With the CrossFit Games taking over CrossFit, especially this time of year, I just wanted to remind everyone what exactly CrossFit is and is not! Often times it seems that all people in the CrossFit-world care about is getting a better time or more reps than anyone else. They brag about puking, ripped hands, "extreme" workouts. But that is not really CrossFit.
The definition of CrossFit that they teach at the Level I Certification is "constantly varied functional movement performed at high intensity." Read that last line again. It does not say, "completely random, any and all movements, performed at the highest intensity possible to the human body, so much so that form is thrown out the window!" Constantly varied function movement performed at high intensity says everything you need to know about CrossFit in one sentence, but what does it mean?
- Constantly varied: This does not mean random. If it was random and we were rolling the dice, we could have high rep Thrusters come up 5 days in a row. Constantly varied means comstantly changing up certain workouts, reps, time limits, etc so we do not get into the same rut and routine, ala many of our old "body building" routines. The problem with a lack of variance is it can cause major pain on certain joints and deficiencies and imbalances in the body in areas you neglect to work.
- Functional movements: This one is a tough one, because everyone in the fitness world calls what they do "functional". Its a buzzword in the fitness community. Rather, we see functional movement as exercises that mimic the natural active motions that a person would need to make in their actual activity, sport, or life, necessarily integrating multiple muscles or the entire body. This type of fitness is in contrast to the experience many of us have had using ellipticals, weight machines, and isolation exercises: Here is a good chart with some examples:
|Taken from Naturally Engineered blog|
- High Intensity: This is the one that is the controversy. High intensity means go fast and get more reps or a faster time every single time your at the gym, right? NO! If you were in the CrossFit Games or competing at Prove Your Fitness, I would say yes that day. At those examples you are testing yourself and competing and that is definitiely ok. But, if we are at The Compound for a regular workout day, we are training. The clock and the rep counts are simply training tools.
I'm not saying we don't want to push you day in a day out to do better then you did previously and set a Personal Record. That is our job as coaches. Certainly you can and should push yourself for a PR when you are feeling it whenever possible. But not everyday and definitely not at the expense of form. If you come in and expect to set a PR every single day, then you are most likely not training intelligently and not thinking about the long-term health benefits vs. short term gains.
The key to CrossFit's wide appeal isn't the "extreme workouts"- it's the scaling. Most people don't do the workouts exactly as prescribed; they substitute lower weights, fewer repetitions or different moves. There is no shame in that. It can also be used when recovering from an injury, sore from a long day at work or a previous workout, pregnancy, to improve your form on a lift or skill, etc. If you can't squat below parallel with 300# on your back, then you need to drop the weight to something you can manage.
When I hear people say CrossFit is dangerous and can too easily cause injuries I know one of two things. 1) They or their friend tried it and went too hard too often without using the proper form. 2) They had a poor coach allow them to do #1. Can you get hurt doing CrossFit? Certainly. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, says the risk of some CrossFit moves outweighs the potential benefit. "A lot of lifts and jumps are demonstrated by people with wonderful form." he says. "But the average person could open themselves up to the risk of injury."
However, Dr. McGill also said the same is true of yoga or any type of exercise (sounds like he may not like taking any risk of anything). Some people will benefit from certain fitness moves, while others will hurt themselves. The difference with CrossFit, he said, is that the extensive online component makes it easier to dive right in without proper guidance.
Still, Dr. McGill sees a lot of good in CrossFit, particularly in its emphasis on everyday strength and agility. "Our training culture is polluted by body building," Dr. McGill said. "It could be a very, very good thing to shift the North American training philosophy to a much more functional one."
The risk of CrossFit "is very real," as its founder, Greg Glassman acknowledged, but he said it's mostly about attitude. "If you put 500 pounds on a bar, and like a fool just go rip it off the ground, you're going to get hurt."
There's a very easy fix to what Dr. McGill and Mr. Glassman are saying. Learn to lift and move with perfect form and if you cant, slow down! I plan on doing this stuff when I'm 90 years old, so a tempered approach to training seems like a smart idea.