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.
3 Reasons I Don’t Like CrossFit
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.‘
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.
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
- The Relationship Between Exercise and Inflammation (and What It Means For Your Workouts) -Mark’s Daily Apple
- 5 Reasons I Don’t Do CrossFit - written by a strength and conditioning coach at a Division III University.
- Why CrossFit Might Not Be Good For You
- Why You May Need To Exercise Less – Chris Kresser