For people familiar with the fitness culture CrossFit has earned a certain reputation. Among its millions of devotees CrossFit is often described as an all-encompassing lifestyle, or at least a group of like-minded fitness enthusiasts. For the uninitiated and some former members it can seem more like a strange cult than a gym. The world of CrossFit exists to a significant extent in the virtual world, in countless posts and tweets where a WOD (workout of the day) and its effects on a particular individual’s body are shared with the planet. This aspect appeals to millennials who spend generous portions of their lives interacting via social media. The pre-planned workouts and camaraderie appeal to others. CrossFit has turned working out into a sport with CrossFit games airing on ESPN that have athletes competing against each other in various workouts. Even as it has gained some measure of international recognition, the same social media it exploits has set its sights on the often strange world of CrossFit.
15. Fitness Snobs
The novelist Alexander Theroux said “hypocrisy is the essence of snobbery, but all snobbery is about the problem of belonging.” The fitness lifestyle is about belonging to a culture that challenges you to improve your physical and mental well-being. However, for many CrossFitters it seems to be about showing off and separating themselves from the herd so they can convince the rest of us they belong to an elite group. Of course they define what elite fitness is: what any CrossFitter happens do be doing at any given time. There’s nothing wrong with doing pistol squats as shown above, but let’s keep a little perspective. Being able to perform any particular exercise or workout doesn’t necessarily make you a Delta Force or a SEAL operator. Not to pick on pistol squats, but they’re probably most useful as a warmup for actual squats. The ability to perform pistol squats means you’ve used valuable training time to practice trendy movements like pistol squats, wall planks and Spiderman presses.
14. Laughing With Them?
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then the hilarious Youtube parodies of CrossFit might be the sincerest form of revenge against smug crofters everywhere. The one thing that’s bound to get you laughed at is taking yourself too seriously and the Crossfit community has made an imperative out of taking itself too seriously. The parodies, jokes and memes have continued to pile up over the years with such gusto in direct proportion with their inability to see the humor in themselves. The more they dig in their heels and respond with cliche’s more macho than the last the more they confirm the stereotype. It’s one thing to take your workouts seriously while you’re working out, but to embrace a form of cultural superiority because you train in a garage instead of a storefront gym is a bit absurd.
13. Kipp Your hands to Yourself
If you don’t know what a kipping pull-up is you’re probably better off so be warned – you’re about to find out. You can think of the Kipping pull-up or ‘Kip’ as a bastardization of the great pull-up exercise every gym rat knows and loves. The thing about pull-ups though is they’re hard. This is why pulling your full bodyweight up to a bar until you touch your chest to it is considered a universal measure of fitness. It’s why you had to do them in gym class and why the military insists on them. The Kipping pull-up uses momentum, timing and body english that expose your back and shoulders to unnecessary forces. If you know how to do them you can work up to 50 or more. But it’s sort of like doing half reps on the leg press machine with too much weight instead of squatting with a reasonable amount of weight in good form. The ability to perform a handful of strict/dead hang pull-ups is infinitely more impressive and safer than dozens of loose Kips.
12. We Don’t Need No Stinking Form!
These ladies’ workouts have gone sideways and they were fortunate if they didn’t hurt themselves. CrossFit has gained a reputation for pushing its members hard, perhaps harder than they’d ver worked before. Unfortunately CrossFit always has a reputation for sending more than its share of business to chiropractors. Exercises like the Kipping pull-ups, Roman Chair medicine ball throws are part of the problem, but there are others. An over emphasis on the Olympic lifts, the clean and jerk and the snatch especially when done for high receptions as part of a circuit can be a problem. The potential for injury is greatly increased when completing a set, even with loose form is encouraged. Odd object lifting, whether its with sand bags, kegs, kettle bells subject the body to unusual stresses that can wreak havoc on the neck, hips and spine. There can be a place for odd object lifting in your routine, but prudence and caution are key. The other factor is intensity. While intense workouts are necessary for results, common sense must prevail or overtraining and injuries will be the result.
11. Pay for the Privilege
“You get what you pay for” is a cliche, but cliches persist because they contain an element of truth. If this is true about CrossFit is ultimately up to the members who fork over as much as $250.00 a month for the privilege of working out in a dank garage called a box. CrossFiters explain that they are paying for more than just access to the equipment, but an experience that includes camaraderie and an experienced coaching staff. Fair enough, but one can’t help, but think many of them pay up to $3,000 a year because they like to tell people “I don’t workout, I CrossFit!” or something. Gyms come in all shapes and sizes and cost structures, but for most people CrossFit costs too much. The CrossFit community implies that if the uninitiated knew what they were missing they’d pay up. Alternatively, if you were as serious about your fitness as we are you’d pay up. Both of these sentiments express an attempt at exclusivity or even an elitism that most won’t sacrifice for to attain.
10. When in a Roman
There are so many potential problems with Roman Chair Medicine Ball Throws. To start its a five word name for an exercise most people show never attempt. Most people who have worked out in a commercial gym have used some form of Roman Chair bench to perform sit-ups or back extensions. Correct form in the basic versions of these important to avoid injury. But CrossFit isn’t happy with basic, they like to kick up a notch and combine a fast, ballistic style movement with an exaggerated range of motion while tossing a medicine ball as far as possible. You don’t have to be a chiropractor to see that CMBTs are fraught with danger. Besides, they are completely unnecessary since there are plenty of abdominal exercises to choose from such as weighted crunches – a much safer and much saner option. As an event in CrossFit competitions it seems like an invitation to injury.
9. Fitness as Sport
Crossfit’s slogan is “The Sport of Fitness.” Convincing people that working out is a sport was marketing gold. Professional crossfiters with corporate sponsors compete in competitions aired on ESPN. For decades critics of bodybuilding derided the idea that the activity is a sport, comparing it to beauty pageants. These critics pointed to powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting as legitimate sports and CrossFiters make the case that they are part of this iron game tradition. The problem is both powerlifting and weightlifting require years of focused work to master specific skills. These lifters must train consistently over a relatively long period to achieve the strength and power to be competitive athletes. Any reasonably fit person could at least complete most CrossFit workouts without special instruction, except for the Olympic lifts, which helps make the case for their unique nature. Sports require the acquisition and refinement of specific skills that CrossFit lacks. No doubt CrossFit competitors are better at CrossFit than mostly everyone else, which makes them very fit, but does that make CrossFit a sport?
8. If its Not on Facebook…
The joke is “if it’s not on Facebook it didn’t happen,” except anyone familiar with social media knows it’s not really a joke. Everyone posting the zillionth picture of their angry/sad/glad/grumpy cat or liking your Facebook friend’s latest recipe for gluten free Lilac crumpets are to blame. However, millennials, particularly CrossFiting millennials seem to confuse the everyday moments of life with sweeping historical events worthy of documentation. The WOD is a major focus of the CrossFit social media presence allowing enthusiasts to post photographs, video, quotes and caption all apparently are meant to leave the rest of us in awe of how unbelievably hard CrossFit is. Its not really the sheer volume of the social media assault, although that is an issue. The real problem is the grasping plea for public validation that what they’re doing is not only the right way, but the best way.
7. Scaling Mount Olympus
Olympic Weightlifting has a long and distinguished history and although is relatively unpopular as a sport in the U.S. the lifts have enjoyed a resurgence through college and professional sports’ training programs and through CrossFit. The clean and jerk and the snatch are two lifts not be taken lightly. Correct technique for the bench press and even the squat can be picked pretty quickly, but the Olympic lifts are fast lifts that demand rigorous attention to technique or the forces generated will bite back. Although many CrossFiters learn good technique its obvious from their social media presence that many have not. Even if they have learned proper form, it can quickly break down when performing multiple high repetition sets as part of a circuit leaving you vulnerable to injury. The over emphasis on the Olympic lifts and the various assistance lifts carries quite a bit of risk for the average trainee who is not a competitive athlete.
6. Heart of Glassman
Greg Glassman is a former personal trainer who was hired to develop fitness programs for the Santa Cruz Police Department. The tough, somewhat unconventional workouts were a big hit with the officers and word quickly spread. As the founder and CEO of the multimillion dollar CrossFit brand Mr. Glassman oversees a decentralized fitness empire with ‘boxes’ spread all over the world. He has a cadre of lawyers ready to defend his brand against any interlopers, but no longer trains with CrossFit himself. The reason for this curious fact is unclear and has not gone unnoticed by some of his followers, who have discussed it on social media. Although, it doesn’t appear to have dampened their enthusiasm to continue to CrossFit.
5. Send in the Clowns
It’s not a goof – the CrossFit logo features a character called Pukie the Clown. The muscular mascot reminds devotees that the puke bucket is always at hand. But if Pukey’s not intense enough for you get a lo to Uncle Rhabdo, a clown who has contracted rhabdomyolysis. This is a serious and potentially life threatening syndrome where damaged muscle tissue can leak into the bloodstream. It is a completely avoidable condition that only proves the trainee has taken things too far. This choice of mascot is curious in that it draws attention to a negative consequence of training very hard – but CrossFitters apparently don’t see it as a negative. It’s more like a rite of passage into the ‘cult’ of CrossFit and a reminder that they are elite athletes. Uncle Rhabdo is even less defensible than Pukie because rhabdomyolysis isn’t funny in any context.
4. Train to the Test
Many coaches and military testers will admonish their charges to “train to the test.” They are referring to the concept of specificity: if you want to improve your mile run you have to tailor a running program. If you want to increase your bench press you have to get serious about benching. CrossFit’s strength and its weakness is that it is specifically generalist. CrossFitters’ training energies are spread over a wide variety of exercises, modalities and workouts. Variety can be a good thing, especially for people who would otherwise get bored with their routines. However, variety for the sake of variety can merely dissipate your limited training time and recovery ability. The goal of CrossFitters is to be the fittest on Earth. This is an ambitious, but general goal that means different things to different people. Training for the CrossFit games is more specific, but most CrossFitters don’t compete at that level. Most people who workout aren’t professional or even amateur athletes training for a particular sport. However, the more you can focus your training around specific goals and concrete benchmarks of progress the more likely it is you’ll see real improvements.
3. What’s in a Name?
Subcultures like the business world, academia and militaries embrace specialized vocabularies, abbreviations and acronyms to one degree or another. Militaries use it for efficiency – to disseminate a lot of necessary information in as brief time as possible. Sometimes an over reliance on jargon is an attempt at exclusivity – a way of affirming the group as separate from outsiders. Scientology comes to mind as an example of an exclusive organization that relies heavily on jargon to help create a subculture. CrossFit also comes to mind. There are the standard ones such as ATG for Ass to Grass which instructs the trainee to complete full squats. However, there are the less familiar ones such as YBF for You’ll Be Fine and IF for Intermittent Fasting and AMRAP for As Many Reps As Possible. There is a slightly mysterious item known as MEBB which means Maximum Effort Black Box. On the up side CrossFit features special benchmark sessions known as Hero workouts. There is a particularly tough workout named after a fallen Navy SEAL called the “Murph.”
2. The Doctor Will See You Now
Just about all sports and forms of exercise present some level of risk of injury. Running is hard on the back and knees, weight training exposes joints to shearing forces. Most people attempt to mitigate the risks with attention to proper form, avoiding over training and some common sense. CrossFit does not appear to value these factors as highly as it should. Anecdotal evidence suggests CrossFitters make up a disproportionately high percentage of trainees seeking chiropractic treatment. There is nothing macho or funny about making light of potentially serious injuries and medical conditions. Everyone who works out has heard the phrase ‘No Pain No Gain’ or in CrossFit parlance NPNG, but this is not a license to be stupid. A certain amount of perseverance and mental toughness is required to train hard consistently, but encouraging – even celebrating people pushing to the limits of health and safety is something else.
1. Just Do It
Millions of people love to workout, and a lot of them train very hard and have considerable success. Even more important than the physical rewards that come from consistent, hard training is the satisfaction of a challenge met and the pleasure of hard work well done. But if we make too much of all this, if we elevate a passion into an imperative aren’t we in danger of sucking the enjoyment out of training? After all, for 99% of us will never be professional athletes so why all the posing as if their live’s depend on their WOD? Police officers, fire fighters and soldiers risk their lives for us, but no matter how grueling the WOD CrossFitters won’t be making the ultimate sacrifice. So why so much reliance on attention getting acts of bravado and comparisons to a warrior ethos? Does CrossFit make them tougher than the rest of us? Who knows, but they seem to be trying awfully hard to convince us that they are.