I am a former CrossFit addict.
Once upon a time I was completely addicted to CrossFit. I watched all CrossFit videos on YouTube, did multiple CrossFit workouts in a day, and programmed a lot of CrossFit workouts. I talked about it, wrote about it and loved CrossFit. Now, this isn’t an article about how I got burned out, got injured, or how I now hate CrossFit. No, none of that.
This article is actually ALL about CrossFit. What it is, what it isn’t, how-to, the dangers, etc.
I am no longer a CrossFit addict, but I want to do a “former-addict brain dump” to help you learn all you could ever want to know about CrossFit, and maybe some things you don’t.
Each year End of Three Fitness has grown exponentially and the more it grows the more I have become addicted to what we are doing here. So instead of trying to label my fitness these days, I prefer “I am training to become a better human” or I train with End of Three Fit. It’s all semantics really. I just want to focus on being the best I can be!
So today I have written a few lessons I have learned about CrossFit, let’s get started!
1. Is it “I CrossFit”, or CrossFit Inc.?
Although CrossFit started in 2000, it didn’t truly make its way to main stream till around 2012. Now, CrossFit has exploded and CrossFit affiliates, or CrossFit Gyms, or rather the correct jargon, CrossFit “Boxes” rival Starbucks, seeing as how there is one on nearly every street corner. And I’m not kidding. CrossFit is slowly closing the gap on Starbucks, and they are more than halfway to matching Starbucks locations.
But first, let’s be clear about a commonly misunderstood fact, and this is where it gets very confusing, so try to stick with me. I’ll admit the next paragraph is the most boring paragraph in this article, but it’s necessary. CrossFit is actually CrossFit Inc., or it is a corporation, or company. I’m making this clarification because you will not see this is most any other “fitness” you are a part of (running, lifting, etc.).
This is different from other organizations and sports out there. For example in Major League Baseball (MLB) they play baseball, but they do not own the word and rights to baseball. The exact opposite is true in CrossFit. CrossFit owns the rights to the term CrossFit. Meaning anytime the word CrossFit is officially used (keyword officially) then it is sanctioned by and owned, in some way, by CrossFit, Inc.
So while your kid can go play baseball in little league, there is no need to get permission, pay money, or any other act to use the term baseball from the MLB. However, if you want to call your gym a CrossFit gym, have a CrossFit competition or anything else, you are either paying or getting written permission. A better comparison/example would be, running (a style of fitness). Nobody owns the term “running”, so I could open a running gym tomorrow (that would be one confusing gym) and answer to no one, the same is not true, however, with CrossFit.
Despite all that, you can still say “I CrossFit” just like “I run” or “I lift weights” and it will make sense to most people.
TWITTER-SIZED SUMMARY: CrossFit is a company with a singular headquarters unlike other fitness types out there.
2. CrossFit has a definition
When you ask a diehard CrossFitter what CrossFit is you may get some philosophical-sounding answer like (and try to say this in your best hippie voice that you have) “CrossFit is everything, yet CrossFit is nothing…CrossFit is life”…
Former addict here. I know how it goes.
Truly, you can get a different answer to this question depending on who you ask, so let me give you a few options on the definition
The Simple definition:
- CrossFit is constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement; this is also the definition given by founder and CEO of CrossFit here.
Long winded from their website:
- CrossFit is the principal strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide. Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist. The CrossFit program is designed for universal scalability making it the perfect application for any committed individual regardless of experience. We’ve used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart disease and cage fighters one month out from televised bouts. We scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs.
The definition only gets confusing when people start adding other forms of fitness into their program, and still want to call it CrossFit. CrossFit is not synonymous with fitness, yet it can test your fitness very well.
TWITTER-SIZED SUMMARY: CrossFit is constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement.
3. CrossFit can be done in a garage, affiliate or anywhere
I’ve done CrossFit workouts just about everywhere.
You can do it at a CrossFit affiliate, since there are now over 10,000 of them and you can use the handy CrossFit map to find exactly where you can go to get plugged in. However, know CrossFit affiliates are a bit pricey and not like your normal gym. The main goal of most affiliates is results, not amenities. So long as you know that going in, you’ll be good to go.
Of course there is the other option, which is that cold quite place attached to your house, that’s right! Your garage! CrossFit Games veteran Ben Smith was even training only in his garage up until he opened his own gym in 2013. CrossFit takes minimal equipment and can be done with extremely small budgets.
If you are brand new to barbell moments, or fitness in general, it may be a good idea to get a coach of some sort to help you learn and to be safe. However, if you really invest the time in teaching yourself it all can be done by your lonesome in the garage gym.
TWITTER-SIZED SUMMARY: CrossFit can be done anywhere, at anytime. Whether garage gym or affiliate is up to your level of experience.
4. CrossFit is for anyone…but not really
Who can do CrossFit?
It gets confusing because CrossFit’s website says it’s for “police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes”…
But then it says…
“The CrossFit program is designed for universal scalability making it the perfect application for any committed individual regardless of experience. We’ve used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart disease…”
Due to the fact that CrossFit intelligently included the words “universal scalability” into their founding doctrine, it is technically for anyone. It just means that any CrossFit workout should be able to be scaled for any skill level.
Buuuuuuut, that’s not the entire story.
There are real dangers out there from doing 100’s of repetitions of thrusters or countless reps of GHD sit-ups, or worse, 100’s of reps of both in a single workout (we will talk about all of the dangers of CrossFit later in this article). Furthermore, Olympic Weightlifting is no easy skill to possess, and you can end up with a bar on top of your head if you try going too heavy too quickly.
So, that “universal scalability” HAS to be present for CrossFit to be for anyone.
If you have a great coach (or know your own limitations very well), I would say CrossFit can be for anyone. That means they are taking the time to build you up to the rigors of high intensity exercise. This means they are telling you you CAN’T do certain moments yet, lowering your weight from the recommended weights and at times reducing the number of repetitions you are performing in any given workout. They also will put time caps on your workouts and encourage you to maintain a great diet and sufficient levels of hydration.
Having said that…Not all coaches are great coaches. And not all coaches are great at scaling.
It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or a former Navy SEAL, a coach should do some sort of assessment on you to make sure you can jump right into CrossFit workouts. I’ve actually seen a coach throw a Marine straight into the workout simply because he was a Marine, only to find that the Marine had strained his back because he had never really deadlifted before…
Find a good coach and work up to things properly and CrossFit CAN be for anyone, but since there are a limited number of great coaches I say it’s not truly for everyone.
TWITTER-SIZED SUMMARY: Good coach or solid learning foundation; CrossFit is for anyone. Neither of those; CrossFit is for no one.
5. You can easily learn CrossFit
Learning CrossFit doesn’t need to be a long-winded explanation since I have already expressed that you should either invest your time into learning how to do things properly, or get a good coach to be able to do well in CrossFit.I’ll say this, take advantage of as many free resources as you can. If you can pay for a certification, I do recommend the CrossFit Level 1 Seminar. I don’t think it will make anyone a great coach, and that is not its purpose, but it is a good on ramp to CrossFit itself. There are much more complex and in-depth certifications which CrossFit offers if you would like to get serious.Helpful resources:
TWITTER-SIZED SUMMARY: Learning CrossFit is very doable (alone) with an abundance of free resources. If you pay for a cert, it will accelerate your learning curve.
6. CrossFit can be dangerous
Ah, everyone’s favorite topic.
Having been a huge part of CrossFit, I know saying anything bad about CrossFit is like playing with a loaded gun.
Diehard CrossFitters will rip you up for saying anything negative about CrossFit, or even hinting at it by talking about the possible “dangers”. If not the fans, then “The Russells” will try to make you look stupid in some way, shape or form, but I digress…
Yes, there are dangers to high intensity functional movement. I wrote an semi-controversial article on Rhabdo in 2012 which when viral during the 2014 CrossFit Games Open, specifically 14.5.
Rhabdo = a serious syndrome due to a direct or indirect muscle injury. It results from the death of muscle fibers and release of their contents into the bloodstream. This can lead to complications such as renal (kidney) failure. This occurs when the kidneys cannot remove waste and concentrated urine. In rare cases, rhabdomyolysis can even cause death. However, prompt treatment often brings a good outcome. Here’s what you need to know about rhabdomyolysis.
I got a flood of emails and a few comments from people who had gotten rhabdomyolysis from competing in the CrossFit Games Open workout 14.5. It happens, especially with poor programming put in an open-to-all competition.
As I see it there are three ways CrossFit can be incredibly dangerous:
- Bad programming – This could be too many repetitions, a time domain which is too long and still involves a barbell, or just lack of experience from the programmer themselves.
- Lack of scaling – Trying workouts that are too hard, too heavy or too long for your level of experience.
- Bad coach – A bad coach is one that will not take either of the above into account.
Are there any other dangers aside form Rhabdo?
Rhabdo is singled out because it is a pretty rare occurrence in any other form of fitness, and perhaps the most dangerous, but yes, there are other dangers…
You could roll your ankle, you could overuse a joint, you could get sore…Ok, that was my best attempt at sarcasm.
Keep Rhabdo in mind, but all of those other injuries can be mitigated by smart training or programming. You can look at all the other aches and pains as the price you pay for not having sat on your butt. I’ll credit that quote to Mark Rippetoe. There are also freak accidents which can happen, like in the case of Kevin Ogar, paralyzed during the OC Throwdown. A competition unsanctioned by CrossFit, yet doing the sport of CrossFit (see where the legalities of CrossFit get ridiculous).
People do get injured in CrossFit. That’s a fact. Some injuries are avoidable and some are inevitable. Investing in your health and fitness is just like investing your money. You have to determine the level of risk you want to take. Being more aggressive could lead to a big pay off, but it could also lead to having to start all over.
Is walking safer? Yep! Will you survive a zombie apocalypse from being an expert walker? Nope!
TWITTER-SIZED SUMMARY: Yes, CrossFit can be dangerous. Any questions?
7. Most people don’t understand CrossFit programming
A term I have thrown around more than few times in this article is “programming”, which is simply how you put together, plan or organize your training schedule. Some make it extremely complex and some make it very simple. In all honesty, I think most people just use the word, but don’t truly understand the basis behind it.
So let’s hit the basics:
- CrossFit’s Programming – This is the theoretical guide for those looking to understand a little more about programming
Now, the easiest way to understand programming is to actually look at how an “expert” puts it together.
Examples of programming:
- CrossFit Football – For those looking to be more powerful in sports like, you guessed it, Football!
- CrossFit Endurance – For those looking to maximize their endurance with strength and other well-rounded programming
- CrossFit HQ – For those just wanting to hit a daily workout.
Now, the most common question I get when talking about CrossFit programming is… “Will CrossFit make me stronger?”
That is a loaded question and my response is:
CrossFit will make you stronger (not exceptionally strong…ever) if you are weak, and CrossFit will make you weaker if you are already strong.
That came from an article I wrote called “CrossFit Will Make You Weaker” in early 2013. Later, in 2013, Mark Rippetoe wrote an article called “CrossFit: The good, the bad, and the ugly” where he said something similar:
You can get stronger for a while doing random exercise, but everyone who has tried it knows that at some point you have to put more weight on the bar and lift it on a regular, programmed basis that obeys the rules of adaptive physiology and logic.
So are we all in agreement? If you don’t program strength into Crossfit, you will not get stronger. Maybe a little stronger, but not a lot stronger (depends on where you start). People argue with me much less on this topic now that Mark Rippetoe has said the same thing.
TWITTER-SIZED SUMMARY: CrossFit programming can be simple or complex, with an “emphasis” or without, at the core it’s just CrossFit.
8. The CrossFit Games are Cool
It doesn’t matter who you are. The CrossFit Games are just cool.
The CrossFit Games is the pinnacle of CrossFit training, and by now I am sure you have seen it on ESPN. Their claim is to find the “Fittest on Earth”. They created their definition of fitness and now they relentlessly test their definition of fitness and prove to find the fittest within their definition.
I do say “their definition of fitness” just to clarify that they did create their own definition. While I do believe it is a pretty awesome definition, I just like to point that out because triathletes, decathletes, etc. often disagree. But you can’t disagree if they are claiming to find the fittest based on their definition of fit.
Most go-getters out there who start CrossFit will at some point want to go to the CrossFit Games. It is only natural. While not impossible, the CrossFit Games has come a long way since its inception. The first CrossFit Games in 2007 (first year) through 2009 was hosted in Aromas, California at a ranch owned by Dave Castro. Since 2010, they have moved to Carson, California in the former Home Depot Center, and now StubHub Center. Originally, CrossFit Games competitors were people with normal jobs, lives, etc. Now, the top competitors in the world are professional athletes with big contracts and they have a lot of time to train.
In 2011, they started the CrossFit Games Open format where anyone in the world with a video camera and internet connection can compete. The reason for doing so was to “cast a larger net” in order to truly find the fittest on earth. In 2014 nearly 140,000 people competed.
If you finish within the cutoff of the open (it can change from year to year top 60 or top 45) you will move to regionals. If you finish in the top three of the regionals you will be headed to the CrossFit Games.
The CrossFit Games breakdown:
- The first step is the Open, a worldwide, inclusive, five-week competition that kicks off early in the spring.
- The top athletes from the Open in each of the 17 regions around the world will qualify for the second stage of the competition—Regionals, a three-day, live competition.
- The season culminates in the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games. At the Games, thousands of participants will be whittled down to around 100 of the fittest men and women in the world.
A lot of people ask are CrossGit Games competitors on steroids???
I don’t want to go too far down this rabbit hole, so I will state the facts.
- The CrossFit Games does test year round for steroid use, at random.
- Many people have come out and said it would be easy to pass their testing (something I know little about, not really in the drug-use world)
- No top competitor of the CrossFit Games has tested positive for steroid, or other PED use.
So rather than speculate, let’s just say none of them use steroids…Then if new information arrises and the house of cards starts to crumble in a Lance-Armstrong fashion we will know for sure.
TWITTER-SIZED SUMMARY: The CrossFit Games are pretty cool as an attendee and spectator.
9. My Final Thoughts on CrossFit
CrossFit is a great tool to have in your fitness toolbox. Just don’t get caught up in the non-fitness part of CrossFit.
There are a lot of CrossFit haters out there which makes CrossFitters super defensive, at times. This has sparked a lot of controversy surrounding CrossFit. I think it all really has to do with the kipping pull-up…kidding.
I think CrossFit offers a lot of great educational resources, and at its core, wants everyone to do the movements properly and safely. The idea of CrossFit is great.
However, the company itself is surrounded in so much drama and internal turmoil that it would make soap operas jealous. I could link to 100’s of controversial CrossFit articles and point out shady things CrossFit has done to employees and associates, but why?
I’m not here to stir the pot.
Do what you love and be passionate about it. If that’s CrossFit, do it!
Me, I’m just going to keep trying to be a better human.
photo credit: Runar Eilertsen, stoermchen, greeblie, Runar Eilertsen, CrossFit Huntsville, Anthony Topper, stoermchen