kind of fitness test. The games change every year, giving them an edge on other competitive sporting events. You can always expect the unexpected with CrossFit, and this is exactly what Greg Glassman wanted when he designed the sport.
Basso, M. (2014). CrossFit: Have We Learned Nothing?. [online] The Huffington Post. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-basso/crossfit_b_2649450.html [Accessed 17 Jul. 2014].
Harper, B. (2014). ‘I Drank The CrossFit Kool-Aid’. [online] The Huffington Post. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-harper/crossfit-debate_b_2622926.html [Accessed 17 Jul. 2014].
Helm, B. (2013). Do Not Cross CrossFit. Inc. 35(6), 102-116.
Ogilvie, J. (2014, May 17). MIND & BODY; CrossFit calls the faithful; CrossFit zeal is rising. not only does it offer a challenging workout, its combination of variety, camaraderie and can-do attitude also is a classic incentive. MIND & BODY. Los Angeles Times Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1525174890?accountid=14522
Webmd.com, (2014). CrossFit Review. [online] Available at: http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/crossfit-review?page=3 [Accessed 16 Jul. 2014].
Wells, S. (2014). Double Crossed: CrossFit’s Dirty Secrets. 1st ed. Naples, Florida: First Printing, pp.11-13.