CrossFit – what a polarizing workout. People adopt it as the equivalent of their family structure, becoming best friends with fellow gym-goers, transforming their lives and bodies, building confidence, and even moving into fitness competitions they never previously dreamed they could accomplish. If you tell people you do CrossFit, you’ll also get a lot of negative feedback. “I have a friend who blew out both knees”, “tore their shoulder”, “puked in class” and other terrifying stories of massive injury, pain., and embarrassment. You’ll also hear often, “I would never do CrossFit, I don’t want to get hurt”. Well, I did CrossFit for a year. I also don’t do it any longer. Here’s my story and what I really think of the workout that has dominated fitness trends around the world.
CrossFit was started in 2000 in Santa Cruz California by Greg Glassman. There are now more than 10,000 CrossFit-affiliated Boxes around the world. When you take a class at your local “Box” (gym), you’ll do a functional group warm-up then start the “WOD” (workout the day) written on a white board and posted in the front of the class. The premise of CrossFit is high intensity interval training, power-lifting, and even Olympic weightlifting. You’ll do a lot of pull-ups (with bands), wall balls, thrusters, squats and deadlifts, push-ups, box jumps, kettle-bell swings, cleans and snatches – that kind of thing. It is designed to be community building with friendly and supportive competition. When I moved to Seattle, I needed a new fitness group so I did CrossFit for a year and this is what happened.
Nothing much! I worked out, I lifted weights, I was friendly with the other CrossFit goers, I got kind of bored and I moved on. It didn’t change my life but I never got injured and I got some good workouts in. I didn’t lose or gain weight. I didn’t feel better or worse that I did previously when I was doing more of a tabata style- workout. Here’s a list of the pros and cons of CrossFit as I see it:
Pros of CrossFit
- You workout WAY harder than you ever would on your own
- You can gain strength and cardiovascular fitness in a relatively short amount of time
- Your time is limited to 1-hour classes then you move on with your life
- CrossFit is “non-creepy” in my experience. Though everyone at the Box I belonged to shared restrooms and changing-area space, I never felt uncomfortable. Everyone there was very respectful, professional and not creepy.
- You gain confidence by doing some bad-ass lifts and you can track your progress and set goals for lifting more over time
- You don’t have to be in amazing shape to try it. I saw a lot of “regular” people attending – folks of all ages and fitness levels. It can be intimidating to walk in for the first time but it’s a friendly community and you can adapt it for any level.
- The trainers I’ve had are always really good and supportive. They can help you adapt your workout as needed and answer questions you have.
Cons of CrossFit
- I never got hurt, but you could. I’m a huge stickler for proper form and the trainers did a pretty good job supporting that. I believe in lifting lighter, correctly, to build strength over time. I don’t care what anyone else thinks but not everyone feels that way. If you fall into the trap of comparison and competition, I can see how easy it would be to lift a little too heavy and lose form as you fatigue. This is what can lead to injury.
- Thank goodness the Box I attended never gave out nutrition advice but it can happen. The founder himself has suggested “a diet of meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar”. CrossFitters can get a little Paleo-esque and as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I’m not down with that (for most people).
- The workouts are hard. Like really hard. Some days if I wasn’t feeling 100%, I found myself not wanting to go because the thought of throwing a 20-pound ball against the wall then landing in a squat 100 times was daunting. Ultimately I realized that I don’t enjoy Olympic lifts and I wanted something a bit more functional and flexible.
I enjoyed my time in CrossFit and I believe my form and understanding of weight lifting is better because of it. It’s not something that I chose to stick with long-term but I’d recommend trying it if you’re interested. See if you can get into a “prep” class or a CrossFit 101 at a local Box so that you get some training and support before you jump right into the regular workouts. That’s my biggest suggestion on how to do CrossFit safely. Also, always listen to your body and err on the side of lighter weights and amazing form with each single repetition. Warm up, cool down, stretch and foam roll without exception. Stay hydrated and fuel yourself properly. Meeting with a Registered Dietitian can really help you understand how best to eat pre- and post-workout when starting a program like CrossFit.