Saturday, February 1, 2014

It's time to talk about CrossFIt a little. It's not CrossFit, it's sport and it's a coaching thing.

It’s time to talk about CrossFit. Recently at a CrossFit sanctioned event, a competitor sustained an injury that resulted in his being paralyzed from the waist down ( This added fuel to a fire that has been growing about the dangers of CrossFit. There is a growing sentiment in the general public that CrossFit is extraordinarily dangerous and that it, as a modality, is producing injuries.

Here’s the thing about CrossFit: Deadlifts, and squats and kettlebell swings are not proprietary CrossFit moves. CrossFit uses very conventional lifts and techniques in very unique and, in most cases, effective ways. But these lifts have been used for decades by lots of different kinds of people for lots of different kinds of reasons. There’s not a high school football player alive who hasn’t done squats or deadlifts. Military bootcamp has had people doing high rep pushups and pullups since time immemorial. Most Olympic athletes have done some Olympic lifting in their careers (i.e. cleans, jerks and snatches).  MMA fighters have been doing high intensity circuit work since the advent of the sport. In any other context these lifts and techniques would not warrant comment. One study (yes, somebody did a study on this stuff) showed that CrossFit'ers sustained 3.1 injuries for every 1000 hours training. Contrast that with runners who have been shown to sustain 30.1 injuries for every 1000 hours training ( In this light, CrossFit is a remarkably safe sport. 

But, CrossFit has been quite vocal about bucking the norms in the industry. They've been trumpeting they're "You're not doing it right" attitude and it's created a stir. Droves of people, experienced exercisers and otherwise, are heading to CrossFit boxes to try it out. When you have a mixed population of members in your gym, coaching becomes massively important. The GOOD boxes have an "on-ramp" program that new members must go through before they ever get to do a "WOD" (work out of the day). This ensures that you don't have novices killing themselves doing deadlifts and kettlebell swings. And it's a good idea. True, not every box does this and I think it's to their detriment. These clients will ultimately end up frustrated or, worse, injured, and are more likely to leave the gym. On-ramp clients are better integrated into the culture of the box and are more durable and will cope with workouts better. The not so good boxes throw everyone in the deep end and have them participating in WODS from day one. Therein lies, in my opinion, the problem. 

At it's inception, CrossFit had really interesting and intelligent programming. The ethos of "Constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity" has merit. With the advent of the CrossFit Games, HQ has veered sharply in the direction of forging elite fitness in a competitive setting. There are those in CrossFit for whom this is appropriate. They're fit, mobile, skilled and well prepared. This is the small minority of the CrossFit population. The vast majority of CrossFit'ers are average Joes/Jills with desk jobs who are woefully underprepared for that level of training. This is where the coaching comes in. Programming in the box should be geared for the lowest common denominator (not flattering I know, sorry). CrossFit likes to say that their model is infinitely scalable and I say that means it can be scaled UP as well as down. 

Poor programming, with poor preparation (and this means warm up and skill work) will lead to poor results for clients or worse, injured clients. It's worth noting that CrossFit imposes no structure on it's box owners. They can run it in anyway they like and program how they see fit. As such there's room for really great programming and for really poor programming. I'll confess that this is why I am so strongly attached to the idea of owning my own CrossFit box. It's my feeling that my coaching experience mixed with my physical therapy experience would uniquely allow me to help my clients excel while avoiding injury and increasing function.

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