Ooooh, this is a fun topic. Lots of ways to look at and opine on this one. But first and foremost it has been a crusade of mine to stop offering my opinions about topics that I have no experience in. With that in mind, try CrossFit for yourself and then see if you agree with my opinions
Now that I’ve got my shameless plug out of the way, let’s dive in. Let’s start with “What is CrossFit?” The question no one seems to be able to answer, but we’ll try.
CrossFit is a class-based strength and conditioning program that uses scientific principles to develop a person’s level of fitness. It is defined as: Constantly varied, functional movements performed at high intensities. I can already hear the grumblings, what the h*ll does that mean? Basically it means that during a week, month or year of CrossFit classes you will never get bored (constantly varied), you will learn the hows and whys of what your body was made to do (functional movements) and you will try hard every time you step in the gym (high intensity).
Those three components are combined in a way that allows a person to objectively test their current level of fitness and subsequently re-test it to see if they are more or less capable than when they started. No need for biometric testing, heart rate monitors or vO2 max sessions. The basic premise is: can you do more now than you could a year ago.
Constantly variance is a principle that fills in a few key items: 1) you don’t get bored. Most people repeat the same workouts each day seeing no improvement. Why? Because the human body is amazing! It adapts to virtually anything you throw at it, that said, if you do the same thing every day your body doesn’t need to adapt. It needs stress or stimulus to do so. 2) You become a well rounded athlete. A lot of people think of runners as “fit” but how strong are they? If you took the world record holder in the marathon, Eliud Kipchoge, he has insane levels of endurance…..but what if you asked him to log a 1 rep max bench press? I’m certain it would be less than 100 pounds. Conversely your average CrossFitter could run / finish a marathon and at the same time can likely log a bench press well above their bodyweight. The idea is that not all of us need to be elite level athletes, but we all need to be able to run and press. Your training should reflect that.
Functional movement is a term that lots of people love to throw around, but no one defines it. The simplest way to understand this term is that your body was designed to perform certain movement patterns. Squatting, hinging, pushing, pulling, running, jumping, carrying, etc. The body wasn’t designed to repeat simple movements like bicep curls in isolation, it was made to “do.” Understanding this is what our body was made for allows us to design a workout program that most benefits our body. Pick up this bag and move it 100 feet over there, now repeat that 5 times.
High intensity…..certainly this is the dangerous one. Actually it’s not, in it’s simplest form it just means you try hard. You don’t “go through the motions,” you really try your best on any given day. Even if your best varies from day to day, maybe you got less sleep that you wanted or you missed your morning coffee, that’s okay, put in work with what you’ve got in the tank and your body will thank you for it.
So far, I’ll let you opine as well, but I don’t see anything inherently dangerous. We are doing the things our body was meant to do, switching them up a lot so they are fun and trying our best. There is a kicker though….
To do these things you will likely need a coach. And to do them efficiently you will need a class that is set up for you to show up and simply work. Danger can be found in virtually any movement humans undertake. If you squat incorrectly repeatedly or under heavy load things can go wrong. The same principle applies to running, running has the highest injury rate of any exercise methodology (maybe in Russia they have some program where you downhill ski holding a machete and try to capture a grizzly bear), you know why? Because no one has a coach, they just run. They repeat it for miles and if their technique is off a little, it compounds and leads to ankle, knee, hip and back issues pretty frequently. So CrossFit understands that people can’t just read an article and start doing CrossFit in their backyard, they need a coach. Enter the CrossFit gym.
At a CrossFit gym you are taught and supervised during all of your workouts. At the beginning of your journey your workouts are scaled (adjusted down to meet your fitness level) to ensure you learn how to do things properly before moving on to heavier lifters, harder movements and even higher heart rates. Contrast to the gym setup for most everyone else: Pay your membership and good luck! A big part of CrossFit is learning about yourself and how your body works….or maybe doesn’t work and how to fix it.
CrossFit takes the MCI approach: First you learn the movements, second you show that you can do them consistently, then, and only then, you apply intensity to those movements. Before you know it you are a completely transformed person.
So let’s summarize. CrossFit is a class-based, coach led strength and conditioning program that makes you better at doing all the things your body was meant to do. CrossFit does this in a controlled environment focusing on teaching you the hows and whys before doing anything. It does this with the goal of increasing your level of fitness that ultimately creates a hedge against chronic disease and illness (a topic I’ll write about later). Is it possible to turn the ideas of CrossFit into something “dangerous?” Of course, you can do that with anything and the misunderstanding or misapplication of this methodology makes for great content in fail videos.