3 Reasons I Don’t Like CrossFit

by lydia on March 5, 2014

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program with the aim of improving, among other things, muscular strength, cardio-respiratory endurance, and flexibility. It advocates a perpetually changing mix of aerobic exercise, gymnastics (body weight exercises), and Olympic weight lifting. CrossFit Inc. describes its strength and conditioning program as “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad modal and time domains,”with the stated goal of improving fitness, which it defines as “work capacity across broad time and modal domains.” Hour-long classes at affiliated gyms, or “boxes”, typically include a warm-up, a skill development segment, the high-intensity “workout of the day” (or WOD), and a period of individual or group stretching. ~ Source

Now I’m gonna be perfectly honest with you and say I did jump on the Cross Fit bandwagon at one point years ago, but very briefly.  I remember liking a few aspects of it because I was already doing some of the strength training on my own. I was doing it at my own comfortable pace and resting when I knew I just couldn’t pull it off. I’m not an athlete by any means, just someone who wants to strengthen my body but not at the expense of my overall health. Most people are not actual athletes, and that’s okay. Cross Fit is geared more for the type of training athletes do. If you are just an average person trying to get healthier, killing it at the gym isn’t going to improve your health or even extend your life. I believe in exercise and fitness, and I even like a lot of the exercises they do at CrossFit. However,  I think the approach CrossFit utilizes can be counterproductive for many people.

Any type of exercise – besides maybe walking – has the potential to become chronic and induce a state of chronic inflammation. Doing high-intensity Crossfit WODs every single day will do it. Training for a marathon will do it. Do what you enjoy without it becoming chronic. Endurance events aren’t going to kill you, but training for them might. ~ Mark Sisson, source

Those of us in the nutrition, health and real food arenas talk about inflammatory foods but we don’t talk about chronic high intensity exercise as a source of inflammation nearly as much. I love how Mark Sisson points that out again and again in his articles. It’s so easy for people to go for the ‘adrenaline’ rush that exercise provides without realizing too much exercise can be harmful. I think there is great potential for those who attend CrossFit gyms to overdo it. Of course, that can happen at any gym it’s just that every workout of the day (or WOD) I’ve ever seen, is killer intense.

CrossFit

3 Reasons I Don’t Like CrossFit

  1. The Timed Reps Factor – this is the part I don’t like for a couple reasons, and I’m not speaking from a personal trainer perspective, but a nutritional therapist concerned about the overall systems of the body. Time is a motivator, I get that. But it makes more sense to time things like running, things that your form is not such a big key factor. Does the time factor, mess your form up? Should there be a time or should it be you go until you are tired? What about the fact that the class is a certain length of time and there are several people waiting their turn to finish in the time allotted. Time creates performance pressure and the problem with that is people shouldn’t be under pressure to perform at all when exercising. Exercise should be enjoyable and relaxing. There are days when it feels good to push yourself and then there are days where you don’t and just want to go for a walk. The time factor is not appropriate for a daily routine simply because it’s not a competition, or at least it shouldn’t be.  If you are attending CrossFit several times a week this timed rep factor may be very draining for you, not to mention put you at risk for injury.
  2. Exorbitant Expectations –  (graded for physical strength but they don’t seem to bend on the intensity). High intensity is not good for everyone. Military style – boot camp style – is not for everyone. There is no consideration for a person’s health with the typical CrossFit workout of the day.  Different gyms vary on this of course. Some of the gym owner’s are better trained and consider the individual’s best interest more readily. Pushing past your body’s capability point is easy to occur when you are set to a ‘standard’ workout of the day.  Using a set workout mindset vs. using your intuition to know when your body is done can be problematic. In other words, the whole no pain no gain mindset is something you would find coming from most people who attend CrossFit and it’s really not a healthy one. In fact, I can recall myself thinking after my first WOD, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. I can’t say that I agree with that idea anymore. I think it’s best to ‘expect’ to do what your body can manage, no more, no less. If you can do a WOD with that in mind and not compromise yourself, then by all means go for it!
  3. Too Intense for People with Adrenal Fatigue – Let’s face it many, if not most, people today have some level of adrenal fatigue. Most of us don’t know it yet unfortunately. One thing I wish CrossFit trainers would look at is if people are adrenally fatigued prior to joining CrossFit, but maybe I have high hopes. When the adrenals are tired out, intense exercise is the last thing one should be doing. I’ve had several clients who were engaging in too much vigorous exercise that was actually making their health worse. Once they slowed down things got much better. Once your adrenals are healed you can consider a more vigorous workout routine such as CrossFit. Here is the key: Notice how you feel after a session of CrossFit, if you feel pleasantly tired and then soon after energized you are doing okay. However, if you feel exhausted for a few hours afterwards or are dragging your anchor the next day, you’ve done too much. Give yourself permission to do less than ‘everything’ – those WODs are a bit excessive anyway if you ask me.  *Note: Another effect from exhausted adrenal’s is ligament weakness. Ligaments hold joints together. When we put a demand on a joint the body responds by getting stronger to resist that demand. When somebody has an adrenal issue, there is an opposite effect. There will be weakening of the joint when the joint is challenged. This is a major reason why people injure themselves when they’re under stress. Read more on the subject: ‘How Adrenals Affect Muscles, Ligaments & Joints in the Body.

Other Considerations

This level of intense exercise requires a certain amount of rest to truly recover from. Not only that but it puts a higher nutrient demand on the body to recover and repair. The importance of rest and recovery may be downplayed in the CrossFit scheme. Also, the idea that any one particular work out of the day is good for everyone doesn’t make sense to me. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but we all need to find what works for us as individuals. More focus needs to be on rest and recovery vs. several days a week of such a high level intensity work out.

Crossfit Group Workout

Not every body type is athletic. Not every body type can fully perform every type of exercise that is taught. And to what extent do we need to get bulky and muscular? Getting strong and fit are not bad goals, but make sure what CrossFit will do for you is what you really want and need. The truth is, we don’t all have it in us to do something like CrossFit.

Another thing of note would be the minimal requirements to become a CrossFit instructor.  I know not all CrossFit gyms teach exactly the same techniques across the board. Many gyms will have more qualified instructors than others.  The minimal requirements for a CF instructor should be a consideration if you are looking to be trained in executing proper form with any of the lifting that is involved. I actually worked with a RKC instructor for kettlebells and he taught me very differently than what I learned at CrossFit. He said their method of overhead kettlebell swings had more chance of putting people at risk for injury. He also spent a ton of time focused on teaching proper form, something that a CrossFit set up does not truly offer.

If you enjoy CrossFit, get enough sleep, eat a clean diet, don’t drink too much alcohol and do not feel run down by it -then by all means go for it! If you are lucky your CrossFit trainer will be well trained.  He or She should be able to focus more on the individuals and where they are at even within the group structure. Instructors should also be able to teach proper nutrition and lifestyle, or at the very least offer nutrition/lifestyle classes for their members.

The Things I DO Like About CrossFit

Now before you think I’m hardcore against CrossFit, I’m not. If anything it’s a mentality thing I’m trying to bust here. However, let me share a few things about CrossFit that I do like.  When I tried CrossFit out several years back I appreciated the sense of community and accountability. I think that could be a big reason why people join. They like the group setting it provides, the comraderie and the ‘team’ effort. There is also the opportunity to actually try some strength exercises that they may not  have on their own. I think a CrossFit type of work out once or twice a week could be okay for many people if given time to properly rest and recover.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to diet or exercise. There are pros and cons to all exercise plans promoted out there. I just wanted to weigh in on some of my thoughts in light of the fact that CrossFit is uber trendy.  It has been for some time and likely will be for some time to come. Hopefully, we will see more improvements over time as CrossFit continues to grow. Regardless, this should give some food for thought on the matter. I hope you will weigh in with your thoughts on the pros/cons of CrossFit in the comments, I’d love to hear them!

Further Reading on the Subject

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

angela@spinachtiger March 5, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Very insightful. I don’t do crossfit, but I was part of a boot camp training for a year. I was not new to exercise. Been consistent all my life. The year of bootcamp was the only time I had injuries which would take weeks to recover from. My body shape, fitness is no different than when I doing other types of workouts, made more for a woman’s body without the extra stress. I’m tough, not a light weight, but I couldn’t take the injuries. My goal was strength and fitness not to be hercules. I’ve now found new classes which, while super challenging using light weights and don’t cause me injury. My chiropractor said I had adrenal fatigue and inflammation so I’m paying a lot more attention to that.

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lydia March 7, 2014 at 8:10 am

Angela,

I’m glad you found what works for you now!!

Injuries with adrenal fatigue are common and can happen so easily because our ligaments get lax when the adrenals are tired. Even bending over to pick something up could throw someone with adrenal fatigue’s back right out!

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Chauncey March 6, 2014 at 10:16 pm

I tried Crossfit, and ended up with Rhabdomylosis , along with a weeks stay in the hospital. Not fun :-) I’m doing a much lighter workout now.

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lydia March 7, 2014 at 8:11 am

Oh no! So sorry that happened.

Glad you found what works for you now though Chauncey!

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lydia March 7, 2014 at 8:03 am

Comment from facebook:

I’m a CrossFit Coach (perspective).

First, I’ll say this, we encourage folks that the best exercise there is, is the one you’ll do.

Now onto the 3 reasons:

1) The Timed Reps Factor: Any coach worth their salt, WILL NOT let a person perform reps at a high-intensity IF they cannot perform the movement safely. Period.

If you experience a coach who encourages, challenges, or even coerces folks to wod at high-intensity for intensity’s sake, you should step away from the barbell and immediately walk out the door.

FORM FIRST. INTENSITY FOLLOWS.

2) Exorbitant Expectations: Again, any coach worth their salt will ask you how you are feeling during a workout, and will coach you appropriately. If a coach says “suck it up butter-cup” when it’s obvious to you (and possibly to them) that you need a break, do not pass go, go directly to the nearest exit.

It doesn’t make any sense to pay a trainer to train you exactly like the next person. Why? Because you are NOT the person next to you. We scale and modify weights and movements appropriately, but a good coach, will also be open to scaling TIME or WORK domain as well. This means that if you come in and there’s a 5RFT (Rounds for time) workout on the board, and you’re inexperienced, new, unfit, older, pregnant, younger, injured, etc. etc. etc. It’s up to that good coach to work with you to make your workout WORK FOR YOU not against you!

Have a coach who just throws a cookie cutter wod at you daily? Move on.

3) Too Intense for People with Adrenal Fatigue: The experience the author has with CF IS too intense for people with AF. But, a great coach would look for and recognize that in a client and do everything they could to ORDER that person to ease up off the intense wods and hit more active recovery, to sleep well, and to dial in the nutrition. NOT to work harder or to suck it up.

The difference between a coach who breathes and a coach who cares is HUGE. If your trainer doesn’t ask what your goals are in the first conversation with you, I’d consider moving on. If your coach acts like you’re a member of the crowd, I’d move on.

We can’t make people sleep 8-9 hours per night. We can’t make them eat clean. But we can care about them. We can show them that we honestly want to help them see results.

What I LOVE about CF is that I get to help people. I truly get to help people become better versions of themselves. And I tell you this right here and now. I will use just about any and every thing (that’s healthy) I can find and get my hands on to get results for people.

***

It’s trendy to use CF as a target these days. It generates a lot of buzz. There’s controversy behind every bush. I get it. We’ve got some idiot coaches and some arrogant athletes. We’ve got some questionable characters and probably some bad choices made along the way by the “loose organism” that is CrossFit.

But know this, CrossFit is an affiliation, not a franchise. Each and every gym is autonomous. It’s run independently. The coaches in my gym don’t answer to a corporate office. We are allowed to run our gym the way we see fit.

In one way, that is a beautiful thing, because you’ve got a lot of GREAT gyms out there. In another way, it’s tough, because there are some not so great gyms out there.

Ultimately, I choose to focus on the positives of what I love about CF and the methodology we use to get people results. I don’t spend all my energy attacking what I hate about other forms of exercise.

Think about that.

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lydia March 7, 2014 at 8:03 am

Hi Russ! I appreciate what you’ve shared here and clearly you are more invested in what you are doing than many gyms are. Kudos! And just so you know -this is NOT an attack on CrossFit. I have seen a LOT of people have problems rise up from the type of training CrossFit provides – this can also happen with Boot Camp and so on. My goal was to bring awareness because a lot of people really do have a mindset that may need to shift when it comes to how they exercise. Again, I do see potential benefit to a CrossFit type workout in some cases and I made that clear! No offense to any individual trainer whatsoever – just wanted to share because I’ve seen it be an issue for many!

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lydia March 7, 2014 at 8:05 am

Comment from facebook: It definitely depends on your box. You really have to find coaches/owners who know what they are doing and listen to your body. I’ve been doing it for a year and a half and love it!! ~ Charity

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lydia March 7, 2014 at 8:05 am

Comment from facebook: I understand the points made here but I think it’s a great program for people that can find balance and use it as part of a whole fitness program.

And just another tidbit – proper form when running is VITAL. It’s not something you should ever do long term, for training purposes, or consistently without learning proper form. If you do not, you will find you’ll face issues like shin splints, muscle cramps and fatigue, and side stitches. ~ Jen

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lydia March 7, 2014 at 8:06 am

Comment from facebook: I completely agree! Even when I was working out 5 days per week It would have been challenging for me to keep up with some of their work outs. I do my own pace but I love the movements. I try to do a crossfit style workout once a week. ~ Kelly

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lydia March 7, 2014 at 8:07 am

Comment from facebook: I was part of one 3 years ago. I greatly benefited from the intensity in many ways, but the trainers went too far. With two different medical reasons that I can’t run they were condescending and patronizing towards me. They were not able to welcome people at all fitness levels. I was also told I HAD to do the squats with my butt to my ankles and then pop up to standing position. Within 2 training sessions that included squats I had developed very sore knees. I have never had knee problems of any kind. I tried to understand their reasoning. “Watch a baby. They do perfect squat position. Head up, shoulders squared, butt to ankles knees not past feet.” I said ‘uh, babies can do that because THEY DON’T HAVE KNEECAPS!’ The trainer just gave me the dumbfounded look. I told him that everything I have ever understood is that squats shouldn’t go past 90°. We parted ways. ~ Joy

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Caleb June 25, 2014 at 11:42 am

CrossFit is also poses many health problems. With an increased rep regiment, little rest and timing workouts many individuals suffer injuries due to terrible form and mechanics.

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