It seems every three months or so an ill-researched, hyperbolic article is posted that blasts through the internet condemning CrossFit and what it does for the fitness community.
This month’s article comes from Erin Simmons, a self-described fitness model dedicated to “promoting healthy lifestyles through diet and exercise”.
I want to point to the article she wrote first so that you have a chance to read it in its entirety:
Why I Don’t Do CrossFit
At last glance, this article had over 300k shares on several mirrored sites around the world. The article has also gone around on Koh Tao, and I usually get one of two responses: 1) questions about my opinion on the article, which often leads to great discussions with people about its merits and its weaknesses; and 2) blind reposts, which by negligently sharing with others leads to more misinformation about what CrossFit is about. Because I was having these conversations with so many people, I wanted to share my thoughts:
1) The fact that CrossFit coaches can get certified in a weekend is a legitimate critique of CrossFit.
Many people who argue against the efficacy of CrossFit talk about how easy it is to become a coach (it only takes a weekend certification) with the ability to then teach groups of people complicated movement patterns (including Olympic lifts) This is a legitimate critique of CrossFit. If CrossFit advocates technique above speed, then we must have coaches that are knowledgeable and experienced in teaching and correcting those lifts.
So what can we do about this? I believe two things:
1) When joining a CrossFit gym, shop around. Watch one of the classes – is the trainer looking to correct movement? Are they just setting a timer and stepping back or are they actively involved in guiding classes through the movements? Can they discuss movement in a way that you understand? Just like you would shop around for a personal trainer, shop around for a CrossFit gym. If you are brand new, get some opinions from friends, preferably those who have been in the athletic community for some time.
2) CrossFit HQ needs to address this. Several years ago, the majority of people getting certified were those that had been in the CrossFit world for some time. I believe the overall quality of coach those weekend certifications were pushing out was higher, because CrossFit wasn’t as popular back then. As CrossFit gains in popularity, there has to be a way for HQ to continue to develop and maintain standards in their coaches.
2) I have never heard of any CrossFit coach celebrating pain or making pain the goal of a workout.
“The goal of a workout shouldn’t be to hurt! I’m not saying that workouts won’t push you, or that you won’t ever hurt during a workout, or you won’t ever be sore the next day. I AM saying that hurt isn’t the goal.”
“CrossFit seems to think that the more pain you are in, whether on that day or the days following the workout, the better. The more you disregard the pain and keep pushing through it, the “tougher” you are. But this is not true, and more importantly, it’s not healthy.”
I’m not sure where Erin gets the idea that the goal of CrossFit workouts is to hurt. Several times this article talks about working for pain and that the mentality that the more pain you are in, the better. The goal of CrossFit is never to celebrate pain. Does muscle soreness exist after certain workouts? For sure. But if that soreness rises above moderate discomfort, then a rest day is needed.
Now, do I advocate overcoming mental barriers to push yourself through a workout? Do I want to conquer the “I can’t” that often comes to your head ten minutes into a tough workout? You bet I do. But pushing yourself mentally and pushing through pain are two completely separate ideas that Erin needs to understand.
3) The combination of solid CrossFit programming with scaling techniques for different athletes creates individualization.
“There is no individualization. Workout of the day. That’s the norm.”
My goal as a CrossFit coach is to create a general level of fitness in my clients. I want my gym to be able to run, jump, push, and pull. CrossFit HQ talks about the ten general physical skills: cardiovascular endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. This is the goal. I want my clients to be able to go outside the gym and engage in any type of sport or physical activity and have the fitness level to accomplish that.
The programming, which is done on a weekly basis, is done to address these ten physical skills. If I program a particular workout, then we scale and change the workout based on that individual’s level of fitness. That creates the individualization. Beyond that, we have our client’s set their own monthly goals and give them the opportunity to spend time working towards those, further individualizing their experience in the gym.
At gyms that have more members than our little island, they have created additional classes for their client’s goals – Olympic lifting classes, barbell clubs, endurance classes. I would hope to offer these sometime in the future. Again, more individualization.
Now, if an athlete is training for a specific sport (as Erin talks about her track and field experience) then the demands of that athlete are different and perhaps the daily WODs are not the best method to excel in that sport. When I have an athlete like that, we discuss the best ways to accomplish those goals and many high quality CrossFit gyms are now catering to these sport specific athletes in separate classes (see below). But it is important that Erin distinguish the elite sport-specific athlete from the majority of CrossFit gym members.
4) Just because Erin’s coaches never took her through any CrossFit-type workouts does not invalidate CrossFit as a strength and conditioning tool.
“The strength and conditioning coaches that I have worked with as an athlete all have master’s or doctorate degrees in kinesiology or a related field. They have interned as graduate assistants for years. They have attended and presented at conferences, taken numerous certification exams, and have had to pass demonstration practicals in order to work with athletes in the weight room or on/in the field, track, court, or pool. These professionals have dedicated their entire lives to providing a safe and effective strength-training program for high caliber athletes, NOT a single weekend plus some cash. And not a single one of them recommends CrossFit. Not a single one of them has ever given me workouts that look like CrossFit WODs. Even athletic training staff (medical/PT/rehabilitation/chiropractors) that I have talked with have said that they would love CrossFit if they didn’t work with athletes, because they would always have people to treat.”
CrossFit is a new method of fitness, and as Erin’s coaches were getting their Master’s or Doctorate’s, CrossFit was just beginning to develop. But as fitness and CrossFit has matured, professional athletes are continuing to use it for their sport-specific demands. Here are several examples below, but just type “crossfit professional NAME OF SPORT” into Google to find you own results.
Matt Hasselback – Professional NFL Quarterback
Knowshon Moreno – Professional NFL Tailback
Rich Froning – Assistant Strength Coach of Tennessee Tech football team, and three time champion of the CrossFit Games trains both professional motocross riders and the football team using WODs:
“9 a.m.: Train a group of professional motocross athletes (and occasionally jump into their workout).
11:45 a.m.: A member of the Tennessee Tech football coaching staff comes over to work on some big lifts, like squats or deadlifts. Afterward, they complete a WOD that will include the lift that was just practiced.”
Jason Terry – Professional NBA Player
To find these links took about four minutes of my time. Erin needs to do better research next time she makes a ridiculously hyperbolic statement like the one above.
Do I think CrossFit is the only way to achieve a desired level of fitness? Absolutely not. But I do believe it is the most effective. Is there an increased risk in CrossFit compared to “normal” gym workouts? I think you’d have to admit there is with any higher intensity training. That being said, the fitness reward is greater in CrossFit and for me, the intangibles that come through CrossFit (goal setting, confidence, community, motivation to come in to the gym) also justify that increase in risk.
Here’s the thing. Erin Simmons has done a great job promoting “Erin Simmons Fitness” with this article that has managed to go viral. But for those reading it, do a little bit more homework and see where her motivation comes from. It’s too bad that she had a bad experience at whatever gym she visited, but while she would like to paint the picture that most CrossFit gyms are as she has described, they are not.
Is CrossFit for everyone? Nope. But for those that find the right gym, you’ll find a community full of hard working people who work out, motivate, and support each other through their fitness journey. And I bet all of them would argue there’s more to a strong core than Erin’s other equally well-researched piece: Ten Minute Abs.
Am very open to continuing this discussion. Please write in the comments or find me on Twitter.