I hope the title of this blog helped cultivate a very “shots fired” vibe. Because that’s what I was going for. I’m really into being controversial and stirring things up. Getting a rise out of people.
Ok I’m kidding, but I really do have some issues with CrossFit and I couldn’t really think of anything else to write about this week. I could also write a big post about what I love about CrossFit but that’s kind of what I’ve been doing this whole time. Constantly varied, functional movement performed at a high intensity. The community. It’s all fantastic and I do genuinely love it. Some of what I don’t like about CrossFit isn’t even CrossFit’s fault. But here we go anyway.
I don’t know enough about the workings of the company to have an opinion on much of what they do, but I do not like that the way they teach movement hasn’t changed (at least based on what is taught in the L1 seminars) at all. After a quick search on YouTube I found 3 videos from CrossFit’s page all teaching the overhead squat the exact same way. The videos were 1, 4, and 7 years old. Nothing has changed. I think this is bad, even potentially dangerous. Not specifically the overhead squat, but just the general approach to never changing how you do something. Although the way they teach the overhead squat is pretty terrible. It has been our collective experience as coaches at Uncommon that externally rotating your shoulders and shrugging with the bar overhead does not keep tension where you need it for healthy shoulders and it puts excessive tension into muscles that aren’t meant to handle that type of loading. But I digress…
The percentage of people in this country who care about their health enough to actually do anything about it is pretty small. Just look around and you don’t need a study to tell you that. So within this realm of people who do at least the bare minimum of some deliberate physical activity every once in a while and sort of watch what they eat/drink, CrossFit occupies a small, intensely flavored slice of the pie. CrossFitters know this. It is less and less the case as CrossFit becomes more popular every year. But it is still new enough that a good chunk of the people doing it remember when it was SUPER underground. CrossFitters also relish this. Let’s be honest. We all love the fact that we’re doing something hardly anyone else is doing or even knows about. I won’t lie. I love wearing my CrossFit shirts when I travel. Don’t you get excited when you see another person wearing nano’s in the grocery store or see a CrossFit gym sticker on somebody’s car?
So here’s this group of people who participate in a little-known, intense exercise routine. They love it because if it’s done the way it was originally intended, it will absolutely get you results. People who do it and coach it also feel like they’re part of something special and cool because hardly anyone even knows about it, let alone does it. Many of them had previously attempted to achieve the same results in other settings and failed. Many others see family, friends, and coworkers struggling to achieve what they have. There is no doubt. CrossFit works, and it probably works better than anything else out there for the vast majority of people.
So now we have this group of people who love the fact that they’re doing things very differently than almost anyone else who also see with their own eyes the magical effects it can have. That is a powerful influence. So I really think that everyone collectively said “BOOM! Case closed. I don’t need to see anymore to know this works!” And again, yes, it definitely works. But the people doing it and teaching it KNOW that it’s the best thing out there (which I 100% agree with). You just won’t find the combination of helpful coaching, supportive group atmosphere, and brutally effective workouts anywhere else. BUT…… I believe the real problem is that nobody has really asked how long it will work for. I’m sure if you ask anyone employed by CrossFit or the vast majority of gym owners and coaches they’ll all say you can do CrossFit forever and it will improve your life every step of the way. And I believe they are right, but I also believe they don’t actually know what that should look like. *cue the overhead squat videos*
So for how long does CrossFit work? And by “work” I mean, how long can people do CrossFit and still feel healthy, happy, improve aspects of their fitness, and stay relatively injury-free? I don’t think we actually know that. How long do most people CrossFit for? Do we even know the answer to that? What if like 80% of people who CrossFit do it long enough to get results and then accumulate enough injuries and emotional fatigue that they have to stop after 5-7 years? If that was the case, would you call CrossFit effective?
When CrossFit first started, the people doing it who gave it that “extreme” reputation were in outlier groups. Former and current military, police officers, firefighters, former high-level athletes. There are some people who can run ultra-marathons and spend decades of their life training in statistically the highest injury-rate sport out there and they don’t get hurt. So I’m sure there are people who can do the CrossFit.com WOD every day for 10+ years, but a hallmark of CrossFit is intensity. If you take most people with a limited exercise background and have them work out really hard, they’ll get major results at first. If they didn’t learn to move really really well (or have natural freakish gifts) eventually they will reach a number of reps that hurts them. Is this their fault? I don’t think so. I think we’ve seen too many people using the form that CrossFit describes very well still end up hurt. I’m sorry but there is no freaking way that the difference between shoulder pain and not shoulder pain is the fact that I didn’t shrug my shoulders up that last 1/2 inch.
CrossFit’s answer to this (through their L1 staff and journal articles) is to fix your positions and tell you to stretch/smash things until you have “better mobility”. We are all super lucky because Pete and Crystal were two of the very few who actually decided this wasn’t going to serve people well for the next 10+ years. They sought out a better way through StrongFit. But why does CrossFit insist on these seemingly arbitrary points of performance? They believe that the goal should be to maximize fitness and to do that you need to maximize power output and to do that we need to maximize range of motion. Right, but what if the limitation on my fitness isn’t more power output? People can deadlift with totally flat backs and “good” form for years and still hurt themselves. The question is, how long can one force themselves into positions that are defined by somebody else before they get hurt enough to actually quit CrossFit?
What teaching tension over position does is it allows the individual (which is who we are actually coaching) to use constraints to make movement fit them. Teaching the CrossFit way of position above all else forces the individual to fit themselves into what amounts to an ideal scenario. That is exactly why I am so excited to be a coach using the StrongFit system. Before, we were doing our best but we were trying to make every person we met fit a single idea of what movement should look like. Now every person I meet is a brand new challenge for me to figure out how to help them move in a way that suits them the best. That means every single person I encounter is a learning experience and that is why I will do this for the rest of my life.
I don’t have a huge takeaway from this. Just dumping my thoughts on the subject. If you know a member/coach/owner of another gym and want to share this with them, I’d love to have a chat about our coaching techniques. Otherwise, make it a great day 🙂