A Little About Crossfit

I was working with a client yesterday, and she asked my opinion about Crossfit, so I gave a brief explanation based on what I have previously heard.  Although I have not personally experienced a Crossfit workout, I’ve taken some time to do a little research.   Crossfit, according to Wikepedia, is a strength and conditioning brand which  combines weightliftingsprinting, and gymnastics. CrossFit says that proficiency is required in each of ten fitness domains: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strengthflexibility, power, speedagilitybalance, coordination, and accuracy. It defines fitness as increased work capacity across all these domains and says its program achieves this by provoking neurologic and hormonal adaptations across all metabolic pathways. Crossfit is popular accross the US, as well as internationally, and is used by police and fire departments as a conditioning tool.

The CrossFit concept is simple:  CrossFit athletes run, row, jump rope, climb rope and carry odd objects.  They frequently move large loads quickly over short distances.   CrossFit pushes the boundaries in fitness by doing various exercises,  such as pushup or pullups or squat jumps as well as some unconventional exercises very quickly (you are timed to do as many as possible) .  I’m a personal trainer, and I do believe in pushing boundaries, this is how we develop strength, endurance and flexibility.   My concern with CrossFit is that exercises are often done with little or no attention to proper form, with quantity ranking above quality, and mindfulness.  They may talk about correct form, but once you throw in the time and competitive elements, form will take a back seat.   The following comes from another blog post that I think addresses some criticism of CrossFit:

“CrossFit gets people off the couch, and that is great.  But beyond that, it lacks in programming in one major significant way. The “WOD” (workout of the day) format does nothing to address any one individual’s specific needs, and that is my beef. Everyone’s structure is different, and the WOD format doesn’t address that Person A may lack proper hip mobility for overhead squats, and Person B may have poor scapular movement for overhead squats, yet this is ignored and both people do overhead squats in a timed “contest” because the WOD says so. It drives the responsibility for safety to the individual, and then undermines it by creating a competitive environment. Injuries rarely happen in one day, they are instead the result of many accumulated microtraumas over the span of months or even years”.

Officially, Crossfit has only existed in its’ current form for about 10 years, although it’s founder , Greg Glassman, had been developing it since the mid 1980’s.  Greg (who’s followers call him “Coach”), was a former high school gymnast living in Southern, California as a personal trainer.  In 1995, he established a gym in Santa  Cruz,  where he was hired to  provide a training program for the local police department.  A quote from a 2005 New York Times interview with Mr. Glassman regarding the popularity of Crossfit  gives you an idea of his philosophy:

“But for Mr. Glassman, dismissals of his extreme workouts merely help him weed out people he considers weak-willed. “If you find the notion of falling off the rings and breaking your neck so foreign to you, then we don’t want you in our ranks,” he said.”

CrossFit has its’ own certification process for trainers.  You take a 50 question multiple choice test after the 2 day program, and are requested, but not required to participate in the workouts during the sessions.   There are various levels of certification courses, with the objective to teach proper technique for the various Crossfit exercises.  After obtaining the certificate you are authorized to teach and train Crossfit exercises.

My advice?  If CrossFit appeals to you, find a local chapter and see how you feel after several workouts.  If you like the concept, and you can honestly say that you can do the exercises properly, and it feels good  in your body, then proceed, with caution. You could also go to the Level 1 certification course (this costs approximately $1,000, by the way) that people attend to become a certified CrossFit trainer.  That would give you more of a knowledge base and philosophy of Crossfit, which is always good. Know that it is ok to quit an exercise when you are ready to quit!  Quit exercising if you are experiencing sharp pain.  A good trainer should listen to their client, and if a client says some exercise causes pain, I listen to them and stop the exercise.  That is the bond I have with my clients and I believe it’s this trust that ultimately creates healthy change.  Quit exercising if you feel nauseous or dizzy.  Use common sense.  Communicate with the trainer about what you will and will not do.  If CrossFit can get you moving, and into a gym, great.  I admire their concept of  hard, concentrated work to achieve results   Perhaps it can serve as an entry way to a new, more dynamic life for yourself where you explore your physical limits, and make real, lasting positive change to your life.  Just remember that the cornerstone for all physical activities is that you do not harm yourself, or others, in what you do.

About Jeff Fischer
I'm a certified personal trainer in the San Francisco Bay area.

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